If you're like me, you're always looking for new ways to improve your contemporary and modern class exercises and warm-up, so I was happy to find this article from Dance Teacher magazine that gives a Merce Cunningham back exercise and warm-up. I've used it in my contemporary class several times and it never ceases to really warm up my dancers. They do complain that it is tiring on the arms, which I was not expecting to hear. So, it appears to also be a good arm work-out - bonus!
Auditions start for next year's summer intensives in just a month, so it's time to do your research so you can nail those auditions, apply for scholarships, and make it into your dream summer intensive! To help you get started, here are some websites and information you'll need from some of the nation's top schools. For more affordable and less intense options, check out the colleges, universities, and dance companies in your local area for classes and/or summer intensives. (These are in no particular order).
Classes: Five weeks of 5-6 hours of dance classes daily, augmented by professional development lectures. Includes separate men's classes, modern, classical character, Pilates, master classes with guest faculty, professional development lectures
Dreaming of owning your own studio one day or already do own one? Well, don't miss this article from Dance Teacher Magazine - Business: Branching Out from Dance Teacher Magazine. It offers great advice from very successful studio owners on how to grow and expand your business, such as "smart staff selection," good communication, knowing your market and doing your research.
Joy Womack, an American student at the Bolshoi academy in Moscow, preparing to go onstage in an end-of-term performance. She moved to Russia on her own last year at 15.
Here's more inspiration for you hard-working dancers out there who need a little boost to get through some grueling rehearsals, classes and performances. Here's the incredible story about 15-year-old Joy Womack, who left the comforts of Texas to join Bolshoi Ballet's school, even learning Russian and all of Bolshoi's rigorous ways for her dream to dance in the company. Her talents lie not only in dancing, but in determination, discipline and ambition. Not everyone is born with this kind of drive!
I saw ABT Soloist Sarah Lane this past Valentine's Day dance with her husband, Luis Ribagorda (ABT corps member) at our town's symphony orchestra's Romeo and Juliet. She was exquisite - so graceful, beautiful and strong. The perfect ballerina and Juliet! So naturally, I was very excited to see that she plays Natalie Portman's body double in "Black Swan," which premiered December 1. I scoured the internet later to find out more about her and found that Dance Magazine had already written an article about her in 2007, when she was in the Corps de Ballet, which chronicles her life and dance history - Glowing Strong: Sarah Lane Radiates Star Power from ABT's Corps. She is a fierce competitor with incredible drive and discipline that is quite inspirational.
Sarah Lane Fast Facts:
Born in San Fransisco, but moved to Memphis when she was a toddler
Home schooled as a child
Strong Christian faith
Started tap and jazz at age 4, then enrolled at Memphis Classical Ballet
Moved to Rochester, NY later and enrolled at the Draper Center for Dance Education where she received serious training for the competition circuit
When she first auditioned for ABT, the studio company director informed her that she was too small (5'2")
So she went on to audition for Boston Ballet it fell through because they misprinted her name - Catherine Lane
Still determined to make it, she competed in the Youth American Grand Prix at age 17 in NY but danced her Paquita variation in silence after the sound system crashed. She finished to a standing ovation and won the bronze! Finally ABT noticed her the second time and invited her to take studio classes, then promptly offered her a Studio Company contract.
Two months later, she won the Silver Medal in the Junior Division (the highest awarded in 2002) at the Jackson International Ballet Competition.
Susan Jaffe, former ABT ballet star, has been a fan of Sarah's and has mentored her to help her become a company member. Scroll down towards the end of the article to see the wonderful advice she gave her.
After 8 months in ABT's Studio Company, Sarah joined the Corps de Ballet. She has since been promoted to Soloist and is now in the "Black Swan!"
With the premiere of "Black Swan" in movie theaters yesterday, it's exciting to read about the behind-the-scenes making of the movie. The New York Times ran an article on November 26 about how lead actresses Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis trained to look and move like ballerinas. Natalie started intense ballet training a year before filming began, but ABT soloist, Sarah Lane, serves as her body double for the intense (real) dancing scenes. Check it out!
Photo by Niko Tavernise
Ms. Portman performs with Benjamin Millepied, the choreographer and New York City Ballet principal.
TEN years of serious training and then five more toiling in the ranks. That’s how many years of dedicated study it takes on average to become a principal ballerina at a top company. But Hollywood isn’t willing to wait. So when several actresses signed up to portray professional dancers in new movies, they had to play a very intense game of catch-up.
Ms. Portman performs with Benjamin Millepied, the choreographer and New York City Ballet principal.
Actors have impersonated dancers before to varying degrees of success. (See Jessica Alba’s laborious hip-hop moves in “Honey” and Neve Campbell’s elegant arabesques in “The Company” to get a sense of the range.) And some directors, like Bruce Beresford with his recent “Mao’s Last Dancer,” have bypassed actors altogether and cast dancers to achieve authenticity. When a single awkward move can change the tone of an entire scene, portraying a dancer is a serious challenge.
“It’s not the same as Mickey becoming a wrestler because that’s a craft you can learn in a few months,” the directorDarren Aronofsky said, referring to Mickey Rourke, who starred in his film “The Wrestler.” “Ballet is something you have to be trained from a tiny age.”
Mr. Aronofsky’s latest movie, a rumored Oscar contender, “Black Swan,” due Dec. 3, is a psychological thriller centered on a fictional ballet company’s new version of “Swan Lake.” Natalie Portman plays the lead ballerina, andMila Kunis is her rival. In George Nolfi’s “Adjustment Bureau,” out in March, Emily Blunt stars as a member of a real troupe, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet.
“At the beginning it was a big question because we didn’t know if any actor could pull it off,” Mr. Aronofsky said of the role of Nina, who turns into the Swan Queen onstage.
When Ms. Portman, 29, took the part, she said, “I really thought I was better than I was.” She wasn’t completely new to ballet, having studied as a child, but at 13 she had traded in her slippers to act.
Photo by Niko Tavernise
“It was a rude awakening to get there, and to be, like, I don’t know what I’m doing,” Ms. Portman said by phone, “If I had known how not close to ready I was, I never would have tried it. I’m glad I was a little ignorant slash arrogant.”
Ms. Kunis, 27, described her experience as “ballet on crack.” At the end of her training, which includes three months of daily ballet practice, she said, she had probably lost 20 pounds. “For me it was kind of like: How do you fake it?”
The effort to avoid that consumed Ms. Portman. In the film she performs choreography byBenjamin Millepied, the New York City Ballet principal with a side career as a choreographer, and Ms. Portman does indeed dance, about 10 sequences, with a lot of work for her upper body. The difficult point work and turns were performed by a body double, Sarah Lane, the American Ballet Theater soloist.
In the film Nina goes through a metamorphosis onstage, from sweet swan to thrashing, rabid, seething one, complete with feathers. Ms. Portman went through a kind of transformation as well. Before she could even tackle the choreography she had to prepare her body, starting more than a year in advance with Mary Helen Bowers, a former City Ballet dancer from North Carolina.
“The idea was, if you were going to look and move like a professional ballerina, you have to train like one, and professional ballerinas dance for 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week, for years and years on end,” Ms. Bowers said. “So the idea with Natalie was, we have to get you as close to that mark as possible for as many months as possible leading up to the film.”
Ms. Bowers combined basic ballet technique and exercises to make Ms. Portman’s physique more like a dancer’s, with the sinewy, lean muscles, upright carriage, pressed-down shoulders and tell-tale elongated neck.
Natalie Portman on the set of Black Swan.
(Photo: Ray Lewis)
“There are such physical markers for ballet dancers,” Ms. Bowers said, “we thought that was as important as being able to move.”
Wherever Ms. Portman’s career took her, she trained at least five hours a day with Ms. Bowers, practicing chaînés turns in Bridgehampton or rond de jambes in Belfast. They often started at 5 a.m. and fit in barre exercises and workouts while Ms. Portman filmed other movies.
Ms. Bowers was part of an all-star crew of experts who helped to get the dancing right. The veteran dancers and teachers included Kurt Froman, Jock Soto and Marina Stavitskaya, the ballet mistress Olga Kostritzky and the beloved coach Georgina Parkinson, who died in December. They offered corrections to the actresses during shooting and told Mr. Aronofsky when movement looked false. Dancers, mostly from the Pennsylvania Ballet, performed as the fictional corps and also gave advice to Ms. Portman.
This level of attention was crucial, Ms. Portman said: “I think there is a credibility that lets you get lost in the story when you feel that all the details are right.”
For Mr. Millepied, who is also Ms. Portman’s off-screen beau, the challenge started with creating a fresh twist on the classic “Swan Lake” vocabulary. (Die-hards will notice changes to the four little swans variation in particular.) But he also had to tailor the choreography so that Ms. Portman looked believable. With both actresses he wanted, he said, to “use their qualities and avoid their weaknesses.”
Perfecting something as seemingly simple as the undulating swan arms was one of Ms. Portman’s greatest struggles. “The fluidity, trying to get those hands to move and the arms all the way to her fingers” was tough," Mr. Millepied said. She practiced for hours and watched YouTube clips of famous swan queens like Alicia Alonso and Natalia Makarova to master the move.
Even with all the preparation Ms. Parkinson helped adjust the choreography for the particular quirks of Ms. Portman’s body. “I have short arms,” Ms. Portman said. “She was just, like: ‘You don’t bend arms when you put your arms up. They’re straight. You don’t bend them.’ If I ever bent my elbows she’d be, like, ‘Straight arms, straight arms.’ ” Another challenge was getting Ms. Portman on point. “We would spend 30 minutes a day doing foot exercises,” Ms. Bowers said.
During shooting the process intensified, with Ms. Portman doing short barre exercises five to six times a day to warm up between takes. “I think my body was kind of in emergency mode,” Ms. Portman. “I’m not eating enough, I’m not getting enough sleep. I’m in complete physical distress.” Among the injuries Ms. Portman suffered, the worst was a dislocated rib. To keep going, the lifts were adjusted.
The physical extremes of the art form though were what most interested Ms. Portman and Mr. Aronofsky. “The contrast between what you see onstage and what is underneath is part of the resonance of this film,” Ms. Portman said. “That it’s supposed to look easy and painless and carefree and light and delicate and just pretty, and underneath it’s, like, really gruesome.”
Ms. Bowers recalled, for instance, when Mr. Aronofsky consulted her on the believability of a prosthetic toe. “He was, like, ‘Is this what your toe looks like when your toenail falls off?’ and I was, like, ‘Well maybe we should take a little more off.’ ” She added, “Actually when your toenail falls off, you’re kind of happy, because it’s not a stress fracture.”
Ms. Portman’s experience gave her a taste not only of the physical sacrifices, but also the mental ones. “It was very religious in my mind,” she said. “The ritual of, like, breaking in your point shoes and getting them soft, all of that, it’s almost like tefillin wrapping in Judaism, this thing you do every day, this ritual.”
Knee injuries are so common among dancers, and I've found several articles that can help you diagnose which injury you have if you have knee pain. This is also very helpful for us teachers so we can be knowledgeable about common knee injury causes and fixes. Several of my dancers suffer from knee pain on a regular basis, and I have to keep a very watchful eye on their turnout and their use of the plie when they land jumps. But, those aren't the only ways to prevent knee injuries, as you'll see in this article from Dance Spirit Magazine - "Beating Common Knee Injuries". Another good article can be found on Dance Magazine's website: On Dance Injuries: The Jumper's Knee.
I love using Christmas music in my dance classes this time of year. It helps to keep the mood bright and my dancers love to sing along to their favorite songs. It makes the same ole exercises like plies and tendus feel new and fresh! Here are some of my favorite albums, artists and songs to use in my dance classes.
Once you can get past the super cheesy album cover, you'll see that this album is perfect for ballet class. An oldie but a goodie! Listen to the album here.
I love Harry Connick Jr's Christmas album for allegro, petite allegro, and jazz class. Listen to the album here. Here are some of the best tunes for class:
Parade of the Wooden Soliders
I Pray on Christmas
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
O Holy Night
Jim Brickman is a beautiful pianist who writes his own arrangements of classic Christmas tunes that are perfect for ballet class. Listen to the album here.
Sarah McLachlan has a beautiful, enchanting Christmas album that makes for excellent contemporary routines and stretching. Listen to the album here. Here are some of my favorites from the album:
Song for a Winter's Night
In a Bleak Mid Winter
Sara Bareilles delivers yet again on this gorgeous album that is also good for contemporary class and routines. Plus, Winter Songs includes other fantastic artists like Fiona Apple, KT Tunstall, Colbie Caillat, and even Katy Perry. Listen to the album here. Here are some of my favorites:
Wintersong (with Ingrid Michaelson)
Silent Night (Priscilla Ahn)
Got a few extra minutes to get into the Nutcracker and holiday spirit? Sit back and enjoy some excerpts and interviews from some of the world's greatest ballet companies and their Nutcracker performances. Many big ballet companies have their own YouTube channels. Search for them and watch clip after clip of not only performances, but interviews and rehearsals.
Miami City Ballet has quite a few back-stage interviews done by the company members themselves, so it really gives viewers a relaxed and real inside-look into the company.
Here's Patricia Delgado interviewing her sister, Jeanette, who is the Dewdrop.
And here is Patricia Delgado's Nutcracker journal, where she tapes rehearsals and interviews the dancers about their parts in the show.
And an interview with retiring ballet dancer, Deanna Seay, who dances the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Salt has really gotten a bad rap lately. Sure, too much of it in your diet can lead to high blood pressure and heart problems, but your body must have it to perform basic bodily functions. Dancers especially need salt because sodium is expelled when you sweat, so it needs to be replaced. That doesn't mean you should start eating processed and fast foods - salt can be found in Gatorade, fruits and vegetables. So, before you start thinking you need to cut salt out of your diet, read this article from Dance Magazine and think again!
Do you dream of making it big as a dancer in NYC but sometimes wonder if you've got what it takes? If so, then you've got to tune into this hit web-reality series, Dance 212. This series follows five college-aged dancers as they pursue their dance dreams in NYC. You can watch them take classes, go to auditions, perform and learn what it's really like to be a dancer in prestigious second company. There's a new episode every day!
Ever thought of selling snacks at your studio? Well, read how other studio owners have done it and what they recommend to make it a successful business venture in this article from Dance Teacher Magazine - "Business: Food for Thought". Some dance studios price items high in sugar more than the healthy ones to encourage the dancers to eat more healthy foods. Another studio outsources the vending machine itself, hiring a outside company to operate it and fill it, taking a small commission, while others just have snacks stashed behind the desk that they sell as dancers ask for them.
Check out the article in its entirety at the link above for all the juicy details!
Desmond Richardson - co-founder of Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Photographer: Dah-len/Complexions Contemporary Ballet via Bloomberg News
Ever wonder how legendary dancers and choreographers Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden began Complexions Contemporary Ballet? Here's an insider's look into the makings of their company, in a three-part video interview.
Once dancers are aware of their cores and have a better understanding of how to use those muscles, teachers can begin to work on their port de bras and grace. In this article from Dance Magazine, Improving Port de Bras, author Joseph Carman gives very practical tips that teachers and students can use in the classroom to get those Margot Fonteyn arms.
Author Joseph Carman writes that improving the port de bras starts with understanding the anatomy of the torso. Then, the dancer must use the "breath to initiate the port de bras," which is commonly missed, and coordinate the arms with the head, eyes, and torso. The body must work in complete unison.
One of the main areas of weakness I see in my students is lack of grace and control in their upper bodies, generating from a lack of core strength. But what I haven't realized until recently, is that it's not necessarily a lack of core strength, but a lack of awareness of their core and how to properly use it. I find that their arms, shoulders and upper backs are stiff and and hold all of their bodies' tension, which prohibits them from doing more than 2-3 turns and landing jumps properly. This was something I struggled with a lot as a young dancer and it wasn't until I was in my 20's that I realized my arms shouldn't move until after I engage my upper back, and then I felt I was truly dancing from head to toe.
Margot Fonteyn was known for her beautiful port de bras and grace. Here she dancing the Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty.
I found an excellent article in Dance Magazine (May 2010) that gives practical advice on teaching dancers to use their core and arms correctly. Check it out! Break Your Bad Habits: The Core Muscles
The article addresses bad habits as it relates to the core muscles and how to fix them. Habits such as:
Most of us probably think history is pretty boring, like learning dates and wars and names. But, as discussed in the previous blog, true jazz dance is dying in part due to the fact that we don't know it's history and origins. So, I've pulled the must-know jazz history facts, to make it a little less boring, but also to make sure we all know more about this incredible dance form!
Jazz is indigenous to America, and began with the African slaves, who secretly danced to cling to their traditions and culture, but were not allowed to by the Slave Act of 1740.
The Africans brought their rhythms to America - earthy; low, knees bent, pulsating body movements emphasized by body isolations and hand-clapping.
By the 1920s, as the jazz movement was sweeping from New Orleans to the rest of the country, jazz and tap dance gained popularity. The two dance forms were often the same - with tap being referred to jazz.
Until the mid 1950s, the term "jazz dance" often referred to tap dance, because tap dancing (set to jazz music) was the main performance dance of the era. During the later jazz age, popular forms of jazz dance were the Cakewalk, Black Bottom, Charleston, Jitterbug, Boogie Woogie, Swing dancing and the related Lindy Hop. (dancelessons.net)
With World War II came a stop to the popularity of jazz social dancing, and jazz dance as a professional dance, performed by dancers who were trained in ballet and modern, came to life.
During this time (the 1940s), Jack Cole, known as the "Father of Jazz Dance," began working in Hollywood training actors and actresses in jazz dance for movies.
Jack Cole is credited with developing the ballet-based movements and theatrical expression which are the touchstones of contemporary jazz dancing. (Dance Tutors)
Cole's style was seen in his musicals such as "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "There's No Business Like Show Business," and "Man of La Mancha." It was also seen in his movies, including, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and "There’s No Business Like Show Business."
By the 1950s, Jerome Robbins, who was greatly influenced by Cole, became famous for his jazz choreography with the Broadway production of "West Side Story."
In the 1960s, jazz greats Luigi and Gus Giordano gained fame - Luigi's for his holistic, lyrical jazz style that helped him recover from a serious auto accident.
Giordano's style was known for isolation movements, emphasizing the head and torso and creating an uplifted look of elegance. Yoga is incorporated into Giordano’s technique as a means of relaxation. (University of Houston - Jacqueline Nallet).
Later, in the 1970s, Bob Fosse appeared on the scene dancing and choreographing Broadway plays such as "Dancin" and a reproduction of "Chicago."
Fosse's style was distinct; it was highly creative and often included bizarre movements; it was slick, erotic and intense. He was a one man jazz phenomenon whose style continued to make its mark on the Broadway stage and in Hollywood throughout the 1980s. (University of Houston - Jacqueline Nallet)
The jazz legend, Gus Giordano, dancing with his wife
There was an excellent article in Dance Teacher Magazine this month - Carrying the Jazz Dance Torch. It discusses how teachers are no longer teaching jazz dance history and the correct roots of it. Instead, we are focusing on what's sexy, tricks, and throwing in elements of contemporary and hip-hop so that jazz is hardly recognizable. I have really found this to be true in the last few years at competitions. My students performed a classic jazz-style piece to a Prince classic and it garnered positive responses from the judges for being a traditional jazz dance. Watch "So You Think You Can Dance" and you'll see those judges responding well to real jazz dances as well. There has been a trend for many years leading us away from jazz, but I think the pendulum is starting to swing the other way.
Here are some highlights I pulled from the article:
"So You Think You Can Dance" judges and produces often describe dances as jazz "when they often have very little jazz quality and are technically more contemporary or hip hop."
"Experts say the misinterpretation of jazz dance, along with teachers who focus on contemporary styles and a general lack of knowledge about the artform, is helping to contribute to the loss of jazz dance’s historical and cultural lineage."
"A full understanding of jazz dance can help dancers to better embody the work of any choreographer or culture."
“Many times people think jazz dance just needs to be sexy and face the audience and have a lot of tricks. People need to step away from that and realize that this is an artform that has a rich cultural history, especially for our country.”
"Jazz dance grew out of African music and dance roots, including jazz music. It is based on stylistic vernacular movements (social dances created outside of a studio), but during the 1950s, a split from vernacular-based jazz dance (cakewalk, Charleston, jitterbug, swing, etc.) created a theatrical-based version of jazz dance with Caribbean and Latin American influences."
"Jazz dance should not be learned in order to please an audience."
"To be included in the jazz dance heritage a dance work should embody a noticeable amount of traditional jazz dance movement characteristics. That would include dancing in plié, movement that emanates from the pelvis and through the extremities, isolations, syncopation, dynamic extremes, strong energy flow either in visible bursts or in contained format (hot vs. cool), and letting the movement reflect reactions to rhythmic accompaniment."
"To focus exclusively on the contemporary style, which tends to be a mix of ballet and modern with few jazz qualities, “without mastering the deep well of potential and power than can be found in the vernacular is a wasted opportunity to expand and improve one’s expressive skills." "
"Make sure to utilize the core elements of traditional jazz dance—an earthy quality, pliés, isolations and syncopation."
"A lot of jazz dance is done to popular music with a strong beat, putting the movements on the one-count, and that is not what characterizes jazz."
Here is one of the contestants for the Dance Magazine Video of the month. I'm loving the interesting choreography and brilliant execution of the steps. Remember - it's not just the steps you're given but the way you interpret and execute them. The DANCER is the one who breathes life into the choreography. Find your own voice in each of your dances this year and lose yourself in the music and the dance.
Missed the "So You Think You Can Dance" auditions or didn't make it? Now here's another opportunity to get your 15 minutes of fame on Paula Abdul's new reality dance show on CBS. Auditions will take place at the end of September/beginning of October (no definite dates yet) in New York and Los Angeles.
I'm also anxiously awaiting the premier of another movie, also about a ballet dancer, that's based on the true story of a Chinese dancer, Li Cunxin, whose defection to the West in 1981 made international headlines. The Australian movie, "Mao's Last Dancer," will premier October 1. Here's the synopsis, from the movie's website.
"Mao's Last Dancer" stars Chi Cao, a gifted dancer and principal at the Birmingham Royal Ballet making his impressive screen debut as Li. Reviews have said this was the best part of the movie - not only is Cao a gifted actor, but it is refreshing to see a real-life ballet dancer playing the role of a ballet dancer. Finally, we can see the entire body dancing, and not just from the waist down or up!
"Based on Li's best selling autobiography, the movie is the epic story of a young poverty stricken boy from China and his inspirational journey to international stardom as a world-class dancer. The story begins when a young Li is taken from his peasant home by the Chinese government and chosen to study ballet in Beijing. Separated from his family and enduring countless hours of practice, Li struggles to find his place in the new life he has been given. Gaining confidence from a kind teacher's encouraging guidance and a chance trip to America, Li finally discovers that his passion has always been dance.
"Mao's Last Dancer" weaves a moving tale about the quest for freedom and the courage it takes to live your own life. The film poignantly captures the struggles, triumphs and the intoxicating effects of first love and celebrity amid the pain of exile."
December 1 is a long time to wait for the much anticipated dance movie, "Black Swan", starring Natalie Portman. I have yet to see a movie with Natalie that I didn't like, and and I don't think this movie will disappoint either. It's the first movie about a dancer that's dark and thrilling - finally something totally different and so creative!
Here's the synopsis, from trailers.apple.com:
"Black Swan" follows the story of Nina (Portman), a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, like all those in her profession, is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her retired ballerina mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) who zealously supports her daughter’s professional ambition. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice. But Nina has competition: a new dancer, Lily (Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side with a recklessness that threatens to destroy her.
And from Fox Searchlight Pictures: "Black Swan" takes a thrilling and at times terrifying journey through the psyche of a young ballerina whose starring role as the duplicitous swan queen turns out to be a part for which she becomes frighteningly perfect.
Ballerina for Hire
Check out this article that ran in the NY Times this month, "Ballerina for Hire." It tells of the harsh realities of trying to make it as a freelance dancer and ballerina in New York City. Getting to the top is not at all glamorous, and is only reserved for those with iron wills, dedication and sheer determination. Nevermind talent! The ballerina featured in this article only made $25,000 last year dancing with the Rockettes and a union job. Yet, she's truly talented and smart, having earned a master's degree in publishing, she's even interned at Pointe Magazine.
I couldn't help but wonder why life in the arts must sometimes be so degrading and hard. Isn't here another way? I worked in corporate America for two years with a comfortable salary, excellent benefits, paid vacation and holidays, and job security. But it didn't matter because it was empty for me. My heart wasn't into it and I was no longer fulfilled. Now back in the dance world, I'm making about the same an hour, but have no paid vacations or holidays, absolutely no benefits, a significant amount of unpaid time outside the studio planning and choreographing, and no pay for time spent working at performances! I sometimes ask myself why I chose this path, but there is nothing like the high of performing or of sharing my passion and love with my dance students.
Most accomplished dancers and teachers have been dancing since childhood and therefore have as much experience and training as someone with a graduate degree or higher. Yet, dancers and other performers struggle through dehumanizing, cattle call auditions, little pay, no health coverage (amidst injuries), and not much job security, all for the thrill of the stage, the lights, and the pride of accomplishment. Why do you do it? Send me your stories!
It's time to really get excited about National Dance Day! What exactly is it? Many of us rabid "So You Think You Can Dance" fans are already clued in, but it was started by SYTYCD producer and judge, Nigel Lythgoe, as a day to get the country to move and raise awareness for dance. What a fabulous idea! Dance is finally getting the attention it deserves, thanks to T.V. shows like SYTYCD and "Dancing with the Stars."
So, here's the deal. It's only 10 days away, Saturday, July 31, and is a great opportunity for you to get your friends, family, dance studio, and fellow dance friends together to have a dance party. Get creative and submit your ideas to: http://www.fox.com/dance/ndd/. Once you submit, you may see a SYTYCD camera crew at your event and be featured on the show!!
Don't forget to learn the hip-hop routine choreographed by the awesome NappyTabs duo to dance on the big day. Check out the video:
Here's a bit more info on the day, from the SYTYCD website;
WHAT: NATIONAL DANCE DAY, a grassroots initiative that encourages the nation, young and old, to move! Individuals, families, organizations and communities from across the nation come together through their creative expression in dance. Any style of dance is welcome and imagination is recommended in order to get the most out of this celebratory day.
WHY: To continue to generate national awareness for dance, a medium of expression and storytelling which, through shows like So You Think You Can Dance, has proven its value in bringing individuals from all walks of life together through a positive platform that has no boundaries and cultivates imagination and passion. Most importantly, the day is intended to promote health and wellness nationwide.
Nigel has been tweeting up a storm about National Dance Day, a.k.a. D-Day. He said the goal is to “prove that the ‘Power of Dance’ can MOVE an entire Country!” So get up off the couch and put on your dancing shoes on July 31st. Share your D-Day ideas in the SYTYCD forums and stay tuned to this site for more information to come.
It's been almost two days since "So You Think You Can Dance" aired, and I still can't get Alex and Twitch's hip-hop routine out of my head! Who knew a ballet dude could thrust his hips like a gansta? It was ingenious choreography from the hottest hip-hop team out there - NappyTabs (Napoleon and Tabitha).
This article from Dance Teacher Magazine offers some excellent advice on how young teachers can still be respected by students who are close to their age. Advice like establish boundries by staying professional, always come prepared, keep a watchful eye on the students by giving them corrections, get more education, and keep your cool when you make a mistake.
You can be professional by being "approchable, but not friendly," the article reads. Also, be cautious outside of the classroom as well by declining invitations to social events with your students or social networking online.
Coming to class prepared cannot be stressed enough. Knowing the combinations you're going to give and having music prepared will boost your own confidence, which will also boost your authority.
The article also stresses the importance of keeping yourself educated by attending workshops, going back to school, and getting educated on anatomy and the science of the body. One well-respected dance teacher certification program that only requires one week a year is Dance Master's of America.
To read the original article, "Theory and Practice: Become an Authority,"click here.
Daniel Ulbricht, NYCB principal, teaching a class at the Rock School
Buying your first pair of Pointe shoes can be intimidating and difficult. Even though most of you will have the help of your teacher, you can still make the process go faster and more smoothly by getting some education about proper fit and styles first. Check out this video from Russian Pointe that will get you started.
Here's a great article from Pointe Magazine, "Pointe Shoe Guide," for those of you who are new to Pointe shoes, or searching for a new brand or style. It addresses challenges like the difficulty of breaking in shoes, finding quieter shoes, and finding shoes that prevent blisters. Like the new shoe from Capezio, Simone, that has a new technology which helps you break in the shoes faster without sacrificing longevity. Or the new Jewels Collection by Russian Pointe that is made with less fabric, making it quieter.
While you have a little extra time on your hands this summer, why not do some exercises to strengthen your feet? In this article, Fitness: Toe Pointers from Dance Spirit Magazine, columnist Colleen Bohenl gives four exercises that will help improve foot alignment with the leg, and help prevent injuries when it comes to landing jumps and leaps.
They're very easy to do, and are the perfect exercises to do in front of the TV while you're having that slumber party with your girlfriends! Check it out at the link above.
Now's the time to throw out those old leos and tights that are thread-bare and full of holes and buy some new dance gear. Check out some of the hottest dance fashions, just in time for your summer intensives and dance camps, and all at affordable prices!
These cute polka dot skirts from Leo's Dancewear give ballet class a little more personality! At justforkix.com for $21.99
Leo's Polka Dot Print Chiffon Wrap Skirt 60-55
I love these hot shorts by Eurotard that come in lots of fun colors! Plus, they're a steal at only $12.50 on dancestuf.com.
Emily Christopher attended Joffrey Ballet and Ballet Magnificat! summer intensives
So, you've been accepted to a stellar dance summer intensive and you couldn't be more pumped! You think you've got everything packed, but aren't sure if there's something you might be missing and you'd love to know more about the daily life at an intensive. Well, Dance Nerds Unite interviewed Kennesaw State University dance graduate, Emily Christopher, to get some of this inside information. Emily attended Ballet Magnificat! and Joffrey Ballet summer intensives while in high school, and trained at Impact Dance of Atlanta. It seems her training paid off because she just signed her first contract to dance and cheer for the Atlanta Thrashers (hockey) team as a Blue Crew member! Here's Emily's advice.
What are some essentials dancers going to an intensive should make sure they pack in their dance bag?
- Toe tape (for lots of intense Pointe work)
- Bobby pins, brush, hairspray
- New Skin to put on blisters
- At least two pairs of Pointe shoes
- An extra pair of tights, ballets shoes, jazz shoes, ballet skirt and warm-ups
- WATER and a little package of Emergence C (You can find this at any store. You put it in your water and to help balance your sugar levels whenever you get overheated. Great to have in your bag!)
What are some non-dance essentials you should pack?
- A note book and pen to record the corrections from teachers or difficult combinations
- A granola bar or banana (bananas are great for cramps!)
- Theraband and a tennis ball to relieve cramps and sore muscles
- Jet glue for Pointe shoes
- Band-aids are a MUST have for awful blisters
Were you homesick? If so, how did you handle it? (Think about the first time you went)
Yes, I got homesick the first time I went away, but I always miss my family because we are so close. However, I made sure to get the addresses of my friends and family and we wrote letters to each other during the time I was away. It was a lot of fun receiving letters and communicating with my friends. Also, I had my cell phone and called my family once every few days to tell them about my progress. I missed everyone but I was so focused on my dancing and the intensive that I didn’t become too homesick. I also met so many new friends and experienced so many new things that the fun overcompensated all of my other feelings.
Was it difficult to dance such long hours on a daily basis? How did you push through and keep going?
Yes, it was difficult for the first week or so but after that your body gets used to the long hours. I made sure that I got plenty of sleep at night, I took tons of Advil, and I stretched every night before going to bed. Stretching at night really helps your muscles and you can tell a difference the next morning.
Did you do any training before you went to prepare? For instance, jogging, swimming, private lessons, etc. If not, would you recommend it?
I personally didn’t do any extra training before to prepare. However, I do recommend going to the gym and working on cardio as well as abdominal work. Endurance and a strong core will help tremendously during long dance days.
Meeting other dancers and making new friends is one of the best parts of dance intensives. Do you have any advice on how to make friends, especially since it is a somewhat competitive environment?
When meeting new friends, just be yourself. Never try to be any different than who you are. It is kind of scary in such a competitive environment to talk to someone new, but if you're stretching next to someone or warming up just bring up a little small talk and see where that leads. Most of the time other dancers will keep the small talk going, and that can lead into a friendship. Be careful not to talk during class or approach someone when they are working on their technique or combinations.
Last, how long were the intensives and when did you go?
Along with the summer intensives I attended at my own studio, I also attended ones that were away. The first time I went away to a summer intensive I was was 14, and I went to Ballet Magnificat! in Mississippi for two weeks. When I was 14, and then I went to The Joffrey Ballet School in NYC for four weeks. Being in the city was difficult because not only was I away from my family at a very competitive summer dance intensive. I was also introduced to a totally different cultural environment. I had to become open minded and embrace the culture I was in while staying true to myself and convictions in order to grow as an artist. If I had closed up to change, then I would of never of been able to grow. It was scary but in the end I learned more than I ever thought I would have and had a fabulous time!