Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Modern Class Exercises - Cunningham Technique

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!

Be sure to check out the article, Technique: Robert Swinston, in full and this video which features a demonstration.

Merce Cunningham

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    2011 Summer Intensives

    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).

    Alvin Ailey - The Ailey School
    • Dates: June 21 - July 29, 2011
    • Ages: 16-25 or 12-15 for the Junior Division
    • Click here for audition tour dates and other important audition information
    • Cost: $2,300
    • Financial aid is available through federal grants and loans
    • Classes include: ballet, modern, jazz hip-hop, tap, Dunham technique, body conditioning, yoga, Gyrokinesis®, and barre à terre
    • Dates: July 17 - August 5, 2011
    • Program: Ballet and modern, pointe work is not required
    • Ages: 15-17, limited to 44 students
    • Deadline for online application: JANUARY 7, 2011
    • Auditions: Live or by video, preregister online
    • Cost: TBA, but last year tuition was $1,160 and room and board was $985
    • Financial aid is available based on financial need and merit
    • Contact Info: or call the Office of Admissions at (212) 799-5000, ext 223

    Boston Ballet School
    • Dates: June 25 - July 30, 2011
    • Ages: 10-19
    • Click here for audition tour dates, no preregistration required. Can also audition by video.
    • Cost: Tuition: $2,925 and Room and Board: $2,325
    • Financial aid and payment programs are available
    • 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
    • Contact: and 617.456.6269

    Joffrey Ballet School
    • Dates: June 13 - August 6, 2011, with a minimum attendance of one week
    • Cost: Full 8 weeks: $2,599, or $325.00 per week, or $15 per class
    • Financial aid is available based on merit or extreme need

    • Dates: 
      • 5-Week Summer Program, June 27-July 29, 2011 -- for 12 years and older 
      • 2-Week Summer Program, August 1-12, 2011 -- for 10-12 year olds
    • Classes: ballet technique, pointe, pas de deux, variations, jazz, stretch and weight training
    • Audition dates in your area - by live or video audition
    • Cost: Tuition - $600 plus $50 registration fee
    • Contact:  305.929.7007 or e-mail at

    • Dates: June 27 - July 29, 2011
    • Cost: Tuition - $2,470, Room & Board - $2,100, Registration Fee - $125
    • Audition tour dates
    • Classes: ballet technique, pointe, repertory/variations, character, contemporary, pas de deux, floor barre/Pilates
    • Financial aid is available but very limited

    Alonzo King LINES Ballet
    • Dates: 
      • Session One: June 14, 2011 - July 13, 2011 (ages 11-16)
      • Session Two: July 17, 2011 - August 20, 2011 (ages 17-24)
    • Cost: $1,775 (four weeks) or $2,350 (five weeks) 
    • Housing is not provided
    • Audition tour dates and financial aid information
    • Financial aid granted based on application

    American Ballet Theater's JKO School
    • Dates: New York June 27 – July 29, 2011; Alabama June 27 – July 16, 2011; California August 1 – August 19, 2011; Michigan June 27 – July 22, 2011; Texas July 10 – August 5, 2011
    • Audition tour dates
    • Classes include:  Ballet Technique, Pointe, Partnering, Variations, Men’s Technique, Men’s Variations, Modern, Nutrition, Acting for Dancers/Mime, Musical Theater, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Character, Dance History, Yoga, Meet the Artist, Music, Injury Prevention, Pilates
    • Cost: Varies by location. See details here.

    University of North Carolina School of the Arts
    • Dates: June 19-July 15, 2011, all 5 weeks requried
    • Cost: 
      • In-state high school: $2,998 (tuition + room and board) 
      • Out-of-state high school: $3,649 (tuition + room and board)
      • In-state college: $2,762
      • Out-of-state college: $3,413
    • Classes: ballet and contemporary tracks

    Check these Companies Later - Summer Schedules Not Up Yet
    Paul Taylor Dance Company - Modern Dance. E-mail INTENSIVE@PTDC.ORG for more information.
    Merce Cunningham Dance Company - they are currently running a winter intensive and frequently have workshops, which would be a more affordable option for a summer intensive.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010

    Expanding Your Studio

    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.

    Friday, December 3, 2010

    An American in Moscow - 15 year old Joins Bolshoi Ballet

    James Hill for The New York Times
    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!

    Here's a slideshow of her life there.

    And an article that the New York Times ran about her: "Young Americans Embrace Rigors of Bolshoi"

    Read questions that readers submitted to Joy, and her answers: Ask the Dancers: Young Americans in Russia Respond

    Sarah Lane - ABT Soloist and Black Swan Body Double

    Photography by: SEBASTIAN KIM

    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!"
    Sarah Lane with Principle Herman Cornejo

    Thursday, December 2, 2010

    Black Swan - Training Portman to look like a Ballerina

    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.

    By Julie Bloom

    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.”

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

    Diagnose Your Knee Pain

    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.