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"Dance Isn't For Everyone"
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Dance institutions are actively engaged in relationships with physical therapists and orthopedic surgeons for the purpose of seeing dancers through the physical repercussions of their training. But when it comes to mental health, criticism about the lack of resources is often met with statements like, "We don't have the time or money for that."
Currently, those being weeded out are the dancers who struggle with the same psychological insecurities and temporary mental challenges that any other teenager might feel, but under the extraordinary stress that dance training demands. We ask our young dancers to face tremendous mental obstacles—competition among peers, the rigors of training and meeting physical expectations, leaving home at young a young age, among many others. But somehow it is asking too much that mental wellness be part of their training.
It is true that there are more dance students than there are professional positions in dance, by a staggering margin. But in nearly a decade of dance writing, I have yet to interview a director who has said, "Whoa, there is too much talent, stop sending all these amazing dancers to me." The art will not suffer from a larger pool of capable dancers.
So what becomes of the dancers who don't "make it"? I argue that they are the most important patrons of dance that the art could hope for.
Former dancers are often vigorous supporters of the work: They deeply appreciate the art form and seek to see it advance and perpetuate. They are the people who buy season tickets, donate to the company and pay tuition for their own children to study ballet.
A 2010 WolfBrown study commissioned by Dance/USA found that more than 50 percent of dance audience members are current or former dancers. The study states that "A quarter of all dance buyers take dance lessons or classes at least occasionally, and another 33 percent used to, earlier in their lives." Dancers and former dancers are the investors that keep our art form going.
But I have a young daughter, and I live in fear of the day that she asks to take ballet because I would never want her to battle the lack of mental support that I faced as a pre-professional student. What hope can we have for the longevity of dance in our culture if we turn a blind eye to the very people who would help it to survive?
It took me years to go to the ballet after I quit dancing. It was too traumatic for me. To borrow the words of the great Maya Angelou, "At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel." And I felt wretched about dance.
Dance institutions are destroying their own audience by ignoring the needs of their dancers. We need to invest in the mental wellness of dancers, not because it is the right thing to do (although it is), but because it will perpetuate the wellness of the art of dance.
"Dance isn't for everyone." I hope that for all our sake, that isn't true. Because we need everyone, every time the lights hit the stage, to want to be a part of it.
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
In today's dance world, it seems to go without saying: The more varied the training, the better. But is that always the case? Rhonda Malkin, a New York City–based dance coach who performed with the Radio City Rockettes, thinks trendy contemporary techniques that emphasize improvisation and organic movement quality are detrimental to the precision and strength needed to be a Rockette, in a traditional Broadway show or on a professional dance team. Her view is controversial: "If you really want to work, making $40,000 in three months for the Rockettes or $25,000 in one day filming a commercial, you need ballet, Broadway jazz, tap, hip hop—not contemporary," she says.
On the flip side, techniques that allow dancers more freedom may help them connect more deeply with their body and artistry, while providing release for overused muscles. We broke down the argument for both sides:
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.
Not all ballet dancers cling to their youth. At 26, Lauren Lovette, the New York City Ballet principal, has surpassed the quarter-century mark. And she's relieved.
"I've never felt young," she says. "I can't wait until I'm 30. Every woman I've ever talked to says that at 30 you just don't care. You're free. Maybe I'll start early?"
When Beatlemania swept through the U.S. in the 1960s, Mark Morris was one of millions of young Americans who fell head over heels for the revolutionary group. "I was not immune," the choreographer says. "My sisters were mad about The Beatles and so was I. At age 12 I had a crush on Paul, of course."
Flash forward 50 years and he is still rocking to the British band, but this time with a new Beatles-inspired dance work his company is touring across North America, starting this month with scheduled stops in Seattle, Toronto, Portland, Oregon, and another 25 cities before the end of 2019.
You could call it island-hopping, but it's not exactly a vacation. After choreographing last season's Come From Away, and winning a Tony nomination, Kelly Devine zipped from frosty Newfoundland to the Caribbean beach resort that is the setting for Escape to Margaritaville.
In the fall, she was shuttling between them, before they start this month: flying to Toronto to prepare a new Canadian production of Come From Away, then jetting back to Chicago for the final stop of Margaritaville's four-city pre-Broadway tryout.
"These two shows could not be more different from each other," Devine says with a dash of understatement. Come From Away is about the small Newfoundland town where airliners grounded by the 9/11 attacks dumped thousands of unexpected visitors; Escape to Margaritaville, at the Marquis Theatre, is a comic island romance concocted from the beachcomber songbook of Jimmy Buffett.
How does someone go from being a New York City Ballet corps member to training Hollywood A-listers like Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara and Jennifer Lawrence? By getting injured, says Kurt Froman.
When an ankle sprain left him sidelined a few years back, Froman was "sitting at home, depressed" when he sent his friend Benjamin Millepied an email asking what he was up to. It turned out that Millepied had just been hired to choreograph some scenes for a movie, but had to be in Paris during pre-production. "He needed someone to teach two actors choreography and get them in shape," says Froman. With nothing else on his plate, he said yes, and started prepping Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis for Black Swan.