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Spotlight: Ephrat Asherie Debunks the "Dancers Are Dumb" Stereotype
Ephrat "Bounce" Asherie has a thing for breaking boundaries. A trained ballet dancer, Asherie fell in love with hip hop in college and soon became one of the most talked-about b-girls on the scene. Today, she brings house and breaking to concert stages with her celebrated choreography, and continues to cross genres as a dancer in works by artists like Michelle Dorrance.
We caught up with her for our "Spotlight" series:
What do you think is the most common misconception about dancers?
I don't understand how the notion of "dancers as dumb" came about. Dancers have to negotiate how to use space in relationship to other people while remembering mountains of choreography. They juggle insane schedules, all while working tirelessly to perfect their craft and take care of their bodies.
What other career would you like to try?
I love languages—I wish I could speak 17 of them. Maybe working as an interpreter, a translator or a journalist covering human rights.
What was the last dance performance you saw?
A hip hop theater play called Synching Ink, written by NSangou Njikam, directed by Niegel Smith and choreographed by Gabriel "Kwikstep" Dionisio. It was one of the most moving performances I've seen in a long time.
What's the most-played song on your phone?
I'm still a little old school and keep my music on a separate iPod. The most-played song at the moment is actually my brother Ehud's music. He's a pianist and we're working together on a new piece called Odeon. Other than that, I love Monique Bingham's voice (a celebrated house music singer) and could listen to her on repeat for days.
Do you have a pre-performance ritual?
I have a very specific warm-up that I swear by. I also have a tradition of giving my dancers York Peppermint Patties before every show.
What's your favorite book?
One of the most important books I've ever read is Man's Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl. I read it once every two years or so.
Where can you be found two hours after a performance ends?
If the next day is another show day, I've ideally finished stretching and rolling out on my styrofoam roller, out of the tub and in bed.
Where did you last vacation?
I was in Sicily for a friend's wedding...magical!
What app do you spend the most time on?
Who is the person you most want to dance with—living or dead?
I would love to have another dance with two of my mentors, Marjory Smarth and Anthony Ultarte aka Voodoo Ray. Marjory passed away two and a half years ago and Ray passed away just last month. They were both pioneers, shining lights and big inspirations for so many of us in the NYC hip hop and house community.
What's the first item on your bucket list?
Learn how to speak Portuguese
What's your go-to crosstraining routine?
Dancing for hours to music by my favorite DJs. That really helps my stamina and breathing. In terms of something more regimented, I have a set of breaking drills that build technique in a way that has sustained me for years.
What's the worst advice you've ever received?
Someone told me to always have another dancer in the corner of my eye to compare myself to "because that will push you to be better." I actually believe the opposite to be true. Your inner drive to grow has to far outshine any external stimuli or comparison you may draw with someone else. That will give you longevity and sustenance. As my breaking mentor Richard Santiago (aka Break Easy) once told me, "The biggest battle you'll have will always be with yourself."
If you could relive one performance, what would it be?
Rennie Harris Puremovement's Rome and Jewels inspired me to start breaking and changed the entire trajectory of my dance life. Years later I had the opportunity to perform in the piece. I remember one of the dancers asked me if I was okay after I left the stage because I was crying. I hugged him because they were pure tears of joy.
Never did I think I'd see the day when I'd outgrow dance. Sure, I knew my life would have to evolve. In fact, my dance career had already taken me through seasons of being a performer, a choreographer, a business owner and even a dance professor. Evolution was a given. Evolving past dancing for a living, however, was not.
Transitioning from a dance career involved just as much of a process as building one did. But after I overcame the initial identity crisis, I realized that my dance career had helped me develop strengths that could be put to use in other careers. For instance, my work as a dance professor allowed me to discover my knack for connecting with students and helping them with their careers, skills that ultimately opened the door for a pivot into college career services.
Here's how five dance skills can land you a new job—and help you thrive in it:
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
I always knew my ballet career would eventually end. It was implied from the very start that at some point I would be too old and decrepit to take morning ballet class, followed by six hours of intense rehearsals.
What I never imagined was that I would experience a time when I couldn't walk at all.
In rehearsal for Nutcracker in 2013, I slipped while pushing off for a fouetté sauté, instantly rupturing the ACL in my right knee. In that moment my dance life flashed before my eyes.
Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:
If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.
The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.
Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:
We all know that companies too often take dancers for granted. When I wrote last week about a few common ways in which dancers are mistreated—routine screaming, humiliation, being pressured to perform injured and be stick-thin—I knew I was only scratching the surface.
So I put out a call to readers asking for your perspective on the most pressing issues that need to be addressed first, and what positive changes we might be able to make to achieve those goals.
The bottom line: Readers agree it's time to hold directors accountable, particularly to make sure that dancers are being paid fairly. But the good news is that change is already happening. Here are some of the most intriguing ideas you shared via comments, email and social media:
With dancer and choreographer credits that cover everything from touring with Beyoncé to music videos and even feature films, Tricia Miranda knows more than a thing or two about what it takes to make it. And aspiring dancers are well aware. We caught up with the commercial dance queen last weekend at the Brooklyn Funk convention, where she taught a ballroom full of dancers classes in hip-hop and dancing for film and video.
How To Land An Agency
"At times with the agencies, they already have someone that looks like you or you're just not ready to work. Look has to do with a lot of it, work ethic and also just the type of person you are. Do you have personality? Do people want to work with you? Because you can be the greatest dancer, but if you're not someone that gives off this energy of wanting to get to know you, then it doesn't matter how dope you are because people want to work with who they want to be around. I learned that by later transitioning into a choreographer because now that I'm hiring people, I want to hire the people that I want to be around for 12 or 14 hours a day.
You also have to understand that class dancers are different from working commercial dancers. A lot of class dancers and what you see in these YouTube videos are people who stand out because they're doing what they want and remixing choreography. They're kind of stars in their own right, which is great for class, but when it comes to a job, you have to do the choreography how it's taught."
Houston's METdance and the Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance have teamed up to commission a new work from Dallas native (and former Dallas Black Dance Theatre artistic director) Bridget L. Moore. The two contemporary companies will take the stage together in Dallas at Moody Performance Hall on March 16 and at Houston's Hobby Center for the Performing Arts on April 13–15. Visit brucewooddance.org and metdance.org for details on the respective engagements.
Onstage, Clifton Brown is a force of nature. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer joined the celebrated company at 19, in 1999. In 2011, he left to dance with Jessica Lang Dance and Lar Lubovitch Dance Company before returning to Ailey last year. Brown has been trying his hand at choreography on the side, but this week his first larger work—a commission from The Washington Ballet artistic director Julie Kent—premieres on a program of new works by choreographers who still perform.
Brown will take a day or two away from the Ailey company's rigorous tour schedule to see TWB dancers perform his Menagerie, danced to Rossini's Duet for Cello and Double Bass in D Major, at Washington, D.C.'s Harman Center for the Arts. We caught up with him last week in Chicago.
Once Adriana Pierce caught the choreography bug as a teenager, dancemaking came naturally. More difficult was navigating the tricky situations that would arise when choreographing on classmates and friends. "If a rehearsal didn't go well, I'd worry that people didn't respect me or didn't like my work," says Pierce, who went on to participate in the School of American Ballet's Student Choreography Workshop twice, at 17 and 18. "I had a lot to learn: how not to take things personally, how to express what I wanted, when to push and when to back off."
Choreographing on your peers can feel intimidating. How can you be a leader in your own rehearsals when you're dancing at the same level the rest of the time? How can you critique your cast without hurting feelings? Avoiding pitfalls takes commitment and care, but the payoff is worth it.
Ever since we heard that Michaela DePrince's memoir, Taking Flight, was going to be a movie, we've been on the edge of our seats waiting for more info. Almost three years later, it's been worth the wait—we just learned that the Queen of Pop herself will be directing DePrince's biopic.
"Michaela's journey resonated with me deeply as both an artist and an activist who understands adversity," Madonna said in a statement. "We have a unique opportunity to shed light on Sierra Leone and let Michaela be the voice for all the orphaned children she grew up beside."