In Training: Learning to Fly
University of Wyoming students performing at Vedauwoo rec area. Photo by J. Harper, Courtesy University of Wyoming.
Lately, aerial dance has become a major genre—take a look at productions of Cirque du Soleil or on Broadway, and you’ll see dancers high overhead, engulfed in swaths of fabric or bounding gracefully off the walls. And dedicated aerial dance companies are popping up all over the country. As techniques evolve, more universities are incorporating it into their dance programs. “Aerial demands breadth of training in a variety of apparatuses,” says Nada Diachenko, dance professor at University of Colorado, Boulder. “It takes a lot of body conditioning, and safety issues are huge.” Here are three programs with extensive aerial dance offerings. —Amy Brandt
UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
Location: Durham, NH
Dance audition required: Yes
Prior aerial experience required: No
Degrees offered: BA in theater with an option in dance; dance minor
Program description: Ballet, pointe, tap, jazz and aerial arts make up the core curriculum, as well as courses in pedagogy, composition, dance history and choreography. Aerial classes are in two-hour time blocks in which students rotate between four stations: Trapeze and silks are offered every class; lyra, single-point trapeze, net, triple trap, Spanish web and other apparatuses are interspersed throughout the semester. Safety, rigging techniques and injury prevention are also addressed each class. Advanced students assist beginning and intermediate classes; once a week, advanced aerial students meet for an extra lab.
Facility: One studio with 20-foot steel-beam ceilings that allow for rigging
Performance opportunities: Spring dance concert provides opportunities for aerial performance, Aerial Showcase at the end of each semester, outdoor performances
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO, BOULDER
Location: Boulder, CO
Dance audition required: Yes, for both CU-Boulder’s graduate dance program and the Frequent Flyers program. Base strength requirements and health insurance also required for aerial training.
Prior aerial experience required: One year of focused training in an aerial apparatus; teacher-training candidates should be at an advanced level in an aerial apparatus, with prior teaching experience in either dance or aerial dance.
Degree offered: MFA in dance; secondary concentration in aerial dance with two track options (performance or teaching) through a partnership with Frequent Flyers, a professional aerial company and school.
Program description: Aerial track students complete 10 credit hours through FF towards total MFA requirements of 60 hours. All students take aerial fitness, aerial dance technique, ground-based movement, improvisation/choreography, open gym, stretching and workshops. Candidates work with fabric, trapeze, hoop, invented apparatus and stilts. Performance track includes student company and private lessons. Teaching-track candidates graduate with an MFA and FF teaching certification. CU graduate dance coursework includes technique, choreography, pedagogy, graduate seminar, final project, among others.
Facility: Aerial classes take place at Frequent Flyers’ studio, plus one on campus.
Performance opportunities: Student and/or faculty concerts, Aerial Dance Festival, informal showings
UNIVERSITY OF WYOMING
Location: Laramie, WY
Dance audition required: No audition required for the BA, which all freshmen declare. Students audition for the BFA program at the end of their freshman or sophomore year.
Prior aerial experience required: No
Degrees offered: BA in dance, BFA in dance performance, BFA in dance science, dance minor
Program description: Vertical dance courses (which involve rope and harness) are offered as electives to the overall dance curriculum, which includes ballet, modern and jazz. Vertical I is open to all dance majors and introduces safety measures, basic equipment and vertical dance vocabulary. Dancers work individually and in pairs, developing sequences and transitions for a final performance. Vertical II expands upon rigging techniques and focuses on individual choreography. Both courses begin each class with conditioning specific to vertical dance.
Facility: Classes are held in a black-box theater with an easily accessible grid, as well as in larger theaters. Rehearsals are held outdoors in late summer in preparation for performances at a local recreational area.
Performance opportunities: Two main-stage productions a year, collaborative faculty concerts, biannual performance at Vedauwoo outdoor recreation area, American College Dance Festival Association Northwest Conference
When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."
But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.
From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.
New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.
A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.
Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.
In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
It is a great tragedy for dance history that iconic ballet partnerships like Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev or Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov weren't able to document their backstage shenanigans on social media. (Okay, maybe not a great tragedy, but you have to admit that you're curious.)
Lucky for us, that isn't the case with today's star dancers—like American Ballet Theatre principal dancers Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside, aka The Cindies. These two aren't just onstage partners. They're serious #BestieGoals. Our evidence, as documented on Instagram, is as follows:
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series
The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!
We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.
Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you: