Is Your Stage Parent Hurting Your Training?
Casting is being done for an upcoming show, and your mom just won't let up. She's in the waiting room every second you're in the studio, and you've seen her pull the director aside at least twice. She has an opinion on every dancer in your class, including you. And the weight of it all is just too much.
As a dancer with an overbearing parent, it can often feel like you are competing with their expectations in addition to every other talented student in your school. Parents should support you, but there is a line where their involvement can hurt your development and potential future in dance. Understanding their perspective will help you address the situation, and ultimately take your training into your own hands.
Your Parents' Point of View
Ever since you decided to be a dancer, your parents have probably done everything they can to make your dream come true. Out of love for you, they have paid for your classes, sat through performances and provided support when things got hard.
"Parents have made a huge investment," says Dr. Brian Goonan, a psychologist who works with dancers at Houston Ballet Academy. "The loss of personal time spent driving back and forth to the studio every day, the cost of a costume that has no resale value. It is hard for parents to hold back from being direct support instead of just emotional support."
Joanne Chapman, director of Joanne Chapman School of Dance in Ontario, Canada, remembers a recent competition where one of her most talented dancers came offstage and asked her mother how she had done. The mother responded, "I think you could have done better." "There was a complete meltdown in the change room," Chapman recalls. "This mom is a great person. She is a single mother working extra hours so her daughter can dance. Parents want what is best for their kids, but sometimes they feel like they have the right to critique. 'I work so hard to pay for you to dance and you don't think that I should have a say?' That is hard."
Has Your Parent Gone Too Far?
It isn't just embarrassing to have your parent meddling at the studio. It can also hold you back. In an effort to make their child seem perfect, Chapman says that stage parents often make excuses for their kids. Instead of making you explain to your director why you haven't learned the choreography for the piece you are working on, they try to step in and will say something like "It's my fault, I asked her to go to her sister's graduation this weekend." "They don't allow their kids to take ownership of anything," Chapman says.
PC Nathan Sayers
That habit can leave dancers less capable of navigating the demands of their career. Goonan advises that parents need to give children direction, but also the opportunity to fail in order to become self-sufficient. "As parents we may be disappointed in our child's choice and find out they are not ready," he says. But becoming independent is necessary because parents won't be there to help forever.
Chapman says that a parent who is supportive in the right ways is doing things like paying your tuition, making sure you get enough sleep and helping you get to the studio every day with the tools you need. They should also be a shoulder to cry on when you need them. "But leave the dance training to the teachers," she says. "That is a very definite line." She says that criticism of your performance from a parent is never appropriate. "The only thing they ever need to say is 'I loved watching you, you are my favorite dancer onstage.' "
Address the Issue
Goonan advises that you need to sit down with your parents and express clearly and calmly that you want to be more independent. Explain that you understand the potential consequences of this extra freedom. Start small by asking that they allow you to earn their trust by taking on specific responsibilities. For example, if mom insists on sewing your pointe shoes because you procrastinate, show her that you can for a month. If you are disappointed in casting, tell your parents you would like to talk to the teacher on your own to find out how you can improve. Make sure to tell them how thankful you are for how much they do for you so that they know the request isn't due to a lack of gratitude.
Understand that this will be a difficult conversation for your parents, and, if they continue to balk at your request for independence, get a third party involved. Chapman is not afraid to have a conversation with an overbearing parent, and she advises that it is completely appropriate for a student to ask their teacher to help with the discussion if needed. "Sometimes parents think the more they squeak the more likely their child is to get an opportunity," she says. "But it is so not true."
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.
As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.
That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.
La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.
It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.
—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
Efficient movement is easy to recognize—we all know when we see a dancer whose every action seems essential and unmannered. Understanding how to create this effect, however, is far more elusive. From a practical perspective, dancing with efficiency helps you to conserve your energy and minimize wear and tear on the body; from an artistic point of view, it allows you to make big impressions out of little moments, and lasting memories for those watching.
So much struggle and determination goes into your training that it can be difficult for early-career dancers to recalibrate their priorities toward simplicity and ease, says Laurel Jenkins, freelance performer and Trisha Brown Dance Company staging artist. "Your aesthetic might shift, and you might have to find new things beautiful." Mastering the art of effortless movement requires a new perspective and a smart strategy—on- and offstage.
Whatever your feelings about Wayne McGregor's heady, hyper-physical choreography, we can all probably agree on one thing: We'd really, really love to pick his brain. And tomorrow, Dance Umbrella, a UK-based dance festival, is giving everyone the chance to do exactly that.
"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"
Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.
Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.
You know Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as the men who parody your favorite ballet variations—and make it look good. But there's more to the iconic troupe than meets the eye.
A new documentary, Rebels on Pointe, goes behind the scenes of the company, and it's full of juicy tidbits about what it's like to be a Trock. These were some of our favorite moments:
After 30 years of pioneering work in physically integrated dance, AXIS Dance Company co-founder Judith Smith has announced plans to retire from the Oakland, California, company. Throughout her tenure, she strived to get equal recognition for integrated dance and disabled dancers, commissioning work from high-profile choreographers like Bill T. Jones. Her efforts generated huge momentum for expanded training, choreography, education and advocacy for dancers with disabilities.
By phone from her home in Oakland, Smith reflected on how far the field has evolved since the early days of AXIS, and what's yet to be done.