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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."
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.