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How to Actually Make Your Movement Look Effortless
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.
Use Your Transitions
As a teenager, New York City Ballet principal Anthony Huxley had an "aha" moment watching former NYCB principal Peter Boal demonstrate combinations. He learned from Boal how to guide his weight and momentum out of each step in ways that would help him begin the next one. Half the power necessary to execute a movement could be borrowed from the one before, and so on.
Anthony Huxley, photo by Paul Kolnik
"You'll make your transitions as easy, clean and fast as they can be by taking everything you don't need out of your dancing," says Huxley. This includes being unnecessarily fixated on specific shapes. Unless the choreography demands that you show a balance or stillness, "don't even worry about it. You'll just end up wasting time."
Dancers used to watching themselves in the mirror can develop the habit of looking straight ahead. But to achieve a feeling of effortlessness, it's essential to use your eyes onstage. "Release the neck so the head can move freely and the eyes can see," Jenkins suggests. "Making decisions based on what you see generates an easy, casual aesthetic. When this happens onstage, it's a sign of maturity—I'm drawn in and I want to know more."
Laurel Jenkins, Photo by Vincent Beaume
Do It Again
Use rehearsal run-throughs to sort your material and determine when to step on the gas, and when to coast, advises Huxley. "The first time I run something, I always give everything 100 percent, which wears you out both physically and mentally. That's not a pleasant experience, to feel like it's impossible to keep going."
Dancer and choreographer Jodi Melnick is fond of repetition as a tool that helps her understand a movement's essence. Each time she repeats a step, she relearns it and reexperiences it, "recording it physically and connecting with the sensation of it," she says.
Jodi Melnick, Photo by Stephanie Berger
Enough Is Enough
Movements have "sweet spots" when it comes to the amount of muscular engagement and release needed. Pause to ask yourself how much force you're using and, more often than not, you'll find there's some you can spare. "I often think about this as the balance between tension and attention," says Melnick.
"I'm a weakling, really," she says. "I don't have that explosive, muscular strength—it's all in direction and follow-through, like playing pool or throwing darts."
"The idea of release is not collapse—it's actually poise," Jenkins explains, "and by doing less, the dancer is a magnet for the audience's focus, rather than trying to capture the audience's attention. I think of it like a cat, that dynamic stillness it has before an attack—that awake poise, ready for decisive action."
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.