Master the Convention Class
Whether you're attending your first convention or your 20th, spending a weekend in a crowded ballroom with hundreds of other dancers can be equal parts exciting, intimidating and overwhelming. Conventions are a chance to learn new styles, take classes from top teachers and network with the people who may someday hire you. So how do you take advantage of this opportunity and stand out from the crowd?
Dress the Part
Convention days are long, and you're likely to transition from jazz to hip hop, then on to tap and ballet. You won't have much time to change between classes, so your outfit should be one that's comfortable and works for multiple disciplines.
Make sure to dress for the atmosphere you'll be dancing in—which likely means a carpeted floor with sections of hardwood for the tap classes. “There are a lot of triangle-top bikinis happening that are not going to help you when you're dancing on carpet," says Jakob Karr, who assists at New York City Dance Alliance. Warm yourself up properly, make sure you've stretched, and don't wear slippery socks if you're doing contemporary on a hardwood floor. If you'll be dancing on carpet, consider forgoing bare feet in favor of socks that'll give you more freedom to turn. You want to look good, but make sure you're able to perform at your best.
Be Smart About Space
Everyone seems to think standing front-row center is a must-do at conventions because you're most likely to be spotted by the instructors. But no one likes—or wants to hire—a pushy dancer. Instead, try moving around the room. “I find that dancers who stay front and center the entire class don't use their space well," says NYCDA faculty member Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh. “Learn the combination in one spot, then change it up."
When the instructor breaks dancers into small groups to perform the choreography, stick to your assigned group, and while you're waiting for your turn, move all the way to the side so the dancers performing have enough room.
Yes, it's crowded. No, you don't want to whack your neighbor in the face with an overeager battement. Spatial awareness is absolutely necessary. Many instructors will keep this in mind with their choreography, but, if needed, move to another spot where you have more freedom. Consider learning the combination in the back, where there's more space, then really go full-out when you're broken into groups.
Resist the Selfie
The instructors' convention schedules are just as jam-packed as yours, which means they probably don't have time to pose for 100 photos after class. “We're typically running from room to room," says NUVO Dance Convention director Ray Leeper. “Photos with the instructor can be taken during a break or if you see the instructor outside of class. And a respectful 'thank you' at the end of class is always appropriate." Feel free to say your name and where you dance, too; just keep it brief.
Focus on Presence
Dowling-Fakhrieh says the biggest mistake she sees dancers making at conventions is obsessing over whether or not the teacher is watching. “It's uncomfortable for the teacher, and it makes it seem like you're there for the wrong reasons," she says. While validation is nice, make sure you have goals beyond getting noticed each weekend. “Talent and hard work speak for themselves," says Dowling-Fakhrieh. “Think about what you really want out of the convention. Remember you're there to get better—not to socialize or get onstage. If the teacher happens to pull you up there, great! But if not, work just as hard on the floor."
Ultimately, your presence matters as much as your ability. “There are times during class when I'll see a dancer so connected to what I'm saying—so present, so eager and so willing to work harder to be better," says Leeper. “I'm most drawn to dancers whose conduct in class is respectful, no matter their age or ability level."
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.
You know that how you care for your body before curtain can impact your performance. But with so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to nail down an exact routine. How much rest is enough? How close to showtime should you eat? We asked the experts.
How do you make your athleisure collection stand out from the pack? Get the ultimate studio-to-street seal of approval by having dancers star in your campaign, of course.
For his second collaboration with activewear brand Carbon38, ready-to-wear designer Jonathan Simkhai traded in his usual top models like Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss for the original Hiplet dancers—and the resulting video is as cool as we'd expect from such a fierce collaboration.
Who are you when you no longer do what you've been doing for years?
It is the big question facing anyone who retires. For top ballet dancers, however, the situation is more extreme. They start young, grow up in a rarified atmosphere, mostly see only each other, and become more and more removed from ordinary life. So what is it like to give this all up?
I asked seven former principal dancers from different generations at San Francisco Ballet, including myself, about this challenge.
To be honest, we never tire of watching non-dancers tackle a day in the life of the pros. From athletes to average Joes, these videos always give us a good laugh, and they remind the rest of the world that a whole lot of work goes into every dance performance you see. But often times, these dancer-for-a-day videos don't fully understand the importance of training (i.e., you can't just throw on a pair of pointe shoes and give it a go).
That's why we're especially loving this video by Refinery29 that actually gets it. Lucie Fink, host of the R29 YouTube series Lucie For Hire , got a private lesson from American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, and it was endlessly entertaining.
Again and again, dance teaches me that when the filters fall away between people—when the boundaries of geography, religion and politics soften—the beginning and end of our relationships is always human.
In March, I traveled with Keigwin + Company to Cote D'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Tunisia, on a tour sponsored by the US State Department and facilitated by DanceMotion USA/Brooklyn Academy of Music. Our mission was cultural diplomacy: Simply, to share ourselves with diverse communities, to promote common understanding and friendships.
Our last stop was Tunisia. Until that point, we had mostly been learning varieties of traditional African dance, and sharing American modern dance. But Tunisia was different. The dancers already had a solid grasp of contemporary movement invention. Though we didn't speak the same language, we could make movement vocabulary with surprising ease. Everything about our backgrounds was different, but there was this special intersection through dance that seemed to present an open door to collaboration.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.
Christopher Wheeldon's new Nutcracker for the Joffrey Ballet was huge news when it premiered last winter. The choreographer shifted the setting from the home of a well-off German family to the Chicago world's fair, making the hero the young daughter of a working-class, Polish immigrant sculptress. This month, WTTW Chicago, the city's public broadcasting station, will premiere Making a New American Nutcracker, a new documentary showing how Wheeldon and his high-profile collaborators made the magic happen. Premieres on WTTW11 and wttw.com/watch on Nov. 16 before appearing on public television stations across the country. Check your local listings.
For most dancers, walking into the theater elicits a familiar emotion that's somewhere between the reverence of stepping into a chapel and the comfort of coming home. But each venue has its own aura, and can offer that something special that takes your performance to a new level. Six dancers share which theaters have transported them the most.
GLENN ALLEN SIMS
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Glenn Allen Sims in Alvin Ailey's Masekela Langage. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy AAADT
Favorite theater: Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain
Royal details: "The theater is gorgeous and ornate, with deep red upholstery and gold trim. There is a huge royal box in the center, which takes you back to when kings and queens were watching performances there."
Impressive facilities: Even the dressing rooms are a sight to see: Amenities for the dancers include large, carpeted rooms, and towel service.
The business side of dance can often fall second to the art. Contracts, which usually appear after you've done the hard work of securing a job, can seem like an inconsequential afterthought. You might decide to simply sign without reading the terms—or be understandably confused by all the legalese.
Ultimately, though, contracts can play an important part in setting the expectations for your job. A basic understanding of the legal terms you might see can go a long way in making sure that signing is a positive step toward growing your career.