What Your Partner Wishes You Knew
Six common mistakes he may not be telling you about
Partnering training is one of the most nuanced parts of dance education. And yet, so much of it is entirely focused on male students. Beyond the basic principles—like holding your core and avoiding slippery leotards—young women often have little direction other than performing steps they already know with the help of a male dancer. But they have just as much to learn about becoming a good partner. Communication is key—but there are also some mistakes that your counterpart may not think to mention.
Mistake: Forgetting to breathe
Especially when you're just starting out, dancing so close to someone can feel weird. Students and professional dancers alike can get nervous when working with a new partner for the first time. But holding unnecessary tension in your body—and forgetting to breathe—interrupts your natural rhythms and prevents you from feeling “in sync" with the dancer beside you. “When you breathe into the step, and in between steps, you can look at the guy and know that he will be there," says Claudio Muñoz, ballet master of Houston Ballet II.
Mistake: Not trusting your partner, or yourself
Second-guessing throws off your rhythm and energy. “It's the most difficult part of learning how to partner as a student," says Seth Orza, principal dancer at Pacific Northwest Ballet. “It takes practice." Trust that if you're in partnering class, it's because your teacher knows you're ready.
“The more experienced dancer has to be the mature guide and say, 'I will be there, don't worry,' " says Muñoz. “It's about communication." Don't let fear hold you back. “It's not going to be perfect every time," says Orza. “And it's different with everybody. Some people you mesh better with than others."
Mistake: Trying to help too much
You want to make your partner's life easy. But you also have to let him carry his own weight. This is the most common mistake Orza sees, and it often manifests as putting too much energy into a step, which actually makes your partner's job more difficult. “In Sleeping Beauty, when you do the en dedans pirouette into a fish dive, if the girl overdoes the turn and tries to help too much, it can swing out of control," he says. “It has to be an equal partnership. If one person's doing too much, it throws off the movement."
Mistake: Forgetting the music and mood
Claudio Muñoz with Houston Ballet Academy students. Photo by Bruce Bennett, Courtesy Houston Ballet.
When it comes to performing your side of the pas, musicality should be your number one priority. “When you dance with the same person for a long time, you have a shared internal rhythm—that's why everything comes so easily," says Muñoz. Until you've developed that intimate connection with a partner, “the music is the link between the two dancers."
To add depth to this shared rhythm, talk with your partner about the mood and story that you're expressing. “It's imperative—they have to approach the choreography with the same mood," says Muñoz. “It makes you feel, makes you connect with the other person."
Confidence is important to partnering, but for dancers with a year or two of experience under their belts, it can be tempting to think you've learned it all. “Listen to each other, and stay humble," says Muñoz. If you ever find yourself assuming that problems are your partner's fault, it's time to pause and reevaluate. If in doubt, a teacher can step in to help navigate a tricky step.
Mistake: Becoming a cookie-cutter partner
Courtesy Houston Ballet
“Some dancers are stubborn and want to do the steps the way they feel they are supposed to do them, no matter who they are dancing with," says Muñoz. “That is wrong. You have the same ingredients, but you have to be willing to change and accommodate." Things won't feel exactly the same from one partner to the next, and that's okay. Always listen for ways that you can make your partner's job easier.
FOR MORE TIPS: Check out Experiencing the Art of Pas de Deux by former Miami City Ballet dancers Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg and Carlos Miguel Guerra, out this month.
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:
-Hey. U up?
-Ya. I'm at the ballet.
-Oh ok. Talk later.
-Nah, it's cool, it's a slow part right now.
Nope, it's not cool. Put your phone away. In the hushed darkness of an auditorium, light explodes from that screen like shrapnel, blasting those around you out of their viewing experience.
2017 felt like we were living the Upside Down of the popular Netflix series "Stranger Things." From Donald Trump becoming president, to the sexual harassment scandals that ricocheted into the ballet world, everything we thought we knew was turned on its head.
Yet while the deconstruction of institutional paradigms is frightening, it also presents an unprecedented opportunity for redesign.
Ballet, much like our political parties, seems to be stuck in an antiquated format that's long overdue for a makeover. With the world changing at lightning speed, if ballet wants to survive it will have to undergo a radical reimagining. But what would that look like?
Dear dancers of the New York City Ballet,
I realize that you are scared because the future of the New York City Ballet is uncertain; you don't know who will man the ship, and your career that you've worked your entire life for feels under attack.
On social media some of you alluded to the idea that Peter Martins' downfall is a result of the times; a maelstrom of allegations sweeping the country, bringing down powerful men, for misdeeds proven and unproven. I understand that for many of you this feels unfair: Peter has helped you personally ascend the ranks of the company by believing in you, and mentoring you. For others the described behavior may feel abstract; it isn't something you've witnessed, and many of the accusations occurred long before your time, maybe even before you were born. And above all, how could you possibly betray the man who plucked you from the school and gave you the chance of a lifetime: to dance with one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world? How could you see this person, who gave you this chance, this gift, as the monster he's being painted as?
Throughout his remarkable career, the fiercely determined, intelligent and energetic Arthur Mitchell has become accustomed to being called a trailblazer. "Being a typical Aries, I like being the first," he says, laughing. "That's what I've been doing all my life."
This is true, especially when it comes to the discussion at the forefront of today's national dialogue about dance: diversity in ballet.
In the dance world, Mandy Moore has long been a go-to name, but in 2017, the success of her choreography for La La Land made the rest of the world stop and take notice. After whirlwind seasons as choreographer and producer on both "Dancing with the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance," she capped off the year with two Emmy Award nominations—and her first win.
You've come a long way on "So You Think You Can Dance"—from assistant to the choreographer (Season 1) to creative producer (Season 14). What keeps you returning to the show?
"So You Think You Can Dance" was one of my first jobs, so it feels like home. I love the chaos of live television; as soon as one show is over you're on to the next.
Last Saturday night, Dance/NYC, Gibney Dance and the Actors Fund hosted a conversation on sexual harassment in the dance world. The floor was open for anyone in attendance to share whatever they wanted: personal stories, resources, suggestions.
The event brought to light some of the questions the dance world is facing, and though we don't yet have all the answers, it helped lay out the areas we need to address:
What would dance-specific sexual harassment training and policies look like?
Corporate harassment trainings tend to tell employees to avoid touching coworkers and to not wear revealing clothing in the workplace. Obviously, these rules aren't applicable to the dance world. Many in attendance agreed that everyone in the dance world should undergo training, so what should it include?
The ballet world can't get enough of Arthur Pita. With his maverick, surreal imagination, the self-styled "David Lynch of dance" brings a welcome theatricality to everything he touches, from his version of Kafka's The Metamorphosis to 2017's Salome for San Francisco Ballet.
The South African–born Pita competed in disco dancing and later performed with Matthew Bourne's New Adventures. Today, he is Bourne's offstage partner, and the pair live together in London. His latest work, which premiered in November, is a one-act adaptation of Dorothy Scarborough's 1925 Texan novel, The Wind, for The Royal Ballet.
We've been a fan of the space bun look since our Spice Girls days, which is exactly why we were so excited when hair and makeup artist Angela Huff brought the double-bun style back for our January cover shoot with American Ballet Theatre's Erica Lall. To give the '90s style a modern twist, Huff added a few braided details. Here's how to copy the look for your next class:
Photo by Nathan Sayers
At age 24, dancer and choreographer Caleb Teicher already has accolades beyond his years. But this week, the Bessie Award–winning performer adds another impressive feat to his resumé: His company's Joyce Theater debut. Though tap is Teicher's focus, he masterfully combines everything from jazz to Lindy Hop to hip hop in his fresh, clever choreography.
We caught up with him for our "Spotlight" series: