Become a Better Partner: Tips for Women
From their first moments in the studio, female ballet dancers are taught to hold themselves upright and control each movement of their body with intense precision. Yet in partnering, these rules of independent practice are challenged. Sasha Janes, Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music faculty member and partnering coach, offers some tips for how female dancers can navigate this change in approach.
(For tips for male ballet dancers, click here.)
Boston Ballet's Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili, photo by Rosalie O'Connor
There are times when you must turn all your body weight over to your partner and allow their performance to determine your performance. Just as in solo work, there are steps that cannot be executed without complete tenacious commitment. Be prepared to fall into or away from your partner with full energy. Trust is built through rehearsal and an achievable shared goal. If a step in partnering is done with half confidence, your partner will not be able to feel your intention and there is little hope for success.
Houston Ballet's Connor Walsh and Karina Gonzalez, photo by Kate Longley
You have trained for years how to successfully move your body through space, so you understand the mechanics of the ballet body. Know where your partner's weight needs to be for a given step or transition, and be prepared to allow him to move into that space—a good partnership should make life easier, not harder.
American Ballet Theatre's Hee Seo and Marcelo Gomes, photo by Kyle Froman
Speak to each other often. Oftentimes women fear that if we speak up or admit to being uncomfortable, we will be perceived as a "bad partner." The exact opposite is true. If a step isn't working, never be afraid to talk about it. If you let an issue go, it festers and can affect the chemistry and confidence of the partnership onstage.
San Francisco Ballet's Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada, photo by Erik Tomasson
Upper body and back strength is imperative. The time of the waifish ballerina is over. Women must have the ability to lift and be a counterweight. The stronger you are, the more versatile your movement and the pictures you can create with your partner become.
Match His Energy
Jock Soto teaching at SAB. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor
For every push, there should be an equal and opposite push. Perhaps your inclination when you feel a hand pushing you is to allow your body to follow that partner's direction. However, there are very clear times when a step in partnering requires the female dancer to give equal resistance to her male counterpart. Hands touching are a unique mechanism sending for messages about balance between bodies. Whether you are executing a classical ballet penché with one arm or an off-balance arabesque in a pas by Jiri Kylian, you must feel and match your partner's energy to find stability.
You can't make the next step happen alone; it has to be a joint effort. Partnering is a conversation; always wait to see what your partner "says" to you, then respond with your natural movement. No matter how much you want to control things, wait for your partner. If the woman's body weight transfers before the man has begun his motion to partner, the fluidity is disturbed and the natural rhythm of the step is lost. There is also inevitably a visually jarring bobble that takes the audience out of the piece. No one wants that.
Be Honest About Body Placement
The Joffrey's Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez, photo by Cheryl Mann
Sometimes, in rehearsal, you have to fall—give yourself over to the failure. Nothing is gained by faking a success in the early stages of a pas rehearsal period. This is especially true for women. If you are not on your leg, don't hold yourself. Your partner will learn faster if you are honest in your execution. In a pirouette, go for it and turn in an honest, dependable position—an accidental knee hit will only happen once, so apologize and move forward.
School of Richmond Ballet
No matter what, you must address each other with the utmost respect. Whether you just met your partner, live with him or have been friends with him for years, never let your relationship outside the studio affect the way your work together professionally. You will never achieve success if you are just finding fault in each other, and choreographers will not want to work with you if outside baggage is junking up the studio space. Both of you are performing onstage—not one or the other. Be there for each other.
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.
Last week, we highlighted the deliberately, hysterically bad @biscuitballerina Instagram account, created by a then-mysterious dancer with a great sense of humor. This week, the artist behind @biscuitballerina—who turns out to be Royal Ballet of Flanders corps member Shelby Williams—got in touch with us to set the record straight about the intentions of those LOL-worthy posts.
Her photos and videos, with their exaggeratedly cringe-worthy technical flaws, are NOT meant to mock amateur dancers. Instead, Williams is actually hoping the account will help all dancers move past their shortcomings and accept themselves and their dancing.
Everyone knows that training is the cornerstone of a successful career in dance. But as a dance educator, I also take comfort in the fact that high-quality dance training helps shape students into genuinely good people (in addition to creating future artists, which is a wonderful goal in itself.) These are the lessons dance teaches that help make students into better humans:
Improvement Takes Commitment Over Time
In my tap courses at Cal State University, sometimes students are shocked when they can't learn something quickly. In today's world, we're used to getting fast results. You need an answer—Google it. You need to talk to someone—text them. The cooking channel wants your dinner to be easy, the physical trainer wants your workout to be five minutes, Rosetta Stone can have you speaking Mandarin in an hour.
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.