Meet the Ballerina Who's Not Letting Her Height Get in the Way of Her Dancing
At 5' 10.5", Sara Michelle Murawski stands taller than most people, let alone most ballerinas. As a student, Murawski was always told her height was a positive thing, and that elongated lines are what ballet is all about. But in the professional world in the U.S., she encountered a totally different mentality. Her story went viral last December, when she was fired from Pennsylvania Ballet for being "too tall." After a devastating few months, Murawski was the first principal signed to the new American National Ballet, a Charleston, SC, company whose mission is to celebrate dancer diversity. Here, she tells her story. —Courtney Bowers
Growing Up Tall
Even as a young ballet student, I was already quite lanky—all legs and limbs, and no torso. When I was 15 (and already 5' 9") I discovered The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia, PA. Training there was probably one of the most influential parts of my life, because they embrace the beauty of all dancers. My teachers taught me that being tall was a good thing, and I started to accept my height.Murawski with dancer David Marks (photo by Sloviter, courtesy Murawski)
Building a Career
At 17 years old, I started in the corps de ballet at Dresden Semperoper Ballett in Germany. I already knew that
I should probably be dancing in Europe—European companies tend to be more open-minded about height. I didn't even audition in the U.S. At the time, Dresden had some very tall dancers in the company—some of them even taller than me! Later, I went to dance with Slovak National Ballet, where I was able to perform principal roles in full-length ballets with a principal male dancer who was about 6' 5".
Heading Back Stateside
While I was at Slovak National Ballet, Ángel Corella, the artistic director of Pennsylvania Ballet, reached out and offered me a principal contract with his company. I was elated because I grew up in Philadelphia at The Rock, so it was like home to me. I was very grateful and humbled.
I started my first season in August 2016, and everything seemed great. I was getting positive attention for roles not even meant to be danced by tall girls. When I danced the Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker, I had so many moms with children at the school come up to me and say things like, "You're breaking the mold!" It wasn't just about me—it was about future generations, too.Murawski as the Fairy Godmother in Pennsylvania Ballet's "Cinderella" (photo by Alexander Izilaev, courtesy Murawski)
I found out my contract wasn't going to be renewed that December, right before my last performance of The Nutcracker. I was devastated. It was incredibly hard to go onstage right after being told that—I was crying my makeup off in the wings. I felt lost, scared, alone, and unwanted. Even though it was difficult, I finished out the whole season, which ended this past May.
Some social media posts and an article about my firing went viral, and the public outcry saved me. I even had some big dance names write to me personally. It was the thing that made me believe in humanity and dance again. So many dancers in this country share and understand my frustrations.
Breaking the Mold
During one of my lowest days, American National Ballet sent me the kindest, most supportive message on Instagram. ANB is a new company in Charleston, SC, whose mission is to highlight diversity and to give dancers who may be different a chance to shine.
I visited Charleston a few weeks after talking to them on the phone and fell in love with the city, and with what ANB is doing. It's all long overdue. I was the first principal dancer to sign on, and I'll also serve as the visionary assistant to the artistic director.
I'm so excited to be working with ANB. People want this kind of change in the dance world. At ANB they're after real artists. And they're going to get better dancers that way. To all the tall, hopeful dancers out there: Please carry your height with pride and joy.
This story originally appeared on dancespirit.com.
We've been saying for years that dance training has benefits that reach far beyond preparation for a professional dance career: The discipline and attention to detail fostered in technique class, the critical thinking skills acquired in composition, and the awareness and rapid reaction times required for improvisation can all carry over into other fields.
But what if a choreographic tool kit could have a more direct application outside the studio? Say, to city planning?
"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."
For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.
There's a surprising twist to Regina Willoughby's last season with Columbia City Ballet: It's also her 18-year-old daughter Melina's first season with the company. Regina, 40, will retire from the stage in March, just as her daughter starts her own career as a trainee. But for this one season, they're sharing the stage together.
Last night, the New York City Ballet board of directors approved ballet master in chief Peter Martins' request for a temporary leave of absence amidst an ongoing investigation into sexual harassment.
The investigation came to light on Monday, when the New York Times reported that NYCB and the School of American Ballet had hired a law firm to investigate their leader after receiving an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment.
You dance like a knockout—but can you take a punch? Intense stage combat is a crucial element in many shows, from the sword fighting in Romeo & Juliet to the left hooks of the Broadway musical Rocky. But performing it well requires careful body awareness, trust and a full commitment to safety. Whether you're dancing a pivotal battle in a story ballet or intense partnering in a contemporary piece, these expert tips can help you make your fight scenes convincing, compelling and safe.
1. Master the Basics
When Luke Ingham was cast as Tybalt in San Francisco Ballet's Romeo & Juliet, he spent a full month practicing the basic body positions, footwork and momentum of fencing. "You need to be really grounded, you need to know where your feet are," Ingham says.
Brooklyn-based burlesque troupe Company XIV isn't afraid to take risks. Nutcracker Rouge, their take on the holiday classic, features a cast of jack-of-all-trades dancers who double as greeters, ushers, singers, actors and aerialists, while baring a good amount of skin but even more confidence. (Disclaimer: The show is for mature audiences only.) What's most impressive about these artists is how captivating they are. Regardless of what style of dance you do, if you want to become a better performer, consider taking a page out of their playbook.
You've got to be "on" the moment the audience walks in the front door.
Former New York City Ballet dancer Wilhelmina Frankfurt first spoke out about sexual misconduct at NYCB in Psychology Tomorrow in 2012. Since October, she's been working with The Washington Post reporter Sarah Kaufman for a story about Peter Martins, and when the School of American Ballet began investigating Martins for an anonymous accusation, she was called in to discuss her experiences. But Frankfurt feels there's more to the larger picture, and shares that here with Dance Magazine, as edited by Maggie Levin.
In 1994, I began to write a book of essays about my life in dance—mostly as an exercise. When the #MeToo movement began this year, I knew it was time to brush the dust off and take another look. Although incomplete, these essays addressed the roots that have long run between sexual abuse, alcoholism and ballet. They involve George Balanchine, Peter Martins and numerous stars of the New York City Ballet. It's painfully clear that my story is the same story that has occurred thousands of times, all over the world.
I'm heartbroken that I might have to drop out of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. My back has been spasming since I did an extra-high kick to the back. My X-ray and MRI are normal, but my doctor thinks I hurt my sacroiliac joint. Physical therapy hasn't helped yet. How can I know for sure that this is the real problem?
—Injured Rockette, New York, NY
Freddie Kimmel's musical theater career was just taking off when he woke up one morning with a pain in his groin. A trip to the doctor assured him it was nothing of concern, even though the sensation returned a few months later. As a dancer, Kimmel was used to pushing through discomfort, so he kept going to dance class to "work it out."
But the pain persisted. During a run of The Full Monty at Westchester Broadway Theatre, Kimmel was diagnosed with advanced metastasized cancer. Ten tumors had infiltrated his body.
Japanese-born, New York–based choreographer Kota Yamazaki returns to his roots as a butoh dancer in Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination. He explores butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata's idea of the extreme fragility of the body. Yamazaki is joined by contemporary luminaries Julian Barnett, Raja Feather Kelly, Joanna Kotze and Mina Nishimura, each of whom engages in drastically eccentric pathways, making the body appear to disintegrate before your eyes. Music is by Kenta Nagai and visual environment by lighting wizard Thomas Dunn. Dec. 13–15, Baryshnikov Arts Center. bacnyc.org.