New York City Dance Alliance’s summer intensive pushes dancers beyond their comfort zone.
When you’re heading into your final training years, there’s a lot of pressure to decide what kind of career you want and perfect that technique, be it Balanchine, Horton or hip hop. So dancers often opt for summer programs with a narrow focus. Sometimes, it pushes them to new heights; other times, it creates a one-note training bubble.
Kim Craven’s ballet class at NYCDA. Photo Courtesy NYCDA
New York City Dance Alliance takes a different approach to summer intensive study. At its two-week program during July and August in New York City, dancers study everything from ballet to tap to voice. While it offers strong training for students who want to become triple threats, it also gives them time to explore less familiar styles. “We want the dancers to have a safe place to work outside their comfort zone,” says NYCDA managing director Leah Brandon, “to discover areas of the dance world that they may not know exist or didn’t see themselves in.”
The intensive’s list of teachers echoes this idea. Last year’s staff included regular NYCDA faculty members, plus guests like Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell, Ballet Next artistic director Michele Wiles, Nederlands Dans Theater’s Jon Bond and Luis Salgado from On Your Feet!
Amanda Mitchell, a junior at Pace University’s dance program has attended the intensive four times, and still returns as an assistant. “I’ve done a lot of different programs, but NYCDA’s is so versatile,” she says. “After my first summer, going back to my studio, people were like, ‘What did you do? What changed?’ The program really sparks something new inside of you.”
Experimenting Across Levels
Most dancers who attend the program are selected at one of NYCDA’s regional conventions, though you can also submit a video online. Instead of traditional levels, the students are randomly divided into groups of about 25 which changed throughout the intensive. The theory is that all the students have strengths in different styles, and can learn from each other. “You’re dancing with people of all ages from all over the country,” says Mitchell. “And everyone has something different that they’re good at. It pushes you to be better.”
The schedule for each day varies, and the dancers don’t know what they’re in for until the night before or that morning. Usually, the day begins with either ballet, jazz or modern, followed by classical or contemporary partnering, or conditioning like Pilates or yoga. After lunch, dancers take styles like musical theater, hip hop, tap and ballroom, among others. There’s also an opportunity to hone triple threat skills through acting and voice classes. Career-oriented workshops like injury prevention, resume building and nutrition are also on the schedule.
In the evening, dancers rehearse for the end-of-program performance. Each dancer is cast in two pieces, choreographed or set by faculty and guests. Weekends are reserved for tourist activities and seeing shows around the city. Last summer, the group saw CATS on Broadway, had a Q&A session with the cast and learned choreography from the show.
The Bigger Picture
One big advantage of the NYCDA program is its close relationship with Pace University, which has one of the country’s first programs dedicated to commercial dance. Classes are held in Pace’s studios, and dancers stay in the dorms and eat at its cafeteria. “It’s like a mini college experience—a trial run,” says Brandon, who brings in reps from NYC-based college dance departments to speak. For Mitchell, the connection helped her get a spot at Pace—and a scholarship.
The intensive’s emphasis on audition prep, through mock auditions with one-on-one feedback, also helped her prepare for professional auditions. “A casting director will sit you down and walk you through your resume,” she says. “You get personal feedback about what they liked about your audition and what they didn’t, down to what you’re wearing.”
The end goal is to get students thinking about what kind of career they’d like to pursue—even if that means going down a totally different path than they thought. “Each kid leaves with a clearer idea of what they want to do and what they need to do to get there,” says Scott Jovovich, who has been teaching ballet and theater dance at NYCDA for 15 years. “I sent my own son to this program, because for me, this is the place to figure out who you want to be.”
Attendance: 100 students, split into classes of roughly 25
Timeline: Two weeks
Ages: 14 to 18
Housing: Students stay in Pace University dorms
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.
Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you:
Conscientious theatergoers may be familiar with The School for Scandal, The School for Wives and School of Rock. But how many are also aware of the school of Fosse?
The 1999 musical, a posthumous exploration of the choreographic career of Bob Fosse, ran for 1,093 performances, winning four Tonys and 10 nominations; employing 32 dancers; and, completely unintentionally, nurturing a generation of Broadway choreographers. You may have heard of them: Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo danced in the original cast, Josh Rhodes was a swing, and Christopher Gattelli replaced Trujillo when he landed choreography jobs in Massachusetts and Canada. Blankenbuehler remembers that when Trujillo left, "It was as if he was graduating."
January 16 might as well be a Broadway holiday. Three gigantic names were born on this day, in 1908, 1950 and 1980, and they represent three distinct eras of powerhouse musicals. Without them, there'd be no belting Reno Sweeney, no "Fame"-ous Lydia Grant and no rapping Alexander Hamilton. Happy birthday to these indelible superstars.
In the midst of its 20th-anniversary season, BodyVox is taking a moment to look back. The Portland, Oregon–based company presents Urban Meadow, an amalgamation of some of its most popular works, at Philadelphia's Prince Theater, Jan. 18–21. Expect whimsy, and the unexpected. bodyvox.com.
I never believe that I deserve to be happy. This reaction kicked in big time since I got a steady job. My emotions are a roller coaster: joy at the chance to perform, terror that the people in charge don't like me and resentment at not getting solo roles. I'm driving myself crazy.
—Terry, Philadelphia, PA