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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
Never did I think I'd see the day when I'd outgrow dance. Sure, I knew my life would have to evolve. In fact, my dance career had already taken me through seasons of being a performer, a choreographer, a business owner and even a dance professor. Evolution was a given. Evolving past dancing for a living, however, was not.
Transitioning from a dance career involved just as much of a process as building one did. But after I overcame the initial identity crisis, I realized that my dance career had helped me develop strengths that could be put to use in other careers. For instance, my work as a dance professor allowed me to discover my knack for connecting with students and helping them with their careers, skills that ultimately opened the door for a pivot into college career services.
Here's how five dance skills can land you a new job—and help you thrive in it:
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
I always knew my ballet career would eventually end. It was implied from the very start that at some point I would be too old and decrepit to take morning ballet class, followed by six hours of intense rehearsals.
What I never imagined was that I would experience a time when I couldn't walk at all.
In rehearsal for Nutcracker in 2013, I slipped while pushing off for a fouetté sauté, instantly rupturing the ACL in my right knee. In that moment my dance life flashed before my eyes.
Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:
If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.
The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.
Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:
We all know that companies too often take dancers for granted. When I wrote last week about a few common ways in which dancers are mistreated—routine screaming, humiliation, being pressured to perform injured and be stick-thin—I knew I was only scratching the surface.
So I put out a call to readers asking for your perspective on the most pressing issues that need to be addressed first, and what positive changes we might be able to make to achieve those goals.
The bottom line: Readers agree it's time to hold directors accountable, particularly to make sure that dancers are being paid fairly. But the good news is that change is already happening. Here are some of the most intriguing ideas you shared via comments, email and social media:
With dancer and choreographer credits that cover everything from touring with Beyoncé to music videos and even feature films, Tricia Miranda knows more than a thing or two about what it takes to make it. And aspiring dancers are well aware. We caught up with the commercial dance queen last weekend at the Brooklyn Funk convention, where she taught a ballroom full of dancers classes in hip-hop and dancing for film and video.
How To Land An Agency
"At times with the agencies, they already have someone that looks like you or you're just not ready to work. Look has to do with a lot of it, work ethic and also just the type of person you are. Do you have personality? Do people want to work with you? Because you can be the greatest dancer, but if you're not someone that gives off this energy of wanting to get to know you, then it doesn't matter how dope you are because people want to work with who they want to be around. I learned that by later transitioning into a choreographer because now that I'm hiring people, I want to hire the people that I want to be around for 12 or 14 hours a day.
You also have to understand that class dancers are different from working commercial dancers. A lot of class dancers and what you see in these YouTube videos are people who stand out because they're doing what they want and remixing choreography. They're kind of stars in their own right, which is great for class, but when it comes to a job, you have to do the choreography how it's taught."
Houston's METdance and the Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance have teamed up to commission a new work from Dallas native (and former Dallas Black Dance Theatre artistic director) Bridget L. Moore. The two contemporary companies will take the stage together in Dallas at Moody Performance Hall on March 16 and at Houston's Hobby Center for the Performing Arts on April 13–15. Visit brucewooddance.org and metdance.org for details on the respective engagements.
Onstage, Clifton Brown is a force of nature. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer joined the celebrated company at 19, in 1999. In 2011, he left to dance with Jessica Lang Dance and Lar Lubovitch Dance Company before returning to Ailey last year. Brown has been trying his hand at choreography on the side, but this week his first larger work—a commission from The Washington Ballet artistic director Julie Kent—premieres on a program of new works by choreographers who still perform.
Brown will take a day or two away from the Ailey company's rigorous tour schedule to see TWB dancers perform his Menagerie, danced to Rossini's Duet for Cello and Double Bass in D Major, at Washington, D.C.'s Harman Center for the Arts. We caught up with him last week in Chicago.
Once Adriana Pierce caught the choreography bug as a teenager, dancemaking came naturally. More difficult was navigating the tricky situations that would arise when choreographing on classmates and friends. "If a rehearsal didn't go well, I'd worry that people didn't respect me or didn't like my work," says Pierce, who went on to participate in the School of American Ballet's Student Choreography Workshop twice, at 17 and 18. "I had a lot to learn: how not to take things personally, how to express what I wanted, when to push and when to back off."
Choreographing on your peers can feel intimidating. How can you be a leader in your own rehearsals when you're dancing at the same level the rest of the time? How can you critique your cast without hurting feelings? Avoiding pitfalls takes commitment and care, but the payoff is worth it.
Ever since we heard that Michaela DePrince's memoir, Taking Flight, was going to be a movie, we've been on the edge of our seats waiting for more info. Almost three years later, it's been worth the wait—we just learned that the Queen of Pop herself will be directing DePrince's biopic.
"Michaela's journey resonated with me deeply as both an artist and an activist who understands adversity," Madonna said in a statement. "We have a unique opportunity to shed light on Sierra Leone and let Michaela be the voice for all the orphaned children she grew up beside."