At some point in your dance career, friends might have used the word "obsessed" to describe you. Perhaps you smiled in response. Priding ourselves on how hard and tirelessly we work seems locked in our dancer DNA.
That's partly because dancers need a certain amount of laser focus to make it in the competitive professional world. But when you spend "one extra hour" in the studio too often, the scales can tip. Dancers can rehearse themselves into an injury, or try a combination so many times that the result is simply frustration.
"Sometimes your body and mind need a break—a day, afternoon or weekend," says Dr. Nadine Kaslow, resident psychologist at Atlanta Ballet. "But dancers feel bad about these things. They don't feel entitled. It feels like you might lose all your training or your spot in a company in that little time off."
Living the #dancerlife is no easy feat. Between daily technique classes, late night rehearsals and numerous side gigs to get the bills paid, dancers often don't prioritize self care. It may seem like the least important item on your never-ending to-do list, but it's vital to make time for your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Ignoring basic needs can ultimately damage your technique and performance. We could all use some tips from these 10 professional dancers who know how to practice self love.
Look up, Nashville: Bay Area vertical dance company BANDALOOP is taking over downtown buildings on Oct. 6. The special event will kick off the company’s performances of Harboring at the city’s new contemporary arts venue, OZ, where dancers will hang from three different spaces as audiences are guided from one room to another. Oct. 10–11. oznashville.com.
Above: BANDALOOP at the New World Center in Miami Beach. Photo by Atossa Soltani, Courtesy Blake Zidell & Associates.
Giordano Returns to Its Roots
Giordano Dance Chicago has expunged the word “jazz” from its name. But judging from its next premiere, the company could put that word back in. Commercial artist Ray Leeper, who has choreographed for Cher and Snoop Dogg and on “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” is cooking up a piece with touches of Broadway flavor. Oct. 24–25, Harris Theater in Millennium Park. harristheaterchicago.org.
Right: GDC’s Martin Ortiz Tapia and Maeghan McHale. Photo by Gorman Cook Photography, Courtesy GDC.
Eiko’s New Body Art
After four decades as a duo, Eiko & Koma are taking on separate ventures. While Koma delves into visual arts, Eiko is working on a long-term project that places her body in different environments. This month, she performs Eiko: A Body in Station in three-hour stints at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. It may be rush hour for others, but it’s the opposite for Eiko. Select dates, Oct. 3–25. pafa.org.
Left: Eiko; Photo by William Johnston, Courtesy Johnston.
Dance and Degas in DC
Edgar Degas’ sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen is one of the most famous works of impressionist art in the world. But very few know of its seedy back story. The girl who modeled for Degas, Marie van Goethem, was a poor dancer at the bottom of Paris Opéra Ballet’s ranks, whose father died when she was young, leaving her mother to raise three girls on a laundress’ meek income. In Little Dancer, Susan Stroman’s new half-fact, half-fiction coming-of-age musical, Marie is caught stealing from Degas to pay for pointe shoes. The punishment: She must pose for the artist to pay off her debts.
New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck, who first worked with Stroman in The Music Man at age 11, will dance (and act and sing) her way through the role of Young Marie. “It’s a lighthearted story, but it’s also dark,” says Peck. “I think everyone, especially dancers, can relate to it. Ballet is such a difficult career. We all have to have a little fight in us to get to where we are.” Catch its premiere at The Kennedy Center, Oct. 25–Nov. 30, and stop by the National Gallery of Art, where the original sculpture will be the centerpiece of a Degas exhibition. Oct. 5–Jan. 11. kennedy-center.org.
Right: Tiler Peck as Young Marie. Photo by Matthew Karas, Courtesy The Kennedy Center.
A Choreographer On the Rise
NEW YORK CITY
New York City Ballet dancer Troy Schumacher has quickly made a name for himself for his fresh perspective on the neoclassical vocabulary. He had his choreographic debut with NYCB in September and this month, his pickup company of NYCB dancers, BalletCollective, will premiere two works. Oct. 29–30. nyuskirball.org.
Left: BalletCollective’s Harrison Coll and Ashley Laracey. Photo by Whitney Browne, Courtesy Dancers Responding to AIDS.
Dracula Takes Over
Bram Stoker’s vampire tale is becoming the Nutcracker of All Hallows’ Eve. Here’s where you can catch it this month.
The Alabama Ballet
By Wes Chapman and Roger Van Fleteren
Oct. 30–Nov. 2
Ballet San Antonio
By Gabriel Zertuche
Ballet Quad Cities
By Deanna Carter
Select dates, Oct. 17–25
By Nancy Page
By Lynne Taylor-Corbett
By Michael Pink
Oct. 31–Nov. 2
Mark Bruce Company
By Mark Bruce
Touring Sept. 26–Dec. 4
Right: Colorado Ballet’s Dracula. Photo by Terry Shapiro, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.
That said, we need to be practical too, and that’s where Dance Magazine’s annual Jobs Issue comes in. Our stories this month look at real solutions for dancers who don’t happen to work for a company that’s plush enough to pay decent salaries. Plenty of freelance dancers have to scrounge for their next gig. In “Double-Duty Dance Lives,” Nancy Wozny interviews four whose somatic practice certifications have given them a livelihood with a flexible schedule. If you’re wondering whether this is the right route for you, check out our chart outlining the cost, time commitment, and focus of some of these programs.
We tend to think of New York City as the place with the most dance activity, but there are options in many other cities too. You might have to say “Goodbye, New York,” and hello to a smaller dance scene with more opportunities that are within reach. As Courtney D. Jones, a 2012 “25 to Watch,” told Lauren Kay in our feature on leaving the Big Apple, “Diversifying and seeing other cities makes you a better artist, wherever you work.”
As you know from our January issue, Chicago is one of those other dance-packed cities. And one of the most active, genre-crossing companies is Giordano Dance Chicago. No, it’s not the biggest or busiest company in that city, but it’s survived 50 years by being resourceful and inspired. Anyone who’s attended the biennial Jazz Dance World Congress knows that GDC’s sheer energy and good will make them a beloved troupe throughout the Midwest. Read Lynn Colburn Shapiro’s cover story, “Jazz Dance Opens Up,” plus the sidebar on GDC’s outreach opportunities.
Another resourceful company is Salt Lake City’s tiny Repertory Dance Theatre. In “Technique My Way,” RDT’s Toni Lugo reveals that, in addition to her dense schedule of classes, rehearsals, and performances, she has an extra job within the company. (If you’re a member of a seven-person company, you can’t be a diva!) So when you read about Lugo’s commitment to learning roles, know that she also holds down her end of the fort in terms of costume care.
These are all ways that dancers can support doing what they love even in shaky economic times.
From top: Photo of Wendy Perron by Matthew Karas; Photo of Giordano Dance Chicago by Gorman Cook, Courtesy GDC.
JOLT with, clockwise from top left, Joshua B. Carter, Devin Buchanan, Sean Rozanski, Martín Ortiz Tapia, and Zachary Heller. Photo by Gorman Cook Photography, Courtesy GDC.
Few companies reach the venerable age of 50 still kicking, but Giordano Dance Chicago greets its half-century mark literally jumping for joy.
What does it feel like to turn 50? Just ask the dancers. “Extravagant!” “Energetic!” “Passionate!” Breathless and sweating after a six-hour workday of class and rehearsal last fall, the dancers folded themselves into a neat semicircle on the studio floor to reflect on what it’s like to dance for GDC. Calling up words like “love,” “strength,” and “family,” they radiated a collective glow. Both onstage and in the studio, their devotion to their art and to each other gives even the most casual onlooker a clue to the company’s secret of longevity.
“Nan reminds everyone that it’s a family, not a 9-to-5 job,” says artistic associate Autumn Eckman about Nan Giordano, who took over the reins from her father in 1993. “These people love each other.”
What began in 1963 as a vagabond troupe of five dancers traveling in a station wagon has grown into a robust company of 12, with a 32- to 35-week contract. Today’s GDC boasts a repertoire of over 30 pieces that integrates the genres of jazz, modern, hip-hop, and ballroom. They’ve performed works by Rennie Harris, Mia Michaels, Alexander Ekman, Liz Imperio, Christopher Huggins, and Davis Robertson. Versatility is a must for GDC dancers, who transition seamlessly from the new-age mechanics of Mia Michaels’ Le Grand Futur Is Here! (1999), to Del Dominguez and Laura Flores’ steamy Latin ballroom mystique in Sabroso (2011), only to plunge into the nonstop caffeine high of Autumn Eckman and Nan Giordano’s JOLT (2012).
The finale of the high-octane JOLT. Photo by Gorman Cook Photography, Courtesy GDC.
Two annual home seasons at the prestigious Harris Theater in downtown Chicago bookend national and international touring, college residencies, the Jazz Dance World Congress (held this past summer in partnership with Point Park University in Pittsburgh, see “Centerwork,” Aug. 2012), and extensive community outreach (see sidebar). Devoted Chicago audiences routinely stand up and cheer its high-octane performances. The company returned from a recent week in Germany, where audiences wouldn’t let them leave the stage without multiple encores. This spring, they take their eclectic programming to Turkey and Brazil—and will travel to Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, California, and elsewhere in 2013.
Liz Imperio, who is choreographing a world premiere for GDC’s March 21–23 anniversary performances, calls Gus Giordano an “iconic godfather of jazz dance.” She attributes the company’s survival and versatility to the strengths of Gus’ syllabus. “Very few companies are built on the foundation of a technique,” she says. The early Giordano style reflected the jazz music of the time, with Giordano’s “jazz hands,” isolations, and unique shoulder placement. Describing that style, Mort Kessler, an original company dancer in 1963, points to its “elegance and power—the lift of the head and the use of the arms.” The technique continues to emphasize core strength, “an earthy, organic, down feeling,” says Susan Quinn, Giordano dancer and associate artistic director in the 1970s. A tribute to Gus—a collage of his previous works—is included in the anniversary performances.
When Gus and wife Peg opened their Evanston studio in 1953, jazz was the stepchild of vaudeville and popular social dance, not taken as seriously as ballet and modern. Today, thanks partly to Gus’ tireless promoting of jazz dance as a legitimate American art form, that attitude has lost currency.
Gus Giordano and his company, early 1960s. Photo from the GDC archives, Courtesy GDC.
With jazz dance now crossing genre boundaries, GDC’s expanding repertoire has raised technical demands on the dancers, necessitating rigorous training in ballet and modern as well as jazz. Gus anticipated this need as far back as the early 1980s, when he recruited Homer Bryant, former principal dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem, to work with his dancers. Today, as assistant artistic director of GDC, Bryant insures that dancers stay at the top of their game, integrating traditional ballet barre and centerwork with his own therapeutic floor work. “The company was always energetic,” says Bryant, “but the dancers are technically stronger now.”
Nan Giordano teaches Giordano technique in her weekly company class. She brings her own esprit de corps, demanding, in her jocular, energetic tone, both technical discipline and artistic expression in everything they do. The joy she exudes is infectious. She often intersperses improvisational segments of walking, jazz triplets, or arm-and-body gestures with conventional combinations, joining in herself and modeling the fun. “Let loose,” she calls out, smiling and making eye contact with each of the dancers in turn.
The pioneering jazz dance company celebrates its big birthday with a retooled name—losing the word “jazz”—and a bold move from its longtime home in suburban Evanston to the cultural heart of downtown Chicago.
Why the name change? It came about gradually. Nan and the new executive director, Michael McStraw, felt that the word “jazz” had begun to pigeonhole the company. To some, it meant only one type of music, to others, a particular style of dancing. Removing the word “jazz” allows the company to expand its artistic options.
Helping to make this expansion happen is Autumn Eckman, who was first drawn to Giordano’s work at the Jazz Dance World Congress. She was taken by the “percussive, grounded, rhythmic movement, the coordination of opposing movements, and his beautifully choreographed arms and back.” Eckman began as a scholarship student and worked her way into the company. Today, she choreographs frequently, conducts rehearsals twice a week, and teaches company classes in both modern and ballet.
At right: Le Grand Futur Is Here! by Mia Michaels, with the original 1999 cast: Autumn Eckman and Jon Lehrer. Photo by Mike Canale from the Dance Magazine Archives.
Last September, GDC moved into the new American Rhythm Center in the historic Fine Arts Building, where it shares space with other groups, including the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Kalapriya Center for Indian Performing Arts, and Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre. Its new home on Michigan Avenue, Chicago’s showcase thoroughfare, affords easy access to many of Chicago’s major arts organizations.
All but two of the current GDC dancers have come up through the ranks, first as scholarship students, then Giordano II, and finally into the company. “They are all extraordinary people,” says Nan. At auditions, she doesn’t just look for the talented dancer, but for the type of person. “We ask them to talk about themselves, to show what’s important to them. That’s key to company unity.” After auditions, people almost always begin on scholarship. “We get references, then look at their work ethic.” If they pass muster, they’ll move into Giordano II. “Then we work with them, see how they respond.” Maeghan McHale, a 2010 “25 to Watch,” knows that process only too well, having auditioned four times before gaining company status.
Liz Imperio is impressed with the current company’s discipline, focus, and attention to detail. “You give them one count of eight,” she says, “and they will work on that for an hour—and you’re still creating—to make sure that they present you with the best interpretation. There’s a trust between the choreographer and the dancers because you know they’re going to deliver not just the execution but the motivation and stylistic interpretation you’re asking of them. As a choreographer, you feel limitless.”
Imperio attributes GDC’s success to Nan’s leadership. “She knows how to run a company with a firm hand and yet allows everybody to breathe and still be creative. She’s a drill sergeant, but at the same time, she’s an amazing mom.” (She’s a mom in the conventional sense too: Her son Keenan Giordano Casey is a junior in high school.)
At left: Photo of Nan Giordano by Gorman Cook, Courtesy GDC.
The company’s darkest hour by far was Gus’ death in March 2008. It was a difficult time for Nan, but her determination to keep the group sustained her. “You say, ‘OK,’ and you just do it. It almost broke me, but looking back, it just makes me so much stronger now.” The joy, vibrancy, and energy of the dancers helped her heal. “I’m much more of a unifier and team-builder now, rather than a dictator,” she says.
When Nan teaches, her quiet insistence on excellence, together with the freedom she bestows upon the dancers to develop their unique strengths, creates a charged but calm atmosphere. She infuses her comments with humor and humanity. Dancer Joshua B. Carter says, “I have become warmer as a person.” Martín Ortiz Tapia adds, “There’s a nice sense of being nurtured that helps you grow.” McHale says, “I’ve become an artist.”
The secret to longevity? Talent and inspiration, of course. Hard work, perseverance, and sheer determination surely play a role. Innovation, vision, and risk-taking balanced by a strong foundation can’t hurt. But the key ingredient uniting it all is the people. “We’re really there for each other,” says dancer Zachary Heller. “The magical thing is, we always pull it together, no matter what.”
Lynn Colburn Shapiro, a former dancer, is on faculty at Columbia College Chicago.
Teaching Opps at GDC
GDC Outreach: Jazz Dance/Science and Health
The company sends 10 of its dancers into the Chicago public schools to give more than 300 classes a year in 16-week residencies in some of the city’s most underserved neighborhoods. They teach fourth- and seventh-graders about anatomy and nutrition the fun way—through jazz dance—integrating physical fitness and self-expression. Meredith Schultz teaches at left.
The Giordano Choreography Project
All GDC dancers choreograph for young performers from area high schools and studios, culminating in an annual showcase at Barrington High School.
The American Rhythm Center
This new hub of dance in the Chicago loop offers classes to the public in ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop, flamenco, Bollywood, and something called Chicago-style footwork. GDC’s Autumn Eckman and Devin Buchanan are on the faculty.
Photo by Gorman Cook, Courtesy GDC.