What's better than getting into the summer intensive of your dreams? Getting in with a scholarship, of course!
Hundreds of dancers entered our Video of the Month contests over the past three months, vying for a chance to win a scholarship to one of the Joffrey Ballet School's summer programs. We scoured so many videos, saw tons of amazing talent and are super excited to announce the final winners.
Michelle Quiner took home the grand prize: a one-year housing and tuition scholarship to the school's year-round trainee program in New York City. Check out her winning video:
All of the other winners each received a one-week scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet School intensive of their choice.
Class can be a whirlwind of information. Your teacher throws out multiple corrections at once—often in the middle of a combination—and as much as you want to apply them, they don't always stick. Though some are notes you've heard time and time again, you get too overwhelmed trying to fix all of them to correctly incorporate any of them.
Ashley Tuttle, photo by Duncan Cooper
Feedback is a necessary part of a dancer's craft, providing the guidance to develop technically and artistically. But applying new information is not always easy. You might feel bombarded with too many notes at one time, or insecure about being singled out for criticism. Learning to implement corrections is an art in itself.
Be Receptive to Feedback—And Show It
Smart dancers know that feedback is a gift, so show that you're eager to receive it. Make sure your body language and attitude reflect a willingness to learn. "Have a pleasant expression and look really involved," says Deborah Wingert, who teaches at Manhattan Youth Ballet and the Ailey Extension. Once you've been given a note, try to make the change immediately, or go to the back of the studio and practice on your own. Show that you at least understand the concept, even if you can't apply it right away. (If you have an injury that prevents you from doing something, communicate that to the teacher before class.) Dancers who resist new information might discourage teachers from wanting to help them.
Laurie De Vito, photo by Justin Chao
Remember that teachers usually give attention when they see potential. "It's not that they're picking on you," says former American Ballet Theatre principal Ashley Tuttle, who teaches ballet at Barnard College, Mark Morris Dance Center and other schools. "Stay positive, and quiet the doubtful voice that can prevent you from receiving information and incorporating it."
If you're not getting any feedback, remember that you can benefit from other dancers' corrections as well. "You don't have to wait for a special invitation," says Wingert. "Just have a hunger to learn."
If You Don't Understand, Ask for Clarification
It's okay to ask questions if you don't understand a correction. "Wait for the break, or go up to the teacher after class," suggests Laurie De Vito, contemporary Simonson teacher at New York City's Peridance, Mark Morris Dance Center and Gibney Dance. "Ask for an alternate image and have a conversation about it." You can also talk to a dancer you respect or someone in your class who gets similar corrections. If you don't express your confusion, teachers might think that you're not listening—or that you don't care.
Wingert teaching at the Baltimore School for the Arts
Make Your Corrections Stick
You may need to use additional senses to cement a correction. Visualize it in your mind and, if possible, implement it while looking in the mirror. "Then get your brain out of it and let your body find the position," De Vito says. "If a physical adjustment will help you understand, ask your teacher to move your body into the correct shape." Attaching a movement to music might also help you solidify the right feeling.
Some corrections take time to physically manifest. "It's a commitment," says Tuttle. "Your brain understands, but your body follows to the best of its ability. It takes longer for some people." If you're being told to turn out more, for example, don't get frustrated because you can't do it immediately. Work on engaging the proper muscles, keeping your heels forward and sustaining your maximum rotation. "Remember that dance is not about being able to make the perfect picture, but being able to move in and out of the best positions you can make," says Tuttle. "Don't get down on yourself or force your body into places that will lead to injury."
"True artists have patience," says Wingert. "You do your best until it clicks.
I love my BFA program, except for one class where the teacher only has eyes for the men—and even seems to flirt with them in class. The women, myself included, get zero attention, while the guys get loads of personal feedback. I know teachers have favorites, but this seems unfair. How can I stay motivated?
—Sara, New York, NY
Dance class is not a place for flirtation, especially from teachers. I suggest you speak to the director about your concerns. Appropriate behavior between faculty and students is usually spelled out in the school's guidelines. Meanwhile, each of you young women can set your own goals for class, such as focusing on phrasing or musicality, and being your own cheerleaders. You'll have a better class and may even catch your teacher's attention. Remember: Improving in dance is a personal journey. Even if the instructor isn't doing his job, you don't have to give up your power to stay motivated and progress.
Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at email@example.com.
Working with guest artists is an integral part of the college dance experience. Visiting choreographers expose students to new styles and ways of working, and give them a glimpse of life as a professional. But with a relatively short amount of time to make an impression, forming a relationship with a visiting artist can feel like a daunting task. Here's what you should know about networking with guests:
Q: Is it appropriate to follow up with guests after the process has ended?
A: "Most of our guests are very open to having connections with students continue, and being communicated with via email and Facebook," says Cornish College faculty member Deborah Wolf. "They understand that's the way things work." For choreographer David Parker, "I tell them to keep me posted on what they're doing and ask me for help and advice. I'm a bridge to the professional world for them, and I take that responsibility seriously."
David Parker's "Head Over Heels." Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.
Q: Can I add a guest choreographer on Facebook?
A: According to Parker, feel free to add them after the process is over. But take note: The same rule doesn't apply if you're talking about a faculty member—you may want to wait until after you graduate to connect with them on social media.
Q: How do I express my interest without being too forward?
A: "Be professional but accessible," says Wolf. "Don't ask for anything, but communicate your desires. There's a fine line there." Parker prefers when students are direct. "If they're interested, they should say, 'I love your work and I hope to work with you.' " But proving you're interested is what's most important. "If you say it, you have to back it up," says Lex Shimko, CalArts graduate.
Lex Shimko. Photo by George Simian and Beata Bernina, courtesy Diavolo
Q: Should I try to connect with guests on a personal level?
A: "I don't care if they're curious about my life outside of rehearsal," says Parker. "More that they're curious about how we do things."
Ballet students have always been subject to the strictest dress codes in the dance world. But with the rise of athleisure, some dancers are moving away from leotards and tights to sport a more casual studio look. Though the disappearance of formal dancewear may be welcome from a comfort point of view, does it have bigger implications for your technique?
Socks or Shoes?
Dawn Hillen, ballet teacher at the Ailey Extension and Steps on Broadway, generally puts function above form, though she notes that the two aren't always mutually exclusive: "When a student comes to class, the most important thing is that they be able to deliver the movement in the style that we're working on. Ballet is done in shoes for a reason—the shoes protect and support feet."
PC Liza Voll
Yuka Kawazu, who teaches at Ballet Arts in New York City, has a more relaxed attitude toward ballet slippers, but is still strict when it comes to safety: "I would never want any of my students to get injured during class, so I make sure students tuck their laces inside their shoes." Both teachers agree that socks should only be worn only occasionally and with a clear purpose: to examine the movement of the foot or decrease friction in a turn.
And as for bare feet, the decreased cushion on landings can make jumps dangerous, so always opt for shoes during centerwork.
Trading Tights for Pants
Modern alterations to legwear tend to focus on function: microfiber in tights allows dancers to move more freely, while spandex and other synthetic fiber warm-ups keep muscles from fatigue. But these materials have their downsides. Hillen notes: "If we're looking to create a ballet line, then baggy clothes hide the form and get in the way. Tights make a dancer feel pulled up, and ballet needs to be pulled up." Kawazu explains that many beginners don't appreciate the value of tights at first, but "after a few classes, students realize that they need tighter clothes for optimal movement."
American Ballet Theatre's Skylar Brandt layers patterned shorts onto a otherwise classic look. PC Quinn Wharton.
"Since ballet is a classical art form and we're creating a masterpiece," Hillen notes, "wearing shorts and bare feet takes us away from the idea of classical beauty. Mismatched outfits and messy dancewear—those used to be earned, once you were hired by a company." And of course, there are technical reasons for many of ballet's style rules: for example, ponytails can throw off dancers' spot during pirouettes.
Marjorie Feiring adds her own style to a functional, formal look. PC Quinn Wharton.
How do I deal with a jealous clique of dancers who resent my success at competitions and talk behind my back? The negativity takes away my joy of dancing.
—J.C., New York, NY
Insecurity often brings out the worst in people, especially if they feel less accomplished than you. But no one can rob you of your joy of dance unless you choose to give that person the power to do so. My advice is to ignore the negative vibes. You can be courteous, but keep the focus on what's most important—your work! Newcomers who look up to you, or more established dancers who are not competing for the same roles, may be more open to friendship. It's also useful to have a life outside of dance with a different group of people and other interests to create a better work/life balance.
Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Auditions are coming up soon and I want to be mentally prepared to wow directors. Any tips?
—Sasha, New York, NY
You're already ahead of the game by considering the mental aspects involved. For starters, be aware that tremors, muscle tension or short, choppy breaths are physical signs that you need to calm your mind. Learning to do so can help you focus and exercise fine motor control. To take the edge off before and during an audition, try a few slow, deep, rhythmic breaths. This will reduce stress hormones, calm your nerves and increase your sense of control. It also helps to smile, which alters the blood flow to the brain and releases neurochemicals that relax you.
Since being overly tense as a result of anxiety can interfere with your motor coordination, you may want to add a progressive muscle relaxation exercise to your routine. Making it a habit can help cut down on anxiety, so you're less likely to feel nervous once you reach an audition. Try it when you're cooling down or falling sleep—not before you dance or you'll be too relaxed. First, take a slow, deep breath, then tense the muscles in your back and chest for five seconds as hard as you can before exhaling and letting yourself relax. Repeat and notice the difference between the tension and relaxation. Continue the same exercise twice with your legs and buttocks, arms and shoulders, face and neck, and then your entire body. I once gave this exercise to a group of dancers at the end of a long, hard day of audition classes, and one girl fell asleep and started snoring. While a bit embarrassing, she was much more prepared to get a good night's sleep. Nevertheless, you might want to practice the exercise reclining in a chair—the goal is to learn how to be relaxed and alert so you can perform at your peak.
Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at email@example.com.
One choreographer wants to explore ideas through improvisation; another demands quick pickup of specific steps. One might demonstrate ideas physically; another may rely on language and gestures imbued with feeling. Puzzling out how to thrive in ever-changing creative environments is an ongoing practice, but a little preparation and the right mindset can go a long way.
Yusha-Marie Sorzano. Photo by Chris Cameron
Demote Inner Critics
Moving past internal expectations and fantasies of instant perfection expands your ability to participate in generating work. "It's okay if you don't get it at first," says Yusha-Marie Sorzano, who dances with Camille A. Brown. Repeating phrases over time, or even getting some distance from them, can help material start to feel natural, Sorzano says. Letting go of expectations can take some anxiety out of the learning experience.
Build the Right Warm-Up
Finding an individualized pre-rehearsal routine is key. "If I were talking to my college-age self, I'd tell her to solidify a personal warm-up much sooner," says Megan Wright, a dancer with Stephen Petronio Company. Before every rehearsal, Wright works through what she calls a "nondenominational" series of exercises ranging from push-ups to tendus. Taking as little as 20 minutes to make her own movement choices and ready her mind and body to move outside the pathways of any one technique is especially helpful in an unfamiliar process, she says.
Megan Wright, Photo by Marica Kolcheva
Do Your Homework
Ballet Hispanico dancer Jenna Marie Graves found out early in her career that she needed to spend time after rehearsal writing notes from the day, repeating phrases and reviewing video. "The harder I worked at home," she says, "the easier and less stressful it was in rehearsal." Once the choreographer had finished making new material, that extra work gave her more freedom. "I had a chance to really investigate and grow through the movement without thinking of what the next step was."
Weigh the Trade-Offs
Having a firm idea of what you want from an experience can help take the sting out of otherwise frustrating aspects of a choreographer's work style. "I get really headstrong and resistant when I feel like the room is tipping into a nondemocratic place," says Wright. "I've had to remind myself: What are the larger reasons I'm here?" It might be as transactional as good pay or international travel. Or it might be a desire to work alongside dancers who help you grow, or a strong belief in a choreographer's product, if not her process.
Nathan B. Makolandra. Photo by Morgan Lugo, Courtesy LADP
Know Your Power
"You only have so much control, and sometimes you have to go along for the ride," Sorzano says. That doesn't leave you powerless, however. Nathan B. Makolandra, a dancer with L.A. Dance Project, recalls a time at The Juilliard School when he struggled with partnering in a new work. Physical pain from the proposed choreography led him to resist the vocabulary of the piece altogether. "I internalized the frustration I was feeling until I was too angry to participate," he says. Now, Makolandra has a more empowered mindset. Choosing to be less attached to material generated early on and striving to keep his mind open to choreographers' different practices allows him to continuously work on being a more generous collaborator.
In the end, a difficult process can make performing that much more rewarding, Wright says. "Dancers have all the agency in the world once that curtain goes up."