Why I Dance
With his elegant line and unaffected stage presence, Sascha Radetsky long held his own among American Ballet Theatre’s cadre of male stars. A soloist in the company since 2003, he stood out even in the most bravura passages, as well as for his courteous partnering, particularly when he danced with his wife, the heart-stoppingly beautiful Stella Abrera. Radetsky shone in roles like Benno in Swan Lake, but also displayed an effortless mastery in high-powered work like Twyla Tharp’s new Rabbit and Rogue. And among teenage girls, he retained his crush status long after the 2000 release of the cult ballet movie Center Stage. When he joined Dutch National Ballet last September, he left behind a host of disappointed critics and fans. Now a principal, he will have the opportunity to dance leads in classics like Giselle, as well as carve his mark on new work.
I didn’t burst from the womb straight into a pirouette, twirling my baby blanket like Espada’s cape. I didn’t forgo diapers for dance belts, and for a long time I preferred OshKosh to Capezio. No, I wasn’t born to dance. But I’ve devoted much of my life to dance, and it’s become my beautiful—and capricious—companion. Like the blissful trysts and bitter quarrels of a tempestuous love affair, my relationship with this art form has flickered and flared throughout the years. At times my eye has wandered, and I admit I’ve considered breaking it off with ballet. But I can’t do it; it’s got what I need. I can’t resist its immeasurable charms.
Being a dancer is a pretty nice gig. I’ve been able to travel the world (with per diem). I’ve dodged bats on a stage in Austin and mingled with the ghosts of gladiators on a Roman stage in Athens. I’ve performed for presidents and princesses, geishas and gangsters, in venues as varied as casinos, stadiums, and centuries-old opera houses. I’ve Nutcracker-ed my way through the heartland of America, from sea to shining sea and beyond, a gypsy-cavalier for hire. Have costume, will travel—to all the gritty and glamorous corners of the globe. Along the way, I’ve met some brilliant artists and inspiring human beings, such as my wife, Stella Abrera. We’ve been on a hundred honeymoons, Stella and I, and with luck dance will send us on a hundred more.
At its best, dance just feels good, for everyone involved. Granted, it’s no fun to sprain an ankle, bulge a disc, or pull a calf muscle—and it hurts still worse when career hopes collapse and dreams drift out of reach. But there are precious moments in the studio and onstage when the struggles prove worthwhile, and the frailties of body and spirit are forgiven, even forgotten. Because of the vicissitudes of this line of work, because of the injuries, arduous training, and vastly subjective aesthetics, even modest triumphs resonate deeply. And like other art forms, dance can potentially allay the anxieties, banalities, and sorrows that plague our daily lives, and can remap the frontiers of our abilities. It is a tonic administered in an exquisite challenge: How precisely can you execute those virtuosic steps, how deeply can you delve into that complex character, how tenderly can you attune to this breathtaking music—and to the needs of your partner? Are you wholly in the here and now, and willing to fuse your mind, muscles, and guts into a single leaping, turning, feeling, daring entity? Are you willing to strive for something special on that ephemeral stage, something magical and glorious, something possibly doomed to fail? If so, you—and your audience—will feel better than good. You’ll feel ardently alive.
Missteps or misfortune have sometimes subdued those feelings, but my appreciation for this craft and my core values are only the stronger. I’ve sowed oats in other fields of life, and I look forward to cultivating those interests. But for the moment ballet is what nourishes me, and its beauty and richness, power and freedom make for hearty fare. I can’t say it’s my destiny to dance, but it is my true pleasure, and I’m grateful for what I’ve been given: cherished memories, lifelong friends, the perfect challenge. It’s a good gig.
Photo: Angela Sterling, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet
You know Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as the men who parody your favorite ballet variations—and make it look good. But there's more to the iconic troupe than meets the eye.
A new documentary, Rebels on Pointe, goes behind the scenes of the company, and it's full of juicy tidbits about what it's like to be a Trock. These were some of our favorite moments:
After 30 years of pioneering work in physically integrated dance, AXIS Dance Company co-founder Judith Smith has announced plans to retire from the Oakland, California, company. Throughout her tenure, she strived to get equal recognition for integrated dance and disabled dancers, commissioning work from high-profile choreographers like Bill T. Jones. Her efforts generated huge momentum for expanded training, choreography, education and advocacy for dancers with disabilities.
By phone from her home in Oakland, Smith reflected on how far the field has evolved since the early days of AXIS, and what's yet to be done.
You know that how you care for your body before curtain can impact your performance. But with so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to nail down an exact routine. How much rest is enough? How close to showtime should you eat? We asked the experts.
How do you make your athleisure collection stand out from the pack? Get the ultimate studio-to-street seal of approval by having dancers star in your campaign, of course.
For his second collaboration with activewear brand Carbon38, ready-to-wear designer Jonathan Simkhai traded in his usual top models like Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss for the original Hiplet dancers—and the resulting video is as cool as we'd expect from such a fierce collaboration.
Who are you when you no longer do what you've been doing for years?
It is the big question facing anyone who retires. For top ballet dancers, however, the situation is more extreme. They start young, grow up in a rarified atmosphere, mostly see only each other, and become more and more removed from ordinary life. So what is it like to give this all up?
I asked seven former principal dancers from different generations at San Francisco Ballet, including myself, about this challenge.
To be honest, we never tire of watching non-dancers tackle a day in the life of the pros. From athletes to average Joes, these videos always give us a good laugh, and they remind the rest of the world that a whole lot of work goes into every dance performance you see. But often times, these dancer-for-a-day videos don't fully understand the importance of training (i.e., you can't just throw on a pair of pointe shoes and give it a go).
That's why we're especially loving this video by Refinery29 that actually gets it. Lucie Fink, host of the R29 YouTube series Lucie For Hire , got a private lesson from American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, and it was endlessly entertaining.
Again and again, dance teaches me that when the filters fall away between people—when the boundaries of geography, religion and politics soften—the beginning and end of our relationships is always human.
In March, I traveled with Keigwin + Company to Cote D'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Tunisia, on a tour sponsored by the US State Department and facilitated by DanceMotion USA/Brooklyn Academy of Music. Our mission was cultural diplomacy: Simply, to share ourselves with diverse communities, to promote common understanding and friendships.
Our last stop was Tunisia. Until that point, we had mostly been learning varieties of traditional African dance, and sharing American modern dance. But Tunisia was different. The dancers already had a solid grasp of contemporary movement invention. Though we didn't speak the same language, we could make movement vocabulary with surprising ease. Everything about our backgrounds was different, but there was this special intersection through dance that seemed to present an open door to collaboration.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.
Christopher Wheeldon's new Nutcracker for the Joffrey Ballet was huge news when it premiered last winter. The choreographer shifted the setting from the home of a well-off German family to the Chicago world's fair, making the hero the young daughter of a working-class, Polish immigrant sculptress. This month, WTTW Chicago, the city's public broadcasting station, will premiere Making a New American Nutcracker, a new documentary showing how Wheeldon and his high-profile collaborators made the magic happen. Premieres on WTTW11 and wttw.com/watch on Nov. 16 before appearing on public television stations across the country. Check your local listings.
For most dancers, walking into the theater elicits a familiar emotion that's somewhere between the reverence of stepping into a chapel and the comfort of coming home. But each venue has its own aura, and can offer that something special that takes your performance to a new level. Six dancers share which theaters have transported them the most.
GLENN ALLEN SIMS
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Glenn Allen Sims in Alvin Ailey's Masekela Langage. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy AAADT
Favorite theater: Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain
Royal details: "The theater is gorgeous and ornate, with deep red upholstery and gold trim. There is a huge royal box in the center, which takes you back to when kings and queens were watching performances there."
Impressive facilities: Even the dressing rooms are a sight to see: Amenities for the dancers include large, carpeted rooms, and towel service.
The business side of dance can often fall second to the art. Contracts, which usually appear after you've done the hard work of securing a job, can seem like an inconsequential afterthought. You might decide to simply sign without reading the terms—or be understandably confused by all the legalese.
Ultimately, though, contracts can play an important part in setting the expectations for your job. A basic understanding of the legal terms you might see can go a long way in making sure that signing is a positive step toward growing your career.