Career

Why There's Nothing Else Like The Bond Between Dancers

Off Beat at Beantown Tap Fest, via Instagram

At one point during my latest show, Unbound, I scamper offstage and disrobe as quickly as possible. Behind me, a friend I have known since we began taking dance class together 20 years ago (we danced to "The Color Song"; she was orange, I was purple) holds out a dress shirt for me to put my arms through. I start buttoning furiously while my dance partner, who was also one of my tap teachers for six years, holds out pants into which I step gingerly. While I fix my belt, she helps snake the microphone wire back up through my shirt so I can clip it into my collar and be back onstage in under a minute.

Among most groups of friends, this would be no ordinary—or comfortable—situation. But for me and the members of my company, Off Beat, it's a ritual that we're used to. We don't even think twice about the closeness, the vulnerability, the physical contact.

Dancers develop bonds unlike any other: Through our passion and commitment for our craft, and all the time we spend together, we develop our own family-like relationships that are almost impossible to explain to non-dancers.



Cynthia Clayton, Courtesy Casey

I've had these ties for as long as I can remember. Like many young dancers who train intensively multiple days per week, my closest friends were my dance friends. They were the only people who could relate to eating dinner at 10 p.m., as though we operated on a European schedule; to spending Friday nights in rehearsal for a production number instead of at a birthday party or a concert; to reviewing tap rhythms under our desks during math class; to the satisfaction of finally nailing a triple pirouette or a syncopated pullback.

We wore our matching team jackets the same way some families might don matching sweaters for their Christmas card photo. We argued over whether the battement was on 8 or 8& not unlike how siblings might fight over who gets the car on Saturday night. We celebrated birthdays, mourned break-ups, even counseled a peer who thought she was pregnant.

For those of us who are still dancing together, now professionally, not much has changed. We spend hours in the studio, in cars and buses and trains, in dressing rooms. All that time together makes us aware of each other's idiosyncrasies (one of my dancers hates the smell of bubble gum), immune to physical boundaries (if your hand ends up on someone else's butt while figuring out a new partnering move, so be it) and reluctantly accustomed to eating everything from handfuls of nuts to munchkins for "lunch" during long rehearsal days (from where do the delicious bins of animal crackers at the studio always seem to materialize?).

Post-performance in Providence, RI, via Instagram

Our relationships have developed as our work has developed: From being vulnerable and uncertain in front of each other while learning new material to sharing rooms and beds while on tour.

Unlike audience members, who only see me when I am onstage—joyous, focused, put-together—my company members see all sides of me: They see me when I am frustrated and defeated, stymied by what to do next in a piece whose vision I haven't yet clearly articulated. They see me when I'm moody and impatient during a long day of tech rehearsal and am trying to address unexpected difficulties while operating with low blood sugar. They see me exhausted, sweating, lugging props and set pieces down city streets and up stairs. They see me half-naked side stage during myriad quick changes, swearing furiously as a sock refuses to cooperate or my hand gropes wildly for the armhole of a shirt while my entrance cue looms ever closer.

Cynthia Clayton, Courtesy Casey

The rhetoric of family especially pervades the tap community. Many female tappers I know refer to each other as "sis." Dianne Walker is known to many of us as "Aunt Dianne" for her role in mentoring generations of hoofers (I even have her listed in my phone as such). When a colleague talks about "the fam," I know exactly what he or she means. Many photos on my Instagram feed bear the hashtag #tapfam.

At one of the studios where I teach, The Dance Inn of Lexington, MA, we celebrated our graduating seniors this year by profiling each of them in a special social media post. They all wrote about what it meant to them to be a part of the studio's pre-professional company. One described it as "my extra family." Another said it was "like having a second family." A third dancer opined, "I genuinely feel a part of a family."

I'm so glad they've made this great discovery about dance. My hope for them, as they move on to whatever is next, is that they cherish these bonds throughout their lives, as I know I have. I hope they are encouraged, supported and emboldened by their dance family.

There's just nothing else like it.

Image via Stock Snap

We've been saying for years that dance training has benefits that reach far beyond preparation for a professional dance career: The discipline and attention to detail fostered in technique class, the critical thinking skills acquired in composition, and the awareness and rapid reaction times required for improvisation can all carry over into other fields.

But what if a choreographic tool kit could have a more direct application outside the studio? Say, to city planning?

Keep reading... Show less
Training
Video still by Nel Shelby Productions, Courtesy Dancio.

"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."

For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.

Keep reading at pointemagazine.com.

Breaking Stereotypes
Melina and Regina Willoughby, photo by Ashley Concannon

There's a surprising twist to Regina Willoughby's last season with Columbia City Ballet: It's also her 18-year-old daughter Melina's first season with the company. Regina, 40, will retire from the stage in March, just as her daughter starts her own career as a trainee. But for this one season, they're sharing the stage together.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers & Companies
PC Getty Images

Last night, the New York City Ballet board of directors approved ballet master in chief Peter Martins' request for a temporary leave of absence amidst an ongoing investigation into sexual harassment.

The investigation came to light on Monday, when the New York Times reported that NYCB and the School of American Ballet had hired a law firm to investigate their leader after receiving an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment.

Keep reading... Show less
Training
PC Kyle Rowling

You dance like a knockout—but can you take a punch? Intense stage combat is a crucial element in many shows, from the sword fighting in Romeo & Juliet to the left hooks of the Broadway musical Rocky. But performing it well requires careful body awareness, trust and a full commitment to safety. Whether you're dancing a pivotal battle in a story ballet or intense partnering in a contemporary piece, these expert tips can help you make your fight scenes convincing, compelling and safe.

1. Master the Basics

When Luke Ingham was cast as Tybalt in San Francisco Ballet's Romeo & Juliet, he spent a full month practicing the basic body positions, footwork and momentum of fencing. "You need to be really grounded, you need to know where your feet are," Ingham says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers & Companies
Photo by Mark Perry Shelby, Courtesy High10 Media.

Brooklyn-based burlesque troupe Company XIV isn't afraid to take risks. Nutcracker Rouge, their take on the holiday classic, features a cast of jack-of-all-trades dancers who double as greeters, ushers, singers, actors and aerialists, while baring a good amount of skin but even more confidence. (Disclaimer: The show is for mature audiences only.) What's most impressive about these artists is how captivating they are. Regardless of what style of dance you do, if you want to become a better performer, consider taking a page out of their playbook.

You've got to be "on" the moment the audience walks in the front door.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Voices
Wilhelmina Frankfurt

Former New York City Ballet dancer Wilhelmina Frankfurt first spoke out about sexual misconduct at NYCB in Psychology Tomorrow in 2012. Since October, she's been working with The Washington Post reporter Sarah Kaufman for a story about Peter Martins, and when the School of American Ballet began investigating Martins for an anonymous accusation, she was called in to discuss her experiences. But Frankfurt feels there's more to the larger picture, and shares that here with Dance Magazine, as edited by Maggie Levin.


In 1994, I began to write a book of essays about my life in dance—mostly as an exercise. When the #MeToo movement began this year, I knew it was time to brush the dust off and take another look. Although incomplete, these essays addressed the roots that have long run between sexual abuse, alcoholism and ballet. They involve George Balanchine, Peter Martins and numerous stars of the New York City Ballet. It's painfully clear that my story is the same story that has occurred thousands of times, all over the world.

Keep reading... Show less
Advice for Dancers
Photo by Bob Jagendorf, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

I'm heartbroken that I might have to drop out of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. My back has been spasming since I did an extra-high kick to the back. My X-ray and MRI are normal, but my doctor thinks I hurt my sacroiliac joint. Physical therapy hasn't helped yet. How can I know for sure that this is the real problem?

—Injured Rockette, New York, NY

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking Stereotypes
Freddie Kimmel

Freddie Kimmel's musical theater career was just taking off when he woke up one morning with a pain in his groin. A trip to the doctor assured him it was nothing of concern, even though the sensation returned a few months later. As a dancer, Kimmel was used to pushing through discomfort, so he kept going to dance class to "work it out."

But the pain persisted. During a run of The Full Monty at Westchester Broadway Theatre, Kimmel was diagnosed with advanced metastasized cancer. Ten tumors had infiltrated his body.

Keep reading... Show less
What Wendy's Watching
Kota Yamazaki, Mina Nishimura, Raja Feather Kelly and Julian Barnett, Photo by Janelle Jones

Japanese-born, New York–based choreographer Kota Yamazaki returns to his roots as a butoh dancer in Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination. He explores butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata's idea of the extreme fragility of the body. Yamazaki is joined by contemporary luminaries Julian Barnett, Raja Feather Kelly, Joanna Kotze and Mina Nishimura, each of whom engages in drastically eccentric pathways, making the body appear to disintegrate before your eyes. Music is by Kenta Nagai and visual environment by lighting wizard Thomas Dunn. Dec. 13–15, Baryshnikov Arts Center. bacnyc.org.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!