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Why I Dance
Evan McKie trained at The National Ballet School of Canada, The Kirov Academy, and the John Cranko Schule in Stuttgart, Germany. At 25, he is a soloist in the Stuttgart Ballet, where he has danced since 2002. Known for his passionate lyricism in both classical and contemporary roles, he danced his first Prince Siegfried last year, and recently earned critical acclaim for his debut as Lenski in Cranko’s Onegin. He has originated roles for many choreographers including Wayne McGregor, Marco Goecke, and Nicolo Fonte.
Why do we do what we do? This question is usually coupled with, “What made you want to start?” I have been asked these questions a lot, especially as a guy growing up in tights. And yet the “why” is still hard to explain. Words just don’t flow freely from within me the way dance does. Perhaps this is a good thing because it helps me convey the answer better: I dance because the feeling I get when I do it is practically impossible to describe! But I can try . . . .
As a kid who was constantly in action, the possibility of a life filled with dancing appealed to me from the get-go. I was very involved in swimming and other after-school sports. But pretty soon my “after-school” time was spent working out at various dance studios around Toronto. This was after I had the revelation that dancing around the house to the beats and melodies of Sesame Street gave me a new level of personal satisfaction. I knew then as I know now that the root of why I dance is an innate love for two simple things: movement and music. The two Ms that, when combined, are my buzz of choice.
I learned that my version of moving to music was a way of interpreting stuff. Dancing became quite cathartic. As a 10-year-old I couldn’t describe this but I understood what it felt like. I began to work with great teachers in Toronto, Washington, DC, and Stuttgart on developing professional ballet technique. I also started to notice a new spiritual impact from dance. I had grown apart from childhood friends with different interests, but when I did come in contact with them, most displayed a tedium and a longing to find something significantly stimulating in life. Naturally, dancers may feel “lost” at times too, but dancing provides a spiritual rhythm that helps put life’s ups and downs into perspective and can even be a guide. After finding this rhythm, my new theory was put to the test. A boating accident left me with a severely torn knee ligament and what doctors described as “no hopes of dancing ballet.” I freaked out. But no matter how depressed I became, the rhythm never left my system. Regaining some strength in the following month, I let this simple but powerful rhythm steer my life. I came across a doctor who revealed that I might get back onstage if I found other muscles to take over where the torn ligament left off. He looked skeptical as he discussed how much mind power a feat like this would take. After weeks of frustrating work and invaluable help from Paris Opéra Ballet’s Gilbert Mayer and Stuttgart’s Pyotr Pestov (two of the worlds top boys’ teachers), I was finally ready to reconfirm my future in dance.
Life in dance has led me to marvel at the capability of the human brain as well. Recently I had a chat with a friend of mine, the utterly brilliant choreographer Wayne McGregor, about how dance affects the brain and vise-versa. He takes the issue 10 times farther in his recent work Entity, which I found awe-inspiring to watch and ridiculously thought-provoking. It’s engrossing to witness the brain being exercised through choreographic challenges. At the Kirov Academy I watched in amazement as students who once could barely stand on one leg suddenly completed full variations with ease and near-perfect line.
Whether I am satisfying a primitive instinct to move to music, discovering parts of my soul, or developing parts of my brain, I am thankful that dance affords me the chance to do it all at once. I still cannot define why I dance, though. It’s sacred. Some Eastern cultures believe that there are things in life that are not meant to be described in language but must be experienced to be understood. For me, dance is one of those personal things, and I love every minute of it.
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."