4 Things to Do If You’re Touring Abroad

August 30, 2017

Of all the incredible journeys I’ve taken during my life as a ballet student and professional dancer, for me, nothing tops the excitement of an international tour. Heading into my fourth season with the Island Moving Company, a small contemporary ballet company based in Newport, Rhode Island, I’ve had the opportunity to tour two seasons in a row to Kazakhstan, in Central Asia, as part of our Great Friends touring exchange. These experiences have taught me several important lessons about performing abroad.

1. Approach Your Destination with an Open Mind.

IMC’s Lauren Difede and Shane Farrell perform outside the USA Pavilion at EXPO 2017 in Astana. Photo by Tara Gragg, Courtesy Gragg.

I’ll admit, when I initially learned IMC was going to Kazakhstan for our first ever international tour, I was skeptical. I wondered why we weren’t going somewhere with a more robust dance scene, like Europe. Once we arrived, though, I was captivated by the beautiful, vast landscape and how, even today, ballet academies like Choreography College in the “culture capital” of Almaty incorporate the history of the nomadic Kazakh people by learning traditional folk dances to supplement their Vaganova training. After a successful tour last season, receiving a return invitation to perform at EXPO 2017 in Astana this summer reinforced how vital it is to make cultural connections. At a time like this when politics are so divided, it’s an honor to bring people together through dance.

2. Learn Key Phrases in the Language.

IMC and Samruk dancers in costume for the Kazakh folk dance. Photo Courtesy US Embassy in Astana.

While on tour last spring, our company learned a Kazakh folk dance, which we performed alongside the Samruk Dance Company, a local contemporary troupe. It was an incredible experience to learn a new style of dance while participating in a true cultural exchange in the studio. Russian is widely spoken throughout Kazakhstan, so I spent some time learning the alphabet and as many simple phrases as possible. For rehearsals, I quickly found that the words for “right, left, arms, legs, head, fast, slow,” and of course, the numbers one through eight, were especially helpful for rough translations of choreography. However, dance is a universal language, and we were always able to communicate through movement when we didn’t have enough vocabulary.

3. Carve Out Time to Give Back—and Experience Another Culture.

Students in Sayram village performing a folk dance. Photo by Tara Gragg, Courtesy Gragg.

My favorite moment of our first tour was IMC’s trip to Sayram village on the outskirts of Shymkent. We visited a school for one of our signature outreach programs, in which we take stories written by the children, read them aloud and use them to choreograph a dance on the spot. The students surprised us with a performance full of folk music and dance. It was a touching gift, and I was happy to see that music and dance is a strong part of their school curriculum.

4. Always Listen to Your Body.

IMC dancers performing Danielle Genest’s “The Limit of One” at the Abay Opera House in Almaty. Photo by Elena Petrova.

Touring, especially when it involves international travel, can be exhausting. Days in the theater are often longer than expected while working with different stage crews. The food is unfamiliar, and it may even be hard to find water that’s safe to drink. I recommend listening very closely to your body while on tour; if your co-workers are going out to dinner but all you want to do is sleep, just say goodnight and head back to the hotel. During our tours, I made sure to order extra sides of vegetables at restaurants since the Kazakh diet is heavy on meat and bread. I also took advantage of the pool and sauna at our hotel before and after rehearsal. Do what’s best for you to stay in peak performance shape.