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6 Reasons Dance Training Makes Us Better Human Beings
Everyone knows that training is the cornerstone of a successful career in dance. But as a dance educator, I also take comfort in the fact that high-quality dance training helps shape students into genuinely good people (in addition to creating future artists, which is a wonderful goal in itself.) These are the lessons dance teaches that help make students into better humans:
Improvement Takes Commitment Over Time
In my tap courses at Cal State University, sometimes students are shocked when they can't learn something quickly. In today's world, we're used to getting fast results. You need an answer—Google it. You need to talk to someone—text them. The cooking channel wants your dinner to be easy, the physical trainer wants your workout to be five minutes, Rosetta Stone can have you speaking Mandarin in an hour.
Zee at Big Apple Tap Festival
But dancers know that even when you have aptitude, there's no substitute for hard work and perseverance. Acquiring any skill of value takes time. It's the way we learn to dance, to play music, to speak a foreign language, to succeed academically, to change social norms and to break down barriers. We lace up our shoes day after day, week after week, year after year and learn how to dance. Commitment over time is the very antithesis of modern living and is at the core of dance training.
"Failures" Are Opportunities
At the foundation where I work that gives low-cost dance lessons to underserved kids, we do assessments to place students in the appropriate level. Every year we remind the kids that in academic schooling not moving up to the next grade every year is seen as a failure but in the arts, it is normal to stay in a level for multiple years as you perfect your skills. Every year there are kids who don't move up and are upset. But they soon realize that moving to the next level comes with mastery of a certain set of techniques and mastering those techniques takes hard work.
You Don't Get Something For Nothing
In dance class you are only entitled to what you earn. And what you earn doesn't even necessarily have to be perfect dance technique. Some of my favorite students over the years have not been the best tap dancers but they've been magnificent students. They show up on time and are prepared, they work hard, they sweat and they persevere. Maybe they don't become the most skilled dancer in the room, but they often reap the most benefits. And here is the beautiful part: those kids have worked hard exactly because they don't have a feeling of entitlement.
We Are Accountable to Ourselves and Each Other
At the foundation where I teach we have a very strict wardrobe policy. Any student not properly dressed sits and observes class that day. It may seem overly harsh, but there's wisdom behind it. There might be a time that a dancer or their family forgets the uniform, but it doesn't happen again. Over time, as the dancer matures, they learn to be responsible without the parents being involved, and you no longer hear "My mom forgot my shoes."
Dancers also become responsible for learning the material. They learn that the teacher is not a puppet master who can make a body do the correct thing; it is up to the student to learn the material. They learn that they are responsible to the rest of the class, and that being absent lets down their classmates because other dancers can't get in a good practice without everyone in the room. Missing class, coming to class unprepared or not focusing on executing the steps properly, they learn, affects everyone else.
Cutting Corners Isn't An Option
My younger students will invariably ask me when they can move to the next level and my answer is very frustrating to them, I'm sure. I say that there is really only one level: beginning. If everything goes well in the beginning, improvement will flow. If any corners are cut, it will be hard to become advanced. I distill advanced steps down to the same words I use for a person's first tap lesson. Anyone with an aptitude for dance who excelled a little too quickly will tell you that they eventually go back to fill in the gaps.
What Other People Think Doesn't Matter
In a world that is so concerned about appearances, dance teaches you that what others think is not the most important thing. I try to explain to my young students that they can't let their experiences get derailed by what they think someone else may be thinking. If they stand front and center in class and make a mistake, what does it matter what another student thinks? Stand in front, get that correction, improve because you want to and let someone else's view be damned. Let those too lethargic to meet their potential stand in the back and watch you strive to be better. If you can't do it today, there is always next class and you are already on the way because you have begun.
Rebecca Warthen was on a year-long assignment with the Peace Corps in Dominica last fall when a storm started brewing. A former dancer with North Carolina Dance Theatre (now Charlotte Ballet) and Columbia City Ballet, she'd been sent to the Caribbean island nation to teach ballet at the Dominica Institute of the Arts and in outreach classes at public schools.
But nine and a half months into her assignment, a tropical storm grew into what would become Hurricane Maria—the worst national disaster in Dominica's history.
Sidra Bell is one of those choreographers whose movement dancers are drawn to. Exploring the juxtaposition of fierce athleticism and pure honesty in something as simple as stillness, her work brings her dancers to the depths of their abilities and the audience to the edge of their seats.
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
Ever wonder why some dancers' port de bras appears to be disconnected from their body? It typically comes down to how they stabilize their shoulder blades, says Marimba Gold-Watts, Pilates instructor to dancers like Robert Fairchild.
"Dancers often hear the cue to pull down on their latissimus,"—the biggest muscle in the back—"which doesn't allow the shoulder blades to lie flat," she says. "It makes the bottom tips of the shoulder blades wing, or flare out, off the rib cage."
A few weeks ago, American Ballet Theatre announced the A.B.T. Women's Movement, a new program that will support three women choreographers per season, one of whom will make work on the main company.
"The ABT Women's Movement takes inspiration from the groundbreaking female choreographers who have left a lasting impact on ABT's legacy, including Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp," said artistic director Kevin McKenzie in a press release.
Hypothetically, this is a great idea. We're all for more ballet commissions for women. But the way ABT has promoted the initiative is problematic.
Some dancers move to New York City with their sights set on a dream job: that one choreographer or company they have to dance for. But when Maggie Cloud graduated from Florida State University in 2010, she envisioned herself on a less straightforward path.
"I always had in mind that I would be dancing for different people," she says. "I knew I had some kind of range that I wanted to tap into."
New York City Ballet is celebrating the Jerome Robbins Centennial with twenty (20!) ballets. The great American choreographer died in 1998, so very few of today's dancers have actually worked with him. There are plenty of stories about how demanding (at times brutally so) he could be in rehearsal. But Peter Boal has written about Robbins in a more balanced, loving way. In this post he writes about how Robbins' crystal clear imagery helped him approach a role with clarity and purpose.
Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.
Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:
When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.
For 17 years, James Samson has been the model Paul Taylor dancer. There is something fundamentally decent about his stage persona. He's a tall dancer—six feet—but never imposes himself. He's muscular, but gentle. And when he moves, it is his humanity that shines through, even more than his technique.
But all dancing careers come to an end, and James Samson's is no exception; now 43, he'll be retiring in August, after a final performance at the Teatro Romano in Verona, where he'll be dancing in Cloven Kingdom, Piazzolla Caldera and Promethean Fire.