A Day in the Life of a College Dancer
If you're trying to select a college dance program, you probably have the websites bookmarked, the pamphlets dog-eared and the faculty and guest artists memorized. But it can be hard to picture the day-to-day life you would experience for the next four years. We talked to dancers at three different programs—a conservatory in the big city, a ballet-intensive school in the Midwestern suburbs and a deeply engaging, nonmajor program at an Ivy League—about a typical day in their undergraduate lives.
Third-year dance BFA
The Juilliard School
7 am: Wake Up
Falk on the reformer. Courtesy Falk.
Angela Falk's alarm goes off halfway across the double room she shares with a violinist on the 23rd floor of Juilliard's residence hall at Lincoln Center. The view from her window towards the Hudson River is a reminder of sprawling Manhattan outside, but students who live on campus don't venture far. “Breakfast is right downstairs," says Falk, “and I live 30 seconds away from the school building, where everything happens for the rest of my day." She puts her hair up in a bun, trades one pair of sweats for another and heads to the dining hall, where she listens to the news or finishes last-minute reading while eating.
8 am: Warm-Up
Falk spends the next 45 minutes on the reformer in the Pilates studio or in a pre-technique class, a stretching and strengthening session led by one of the modern teachers three times a week.
9 am: Academics
Anatomy is her first class, and Falk has a quiz tomorrow, but she won't have a chance to study until tonight.
10:40 am: Dance Classes
The dancers take two back-to-back technique classes—some combination of ballet, pointe, modern and classical partnering. “You learn two different modern techniques every year," she says. “As a junior, I'm studying Cunningham with Jean Freebury and Limón with Risa Steinberg. I love the way the classes contrast each other—it's all about precision in one and drop-and-release in the other."
1:40 pm: Lunch
A student council meeting. Courtesy Falk.
Lunch hour might also be used for a student council meeting or fitting in a few runs of a student-choreographed piece.
2:30 pm: Composer Meeting
Falk meets with the student composer she's been matched with for an elective choreography course. “It's very cool and collaborative, and it leads up to a live performance in the black-box theater," she says.
4 pm: Rehearsal
Three days a week, Falk and the other 24 members of her class rehearse a new work by Zvi Gotheiner for Juilliard's New Dances concert.
7 pm: Work Study
Falk ushers a theater performance for her work-study job after dinner tonight. On other nights, she might rehearse student pieces, study, do homework, visit friends or call her parents. “I like to be in bed by 11," she says. “Anyone considering Juilliard should expect to be this busy. That's why you'll see us all eating lunch outside, sitting on the concrete in our leotards, getting a solid 20 minutes of sunlight for the day."
Third-year ballet BS
Indiana University, Jacobs School of Music
8 am: Breakfast and Stretching
Raffaella Stroik stretches at home after making breakfast in the kitchen of the four-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment she shares with three other IU dancers. “There just isn't much time to warm up once I get to the studios after my 9 o'clock voice lesson and 10 o'clock Italian class," she says.
11:30 am: Technique Class
IU dancers study a variety of ballet techniques taught by a rotation of seven faculty and guest teachers, including department chair Michael Vernon, Violette Verdy and Jacques Cesbron. “They email the schedule the night before, so you know what to expect," says Stroik. “It's great to be learning different methods, but you also have to be prepared to jump from Balanchine to Bournonville."
1 pm: Lunch, Pointe and Rehearsal
Stroik at a voice lesson. Courtesy Stroik.
There's a half hour to eat before an hour-long pointe class, followed by rehearsal. “I take advantage of any break to go to the physical therapy room," says Stroik. “At midday, I'm there to roll out for 15 or 20 minutes, and after rehearsal, I'll ice my feet for half an hour, especially if I've been on pointe since barre or center that morning."
4 pm: Dinner and a Lecture
After walking home, she showers and makes dinner before a night class—today it's Art History. Finding time for homework can be tricky. “I spend the most time on Italian, since it's my concentration outside ballet, so I squeeze it in before and after night class or sometimes in the morning."
9 pm: Opera or Theater
The toughest requirement of Indiana's program might be the two semesters of piano mandated for the entire music school. “It's really challenging and you're alongside incredibly skilled pianists!" says Stroik. But all that talent is inspiring on Friday nights, when Stroik and her roommates attend a student opera or drama show.
Fourth-year government BA
7:30 am: Wake Up for Volunteer Work
On most days, Kayla Chen wakes up between 8:30 and 9. “But on Mondays, I run a mentoring program for Boston-area kids to grow their leadership skills—that starts at 8 am," she says. After, she grabs a bite to eat. When it's cold, there's no need to venture outside: Chen can walk from her dorm room to the dining hall through a series of tunnels in a matter of minutes.
Studying. Courtesy Chen.
10 am: Spanish and Sissonnes
When she's not meeting with other leadership mentors or supervisors for her senior thesis, Chen is in class—first Spanish, then Science of Food and finally, a lecture about human rights movements throughout history. If she's enrolled in a dance course, it also takes place during these hours. Last semester, Chen took ballet and Jill Johnson's Forsythe technique class. Both met twice a week for an hour and a half.
3 pm: Rehearsal
Chen heads to The Harvard Dance Project, a by-audition performance-oriented course led by Johnson that meets for three hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The group performs in the greater Boston communities. “Our final show is a major commitment: You need to make it to three nights of tech and shows every night for one week," which is no small feat in Harvard's overachieving atmosphere. Chen is also dancing in a student-choreographed work, which rehearses for two hours every Saturday.
10 pm: Study, Study, Sleep
“I'm usually still doing homework until 1:30 or 2 am," says Chen, “but then I just shut my books and set the alarm. I'm human—I catch up with people, check Facebook." She tries to get six blissful hours of sleep before the busy day starts all over again.
Alicia Alonso's famed ballet company in Cuba has a new leader: the beloved hometown prima ballerina Viengsay Valdés.
Ballet Nacional of Cuba just named Valdés deputy artistic director, which means she will immediately assume the daily responsibilities of running the company. Alonso, 98, will retain the title of general director, but in practice, Valdés will be the one making all the artistic decisions.
I'm terrified of performing choreography that changes directions. I messed up last year when the stage lights caused me to become disoriented. What can I do to prevent this from happening again? I can perform the combination just fine in the studio with the mirror.
—Scared, San Francisco, CA
From the angles of your feet to the size of your head, it can sometimes seem like there is no part of a dancer's body that is not under scrutiny. It's easy to get obsessed when you are constantly in front of a mirror, trying to fit a mold.
Yet the traditional ideals seem to be exploding every day. "The days of carbon-copy dancers are over," says BalletX dancer Caili Quan. "Only when you're confident in your own body can you start truly working with what you have."
While the striving may never end, there can be unexpected benefits to what you may think of as your "imperfections."
It's the second week of Miami City Ballet School's Choreographic Intensive, and the students stand in a light-drenched studio watching as choreographer Durante Verzola sets a pas de trois. "Don't be afraid to look at the ceiling—look that high," Verzola shows one student as she holds an arabesque. "That gives so much more dimension to your dancing." Other students try the same movement from the sidelines.
When Arantxa Ochoa took over as MCB School's director of faculty and curriculum two years ago, she decided to add a second part to the summer intensive: five weeks focused on technique would be followed by a new two-week choreography session. The technique intensive is not a requirement, but students audition for both at the same time and many attend the two back-to-back.
On a summer afternoon at The Ailey School's studios, a group of students go through a sequence of Horton exercises, radiating concentration and strength as they tilt to one side, arms outstretched and leg parallel to the ground. Later, in a studio down the hall, a theater dance class rehearses a lively medley of Broadway show tunes. With giant smiles and bouncy energy, students run through steps to "The Nicest Kids in Town" from Hairspray.
"You gotta really scream!" teacher Judine Somerville calls out as they mime their excitement. "This is live theater!" They segue into the audition number from A Chorus Line, "I Hope I Get It," their expressions becoming purposeful and slightly nervous. "Center stage is wherever I am," Somerville tells them when the music stops, making them repeat the words back to her. "Take that wherever you go."
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Dance artists, as a rule, are a resilient bunch. But working in a studio in New York City without heat or electricity in the middle of winter? That's not just crazy; it's unhealthy, and too much to ask of anyone.
Unfortunately, Brooklyn Studios for Dance hasn't had heat since mid-November, making it impossible for classes or performances to take place in the community-oriented center.
So what's a studio to do? Throw a massive dance party, of course.
As winter sets in, your muscles may feel tighter than they did in warmer weather. You're not imagining it: Cold weather can cause muscles to lose heat and contract, resulting in a more limited range of motion and muscle soreness or stiffness.
But dancers need their muscles to be supple and fresh, no matter the weather outside. Here's how to maintain your mobility during the colder months so your dancing isn't affected:
A newly launched initiative hopes to change the face of ballet, both onstage and behind the scenes. Called "The Equity Project: Increasing the Presence of Blacks in Ballet," the three-year initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is a partnership between Dance Theatre of Harlem, the International Association of Blacks in Dance and Dance/USA.
"We've seen huge amounts of change in the years since 1969, when Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded," says Virginia Johnson, artistic director of DTH. "But change is happening much too slowly, and it will continue to be too slow until we come to a little bit more of an awareness of what the underlying issues are and what needs to be done to address them."
From the outside, it seemed like the worst of New York City Ballet's problems were behind them last winter, when ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired amid accusations of abuse and sexual harassment, and an internal investigation did not substantiate those claims.
But further troubles were revealed in August when a scandal broke that led to dancer Chase Finlay's abrupt resignation and the firing of fellow principals Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro. All three were accused of "inappropriate communications" and violating "norms of conduct."
The artistic director sets the tone for a dance company and leads by example. But regardless of whether Martins, and George Balanchine before him, established a healthy organization, the issues at NYCB bespeak an industry-wide problem, says Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founding artistic director of Urban Bush Women. "From New York City Ballet to emerging artists, we've just done what's been handed down," she observes. "That has not necessarily led to great practices."
If you've ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at Dance Magazine, now's your chance to find out. Dance Magazine is seeking an editorial intern who's equally passionate about dance and journalism.
Through March 1, we are accepting applications for a summer intern to assist our staff onsite in New York City from June to August. The internship includes an hourly stipend and requires a minimum two-day-a-week commitment. (We do not provide assistance securing housing.)
For the past few months, the dance world has been holding its collective breath, waiting for New York City Ballet to announce who will take over the helm as artistic director.
Though former ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired over a year ago after accusations of sexual harassment and abuse (an internal investigation did not corroborate the accusations), the search for a new leader didn't begin until last May.
Nine months later, the new director's name could be released any day now. And we have some theories about who it might be:
Some people take this profession as just a chapter of their life. They feel like dance is a job—a fun job, but a job. Other people live their life through dance. I never considered being a ballerina a profession. It's a lifestyle.
If I don't have a performance, I feel like a tiger trapped in a cage. I have so many emotions, I feel I need to give them to somebody, to exhaust myself—I need to cry or laugh, or else it's suffocating. Other people might scream or throw bottles into the wall. We dancers scream onstage through our movement. For me, it's like sweeping off the dust in my soul.
Back in 2011, Yale University's dean of science was thinking about refreshing the program's offerings for non-majors when he happened upon a Pilobolus performance. A light bulb went off: Dance is full of physics.
That realization led to what has become an eight-year collaboration between particle physicist Sarah Demers and former New York City Ballet dancer Emily Coates, both professors at Yale who were brought together to co-teach a course called The Physics of Dance. Their partnership has involved everything from directing a short film to presenting a TedX Talk and performing a piece that Coates created, commissioned by Danspace Project. This month, they're publishing a book about what they've discovered by dialoging across two seemingly disparate disciplines.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
Though Polunin has long had a reputation for behaving inappropriately, in the last month his posts have been somewhat unhinged. In one, Polunin, who is Ukrainian, shows off his new tattoo of Vladimir Putin:
Watching Bohemian Rhapsody through the eyes of dancer, there's a certain element of the movie that's impossible to ignore: Rami Malek's physical performance of Freddie Mercury. The way he so completely embodies the nuances of the rock star is simply mind-blowing. We had to learn how he did it, so we called up Polly Bennett, the movement director who coached him through the entire process.
In a bit of serendipitous timing, while we were on the phone, she got a text from Malek that he had just been nominated for a Golden Globe. And during our chat, it became quite clear that she had obviously been a major part of that—more than we could have ever imagined.
Sebastian Abarbanell remembers being asked as an undergrad at Trinity Laban in London to perform wearing only a dance belt. "I said no," he says, "because I felt uncomfortable." Now a performer with Sidra Bell Dance New York, he's performed partially nude several times, without reservation. The difference? "It comes with more experience and maturing as a dancer," he says. "When you see a dancer living in their skin, you don't need to put anything else on them. When I said no in college, I wasn't in my skin yet."
Getting in your skin—and getting comfortable wearing only your skin onstage—requires a particular alchemy of vulnerability, agency, preparation and practice.
Birmingham Royal Ballet announced today that international star Carlos Acosta will be taking over as director in January of 2020. Current BRB director David Bintley will be stepping down this summer, at the end of the company's 2019 season, after a 24-year tenure. "It is a tremendous honor and privilege to have been appointed to lead Birmingham Royal Ballet," Acosta said in a statement.
Since retiring from The Royal Ballet in 2015, Acosta has focused much of his attention on his native Cuba, where he's proven his directorial abilities at the helm of Acosta Danza, the contemporary company that he founded in 2016. In 2017 Acosta also opened his first Dance Academy through his foundation, which provides free training to students. We don't yet know how Acosta will balance his time between his projects in Cuba and his new role at BRB.
My personal life has taken a nosedive since I broke up with my boyfriend. He's in the same show and is now dating one of my colleagues. It's heartbreaking to see them together, and I'm determined never to date a fellow dancer again. But it's challenging to find someone outside, as I practically live in the theater. Do you have any advice?
—Loveless, New York, NY
The inimitable Carol Channing, best known for her role as the titular Hello, Dolly!, passed away today at 97.
Though she became a three-time Tony winner, Channing was born in Seattle, far from the Great White Way, in 1921. After growing up in San Francisco, she attended the famed Bennington College, studying dance and drama. She later told the university, "What Bennington allows you to do is develop the thing you're going to do anyway, over everybody's dead body." For Channing, that meant decades of fiery, comical performances, bursting with energy.
Something's coming, I don't know when
But it's soon...maybe tonight?
Those iconic lyrics have basically been our #mood ever since we first heard a remake of the West Side Story film, directed by Steven Spielberg and choreographed by Justin Peck, was in the works. THE CASTING. THE CASTING WAS COMING.
Well, last night—after an extensive search process that focused on finding the best actors within the Puerto Rican/Latinx community—the WSS team finally revealed who'll be playing Maria, Anita, Bernardo, and Chino (joining Ansel Elgort, who was cast as Tony last fall). And you guys: It is a truly epic group.