Should Aspiring Ballet Dancers "Run in the Other Direction"?
Update: Additional perspectives have been added to this story as more responses have come in.
"Every time I see a little girl in a tutu or with her hair in a bun on her way to ballet class, all I can think is that she should run in the other direction," she said, "because no one will protect her, like no one protected me."
It was quite a statement, and it got us thinking. Of course, it's heartbreaking to imagine the experiences that Waterbury lists in the lawsuit, and it's easy to see why this would be her reaction.
But should aspiring ballet dancers really "run in the other direction"? Were her alleged experiences isolated incidences perpetuated by a tiny percentage of just one company—or are they indicative of major problems in today's ballet culture within and beyond NYCB's walls?
We reached out to a variety of authorities in the field to hear their reactions to her statement.
"I don't see any truth to what Ms. Waterbury said in that last sentence in The New York Times article. There are many companies out there with directors who not only care about the vision and success of their company, but also about the well-being and safety of their dancers.
"It is sincerely unfortunate that the leadership of the New York City Ballet decided to look the other way regarding these egregious acts, because putting the well-being of their female employees in harm's way will haunt them for a very long time—if not forever. I am deeply saddened that the dance world has been stained by a very small group of people who lack a sense of responsibility, discernment and wisdom.
"Our only hope is that the NYCB will find a leader who can not only take the company to new and creative heights, but also has the courage, gravitas and wisdom to establish and reinforce an environment that is healthy for all concerned."
Former American Ballet Theatre principal Susan Jaffe is the dean of dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
"At this point, these are allegations, and we need to wait for the case to develop further. But the most worrisome aspect for me, in addition to the obviously worrying question of how women have been and are being treated at this company, is the lack of transparency we've seen so far with allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse of power, and not just at NYCB. What does a resolution like the one made by the independent investigator in the Peter Martins case, that the charges could not be corroborated, actually mean? Did it happen or didn't it? I believe in due process—not every accusation will turn out to be true, in any realm of life. But without a good faith effort to obtain clear answers, in which people feel empowered to come forward and tell their stories, it's very difficult to see how companies can effectively get on top of this issue, investigate their own company culture, take steps to make such behavior less likely. Otherwise, they're just going to end up putting out statements and instituting generic policies. We all know that the behavior alleged in this case is wrong, but what we need to know is whether it's systemic and widespread so that real steps can be taken to make it less likely to happen again."
Marina Harss is a dance writer for The New Yorker, The New York Times and The Nation among other publications. She is currently working on a book about Alexei Ratmansky.
"What a heartbreaking statement. For me, here in a place that has little girls in tutus and buns, we want them to have mind-expanding and life-expanding experiences with ballet. I truly believe that's what ballet is and what we're here for. We as directors have a responsibility to provide safety—and a feeling of safety.
"All of this is making me think about how I lead the company, and specifically the women in our company. I read an article about feminism and ballet over the weekend that talked about how, with the way ballet is set up, dancers are often treated as blank slates for male creators to impose a vision on. It made me think about us engendering choices for our dancers. If we don't give them any agency, why would they want to do this? When you're working with designers, making a dance, even staging a ballet, it is a collaborative process. Dancers should be treated as collaborators and make choices that affect the work.
"This is a difficult time for ballet. I think we leaders need to listen carefully and be thoughtful about our actions, so that things like this stop happening. I want our art form to thrive and do what it's supposed to do: Transform lives for the better."
Paul Vasterling is the artistic director of Nashville Ballet.
"The New York Times broke the 2017 story of sexual harassment claims against Peter Martins at the New York City Ballet, but they were far from the only journalistic entity investigating him. The Times printed first because they could publish with anonymous sources, a practice not all papers embrace. Even though many people were sharing experiences with the press, the majority of those sources required protective anonymity, rendering their stories, for the most part, unpublishable. Folks who want anonymity have their reasons, and fear of reprisal is an obvious disincentive for anyone with knowledge of harassment or abuse to share anything. To put it another way, those who asked for anonymity felt they needed protections they didn't already have, which says a great deal about the dance world.
"Waterbury's story and sentiment abundantly rhyme with the pattern of ballet history. Feminist critic Deirdre Kelly, scholar Brenda Dixon Gottschild and historian Jennifer Homans (among others) have abundantly demonstrated how ballet sits at the historical intersection of structures of race, gender, power, sex and violence. Arguably, one outcome of this history is that institutions like NYCB have become adroit at the management of legal protections and tactical public relations required to contain discourse on abuse. I find it notable that, to date, the only public comments I've seen from NYCB pertaining to Waterbury's claim are, first, an email sent only to patrons offering thanks for support "during what has been, to put it mildly, a challenging year," and second, a statement issued directly to The New York Times and apparently not made available to anyone else. While I'm sure NYCB takes claims of abuse seriously on some level, I believe Waterbury's point holds here. Historically, functionally, and fiduciarily, the ballet protects its students from harm inasmuch as doing so inoculates against legal claims and threat of institutional collapse."
Sydney Skybetter is a choreographer, lecturer and public humanities fellow at Brown University.
Jenifer Ringer Fayette:
"Ballet, as an art form, celebrates the idealistic virtues of humanity: beauty, love, self-discipline, respect, honor. With all that has happened recently, the ballet world—really the entire dance world—has the opportunity to check itself. And I am reminded, as an educator, that my team and I have a responsibility not only to raise up great dancers but to also raise up great individuals who will contribute in positive ways to a larger community. We want dancers going out into the world not to tear others down but to instead build others up, exhorting each other to embody ideals of character and action while we all pursue excellence in dance."
Former New York City Ballet principal Jenifer Ringer Fayette is the dean of the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute and director of the Colburn Dance Academy.
Dr. Laura Katz Rizzo:
"This issue is of particular interest to me as someone who identifies as both a feminist and a ballet dancer, teacher and scholar. Waterbury's experience is a sad reflection of what can happen when authority within a hierarchical structure goes unquestioned.
"It isn't only the ballet world that has left young girls (and boys) vulnerable to sexual violence and intimidation. Much of our society is infested with predators who use their positions of power and influence to dominate others. The #MeToo movement is precisely about bringing these injustices to light. The reality is that in much of society, young women have been and continue to be subjugated to men's power through the use of intimidation and violence. Even the President of the United States has publicly bragged about using his fame to pressure women to have sex with him, and has admitted to groping women without waiting for consent. It is a widespread social issue haunts the entire country, in addition to the ballet world.
"Ballet is not by its nature an oppressive art form or discipline. For many girls, the ballet studio is a safe space where they can explore their own physicality and power, and ballerinas are positive female authority figures of strength and passion. However, the ballet world has been slow to the kind of social change that the rest of the dance world has undergone. Ballet carries with it, both aesthetically but also structurally, the historical legacy of the Imperial context in which it emerged. It is the hierarchical and stratified infrastructure of professional ballet schools and companies that has allowed for the misuse of power described by Waterbury. In more egalitarian environments where individuals are valued for their unique contributions, a different culture of communal respect and appreciation emerges.
"Therefore, instead of demonizing all of ballet, I'd argue we just need to open up the ways in which we teach, coach and perform within the discipline. This will mean that the form will shift and change to reflect a more inclusive and accepting world view and aesthetic. If we open up to the possibility of change, not only will there be fewer people left vulnerable and exposed to abuse by those in power, but the art form will evolve, becoming more relevant to the contemporary moment in which we live."
A ballet choreographer, scholar and pedagogue, Dr. Laura Katz Rizzo is an assistant professor at Temple University's department of dance
"I believe that Alexandra Waterbury's statement is an appropriate response to a culture that horrifically misused and abused her, and, even more discouragingly, that the behavior she experienced is an extreme of a systemic problem rooted in the current values and culture of ballet. The history of ballet is intertwined with that of the capitalist cis hetero patriarchy, which has allowed for women to be used and abused, as the property and playthings of men with power. While we have made marginal progress as a society from the days of early ballet, the traditions of silencing women and disregarding their physical, emotional and psychological needs continues today in the "top" (aka most funded) ballet institutions of the Western world.
"I exist outside of those structures, as a person that students seek out when they need an alternative. I am seeking to create an environment for dancers to reclaim their relationships to ballet, on their own terms, in a way that respects them as full human beings. Sadly, this has to be a very concerted and conscious effort! Ballet history is full of male choreographers using young female dancers, as either unrecognized creative collaborators, or as sexual objects, and often as both. In order to reclaim ballet from this tradition, we have to break with it, consciously and with intention. It will not be changed by idle acquiescence and silence.
"The biggest tragedy here is that Alexandra Waterbury is losing access to her art form, and her hope for its future. She is losing the form she has devoted her life to the study and practice of, because some entitled male dancer followed in the footsteps of his predecessors and abused her. My greatest hope is that we can change the culture of ballet to respect all people, their boundaries, needs and voices, so that young dancers can feel safe going to study ballet. But that means huge systemic changes for the entire field, which starts with the simple practice of trusting and listening to women."
Katy Pyle is the artistic director of Ballez.
Donna Faye Burchfield:
"The pedagogies of dance, dancing and dance making must include criticality—enlivened questioning, a kind of necessary seriousness not in the boring way, but in an urgent way. I am constantly reminded of how criticality can function within a school like ours which trains young dance artists. Criticality helps our students come to terms with complexity, and (in what I witness here) begins to foster a kind of thinking, caring space for learning, for dancing and for being together in dance.
"Abuse is bound up within hierarchical, heteronormative systems of power. It takes constant vigilance to do the necessary work of digging beneath the surface of traditions and ways of working. We know that language matters, and that language shapes experience. What we have yet to grasp, and take responsibility for is our role in this dance "world-making." We are unable to separate the ways in which we work from the conditions of our lives. The ruptures have happened and are happening. I listen, and I feel an enormous responsibility to create a space and a place of alterity in dance that values thinking, making and doing…in that order."
Donna Faye Burchfield is the director of the School of Dance at The University of the Arts.
"Women ballet dancers today have a tremendous amount of agency to speak up, argue for their rights, and reinvent some of the more outmoded representations of women that classical ballet perpetuates. They do it every day on stages all over the world. The problem is when the leadership of a leading ballet company grips the ballet world in the past by failing to lead with enlightenment or pro-activism when extreme situations of sexism and misogyny arise, as with Waterbury's lawsuit.
"It should be of major concern that the public statement issued by New York City Ballet's board of directors in response to Waterbury's lawsuit could not even rise to the by-now boilerplate public response shown by other major cultural institutions in the era of #MeToo. The board's public statement should have expressed sympathy for and solidarity with Waterbury and the women who have experienced what is without question cyber sexual abuse by New York City Ballet male employees. The statement should have condemned harassment of any kind and under any circumstance, and promised to do better.
Instead, the board's tightly crafted public statement was entirely defensive and chose to show little empathy. In conspicuously not recognizing Waterbury's experience, the board implicitly attempted to invalidate it.
"We are seeing this dynamic play out nationally and internationally with #MeToo: what to do with the experiences women say they have? First of all, recognize that what she/they say they experienced is true. Anything less is just another version of the age-old practice of attempting to silence women's voices in public.
"City Ballet's board of directors needs to recognize publicly the shocking violation of Waterbury's privacy and loudly condemn cyber sexual harassment under any circumstance. They also need to promise to do an internal review. In short, they need to catch up to the 21st century—where we dancers are living and flourishing."
Emily Coates, a former member of New York City Ballet (1992-1998), is the director of Dance Studies at Yale University.
What do you think? We'd love to hear your perspective. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some of the most interesting responses we've gotten so far on social media:
Whilst a career in dance has had its complications, I find it a joyous, passionate and empowering place in which to work and to be creative. Don't runaway little girl, let us all run towards you and endeavour to support each young dancer on their journey to self-realisation
— Rosie Kay Dance Co (@rosiekaydanceco) September 12, 2018
Many choreographers use spoken word to enhance their dance performances. But the Campfire Poetry Movement video series has found success with a reverse scenario: Monticello Park Productions creates short art films that often use dance to illustrate iconic poems.
It's contest time! You could win your choice of Apolla Shocks (up to 100 pairs) for your whole studio! Apolla Performance believes dancers are artists AND athletes—wearing Apolla Shocks helps you be both! Apolla Shocks are footwear for dancers infused with sports science technology while maintaining a dancer's traditions and lines. They provide support, protection and traction that doesn't exist anywhere else for dancers, helping them dance longer and stronger. Apolla wants to get your ENTIRE studio protected and supported in Apolla Shocks! How? Follow these steps:
When I was just a little peanut, my siblings and I used to find scrap paper and use them as tickets to our makeshift dance performances at family gatherings. They were more like circus shows, really, where my brother was the ringmaster, and my sisters and I were animals; we dove through imaginary flaming hoops and showcased our best tightrope acts with the suspense of plummeting into an endless pit of sorrows. This was my first introduction to the beauty of movement as a way of communicating.
Photo by Lindsay Linton
So you're on layoff—or, let's be real, you just don't feel like going to the studio—and you decide you're going to take class from home. Easy enough, right? All you need is an empty room and some music tracks on your iPhone, right?
Wrong. Anyone who has attempted this feat can tell you that taking class at home—or even just giving yourself class in general—is easier said than done. But with the right tools, it's totally doable—and can be totally rewarding.
Today, we are thrilled to announce the honorees of the 2018 Dance Magazine Awards. A tradition dating back to 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards celebrate the living legends who have made a lasting impact on dance. This year's honorees include:
Choreographer Ronald K. Brown sees himself as a weaver—of movement, but more importantly, of stories. "When I started my company Evidence 33 years ago, I needed to make a space for what I thought of as evidence—work that tells stories, so that when people saw the work, they would see a reflection or evidence of themselves onstage," says Brown, now 51. "That was my mission, my purpose."
Fast-forward to today: Evidence has become a mainstay in the modern dance world and Brown is now considered a vanguard among choreographers fusing Western contemporary dance with movement from the African diaspora, including popular dance and traditions from West African cultures like Senegalese sabar.
She may not be the first choreographer to claim that movement is her first language, but when Crystal Pite says it, it's no caveat: She's as effective and nuanced a communicator as the writers who often inspire her dances.
Her globally popular Emergence, for instance, was provoked in part by science writer Steven Johnson's hypotheses; The Tempest Replica refracts and reimagines Shakespeare. Recently, her reading list includes essays by fellow Canadian Robert Bringhurst, likewise driven by a ravenous, wide-ranging curiosity.
General director of Spoleto Festival USA since 1995 and, for two decades (1998-2017), the director of the Lincoln Center Festival, Nigel Redden has an internationalist's point of view on the arts—expansive, curious, informed by the cultural wealth that the world has to offer.
He is the son of an American diplomat and grew up moving from place to place—Cyprus, Israel, Canada, Italy—until eventually setting of for Yale to study Art History. After visiting the Spoleto festival in Italy as a young man, and working there while he was still an undergraduate, he very quickly realized what he wanted to: direct festivals. And that's what he has done for most of the last quarter century.
No, she isn't like other artistic directors, and that's not just because she's a woman. Lourdes Lopez, who's led Miami City Ballet since 2012, doesn't want this to be taken the wrong way, but as for her vision? She doesn't really have one.
"I just want good dancers and a good company and good rep and an audience and a theater—let us do what the art form is supposed to be doing," she says. "I don't mean that in a flippant way. It's just how I've always approached it."
Paul Taylor cultivated many brilliant dancers during his 60-plus-year career, but seldom have any commanded such a place of authority and artistry as Michael Trusnovec. He models what it takes to become a great Taylor dancer: weight of movement, thorough grasp of style, deep concentration, steadfast partnering, complete dedication to the choreography and a nuanced response to the music.
Trusnovec can simultaneously make choreography sexy and enlightened, and he can do it within one phrase of movement. Refusing to be pigeonholed, he has excelled in roles as diverse as the tormented and tormenting preacher in Speaking in Tongues; the lyrical central figure—one of Taylor's own sacred roles—in Aureole; the dogged detective in Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal); and the corporate devil in Banquet of Vultures.
Based on the novel by Roland Topor and the 1976 Roman Polanski film, The Tenant follows a man who moves into an apartment that's haunted by its previous occupant (Simone, played by ABT's Cassandra Trenary) who committed suicide. Throughout the show, the man—Trelkovsky, played by Whiteside—slowly transforms into Simone, eventually committing suicide himself.
But some found the show's depiction of a trans-femme character to be troubling. Whether the issues stem from the source material or the production's treatment of it, many thought the end result reinforced transphobic stereotypes about mental illness. We gathered some of the responses from the dance community:
Update: Raffaella Stroik's body was found near a boat ramp in Florida, Missouri on Wednesday morning. No information about what led to the death is currently available. Our thoughts are with her friends and family.
Raffaella Stroik, a 23-year-old dancer with the Saint Louis Ballet, went missing on Monday.
Her car was found with her phone inside in a parking lot near a boat ramp in Mark Twain Lake State Park—130 miles away from St. Louis. On Tuesday, the police began an investigation into her whereabouts.
Stroik was last seen at 10:30 am on Monday at a Whole Foods Market in Town and Country, a suburb of St. Louis. She was wearing an olive green jacket, a pink skirt, navy pants with white zippers and white tennis shoes.
Whether or not you see yourself choreographing in your future, you can gain a lot from studying dance composition. "Many companies ask you to generate your own content. Choreography is more collaborative now," says Autumn Eckman, a faculty member at the University of Arizona.
Look beyond the rehearsal studio, and you'll find even more benefits to having dancemaking skills. "Being a thinker as well as a mover is what creates a sustainable career," says Iyun Ashani Harrison, who teaches at Goucher College. "Viewing dance with a developed eye and being able to speak about what you're seeing is valuable whether you're a dancer, a choreographer, an artistic director or a curator."
Succeeding in composition class often has more to do with attitude than aptitude. Above all, you need "a willingness to play along and explore," says Kevin Predmore, who teaches at the Ailey/Fordham BFA program. "You have to let go of the desire to create something extraordinary, and instead be curious."
Egg Drop Soup's "Partying Alone" video turns a run-of-the-mill dance team audition on its head with a vision of female power from a mature woman. The panel is stunned when a gray-haired, red-lipsticked 80-something tosses aside her cane and lets loose, flipping her hair—and the bird.
Egg Drop Soup - Partying Alone (Official music video)
Take a second look at that head-banging grandma—she is none other than renowned dance researcher and anthropologist Judith Lynne Hanna. An affiliate research professor in anthropology at the University of Maryland, College Park, the author of numerous scholarly books and an expert witness in trials for exotic dancers, she has spent her career getting us to think about dance's relationship to society. Hanna, 82, said she hadn't performed since college when she got a call from a music video producer, who caught a video of her dancing with her 13-year-old grandson. The rockers of Egg Drop Soup loved her energy and flew her out to Los Angeles for a day-long video shoot. We spoke to Hanna about the experience.
Since its founding in 1999, more than 80,000 ballet dancers have participated in Youth America Grand Prix events. While more than 450 alumni are currently dancing in companies across the world, the vast majority—tens of thousands—never turn that professional corner. And these are just the statistics from one competition.
"You may have the best teacher in the world and the best work ethic and be so committed, and still not make it," says YAGP founder Larissa Saveliev. "I have seen so many extremely talented dancers end up not having enough motivation and mental strength, not having the right body type, not getting into the right company at the right time or getting injured at the wrong moment. You need so many factors, and some of these are out of your hands."
New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)
The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:
"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."
Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.
Tired of the typical turkey and stuffing? For Thanksgiving this year, try something different with these personal recipes that dancers have shared with Dance Magazine. The ingredients are packed with dancer-friendly nutrients to help you recover from rehearsals and fuel up for the holiday performances ahead.
If anyone raises an eyebrow at your unconventional choices, just remind them that dancers are allowed to take some artistic license!
A dancer once contacted me because he was devastated after walking in on his girlfriend with another man. While he was distressed about ending the relationship, he was most concerned about a major performance coming up. They had to dance a romantic pas de deux. When I met with them together, she was afraid he would drop her and he didn't want to look lovingly in her eyes. My role was to help them find ways to make magic onstage and keep their personal difficulties offstage. They ended up dancing to rave reviews.
Adji Cissoko has the alchemical blend of willowy limbs and earthy musicality you expect from a dancer in Alonzo King LINES Ballet. But she also has something more—a joy in dancing that makes every step feel immediate.
"She has this soulful quality of an ancient spirit coming through her body," says LINES chief executive officer Muriel Maffre, a former prima ballerina with San Francisco Ballet. "She's fearless, which is fun to work with," says artistic director Alonzo King. "I don't know how to put it into words— she's herself."
When Jan Fabre's troupe Troubleyn presents his Mount Olympus: To glorify the cult of tragedy (a 24 hour performance) at NYU Skirball tomorrow it does so under a heavy cloud of controversy.
Fabre is a celebrated Belgian multidisciplinary artist who has been honored as Grand Officer in the Order of the Crown, one of the country's highest honors. His visual art has been displayed at the Louvre and at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. According to The New York Times, his dance company, Troubleyn, receives about $1 million a year from the Belgian government.
But in an open letter posted to Belgian magazine Rekto Verso just a few months ago, 20 of his company's current and former dancers outline a horrific culture of sexual harassment, bullying and coercion. This comes on the heels of similar accusations at New York City Ballet and Paris Opèra Ballet.
Earlier this week, New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck gave us some major onstage makeup inspiration while attending an offstage event. While walking the red carpet at the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund gala, Peck's beauty look was still perfectly suited for the ballet with her top knot hairstyle and stage-worthy red lip. Peck's makeup artist for the night, Daniel Duran, shared his exact breakdown on the look, working exclusively with beauty brand Chantecaille. So, whether you're in need of a waterproof brow pencil, volumizing mascara or long-lasting red lip this Nutcracker season, we've got you covered.
There's a new tool that lets amputee ballet dancers perform on pointe. As reported in Dezeen, an architecture and design magazine, industrial designer Jae-Hyun An has created a prosthesis he calls the "Marie . T" (after Marie Taglioni, of course) that allows dancers with below-the-knee amputations to do pointe work.
A carbon fiber calf absorbs shock while a stainless steel toe and rubber platform allow a dancer to both turn and grip the floor to maintain balance. What it doesn't allow the dancer to do? Roll down to demi-pointe or flat.