The Six Partnering Mistakes He's Probably Not Telling You About—But You're Definitely Making
Partnering training is one of the most nuanced parts of dance education. And yet, so much of it is entirely focused on male students. Beyond the basic principles—like holding your core and avoiding slippery leotards—young women often have little direction other than performing steps they already know with the help of a male dancer. But they have just as much to learn about becoming a good partner. Communication is key—but there are also some mistakes that your counterpart may not think to mention.
Mistake #1: Forgetting to breathe
Seth Orza and Lesley Rausch stay loose and free in William Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB
Especially when you're just starting out, dancing so close to someone can feel weird. Students and professional dancers alike can get nervous when working with a new partner for the first time. But holding unnecessary tension in your body—and forgetting to breathe—interrupts your natural rhythms and prevents you from feeling “in sync" with the dancer beside you. “When you breathe into the step, and in between steps, you can look at the guy and know that he will be there," says Claudio Muñoz, ballet master of Houston Ballet II.
Mistake #2: Not trusting your partner, or yourself
Claudio Muñoz helps students build trust in their partnerships. Photo by Bruce Bennett, Courtesy Houston Ballet
Second-guessing throws off your rhythm and energy. “It's the most difficult part of learning how to partner as a student," says Seth Orza, principal dancer at Pacific Northwest Ballet. “It takes practice." Trust that if you're in partnering class, it's because your teacher knows you're ready.
“The more experienced dancer has to be the mature guide and say, 'I will be there, don't worry,' " says Muñoz. “It's about communication." Don't let fear hold you back. “It's not going to be perfect every time," says Orza. “And it's different with everybody. Some people you mesh better with than others."
Mistake #3: Trying to help too much
Seth Orza, here with Carla Körbes in Apollo, says partnerships needs to be equal to be successful. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB
You want to make your partner's life easy. But you also have to let him carry his own weight. This is the most common mistake Orza sees, and it often manifests as putting too much energy into a step, which actually makes your partner's job more difficult. “In Sleeping Beauty, when you do the en dedans pirouette into a fish dive, if the girl overdoes the turn and tries to help too much, it can swing out of control," he says. “It has to be an equal partnership. If one person's doing too much, it throws off the movement."
Mistake #4: Forgetting the music and mood
Seth Orza and Carla Körbes use music to connect with one another. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB
When it comes to performing your side of the pas, musicality should be your number one priority. “When you dance with the same person for a long time, you have a shared internal rhythm—that's why everything comes so easily," says Muñoz. Until you've developed that intimate connection with a partner, “the music is the link between the two dancers."
To add depth to this shared rhythm, talk with your partner about the mood and story that you're expressing. “It's imperative—they have to approach the choreography with the same mood," says Muñoz. “It makes you feel, makes you connect with the other person."
Mistake #5: Getting too cocky
Muñoz says being humble and listening to one another are key. Photo by Cameron Durham, Courtesy Houston Ballet
Confidence is important to partnering, but for dancers with a year or two of experience under their belts, it can be tempting to think you've learned it all. “Listen to each other, and stay humble," says Muñoz. If you ever find yourself assuming that problems are your partner's fault, it's time to pause and reevaluate. If in doubt, a teacher can step in to help navigate a tricky step.
Mistake #6: Becoming a cookie-cutter partner
Orza tailors the steps to his partners. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB
“Some dancers are stubborn and want to do the steps the way they feel they are supposed to do them, no matter who they are dancing with," says Muñoz. “That is wrong. You have the same ingredients, but you have to be willing to change and accommodate." Things won't feel exactly the same from one partner to the next, and that's okay. Always listen for ways that you can make your partner's job easier.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.
Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"
At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.
Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.