Should You Try a New Ballet Technique at Your Summer Intensive?
Before spending a summer at Los Angeles Ballet School, Lillian Glasscock had never learned a Balanchine variation. "The stylistic differences, like preparing for a pirouette with a straight back leg, were at first very challenging," says Glasscock, 17. "But it soon got easier."
Los Angeles Ballet company members were in class daily, motivating and inspiring her. Trying out a new style and expanding her repertoire gave Glasscock more strength, and a better understanding of the varied demands of ballet companies today. Months later, the Balanchine variations she learned are now personal favorites.
While the early years of training are typically spent diligently working through the syllabus of a single ballet technique, when you start to prepare for a professional career, versatility is key. There isn't just one correct version of each step. And as ballet companies continue to diversify their repertoires, directors need dancers who can move fluidly between an array of styles.
"Choreographers will challenge you to step out of your comfort zone," says Colleen Neary, co-director of Los Angeles Ballet School. "Don't be afraid of taking the steps you already know further, or learning something entirely new."
Trying another technique also can help you address your weak areas. Are you naturally a quick mover? You may want to try a Vaganova-based program that builds adagio control. Do you tend to prepare for each step? You may want to push yourself to bolder, faster movement with a Balanchine-based intensive. While a summer program may not be long enough to master a new style, it is the perfect way to start exploring.
Vaganova: Strong & Controlled
Students at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in New York. Photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Bolshoi Academy
As a testament to the value of learning multiple techniques, New York City Ballet soloist Indiana Woodward recently told The New York Times that training with the Bolshoi Ballet Academy was one of her life-changing moments. Perhaps this is because of the leg strength and upper-body coordination that the Russian style demands.
"Vaganova technique is the foundation of practically all recognized ballet training," says Marina Leonova, dean of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow and artistic director of the summer programs in New York and Connecticut.
Spending four to six weeks in this tradition will have you paying particular attention to épaulement—the placement of the head in relation to body direction and in coordination with the arms and legs. Students may be challenged by getting explicit directions about where to direct their gaze.
Longer adagios and slower jumping tempos can also be grueling for newbies. But working on these elements will give you the power in your legs and the finesse in your upper body needed to conquer classical variations and corps de ballet work.
Balanchine: Fast & Bold
Students at Los Angeles Ballet School. Photo by Catherine Kanner, Courtesy LABS
With an emphasis on musicality, Balanchine classes demand an alert ear. Students learn to play with syncopation, and turn or jump through a phrase of music.
"Music was everything to Balanchine and without it, we wouldn't be dancing," says Kay Mazzo, chairman of faculty at the School of American Ballet. "One of the first things I tell students is 'We are dancing to a live pianist and you have to start and finish with them.' "
Students may find themselves taking technique class in pointe shoes, moving faster and articulating larger positions, like a pirouette from an elongated fourth position with a straight back leg. Tendus, dégagés and petit allégro may come at seemingly impossible tempos.
"In the Balanchine style there are bigger movements, more traveling, a freer approach in how you hold your port de bras and hands, really a boldness," says Neary.
If you have been primarily studying a technique that emphasizes detail and placement, the most difficult request may be to channel your boldest self. However, it can be a breakthrough to discover that if you fall, you likely will be applauded.
The British Style: Soft & Expressive
Iain Webb teaching class at Sarasota Ballet School. Photo courtesy Sarasota Ballet.
Students who try the English style find an emphasis on dramatic expression and supple footwork. At The Margaret Barbieri Conservatory at Sarasota Ballet School, director Margaret Barbieri says the key elements of the English style include "clean length of line; the use of port de bras, épaulement and upper body; neat, intricate footwork and a keen grounding in musicality and acting."
Barbieri notes that you need "quick feet" for Sir Frederick Ashton's ballets. While that may sound similar to Balanchine, there is a softer sensibility to English footwork. Students new to this style will find that in petit allégro, instructors expect the heels down in demi-plié, which can be difficult if the calves or Achilles tendons are tight. Pointe shoes are softened up to allow for quiet landings.
In addition to works by Ashton, students might practice variations by Sir Kenneth MacMillan or Sir Antony Tudor that also have strong narratives, learning how to portray a character in order to develop artistry and projection.
Good-bye Fear. Hello, Opportunity
Whatever technique you try, to improve, you need to stay open-minded and allow yourself to be vulnerable. If you are worried about not being as advanced as other students who train in a style year-round or if you fear you won't get enough attention, you won't allow yourself to take the risks needed to learn something new. Remember, a summer program is an educational opportunity, not a competition.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.