In His Spare Time, Principal Dancer Benjamin Freemantle Gives Free Haircuts to San Francisco's Homeless
Back when he was a living in a dorm as an international student at San Francisco Ballet School, Benjamin Freemantle developed a new skill: cutting hair. "Most of us didn't have the financial means to go out and get a San Francisco haircut," he says. So he started cutting his fellow dancers' hair and his own.
"I actually kinda lied to my friend and told him I'd done it before," admits Freemantle, with a laugh. "But it turned out really well!"
Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB
To this day, Freemantle, who's now a principal at San Francisco Ballet, continues to do his own hair, in addition to some SFB School students' and company members'. Purely self-taught, he has beefed up his skills over the years thanks to tutorials on YouTube.
But Freemantle's hair-cutting hobby has grown into more of a mission: He's expanded his clientele, offering free cuts to San Francisco's homeless community.
"It started when I had an apartment, like a block from the ballet, and every day there was this homeless man who lived in my alley," says Freemantle. The two became friendly, saying hello to each other. "Then one day I invited him to come up, take a shower and have a beer—just relax out of the cold." Freemantle offered his neighbor a haircut and a shave, and he accepted. "I think it meant a lot to him that someone saw him and wanted to help—even if it wasn't money or food, that's what I could offer at the time."
Freemantle in McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem
Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB
So Freemantle thought about how he could build on this experience. "I had the idea—it was a little scary—to go into the Tenderloin, which is our homeless district," he says. He brought a stool, his haircutting set—basic shears from Amazon, combs, a brush and a spray bottle—and a sign that read "Need a Haircut?"
"I cut five people's hair my first day, and the next week I came back again." Freemantle continues to go to the Tenderloin sporadically as his schedule allows.
On a recent visit, he says he ran into some of the people whose hair he'd previously cut. "They were really thankful, just saying how they got a job interview or they're working at Burger King now," says Freemantle, noting how they "felt a little more welcomed back into society."
Reflecting on the experience, he says, "It's reinstilled that they're human—they're someone's daughter, someone's son, niece, nephew, you know? There's a history there and we don't know it." Given San Francisco's large homeless population, it's an especially relevant message. "People tend to throw them to the side without a care, and I don't think that's the way to move forward."
Just hearing the word "improvisation" is enough to make some ballet dancers shake in their pointe shoes. But for Chantelle Pianetta, it's a practice she relishes. Depending on the weekend, you might find her gracing Bay Area stages as a principal with Menlowe Ballet or sweeping in awards at West Coast swing competitions.
She specializes in Jack and Jill events, which involve improvised swing dancing with an unexpected partner in front of a panel of judges. (Check her out in action below.) While sustaining her ballet career, over the past four years Pianetta has quickly risen from novice to champion level on the WCS international competition circuit.
Sean Dorsey was always going to be an activist. Growing up in a politically engaged, progressive family in Vancouver, British Columbia, "it was my heart's desire to create change in the world," he says. Far less certain was his future as a dancer.
Like many dancers, Dorsey fell in love with movement as a toddler. However, he didn't identify strongly with any particular gender growing up. Dorsey, who now identifies as trans, says, "I didn't see a single person like me anywhere in the modern dance world." The lack of trans role models and teachers, let alone all-gender studio facilities where he could feel safe and welcome, "meant that even in my wildest dreams, there was no room for that possibility."
It's hour three of an intense rehearsal, you're feeling mentally foggy and exhausted, and your stomach hurts. Did you know the culprit could be something as simple as dehydration?
Proper hydration helps maintain physical and mental function while you're dancing, and keeps your energy levels high. But with so many products on the market promising to help you rehydrate more effectively, how do you know when it's time to reach for more than water?