Big, Bad Habits
Part of dance's beauty is that its perfection is elusive. At the same time, this can be one of the most frustrating things about the form. Whether you've been cursed with tight muscles or have picked up a distracting habit, fixing your technical hang-ups can feel like a never-ending battle. But the truth is, all professional dancers, even those with seemingly effortless technique, have their share of struggles.
Suzi Taylor: Master teacher at Steps on Broadway and New York City Dance Alliance. Photo Courtesy Taylor.
Annette Karim: Director of dance medicine at Evergreen Physical Therapy Specialists in Pasadena, California. Photo by Evergreen PT Specialists, Courtesy Karim.
Stiff, Wobbly Ankles
New York City Ballet
Lauren Lovette in rehearsal with Justin Peck and Jared Angle. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.
Lauren Lovette's ankles have flexibility and strength in all the wrong places: They're loose side to side, making it easy to pronate, but too stiff to achieve a deep plié. It was a problem that plagued her throughout her student years, until, at the suggestion of a teacher, she started lifting her heels just a fraction of an inch off the floor in plié to open up her range of motion. Meanwhile, she focused on strengthening her ankles in the other direction. “When I studied Pilates with Patrick Strong, he had me roll up to relevé on pointe while he physically held my foot down to provide resistance," she says. “I also switched to stronger shoes that I didn't realize I needed."
Ask the teacher: “You have to build the musculature around a loose ankle," says Taylor. She recommends working on finding stability on your standing leg in parallel. Away from the barre (or, for a more advanced version, on a half-ball balance trainer), practice plié to relevé in coupé and passé. Gradually work up to a turned-out position.
Ask the PT: “It's common for dancers who wear pointe shoes all day to have trouble bending at the ankle, even though it's quite loose side to side," says Karim. To increase flexion, practice downward-facing dog, with knees bent and heels pressed toward the ground. The goal is to stretch in this position until, over time, your feet are far enough away from your hands that your ankles are flexed at a 20-degree angle with your heels closer to the ground.
Karida Griffith. Photo Courtesy Dorrance Dance.
Karida Griffith, Dorrance Dance
“When I'm entering the last stretch of a 50-minute second act, I've got to make sure I'm not dropping any sounds, or other aesthetic performance qualities," says tap dancer Karida Griffith. She credits Jason Samuels Smith—a real drillmaster, she says—with boosting her endurance through long runs of cramp rolls. “I can remember hearing Jason yell, 'Toe, toe! Toe, toe!' to emphasize the timing, and I was just willing myself not to drop my heels too soon," she says. “You see how many you can do consistently, and at what pace, before you lose a sound or start rushing, then build up from there."
Ask the teacher: Taylor understands dancers wanting to run a piece until it's perfect, but warns that it won't necessarily increase your overall stamina. “Rehearsal is great for building endurance within one piece, but it's probably not enough to support everything you could be asked to do by a choreographer."
Ask the PT: Cross-training by swimming, biking or performing any other activity that ups your heart rate, at least three times a week for 20 minutes, will increase your aerobic capacity. Karim also points out that the more stable your center, the more support your extremities have. A strong core will give you the freedom to move quickly and efficiently throughout a long piece.
Melanie Moore (center) in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy Fiddler.
Weak, Hyperextended Legs
Melanie Moore, Fiddler on the Roof
Flexibility is something that many dancers strive for, but Melanie Moore has worked hard to rein hers in. “I was blessed with beautiful lines, but if I don't think about rotating from the hips or elongating the leg, rather than whacking it up, I'm not in control," she says. “I never realized I was faking rotation with hyperextension." Ballet class was the best training ground for undoing her bad habits, but she says they still creep back in if she's not mindful.
Ask the teacher: “Your mantra has to be: 'Just because I can, doesn't mean I should,' " says Taylor. Develop an awareness of whether your weight is forward, on an engaged and rotated standing leg, or just relaxing back into the knee joint.
Ask the PT: Karim warns against sitting in static stretches, which will only weaken already-lengthened muscles. Instead, try dynamic stretches like walking lunges or a flowing yoga sequence. If you have access to one, do développés on a vibration plate (a vibrating platform that looks like a step-on scale, available at some gyms). “The unstable surface will actually increase the efficiency of the muscles you need to support your extensions," says Karim.
Andrea Parson channels the energy of her partner, Franco Nieto, to keep calm. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert, Courtesy NWDP.
Andrea Parson, Northwest Dance Project
Andrea Parson has long struggled with anxiety before rehearsals and performances. “It can be difficult to psych myself down, especially on tour, but even in class," she says. “If I'm too pumped, my energy takes me all over the place." Before dancing, Parson focuses on her breathing: She pictures sending breath down her spine to her tailbone, softening her muscles as she exhales. While moving, it helps her to tune in to all the sensations, such as the floor beneath her, the temperature of the room or the stability of her partner. “I feel my shoulders drop, my upper chest releases, and I have more power to move from a calm, relaxed place."
Ask the teacher: Before performances or auditions, Taylor suggests doing a full barre. “Your mind certainly won't be there for you if your body's not ready for it."
Ask the PT: Karim suggests this calming exercise: Lie on your back with your legs in the air, and knees bent at a 90-degree angle. “Put your arms out to the side and just breathe. Your diaphragm will drop slightly, settling your nervous system. It's like a baby crying it out on his back, with his legs in the air." Crawling on your stomach and rolling or bouncing on a stability ball can have the same effect—the oscillation calms tension.
Linda Celeste Sims. Photo by Lois Greenfield, Courtesy AAADT.
Linda Celeste Sims, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
With very long arms, one of the most challenging things Linda Celeste Sims has had to work on is her port de bras. “People say not to look in the mirror, but I rely heavily on it to check the lines of my arms and that I'm getting them to the right position at the right time," she says. She concentrates on lifting her arms from her center and making sure they are connected from her back down through her fingertips. “One thing that has really helped is Gyrotonic—the resistance and strengthening helps me feel the connection between my arms and back. I keep up that strengthening when I'm on the road by doing 15 slow push-ups, making sure my shoulders are down, at least every other day. And I never skip my 20-minute floor-barre warm-up—that's home base," Sims says.
Ask the teacher: The full coordination of your arms with your body is key. “Never mark your arms, even in a crowded classroom," says Taylor. “If there isn't space to do the arms the combination calls for, hold them in first or fifth en bas. Those are the pictures your body should know, not the collapsed position of marked arms."
Ask the PT: Use the mirror to take stock of the musculature support it takes to both move and hold the arms. Then close your eyes briefly, hold the position, and then open them to check your line in the mirror. Karim adds that dancers who have difficulty maintaining their port de bras often need to strengthen their arms and core. Another possible issue: You might need a good stretch. “Tight lats can actually pull your arms out of position," says Karim.
Kristyn Brady is a Vermont-based freelance writer with a BA in dance from Muhlenberg College.
I have a commitment, a romance, a love affair with dance, with the feeling that happens when the music and the steps so perfectly align and I can't help but get chills. That feeling when my partner and I are dancing as one, when everyone onstage feels the same heartbeat, when it's just me alone in my bedroom.
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.
You can see them in "Fosse/Verdon" episode one. Michelle Williams, playing Gwen Verdon, wears them with a cool, retro, forest-green jumpsuit. Tucked beneath a mop top of tousled Gwen Verdon locks, Williams sports a pair of discreet and tasteful onyx drop-earrings—the dancer's favorites. Verdon wore them all her adult life, according to her daughter Nicole Fosse, a co-executive producer of the FX series that puts a spotlight on a great woman of American dance.
"I have very little memory of my mother wearing other earrings. They were her Gwen Verdon earrings," says Fosse, speaking by phone from her home in Vermont. "She's wearing them in 99 percent of the pictures of her performing."
Four years of lectures, exams and classes can feel like a lifetime for college dancers who have their sights set on performing. So when a professional opportunity comes knocking, it can be tempting to step away from your academics. But there are a few things to consider before putting your education on hold.
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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We've all been there: You see the craziest/most beautiful/oddest/wildest clip of a dance on Facebook and you simply have to see more.
But do you actually get yourself to the theater and sit through a 90-minute performance? The consensus, at this point, typically seems to be: No.
There is no clear correlation between a company's social media campaigns and how many seats they fill in the theater. That doesn't mean social media isn't, of course, vital. It simply means that "social media campaigns operating without other marketing campaigns don't cut it," says Rob Bailis, associate director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. "But campaigns without social media are far worse off."
Since the project was first announced toward the end of 2017, we've been extremely curious about Yuli. The film, based on Carlos Acosta's memoir No Way Home, promised as much dancing as biography, with Acosta appearing as himself and dance sequences featuring his eponymous Cuba-based company Acosta Danza. Add in filmmaking power couple Icíar Bollaín (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter), and you have a recipe for a dance film unlike anything else we've seen recently.
One of the country's top arbitrators has decided to reinstate Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro to New York City Ballet. The former principals were fired last fall for "inappropriate communications," namely graphic text messages.
The dancers' union, American Guild of Musical Artists, fought the termination, arguing that the firings were unjust since they related entirely to non-work activity. After a careful review of the facts, an independent arbitrator determined that while the company was justified in disciplining the two men, suspension was the appropriate action and termination took it too far.
A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."
When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.
What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?
As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
When American Ballet Theatre announced yesterday that it would be adding Jane Eyre to its stable of narrative full-lengths, the English nerds in the DM offices (read: most of us) got pretty excited. Cathy Marston's adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's classic novel was created for England's Northern Ballet in 2016, and, based on the clips that have made their way online, it seems like a perfect fit for ABT's Met Opera season.
It also got us thinking about what other classic novels we'd love to see adapted into ballets—but then we realized just how many there already are. From Russian epics to beloved children's books, here are 10 of our favorites that have already made the leap from page to stage. (Special shoutout to Northern Ballet, the undisputed MVP of turning literature into live performance.)
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.
When George Balanchine's full-length Don Quixote premiered in 1965, critics and audiences alike viewed the ballet as a failure. Elaborate scenery and costumes framed mawkish mime passages, like one in which the ballerina washed the Don's feet and dried them with her hair. Its revival in 2005 by Suzanne Farrell, the ballerina on whom it was made and to whom Balanchine left the work, did little to alter its reputation.
Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.
"I'd want to see Balanchine's Don Quixote," says Apollinaire Scherr, dance critic for the Financial Times. "It was a labor of love on his part, and a love letter as well. And you want to know what that looks like in his work."
Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?
After the horrific March 15 terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques, the music and arts community sprang into action to plan a way to help victims and their families. A series of resulting concerts, titled "You Are Us/Aroha Nui," will take place in New Zealand (April 13 and 17), Jersey City, New Jersey (April 17) and Los Angeles (April 18). Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Our People, Our City Fund, which was established by the Christchurch Foundation to aid those affected by the attacks.
Throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Trust continues a global celebration that will be one of the largest tributes to a dance artist ever. Under the umbrella of the Merce Cunningham Centennial are classes and workshops, film screenings and festivals, art exhibitions and symposia, and revivals and premieres of original works inspired by the dancemaker's ideas. The fever peaks on April 16, which would have been the pioneering choreographer's 100th birthday, with Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, featuring a total of 75 dancers in three performances live-streamed from London, Los Angeles and New York City.