Big Changes Happening in DC Dance Scene

It's beginning to look like 2016 will be a year of big transitions for the Washington, DC dance community. Coinciding with the international turnover in artistic directors we've seen this year, two of the city's largest dance institutions—The Washington Ballet and Dance Place—are changing hands. Another DC area powerhouse, the American Dance Institute, will transition out of Rockville, Maryland, into upstate New York. How will DC fare within all these changes? Here's the deal on how the next year looks for the capital's dance scene:

Kent taking her final bow. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor

    • In early February, Septime Webre announced that he would be stepping down as artistic director of The Washington Ballet after 17 years. Webre led the company into a new era where diversity and outreach was championed and new, exciting choreography thrived. Though Webre will be missed, his replacement will bring major star power to the company. Recently retired American Ballet Theatre principal Julie Kent will take his place this summer, and her plans to expand the company and bring in more classical repertoire sound promising. Kent will join the ranks of the few but mighty female directors currently leading American ballet companies. 


    • Earlier this week, news broke that both co-directors of DC's Dance Place will be retiring in 2017. Carlo Perlo, who founded Dance Place in 1980, and Deborah Riley, who became co-director in 1999, will leave their arts education facility and performance venue in good standing, with an impressive resume of community outreach programs and the completion of a $4.5 million capital campaign. A search is on to find new leadership for Dance Place.


    • Last summer, American Dance Institute closed its school to focus on incubating and presenting contemporary dance. Now, the institution will make an even bigger move—relocating its facilities to a brand-new complex in Catskill, New York. This will be a huge loss for the DC modern dance scene, and a gain for New York-based artists, as the new facility will only be a few hours outside the city. But ADI's leaders promise that they will take care of their hometown, offering subsidies to bring in dance artists, and partnering with Dance Metro DC to start a local artist commissioning program.


  • One last change for the DC dance community is a tragic one—the death of Fabian Barnes, founder of the Dance Institute of Washington. The former Dance Theatre of Harlem soloist was a beloved arts leader in the DC area who transformed the lives of countless underprivileged children through dance education. He passed at only 56, shocking colleagues and friends. To make a donation in Barnes' memory, click here. For those in the DC area, a candlelight vigil will be held this coming Monday at 8 pm at DIW.

Fabian Barnes in 2008. Photo by Matthew Worden.

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Why Your Barre Can Make or Break Your At-Home Dance Training

Throughout the pandemic, Shelby Williams, of Royal Ballet of Flanders (aka "Biscuit Ballerina"), has been sharing videos that capture the pitfalls of dancers working from home: slipping on linoleum, kicking over lamps and even taking windows apart at the "barre." "Dancers aren't known to be graceful all of the time," says Mandy Blackmon, PT, DPT, OSC, CMTPT, head physical therapist/medical director for Atlanta Ballet. "They tend to fall and trip."

Many dancers have tried to make their home spaces as safe as possible for class and rehearsal by setting up a piece of marley, like Harlequin's Dance Mat, to work on. But there's another element needed for taking thorough ballet classes at home: a portable barre.

"Using a barre is kinda Ballet 101," says 16-year-old Haley Dale, a student in her second year at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. She'd bought a portable barre from Harlequin to use at her parents' home in Northern Virginia even before the pandemic hit. "Before I got it, honestly I would stay away from doing barre work at home. Now I'm able to do it all the time."

Blackmon bought her 15-year-old stepdaughter a freestanding Professional Series Ballet Barre from Harlequin early on in quarantine. "I was worried about her injuring herself without one," she admits.

What exactly makes Harlequin's barres an at-home must-have, and hanging on to a chair or countertop so risky? Here are five major differences dancers will notice right away.

December 2020