Sassy Gregson-Williams launched Naturally Sassy while still a ballet student. Photo courtesy Sarah Hall Productions
Some dancers call them "fake" ballerinas. Some resent their lack of serious stage credentials to back up their success. Some feel their accounts are deceitful, since regular people who don't know the difference between a great dancer and a great dance model.
But most ballet influencers aren't out to trick anyone. They're simply finding a new way to keep ballet in their lives.
The dancers-slay-choreo-while-onlookers-cheer class video is pretty popular these days. And if you've watched a viral class video within the past 24 hours, there's a good chance it was filmed by Tim Milgram. With 3.1 million subscribers and counting on his YouTube channel, TMilly TV, it's obvious that online audiences love his video style, with its dramatic lighting and choreographed camera work.
But while many in the dance community appreciate class videos as a way to show their work and expand their online following, others have spoken out against the practice, questioning how it negatively affects dancers' training and priorities. Acknowledging those complaints, Milgram recently decided to open his own studio, TMilly TV, in North Hollywood, CA. It aims to create a better balance between time spent learning and time spent filming. Already, the studio has attracted some big-name faculty, from Dominique Kelley to Jake Kodish.
We caught up with Milgram to get the scoop on his new studio, and how he hopes to improve the dance community's perception of the class video.
Prumsodun Ok (center) teaching dancers Seourn Chamreoun and Dy Puthik. Photo by Morn Sopharoth, Courtesy Ok
How do you respectfully preserve a dance tradition that is more than 1,000 years old while recontextualizing it for 21st-century audiences? Perhaps no one has done it so well in recent memory as Prumsodun Ok, the founder of Prumsodun Ok & NATYARASA, Cambodia's first gay dance company.
Dana Caspersen. Photo by Dominik Mentzos, courtesy Caspersen.
Can choreography solve social conflict? Dana Caspersen thinks it might. A veteran dancer with Ballett Frankfurt—which was run by her husband, William Forsythe—Caspersen now uses movement to help people around the world navigate disputes.
She promotes conflict resolution through teaching, writing and coaching, and develops choreographic methods that let groups address differences in nonverbal ways. Many of her projects center on participatory "action dialogues," which allow groups as large as 250 to tackle fraught issues like racism and polarization.
She recently spoke to Dance Magazine about her work, and why she sees choreography as an appropriate vehicle to change minds.
Although TV shows positively portray male dancers, the stigma hasn't been fully erased. Here, Cole Mills partners Hannahlei Cabanilla on "So You Think You Can Dance." Photo by Adam Rose, Courtesy Fox
What is it about men in tights that makes people react so irrationally?
Especially here in the U.S., men are ridiculed and demeaned for choosing to dance, particularly in ballet. Boys are bullied, called f****t and labeled as "homo," hostile charges that impale the soul.
I remember quite clearly classmates and even my own family members calling me a sissy for studying ballet back in the 1960s and '70s. What terrified me was that they might discover I was gay when I wasn't even sure what to call my sexual orientation. I just wanted to dance.
You'd think things would have gotten much better, but many boys still face these issues.
Although the dance world has its fair share of divas, there is a different type of diva that's coming out of the dance studio.
"Diva" is the coined term for a female professional wrestler in the World Wrestling Entertainment organization. More than a few dancers—as well as gymnasts and cheerleaders—have taken their training and applied it to successful careers in this comical yet physically grueling art form.
Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
A Dance To Be Free class with incarcerated women. Photo courtesy Dance To Be Free
"I put on Lorde for a warm-up song," says Lucy Wallace, recalling a dance class she was giving to a new group of students. "As soon as I started moving—literally just stepped to the right and moved my arm—this woman behind me said, 'Oh! This is spiritual.' "
But she wasn't the typical dance student, nor was this a typical studio. This woman is serving a life sentence at Denver Women's Correctional Facility.
As a dancer with hemiplegia cerebral palsy, Jerron Herman has never been far from the physical therapy room—or an occupational therapist or some kind of medical interventionist. "I'm almost always in deep conversation with that kind of practitioner," says Herman, who performs with Heidi Latsky Dance.
It's part of keeping his body ready to dance—and to move throughout his daily life. Herman shared his routine with Dance Magazine.
"Weirdo. Pervert. Disgusting." These are just a few of the insults—and the milder ones at that—often directed at pole dancers. Perhaps more than any other dancers, its practitioners are constantly fighting for recognition that they are indeed athlete artists. Now, they're getting major support from a surprising source: Sprite.
At first I didn't consider the possibility of becoming a dance major. In high school, I wanted to be a doctor. I started college on the pre-med track, but found myself waking up in the middle of the night with an urge to express myself physically. I would get out of bed and go dance on top of the parking garages on campus.
Maria Kochetkova knows you can't have everything. So the international ballet star is prioritizing one thing: Freedom.
"The perfect company doesn't exist," she says. "For me, it is most important to have freedom as an artist. Our career is so short and I want to have opportunities that exist outside of companies. I want to know and learn everything about my craft from classical to contemporary."
Hala Shah in a workshop performance of Calling: a dance with faith. Photo by Idris Ademola, Courtesy Shah.
Growing up, I never saw a problem with my dancing and neither did my Muslim-Egyptian dad or my non-Muslim, American mom. They raised me to understand that the core principles of Islam, of any religion, are meant to help us be better people. When I married my Pakistani husband, who comes from a more conservative approach to Islam, I suddenly encountered perceptions of dance that made me question everything: Is it okay to expose a lot of skin? Is it wrong to dance with other men? Is dance inherently sexual? What guidelines come from our holy book, the Quran, and what are cultural views that have become entwined in Islam?
When Catherine Wreford found out that she had brain cancer in June 2013, with doctors predicting she had only two to six years left to live, there was one thing she knew she wanted to do: dance.
She had grown up training in the recreational division at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, then went on to perform on Broadway and in musical theater productions around the country. She eventually left the stage to find more stable work, running a mortgage company and later getting a nursing degree because, she says, "I knew that I could do that for a long time."
But a diagnosis of anaplastic astrocytoma meant she didn't have a long time left.
Lately, there has been much ado about diversity, equity and inclusion in ballet. While it's clear what increased diversity would look like (having more dancers, teachers, choreographers and administrators of color working in the field), equity and inclusion are a bit more nebulous. Yet Nashville Ballet's new ballet Lucy Negro Redux might give us a glimpse of what inclusion could look like.
Choreographed by artistic director Paul Vasterling, the ballet derives its provocative title from poet Caroline Randell William's book, which explores the woman behind Shakespeare's "Dark Lady" sonnets. Through her research, Williams came to discover that Lucy Negro was in fact an Elizabethan era black brothel owner who enchanted the Bard.
Marinda Davis. Photo by Louise Flores, Courtesy Davis
When Marinda Davis was named second runner-up at the 2015 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, she dove headfirst into choreographing and producing a full-length show for her company, marInspired; the storytellers. But as her career was booming, Davis' body was breaking down. Behind the scenes, she was dealing with eight very serious illnesses, one of which led to a months-long hospital stay. Now, as she prepares a piece for Giordano Dance Chicago (debuting in March), Davis reflects on how she's powered through it all.
Judith Lynne Hanna in a still from "Partying Alone." Image courtesy Fox Force
Egg Drop Soup's "Partying Alone" video turns a run-of-the-mill dance team audition on its head with a vision of female power from a mature woman. The panel is stunned when a gray-haired, red-lipsticked 80-something tosses aside her cane and lets loose, flipping her hair—and the bird.
Egg Drop Soup - Partying Alone (Official music video)
Take a second look at that head-banging grandma—she is none other than renowned dance researcher and anthropologist Judith Lynne Hanna. An affiliate research professor in anthropology at the University of Maryland, College Park, the author of numerous scholarly books and an expert witness in trials for exotic dancers, shehas spent her career getting us to think about dance's relationship to society. Hanna, 82, said she hadn't performed since college when she got a call from a music video producer, who caught a video of her dancing with her 13-year-old grandson. The rockers of Egg Drop Soup loved her energy and flew her out to Los Angeles for a day-long video shoot. We spoke to Hanna about the experience.
A still from the new documentary, DANSEUR. Image courtesy DANSEUR
According to the new documentary DANSEUR, 85% of males who study dance in the United States are bullied or harassed. A quote in the film from Dr. Doug Risner, faculty member at Wayne State University, states, "If this scope of bullying occurred in any activity other than dance, it would be considered a public health crisis by the CDC."
So why is it allowed to persist in ballet? And why aren't we talking about it more? These are the questions that DANSEUR seeks to answer. But primarily consisting of dance footage and interviews with male dancers like ABT's James Whiteside, Houston Ballet's Harper Watters and Boston Ballet's Derek Dunn, the film only addresses these issues superficially, with anecdotes about individual experiences and generalizations about what it's like to be a male dancer.