Are You Still a "Dancer" After You Retire?
Every dancer knows deep in their heart that dance is only a temporary profession, yet we devote our lives to it anyway. We feel called to it.
I never felt like I had a choice; I could not imagine doing anything else with my life. I started training at 3, and became immediately obsessed, grand jeté-ing down grocery store aisles forevermore. I described myself as a dancer before even thinking of myself as female, bisexual, American, feminist or teacher.
The phrase "I am a dancer," is such a source of masochistic pride that I am not sure it reads to people outside the performing arts community, but it is often the only way we can see ourselves.
Growing up, I did all the dancer things. I went to intensives every summer, I paged through Dance Magazine longingly, waited anxiously for new packages from Discount Dance Supply, counted down the minutes to performances. My sweet 16 was even at Chicago the Musical because I was, and am, a Fosse fanatic. In college, along with dance, I double majored in psychology but was usually I was watching videos of Sylvie Guillem on YouTube in the back row.
I was never a confident dancer. For whatever reason, I was always distracted by a fear of inadequacy, a hesitation that definitely read in my performances. Dance was a profound source of joy but caused me just as much pain; it led me to years of boomeranging between anorexia and bulimia, and crippling self-doubt.
"Dance was a profound source of joy but caused me just as much pain."
I could never fully believe anyone who told me I was talented, or that I had a great run-through, or that I had beautiful lines. I was convinced that everyone was participating in a polite conspiracy to avoid hurting my feelings, that no one dared tell me to give it up. I believed that I got into intensives and internships and colleges by luck or SAT scores over my artistic abilities and hard work.
After college, I spent a few months gigging in New York City doing the downtown dance thing: tiny black box theaters and site-specific work with obscure choreography that your non-dance friends do not "get," performances done for exposure instead of compensation. I was perfectly content to work three jobs to ensure that I could dance forever.
When I booked a cruise line contract, I was thrilled to finally feel like a "professional dancer." Halfway through rehearsals, I stress-fractured my left foot in three places and was immobile for eight months.
Just like that, I could not bear weight, let alone dance. I can say without the faintest hint of hyperbole that it was devastating. No words exist to fully explain the pain of feeling trapped in a body that could not dance. Dance was my outlet for the good, the bad, and the ugly, and at 22, I had never fully cultivated any other form of expression.
When I was finally released from physical therapy and rehabbed with Pilates, I was fully intent on returning to dance, not just because I wanted to, but also because I didn't believe I had anything else to offer.
I started my Pilates certification with every intention of it just being my day job. I had never enjoyed Pilates until my injury; it felt like the cross-training you have to do before you can get to the phrase-work in class. But I was really, really, bad at waitressing, so I had to figure out some way to support myself financially. Dance fed my soul, but didn't help me buy actual food to feed my physical self.
"While teaching Pilates I felt smart, strong, expert, necessary, loved—things I was unable to receive from dance."
Immediately after finishing my equipment certification in Pilates, I got an opportunity to dance in Israel and lunged at it. I thought this was my big break—and in hindsight, it was the best dancing I've ever done. I pushed my physical boundaries and I could tell that I was making progress artistically.
At the same time, I would leave the studio each day depressed. I was lonely and isolated in a foreign country, and while the other dancers were lovely, they didn't make me any less sad. I started to realize that dance wasn't enough to make me happy anymore, because I was doing the best dancing of my career and it wasn't enough. After giving it a few months of crying myself to sleep, I came home.
I no longer felt as resilient when I got cut at an audition. Apart from project-based work with friends, I stopped actively pursuing auditions or taking dance classes with any semblance of regularity. I started teaching Pilates. I was awful at first. But with each class and client, I improved. The more I learned, the more fascinated I became with teaching. It was clear to me that I was on an upward trajectory, whereas a lifetime of dance had made me believe that I'd never be good enough. While teaching I felt smart, strong, expert, necessary, loved—things I was unable to receive from dance, my own traumas blocked me from receiving any of those things from it.
As I taught Pilates more and danced less, I felt a new part of my identity growing. I had honestly never had outside interests before—dance was the only thing that had ever existed. At the time, I felt guilty not spending my time dancing. I felt like a quitter.
I remembered judgements I had made of the talented girls who slowly distanced themselves from dance in favor of more reliable professions, thinking them mentally weak, not determined enough, even lazy. I would get annoyed if someone who gave up described themselves a dancer. The title of dancer demanded the drive to constantly earn it. I did not feel I was permitted to claim that honor anymore.
While I was devoting my time to teaching, talented dancers I trained with went on to Broadway, Radio City, Complexions, Sleep No More, "So You Think You Can Dance"—and I felt like a failure, even though I loved what I was doing. When clients inquired, "You are a dancer, right?" I'd freeze for a moment, not knowing what to say. What am I now? When you spend 24 years of your life answering that question affirmatively, it's unsettling to be unsure if you're "allowed" to call yourself a dancer.
When I first moved to New York, I was in class every day, spending all of my (little) money on expensive Broadway Dance Center and Peridance classes and struggling to pay rent. Then when I finally started making a livable income, I couldn't be bothered to make the trip to Midtown for class.
"When clients inquired, 'You are a dancer, right?' I'd freeze for a moment, not knowing what to say."
Then, out of nowhere, I got an opportunity to dance for Tracie Stanfield, a choreographer I'd long dreamed of working with. The external validation that I'd never been able to trust finally came. But with it came more confusion. I had come to terms with the idea that I wasn't good enough and that I never would be, and I'd let that close the chapter on dancing professionally.
If this opportunity had come five years earlier, I would have been ecstatic. Truthfully, tears did come to my eyes when I opened the email inviting me to perform in her summer concert, but it wasn't the excitement I always assumed booking "the job" would feel like—it was an "Oh, thank God, my art and I are actually of value to someone."
Our first rehearsal together was a blur. I did not have time to reflect about how I felt because there was so much information. But as the days passed I found myself staring at the clock, thinking about my Pilates classes, my schedule, and inevitably comparing myself to the other company members who had much sharper technique as a result of consistency in their training.
For the first time, though, I didn't feel inadequate next to beautiful movers; I was very aware that their prowess came from the work they were doing that I simply was not. Eventually, after several conversations about how to get the movement out of me and trying to get me up to speed with the other performers, Tracie let me go from the project. She told me she had every confidence I had "it" in me, but that I was not working on my craft. She told me to stay in touch and get in her class regularly, but I found myself not wanting to put in that work.
Somehow, I believed her when she told me I had potential. I realized that my mediocrity in this piece was not lack of talent, but lack of will. I was resisting because I had new callings: teaching fitness, rehabbing other people's injuries, building other people up. I did cry—but not tears of devastation. My tears were of relief, a very heavy weight was lifted.
The grief I'd felt for the past few years as I wrestled with the constant voice in my head asking, "Can I dance? Do I even want to dance?" lessened, and I found some closure.
Getting cut from the show was ultimately a gift. Dance has been with me since age 3, and at 27, while I'll never say never, I finally have the courage to admit that dance is not my priority anymore. I do not want that life anymore. It's not of interest to me to detract from my teaching work to devote time to training for it. It still feels strange to write those words.
So, am I dancer? I think the answer is yes. I will always have this bittersweet relationship with dance, since it had been the driving force of my entire life. I do not have conscious memories of life before I danced. From a neuroscience perspective, the stimulus for virtually all of my associative learning was dance. All the brain development I've experienced was based on a dancer's experience of the world. My neurons, after 24 years of dancing, have been wired so that a dancer's perspective and habits are automatic and deeply rooted.
A few years of teaching Pilates is not, and I doubt will ever be, enough to disconnect that patterning. I don't think I could release that identity, even if I wanted to be someone else.
Few people who are busier during the holidays than corps members of American ballet companies. December is officially Nutcracker season—a company's chance to earn a huge chunk of their revenue for the year, and a dancer's chance to go a little, ahem, nuts, waltzing and swallowing fake snow night after night for weeks on end.
But Nutcracker can also be an opportunity like no other, and for some corps members, it's the highlight of their year. Five dancers told us what helps them get through it all.
When Rambert, the United Kingdom's oldest professional dance company, announced Wednesday that Benoit Swan Pouffer had been appointed artistic director, it was hardly surprising news. Since April, two months after Mark Baldwin stepped away from Rambert after a 15-year tenure at its head, Pouffer has served as guest artistic director. That initial appointment was in and of itself a somewhat unexpected move, but the company had already brought the choreographer into the fold with a commission for its newly-formed junior company, Rambert2.
Given how regimented the Radio City Rockettes are, from their precise kick lines to their Christmas Spectacular season show schedule (which can include up to four performances a day), it's no surprise they're just as strict with their skincare routines. After all, sweating in stage makeup six days a week can cause dryness and breakouts for even the most easygoing skin types. We caught up with Rockettes Alyssa Lemons and Nina Linhart for all of their tried-and-true skincare picks.
Congratulations are in order for American Ballet Theatre star Gillian Murphy and her husband, former ABT dancer Ethan Stiefel, who are expecting their first child next June!
Murphy announced her pregnancy today on Instagram:
She will not be dancing in the company's upcoming tour or the 2019 Metropolitan Opera House season, but plans to return to the stage next fall.
We have no doubt that Murphy will be the ultimate cool mom. Here's why:
Since losing her eyesight due to an undiagnosed optic nerve atrophy, choreographer and performer Mana Hashimoto has dedicated her life's work to exploring how the body exists in space with or without sight.
Trained in ballet, jazz and Graham technique, she has performed all over the world, from her native home in Japan to New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art and Jacob's Pillow. Hashimoto is also the founder of Dance without Sight, a series of workshops designed to discover movement through touch, sound and smell.
Dance Magazine recently say down with Hashimoto to learn more about her process, and what it's like to be a bridge between the seen and unseen worlds.
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Online video game Fortnite is involved in serious controversy over its "emotes" dance feature. Even if you're not a gamer, this is a case choreographers should keep close tabs on. Here's why.
Let us quickly introduce you to Fortnite Battle Royale: The video game sprung up in September 2017 and has grown to insane levels of popularity. It's free to play and features 100 users duking it out to be the last person standing. But here's the catch: If you want to get ahead, you have to make in-game purchases, trading real money for V-Bucks, which you use to redeem things like weapons.
So what's it got to do with dance? A whole lot. One of Fortnite's most popular—and lucrative—features is its emotes, animated dances that users can purchase to perform on the battlefield. Many are taken directly from pop culture, and Fortnite's developer, Epic Games, is in the midst of a heated lawsuit regarding its Swipe It emote. After much public debate, rapper 2 Milly filed a suit last week claiming that Epic Games stole—and is now largely profiting from—the Milly Rock, a dance move he created and popularized, without his permission. Take a look:
It's the 60th anniversary of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and their season at New York City Center is going strong with more than 20 works—including world premieres and company premieres.
Ronald K. Brown, who just received a Dance Magazine Award, has made his seventh work for Ailey, The Call. It's a gorgeous pastiche of three different types of music: Bach, jazz by singer Mary Lou Williams and Malian music by Asase Yaa Entertainment Group.
If a teacher or choreographer has ever commented that your dancing looks stiff, the problem could be that you aren't breathing effectively. "When dancers aren't breathing, their shoulders are up and there's no length in their movement. They start to look like they're just waiting to get to the next thing," says Maria Bai, artistic director of Central Park Dance in New York.
It may seem like a no-brainer—of course you can't move without breathing. But beginning dancers often hold their breath because they are so focused on picking up choreography, says Sarah Skaggs, director of dance at Dickinson College. Even advanced dancers can benefit from focusing more on their breath. "Sometimes they are paying so much attention to what their limbs are doing that they forget about the lungs, the chest, the trunk. Breath is the last thing they're thinking about, but really it should be the first," says Skaggs. The more integrated your breathing is, the more relaxed and present you will feel.
I've been a fan of Jordan Isadore's for about a decade. His gorgeous, spine-contorting renditions of Christopher Williams' repertory are legendary, and for many years I had the privilege of making dances with him and producing his works through DanceNOW[NYC].
Over the last year or so, as he began winding down his performance career, Isadore began making odd, phenomenal objects: dribs of Labanotation scores rendered as hung mobiles, gorgeously crafted in stained glass and metal. The designs are stunning, imbued simultaneously with a hipster-nonsense contemporaneousness and reverence for dance history.
I spoke with Isadore about his retirement from the stage, and transition to crafting full time.
There's always that fateful day each year, usually in February or March, when ballet contracts are renewed. Dancers file into an office one by one, grab an envelope and sign their name on a nearby sheet of paper to signify the receipt of their fate. Inside that envelope is a contract for next season or a letter stating that their artistic contribution will no longer be needed. This yearly ritual is filled with anxiety and is usually followed by either celebratory frolicking or resumé writing.
Whenever I received my contract, I would throw up my hands joyfully knowing that I would get to spend one more year dancing. In 14 years at Boston Ballet, I never once looked at my pay rate when signing a contract. The thought of assessing my work through my salary never crossed my mind.
Watching Bohemian Rhapsody through the eyes of dancer, there's a certain element of the movie that's impossible to ignore: Rami Malek's physical performance of Freddie Mercury. The way he so completely embodies the nuances of the rock star is simply mind-blowing. We had to learn how he did it, so we called up Polly Bennett, the movement director who coached him through the entire process.
In a bit of serendipitous timing, while we were on the phone, she got a text from Malek that he had just been nominated for a Golden Globe. And during our chat, it became quite clear that she had obviously been a major part of that—more than we could have ever imagined.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
Even if you haven't heard her name, you've almost certainly seen the work of commercial choreographer James Alsop. Though she's made award-winning dances for Beyoncé ("Run the World," anyone?) and worked with stars like Lady GaGa and Janelle Monae, Alsop's most recent project may be her most powerful: A moving music video for Everytown for Gun Safety, directed by Ezra Hurwitz and featuring students from the National Dance Institute.
We caught up with Alsop for our "Spotlight" series:
It's become a colloquialism—or, we admit, a cliche—to say that dance can heal.
But with a new initiative launched by British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, doctors in the U.K. will soon be able to prescribe dance classes—along with art, music, sports, gardening and more—for patients suffering from conditions as various as dementia, lung problems and mental health issues.
If the news about the upcoming CATS movie has your head spinning, we're right there with you. It seems like every week we have a bit more to share about the new film adaptation, which is set to release in December 2019. So, in order to keep it all straight, we present you with our master list of everything we know—our version of "The Naming of Cats," if you will. We'll add updates as they emerge.
New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)
The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:
"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."
Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.
Today, we are thrilled to announce the honorees of the 2018 Dance Magazine Awards. A tradition dating back to 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards celebrate the living legends who have made a lasting impact on dance. This year's honorees include:
Each year, The New York Times Magazine shines a spotlight on who they deem to be the best actors of the year in its Great Performers series. But, what we're wondering is, can they dance? Thankfully, the NYT Mag recruited none other than Justin Peck to put them to the test.
Peck choreographed and directed a series of 10 short dance films, placing megastars in everyday situations: riding the subway, getting out of bed in the morning, waiting at a doctor's office.
On busy performance days, international guest artist Joy Womack always makes time for one activity after class and rehearsals: a nap. "I like to feel well-rested when I need to be in the spotlight at night, not dragging at the end of the day," she says. "It helps me recover and refocus."
With her earbuds tuned to a guided meditation app, she can squeeze in a nap wherever she needs to. "One time I even took a nap on the floor of the tour bus in Siberia," she says. "Dancers can sleep anywhere."
Joy Womack prioritizes napping before a show. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe magazine.
As research has revealed the benefits of short daytime naps, power-napping advice has proliferated, and more dancers are choosing to include a nap in their pre-performance routines. Approaching napping strategically will help you get the most out of an afternoon snooze.
On Monday night, a memorial was held at Riverside Church to honor the life and achievements of Dance Theatre of Harlem co-founder Arthur Mitchell. With nearly three months to process and grieve (Mitchell passed away on September 19) the atmosphere was not that of mourning as much as reflection, reverence and admiration for who he was, what he built and what remains. (Watch the full livestream here.)
The church filled with family, artistic friends, fans and admirers. What was most gratifying was the volume of DTH alumni from the school, company and organization who traveled across the globe to pay their respects, from founding members to present dancers and students. The house of worship was filled with the sentiment of a family reunion. As Mitchell was sent home, it was a homecoming for many who have not shared air together in decades. What was palpable was the authentic bonds that Dance Theatre of Harlem and Mitchell fostered in all.
Fans of the sublime English National Ballet first artist Precious Adams were probably excited to see her image splashed across the company's website in a promotional image for an upcoming production of Swan Lake.
But those who took a closer look were met with a disappointing reality: Adams, who is the only black woman in the company, is not listed on the principal casting sheet for the production.