Make the Most of Your Mentor
When Attila Joey Csiki returned to New York after seven years of dancing for Tokyo Ballet, he knew he needed a break from traditional company life. He reached out to an old friend he had always respected, and asked if they could catch up. Steven Caras, a former New York City Ballet dancer and photographer, ended up giving Csiki life-changing career guidance: a recommendation that he should try dancing for Lar Lubovitch, as well as a personal introduction to the choreographer.
“Steven thinks a little more logically than many artists because he has had executive positions," explains Csiki. “It was almost like he was interviewing me. We watched videos of my dancing. I got booked in Movin' Out and received a contract at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, but I ultimately turned down both. At that time, Lar's company was a yearlong commitment, it was small, I loved the choreography and there was a lot of touring. It was a perfect fit."
Mentors are those people in our lives who have the ability to see our talents clearly and the wisdom to advise us accordingly. No matter where you are in your career, there is someone who has been there before who may have just the guidance, pep talk, tough love or listening ear you need. A mentor/mentee relationship can develop with an older colleague, a choreographer, a teacher, a boss or a friend, but for a mentee to make the most of the relationship, an open mind and a respectful rapport are required.
“When I hear 'Do what your heart says,' from someone I look up to, it makes it so much more reassuring." —Attila Joey Csiki. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
Finding a mentor is similar to developing a friendship. Instead of forcing it, be patient and observant, so that an organic connection can emerge. “You will often kind of know if a person might be interested in mentoring you before you even have to ask," says Hanna Brictson, dancer and assistant rehearsal director with River North Dance Chicago. “A connection is sometimes obvious based on personalities."
Pay attention to the people in your life who seem curious about and invested in your future, and listen closely when they offer up their wisdom. For Brictson, commitment and hard work when she was a student naturally brought out the career advice of one of her teachers. “She pushed me to branch out, suggested I move around and try certain teachers, and guided me with her opinions," reflects Brictson of her first mentor, whom she credits with helping her find a professional dance path.
For Csiki, who now performs in the Broadway hit An American in Paris, working with Lubovitch eventually developed into a fruitful mid-career mentorship. “My relationship with Lar has changed over the years from director to friend to mentor," says Csiki. “I always ask him 'What's my next move? What do you think?' And when I hear 'Do what your heart says,' from someone I look up to, it makes it so much more reassuring."
Timing Is Everything
While enthusiasm and ambition can be great traits, it is important not to overwhelm a possible mentor early on with difficult questions or demands. Most mentors will be open to your questions; usually it is just a matter of when you ask. “With Lar, there were times when he was in a creative space and I knew it wasn't a good time to talk or interrupt him," says Csiki. “But if we were on a plane or in an airport and I could sit next to him, that was a good time to talk, or after a good, light rehearsal I might say 'Let's get a beer.' " Karina González, principal dancer with Houston Ballet, remembers, “When I was younger, if I wanted to get help from someone, sometimes I would stay longer after rehearsal and see what developed."
You don't have to have a personal relationship to have respectful timing. Remember that your mentor has his or her own workday and stresses. “Before class is not a good time," says Brictson, “because it is a dancer's Zen. But maybe right after class, at the water fountain, you can ask, 'Do you have time to talk or help me out with choreography at lunch or later this week?' " Don't spring any requests or dump news on your mentors. Instead, suggest a time in the future to talk to give them advanced notice.
What's Off Limits?
While there are no set rules to how a mentor can guide you, both inside and outside the studio, there are ways to make sure you do not cross the line and abuse the privileges of the relationship. Brictson helps run the audition for River North every year, which often places her in the office discussing dancers and choreography. “A student of mine had been auditioning and was given an opportunity to do the summer program but was never offered an apprenticeship. She would text me asking why and I felt like she was using me," says Brictson. “You want to use your connections, but don't forget to look at it in a professional manner." Be respectful of boundaries both personal and professional. The less overtly opportunistic and the more eager you are to simply learn and grow, the more your mentor can help you, particularly in those surprising ways you never even knew you needed.
Thirty years ago, U.S. Joint Resolution 131, introduced by congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Alphonse D'Amato (R-NY), and signed into law by President G. W. Bush declared:
"Whereas the multifaceted art form of tap dancing is a manifestation of the cultural heritage of our Nation...
Whereas tap dancing is a joyful and powerful aesthetic force providing a source of enjoyment and an outlet for creativity and self-expression...
Whereas it is in the best interest of the people of our Nation to preserve, promote, and celebrate this uniquely American art form...
Whereas May 25, as the anniversary of the birth of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is an appropriate day on which to refocus the attention of the Nation on American tap dancing: Now therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress that May 25, 1989, be designated "National Tap Dance Day."
Happy National Tap Dance Day!
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.
Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.
Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
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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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."
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.