Summer might seem impossibly far away (especially with so much of the U.S. still in the throes of the latest polar vortex), but it's almost too late to win a chance for your choreography to appear at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival this August.
The submission period for the Pillow's third-annual Chance to Dance contest closes next Friday, February 8. Choreographers can submit a video of their work, up to three minutes in length, to be considered. The public will have a chance to vote for the six semi-finalists selected by the Pillow via PillowTV (aka the Pillow's YouTube channel) March 18–24.
When I joined the New York City Ballet, I had a million questions. How soon before a performance should I get ready? When should I eat dinner—before or after the performance? How long should I wear my false eyelashes before I throw them out? Should I practice hard steps onstage before the curtain goes up or save them for the show? How long should my warm-up be? How do I do well in this career?
Before long, I discovered that the older dancers were willing to help us newbies. Wendy Whelan, for instance, took me under her wing and helped me with everything from my hair and makeup to what to eat for energy before a performance.
I wanted to see what questions NYCB's newest batch of corps members Mira Nadon, Kennard Henson and Gabriella Domini had. To answer their questions, I spoke to two of our most senior dancers, Maria Kowroski (who's been with the company 24 years) and Jared Angle (who's danced here 21 years).
These days, you don't have to be in the circus to learn how to fly. Aerial dance has grown in popularity in recent years, blending modern dance and circus traditions and enlisting the help of trapeze, silks, hammocks, lyra and cube for shows that push both viewers and performers past their comfort zones.
More dancers are learning aerial than ever before. Besides adding new skills to your resumé, becoming an aerialist opens up a new realm of possibilities.
Sebastian Abarbanell remembers being asked as an undergrad at Trinity Laban in London to perform wearing only a dance belt. "I said no," he says, "because I felt uncomfortable." Now a performer with Sidra Bell Dance New York, he's performed partially nude several times, without reservation. The difference? "It comes with more experience and maturing as a dancer," he says. "When you see a dancer living in their skin, you don't need to put anything else on them. When I said no in college, I wasn't in my skin yet."
Getting in your skin—and getting comfortable wearing only your skin onstage—requires a particular alchemy of vulnerability, agency, preparation and practice.
It goes against my core values to promote myself on Instagram, since the quality of my dancing matters more to me than tricks. Yet some of my favorite companies hire dancers with large followings on their IG accounts. Should I bother to audition at these places? I have strong technique, but I'm not Gumby.
—Instagram Resistant, Boston, MA
Company class triggers my biggest doubts when I compare myself to leading dancers with fantastic feet or extensions. Why can't I be more like them? I work just as hard, but I can't seem to do it.
—Katy, San Francisco, CA
This year I expected to be cast in a solo role in Nutcracker after adding private lessons and Pilates to my schedule. Yet I only landed a demi-solo part. How should I deal with this setback?
—Wannabe Sugar Plum, Bethpage, NY
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Over eight years, Sasha Mukhamedov rose through Dutch National Ballet to become a principal dancer in 2016. Of its ranks—aspirant, élève, corps de ballet, coryphée, grand sujet, soloist and principal—she skipped élève and grand sujet along the way. "In having these levels, if you feel you've done well and your director is happy and promotes you, it gives you this motivational push knowing you made it one step closer to what you've dreamed of," she says.
Many large European ballet companies have preserved the traditional multi-runged ladder of rankings, which originated with the Paris Opéra Ballet. (DNB dropped the aspirant level in 2013 with the addition of its second company.) Others, like The Royal Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, Dresden Semperoper Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet and English National Ballet retain at least five levels.
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.
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.
Most dancers' second careers involve something like teaching dance. Or choreographing dance, or photographing it. But Travis and Mallory Walker went in a totally different direction.
Yet the couple sees winemaking as an extension of their dance life.
"There's not as much makeup involved and the costumes are a little different, but you still have an audience you hope that you move in some way," says Mallory. "You put a lot of work into it, but when the performance comes, or the wine comes out of the barrels, you never know how it will be received."
Recently, he's been posting clips of Gelsey Kirkland rehearsing Don Quixote, most likely taken a couple years after she joined American Ballet Theatre. You can watch her breaking down each step, working with her ballet coach David Howard as well as a flamenco coach, and giving herself notes by speaking directly to the camera.
Froman says the full footage is about an hour long (he acquired it a couple decades ago when he was still dancing for New York City Ballet). "When watching the entire disc, what becomes obvious is the inexhaustible, obsessive detail work," he wrote me in an email. "She sets the bar extremely high and I'm not sure she was ever equaled. All that Balanchine technique is still alive in her body, and she's very good to bring all the flamenco influences into her interpretation."
These days, it's hard to scroll through social media without seeing a beautifully produced dance video. While artists and companies may have once relied on flyers and posters to promote their performances, video has become the most effective way to reach the broadest audience possible. But with so many high-quality videos competing for attention online, only the most compelling content stands out from the crowd—and converts to ticket sales.
A dancer once contacted me because he was devastated after walking in on his girlfriend with another man. While he was distressed about ending the relationship, he was most concerned about a major performance coming up. They had to dance a romantic pas de deux. When I met with them together, she was afraid he would drop her and he didn't want to look lovingly in her eyes. My role was to help them find ways to make magic onstage and keep their personal difficulties offstage. They ended up dancing to rave reviews.
Dancers are human, which means they're bound to make mistakes from time to time, both on and off the stage. But what happens when those mistakes burn bridges? In an industry so small, is it possible for choreographers and performers to recover?In a moment of vulnerability, three-time Emmy Award winning choreographer Mia Michaels opened up to Dance Magazine about some of the bridges she herself has burned, the lengths she's gone to in order to rebuild and the peace she's made with the new direction her career has taken because of them. —Haley Hilton
Why is it so hard to find another passion like dance for my next career? I've tried to prepare by taking vocational tests at Career Transition For Dancers and online college courses. But I keep hitting a dead end.
—Life After Dance?, Los Angeles, CA
I don't understand why I've lost my motivation to dance at 20 years old. My parents have always encouraged me to have a life plan and ask continuously how my pre-professional training program is going. I feel crushed by their expectations. I'm actually relieved when I get injured and can't dance, even though I miss it.
—Confused, Nashville, TN
Between long rehearsal days, performances and hectic touring schedules, it can be hard for professional dancers to plan for their post-performance careers while they're still onstage. This fall, that changes for five American Ballet Theatre principals. Stella Abrera, Isabella Boylston, Cory Stearns, James Whiteside and Gillian Murphy have been chosen as the first dancers to participate in Crossover Into Business at Harvard Business School, a semester-long program designed for professional athletes.
Last year, Crossover Into Business program director and HBS professor Anita Elberse was developing a case study on ABT, and reached out to the company executive director Kara Medoff Barnett, an alumna of HBS. "Anita mentioned the Crossover Program as an experience that has been transformative for professional athletes," says Barnett. "We looked at each other and had the same idea: How about inviting the ABT dancers to sit next to the NBA players?"
Few dancers are able to make a comfortable living from their creative pursuits alone. Many rely on non-dance freelance work or multiple part-time gigs, fearing that a full-time job would take too much time away from their dancing. However, plenty of artists manage to balance full-time day jobs with fulfilling dance careers, opting for the security, benefits and opportunity to learn new skills.
Adding another commitment to your already busy schedule may be the last thing you want to do as a college student. But assisting at dance conventions can offer valuable experiences you won't find in a classroom. Convention assistants help students pick up choreography and rub shoulders with industry influencers. For some, it's the perfect addition to their college experience—but balancing the demands of both isn't easy.
As a student, Katherine Barkman competed in several prestigious ballet competitions, and even won first place at the Youth America Grand Prix in Philadelphia. But at age 21, already a guest principal dancer with Ballet Manila, she decided to return to the competition stage as a professional. She found herself humbled by an experience at the 2017 Moscow International Ballet Competition.
"I was pretty intimidated, thinking, This is the big leagues, this is the Bolshoi Theatre," says Barkman, who was eliminated after the first round. "You are not just judged on how good you are for your age."
Competitions have long had a place in the training of young dancers, allowing them more opportunities to perform and learn under pressure. But even after you've secured a company contract, there are myriad benefits to putting yourself in front of judges.