These Ad Campaigns Show That Dance Sells
Misty Copeland doesn't typically spend her days balancing on demi-pointe in lace-up sneakers, wearing the briefest of running shorts and a T-shirt knotted jauntily above her hips. But Under Armour's series of “I Will What I Want" ads presents a portrait of this artist as an athlete—in the brand's athletic wear. And for the makers of the campaign, that sends exactly the right message.
“We are a disruptive brand: We look at things in a different way. We see women athletes as coming in all shapes and sizes, and Misty, to us, is part of that," says Under Armour vice president of marketing for its women's division, Heidi Sandreuter. “She doesn't fit a traditional mold. She allows us to represent a broader spectrum of athleticism."
Under Armour is just one of several companies harnessing the power of dance to promote their products. The past few years have seen an explosion of ads and marketing campaigns featuring top concert dancers from the ballet and modern dance worlds. And dance isn't just adding some zest to a background to sell Old Navy jeans; it's often the subject of the ad itself—as seen in Diesel's Jogg jeans ads, showcasing an alphabet of dance; Christmas ads for Baileys, based on The Nutcracker; the Gap's “Denim Moves You" ads with street dancer Lil Buck; and even the misguided Free People commercial, starring an inexperienced dancer with sickled feet talking about what dancing means to her.
Dance is having a global moment right now, between reality TV shows and viral music videos, and advertisers are eager to get in on the act. Dance, like sex, sells. It's both potently emotional and visual. And it appeals to a wide range of tastes, cultures, age groups and experiences. Brands are benefiting greatly from the association—and dancers are getting a gazillion new consumer eyes greedily feasting upon them.
Of course, dance in advertising isn't new. But the way it's used has shifted. When Anna Pavlova lent her image to endorse Pond's Vanishing Cream in 1914, the connection was that she, like the product, was a thing of ephemeral beauty. A 1976 "What becomes a Legend most?" ad for Blackglama mink coats showed Martha Graham, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev draped in luxurious furs. They looked like members of the aristocracy—dancers only a rich patron could love. In Rolex ads from the '80s and '90s, Cynthia Gregory and Sylvie Guillem were also presented as objects of connoisseurship, admired for their elegance, but at a remove from the common touch.
Today, remote and delicately scented ballerinas are no longer the fashion. Advertisers now look for dancers who can move boldly without inhibition, who are strong in body and also in mind, and who are not at all reticent about revealing the grit behind their glamorous onstage image.
Rag & Bone's commercial featuring contemporary dancer/choreographer Kyle Abraham, for instance, alternates between footage of a sexy duet in a dirty warehouse with images of pigeons flying off a Brooklyn rooftop. The film, by acclaimed music video director Wendy Morgan, capitalizes on Abraham's edgy, rugged aesthetic. “Hopefully people are seeing real people, real bodies moving in space and having a connection to one another," Abraham says of the choreography.
The Under Armour ads also present a more realistic image of a dancer, showcasing Copeland as a powerhouse: muscular, driven, strong. Gone is the stick-thin ballerina of yesterday. “It's killing that perception that we're just pretty, that being feminine means you're not also powerful, in control and a leader," says the American Ballet Theatre principal. “Having a brand as big and as respected in the sports arena wanting to endorse a ballerina is something that has never been done before." Copeland feels the campaign is challenging preconceived notions of what a dancer is—or isn't.
The ads have raised Under Armour's profile while also fattening its bottom line. “We've definitely seen an uptick in sales," Sandreuter reports. Significantly, it is a ballerina who is helping Under Armour re-brand itself as a company that caters to women who spin, kickbox, lift weights and run. The video's theme of overcoming obstacles is something that everyone—not just dancers—can relate to.
But if dance is helping the advertisers, the advertisers are also helping dance. “When dance is seen more in the media it demystifies it as something distant and unattainable," says Tina Rasmussen, director of performing arts at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre, who has witnessed an increase in attendance for dance events over the last two years. “It's a democratization of dance that's really helping to deliver the message that bodies communicate."
Lexus took advantage of that idea in 2013 with a TV ad that artfully juxtaposes the power and speed of its entry-level luxury car, the IS, with the strength and velocity of English National Ballet's Tamara Rojo. Featuring solo choreography by Russell Maliphant, the black-and-white video shows Rojo with arrested port de bras and split leaps in slow motion. Her rapid-fire bourrées merge with images of fast-turning wheels on a ribbon of open highway. Her back arches, showing sinew and bone, and blends with an image of a beautifully sculpted car. The tagline is “Amazing in Motion."
The ad campaign won a silver medal at the 2014 Euro Effie Awards (the advertising industry's Academy Awards), as well as scores of new ballet lovers. The message Lexus wanted to communicate, a stronger body with control, felt perfectly expressed through dance. “You can't get a better physical representative than the ballerina," says Christopher Taylor, senior manager for brand and marketing communications for Lexus Europe. “There is a perception of ballet as a premium art form. Extolling the virtues of ballet expresses the virtues of the automobile."
From Rojo's perspective, the ad also delivers a message about ballet that she finds refreshing: “I like the fact it presents the dynamism of ballerinas," she says. “It gives a strong image of dance and dancers that is different from the conventional frail ballerina."
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.
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.
What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?
As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
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.
Get Dance Magazine in your inbox
Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.
When George Balanchine's full-length Don Quixote premiered in 1965, critics and audiences alike viewed the ballet as a failure. Elaborate scenery and costumes framed mawkish mime passages, like one in which the ballerina washed the Don's feet and dried them with her hair. Its revival in 2005 by Suzanne Farrell, the ballerina on whom it was made and to whom Balanchine left the work, did little to alter its reputation.
Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.
"I'd want to see Balanchine's Don Quixote," says Apollinaire Scherr, dance critic for the Financial Times. "It was a labor of love on his part, and a love letter as well. And you want to know what that looks like in his work."
Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?
After the horrific March 15 terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques, the music and arts community sprang into action to plan a way to help victims and their families. A series of resulting concerts, titled "You Are Us/Aroha Nui," will take place in New Zealand (April 13 and 17), Jersey City, New Jersey (April 17) and Los Angeles (April 18). Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Our People, Our City Fund, which was established by the Christchurch Foundation to aid those affected by the attacks.
Throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Trust continues a global celebration that will be one of the largest tributes to a dance artist ever. Under the umbrella of the Merce Cunningham Centennial are classes and workshops, film screenings and festivals, art exhibitions and symposia, and revivals and premieres of original works inspired by the dancemaker's ideas. The fever peaks on April 16, which would have been the pioneering choreographer's 100th birthday, with Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, featuring a total of 75 dancers in three performances live-streamed from London, Los Angeles and New York City.
Cloud & Victory gets dancers. The dancewear brand's social media drools over Roberto Bolle's abs, sets classical variations to Beyoncé and moans over Mondays and long adagios. And it all comes from the mind of founder Tan Li Min, the boss lady who takes on everything from designs to inventory to shipping orders.
Known simply (and affectionately) to the brand's 41K Instagram followers as Min, she's used her wry, winking sense of humor to give the Singapore-based C&V international cachet.
She recently spoke with Dance Magazine about building the brand, overcoming insecurity and using pizza as inspiration.
The Ballet Memphis New American Dance Residency, which welcomes selected choreographers for its inaugural iteration next week, goes a step beyond granting space, time and dancers for the development of new work.
This is huge news, so we'll get straight to it:
We now (finally!) know who'll be appearing onscreen alongside Ariana DeBose and the other previously announced leads in Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story, choreographed by Justin Peck. Unsurprisingly, the Sharks/Jets cast list includes some of the best dancers in the industry.
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
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.
At six feet tall, Jesse Obremski dances as though he's investigating each movement for the first time. His quiet transitional moments are as astounding as his long lines, bounding jumps and seamless floorwork. Add in his versatility and work ethic, and it's clear why he's an invaluable asset to New York City choreographers. Currently a freelance artist with multiple contemporary groups, including Gibney Dance Company and Limón Dance Company, Obremski also choreographs for his recently formed troupe, Obremski/Works.
Last night at Parsons Dance's 2019 gala, the company celebrated one of our own: DanceMedia owner Frederic M. Seegal.
In a speech, artistic director David Parsons said that he wanted to honor Seegal for the way he devotes his energy to supporting premier art organizations, "making sure that the arts are part of who we are," he said.
It's a bit of an understatement to say that Bob Fosse was challenging to work with. He was irritable, inappropriate and often clashed with his collaborators in front of all his dancers. Fosse/Verdon, which premieres on FX tonight, doesn't sugarcoat any of this.
But for Sasha Hutchings, who danced in the first episode's rendition of "Big Spender," the mood on set was quite opposite from the one that Fosse created. Hutchings had already worked with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who she calls "a dancer's dream," director Tommy Kail and music director Alex Lacamoire as a original cast member in Hamilton, and she says the collaborators' calm energy made the experience a pleasant one for the dancers.
"Television can be really stressful," she says. "There's so many moving parts and everyone has to work in sync. With Tommy, Andy and Lac I never felt the stress of that as a performer."