Could Moving Back to Your Hometown Be Your Best Career Move?
Training at The Juilliard School. Signing a contract for an international tour. Seeing your name on the schedule at Millennium Dance Complex.
These are the kinds of opportunities that draw aspiring professionals to major dance destinations like New York City and Los Angeles, which are teeming with resources that most dancers' hometowns can't offer. And once you're there, it may be hard to imagine why you would ever leave.
"There's a strong association in our field that living in big cities or overseas equals success," says choreographer Banning Bouldin. But some dance artists, like Bouldin herself, take the even bigger step of moving back home, continuing their careers where it all began.
John Malashock, artistic director of Malashock Dance
Gary Payne, courtesy Malashock
When John Malashock's heavy touring schedule with Twyla Tharp Dance began taking a toll on his body and limited time with his newborn son, he moved back to Southern California. He had no intention of starting a company, but after a few years away from the studio, he began choreographing. That led to producing a show, and 31 years later, Malashock Dance is still thriving.
He's built strong connections with his community, including collaborations with the San Diego Opera and San Diego Symphony, and his troupe has also maintained a national and international presence through touring opportunities and restaged works.
"Being here has let me find a voice and vocabulary that has really been quite unfettered," he says. He's comfortable creating anything from duets (his favorite) to narrative-driven dance films, which have been broadcast locally and nationally by PBS and have earned him six Pacific Southwest Emmy Awards.
Along the way, his association with Tharp has attracted dancers and donors alike, and being a local has led to financial support from those who know his family. "There were substantial advantages of being a highly credentialed artist returning home. It opened a lot of doors."
Banning Bouldin, artistic director of New Dialect
Andrea Behrends Fecht, Courtesy Bouldin
After graduating from The Juilliard School and dancing for nearly a decade with choreographers like Lar Lubovitch and Aszure Barton, Banning Bouldin was ready to slow down and live near her family in Nashville.
"The more time I spent at home, the more I got to know the small, passionate, local dance community who were hungry for the information I had to share," she says.
So, in 2013, she launched New Dialect, a nonprofit dance collective through which she presents collaborative, improvisational work ranging from dance theater to gallery installations.
Despite its success, she still feels the stigma of working in the South. "At times I find it frustrating that people look at where I'm based and make assumptions about the quality and relevance of my work," she says. "There's this belief that being based in New York or a similar dance metropolis means the work itself must be superior."
Bouldin acknowledges that she misses frequently seeing live dance performances and the communities she found in larger arts cities. However, Nashville has allowed her work to develop away from the constant pressure and hustle.
"There's more space and time to reflect, brainstorm with trusted colleagues, and try out new approaches for how dance companies can operate," she says.
Dre Torres, tap dancer, choreographer and teacher
Nicola Gell Photography, courtesy Torres
Within five years of moving to New York City, Dre Torres accomplished things she could have only dreamed of as a child in McAllen, Texas. As a tap dancer, her gigs included performing at Radio City Music Hall and on "The Colbert Report." But when her mother was diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma on Valentine's Day 2014, Torres realized she'd have to leave.
"I knew I couldn't continue there without feeling selfish and absent. Family comes first," she says.
Since returning to Texas, she has been busy teaching and choreographing for schools and theaters in Austin and is a principal dancer with Tapestry Dance Company, a repertory tap ensemble. Now that her mother has shown no active cancer cells for six months, Torres travels when she can, sometimes returning to the Big Apple to teach at Broadway Dance Center.
"Sometimes I feel as though I'm missing out," she says, mentioning that social media's FOMO effect can make her feel disconnected from the larger dance scene. "I have to find ways to continue to push myself, create goals and fuel my artistic fire."
Riley Watts, Forsythe dancer and independent dance artist
Arthur Fink, courtesy Watts
The realization came after nine months of traveling the world with Sylvie Guillem's 2015 farewell tour, Life in Progress: It was time to move back to Maine.
"The dancing itself was never the problem—in fact, that was a saving grace," says Riley Watts. "What became most difficult was constantly being in airports and hotels while craving to return to my own personal space and take care of my mental health."
Prior to Guillem's tour, he danced in Europe for almost a decade, including extensive work with The Forsythe Company. While he continues to tour William Forsythe's choreography internationally, he's also been busy developing his home state as a viable dance destination. Watts is the artistic coordinator of Bangor Ballet, has served as artist in residence with Bates Dance Festival and has helped curate events at SPACE, a multidisciplinary arts venue in Portland.
Donning his producer hat, Watts launched Portland Dance Month in 2018 to highlight dance events throughout the city and connect local artists, audiences and organizations—he even performed at a City Council meeting to promote it.
Watts wants to build a strong future for dance in Maine. "I appreciate not being swept up in the hectic life of a big city," he says. "Travel is still a big part of my life, but it feels much easier now that I'm coming home to Portland, where I know I can recharge."
Shaina Branfman Baira and Bryan Strimpel Baira, artistic directors of BAIRA | MVMNT PHLSPHY
Scott Lipiec, courtesy Bairas
Seven years in New York City left Shaina Branfman Baira and Bryan Strimpel Baira feeling disconnected. In fact, the married couple spent the last two years living in an RV in Brooklyn, in part to deepen their relationship with the community.
"We had been traveling and learning so much about the world beyond our hometowns," they wrote via email, "and simultaneously growing apart from our families and where we are from." New York City is a far cry from Shaina's hometown of Victoria, Texas, and where Bryan grew up in Carleton, Michigan. "Something felt very hypocritical in the context of our work, which intends to serve and understand humanity."
When they were both offered positions as adjunct dance professors at Bryan's alma mater, Wayne State University, the couple moved to Detroit, just 40 minutes from his hometown, last summer. They've continued their duet work, which explores themes of relationships and resilience through their blend of partnering and theatricality, and recently performed at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.
While they've received a warm welcome, they've also found it hard to find their niche. "Our presence largely represents gentrification, in that we are young, white artists who just moved from New York City," they wrote. "We're asking ourselves, How can we participate responsibly to contribute to the revitalization of the communities that are already here?"
A little over a year ago, I wrote an op-ed for Dance Magazine about the grueling, oppressive grant cycle. It was crying into my pillow, really. I was complaining and desperate to share my story. I was fed up with 10 years of applying for grants and having never received one for the research or development of my work. I was tired of the copy-and-paste rejection letters, the lack of feedback, and what seems to be a biased, inconsistent system.
I couldn't stand that I was made to feel as if I had to ask for permission to be an artist.
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.
The connections dancers make in college are no joke. For recent alum Gabrielle Hamilton, working with guest choreographer John Heginbotham at Point Park University put her on the fast track to Broadway—not in an ensemble role, but as the lead dancer in one of this season's hottest tickets: Daniel Fish's arresting reboot of Oklahoma!
We caught up with Hamilton about starring in the show's dream ballet and her delightfully bizarre pre-show ritual.
Last Friday, through an appeal to an independent arbitrator, the American Guild of Musical Artists successfully reinstated NYCB principals Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro, previously fired for allegedly circulating sexually explicit texts containing nude photos.
AGMA opposed Ramasar and Catazaro's terminations in order to prevent the setting of a dangerous precedent that would allow dancers to be fired under less understandable consequences. But we cannot allow future cases to dictate the way we handle this situation—particularly a union committed to "doing everything in [its] power to ensure you have a respectful environment in which to work."
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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But according to the H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory, one in every three dancers in New York City lives under the poverty line, and may lack the resources to purchase the ingredients they need to make nutritious meals.
Not to mention the fact that dancers are busy, and often running around from class to rehearsal to performance to side hustle, grabbing whatever they can get to eat on-the-go.
I have a commitment, a romance, a love affair with dance, with the feeling that happens when the music and the steps so perfectly align and I can't help but get chills. That feeling when my partner and I are dancing as one, when everyone onstage feels the same heartbeat, when it's just me alone in my bedroom.
You can see them in "Fosse/Verdon" episode one. Michelle Williams, playing Gwen Verdon, wears them with a cool, retro, forest-green jumpsuit. Tucked beneath a mop top of tousled Gwen Verdon locks, Williams sports a pair of discreet and tasteful onyx drop-earrings—the dancer's favorites. Verdon wore them all her adult life, according to her daughter Nicole Fosse, a co-executive producer of the FX series that puts a spotlight on a great woman of American dance.
"I have very little memory of my mother wearing other earrings. They were her Gwen Verdon earrings," says Fosse, speaking by phone from her home in Vermont. "She's wearing them in 99 percent of the pictures of her performing."
Four years of lectures, exams and classes can feel like a lifetime for college dancers who have their sights set on performing. So when a professional opportunity comes knocking, it can be tempting to step away from your academics. But there are a few things to consider before putting your education on hold.
We've all been there: You see the craziest/most beautiful/oddest/wildest clip of a dance on Facebook and you simply have to see more.
But do you actually get yourself to the theater and sit through a 90-minute performance? The consensus, at this point, typically seems to be: No.
There is no clear correlation between a company's social media campaigns and how many seats they fill in the theater. That doesn't mean social media isn't, of course, vital. It simply means that "social media campaigns operating without other marketing campaigns don't cut it," says Rob Bailis, associate director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. "But campaigns without social media are far worse off."
Since the project was first announced toward the end of 2017, we've been extremely curious about Yuli. The film, based on Carlos Acosta's memoir No Way Home, promised as much dancing as biography, with Acosta appearing as himself and dance sequences featuring his eponymous Cuba-based company Acosta Danza. Add in filmmaking power couple Icíar Bollaín (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter), and you have a recipe for a dance film unlike anything else we've seen recently.
One of the country's top arbitrators has decided to reinstate Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro to New York City Ballet. The former principals were fired last fall for "inappropriate communications," namely graphic text messages.
The dancers' union, American Guild of Musical Artists, fought the termination, arguing that the firings were unjust since they related entirely to non-work activity. After a careful review of the facts, an independent arbitrator determined that while the company was justified in disciplining the two men, suspension was the appropriate action and termination took it too far.
A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."
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.
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
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.
When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
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.
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?
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."