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How to Take Class in A Language You Don't Understand
Dancers are used to communicating with their bodies. But they can forget how much they rely on verbal cues until the directions are spoken in a different language. "I arrived in France straight out of college in 1977 and didn't speak a word of French. It was pretty intimidating," says Wayne Byars, an American ballet dancer who went on to spend his entire career in France. Byars is now a sought-after teacher in Paris, but he did have his early blunders—including mistakenly attending an audition meant for female cabaret dancers.
But students shouldn't be afraid of taking classes taught in a language they do not understand. "One of the wonderful things about dance is that wherever you go, be it Paris, Tokyo, Rome, a dance studio is a dance studio. You're home, you're in your element," Byars says. Though it can be daunting to take class in a foreign language, embracing that challenge could give you a new perspective on your dancing.
Wayne Byars, PC Sandra Peticolas
1. Start With What You Know
Dancers facing a language barrier should start with a dance form that is familiar to them. "It's like watching a movie you've already seen, but in a foreign language. You might not know exactly what the dialogue is, but you know what is going on," adds Byars.
Evie Hammer-Lester only spoke a few words of the language when she moved to Sweden in 2008. "I found ballet to be the easiest to jump into, as classes are often taught similarly no matter where you are and it is the dance form that I had been studying the longest," she says. Wait until your grasp of the language is better to take a class that requires more verbal communication, like a new technique, composition, guided improvisation or partnering.
Luam Keflezgy, PC James Alonzo White
2. Do Your Homework
Further prepare by finding as much information about the class as possible. "Research the teacher. I would try to watch a class in person—not a video online—to see if their teaching style is something I can understand," says Luam Keflezgy, a hip-hop teacher at Broadway Dance Center in New York City.
If you are taking a particular class regularly and know you will be working on the same phrase over time, practice at home. "I was sometimes able to take a video at the end of class and then I could go over it on my own," says Hammer-Lester. If you are dancing to music with lyrics and the teacher is connecting the movement to them, says Keflezgy, try to research those lyrics so you can keep up.
3. Don't Be Afraid of the Teacher
Byars and Keflezgy both say they often notice when students are not fluent even before speaking to them. Byars points out that a teacher may be able to tell where you are from based on variations in your technique. This might actually work to your advantage—so if you get lost, try not to panic. "Teachers want students to understand and they pay attention to what's happening in the classroom," says Keflezgy. "If someone is struggling, I'll notice and try to help."
Wayne Byars, PC Sandra Peticolas
If it makes you feel more comfortable, you can let your teachers know that you do not speak the language before class. Hammer-Lester found this strategy helpful. Though most people in Sweden speak English, there was rarely time for teachers to interpret for her in class, and not all dance vocabulary translates easily. However, she says, teachers were usually happy to help before or after class when she took the initiative to ask.
4. Be an Observer
If you are doing exercises in groups, wait for a later group so you have a chance to watch other dancers and be sure you know what is going on. "If you are taking ballet class, be discreet when finding a place at the barre, as in some classes and in some countries there is a hierarchy you might not be aware of," says Byars. Keflezgy suggests keeping an eye on the local dancers to pick up on any differences in their groove and intention. If you feel lost, you can always watch class from the side of the room rather than potentially insulting an instructor by leaving.
This vigilance will help prevent embarrassment, but it can also improve your dancing. "In a class where you can't understand the language," says Hammer-Lester, "you're forced to think critically about your movement in a way you may never have before."
Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6. joffrey.org.
"There's an ancient energy in Fana's movement, a deep and trusted knowing," says Jeff, director of the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. "Because I witnessed the raw humanity of his dancer's souls, I wanted my dancers to have that experience."
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
In his final bow at New York City Ballet, during what should have been a heroic conclusion to a celebrated ballet career, Robert Fairchild slipped and fell. His reaction? To lie down flat on his back like he meant to do it. Then start cracking up at himself.
"He's such a ham," says his sister Megan Fairchild, with a laugh. "He's really good at selling whatever his body is doing that day. He'll turn a moment that I would totally go home and cry about into something where the audience is like, 'That's the most amazing thing ever!' "
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.