Dancer Voices
The author in Nick Mauss' Transmissions at the Whitney Museum. Photo by Paula Court

During a period when I was intentionally taking a step back from performing, I was especially sensitive to the question, "So, are you auditioning for things?" Besides the insecurity of being a freelancer not hustling in that way, I also rankled at the complexity of what it means for a non-binary performer to audition.

To put it bluntly, there aren't many safe opportunities for us. That's because so many audition listings include gender-exclusionary phrases, so trans and non-binary artists either aren't eligible to show up or aren't sure whether or not they'd be welcome.

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Dancer Voices
Yuka Oba, Ednis Ariel Gomez Mallol and Connie Flachs in Swing by Olivier Wevers. Photo by Ryan Jackson, courtesy Flachs

"I'm sorry, but I just can't possibly give you the amount of money you're asking for."

My heart sinks at my director's final response to my salary proposal. She insists it's not me or my work, there is just no money in the budget. My disappointment grows when handed the calendar for Grand Rapids Ballet's next season with five fewer weeks of work.

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Dancer Voices
Limón Dance Company in Missa Brevis. Photo courtesy of the José Limón Dance Foundation.

Some people believe that only new dances should be supported and seen live. By extension, they question the necessity of reconstructing older works, arguing that they should remain in the vault, or saved for archival viewings.

To some extent, I see their point. Room should be made for new voices and new works.

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Rant & Rave
Ahmaud Culver, Jasmine Hearn and Anna Witenberg in "Transmissions." © Paula Court.

Dancers are more than just vessels performing set material. We make contributions to creative processes all the time. Some of these are obvious: We often improvise material or generate entire phrases to be incorporated into a work. Others are more innocuous: Dancers are sometimes asked to give feedback that ends up shaping the composition of a work.

This is choreography.

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Dancer Voices
"There is a palpable sense of hope for the future." Photo by Devin Alberda via Instagram

New York City Ballet continues its first year without Peter Martins at the helm as our spring season opens tonight.

When he retired at the start of the new year, we plunged headfirst into unknown, murky waters. Who would the new director be? When would we know? Would we dancers get some say in the decision? Who would oversee the Balanchine ballets? Who would be in charge of casting? Would a new director bring along huge upheaval? Could some of us be out of a job?

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Dancer Voices
Bouder is fighting for gender equality in ballet. Photo by Miguel Anaya

I am a ballerina. I am a feminist. This might seem to be an oxymoron. Ballerinas do what they are told by choreographers and directors—positions that we have become painfully aware of as traditionally male roles. Feminism is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes. By that description, the two terms seem contradictory.

Alexei Ratmansky—now famously—expressed on Facebook last fall: "sorry, there is no such thing as equality in ballet: women dance on point, men lift and support women. women receive flowers, men escort women offstage. not the other way around (I know there are couple of exceptions). and I am very comfortable with that."

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Breaking Stereotypes
Crissy Michaels as Carabosse, Photo courtesy Centennial State Ballet

The smell and look of a dance studio is one that will be part of every dancer's life forever. The hard work is tangible in the air. The marley floor is a plaque that marks our failures and success. Yet for me, the studio is where I learned to hide my transgender self.

I have identified as a trans female since I was under the age of ten. However, before coming anywhere close to coming out about my gender identity, I fell in love with dancing. I began studying ballet when I was eleven. Because of the rigors and strictness of my training, it was easy to ignore my true feelings.

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Dancer Voices
Photo by Rachel Papo for Pointe

We all know that companies too often take dancers for granted. When I wrote last week about a few common ways in which dancers are mistreated—routine screaming, humiliation, being pressured to perform injured and be stick-thin—I knew I was only scratching the surface.

So I put out a call to readers asking for your perspective on the most pressing issues that need to be addressed first, and what positive changes we might be able to make to achieve those goals.

The bottom line: Readers agree it's time to hold directors accountable, particularly to make sure that dancers are being paid fairly. But the good news is that change is already happening. Here are some of the most intriguing ideas you shared via comments, email and social media:

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Dancer Voices
Emily Ramirez as "Meg Giry" in The Phantom of the Opera. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

I always knew my ballet career would eventually end. It was implied from the very start that at some point I would be too old and decrepit to take morning ballet class, followed by six hours of intense rehearsals.

What I never imagined was that I would experience a time when I couldn't walk at all.

In rehearsal for Nutcracker in 2013, I slipped while pushing off for a fouetté sauté, instantly rupturing the ACL in my right knee. In that moment my dance life flashed before my eyes.

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Dancer Voices
Peter Boal coaching PNB dancers in Opus 19/The Dreamer. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, courtesy PNB

In a windowless subterranean studio under the New York State Theater, I pulled back an imaginary arrow and let it fly.

"Good!" said ballet master Tommy Abbott. "I think you're ready. Tomorrow you rehearse with Mr. Robbins."

I was slated to play Cupid in Jerome Robbins' compilation of fairy tales called Mother Goose. It was a role given to the tiniest boy who could follow directions at the School of American Ballet. In 1976, that was me.

The following day, I reported to a much larger windowless studio on the fifth floor known as the main hall. The room was bristling with excitement and nervousness. About half of the dancers from New York City Ballet were on hand, plus a coterie of bustling ballet masters and Mr. Robbins. Tommy tucked me and two other boys in a corner. My first rehearsal with the legendary choreographer was underway.

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Dancer Voices
Liz Tenuto's choreography for the artist-In-residence program at CounterPULSE SF. Photo by Robbie Sweeny

As dancers, we all hop on "the track." We attend class every day at 10 am, we go to summer intensives every year, we regularly show up at audition after audition. It's what we think we need to do to achieve our dreams.

But other things come up—maybe we change or what we want out of life evolves. It is up to us to listen, to see if we can let our plan shift and to be brave enough to veer off track. Otherwise, we may not discover what makes us truly unique.

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Dancer Voices

My life has five seasons: winter, spring, summer, fall and rejection. During the season of rejection, you can probably find me in one of the following places: lying in bed my sending 'F them, why not me' texts to my closest friends; emailing very salty 'why did you reject me, and can I puh-lease get some feedback' emails; or pacing my apartment, cleaning, trying to rationalize to myself why I'm just not good enough, yet.

I'm talking about the "Grant Cycle" or what is known among my peers and colleagues as "The Lottery." It's a grueling, never-ending process of trying to make three-dimensional art fit into a two-dimensional surface that can only hold the CliffsNotes version. It's meant to appeal to a group of discerning, qualified and unbiased people who are asked to do the civic duty of deciding where coveted space, time and money goes. The same space, time and money they too want and need.

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Dancer Voices
Paul Taylor choreographing To Make Crops Grow on Parisa Khobdeh. Photo by Whitney Browne, courtesy PTDC

I was 22, fresh out of school. Wet behind the ears, I was using a light boom backstage as a warm-up barre before my debut performance with the Paul Taylor Dance Company. I noticed Paul Taylor walking toward me, wagging his index finger like a disciplining father, and I shrank with fear.

"Don't touch the booms. Someone has worked very hard to focus those lights," he admonished. And just before he turned to go, he paused and added, "And listen to your seniors." But he wasn't done. As he strode away, he turned back and said, "Oh, and always say thank you to the crew."

What struck me about Paul's notes—and what has stayed with me ever since—is what was at the heart of those three directives: respect, gratitude and the importance of family. They are values that are embedded in his dances and in his company.

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Dancer Voices
A collection of the author's programs

I've had a sticky note on my desk since 2013 with a horoscope that reads, "What would you do if you made happiness your number one priority?"

Like many things in life, at least for me, there is no single, simple answer to that question, which is perhaps why it's still sitting there.

The past year, I was very sick. You wouldn't have necessarily known it to look at me, but I was. The kind of sick that prompts soul-searching, and meaning-of-life searching. The kind of sick that has you thinking, "There has to be a takeaway from this awful experience; I can't have gone through this for nothing."

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Dancer Voices
Peter Martins rehearsing Ocean's Kingdom in 2011. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Dear dancers of the New York City Ballet,

I realize that you are scared because the future of the New York City Ballet is uncertain; you don't know who will man the ship, and your career that you've worked your entire life for feels under attack.

On social media some of you alluded to the idea that Peter Martins' downfall is a result of the times; a maelstrom of allegations sweeping the country, bringing down powerful men, for misdeeds proven and unproven. I understand that for many of you this feels unfair: Peter has helped you personally ascend the ranks of the company by believing in you, and mentoring you. For others the described behavior may feel abstract; it isn't something you've witnessed, and many of the accusations occurred long before your time, maybe even before you were born. And above all, how could you possibly betray the man who plucked you from the school and gave you the chance of a lifetime: to dance with one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world? How could you see this person, who gave you this chance, this gift, as the monster he's being painted as?

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Dancer Voices
Wilhelmina Frankfurt

Former New York City Ballet dancer Wilhelmina Frankfurt first spoke out about sexual misconduct at NYCB in Psychology Tomorrow in 2012. Since October, she's been working with The Washington Post reporter Sarah Kaufman for a story about Peter Martins, and when the School of American Ballet began investigating Martins for an anonymous accusation, she was called in to discuss her experiences. But Frankfurt feels there's more to the larger picture, and shares that here with Dance Magazine, as edited by Maggie Levin.


In 1994, I began to write a book of essays about my life in dance—mostly as an exercise. When the #MeToo movement began this year, I knew it was time to brush the dust off and take another look. Although incomplete, these essays addressed the roots that have long run between sexual abuse, alcoholism and ballet. They involve George Balanchine, Peter Martins and numerous stars of the New York City Ballet. It's painfully clear that my story is the same story that has occurred thousands of times, all over the world.

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