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Dancers as Activists
Gibney Dance Company empowers its members to create their own social-impact initiatives.
Nigel Campbell teaching at Move(NYC), his tuition-free summer program. PC Scott Shaw, Courtesy Gibney.
What if your full-time dance job required more than rehearsing and performing? What if it also asked you to create new ways to give back to your community? The six members of New York City–based Gibney Dance Company have been empowered to do exactly that, as artistic director Gina Gibney expands the troupe’s mission beyond its traditional performances and domestic violence outreach. Each member will now direct his or her own “advocacy fellowship,” with Gibney’s oversight. “I’ve seen so many young artists who want to make a difference but didn’t have the resources available to them to make it work,” says Gibney. “Being advocates for the field is now part of their job description.”
The dancers are being guided by Gibney’s staff, board members and outside partners at every stage, from planning to production. They started by drafting their own program designs, case statements, timelines and methods to evaluate success. While funding for this extension of the company—in particular the dancers’ salaries—comes from Gibney donors, the dancers are actively participating in the fundraising for their own projects. Programs range from an organization that helps dancers through tough career moments, like negotiating a contract or getting injured, to youth dance programs. Some have already tested their ideas through pilots: Nigel Campbell is one of the first company members to roll out his initiative. With co-founder Chanel DaSilva, he started Move(NYC), a tuition-free summer intensive for advanced dancers from New York City’s five boroughs. “We wanted to help dancers who have the drive to become professionals, but may not have the means to do so competitively,” says Campbell. Under their program this summer, 30 students, ages 13 to 18, studied under dancers from Batsheva, Kidd Pivot and Hamilton, among others.
Campbell is happy to have a job that doesn’t just emphasize giving back to the community, but provides him with the resources he needs to achieve it. These outreach projects are part of the dancers’ new 52-week contract (up from about 36), which includes a paid, one-month sabbatical in August, given so that the dancers can study elsewhere or take on other creative projects. “It means I can focus on helping my community as well as my art,” says Campbell. “I don’t have to run to bartend or babysit. I know that a paycheck is coming every two weeks. I don’t have to worry about that—I can commit my time, energy and focus to where it really matters.”
Though Gibney is realistic about the tough economic challenges dance companies face, she hopes that other groups will someday be able to take on this model. “Dancers have such an incredible ability to bring people together. To give people a better understanding of their world,” she says. “If there could be more platforms for artists to realize their ideas, that’s my humble goal.”
One of the biggest myths about ballet dancers is that they don't eat. While we all know that, yes, there are those who do struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, most healthy dancers love food—and eat plenty of it to fuel their busy schedules.
Luckily for us, they're not afraid to show it:
Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!
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.
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.' "
What does a superstar like Carlos Acosta do after bidding farewell to his career in classical ballet? In Acosta's case, he returns to his native country, Cuba, to funnel his fame, connections and prodigious energies back into the dance scene that formed him. Because of its top-notch, state-supported training programs and popular embrace of the art of dance, Cuba is brimming with talented dancers. What it has been short on, until recently, are opportunities outside of the mainstream companies, as well as access to a more international repertoire. That is changing now, and, with the creation of Acosta Danza, launched in 2016, Acosta is determined to open the doors even wider to new ideas and audiences.
There's so much more to the dance world than making and performing dances. Arts administrators do everything from raising money to managing companies to building new audiences. With the growing number of arts administration programs in colleges, dancers have an opportunity to position themselves for a multifaceted career on- or offstage—and to bring their unique perspective as artists to administrative work.
While Solange was busy helping big sis Beyoncé give Coachella its best performances of all time, an equally compelling project was quietly circulating on 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?
In the world of ballet, Arcadian Broad is a one-stop shop: He'll come up with a story, compose its music, choreograph the movement and dance it himself. But then Broad has always been a master of versatility. As a teenager he juggled school, dance and—after the departure of his father—financial responsibility. It was Broad's income from dancing that kept his family afloat. Fast-forward six years and things are far more stable. Broad now lives on his own in an apartment, but you can usually find him in the studio.
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.