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How to Find a Competition Coach–And What to Do When You Get One
When you're preparing for a competition, it's critical to find a coach who can refine your technique and bring out your artistry. Their expertise, along with your trust, professionalism and commitment, will be key to getting the most out of your solo rehearsals—and will make or break your performance. But how do you choose a coach who's right for you?
What a Coach Does
Coaching is one part science and one part inspiration, says Ilka Doubek, artistic director of Litchfield Dance Arts Academy in South Carolina. "A coach should be able to create exercises that help you build up to the skills you'll need and get you to express yourself through the movement," she says.
Bo Spassoff, PC Catherine Park
But there's no one-size-fits-all approach to coaching, says Bo Spassoff, co-director of The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia. "For some students it may be important to have someone tough, but for a student who is very self-deprecating, the coach's ability to give positive reinforcement may be the biggest priority." Either way, a coach should analyze exactly what you need to do to reach your goals and match your level of commitment.
How to Find the One
As important as it is to find a coach who can bring out your best, the final pairing may not be up to you—your parent or teacher may end up making the call. Studio-hoppers or dancers from a large academy may get the value of multiple perspectives: At The Rock School, Bo and Stephanie Spassoff have a unique approach in which dancers are coached by multiple faculty members. "Once the variation has been taught by one of us, we start rotating within the coaching staff so there are a lot of eyes on them," says Stephanie. Dancers benefit from each coach's specialty, whether it be turning, jumping, musicality or character—almost like a board of advisors.
Stephanie Spassoff with students
The Spassoffs admit their approach is atypical. They recommend trying the more traditional route of looking at top schools in your area to see if someone on faculty has extra time to spend with you, or developing a relationship with someone from your own studio.
If you need to lock down a coach outside of a studio environment, think of it as finding a mentor, says Doubek. Go to summer intensives and master classes, and look for teachers whom you relate to.
Don't Get Comfortable
You might think you know what teaching style works best for you and picture learning a variation in that kind of environment. But succeeding at competitions isn't just about being proficient at the steps—a large part of a coach's role is to push the dancer to understand the arc of her character and the feeling of her variation. "We work together to carry a story through the steps," says Claudio Muñoz, who serves as ballet master for Houston Ballet II and has coached students for the Prix de Lausanne and Beijing International Ballet and Choreography Competition.
Claudio Muñoz, PC Jaime Lagdameo
To challenge yourself, find a coach who can take you outside your comfort zone. "The truth is that the meanest teacher might be the one to connect and relate best with you about the artistry of the variation," says Doubek.
When you're considering working with someone new, Muñoz says that a rapport may take some time to establish, but you have to see the potential to trust each other, because the process won't always be easy. "You may have to lose something to gain something, to unlearn the wrong way of turning to be able to get it right, for example," he says. "If the dancer doesn't trust in me, it's very difficult to get through that."
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.