How to Stay Sane When You're Both a Dancer and Choreographer
Many people see dance and choreography as separate pursuits, or view choreography as a dance career's second act. For some dancers, however, performing and choreographing inform one another. "That's just the kind of choreographer I am. I feel things so deeply in my physicality. I have to do it to know it," says Jodi Melnick, who is a prolific performer of her own work. She also maintains an active practice as a performer for other choreographers: Throughout her career, she's worked with Trisha Brown, Twyla Tharp, Tere O'Connor and Donna Uchizono, to name a few.
Though a dual career can be fulfilling, simultaneously inhabiting the roles of dancer and choreographer requires focus, organization and a great deal of energy.
You don't want to be in rehearsal for another choreographer but have your mind stuck on a project of your own, or vice versa. Practice turning your attention to the task before you and blocking out everything else. "I can think of times when I had something major happening in my own career and I was also touring with other choreographers," says Melnick. "It's actually one of the few times in my life where I can be very present. If I'm on tour with you, I'm for you, even if I'm going to come home and have a show of my own next week."
Creating some mental separation between projects will also help protect your intellectual property. When working as a dancemaker, your ideas are your business. Many choreographers ask their dancers to generate movement or create characters. There is no reason why you cannot participate in that kind of process, but be mindful of what concepts you might want to save for yourself.
Raja Feather Kelly, PC Epfalck | Effyography
"I have only worked with choreographers who I respect and haven't had any intellectual property issues," says Raja Feather Kelly, who creates and performs with his company, The Feath3r Theory, and performs in work by Reggie Wilson, Keely Garfield and Kota Yamazaki. "That said, I think about it. And I am careful. Sometimes my ideas should stay my ideas."
Take a Load Off
A dance career is always physically taxing, but the demands can be doubled when you are using your own body as a source of movement generation and communication. Kelly suggests giving yourself one day off per week. Even if you are working on a project where you are not dancing, try not to forget about your own body.
"You have to be disciplined not to lose the health factor that allows you to deliver as a performer," says Chloe Arnold, who choreographs and performs with her tap company, Syncopated Ladies, and choreographs for film and television. "Going to the gym, taking dance classes and eating well are important."
Know Your Rehearsal Style
Taking a step back is sometimes necessary not just to conserve your energy but to give other dancers what they need from you as a choreographer. "When I'm making work with other people I often take the focus off my own dancing," says Melnick. "I step out when needed, knowing that I already have my dancing covered or that I'll go back to it later." She makes sure to set aside time to rehearse alone.
Other dancer/choreographers bring in a trusted outside eye to make sure their dancing isn't overlooked. "Sometimes I have someone stand in for me," says Kelly, "but we're a wild dance-theater company. I like that my performers might not know what I am going to do." Keep your working style in mind when selecting dancers. The more adaptable they are, the easier it will be for you to jump in or out when necessary.
It's a cycle familiar to many: First, a striking image of a lithe, impossibly fit dancer executing a gravity-defying développé catches your eye on Instagram. You pause your scrolling to marvel, over and over again, at her textbook physique.
Inevitably, you take a moment to consider your own body, in comparison. Doubt and negative self-talk first creep, and then flood, in. "I'll never look like that," the voice inside your head whispers. You continue scrolling, but the image has done its dirty work—a gnawing sensation has taken hold, continually reminding you that your own body is inferior, less-than, unworthy.
It's no stretch to say that social media has a huge effect on body image. For dancers—most of whom already have a laser-focus on their appearance—the images they see on Instagram can seem to exacerbate ever-present issues. "Social media is just another trigger," says Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with the dancers of Atlanta Ballet. "And dancers don't need another trigger." In the age of Photoshop and filters, how can dancers keep body dysmorphia at bay?
If "Fosse/Verdon" whet your appetite for the impeccable Gwen Verdon, then Merely Marvelous: The Dancing Genius of Gwen Verdon is the three-course meal you've been craving. The new documentary—available now on Amazon for rental or purchase—dives into the life of the Tony-winning performer and silver-screen star lauded for her charismatic dancing.
Though she's perhaps most well-known today as Bob Fosse's wife and muse, that's not even half of her story. For starters, she'd already won four Tonys before they wed, making her far more famous in the public eye than he was at that point in his career. That's just one of many surprising details we learned during last night's U.S. premiere of Merely Marvelous. Believe us: You're gonna love her even more once you get to know her. Here are eight lesser-known tidbits to get you started.
Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?
When it comes to dance in the U.S., companies in the South often find themselves overlooked—sometimes even by the presenters in their own backyard. That's where South Arts comes in. This year, the regional nonprofit launched Momentum, an initiative that will provide professional development, mentorship, touring grants and residencies to five Southern dance companies.