Inside IABD's New Ballet Audition for Men of Color
Last month, the International Association of Blacks in Dance's third annual ballet audition for women of color was expanded to include a separate audition for men.
The brainchild of Joan Myers Brown (founder of both Philadanco and IABD), the women's audition was created to specifically address the lack of black females in ballet. However, the success and attention that audition drew made the men feel left out, so IABD decided to give the men equal time this year.
Both auditions happen within IABD's larger conference, hosted this year by Lula Washington Dance Theatre. The week-long event of panel discussions, master classes, auditions and performances feels part–family reunion, part-retreat.
The electrically-charged atmosphere can feel foreign to some white ballet representatives, but it's an invaluable social education. Experiencing the way in which African Americans gather, interact and educate can explain why walking into a ballet school can feel cold and unwelcoming.
Here, white administrators can experience what it feels like to be one of a few, to stick out, to not know if you are authentically welcome or just being tolerated. I had conversations with some who were uncertain if their voices would be welcomed. Welcome to the African American experience.
This year's ballet auditions drew some of the original supporting organizations (San Francisco Ballet, Ballet Memphis, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Joffrey, Kansas City Ballet and Nashville Ballet) plus some newcomers (Atlanta Ballet, Oakland Ballet, New York City Ballet), although some chose to attend only the women's audition. The number wanting to attend at the last minute—and the distinct increase in the level of talent this year—prove the word is spreading.
The male auditioners pose with IABD president Denise Saunders Thompson
Providing talented dancers with training and professional opportunities is the stated mission of the auditions. But another type of work happens behind closed doors, in a meeting with the representatives led by IABD president Denise Saunders Thompson and myself.
In it, Jonathan Stafford, head of the interim artistic team at NYCB admitted, "This is not something we have always been good at." He came to the conference along with Elise Drew, SAB's new manager of diversity and inclusion. "I have heard painful stories from the past," Stafford said, "which we must take responsibility for and learn from. Like many ballet companies around the country, we are now involved in a process of change that we hope will make the culture of our institution more diverse, inclusive and equitable. NYCB is now working to ensure that as more dancers from diverse backgrounds begin to enter the company, they are made to feel welcome and supported in all aspects of their careers. There is much work to do."
SFB assistant administrative director Christina Gray Rutter shared the success story of Raquel Smith who received a scholarship to SFB's school at IABD's first ballet audition in 2015: Now in level 8, she has performed with the company in The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and been asked to learn Serenade. Smith returned to the IABD audition this year.
Raquel Smith's journey to San Francisco Ballet began at IABD's 2015 audition. In December, she performed with the company in Nutcracker.
SFBS faculty member Rubén Martín Cintas also shared his experience teaching master classes arranged by IABD for students of color. The first of these was held in Chicago last October; others have taken place in Washington, DC and San Francisco as a way to engage with African American communities and build a trusted network. Local instructors and students can sit in on the class and ask questions.
"I wanted to create an environment that allowed for an exchange and dialogue by everyone, 'a first date' if you will, and it was quite successful," Thompson said about the master classes. "I am open to having discussions with other organizations about this opportunity, however I'll really be looking at the entire organization and its authenticity regarding real inclusion, access and opportunity for black and brown dancers."
Next year, there are plans to expand the audition, creating a comprehensive ballet component to the IABD conference (which has traditionally focused on modern dance).
The results of this years auditions were promising: Of the 27 male dancers who attended, 18 received offers ranging from tuition scholarships for summer intensives to AGMA contracts. Of the 49 women at the female audition, 31 received offers to either attend a summer intensive, take a company class to see about an apprenticeship or join a second company.
Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.
Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.