Nobody Has a Perfect Dance Body. How Can You Turn "Imperfections" Into Assets?
From the angles of your feet to the size of your head, it can sometimes seem like there is no part of a dancer's body that is not under scrutiny. It's easy to get obsessed when you are constantly in front of a mirror, trying to fit a mold.
Yet the traditional ideals seem to be exploding every day. "The days of carbon-copy dancers are over," says BalletX dancer Caili Quan. "Only when you're confident in your own body can you start truly working with what you have."
While the striving may never end, there can be unexpected benefits to what you may think of as your "imperfections."
Kuranaga re-enrolled in school to improve her turnout. Here in George Balanchine's Coppélia. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet.
Boston Ballet principal
The Challenge: After winning an apprenticeship to San Francisco Ballet at the Prix de Lausanne, Kuranaga realized she was still missing a vital part of her technique: turnout. "When I got to the States I hit the wall right away," says Kuranaga. "I wasn't cast and I was told I had to fix my foundation. I was already in my late teens and it felt like it was a little late."
How She Tackled It: After she wasn't rehired at SFB, Kuranaga enrolled at the School of American Ballet. Teachers like Suki Schorer and Susan Pilarre worked on rebuilding her technique, refining where and how she was using her rotation and building the strength to maintain it. "I needed a visual image to understand how to change, and Susie showed everything in pointe shoes every day in class," Kuranaga says.
A Continuous Effort: The push to improve herself never ends: Kuranaga still sets goals in daily class. "I never skip class. If you take it seriously, it is an insurance policy for keeping your turnout and technique."
An Unexpected Benefit: With an increased focus on the basics at SAB, not only did Kuranaga's turnout get better, but her pointe work improved, too.
Drauker (left, here in Esplanade) phrases her movement carefully to make it look juicier. Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy PTDC
Paul Taylor Dance Company member
The Challenge: Growing up, Draucker was self-conscious about her short calves. "Starting as a ballet dancer, most of the girls who were singled out as having 'attractive legs' always had a longer lower leg," she says. Though gifted with a supple Achilles tendon, Draucker felt limited in her plié; it never looked stable or felt juicy to her.
How She Works It: "If I approach every plié like it is going to be awful, then it will be awful," says Draucker. Instead, she works on phrasing the descent of her pliés, taking as much time as possible. "I use the music and try to make it look like I am always moving towards the bottom of my plié without tension."
Cross-Training: Draucker does tons of calf-stretching to keep her lower leg muscles loose.
A New Mind-Set: "At some point I realized that really exciting work wasn't about presenting your foot and leg for eight counts," says Draucker. "Paul's dances don't have time for that; you can't worry about all of those tiny things. He was creating new shapes on new people all the time, and while some things are hard for me, others are a better fit."
Unexpected Benefits: "My hinge point is closer to the floor because of my shorter lower leg," says Draucker. "Other people might have to think more about getting down to the floor, but for me, knee turns and other floor work come naturally."
Embracing her length has changed how Henry's height is perceived. Photo by Kopie Vivian Yang, courtesy Henry.
Richard Siegal/Ballet of Difference guest soloist
The Challenge: Six-foot-tall Henry stands almost 6' 6" on pointe. Although her first teacher encouraged her, complimenting her beautiful lines, Henry didn't believe it. "Subconsciously, in ballet, I was always trying to blend and fit in, and I wasn't able to recognize my length and my power," says Henry. "I was moving like someone half my size."
A Turning Point: Once Henry arrived at Alonzo King LINES Ballet, she realized her height was a gift. "Every-one was asked to be at their fullest capacity," she says. She pushed herself to begin taking up more space and filling out her movement.
A New Mind-Set: No longer self-conscious about her height, Henry has come to love partnering. "When there is a good match, it is so nice to let go," she says. "I have partnered with people half my size and I know now that it is not just about proportion, but also technique and momentum."
Bonus: Strangers used to comment on Henry's height all the time, but now they react differently. "People can see my height as an asset right away because I use it as an asset," says Henry. "I am less apologetic and more comfortable."
Quan wears pointe shoes in every class to strengthen her feet. Photo by Gabriel Bienczycki, courtesy BalletX
BalletX company member
The Challenge: Quan has long struggled with her feet. "They're where I always get corrections," she says. "Everywhere I went they were a problem." Quan grew up in Guam with spotty ballet training. Yet even after attending Ballet Academy East and later landing a contract at BalletX, her feet continued to be a challenge.
Confronting the issue: "In my mind, I thought I could fix my feet by just moving fast so no one would see them," says Quan. But she eventually found that pushing herself to work slowly was what actually built strength.
How She Maximizes Her Line: Knowing she couldn't change the structure of her feet, Quan decided to get to know every inch of them. She began wearing pointe shoes for every class—even when her rehearsal day does not call for them—focusing on how she can work her demi-pointe and transitions. And she is very particular about her pointe shoes. "I know everybody who works at the Freed store. I have tried everything," says Quan. "I wear F maker, cut so low on the sides that I have to put water and rosin on my heels."
A New Mind-Set: "Some ballet dancers don't have great feet, but the way they use them is magical," says Quan. "For me it is not about the end point, but showing off the in-betweens. How you get there can change the look of how you dance."
Cirio, center, practices transitions to make his movement look more lengthened. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy ABT.
English National Ballet lead principal
The Challenge: Cirio, 5' 9", always knew he would be on the smaller side. "But I was a huge fan of Fernando Bujones," he says. "He danced with amazing ballerinas and wasn't very tall either."
How He Became a Prince: Naturally a quick mover, Cirio could have easily spent his career dancing soloist roles or being pegged as the "contemporary guy." But he realized early on that there were both physical and mental components to dancing bigger and commanding the adagio solos he coveted. "Practicing transitions, paying attention to your tombé pas de bourrée as much as the turn and the preps into jumps can make you look elegant and lengthened," says Cirio. "Dancing big is a mental game, and you have to project confidence and know how to push your body."
The Importance of The Right Director: Cirio says he owes a lot to his first artistic director, Mikko Nissinen of Boston Ballet. "He never pigeonholed me. He gave me the chance to do prince roles and, in effect, dance up. In another company, I might not have been able to dance Balanchine's 'Diamonds.' "
Making It Work: In preparation for his first full-length featured role, in Nureyev's Don Quixote, a ballet master taught Cirio how to cross-train with body-weight exercises, cardio and band work (with a lot of reps). "You never know who your partner will be, and you have to be prepared to partner the person in front of you. You might have to relevé to be able to do that finger turn."
For choreographer Raja Feather Kelly, music is simple: "There's good music and there's bad music and I love good music and I love to hate bad music."
But, true to form, Kelly—whose past few months have included choreographing the Skittles Super Bowl musical and earning one of our first-ever Harkness Promise Awards—had some surprises up his sleeve when he made us a playlist he describes as "for moody Geminis who work over 12 hours a day and need a playlist that can shuffle and never disappoint."
Though the playlist has some whiplash-inducing twists and turns—from Coheed and Cambria to Carly Rae Jepsen to Missy Elliott to Schubert—there is a through-line: "Music that makes you feel like you're in your own movie. I love walking through the street feeling like I'm on a runway, living my best life."
Every dancer's nutrition goals are different. Maybe you're trying to go vegan, or maybe you want to cook your own dinner more often. No matter what your personal objectives are—or whether you work with a dietitian—there are all kinds of apps that can help you make smart decisions at the tap of a button.
The lack of female leaders in ballet is an old conversation. But a just-launched website, called the Dance Data Project, has brought something new to the discussion: actual numbers, not just anecdotal evidence.
Whether she's performing on stage, in music videos, or on television, French electro-pop sensation Chris (formerly known as Christine and the Queens) never seems to stop moving.
Building a full-length ballet from scratch is an intense process. For the world premiere of Anna Karenina, a collaboration between The Joffrey Ballet and The Australian Ballet, that meant original choreography by Yuri Possokhov, a brand-new score by Ilya Demutsky, costume and set designs by Tom Pye and lighting designs by David Finn.
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Growing up, I never saw a problem with my dancing and neither did my Muslim-Egyptian dad or my non-Muslim, American mom. They raised me to understand that the core principles of Islam, of any religion, are meant to help us be better people. When I married my Pakistani husband, who comes from a more conservative approach to Islam, I suddenly encountered perceptions of dance that made me question everything: Is it okay to expose a lot of skin? Is it wrong to dance with other men? Is dance inherently sexual? What guidelines come from our holy book, the Quran, and what are cultural views that have become entwined in Islam?
When Thomas Forster isn't in the gym doing his own workout, he's often coaching his colleagues.
Two years ago, the American Ballet Theatre soloist got a personal training certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Now he trains fellow ABT members and teaches the ABT Studio Company a strength and conditioning class alongside fellow ABT soloist Roman Zhurbin.
He shared five of his top tips for getting into top shape.
No matter how much anti–Valentine's Day sentiment I'm feeling in a given year, there's something about dancer couples that still makes me swoon. Here's a collection of wonderful posts from this year, but be warned: Continued scrolling is likely to give you a severe case of the warm fuzzies.
When Rennie Harris first heard that Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater had tapped him to create a new hour-long work, and to become the company's first artist in residence, he laughed.
"I'm a street dance choreographer. I do street dance on street dancers," he says. "I've never set an hour-long piece on any other company outside my own, and definitely not on a modern dance company."
When Chase Brock signed on to choreograph a new musical at a theater in New Jersey in 2015, he couldn't have predicted that four years later, he would be receiving fan art featuring his Chihuahua because of it. Nor could he have he imagined that the show—Be More Chill, based on the young adult novel by Ned Vizzini—would be heading to Broadway with one of the most enthusiastic teenage fan bases the Great White Way has ever seen.
It's no longer just Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and the few pointe-clad male character parts, like in Cinderella or Alexei Ratmansky's The Bright Stream. Some male dancers are starting to experiment with pointe shoes to strengthen their feet or expand their artistic possibilities. Michelle Dorrance even challenged the men in her cast at American Ballet Theatre to perform on pointe last season (although only Tyler Maloney ended up actually doing it onstage).
The one problem? Pointe shoes have traditionally only been designed for women. Until now.
Lately I've been having recurring dreams: I'm in an audition and I can't remember the combination. Or, I'm rehearsing for an upcoming show, onstage, and I don't know what comes next. Each time I wake up relieved that it was only a dream.
However, this is the reality of how I often felt throughout my dance career. Once I knew the steps, there was no undoing it. It was the process of getting there that haunts me to this day.
Since its founding in 1999, more than 80,000 ballet dancers have participated in Youth America Grand Prix events. While more than 450 alumni are currently dancing in companies across the world, the vast majority—tens of thousands—never turn that professional corner. And these are just the statistics from one competition.
"You may have the best teacher in the world and the best work ethic and be so committed, and still not make it," says YAGP founder Larissa Saveliev. "I have seen so many extremely talented dancers end up not having enough motivation and mental strength, not having the right body type, not getting into the right company at the right time or getting injured at the wrong moment. You need so many factors, and some of these are out of your hands."
Though Polunin has long had a reputation for behaving inappropriately, in the last month his posts have been somewhat unhinged. In one, Polunin, who is Ukrainian, shows off his new tattoo of Vladimir Putin:
Camille Sturdivant, a former member of the Blue Valley Northwest High School dance team is suing the school district, alleging that she was barred from performing in a dance because her skin was "too dark."
The suit states that during Sturdivant's senior year, the Dazzlers' choreographer, Kevin Murakami, would not allow her to perform in a contemporary dance because he said her skin would clash with the costumes, and that she would steal focus from the other dancers because of her skin color.
You wander through the grocery aisles, sizing up the newest trends on the shelves. Although you're eager to try a new energy bar, you question a strange ingredient and decide to leave it behind. Your afternoons are consumed with research as you sort through endless stories about "detox" miracles.
What started as an innocent attempt to eat healthier has turned into a time-consuming ritual with little room for error, and an underlying fear surrounding your food choices.
Aside from a solid warm-up, most dancers have something else they just have to do before performing. Whether it's putting on the right eyelashes before the left or giving a certain handshake before a second-act entrance, our backstage habits give us the comfort of familiar, consistent choices in an art form with so many variables.
Some call them superstitions, others call them rituals. Either way, these tiny moments become part of our work—and sometimes even end up being the most treasured part of performing.
Raise your hand if you've ever gotten sucked down an informational rabbit hole on the internet. (Come on, we know it's not just us.) Now, allow us to direct you to this new project from Google Arts & Culture. To celebrate Black History Month, they've put together a newly curated collection of images, videos and stories that spotlights black history and culture in America specifically through the lens of dance—and it's pretty much our new favorite way to pass the time online.
If you're anything like us, your Instagram feed is chock-full of gorgeous dance photos and videos. But you know what makes us fall in love with an artist even more? When they take a break from curating perfect posts and get real about their missteps. These performers' ability to move past mistakes, and even laugh them off, is one reason why they're so successful.
Every time you fall out of a pirouette, just remember: The stars—and literally every. single. dancer.—have been there, too. (Even Misty Copeland.)
Dancers today have an overwhelming array of options at their fingertips: New fitness tools, recovery trends, workouts and more that claim to improve performance, speed up recovery or enhance training.
But which of these actually meet the unique demands of dancers? In our new series, "We Tried It," we're going to find out, sampling new health and fitness trends to see if they're dancer-approved.
First up: Brrrn, the cold temperature fitness studio (the first and only of its kind, they claim) located in Manhattan.