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."
Since the project was first announced toward the end of 2017, we've been extremely curious about Yuli. The film, based on Carlos Acosta's memoir No Way Home, promised as much dancing as biography, with Acosta appearing as himself and dance sequences featuring his eponymous Cuba-based company Acosta Danza. Add in filmmaking power couple Icíar Bollaín (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter), and you have a recipe for a dance film unlike anything else we've seen recently.
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.
One of the country's top arbitrators has decided to reinstate Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro to New York City Ballet. The former principals were fired last fall for "inappropriate communications," namely graphic text messages.
The dancers' union, American Guild of Musical Artists, fought the termination, arguing that the firings were unjust since they related entirely to non-work activity. After a careful review of the facts, an independent arbitrator determined that while the company was justified in disciplining the two men, suspension was the appropriate action and termination took it too far.
A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."
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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When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.
What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?
As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.
When George Balanchine's full-length Don Quixote premiered in 1965, critics and audiences alike viewed the ballet as a failure. Elaborate scenery and costumes framed mawkish mime passages, like one in which the ballerina washed the Don's feet and dried them with her hair. Its revival in 2005 by Suzanne Farrell, the ballerina on whom it was made and to whom Balanchine left the work, did little to alter its reputation.
Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.
"I'd want to see Balanchine's Don Quixote," says Apollinaire Scherr, dance critic for the Financial Times. "It was a labor of love on his part, and a love letter as well. And you want to know what that looks like in his work."
Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)
The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:
"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."
Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.
After the horrific March 15 terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques, the music and arts community sprang into action to plan a way to help victims and their families. A series of resulting concerts, titled "You Are Us/Aroha Nui," will take place in New Zealand (April 13 and 17), Jersey City, New Jersey (April 17) and Los Angeles (April 18). Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Our People, Our City Fund, which was established by the Christchurch Foundation to aid those affected by the attacks.
Throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Trust continues a global celebration that will be one of the largest tributes to a dance artist ever. Under the umbrella of the Merce Cunningham Centennial are classes and workshops, film screenings and festivals, art exhibitions and symposia, and revivals and premieres of original works inspired by the dancemaker's ideas. The fever peaks on April 16, which would have been the pioneering choreographer's 100th birthday, with Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, featuring a total of 75 dancers in three performances live-streamed from London, Los Angeles and New York City.
Cloud & Victory gets dancers. The dancewear brand's social media drools over Roberto Bolle's abs, sets classical variations to Beyoncé and moans over Mondays and long adagios. And it all comes from the mind of founder Tan Li Min, the boss lady who takes on everything from designs to inventory to shipping orders.
Known simply (and affectionately) to the brand's 41K Instagram followers as Min, she's used her wry, winking sense of humor to give the Singapore-based C&V international cachet.
She recently spoke with Dance Magazine about building the brand, overcoming insecurity and using pizza as inspiration.
The Ballet Memphis New American Dance Residency, which welcomes selected choreographers for its inaugural iteration next week, goes a step beyond granting space, time and dancers for the development of new work.
At six feet tall, Jesse Obremski dances as though he's investigating each movement for the first time. His quiet transitional moments are as astounding as his long lines, bounding jumps and seamless floorwork. Add in his versatility and work ethic, and it's clear why he's an invaluable asset to New York City choreographers. Currently a freelance artist with multiple contemporary groups, including Gibney Dance Company and Limón Dance Company, Obremski also choreographs for his recently formed troupe, Obremski/Works.