In Training: Learning to Fly
University of Wyoming students performing at Vedauwoo rec area. Photo by J. Harper, Courtesy University of Wyoming.
Lately, aerial dance has become a major genre—take a look at productions of Cirque du Soleil or on Broadway, and you’ll see dancers high overhead, engulfed in swaths of fabric or bounding gracefully off the walls. And dedicated aerial dance companies are popping up all over the country. As techniques evolve, more universities are incorporating it into their dance programs. “Aerial demands breadth of training in a variety of apparatuses,” says Nada Diachenko, dance professor at University of Colorado, Boulder. “It takes a lot of body conditioning, and safety issues are huge.” Here are three programs with extensive aerial dance offerings. —Amy Brandt
UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
Location: Durham, NH
Dance audition required: Yes
Prior aerial experience required: No
Degrees offered: BA in theater with an option in dance; dance minor
Program description: Ballet, pointe, tap, jazz and aerial arts make up the core curriculum, as well as courses in pedagogy, composition, dance history and choreography. Aerial classes are in two-hour time blocks in which students rotate between four stations: Trapeze and silks are offered every class; lyra, single-point trapeze, net, triple trap, Spanish web and other apparatuses are interspersed throughout the semester. Safety, rigging techniques and injury prevention are also addressed each class. Advanced students assist beginning and intermediate classes; once a week, advanced aerial students meet for an extra lab.
Facility: One studio with 20-foot steel-beam ceilings that allow for rigging
Performance opportunities: Spring dance concert provides opportunities for aerial performance, Aerial Showcase at the end of each semester, outdoor performances
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO, BOULDER
Location: Boulder, CO
Dance audition required: Yes, for both CU-Boulder’s graduate dance program and the Frequent Flyers program. Base strength requirements and health insurance also required for aerial training.
Prior aerial experience required: One year of focused training in an aerial apparatus; teacher-training candidates should be at an advanced level in an aerial apparatus, with prior teaching experience in either dance or aerial dance.
Degree offered: MFA in dance; secondary concentration in aerial dance with two track options (performance or teaching) through a partnership with Frequent Flyers, a professional aerial company and school.
Program description: Aerial track students complete 10 credit hours through FF towards total MFA requirements of 60 hours. All students take aerial fitness, aerial dance technique, ground-based movement, improvisation/choreography, open gym, stretching and workshops. Candidates work with fabric, trapeze, hoop, invented apparatus and stilts. Performance track includes student company and private lessons. Teaching-track candidates graduate with an MFA and FF teaching certification. CU graduate dance coursework includes technique, choreography, pedagogy, graduate seminar, final project, among others.
Facility: Aerial classes take place at Frequent Flyers’ studio, plus one on campus.
Performance opportunities: Student and/or faculty concerts, Aerial Dance Festival, informal showings
UNIVERSITY OF WYOMING
Location: Laramie, WY
Dance audition required: No audition required for the BA, which all freshmen declare. Students audition for the BFA program at the end of their freshman or sophomore year.
Prior aerial experience required: No
Degrees offered: BA in dance, BFA in dance performance, BFA in dance science, dance minor
Program description: Vertical dance courses (which involve rope and harness) are offered as electives to the overall dance curriculum, which includes ballet, modern and jazz. Vertical I is open to all dance majors and introduces safety measures, basic equipment and vertical dance vocabulary. Dancers work individually and in pairs, developing sequences and transitions for a final performance. Vertical II expands upon rigging techniques and focuses on individual choreography. Both courses begin each class with conditioning specific to vertical dance.
Facility: Classes are held in a black-box theater with an easily accessible grid, as well as in larger theaters. Rehearsals are held outdoors in late summer in preparation for performances at a local recreational area.
Performance opportunities: Two main-stage productions a year, collaborative faculty concerts, biannual performance at Vedauwoo outdoor recreation area, American College Dance Festival Association Northwest Conference
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.
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.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
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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Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.
Launching a dancewear line seems like a great way for professional dancers to flex new artistic muscles and make side money. Several direct-to-consumer brands founded by current or former professional dancers, like Elevé and Luckleo, currently compete with bigger retailers, like Capezio.
But turning your brand into the next Yumiko is more challenging than some budding designers may realize.
When I first came to dance criticism in the 1970s, the professional critics were predominantly much older than me. I didn't know them personally and, as the wide-eyed new kid on the block, I assumed most had little or no physical training in the art.
As slightly intimidated as I felt at the time—you try sitting around a conference room table with Dance Magazine heavy hitters like Tobi Tobias and David Vaughan—I smugly gave myself props for at least having had recent brushes with ballet, Graham, Duncan and Ailey and more substantial engagement with jazz and belly dance. Watching dancers onstage, I enjoyed memories of steps and moves I knew in my own bones. If the music was right, my shoulders would wriggle. I wasn't just coolly judging things from my neck up.