Misty Copeland Gives Jimmy Kimmel a Ballet Lesson

October 19, 2015

Last night, ballet died.

Well, at least that’s what Misty Copeland jokingly said after she tried teaching Jimmy Kimmel how to dance. The segment was part of Kimmel’s return to New York (he’s a native Brooklynite), and all week, he’ll be broadcasting his show from the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Monday night’s episode included a video short in which Copeland gave Kimmel and his pal Guillermo a private ballet lesson before they joined her and 15 other American Ballet Theatre dancers onstage for their debut performance. Together, they all danced a one-minute ballet, choreographed by Ethan Stiefel, in front of a studio audience at BAM. ABT’s dancers brought poise and polish, while Jimmy and Guillermo at least gave it a good try.

Though seeing the two don tutus and tights—and even cram their feet into pointe shoes—made for a good laugh, I was more interested in how the short piece came together for TV. Last week, I sat in on a rehearsal at ABT as Stiefel prepped the dancers (sans Kimmel and Guillermo) for their small-screen appearance. “I think the only way to make this funny,” he told them, “is for you to dance as beautiful as you are, and them to dance as…” A corps dancer chimed in to finish his sentence: “and for them to dance as beautiful as they can.”

The atmosphere in the studio was playful, yet efficient. With only two rehearsals to learn the choreography before tech runs at BAM, organization was paramount. Stiefel had each moment broken down by counts, and he kept his hand-drawn diagrams of formations close. Since the audience applause between segments would possibly make it hard for the dancers to hear their musical cue to start, he mentioned that they may need to count together. Throughout the hour, they clarified port de bras details and traffic patterns since five trios would be crisscrossing each other. Then someone asked if Stiefel wanted a battement or a développé before they slid into a split. “What is this? The ballet police?” he asked. Needless to say, everyone laughed.

Before rehearsal let out, they taped one full run that would be sent to “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” to clue them in on camera angles—and exactly what Jimmy and Guillermo would be tasked with. Obviously, it takes a lot of minutes to make a minute of choreography.

The same sentiment applies to the making of a danseur, except “minutes” becomes “years.” Sorry, Jimmy and Guillermo, I don’t think you’ve mastered the art just yet.


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