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Moving Day Chez Merce
Seventy of us gathered that evening of Friday, March 30, 2012 to take the last class at the Merce Cunningham Studio, closing after 41 years at its Westbeth location. Among us were current and past students, teachers, and company members. Douglas Dunn (click here for his memories of Merce), Michael Cole, Patricia Lent, Daniel Squire, Alan Good, Banu Ogan, Carol Teitelbaum, Robert Swinston, and Ellen Cornfield were all there. About 25 others watched, from Neil Greenberg and Kimberly Bartosik to beloved Cunningham archivist and writer David Vaughan. Douglas Dunn gleefully announced, "Oh my spot is still available," going to the place where he always stood for class. Ghosts of many others who had shared our spots over the years were there too. The most veteran of the current faculty, June Finch, was to teach, and longtime accompanists Pat Richter and Taylor McLean were to play. I remembered Pat had played for the first class I ever took at the Cunningham Studio way back in 1968 when it was at 498 Third Avenue.
Thunderous applause greeted June when she entered to teach. Despite the mixed emotions I think we all felt, the mood was celebratory, not mournful. How wonderful it had been to dance in that room: the high ceilings, the endless space to run-run-leap, and the light from those 12 arched windows, particularly glorious at dusk that night. We were going to soak up that joy one more time in a technique we loved, born from a philosophy that embraced dancing as meaningful enough in itself. To dance there again as committed and fully as we could was a tribute we wanted to pay to Merce.
Last day of class at Westbeth. Photo by Kenneth E. Parris III, Courtesy Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation.
June masterfully took us through the exercises we all knew, bridling our high energy and varying the form enough to give us the kind of mental and physical challenges Cunningham classes always did. At one of many high-spirited moments, Daniel Squire held Kimberly Bartosik’s young daughter in his arms as he did the leaping combination, much to her delight, giving her an experience of dancing in that room that her grown up body would never have.
It all was magical and it went so fast. When we curved over in second position, as we always ended class, and rolled up to arch our torsos and gaze heavenward, my eyes filled with tears. Hard to believe I would never dance a step in that room again. It had been my dance home for over 40 years.
With June’s final words of thank you to the musicians, it was over. We broke into tremendous applause and whooping. No one wanted it to end. Then came lots of hugs followed by a party with snacks and drinks and colored lights flashing over the dance floor. Most people chatted and reminisced, a few younger ones danced about to the music mix. It got harder as the evening wore on and the time came closer when we would have to leave.
Robert Swinston teaching the morning class. Photo by Emil Bognar-Nasdor, Courtesy Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation.
The crowd gradually thinned. When I decided it was time for me to go, I kept studying every little inch, planting it in my memory: last time stepping off that dance floor, last time sitting in one of those pews or on the stage steps, last time looking over to where Merce always sat at his desk surrounded by the plants that were still there, last time looking out at the West Village from those windows, last time looking in those mirrors which had watched me age.
It was so hard to go. It seemed wrong that we had to leave this place where we loved to dance. Then came the last time pressing the elevator button, getting in, seeing "11" in red. When the doors closed I thought about what Robert Swinston had said that day before he taught the last morning class. He said the Cunningham Studio was not about a building; it was about the countless students who had come there to study and commit themselves to the work. And that, he promised, would continue, just elsewhere.
Pat Catterson, a NYC-based dance artist, is a 2011 Guggenheim Choreography Award recipient and dancer and rehearsal assistant for Yvonne Rainer.
Editor's note: Click here for Siobhan Burke's article on where Cunningham technique is being taught now.
The revival of everything '90s has been in full-swing for a while now—we saw Destiny's Child reunite at Coachella, Britney Spears is headed back on tour, and the Spice Girls miiight be performing at the Royal wedding next month. But Hollywood saved the best '90s moment for last, bringing *NSYNC back together to receive their official star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 30.
Because we love a good dance #TBT, we're reliving five of the boys' best dance moments.
"I Want You Back"
The band's first single from their self-titled debut album in 1998, "I Want You Back," was the start of their takeover (and their choreographed dance moves).
Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
Gina Gibney runs two enormous dance spaces in New York City: Together they contain 23 studios, five performance spaces, a gallery, a conference room, a media lab and more. Gibney is now probably the largest dance center in the country. It's not surprising that Dance Magazine named Gina Gibney one of the most influential people in dance today.
One of the biggest myths about ballet dancers is that they don't eat. While we all know that, yes, there are those who do struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, most healthy dancers love food—and eat plenty of it to fuel their busy schedules.
Luckily for us, they're not afraid to show it:
What does a superstar like Carlos Acosta do after bidding farewell to his career in classical ballet? In Acosta's case, he returns to his native country, Cuba, to funnel his fame, connections and prodigious energies back into the dance scene that formed him. Because of its top-notch, state-supported training programs and popular embrace of the art of dance, Cuba is brimming with talented dancers. What it has been short on, until recently, are opportunities outside of the mainstream companies, as well as access to a more international repertoire. That is changing now, and, with the creation of Acosta Danza, launched in 2016, Acosta is determined to open the doors even wider to new ideas and audiences.
There's so much more to the dance world than making and performing dances. Arts administrators do everything from raising money to managing companies to building new audiences. With the growing number of arts administration programs in colleges, dancers have an opportunity to position themselves for a multifaceted career on- or offstage—and to bring their unique perspective as artists to administrative work.
While Solange was busy helping big sis Beyoncé give Coachella its best performances of all time, an equally compelling project was quietly circulating on Instagram:
New York City Ballet continues its first year without Peter Martins at the helm as our spring season opens tonight.
When he retired at the start of the new year, we plunged headfirst into unknown, murky waters. Who would the new director be? When would we know? Would we dancers get some say in the decision? Who would oversee the Balanchine ballets? Who would be in charge of casting? Would a new director bring along huge upheaval? Could some of us be out of a job?