What You Can Do After Each Performance to Become a Better Dancer
When Patricia Delgado was a young dancer in Miami City Ballet, she always felt the need to keep practicing immediately after a performance. "It was a bit of a neurosis," she says. "I felt like I should use the warm, energized feeling to work on things for the future."
Then a series of injuries and surgeries forced her to rethink her post-performance practice. Instead of continuing to push herself, she started to take some quiet time to de-stress and be grateful for what she had been able to do. She was truly surprised by the results. "I started to wake up with my head filled with ideas of how to make that new day productive," she says. "It's like I was getting out of my own way by doing some meditation after the show."
Mental coach Clay Frost, who works with a lot of high-achieving athletes and performers, says he often sees people overtrain. "Then they are pooped and their mind is behind the eight ball, just like their body," he says.
Karolina Kuras, Courtesy Delgado
Taking time to reflect gives you a chance to recognize the full value of the work you just did and take control of how you want to proceed with future performances. When there are 35 Nutcrackers to dance, it's tempting to start counting them down rather than using each show as an opportunity to evolve. Learning how to calmly evaluate your work will ensure you don't turn into an automaton, but actually learn and improve with every role.
Delgado believes that her real growth as a dancer came once she learned how to debrief productively. "Just give yourself an hour to wind down from the adrenaline before you start trying to figure out what happened and how to get better," she says.
Step 1: Start With What Worked
To maximize your analysis, start with the positive. Joffrey Ballet dancer Xavier Núñez makes sure he thinks about all the things that went well before letting himself ruminate on the one or two things that didn't. "I try to have my moment where I just enjoy what I did," says Núñez.
People are naturally inclined to reflect on the negative. We can blame this inclination in part on human evolution—those ancestors who saw threats had a better chance of survival. However, disproportionate negativity is not productive either.
Frost advises performers to start their debriefing with a feeling of gratitude. "It makes them give themselves credit," he says. "And that builds ownership of their progress."
When people feel positive, they have more momentum and energy to improve. Frost asks performers to reflect on all the good things they did leading up to the show: how well they prepared themselves physically, how well they managed their diet and rest pre-show, what went well in the performance, where they improved, and what can they learn from this performance.
John Revisky, courtesy Joffrey Ballet
Step 2: Put It on Paper
After getting in a positive frame of mind, Frost suggests writing things down. This helps get those niggling thoughts and anxieties out of the head.
"Once it is out of your head and onto the page, you can move on," he says. Frost suggests using three columns: the things that worked in one column, the things that didn't in another, and the things you want to try down the center.
Writing things down this way is particularly beneficial for dancers who become fixated on what went wrong. "Focusing on the problem isn't always going to solve it," he says. "So, ask yourself 'Is this a productive thought?' " Simply by posing that question, you can begin to train your focus.
Step 3: Take Any Criticism Calmly
Whether it is welcome or not, getting others' opinions is essential. Your own subjective thoughts about your performance do not always give the full picture. You'll often know when something went awry, but not why, nor how to fix it.
Still, receiving feedback calmly and openly requires a prepared mind. "It's so easy to get defensive," says tap dancer/choreographer Caleb Teicher. "I try to receive everything very plainly at first. I say thank you. Perhaps I felt that way too, or I'm not so sure."
Frost says performers can deal with their emotions by developing skills like deep breathing. "One thing deep breathing does is occupy space in the brain, and so it allows you to reset," says Frost. He encourages performers to see emotions as choices. "I always fall on the side of giving people responsibility and accountability, because that puts them in the driver's seat."
Feedback can be overwhelming when there are rehearsal staff, colleagues, friends, audiences and critics to contend with. Decide on a few people to really listen to. "I trust my fellow dancers," says Joffrey Ballet dancer Derrick Agnoletti. "I always ask them: 'Did you see anything?' I ask the younger ones more because when you are fresh out of school, you are a little bit more nitpicky."
Caleb Teicher (center, with his company)
Em Watson, courtesy Teicher
Step 4: Watch the Replay
Núñez fills out the picture further by watching performance videos. "We are visual learners and being able to see ourselves dance is really important," he says. It took him some time to get comfortable using video as a tool. "Once I got over that barrier, I really grew as a dancer."
He finds video helps you understand what sort of dancer you are. "I really try not to focus on all the things I don't like. You have to look at yourself and understand how you can make those things better," he says.
Teicher mostly dances in his own choreography, so video is doubly important. "I tend to step back and think less about my personal performance and more about how the whole piece is received, with my performance just being a part of it," he says. The team discusses which sections seem to communicate something meaningful, which moments seem inconsistent with the world of the piece, and which ideas seem underdeveloped. They look for patterns in the work that went unnoticed while making it and then the pivotal moments when those patterns are broken.
Being able to understand your role in the bigger picture can be very helpful. "As a dancer you are a small part," says Delgado. "I try to trust that the whole thing isn't riding on me. I'm part of a bigger experience, and that's a beautiful thing about art."
A little over a year ago, I wrote an op-ed for Dance Magazine about the grueling, oppressive grant cycle. It was crying into my pillow, really. I was complaining and desperate to share my story. I was fed up with 10 years of applying for grants and having never received one for the research or development of my work. I was tired of the copy-and-paste rejection letters, the lack of feedback, and what seems to be a biased, inconsistent system.
I couldn't stand that I was made to feel as if I had to ask for permission to be an artist.
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.
The connections dancers make in college are no joke. For recent alum Gabrielle Hamilton, working with guest choreographer John Heginbotham at Point Park University put her on the fast track to Broadway—not in an ensemble role, but as the lead dancer in one of this season's hottest tickets: Daniel Fish's arresting reboot of Oklahoma!
We caught up with Hamilton about starring in the show's dream ballet and her delightfully bizarre pre-show ritual.
Last Friday, through an appeal to an independent arbitrator, the American Guild of Musical Artists successfully reinstated NYCB principals Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro, previously fired for allegedly circulating sexually explicit texts containing nude photos.
AGMA opposed Ramasar and Catazaro's terminations in order to prevent the setting of a dangerous precedent that would allow dancers to be fired under less understandable consequences. But we cannot allow future cases to dictate the way we handle this situation—particularly a union committed to "doing everything in [its] power to ensure you have a respectful environment in which to work."
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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But according to the H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory, one in every three dancers in New York City lives under the poverty line, and may lack the resources to purchase the ingredients they need to make nutritious meals.
Not to mention the fact that dancers are busy, and often running around from class to rehearsal to performance to side hustle, grabbing whatever they can get to eat on-the-go.
I have a commitment, a romance, a love affair with dance, with the feeling that happens when the music and the steps so perfectly align and I can't help but get chills. That feeling when my partner and I are dancing as one, when everyone onstage feels the same heartbeat, when it's just me alone in my bedroom.
You can see them in "Fosse/Verdon" episode one. Michelle Williams, playing Gwen Verdon, wears them with a cool, retro, forest-green jumpsuit. Tucked beneath a mop top of tousled Gwen Verdon locks, Williams sports a pair of discreet and tasteful onyx drop-earrings—the dancer's favorites. Verdon wore them all her adult life, according to her daughter Nicole Fosse, a co-executive producer of the FX series that puts a spotlight on a great woman of American dance.
"I have very little memory of my mother wearing other earrings. They were her Gwen Verdon earrings," says Fosse, speaking by phone from her home in Vermont. "She's wearing them in 99 percent of the pictures of her performing."
Four years of lectures, exams and classes can feel like a lifetime for college dancers who have their sights set on performing. So when a professional opportunity comes knocking, it can be tempting to step away from your academics. But there are a few things to consider before putting your education on hold.
We've all been there: You see the craziest/most beautiful/oddest/wildest clip of a dance on Facebook and you simply have to see more.
But do you actually get yourself to the theater and sit through a 90-minute performance? The consensus, at this point, typically seems to be: No.
There is no clear correlation between a company's social media campaigns and how many seats they fill in the theater. That doesn't mean social media isn't, of course, vital. It simply means that "social media campaigns operating without other marketing campaigns don't cut it," says Rob Bailis, associate director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. "But campaigns without social media are far worse off."
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.
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."
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.
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
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.
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."