What The World Needs Now Is Dance
"I'm sorry, but I just can't possibly give you the amount of money you're asking for."
My heart sinks at my director's final response to my salary proposal. She insists it's not me or my work, there is just no money in the budget. My disappointment grows when handed the calendar for Grand Rapids Ballet's next season with five fewer weeks of work.
The author performing One by Uri Sands. Photo by Ryan Jackson, courtesy Flachs
Why is there not financial support to offer a contract longer than 60 percent of the year? Why do the curtains open on our Sunday matinee to reveal a checkerboard of empty seats? What are we doing here if there is no demand for the service we provide as dancers?
Our scattered, exhausted, overstimulated minds need the purity of live movement, the focus of a show. When someone walks into the theater they silence their phone. They hone in their senses on the box of light in front of them. The rest of the world falls away for a short time and they're transported into new ideas; beauty, entertainment, pain, sadness.
When I tuck myself into the safety of a wing and watch my fellow dancers, I can forgo the demands of life and lose myself in their steps. These quiet moments in the darkness of backstage are an exercise in mindfulness. They allow me to surrender to the beauty of the world unfolding under the lights. I have no responsibilities in that moment other than to sit and watch. As a variation finishes and applause permeates the silence, I'll return to reality, sometimes with new inspiration for my upcoming entrance or with added clarity about a problem I've been mulling over for some time.
Dance offers a new perspective to view the world. So much of our thinking is done with words. Social justice movements organize around reclaiming language, redefining words, creating vocabulary. We read, write, text, call and speak every day. But not everyone's brain works best with linguistics, and even those who excel at language have trouble communicating in different cultures or expressing something that linguistics can't do justice.
Dance can bridge this gap. Steps conveyed on stage can embody and transmit feelings to the audience, producing an incredible intimacy that takes ages to build in daily relationships. The guardedness and baggage around language (proper grammar, politically correct speech, different vocabularies) fall away when we communicate with movement. Ideas are shared that may be difficult to articulate, but are deeply understood.
I recently performed Swing, a piece by Olivier Wevers about suicide and depression. These topics, as charged as they are, are difficult to discuss, but the tension of the choreography aptly communicated the struggles of depression. This beautiful piece didn't tell the audience what to think, but viscerally showed them how it can feel to be so deeply hurt and hopeless. It was an uncomfortable piece, both to watch and perform, but left viewers with a deep empathy.
Sometimes, the movement itself is therapeutic. As any professional dancer knows, life doesn't calm down just because it is a show week, and one year I went through a breakup right before a performance of Swan Lake. I could channel all my sadness into the portrayal of the poor, cursed swans, infusing their torment with a little of my own grief.
The moments dancers create onstage are fleeting: That is precisely what makes them treasures. The combination of factors that come together to create a show can never be recreated again—there are too many variables. Therefore, every single viewer leaves with a party favor. They get to hold on to their specific perspective of that evening's unique experience.
The world needs dance. In this age of technology and online interactions, we need a reminder of the importance of physical interaction and the range of communication that our bodies, in the flesh, can accomplish. We need the opportunity to silence the buzz and pings of constant notifications, and instead plug into real-time theater. We need the sense of purpose that investigating a theme, attending to beauty or watching a story can provide.
Dance needs the world. An audience that pays attention, relates what's on stage to life at large, and remembers to value movement and physicality over constant entrapment in the intellect.
Luckily, it's a mutually beneficial relationship.
Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.
Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.
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.
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
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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Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
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.