Teach-Learn Connection

Flexibility is a required and admired trait for dancers. But lounging in a split isn’t necessarily the most effective way to stretch. “The more flexible a dancer is, the more adaptable they can be,” says Anneliese Burns Wilson, owner of ABC For Dance, a dance education company, and a Stott Pilates instructor trainer in Dallas, TX. “But flexibility needs to be useful. There is a kind of flexibility where someone else can move the dancer’s limb through a wide range of motion, but the dancer themselves cannot, because they don’t have the strength to support it.” To help you stretch for optimal supported flexibility, DM spoke to Burns; Christine Wright, ballet teacher at Studio 5-2 in New York City, and Vanessa Muncrief, a physical therapist at New York’s Harkness Center for Dance Injuries.

 

Habit: Stretching to the point of pain Though a deep stretch can feel intense, some dancers push beyond that sensation to actual pain. “We are a motivated and disciplined group of people,” says Wright. “Plus we want results quickly, so there’s this idea that if you stretch the muscle hard, it will elongate more. But that’s not true! The muscle doesn’t want to tear, so if you go beyond your stretch threshold, the muscle will contract to protect itself.”

 

Break It: Learn to distinguish between a healthy stretch and a potentially damaging one. Wilson says that shaking, redness, bruising, or continuous popping are signs that you’re stretching too intensely. Wright adds, “When stretching, you’re asking your muscle to accommodate a different length. But the most intense feeling should dissipate after a few moments. If it doesn’t, you’ve gone too far.”

 

Muncrief says a change of mindset can be helpful. “Dancers often think, ‘If I just push harder, I’ll get better.’ Even our society supports that path of thought,” she says. “So, I try to bring my dancers some yogic principles of letting go. Get back to the joy of effortless movement. Think, ‘Yes, I need to work hard, but where can I do less?’ ”

 

Habit: Hanging in a static stretch At one point or another, you’ve probably lain on your back against the wall, let your legs drop to either side in a straddle—and stayed there for a while. While this kind of stretching was once recommended for dancers, it’s no longer considered beneficial. Muncrief describes it as “gravity pulling on your ligaments, not muscle stretching.” Wilson explains, “An effective stretch works in the belly of the muscle to lengthen the muscle fiber.” When you hang in a straddle, “you’re stretching ligaments, the fiber that holds bones together. Once stretched, ligaments can’t tighten back, and that destabilizes the joint. It’s very harmful and dangerous.”

 

Break It: Try this new version of the wall straddle: “Lie on your back with your bottom against the wall, legs straight up,” Wilson says. “Then envision your toes reaching away from each other. Don’t focus on your toes going to the floor. Instead concentrate on your turnout and sending energy to the side walls. If you can’t pull your legs back together, and if they release into your sockets, you’ve relapsed into static stretch.”

 

“A few-second stretch won’t lengthen the muscle either,” Muncrief points out. Hold a stretch for 30 seconds to a minute, and repeat several times. “Muscles respond to a low load over this period of time.” she says.

 

Habit: Stretching Cold Walking into the studio and dropping to the floor to stretch before class is a common routine. “But stretching should actually come later,” Muncrief says. “Think of muscle like silly putty: When it’s warm, it’s pliable. But if you put in the fridge and it’s cold, it snaps! Muscles have the most power in normal resting length, so deep stretching before activity won’t yield the best results.”

 

Break It: To warm up, “Do full-body movements, like marching in place or doing a light jog,” says Wilson. “Sweating is a good sign that your body is warm, but don’t try to artificially heat your body with plastic pants or a too-hot room. You haven’t created mobility for yourself. Artificial heat just puts you at risk for injury.” Wright suggests using a ball or foam roller to release muscular tension without over-stretching. Muncrief recommends moving through active yoga poses: “You’re stretching but also working your muscles and building heat.” The best times to stretch are between barre and center, and after dancing, when you can take advantage of the body’s warmth and pliability.

 

Habit: Stretching “Key” Areas Only Wright observes that when a dancer identifies a personal weakness, “they will work like crazy to improve that area.” This might mean stretching a certain muscle group over and over. Wilson adds that teachers also sometimes concentrate on a specific area—like lengthened hamstrings for extension—and fail to communicate that the body works as a whole system.

 

Break It: Think of the body as one network rather than separate compartments. The fascia is integral to this concept. “Fascia is a continuous band of tissue that wraps your entire body. It connects all the pieces. Think of it as shrink wrap,” says Wilson. “If your fascia gets a kink in one area, it can affect a different body part. You could do something to your right little toe, and you won’t find out until your left shoulder hurts. So if you are working on one area and it’s not getting better, try investigating other body parts, too.”

 

Schedule a few sessions with a physical therapist to address to your personal stretching needs. “It’s best to work with a PT individually, even just a few times,” Muncrief says. “They can specifically take into account the roles you dance, classes you take, and your cross training activities.”

 

 

Miss Fokine’s Finale

Last August, Irine Fokine, niece of Michel Fokine, closed the doors of her ballet school after 60 years and 52 annual Nutcrackers. Many of her former students (including myself) gathered at her studio in Ridgewood, NJ, to say our farewells and share memories. Her recent students include Amanda Hankes of New York City Ballet (who was present) and Eric Tamm of American Ballet Theatre, a 2010 “25 to Watch.”

 

A hard taskmaster, Miss Fokine mounted Swan Lake as well as many of her own ballets—usually with a full orchestra. She made challenging, beautiful, or funny works to a wide range of composers including Prokofiev, Bach, Smetana, and Grieg. That music got under out skin.

 

Guest teachers included her mother, Alexandra Fedorova; Irine’s brother, Leon Fokine; his wife, Gloria Fokine; Vitale Fokine, son of Michel; and jazz great Peter Gennaro.

 

However, for us old-timers, the joyous summer intensives on Cape Cod were the highlight of the training. I learned three things from those weeks among the dunes. One, that spending two thirds of your waking hours dancing and the rest at the beach with friends was idyllic. Two, that hard work pays off, because we all improved by the end of the six weeks. And three, that no one looked better in a bikini than Miss Fokine. Now, at 88, she still looks like she could jump up and do a grand battement. —Wendy Perron

 

 

Notes & News

With the death of Denise Jefferson, former director of The Ailey School (“Transitions,” Oct.), Tracy Inman and Melanie Person have been appointed co-directors of the school. Both Inman and Person worked closely with Jefferson over the past decade as co-directors of the school's Junior Division, which more than tripled in size under their leadership. They became associate directors of the school in 2009.

 

Michael Uthoff , artistic and executive director of Dance St. Louis, received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from the University of Missouri—St. Louis in August. A former dancer with the Joffrey Ballet, Uthoff has choreographed numerous works for the Joffrey and other international companies. In 1972 he founded Hartford Ballet, which he directed for 20 years before becoming artistic director of Ballet Arizona. Under his direction since 2006, Dance St. Louis became a partner of UMSL in 2007. Uthoff has worked with the university to present performances, offer educational activities, and establish the annual Spring to Dance Festival, an adventurous showcase for mostly midwestern companies.

 

In August, The School at Jacob’s Pillow presented its seventh annual Lorna Strassler Award for Student Excellence to 21-year-old Calvin Royal III. The recipient of this award, selected each spring during The School’s audition process, receives a full scholarship to attend one of the Pillow’s professional advancement programs, as well as a $2,500 cash stipend. As a student in the Ballet Program, Royal was a featured soloist in Karole Armitage’s bracing Red, choreographed for the Pillow’s season opening gala. A former member of ABT II, Royal became an apprentice with American Ballet Theatre in October. —Siobhan Burke

The Conversation
Health & Body
It's not about what you have, but how you use. Photo by Brooke Cagle/Unsplash

From the angles of your feet to the size of your head, it can sometimes seem like there is no part of a dancer's body that is not under scrutiny. It's easy to get obsessed when you are constantly in front of a mirror, trying to fit a mold.

Yet the traditional ideals seem to be exploding every day. "The days of carbon-copy dancers are over," says BalletX dancer Caili Quan. "Only when you're confident in your own body can you start truly working with what you have."

While the striving may never end, there can be unexpected benefits to what you may think of as your "imperfections."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Training
Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy MCB

It's the second week of Miami City Ballet School's Choreographic Intensive, and the students stand in a light-drenched studio watching as choreographer Durante Verzola sets a pas de trois. "Don't be afraid to look at the ceiling—look that high," Verzola shows one student as she holds an arabesque. "That gives so much more dimension to your dancing." Other students try the same movement from the sidelines.

When Arantxa Ochoa took over as MCB School's director of faculty and curriculum two years ago, she decided to add a second part to the summer intensive: five weeks focused on technique would be followed by a new two-week choreography session. The technique intensive is not a requirement, but students audition for both at the same time and many attend the two back-to-back.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Training
Instructor Judine Somerville leads a musical theater class. Photo by Rachel Papo

On a summer afternoon at The Ailey School's studios, a group of students go through a sequence of Horton exercises, radiating concentration and strength as they tilt to one side, arms outstretched and leg parallel to the ground. Later, in a studio down the hall, a theater dance class rehearses a lively medley of Broadway show tunes. With giant smiles and bouncy energy, students run through steps to "The Nicest Kids in Town" from Hairspray.

"You gotta really scream!" teacher Judine Somerville calls out as they mime their excitement. "This is live theater!" They segue into the audition number from A Chorus Line, "I Hope I Get It," their expressions becoming purposeful and slightly nervous. "Center stage is wherever I am," Somerville tells them when the music stops, making them repeat the words back to her. "Take that wherever you go."

Keep reading... Show less
News
Brooklyn Studios for Dance founder Pepper Fajans illustrates the cold temperatures inside the studio. Screenshot via Vimeo.

Dance artists, as a rule, are a resilient bunch. But working in a studio in New York City without heat or electricity in the middle of winter? That's not just crazy; it's unhealthy, and too much to ask of anyone.

Unfortunately, Brooklyn Studios for Dance hasn't had heat since mid-November, making it impossible for classes or performances to take place in the community-oriented center.

So what's a studio to do? Throw a massive dance party, of course.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Anika Huizinga via Unsplash

As winter sets in, your muscles may feel tighter than they did in warmer weather. You're not imagining it: Cold weather can cause muscles to lose heat and contract, resulting in a more limited range of motion and muscle soreness or stiffness.

But dancers need their muscles to be supple and fresh, no matter the weather outside. Here's how to maintain your mobility during the colder months so your dancing isn't affected:

Keep reading... Show less
News
The International Association of Blacks in Dance's annual audition for ballet dancers of color. Photo by E. Mesiyah McGinnis, Courtesy IABD

A newly launched initiative hopes to change the face of ballet, both onstage and behind the scenes. Called "The Equity Project: Increasing the Presence of Blacks in Ballet," the three-year initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is a partnership between Dance Theatre of Harlem, the International Association of Blacks in Dance and Dance/USA.

"We've seen huge amounts of change in the years since 1969, when Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded," says Virginia Johnson, artistic director of DTH. "But change is happening much too slowly, and it will continue to be too slow until we come to a little bit more of an awareness of what the underlying issues are and what needs to be done to address them."

Keep reading... Show less
The Creative Process
Nashiville Ballet artistic director Paul Vasterling went through executive coaching to be come a better leader. Photo by Anthony Matula, Courtesy Nashville Ballet

From the outside, it seemed like the worst of New York City Ballet's problems were behind them last winter, when ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired amid accusations of abuse and sexual harassment, and an internal investigation did not substantiate those claims.

But further troubles were revealed in August when a scandal broke that led to dancer Chase Finlay's abrupt resignation and the firing of fellow principals Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro. All three were accused of "inappropriate communications" and violating "norms of conduct."

The artistic director sets the tone for a dance company and leads by example. But regardless of whether Martins, and George Balanchine before him, established a healthy organization, the issues at NYCB bespeak an industry-wide problem, says Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founding artistic director of Urban Bush Women. "From New York City Ballet to emerging artists, we've just done what's been handed down," she observes. "That has not necessarily led to great practices."

Keep reading... Show less
Popular

If you've ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at Dance Magazine, now's your chance to find out. Dance Magazine is seeking an editorial intern who's equally passionate about dance and journalism.

Through March 1, we are accepting applications for a summer intern to assist our staff onsite in New York City from June to August. The internship includes an hourly stipend and requires a minimum two-day-a-week commitment. (We do not provide assistance securing housing.)

Keep reading... Show less
News
Credits with photos below.

For the past few months, the dance world has been holding its collective breath, waiting for New York City Ballet to announce who will take over the helm as artistic director.

Though former ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired over a year ago after accusations of sexual harassment and abuse (an internal investigation did not corroborate the accusations), the search for a new leader didn't begin until last May.

Nine months later, the new director's name could be released any day now. And we have some theories about who it might be:

Keep reading... Show less
Irina Dvorovenko with Tony Yazbeck in The Beast in the Jungle. Photo by Carol Rosegg, Courtesy Sam Rudy Media Relations.

Some people take this profession as just a chapter of their life. They feel like dance is a job—a fun job, but a job. Other people live their life through dance. I never considered being a ballerina a profession. It's a lifestyle.

If I don't have a performance, I feel like a tiger trapped in a cage. I have so many emotions, I feel I need to give them to somebody, to exhaust myself—I need to cry or laugh, or else it's suffocating. Other people might scream or throw bottles into the wall. We dancers scream onstage through our movement. For me, it's like sweeping off the dust in my soul.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance & Science
Amar Odeh/Unsplash

Back in 2011, Yale University's dean of science was thinking about refreshing the program's offerings for non-majors when he happened upon a Pilobolus performance. A light bulb went off: Dance is full of physics.

That realization led to what has become an eight-year collaboration between particle physicist Sarah Demers and former New York City Ballet dancer Emily Coates, both professors at Yale who were brought together to co-teach a course called The Physics of Dance. Their partnership has involved everything from directing a short film to presenting a TedX Talk and performing a piece that Coates created, commissioned by Danspace Project. This month, they're publishing a book about what they've discovered by dialoging across two seemingly disparate disciplines.

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
Umi Akiyoshi Photography, Courtesy Sidra Bell Dance New York

Sebastian Abarbanell remembers being asked as an undergrad at Trinity Laban in London to perform wearing only a dance belt. "I said no," he says, "because I felt uncomfortable." Now a performer with Sidra Bell Dance New York, he's performed partially nude several times, without reservation. The difference? "It comes with more experience and maturing as a dancer," he says. "When you see a dancer living in their skin, you don't need to put anything else on them. When I said no in college, I wasn't in my skin yet."

Getting in your skin—and getting comfortable wearing only your skin onstage—requires a particular alchemy of vulnerability, agency, preparation and practice.

Keep reading... Show less
25 to Watch
Photo credits, clockwise from bottom left: Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet; Jayme Thornton; Jochen Viehoff, Courtesy Stephanie Troyak; Karolina Kuras, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet; Jim Lafferty; Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Altin Kaftira, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet; Scott Shaw, Courtesy Shamar Wayne Watt

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.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Photos via Polunin's Instagram

If you follow Sergei Polunin on Instagram, you've probably noticed that lately something has been...off.

Though Polunin has long had a reputation for behaving inappropriately, in the last month his posts have been somewhat unhinged. In one, Polunin, who is Ukrainian, shows off his new tattoo of Vladimir Putin:

Keep reading... Show less
The Creative Process
Forsythe's in the middle, somewhat elevated uses the battement like an attack. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet

Just before retiring in 2015, Sylvie Guillem appeared on "HARDtalk with Zeinab Badawi," the BBC's hard-hitting interview program. Badawi told Guillem,

"Clement Crisp of the Financial Times, 14 years ago, described your dancing as vulgar."

Guillem responded,

"Yeah, well, he said that. But at the same time, when they asked Margot Fonteyn what she thought about lifting the leg like this she said, 'Well, if I could have done it, I would have done it.' "

They were discussing Guillem's signature stroke—her 180-degree leg extension à la seconde. Ballet legs had often flashed about in the higher zones between 135 and 160 degrees before. But it wasn't until the virtuoso French ballerina regularly
extended her leg beside her ear with immaculate poise in the 1980s that leg extensions for ballet dancers in classical roles reached their zenith. Traditionalists like Clement Crisp were not taken with it.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Courtesy Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Royal Ballet announced today that international star Carlos Acosta will be taking over as director in January of 2020. Current BRB director David Bintley will be stepping down this summer, at the end of the company's 2019 season, after a 24-year tenure. "It is a tremendous honor and privilege to have been appointed to lead Birmingham Royal Ballet," Acosta said in a statement.

Since retiring from The Royal Ballet in 2015, Acosta has focused much of his attention on his native Cuba, where he's proven his directorial abilities at the helm of Acosta Danza, the contemporary company that he founded in 2016. In 2017 Acosta also opened his first Dance Academy through his foundation, which provides free training to students. We don't yet know how Acosta will balance his time between his projects in Cuba and his new role at BRB.

Keep reading... Show less
Advice for Dancers
When you spend most of your day at the theater, it's challenging to find time to date. Photo by rawpixel/Unsplash.

My personal life has taken a nosedive since I broke up with my boyfriend. He's in the same show and is now dating one of my colleagues. It's heartbreaking to see them together, and I'm determined never to date a fellow dancer again. But it's challenging to find someone outside, as I practically live in the theater. Do you have any advice?

—Loveless, New York, NY

Keep reading... Show less
News
Carol Channing in the original 1964 production of Hello, Dolly! Photo by Eileen Darby, Courtesy DM Archives.

The inimitable Carol Channing, best known for her role as the titular Hello, Dolly!, passed away today at 97.

Though she became a three-time Tony winner, Channing was born in Seattle, far from the Great White Way, in 1921. After growing up in San Francisco, she attended the famed Bennington College, studying dance and drama. She later told the university, "What Bennington allows you to do is develop the thing you're going to do anyway, over everybody's dead body." For Channing, that meant decades of fiery, comical performances, bursting with energy.

Keep reading... Show less
News
It includes this familiar face! (Erin Baiano)

Something's coming, I don't know when
But it's soon...maybe tonight?

Those iconic lyrics have basically been our #mood ever since we first heard a remake of the West Side Story film, directed by Steven Spielberg and choreographed by Justin Peck, was in the works. THE CASTING. THE CASTING WAS COMING.

Well, last night—after an extensive search process that focused on finding the best actors within the Puerto Rican/Latinx community—the WSS team finally revealed who'll be playing Maria, Anita, Bernardo, and Chino (joining Ansel Elgort, who was cast as Tony last fall). And you guys: It is a truly epic group.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
Leta Biasucci's on and offstage charm has made her a company favorite. Photo by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine.

Rehearsal is in full swing, and Leta Biasucci, Pacific Northwest Ballet's newest principal dancer, finds herself in unfamiliar territory. Biasucci is always game for a challenge, but choreographer Kyle Davis wants her to lift fellow dancer Clara Ruf Maldonado. Repeatedly. While she's known for her technical prowess, lifting another dancer off the floor is a bit daunting for Biasucci, who stands all of 5' 3". She eyes Maldonado skeptically, then breaks into a grin.

"It's absolutely given me a new appreciation for the partner standing behind me!" Biasucci says with a laugh.

Looking at Biasucci, 29, with her wide smile and eager curiosity, you think you see the quintessential extrovert. In reality, she's anything but. "I was an introverted kid," Biasucci says. "That's part of the reason I fell in love with dance—I didn't have to be talkative."

It's only one of the seeming contradictions in Biasucci's life: She's a short, muscular ballerina in a company known for its fleet of tall, long-legged women; she's also most comfortable with classical ballet, while taking on a growing repertoire of contemporary work.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Aurelie Dupont explained she did not share Polunin's values. Photo via Instagram

Sergei Polunin, whose recent homophobic and sexist Instagram posts have sparked international outrage, will not be appearing with the Paris Opéra Ballet as previously announced.

POB artistic director Aurélie Dupont sent an internal email to company staff and dancers on Sunday, explaining that she did not share Polunin's values and that the Russian-based dancer would not be guesting with the company during the upcoming run of Rudolf Nureyev's Swan Lake in February.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox