Technique My Way: Belinda McGuire
In rehearsal for a new piece by Sharon Moore, freelance artist and Limón Dance Company member Belinda McGuire twists, jolts, and angles into strange shapes.
When she attacks a turn, energy shoots from her sinewy limbs in all directions, but in moments of stillness, she controls her body so completely that not even a pinky moves.
While this dynamism is a style all her own, her technique is a solid blend of modern and ballet, which she studied at the Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre and later at Juilliard, where she earned her BFA in 2006. The Toronto native also choreographs and produces her own solo projects, including the upcoming “HEIST” (which features Moore’s work and two other pieces). DM talked with McGuire about how she uses her ballet and modern background, along with somatic investigation, to keep her body healthy and pliable.
The Teacher Within
McGuire, who danced for Doug Varone and Gallim Dance before joining the Limón company in 2009, takes either a ballet or modern class almost every morning. Her favorite teachers in New York include Zvi Gotheiner and the Corvino sisters (Andra and Ernesta) for ballet and Risa Steinberg for Limón technique.
While she looks for classes that “inform the way I move,” McGuire adds that she has “the gift of the internal teacher. I can make a lot of classes work for me based on how my past teachers helped me learn to correct myself.” Often, that internal teacher “points out blind spots and the things I don’t naturally want to look at,” she says. “Becoming aware of those things helps me develop a strategy for my day of dancing. I can find out, ‘Today, my knee doesn’t want to track correctly, so I need to be aware of landing on that side.’ ”
Dawn to Dusk
Before taking class, McGuire starts even earlier with either floor barre, a yoga class, or the elliptical at the gym. “I used to swim for cardio,” she says, “but you don’t get the connection of your legs to the core that you do from running. The elliptical does the same thing—it creates exhilaration as if you’re in the thick of choreography—without impact on your joints.” If she chooses to do floor barre, McGuire devises her own routine, using ideas learned from Irene Dowd at Juilliard, as well as an approach called Conditioning-with-Imagery, developed by Limón teacher Donna Krasnow. When pressed for time, she tries to briefly target her ankles and feet, pelvis, core, and shoulder girdle. “If I can hit those places at least once before I start my day, I’m set,” she says.
As she winds down after rehearsal, McGuire likes to roll out her IT bands and stretch her calves, quads, and hip flexors. “As other parts of my body get tired, these areas take on more work, so they need attention at the end of the day.”
On performance days, McGuire tailors her morning to that evening’s repertoire. Occasionally company members will lead a spontaneous warm-up class, which she particularly enjoys. “It helps us band together and reinforce our group energy,” she says.
To prepare herself mentally for a performance, McGuire sometimes looks outside of dance for inspiration. “In a recent run, we were performing a Jirí Kylián piece I hadn’t done in a while. I was nervous,” she says. “Two weeks prior, I stumbled upon a piece of music that made me get excited about the Kylián piece. I could imagine myself dancing it with joy when I heard the song. So I listened to that music before performing to get my head in the game.”
On days off, McGuire relaxes. “I allow myself to focus on something else completely, like sewing or cooking,” she says. She also might go to a tango milonga, a side passion that works a different part of her dance persona.
As for aches and pains, McGuire sees them as “a source of discovery. Something always has to go first, and as dancers we all develop issues. By looking at a small issue, you can shed light on something bigger and avoid other injuries.”
For a recent ankle impingement, McGuire is doing physical therapy to re-pattern her use of the joint. “I’m working on pointing and flexing with a ‘gummy’ Achilles tendon,” she says. “If you can point the foot without activating the muscle that becomes the Achilles, you work the deeper layers of the calf.” She is always searching for clues to help her better understand her body: “When I’m doing typical Thera-Band work, my foot wavers. That explains why landing from jumps sometimes inflames my tendons: Clearly my ankle isn’t strong enough!”
McGuire’s awareness of her body extends into everything she does. “Sleeping, breathing, walking, drinking water—if there’s an issue in the way we do any of those things, it affects our whole body,” she says. “A Feldenkrais instructor noticed that my hips were locked, not swinging side to side in the natural way when I walked. Working on that helped my hips both in and out of the studio. Breathing is huge, too! Irene Dowd talks about how we don’t just breathe in our front, we breathe through our whole rib cage. The mechanics of each of these activities really affect your body as a whole, and then, your dancing.”
Lauren Kay, a Dance Spirit contributing editor, is a dancer and writer in NYC.
All About Arches
To work on her formerly flat feet, McGuire likes this exercise:
• Lie on your back, legs in parallel in the air, knees bent at 90 degrees.
• Point your feet. Then slowly unfurl them into a flex, curling your toes as if you are using them to pull a towel toward you, before reaching a full flex.
• For variation, repeat this exercise, but as you point your feet, straighten your legs (still in parallel) towards the ceiling. Then slowly bend your knees as you flex. “This gets the smaller muscles of the feet moving, which I really need to focus on,” McGuire says.
Attacking the space: McGuire in her self-choreographed Fable. Photo by Jubal Battisti, Courtesy McGuire.
Even if you haven't heard her name, you've almost certainly seen the work of commercial choreographer James Alsop. Though she's made award-winning dances for Beyoncé ("Run the World," anyone?) and worked with stars like Lady GaGa and Janelle Monae, Alsop's most recent project may be her most powerful: A moving music video for Everytown for Gun Safety, directed by Ezra Hurwitz and featuring students from the National Dance Institute.
We caught up with Alsop for our "Spotlight" series:
I want to make an apology because, in my opening speech at the Dance Magazine Awards on Monday, I inadvertently left out one awardee. I said, "Tonight we are honoring four outstanding dance artists who have contributed to the dance field over time." But then I named only three. How could I have forgotten Lourdes Lopez?!?!
We had all been hearing about Lourdes's taking the helm at Miami City Ballet with grace, intelligence, compassion and new ideas. I was planning to say, "Lourdes Lopez, who has brought new life to Miami City Ballet" because I thought that would cover a lot of ground. (My only quibble with myself was whether to say "brought new life" or "gave new life.")
Each year, The New York Times Magazine shines a spotlight on who they deem to be the best actors of the year in its Great Performers series. But, what we're wondering is, can they dance? Thankfully, the NYT Mag recruited none other than Justin Peck to put them to the test.
Peck choreographed and directed a series of 10 short dance films, placing megastars in everyday situations: riding the subway, getting out of bed in the morning, waiting at a doctor's office.
Today, we are thrilled to announce the honorees of the 2018 Dance Magazine Awards. A tradition dating back to 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards celebrate the living legends who have made a lasting impact on dance. This year's honorees include:
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On busy performance days, international guest artist Joy Womack always makes time for one activity after class and rehearsals: a nap. "I like to feel well-rested when I need to be in the spotlight at night, not dragging at the end of the day," she says. "It helps me recover and refocus."
With her earbuds tuned to a guided meditation app, she can squeeze in a nap wherever she needs to. "One time I even took a nap on the floor of the tour bus in Siberia," she says. "Dancers can sleep anywhere."
Joy Womack prioritizes napping before a show. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe magazine.
As research has revealed the benefits of short daytime naps, power-napping advice has proliferated, and more dancers are choosing to include a nap in their pre-performance routines. Approaching napping strategically will help you get the most out of an afternoon snooze.
On Monday night, a memorial was held at Riverside Church to honor the life and achievements of Dance Theatre of Harlem co-founder Arthur Mitchell. With nearly three months to process and grieve (Mitchell passed away on September 19) the atmosphere was not that of mourning as much as reflection, reverence and admiration for who he was, what he built and what remains. (Watch the full livestream here.)
The church filled with family, artistic friends, fans and admirers. What was most gratifying was the volume of DTH alumni from the school, company and organization who traveled across the globe to pay their respects, from founding members to present dancers and students. The house of worship was filled with the sentiment of a family reunion. As Mitchell was sent home, it was a homecoming for many who have not shared air together in decades. What was palpable was the authentic bonds that Dance Theatre of Harlem and Mitchell fostered in all.
Fans of the sublime English National Ballet first artist Precious Adams were probably excited to see her image splashed across the company's website in a promotional image for an upcoming production of Swan Lake.
But those who took a closer look were met with a disappointing reality: Adams, who is the only black woman in the company, is not listed on the principal casting sheet for the production.
Gennadi Nedvigin is not the only early tenure director breaking out a new production of The Nutcracker this season.
We love The Nutcracker as much as the next person, but that perennial holiday classic isn't the only thing making its way onstage this month. Here are five alternatives that piqued our editors' curiosity.
The Nutcracker is synonymous with American ballet. So when Gennadi Nedvigin took the helm at Atlanta Ballet in 2016, a new version of the holiday classic was one of his top priorities. This month, evidence of two years' worth of changes will appear when the company unwraps its latest version at Atlanta's Fox Theatre Dec. 8–24. Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov and produced on a larger-than-ever scale for Atlanta, the new ballet represents Nedvigin's big ambitions.
Ballet Hispánico returns to the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem with its full-length ballet, CARMEN.maquia. Spanish choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansano has reenvisioned the story of Carmen to emphasize Don José, the man who falls in love with Carmen, suffers because of her infidelity, then murders her in a "fit of passion." Their duets are filled with all the sensuality, jealousy and violence you could wish for—in a totally contemporary dance language.
Sansano's previous piece for Ballet Hispánico, El Beso, bloomed with a thousand playful and witty ways of expressing desire. He has a knack for splicing humor into romance.
Not being able to attend the in-person audition at your top college can feel like the end of the world. But while it's true that going to the live audition is ideal, you can still make the best out of sending a video. Here are some of the perks:
It's become a colloquialism—or, we admit, a cliche—to say that dance can heal.
But with a new initiative launched by British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, doctors in the U.K. will soon be able to prescribe dance classes—along with art, music, sports, gardening and more—for patients suffering from conditions as various as dementia, lung problems and mental health issues.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)
The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:
"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."
Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.
What does it mean to be human? Well, many things. But if you were at the Dance Magazine Awards last night, you could argue that to be human is to dance. Speeches about the powerful humanity of our art form were backed up with performances by incredible dancers hailing from everywhere from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago to Miami City Ballet.
Misty Copeland started off the celebration. A self-professed "Dance Magazine connoisseur from the age of 13," she not only spoke about how excited she was to be in a room full of dancers, but also—having just come from Dance Theatre of Harlem's memorial for Arthur Mitchell—what she saw as their duty: "We all in this room hold a responsibility to use this art for good," she said. "Dance unifies, so let's get to work."
That sentiment was repeated throughout the night.
Choreographer Val Caniparoli started his ballet career by performing in Lew Christensen's The Nutcracker with San Francisco Ballet in 1971. Today, he still performs with SFB as Drosselmeir, in the company's current version by Helgi Tomasson.
It takes Caniparoli a lot of concentration to stick to the choreography.
"I have the four versions that I choreographed of the role in my head, plus the original I danced for years by Lew," he says. "That's a lot of versions to keep straight."
A list of Clara alumnae from Radio City's Christmas Spectacular reads like a star-studded, international gala program: Tiler Peck and Brittany Pollack of New York City Ballet (and Broadway), Meaghan Grace Hinkis of The Royal Ballet, Whitney Jensen of Norwegian National Ballet and more. Madison Square Garden's casting requirements for the role are simple: The dancer should be 4' 10" and under, appear to be 14 years old or younger and have strong ballet technique and pointework.
The unspoken requisite? They need abundant tenacity at a very young age.
When I read last month that Jessica Lang Dance had announced its farewell, I'm sure I wasn't the only dancer surprised. In the same way that many of us, when reading an obituary, instinctively look for the cause of death, I searched for a reason for the company's unexpected folding. It was buried in the fifth paragraph of The New York Times article:
Her manager, Margaret Selby, said in an interview that Jessica Lang Dance's closing showed how difficult it is to keep a small dance company running these days. "You have to raise so much money, the smaller companies don't have enough staff, and Jessica was running the company for the last seven years without a day off," she said. "She wants to focus on creative work."
Whereas the announcement itself may have come as a shock, the root cause certainly doesn't. All of us in the field are familiar with the conditions to which Selby refers. But that these problems can topple the success of a company like Lang's, which boasts seven years of national and international touring that include commissions from Jacob's Pillow and The Joyce, among others, is sobering.