The Feminine Critique
Women make up the vast majority of the dance world. Yet it’s no secret that they’re routinely passed over for leadership positions and choreography commissions, confronted with sexism in the studio and stymied by expectations of how female artists should look and behave. Here, 10 industry leaders open up, candidly sharing their stories, and offering ideas for how we can do better.
Q: What makes you a feminist?
“This spring, I decided that if an organization wanted me to do a piece, I would only say yes if they included a woman choreographer on the program. When I look at some of the playbills of programs I have going up, it’s just like, Really? Only men again? The disparity is kind of insane. If someone chooses not to use me because I’ve insulted them by saying that, I still think it’s worth saying and having that in their ear.” —Kyle Abraham, artistic director and choreographer, Abraham.In.Motion
Q: Do female choreographers make different work than men?
“Definitely. We experience life fundamentally differently, and that affects our physicality and our sensitivity. In The Virgin Suicides, there’s this line that says, ‘We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing which colors went together.’ That’s a really poetic way of talking about the unique humanity of women. There’s a quiet power and also a bubbling revolt, a delicateness and a fierceness that’s a negotiation of pleasing people and not. Men have a freedom we don’t have. As a woman, and as a Latina, I feel like every piece I make is somehow supposed to represent my entire culture. I don’t think white men have that kind of baggage.” —Rosie Herrera, artistic director and choreographer, Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre
Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Gibney
Q: What have you noticed as a female entrepreneur?
“When I opened Gibney Dance Center, there was a huge difference in the way women and men reacted. A lot of women came up to me and said, ‘The space is beautiful and I can’t wait to make work in it.’ Men said, ‘I’d like to show my work in your performance space.’ There was a very different attitude about the plans and programs men wanted. They were making deals. I didn’t get a single business proposition from a woman in that way. It’s up to women to take the reins, and take risks.” —Gina Gibney, CEO and artistic director, Gibney Dance
Rose Eichenbaum for Dance Teacher
Q: How can we help young women in ballet build the confidence to become leaders?
“We have to train leaders. A lot of it is about helping students with their priorities. So many just want to get their leg up, want to be insta-famous. And many are myopically focused on ballet. At Colburn, we expose them to other kinds of dance, and to museums. We offer a unit of drama. It’s so hard for ballet students to talk, to get out there and advocate for themselves. The culture is to be silent and to receive. I have to keep reminding them to find their voice and keep expressing themselves.” —Jenifer Ringer, director, Colburn Dance Academy
Rachel Soh, Courtesy Goebel
Q: What has it been like to rise in the male-dominated world of hip hop?
“I never felt there were different standards for men and women, but a different value placed on what women’s work is worth. But there are a lot of amazing female choreographers making their mark today. My movement style, polyswagg, allows us to use all our woman qualities that the boys don’t have, and at the same time be able to hit as hard as the boys.” —Parris Goebel, choreographer for Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj
Sylvain Guenot, Courtesy Dendy
Q: Why does the dance world trail behind pop culture as far as trans inclusion?
“It’s a private thing to watch on your television. There’s a safety, and that gets taken away when you’re sitting in a theater experiencing a live performance. There are some gender-fluid characters in dance today, but I don’t think you’re going to see a trans person walk out in Esplanade anytime soon.” —Mark Dendy, experimental choreographer who recently created Whistleblower, about transgender soldier Chelsea Manning
Whitney Browne, Courtesy Camille A. Brown
Q: Why is empowering young black women so important to you?
“One time on tour, we asked a high school audience, ‘What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “black girl”?’ Everything was negative and the way they were saying things really made me uncomfortable. I saw people mimicking the gestures that they associated with black girls—snapping their hands, rolling their neck, putting their hands on their hips—and they were pointing to the few black girls in the audience.
That’s why I do the initiative. Black girls need to know that they are valued and they are more than a stereotype. How often are we able to see a black girl’s story through her gaze? We need to talk about the issues, but we also need to show the full spectrum of who black girls are.” —Camille A. Brown, choreographer and founder of Black Girl Spectrum
James Jin, Courtesy Latarro
Q: What is it like to be part of the first all-female creative team on Broadway, for Waitress?
“I’m usually hyperaware of my tone—as a woman, there’s a fine line between speaking too softly and kindly and speaking too harshly. But when you’re in a team that you trust, you can be direct. You just say what you need to say.
Also, we’re women writing about a woman. It feels different when you’re watching because it’s a point of view that we’re not used to. In many other Broadway shows, even if there’s a female protagonist, she still behaves the way a male writer might see her.” —Lorin Latarro, choreographer for Waitress
Julie Mack, THEY Bklyn, Courtesy Pyle
Q: Do outmoded gender stereotypes hold ballet back?
“In my training, I was really discouraged from being strong. There was always the expectation that I would be 15 percent below the typical body weight for my height. Eating disorders come along with that, and then not being able to menstruate—that affects your hormones and emotions and development and your brain. When I stopped ballet, I could think more clearly because I stopped being anorexic. I got a message from my teachers, whether explicitly or implicitly, that I should appear smaller, more fragile, more vulnerable. The archetypes that were presented to me were of women who needed to be saved.
Ballet appears as a very elitist, white, male-run form that will just reproduce the same ideas and images over and over and over again until there is a bigger disruption in terms of types of bodies, genders, race, backgrounds—there’s so much! Having transgender people in ballet companies is what I’m interested in. Bringing in people who have more diverse relationships to their own gender is going to shift the work.”
—Katy Pyle, artistic director of Ballez, an organization and company that explores story ballets with lesbian, queer and transgender people
Jade Young, Courtesy Bond
Q: Do you feel you’re treated differently as a female choreographer?
“I struggle with not being taken as seriously. I look young and I’m in the corps de ballet: I was 16 when I started, and now I’m 33, and I’m still treated as a girl—even when I’m choreographing. I’m not seen as a woman. It’s like I’m pigeon-holed into a box. If I want to do anything I have to initiate it myself.” —Gemma Bond, choreographer and American Ballet Theatre dancer
Interviews by Suzannah Friscia, Marina Harss, Gia Kourlas, Madeline Schrock, Kristin Schwab, Jennifer Stahl and Lauren Wingenroth.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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:
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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."
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.)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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."
"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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Before spending a summer at Los Angeles Ballet School, Lillian Glasscock had never learned a Balanchine variation. "The stylistic differences, like preparing for a pirouette with a straight back leg, were at first very challenging," says Glasscock, 17. "But it soon got easier."
Los Angeles Ballet company members were in class daily, motivating and inspiring her. Trying out a new style and expanding her repertoire gave Glasscock more strength, and a better understanding of the varied demands of ballet companies today. Months later, the Balanchine variations she learned are now personal favorites.
While the early years of training are typically spent diligently working through the syllabus of a single ballet technique, when you start to prepare for a professional career, versatility is key. There isn't just one correct version of each step. And as ballet companies continue to diversify their repertoires, directors need dancers who can move fluidly between an array of styles.