Trading Pliés for Popping, Locking and Breaking
What street styles can do for concert dancers
Popping and locking can help you learn to relax your upper body. Here: Val “Ms. Vee” Ho’s class at Broadway Dance Center. Photo by Sandy Shelton, courtesy Broadway Dance Center.
Marquisa Gardner spent the first 17 years of her life training in ballet, jazz and tap. In college, she began performing with a contemporary ballet company and teaching jazz classes in Los Angeles. Then one of her students brought her to a club where kids were dancing a style called clowning. “It was a major culture shock for me,” Gardner says. “I tried to mimic what the dancers were doing, but I was rooted with ballet technique.”
She was hooked, though. Exploring the new style helped Gardner improve her performance quality, and gave her a new outlet for expressing herself. Today Gardner is “Miss Prissy,” known as the Queen of Krump and one of the stars of the 2005 film Rize.
Though it can be tempting to stay in your comfort zone, trying different street dance styles could be the key to your versatility: You’ll begin to hear music differently, find new ways to move and expand your improvisation skills. Unsure about which to dive into first? Read on for a breakdown.
B-Boying: Improve Floor Work, Get Faster Feet and Learn Flashy Tricks
The first step to channeling your inner b-girl: Get comfortable getting fast and low. B-boying, sometimes referred to as breaking or break dancing, utilizes floor work (think head and knee spins), freezes, acrobatic elements and quick footwork. “It’s a physical style—you’re going to be on your hands a lot,” says Alex Welch, aka “B-Girl Shorty,” a Los Angeles–based instructor and member of the Beat Freaks.
As with many street styles, b-boying relies heavily on freestyling, so learning to let go is key. Nothing b-girls do is small—the movements are precise but explosive. Most of all? “A b-girl is strong, independent and kills it every time,” says Welch. “She never lets anyone tell her she can’t do something.”
Popping and Locking: Master Intricacies and Details
While the East Coast was break-dancing during the 1970s, funk styles—like popping and locking—were cropping up on the West Coast. Val “Ms. Vee” Ho, an instructor at Broadway Dance Center, Peridance and Pace University’s commercial dance program, explains locking as “quick, sharp, dynamic movements,” while popping is “a quick contraction of the muscle followed by an immediate relaxation.” Popping is a smaller, repetitive motion, while locking is a bigger, more external way of dancing. “Locking is swinging with the beat,” Ho says. “Popping is attacking the beat.”
Both styles require classically trained dancers to relax their spines. “Instead of thinking up, up, up, fighting gravity and balancing, think about dancing down,” Ho says. “The funk styles work with gravity instead of against it. The biggest struggle many concert dancers face is relaxing their neck and upper back.” Learning to maintain a balance between technique and release makes for a more interesting dancer.
Krumping: Develop an Explosive, Full-Bodied Performance
Although krumping has gained popularity thanks to “So You Think You Can Dance,” the televised version is slightly watered down. Krumping is almost entirely freestyle and rarely choreographed. It is a battle-centric style more than a stage style, and it’s one of the most aggressive forms of street dance. Instead of focusing on floor work and tricks, krumpers dance upright, with explosive arms, bent knees and pulsing chests. “Krumping is a fusion of African cultural dance and street dance,” says Gardner.
It’s crucial to fully abandon your concert dance roots in order to best explore the style. When Gardner first tried krump, her ballet training hindered her. “I couldn’t create the lines and embrace the dynamic,” she says. “With krump, you’re not trying to achieve a perfect arabesque. It’s about being raw and telling a story. You can be passionate and vibrant, and it should feel amazing. There’s no wrong way to krump.”
Having a hard time? “Give yourself scenarios,” Gardner says. “How would you feel if your boyfriend broke up with you? How do you channel your aggression? What about your passion? Express that energy in your freestyle.”
Voguing: Gain Cleaner Lines and a More Dramatic Presence
Imagine someone is taking a photo of every move you hit throughout a piece of choreography. That’s voguing. The form is about looking linear and angular to create shapes with your body. It’s precision-based, but requires dancers to maintain a fluid, graceful posture, while creating a dramatic picture with every movement.
Javier Madrid, known as “Javier Ninja,” says the key to immersing yourself in vogue choreography is to worry less about your lines and more about rhythm and confidence. “You can’t be timid. No one wants to watch a shy dancer,” he says. Envision yourself as a model in a magazine. “They look extended, like there’s a line down their backs. They’re dainty, but dramatic.” Madrid says everything vogue dancers do can be directly applied back to concert styles: “Your lines will become cleaner, you’ll look taller, more elegant—and you won’t do anything halfway ever again.”
Alicia Alonso's famed ballet company in Cuba has a new leader: the beloved hometown prima ballerina Viengsay Valdés.
Ballet Nacional of Cuba just named Valdés deputy artistic director, which means she will immediately assume the daily responsibilities of running the company. Alonso, 98, will retain the title of general director, but in practice, Valdés will be the one making all the artistic decisions.
I'm terrified of performing choreography that changes directions. I messed up last year when the stage lights caused me to become disoriented. What can I do to prevent this from happening again? I can perform the combination just fine in the studio with the mirror.
—Scared, San Francisco, CA
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."
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."
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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.
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:
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."
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.
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.
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:
Watching Bohemian Rhapsody through the eyes of dancer, there's a certain element of the movie that's impossible to ignore: Rami Malek's physical performance of Freddie Mercury. The way he so completely embodies the nuances of the rock star is simply mind-blowing. We had to learn how he did it, so we called up Polly Bennett, the movement director who coached him through the entire process.
In a bit of serendipitous timing, while we were on the phone, she got a text from Malek that he had just been nominated for a Golden Globe. And during our chat, it became quite clear that she had obviously been a major part of that—more than we could have ever imagined.
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.
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.