The fourth wall has come down, and it has opened up a whole new kind of gig for dancers. Since Sleep No More became a hit in 2011, immersive theater experiences have been shattering expectations by inviting audiences to move through the world of the performance as they please. What kind of skill set does this burgeoning art form demand?
"Go to your choreographers" is the command, and ten 20-somethings sort themselves into two groups at either side of a studio at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in midtown Manhattan. On one side they become three students gossiping in a schoolroom as another enters alone; on the other, it's a guy sauntering into a club where three women are drinking at a table.
Emma Russo, 25, is in charge there, setting up a romance; across the space, Alexia Acebo, 22, is summoning a popularity contest. Both are working to the same jazzy instrumental version of "Pennies From Heaven."
Bouncing back and forth between the two story lines is Broadway choreographer (and Tony nominee) Josh Prince, asking questions, making suggestions, offering encouragement—half mentor, half mother hen.
Lately I've been having recurring dreams: I'm in an audition and I can't remember the combination. Or, I'm rehearsing for an upcoming show, onstage, and I don't know what comes next. Each time I wake up relieved that it was only a dream.
However, this is the reality of how I often felt throughout my dance career. Once I knew the steps, there was no undoing it. It was the process of getting there that haunts me to this day.
When I joined the New York City Ballet, I had a million questions. How soon before a performance should I get ready? When should I eat dinner—before or after the performance? How long should I wear my false eyelashes before I throw them out? Should I practice hard steps onstage before the curtain goes up or save them for the show? How long should my warm-up be? How do I do well in this career?
Before long, I discovered that the older dancers were willing to help us newbies. Wendy Whelan, for instance, took me under her wing and helped me with everything from my hair and makeup to what to eat for energy before a performance.
I wanted to see what questions NYCB's newest batch of corps members Mira Nadon, Kennard Henson and Gabriella Domini had. To answer their questions, I spoke to two of our most senior dancers, Maria Kowroski (who's been with the company 24 years) and Jared Angle (who's danced here 21 years).
These days, you don't have to be in the circus to learn how to fly. Aerial dance has grown in popularity in recent years, blending modern dance and circus traditions and enlisting the help of trapeze, silks, hammocks, lyra and cube for shows that push both viewers and performers past their comfort zones.
More dancers are learning aerial than ever before. Besides adding new skills to your resumé, becoming an aerialist opens up a new realm of possibilities.
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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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.
You don't need to be a performer to make a positive impact through dance. Dance/movement therapists use movement to approach a patient's health holistically, working with populations as diverse as teenagers dealing with anxiety, veterans suffering from trauma and elderly patients with dementia or Alzheimer's. What makes for a good dance therapist? "They've seen the power of movement in their own life. And they have empathy for other people and for what's going on in the world," says Nancy Beardall, dance/movement therapy coordinator at Lesley University.
In 2018, the Youth America Grand Prix added a rule: For participants under age 12, performing on pointe became strongly discouraged. For those under 11, it became prohibited.
The competition organizers made these changes after jury members, teachers and others raised concerns about students being pushed to perform on pointe too early. Larissa Saveliev, YAGP co-founder and director, says, "Ten years ago we didn't have to have these rules because nobody was progressing that fast."
As ballet prodigies get younger and their abilities more extraordinary, many are asking, How young is too young to let their bodies dance on the tips of their toes?
If a teacher or choreographer has ever commented that your dancing looks stiff, the problem could be that you aren't breathing effectively. "When dancers aren't breathing, their shoulders are up and there's no length in their movement. They start to look like they're just waiting to get to the next thing," says Maria Bai, artistic director of Central Park Dance in New York.
It may seem like a no-brainer—of course you can't move without breathing. But beginning dancers often hold their breath because they are so focused on picking up choreography, says Sarah Skaggs, director of dance at Dickinson College. Even advanced dancers can benefit from focusing more on their breath. "Sometimes they are paying so much attention to what their limbs are doing that they forget about the lungs, the chest, the trunk. Breath is the last thing they're thinking about, but really it should be the first," says Skaggs. The more integrated your breathing is, the more relaxed and present you will feel.
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:
As all bunheads know, there's so much more to dancing on pointe than sewing and bourées. In this new video, The Australian Ballet lays it all out for us, from A-Z. Or rather from "Arch" to "Zzzzzz's." Using a super fast-paced style, this four-and-a-half minute long video skips back and forth between ultra-sleek minimalism and sepia-toned nostalgia. Both educational and insider-y (see "cashews" at 0:54), this video includes some gorgeous shots (Apollo-inspired arabesques at 2:00) interspersed with quirky humor (note adorable pointe shoe bed at 3:53).
When finances, geographical distance or timing make attending in-person college auditions impossible, sometimes your only option is to audition via video. We talked to three department heads about the biggest mistakes they see prospective students make in video auditions—and how to avoid them:
Whether or not you see yourself choreographing in your future, you can gain a lot from studying dance composition. "Many companies ask you to generate your own content. Choreography is more collaborative now," says Autumn Eckman, a faculty member at the University of Arizona.
Look beyond the rehearsal studio, and you'll find even more benefits to having dancemaking skills. "Being a thinker as well as a mover is what creates a sustainable career," says Iyun Ashani Harrison, who teaches at Goucher College. "Viewing dance with a developed eye and being able to speak about what you're seeing is valuable whether you're a dancer, a choreographer, an artistic director or a curator."
Succeeding in composition class often has more to do with attitude than aptitude. Above all, you need "a willingness to play along and explore," says Kevin Predmore, who teaches at the Ailey/Fordham BFA program. "You have to let go of the desire to create something extraordinary, and instead be curious."
According to the new documentary DANSEUR, 85% of males who study dance in the United States are bullied or harassed. A quote in the film from Dr. Doug Risner, faculty member at Wayne State University, states, "If this scope of bullying occurred in any activity other than dance, it would be considered a public health crisis by the CDC."
So why is it allowed to persist in ballet? And why aren't we talking about it more? These are the questions that DANSEUR seeks to answer. But primarily consisting of dance footage and interviews with male dancers like ABT's James Whiteside, Houston Ballet's Harper Watters and Boston Ballet's Derek Dunn, the film only addresses these issues superficially, with anecdotes about individual experiences and generalizations about what it's like to be a male dancer.
When you're unable to dance, it's easy to feel like you're falling behind and losing out on opportunities. But this can be a time to reset your body and come back even stronger, says Ilana Goldman, BFA program director at Florida State University's School of Dance. "Some of the greatest leaps I made in my technique happened because of injuries," she says. "Learning how to deal with them is part of being a professional dancer."
Whether you're learning a new style, warming up for a performance or just want to take class when you can't make it to the studio, online dance training platforms are an ever-growing option for dancers of all genres and skill levels. And though they should never replace your live training, they can be a convenient—and hopefully valuable—supplement. Here are the best options available today:
Ever dreamed of dancing in the companies of modern or post-modern dance giants like José Limón, Paul Taylor or Trisha Brown? Then it might be time to enter a dance competition.
Yes, you read that right.
Probably the last genre of dance you'd ever expect there to be a competition for now has its own track at the Dance Prix de New York.
The competition debuts this March, led by Seán Curran, chair of New York University's Tisch Dance department and Jolinda Menendez, a former American Ballet Theatre dancer who now teaches at Tisch (where all the rounds take place). There's both a classical and a contemporary track—although the "contemporary" category isn't what you'd usually expect to see when you hear that word at competitions. Rather than tilts or round offs, the focus will be placed on more subtle modes of movement.
College can be hard on the body. Between late-night rehearsals, carrying backpacks around hilly campuses and long, sedentary study sessions, it's tough for dancers to give their bodies the care they need to prevent injury.
Here are the most common reasons college students get injured—and our top tips for prevention.
Dance technology has come a long way from ballet variations painstakingly learned by watching fuzzy VHS tapes. Over the last few years, a dizzying number of online training programs have cropped up, offering the chance to take class in contemporary, jazz, ballet, tap, hip hop and even ballroom from the comfort of your own living room or studio.