Garnet Henderson is a dancer and writer originally from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and based in New York. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, VICE, Quartz, Refinery29, and others. Her choreographic work has been presented in Paris, France, as well as in New York at the 92nd Street Y, the West End Theater, Triskelion Arts, Gibney Dance, and more. Garnet is also a NASM certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist and trains clients at Studio 26 in Manhattan.
Lauren Sanford teaches contractions to demonstrate the connection between breath and movement. Photo by Jenn Shaw Fleming
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.
Anna Rogovoy in her dual roles of toy shop manager and dancer/choreographer. Left photo by Olympia Shannon; right photo by Kathryn Butler
Few dancers are able to make a comfortable living from their creative pursuits alone. Many rely on non-dance freelance work or multiple part-time gigs, fearing that a full-time job would take too much time away from their dancing. However, plenty of artists manage to balance full-time day jobs with fulfilling dance careers, opting for the security, benefits and opportunity to learn new skills.
Staring down the audience can be a powerful choice when appropriate. Photo by Soho Images, "Nebula" choreographed by Maria Konrad courtesy Next Generation Dance
The most compelling dancers don't just have amazing technique. They also use their focus to draw in the audience and make their performance captivating. Be more confident and engaging onstage by avoiding these mistakes:
Krista DeNio (top) says that women should take an integrated, full-body approach to lifting. Photo by Jun Akiyama, courtesy DeNio
Many contemporary choreographers today expect womento be game to do some lifting. However, the partnering training that most female dancers grow up with—if they have partnering classes at all—usually only teaches them to be supported by a man. It's no surprise that being a good lifter requires physical strength, but it may also require a change in mind-set.
Miami City Ballet in Heatscape, a fleet-footed work by Justin Peck. PC Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Miami City Ballet
As a teacher, Ashley Tuttle is known for her lightning-fast petit allégro combinations. But her students might be surprised to learn that speed did not come naturally to her. "When I joined American Ballet Theatre at 16, I was an adagio dancer," says Tuttle. "I had to learn to be fast."
Many dancers immediately become tense when they think about moving faster, causing their bodies to stiffen and their shoulders to creep up. As counterintuitive as it may feel, you will find more success in doing the opposite. "To go faster, we have to go deeper and breathe more expansively," says contemporary teacher and choreographer Kristin Sudeikis. Even if speed doesn't come naturally, you can become a faster mover by working on your physical and mental agility.
Reframing high-stakes auditions as learning opportunities can make you a better auditioner. Photo by Jim Lafferty.
In 2012, freelance contemporary dancerAdrianne Chu made a major career change: She decided to try out for A Chorus Line. "Even though I didn't get the job, I felt like I was meant to do this," says Chu. So she started going to at least one musical theater audition every weekday, treating each as a learning experience. After several years of building up her resumé, Chu's practice paid off: She booked a starring role as Wendy in the first national tour of Finding Neverland.
Approaching auditions as learning opportunities, especially when you're trying to break into a different style or are new to the profession, can sharpen your skills while helping you avoid burnout. It also builds confidence for the auditions that matter most.
Experienced practitioners of contact improvisation appear to float through the air and move through the most daring positions with ease. Those new to the form, on the other hand, often feel awkward and impatient. Some dancers hesitate, worried they will hurt their partner by giving them too much weight. Others move too quickly, trying for impressive lifts without laying the proper groundwork. Having spent so much of their training focused on aesthetics, many dancers struggle to stop fixating on what their movement looks like. But just like any other form of dance, contact improvisation skills can be developed with practice and the right approach.
Rachel Fallon (center). Photo by Victor Frankowski, courtesy HSC
Rachel Fallon's first year with the Hofesh Shechter Company has been spent largely on the road. The company performs frequently, and almost always on tour. "Because we are constantly out of our home setting, I like to have some sort of routine that I can count on," says Fallon. She shares how she stays centered despite the nearly-constant traveling.
Kretzschmar as Sugarplum Fairy. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB
Nutcracker season starts today at many ballet companies, including New York City Ballet. For corps members like Claire Kretzschmar, that means an always demanding schedule reaches a whole new level of busy. Here's how she keeps herself going.
Kretzschmar in the Coffee variation. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
You know that how you care for your body before curtain can impact your performance. But with so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to nail down an exact routine. How much rest is enough? How close to showtime should you eat? We asked the experts.
Erin Cairns Cella (right). PC Michelle Claire Gevint
In 2013, a few days before The Bang Group left for a tour to Italy, a dancer pulled out of the company's production of Nut/Cracked. The reason? A callback for another gig. "We were left high and dry. We somehow pulled it off, but it wasn't the show I hoped it would be," says David Parker, the company's choreographer and co-director. The debacle didn't just affect that tour—it ended a professional and personal relationship of 10 years.
The Bang Group, PC Ian Douglas
Dancers are often faced with tough decisions about when to tell choreographers or directors personal news about illness, injury, pregnancy or even schedule conflicts. Many dancers fear that being honest could lead to being let go, but withholding information could burn a bridge. Strike the right balance with these tips.
American dancer Kira Blazek Ziaii was hooked after her first experience with Countertechnique—so hooked that when touring to Europe with Hubbard Street 2, she would go to Amsterdam to take class with creator Anouk van Dijk.
"Besides the stage, baking is my other happy place," says New York City Ballet corps member Jenelle Manzi.
Four years ago, she thought her baking days were over when she was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. Manzi had been dealing with pain, frequent illness and joint inflammation for nearly 10 years. Once she cut out gluten, Manzi gradually started to feel better, noticing a transformation in how her body felt and functioned. She found her joints were less inflamed, and she got sick less often.
Many people see dance and choreography as separate pursuits, or view choreography as a dance career's second act. For some dancers, however, performing and choreographing inform one another. "That's just the kind of choreographer I am. I feel things so deeply in my physicality. I have to do it to know it," says Jodi Melnick, who is a prolific performer of her own work. She also maintains an active practice as a performer for other choreographers: Throughout her career, she's worked with Trisha Brown, Twyla Tharp, Tere O'Connor and Donna Uchizono, to name a few.
Though a dual career can be fulfilling, simultaneously inhabiting the roles of dancer and choreographer requires focus, organization and a great deal of energy.
Garnet Henderson and Rebecca Hadley, PC Julie Lemberger
"So what do you do?"
This is the first question many of us ask when we're getting to know a new person—but it's one I've come to dread. When I tell people that I'm a dancer, occasionally I am met with enthusiasm and interest. But more often, I'm met with confusion, condescension or even hostility. "Oh, that's fun. I wish I could do something fun like that," a new acquaintance once said to me. She then proceeded to tell me about how difficult her job was and how hard she was working, making it clear that in her mind "fun" meant "easy." And if I had a dollar for every time a simple getting-to-know-you conversation has turned into a debate in which I've had to defend my career choice, maybe I could quit one of my other jobs.