Working Out With Michele Wiles
The entrepreneurial dancer relies on floor barre/massage guru Marjorie Liebert.
When Michele Wiles created BalletNext in 2011, she invited Mauro Bigonzetti to create a duet for her and Drew Jacoby. Bigonzetti not only gifted Wiles with his challenging contemporary work, but he also introduced her to the woman who would help her dance his ballets: Marjorie Liebert. “I had micro-tears in my calf that we discovered were probably from my past back injuries," remembers Wiles. “She's freed up my back, and changed how I dance."
A former principal with American Ballet Theatre, Wiles has dealt with back problems, like stress fractures and bulging discs throughout her career. She tried strengthening with Pilates, Gyrotonic, swimming and the elliptical trainer, but nothing stuck. When she left ABT at 31, she found herself needing to reorganize her body for BalletNext's contemporary rep. “In ballet, there are all these pressures: perfect winged feet, 180 turnout, the list goes on," says Wiles. “But at a certain point you have to let all of that go and find your natural self if you want to keep dancing without pain."
She's found her natural self through Liebert. A former dancer, Liebert is a ballet mistress and movement therapist who has coached several injured dancers, including Misty Copeland, back to the stage. She was chosen by Boris Kniaseff to carry on his barre-à-terre method, and uses it to help dancers find their true placement.
Doing an entire ballet barre lying on the floor, with nothing to grip or hang on to, Wiles discovered tiny muscles that don't get used when standing. After months of working horizontally in private and small group classes, she was surprised to find how much more strength she had when she stood up to do a regular barre.
In addition to floor barre, Liebert and Wiles meet every Sunday for a two-hour private session that is mostly massage, with corrective exercises interspersed. They focus on loosening different parts of the body and finding new ways to move in the most natural way. Most recently, says Wiles, “I am learning about my feet, educating them on how to be normal again. Until recently, Marjorie had not been able to manipulate my toes, because I always wanted to be in a winged position." She now wears socks at the barre so that she can feel each of her toes and become more aware of how she is standing.
The sessions have brought noticeable changes to Wiles' dancing, particularly her port de bras. “There is much more freedom in everything, and a new fluidity in my upper body," she says. “A friend recently said it was apparent that I have completely changed my mind about how I am working."
Connect with Your Core
Wiles warms up for class with this ab exercise to center herself. “I always notice that my hamstrings loosen after because I've engaged my core," she says.
1. Place a circular Thera-Band (or one tied in a loop) around your upper calves. Lying on your back, arms alongside your torso with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, push out into the band until you feel resistance.
2. Flex your feet and slide your heels away from your torso, feeling your whole body engage. Bring them back to the start position.
3. Try other variations: Arms off the floor, upper body lifted in an abdominal curl, toes scrunched or even legs in the air; continue to push slightly out into the band and stretch and bend the knees.
“Marjorie taught me that a proper pointe comes from feeling energy radiate from your shin down to your foot," says Wiles. “Now I tell all my students, 'Be shinful,' so they don't cram and crunch their foot to point it."
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.