Every time I am about to start a blog post, the world we live in drastically changes, thus causing me to reevaluate what I post. In the latest post, I was going to be writing about Ballet West returning to the stage but this morning Utah put a limit to no more than 10 on social gatherings. So, I am assuming this is going to affect Ballet West’s return to the stage.
Meanwhile, across the world YAGP has successfully hosted the international heats, while the American heats are up in the air and this overwhelming case of uncertainty gives me anxiety.
Like most schools and companies across the US, this pandemic has ravaged business, destroyed dreams, and plagued students.
The efforts of mask wearing is exhausting, but in my experience works extremely well. But, not everyone in the dance world wants to follow suit, which is totally fine. Everyone is entitled to run their business how they see fit, this isn’t a political post.
But for me personally, the pandemic has taken its toll on my soul. The art and world that I love so dearly is crumbling. The uncertainty of ballet companies being able to hire over the next three years is grim. The possibility that every pre-professional school will be flooding their programs for dollars, when it’s time to re-open is very high. And ballet companies seem to not want to reinvent themselves during this time, leaving them institutions of the past.
Dancers have this way of living in the past, reminiscing about “the good days,” and have this inherent love for nostalgia. Remembering the Balanchine Era or the Ballet Russes era, the power houses of that brought down the house of the 80’s, the technicians and tricksters of the 90’s, and the primas of the early 00’s. Each of these times seem to be revisited, talked about, and glorified. But it’s time to move on and look forward if we want to save the art and world we live in.
So, what is next?
Ballet and being relatable. There are dancers of this generation making ballet accessible and relatable- but it seems their employers don’t want to recognize or finance their efforts. In today’s world of Instagram and Social Media influencers, there is an affiliates program. Programs that you make money off of when you are responsible for a lead or sale. While I see these dancers attempting to help their organizations, most aren’t being compensated for it. And yes, it is a team effort to save these organizations that we all love so much, but dancers should be compensated for the work that they are doing.
Crowdfunding and sourcing is a big part of today’s world, and it would be more effective for ballet companies if companies were more accessible but the reality is that these companies aren’t accessible, the dancers are.
Then you have influencers who are not affiliated with companies that are doing exceptional things, and they should be compensated as well. There are individual artist platforms like Patreon that help individual artists thrive to create digital media content. But, collectively, being conscious that the world we love so much isn’t progressing because of executive directors, but because individual people, dancers, and influencers keep creating content that is relevant.
These individuals on Instagram are literally the mouthpiece and physical representation of these organizations. What would ABT or PNB be without their star-studded rosters? And these social media superstars are the driving force behind asking for donations. I see all these dancers advertising their digital seasons, asking for donations, and even seeing the links in their profiles. They should have affiliate links, so companies can track who is bringing in what. It’s not that hard to create individually tracked links. But, if their world is out of touch with how social media works… well they can call me 🙂
Lastly, in this ever-changing world, a thought that has been constantly on my mind is…. Are unions like AGMA and the theatre union helping or hindering ballet?
As ballet evolves through this time of COVID, some institutions and individuals have evolved as innovators, while others have slipped into an even more archaic and dated state. New York City Ballet’s Tiler Peck has leapt ahead of the industry.
In addition to consistently teaching an open class on her Instagram Live feed during Quarantine, Peck teamed up with LA-based CLI Studios to produce a new digital performance. For those unfamiliar, CLI Studios is a digital dance streaming service that is popular among competitive studios and dancers for its access to competitive choreographer content.
“A New Stage” was created by Peck as a front-row experience presented by world-class dancers and some of the most highly profiled collaborators. The $20 streamed performance includes names like Lil Buck, Sierra Boggess, Brooklyn Mack, and the Syncopated Ladies.
The broadcast is introduced by Peck and then moves into Unusual Way by the award-winning Christopher Wheeldon. Of course the ballet world knows who he is, but for the commercial world, it presented a tremendous introductory effort. This piece entailed a pointe solo by Peck accompanied by vocals sung by Broadway star Sierra Boggess. The slow and romantic movement showcased Peck in a softer presence than her typical portrayal with City Ballet. The piece was delicate and approachable, and definitely created a diverse audience-friendly contemporary ballet that felt welcoming to everyone.
The tap ensemble Syncopated Ladies, then presented its spectacular offering, Amplified. This piece was vibrant, clear, and a true reflection of our times. It transcended the obvious use of popular music, and truly offered something we don’t see often enough in the world of concert dance: high caliber, technical, and clean tap. It wasn’t a part of a Broadway show, it wasn’t a part of a competition showcase, and it wasn’t trying to be a ground breaking percussive performance. Instead, this performance was purely about the tapping, and the people performing. There were multiple body types, ethnicities, and individual artists amongst these delightfully talented women. In today’s world, where ballet struggles between elitism and accessibility, the Syncopated Ladies’ performance truly was a punch of power, hope and progress for the world of dance.
Finally, the evening concluded with the big performance: Petrushka Reimagined. Petrushka originally premiered in 1911 with the Ballet Russes. It was choreographed by Fokine to Stravinsky, who had in 1910, just premiered his score to the ballet, Firebird. Originally, this ballet was supposed to be Rite of Spring for Diaghilev, but Stravinsky wasn’t feeling it at the time and composed the score around a puppet.
As this ballet is really intended for a more sophisticated ballet audience, each version that was subsequently created was condensed, and the score cut down and simplified by Stravinsky himself.
An updated Petrushka was previously premiered in 2009 by the Scottish Ballet, and in 2012 a small company in Florida also premiered a Petrushka interpretation with hip-hop, but used a full cast instead of limiting the piece to 3 dancers. This version was definitely more audience friendly, and probably suited the wider commercial audience it was created to entertain. The dancing was great, however the choreography held this piece back from realizing its full potential. With such a capable cast, it was disappointing to find it not as complex or developed as it should have been.
This presentation was based on the later version featuring Nureyev, which only requires 3 dancers. Lil Buck was featured as Petrushka (the puppet), Tiler Peck as the ballerina, and Brooklyn Mack as the Moore. The performance drew from hip hop, pop-locking, vogueing, classical ballet, and contemporary ballet. While I appreciated the choreographer, Jennifer Weber’s, take of Petrushka, the actual sadness, darkness, and complexity of the original ballet is missing, and the focus is not on Petrushka but on Peck’s ballerina doll and a love triangle that is portrayed through elaborate commercial dance.
Overall, the entire evening was beautifully filmed and crafted and is a great exposure opportunity for younger audiences. Older audiences could appreciate Weber’s Petrushka as one of the only ballets where the male characters are more developed and portray a wider range of emotions. As a commercial introduction to the world of concert dance, this performance checked all of the right boxes: diversity, technique, modernity, and entertainment…but, the $20 was worth it for Syncopated Ladies alone! Check out the performance here.
CLI’s next performance will include a world premiere by William Forsythe and Tiler Peck. Stay tuned for more.
Seven super cute costume ideas that you probably already have around the house.
This year, instead of illustrating the week of Spooky Season, I asked my students to recreate my illustrations. They definitely went all-in on it, and here they are, just in time for the spooky holiday.
So Kathryn Morgan just opened up, and just put Miami City Ballet on Blast.
Her story was super publicized, and in fact, maybe Miami City Ballet used her for just that: Her public forum. Did Miami City Ballet use her as a stunt to help save their company’s reputation, and do it for the look of “diversity and acceptance” … In her video, she talks about the pressures that the company put on her about her body: she is a size 2. Her video talks about the bullying that happens by the artistic staff, and the pressures that they put on you. Is it even worse because the Artistic Director is female, and a woman requiring the body type? For someone who has worked hard for years to get back in shape, and get to a point where she can dance in a company again… to be told she wasn’t an inspiration? Sounds fishy to me. The crazy part about this video is she doesn’t make any excuses for herself and presents both sides of the executive/artistic staff and her own personal endeavors. So, what did we learn from this video? Miami City Ballet’s reputation of being progressive, and equal, and diverse is basically a facade.
When I was younger, kids in my ballet class were awarded stickers for coming to class in the proper uniform with their hair in a neat ballet bun. My mom arranged my thick natural hair into individual braids that were nicely pulled back for class, however, I was the only girl who did not get a sticker for being in the proper uniform. I was always told my hair was not right for the class. Eventually, I told my mother about the issue. We met with the director who apologized, and I finally got my stickers. This experience was traumatizing for me. It could have deterred my interest in this art form. Ballet schools must be more accepting of the cultural and racial differences of their students. The ballet community should accommodate hairstyles for Black dancers who have beautiful, naturally coarse hair. Training to be a professional ballerina is challenging and takes a lot of discipline, regardless of who you are. Read more in our September Issue.
The knee joint is the most unstable joint in the body. Put at constant torque by ballet dancers, no wonder we are worried about their health and safety. Or maybe you would love a greater range of motion, a more square split, and cleaner penché line.
This exercise helps to create length in the joint capsule of the knee, stretching not only its hinging action but also its unique rotational aspect.
Often in ballet, we only stretch turned out and for far too long for our tissue to actually lengthen. After just two seconds, the stretch reflex fires from our body to our mind telling it “we may be in danger, tense up now to avoid injury!” Physiologically, after two seconds of stretching any joint past, the range of motion, our stretch becomes an isometric contraction, similar to holding our plank or developpé a la seconde. The pain we feel from stretching after two seconds is our defense mechanism which in ballet we are taught to ignore.
By actively engaging the quads, abs, and hip flexors to perform this exercise we are able to effectively stretch the hamstrings and calves without sending a negative message to our tissue. We’re respecting our reflexes, using Sherrington’s Law of Reciprocal Inhibition.
To begin the stretch, lay on your back with your legs outstretched in front of you. Place a non stretch strap, rope, or lead around the sole of the exercising leg’s foot to begin. You may use your hands on the back of the thigh and calf as well. The starting position begins with the knee flexed toward the rib cage and same side shoulder. Contract the quads to fully extend the knee. At the end of the knee movement keep contracted the quadriceps and assist with a rope or your hands. The lower leg should finish over the upper leg without the upper leg moving forward away from the chest. After maintaining a fully stretched knee for two seconds, release back to the starting position.
In order to assure maximum stretch, a proper angle must be obtained between the thigh and chest and full extension of the knee is attained in each repetition. Release to the starting position of complete knee flexion and gently repeat the exercise moving the legs slightly closer to the chest.
2 sets of 5 to 10 repetitions recommended, alternating legs after each set.
Repeat the same exercise but wrap the strap around the bottom of the foot and back around from the inside to the outside of the lower leg to create an inward rotation of the shin. Make sure the femur stays neutral and parallel, it is not a complete turn-in of the entire leg.
2 sets of 5 to 10 repetitions recommended, alternating legs after each set.
Repeat the same exercise but wrap the strap around the bottom of the foot and out around from outside to inside of the lower leg to create an outward rotation of the shin. Make sure the femur stays neutral and parallel, it is not a complete turn out of the entire leg.
2 sets of 5 to 10 repetitions recommended, alternating legs after each set.
Do not arch your back, or hike the hip off of the ground surface to compensate for greater stretch. This exercise is about keeping the quadriceps contracted during the entire knee extension as it is creating length in the back of the joint. Relax the ankle, do not strive to point the foot. You do not want to add greater tension to the stretch, but isolate the focus just to the back of the knee. Every time you contract the top thigh muscles, exhale and inhale on the return back to the starting position. Lastly, do not use the strap or your hands to pull your foot closer to your face. That strap is there to add a gentle assisted stretch after your muscles have fully done the action of straightening the knee from a flexed hip.
Matthew Doolin BA, NMT
Matthew Doolin is a Neuromuscular Therapist who specializes in physical rehabilitation, injury and pain management for all. He danced professionally for thirteen years as well as obtained BA from Butler University, two years study to become a medical massage therapist at the National Holistic Institute in San Francisco, and has been practicing Active Isolated Stretching for three three years. He currently lives in Jacksonville, Florida and treats patients online and in person. Please visit his website, IG account, or email him for more information. During this time of crisis Matthew is offering sliding-scale pricing for those interested in taking better care of their facilities or want to break through their physical limitations.
Dear Friends, Colleagues, Readers and Ballet Lovers…
Ballet is facing a very scary time right now. Companies are running out of money very quickly, and we need, I need your help. There are companies out there now facing the potential of folding… I am asking for your help to donate. And yes, it’s very hard to know which company to help support since every company out there is asking for help. We have started using some of our scholarship money and donating it to companies because if these companies close, we will have nowhere to send our kids. There will be no jobs for them in 3-5 years. I am asking you to look at the bigger picture because it isn’t just the season that is affected, it is going to be a 3-5 or even longer downturn for companies. On October 1, we will announce what companies we will be able to help out and the amounts we are able to help. This is very serious, and it scares me that in 3-5 years there might not be opportunities for any student if we can not keep these companies alive.
And yes, there is the argument that some companies have been mismanaged, or have been racially selective, we want to donate to companies who do thrive on diversity and inclusion. These are the companies that need our help the most. So, if you have a few extra dollars to spare, please feel inclined to donate. It really does scare me what the future of ballet will look like if we don’t have companies to feed.
The September Issue is here! Our September Issue here and it is our largest issue ever! Our 20th issue is over 200 pages and the first issue in the history of the Magazine where I did not produce it and I couldn’t be more proud. This issue brings the news that I will be stepping down as Editor-in-Chief and handing over the magazine to Elizabeth Weldon and Ashley Lorraine Baker. The reasoning behind this? I want to make sure that women lead this publication, and that women are being represented in the ballet world as writers, photographers, editors, and are being the voices shaping the conversations in dance. This issue is beyond stunning and I couldn’t have been more proud to see my colleagues (who I am lucky enough to call friends) take control of this issue and produce a beyond stunning issue. We hope you enjoy it! You can read the magazine by subscribing here: www.aballetmagazine.com
IN THIS ISSUE:
COVER STORY WOMEN: THE FUTURE: When the staff of A Ballet Magazine began brainstorming for our September issue, the immediate thought that came to my mind was to feature these four beautiful women at Ballet West.: Gabrielle Salvatto Katlyn Addison, Jazz Khai Bynum, and Ginabel Peterson. Read an in-depth article and interview by Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Weldon photographed by Joshua Whitehead.
GROWING UP BLACK By Lauryn Brown | Photographed by Ashley Baker When I was younger, kids in my ballet class were awarded stickers for coming to class in the proper uniform with their hair in a neat ballet bun. My mom arranged my thick natural hair into individual braids that were nicely pulled back for class, however, I was the only girl who did not get a sticker for being in the proper uniform. I was always told my hair was not right for class. Read more of Lauryn’s personal essay.
DO THEY SEE US? By Ashley Baker Creating quality ballet choreography can come from anyone and anywhere. Ballet seems to be lacking in finding, or better yet, uncovering black women who choreograph ballet. Where are all the black female choreographers? Amy Hall Garner and Claudia Schreier unpack being choreographers, being black, and being women.
THE VIOLENCE OF WHITE SILENCE By Elizabeth Weldon In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, and the surge of Black Lives Matter protests worldwide, ballet dancers of color have taken to their social media accounts as a platform to express disappointment in their employers. One of the first of these dancers was George Sanders.
THE POINTE OF PIGMENT Written and Photographed Ashley Baker Some of the world’s top pointe shoe companies share in their mission to better represent the community that uses their products. This article features Freed of London, Suffolk, and Gaynor Minden. We had the chance to sit down and talk with the owners of these companies and talk about their contributions in providing pointe shoes of color.
MASTER TEACHER By David King My first introduction to Andrea Long wasn’t in person. And no, it wasn’t because of the Covid-19 pandemic. My first introduction to Andrea Long was in 1993, sitting inside the local cineplex at six years old. Now, I have the privilege of calling this master teacher my friend. Here is a feature on this stunning and talented teacher.
#ABESONESTOWATCH NEW FEATURE: Each issue A Ballet Education and A Ballet Magazine will be selecting up and coming ballet dancers to be featured in the issue! We are kicking off this feature with six talented young women who are breaking onto the ballet scene with a punch. Featuring Maddison Brown, Adeline Dunlap, Bella Jones, Alexandra Owens, Destiny Wimpye, and Sasha Manuel.
FALL FASHION: COLOR BLOCKING Written and Photographed Ashley Baker featuring Mia Patton and styled by Berly Baray
STYLE: HERE’S TO HAIR Written by Ashley Baker featuring Alexandra Terry
RESILIENCE & REPRESENTATION a profile on KIYON ROSS Written by Eric Hipolito Jr.
AZ DANCE MED TAKES YOU THROUGH HELPFUL EXERCISES TO PROMOTE A MOBILE AND SUPPORTED SPINE
RESOURCES: WHEN WILL IT BE WOMEN’S TURN? Written by Jillian Verzwyvelt artwork by Ashley Baker
PROFILE: DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM STEPHANIE RAE WILLIAMS Written by Isabella Costantino
PROFILE: PAVIELLE VERSALLES: THE WOMAN BEHIND CONCEPT PAVIELLE
COVID has taken over almost every aspect of our lives. Our jobs, the way we interact with people, the news, and so on. While COVID has completely destroyed some aspects of ballet, ballet has found a way to reinvent itself: The Digital Performance. While I have a lot of problems with digital teaching, and that watching digitally broadcast performances is not the same as attending live performances… there are a lot of things I love about this new era.
I love that ballet is becoming more accessible to the masses with free performances. I love being able to fast forward, pause, and replay. I love being able to watch it in my bed, in my pajamas and eating. I love being able to talk during a performance. And most of all, I like being able to talk to colleagues and friends about the same exact performance.
But what I really love, what I love more than anything right now, are all of these new video performances that take ballet and dance to another level. Combining amazing videography, and collaborations have allowed us to see dancers we may not normally see or feature dancers that most artistic directors would not feature. If you are catching my drift…
These videos are most likely going to become a part of the future of ballet, and truthfully, I love it.
So here are some of the amazing digital performances that I am kind of obsessed with right now- Enjoy.
This is just nice to watch…
DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT ALL OF THE AMAZING ABE PRODUCTS OUT NOW!!
And for those of you who aren’t looking for anything like that. Here is a free coloring page. Have your student(s) design their own tutus and have fun coloring in and learning about The Sleeping Beauty.
And for those of you who have been asking. STICKER PACK 2 will be coming out mid July featuring the following stickers: Jodi, Sleeping Beauty Pas De Deux, Lilac Fairy, Bluebird, Flames of Paris, Kitri ACT I, Don Q Pas de deux, Kitri’s Friends and our Anniversary Sticker!!
The Pointe Shoe Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ, is hosting a used costume sale July 27-31. All donations will be tax deductible and 100% of proceeds will go to A Ballet Education’s scholarship fund for dancers of color.
All performance quality costumes are welcomed, including competition style, contemporary ballet, ballet tutus, solos, duets, trios, and groups. Please consider donating these items for a great cause. A tax receipt will be given upon donation. We ask that all costume donations be clean and in good repair. Soiled, damaged, or incomplete costumes will not be accepted. Purchasing costumes will be available online through the Pointe Shoe Clinic’s Website.
Donations may be dropped off or mailed to the following address beginning Saturday, June 27 through Sunday, July 5.
The Pointe Shoe Clinic 7835 E Evans Rd. Suite 500 Scottsdale AZ, 85255
For more information or to arrange for a special time for donation please email us.
We look forward to partnering with The Pointe Shoe Clinic to grow our scholarship fund for dancers of color.
Freed pointe shoe fittings with The Pointe Shoe Clinic are available.
People have said that I have been too silent, that I need to use my platform to stand up for the racial injustices in ballet and so on… It has been an exhausting war on social media and I am not going to defend myself. I have been a champion for dancers of color since the beginning of this blog and have provided scholarships and financial assistance to over 10 dancers of color who could not afford to dance. But in this intense, and much-needed reform in dance, there is a lot of information circulating around. There are those dancers of color speaking out about their experiences in companies, there are white women championing for race and throwing virtual bricks at every company under the sun, and there are those who are ignoring the problem.
Truth: This past month has been overwhelming for me. Emotionally the toll it took on me was devastating.
But, through this pain, anxiety and depression, A Ballet Education has been able to produce five amazing scholarships.
Our first program is for dancers of color ages 7-11 in the Arizona area. If you can not afford to dance, but would like to, this program is completely free for families who can not afford ballet. This program is offered through the Ballet Clinic. No questions asked.
Our second program is also through The Ballet Clinic, the ballet school that we own. This second scholarship program offers 3 full-tuition scholarships in each of our names. This program was introduced in August of 2019. Ashley Baker, Eric Hipolito Jr. and I were all scholarship kids in dance and want to give back. Click here.
The Third scholarship program is for dancers who are ages 12-14 and can not afford tuition. Through this program we offer a sliding scale tuition based on taxes.
The fourth program is open to anyone. We will be offering give $1,000 scholarships for dancers who are looking for financial assistance. Details will be announced at the end of July. This program is funded through the sales of A Ballet Education’s Planners.
Our final scholarship program is for dancers of color who show exceptional potential and need professional mentoring, career advice, and preparing for auditions. This fellowship program helps you curate your resume, audition videos, photos, and more. This program is completely free.
Additionally, we have been offering talks on ZOOM and Instagram Live. Our next talk is tomorrow, Monday, June 22 @ 4:00 PM PST. You can join us on Zoom or Instagram Live here.
Our Summer Issue is here! 120 beautiful pages! During this pandemic, A Ballet Education was lucky enough to not only survive, but thrive and come together and create art. This amazing issue includes numerous dancers from around the world, and is a reminder of what ballet was, is and going to be.
This issue is full of amazing articles including:
–The New Normal, our coverstory by Elizabeth Weldon, photographed by Ashley Baker featuring ABT Studio Company’s Elisabeth Beyer.
-How Small Businesses are Navigating the COVID-19 Crisis
-College & COVID by Bethanne Black
Preview the magazine below, and subscribe to view the full issue.
A Ballet Education’s A Ballet Magazine is published through JooMag.
ADVERTISE IN THE NEXT ISSUE
If you are interested in advertising in the next issue please click here.
You cannot add "Ballet Sticker Packs" to the cart because the product is out of stock.
American Ballet Theatre just made ballet history and made ballet even more accessible to everyone.
While in the past few years, ABT has struggled with staying ahead of the curve of ballet innovation, ABT just blew everyone out of the water and jumped into the future of the art. Their fresh creativity via archived footage, rehearsal footage, and professionally recorded performances took us through the ranks of JKO to Principal Dancer in an all star-studded cast.
Supporters spanning Hollywood’s elite to the New York Yankees, and profiles of principal dancers past and present, created a way to make ballet feel right for everyone.
It is no secret that film and ballet haven’t always gone hand in hand, however, tonight demonstrated what happens when ballet is approached lovingly and broadly. By explaining ballet in-depth, conducting intimate interviews, and profiling new and thought-provoking choreography projects, the broadcast just put ABT ahead of any ballet company in the world by an entire generation.
This single broadcast might be the most influential and most meaningful dance work created in the last, well ever. It wasn’t a documentary or an individual performance; it was the reality of everyday people doing extraordinary things in the arts. It had the most beautiful campaigns and cinematography combined with real-life facetime and zoom footage, making it even more real and relatable. Most impressively it combined both Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie and the usual behind the scenes Executive Director Kara Medoff Barnett to the front of ABT.
Our Common Fate, a new collaborative work by Jessica Lang and Tony Bennet, was inspired by quarantine and led the continued parade of beauty and exceptional moments. Danced by Aran Bell and Catherine Hurlin (the next Gillian and Ethan) around Central Park, the ending with the dancers waving up at Bennet left us with some kind of feeling.
The other features ranging from the budding talent of Studio Company, to the love of ballet in the students of JKO, highlighted the bright future of ballet. The inclusion of the ABT orchestra playing the finale of the Brahams Haydn Variations together from home was mesmerizing and moving.
Of Love and Rage showcased the crew of ABT building the sets from start to finish on stage in Orange County to the rehearsing of Aran and Catherine (Caty). It highlighted the sheer manpower needed to put on one of ABT’s productions.
Members of the company, both male and female, performed the entrance of the swans from the second act of Swan Lake from their respective shelter at home locations.
Cynthia Erivo sang America the Beautiful with dancers dancing around the Kennedy Center, the emptiness of Lincoln Center and New York, and people dancing at home across the US filmed from the outside.
Instagram favorite, James Whiteside, one of the fundraising campaign’s curators, announced that ABT would be starting an online series over the next eight weeks and bring you inside the studios of ABT. This entire film and broadcast were to help raise funds for ABT’s Crisis Relief Fund. You can donate or bid on silent auction items here.
While this was a fundraising campaign, it was probably the most glamorous, well thought out, put together, edited, campaign the ballet world has seen in a while. And while ABT’s JKO school is still trying to figure out their digital summer program, we shall see if the school is able to create something as innovative as the company.
Ballet is conservative. It does not like progress, and it does not like people who are different from the people in power. It purposefully makes sure that people who are different feel like they are out of place, or that ballet is unobtainable. It prefers money, classism, and a body type that typically categorizes as a certain ethnicity. Because of this, it usually attracts an audience – both as students and as ballet fans – who share similar values. The typical ballet ticket runs on average around 50 dollars across the United States, and can go up to 1,800 dollars for a “good seat.” All of the above is ballet—a world of beautiful theaters, beautiful people, beautiful places, and beautiful music. But all of this beauty stands on an undercurrent of certain religious beliefs and gender roles that continue to dictate certain values in ballet.
I recently decided to take a poll about my August Planner Cover, and that poll has turned out to be a more considerable discussion on gender roles and sexuality. What was supposed to be a light conversation about a personal preference of what people would want to see on the cover has turned into a weighted debate about religion, sexuality, and gender in ballet.
When I started the August Planner, I thought it would be nice to have men on the cover. Like the May, June, and July cover, there are always two dancers. So, I thought it would be a good change to have two male ballet dancers on the cover, just hanging out before class. Apparently, two male dancers depicted on the cover would equate to homosexuality. Forty percent of those voting chose “no” to the cover. Of those who voted against it, 85% include a Bible verse in their Instagram bio. I have no problem with religion; in fact, I was raised in a very religious home, keep a Bible next to my bed, attend mass when I can, and say my nightly prayers.
I then told my followers that if they thought the art implies homosexuality, to unfollow me. And, in a matter of two hours, a little under 200 people unfollowed me: no big deal, just a part of social media life.
But to me, the point about this artwork is not about homosexuality. The point is about men in ballet and how they are perceived within our culture and in the context of the wealthy conservative families who support ballet, the politics that come along with those wealthy families. What is the idea of a male dancer, and what are the widely held assumptions about male ballet dancers? Who gets to define what a male dancer represents and who gets to decide what their sexuality and value is in society?
By our dominant culture’s definition, masculinity is: having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men, especially strength and aggressiveness. (Webster)
This definition and idea of what is “male” can be seen in almost every classical ballet. Prince Desire kisses a sixteen-year-old princess without her consent in the Sleeping Beauty. In Le Corsaire, men sell and buy women. In Raymonda, there is rape. In the ballet Swan Lake, a male falls in love with an animal. In La Sylphide, there is a male that cheats on his female partner. In Giselle, another male that cheats on his female partner. In La Bayadere, there is a male doing drugs. And the list goes on and on. As a parent, you might read this paragraph and think, “Why am I letting my child do ballet?” Yeah, trust me. I ask myself the same thing.
Men in ballet are consistently depicted and celebrated for being strong and powerful, and these figures of what modern society says is considered toxic masculinity. On the other hand, we argue that these ballet stories are part of tradition, history, and literature and should continue celebrated and unchanged. This then makes me wonder — why are we surprised when we hear about men in ballet taking advantage of women in ballet, or male or female students for that matter, or any of that? Aren’t these male dancers just “acting” or “emulating” what they are rehearsing every day, and practicing to portray? Again, you might be thinking, “Okay, this is not cool. Let’s reconsider this.”
We also have to look at who controls ballet. Most of the directors are men, most of the boards of directors are made of men, most of the donors in ballet are men (who donate on behalf of their family), and most of these men across this conversation are above 60. Point being, they grew up in a different era. If we learned anything from Madmen and men from that age group, it was that men in the office cheat. Haha, that was a joke. I am currently binge-watching Madmen during this crazy time.
But, getting back to the point. On the one hand, families of young female dancers often complain that there aren’t enough boys in ballet. Well, imagine the social pressure on a young boy who want to dance ballet, if when we see two boys in ballet attire, everyone automatically assumes homosexuality? On then other hand, some of those same families will admit that they won’t let their sons dance because they don’t want people to “think they are gay” or worry that allowing them to spend time around male dancers will somehow “turn them gay.” And then often, those same families will complain that their daughter doesn’t have a pas de deux partner….
I decided to look at everyone’s feed who voted “no” to the two men in ballet attire as cover art. Many of these girls are also posting photos in crop tops, booty shorts, posing in crotch shots, and after looking through their followers, it appears that for the most part are not bothering to review their followers closely and allowing plenty of what appear to be perv accounts follow them. Ironically, girls are attracted to ballet for the frills and “pretty factors” of ballet. Loop this back around to my confusion, I reconsidered my June and July covers, in which the girls are in swimsuits and pointe shoes. I thought, “Well, at least these voters are aspiring to appear like what I draw?” These same girls are also trained by prominent gay male ballet teachers, so I am a little confused about why they are willing to accept homosexual male dancers in that aspect of their lives…. But, to each their own.
Think about the men in ballet that we adore. The men that we say shaped ballet — many are homosexuals, but as long as we don’t see them being homosexual — as long as they don’t publically “act too gay”, then it’s acceptable. This logic is what sometimes dictates ballet donors, parents, and others that are otherwise conservative in their ballet support. T here is a teacher I know, a very well respected Eastern European teacher who would always tell the boys, “I don’t care how effeminate you are, or if you are gay. All I care about is that you portray the role you are supposed to portray, you focus on the technique, and you are a good kid.” This man comes from one of the most conservative countries but seems to have this very relaxed outlook on sexuality.
Meanwhile, in the world of competitive jazz, broadway, and modern dance, the idea of homosexuality has become much more widely accepted. So then, my focus on why we assume that two men in ballet equate to gay.
If two men were at a cigar bar or a frat party and one put their arm around the other for a photo, would it be considered gay? If the context of assuming my drawing was gay, is it because they were wearing tights, and the body language and shape of hyperextension is gay? Is it because people think that two men should never dance together or hang out as close friends off stage? Is it because we are conditioned to only see ballet as one male dancing, partnering and lifting one female? Is it because we are saying that we are OK with gay men as long as they keep their distance, but we don’t want them printed on our child’s day planner?
This conservatism that fuels and funds ballet is the same conservatism that is holding ballet back from making progress towards a more modern, artistic and accepting view of different body types, ethnicities, or even more modern story lines, etc. You might also be wondering why I am posting this?
This post isn’t about what is right or wrong because everyone is entitled to their belief system…. and, I am wondering if I am shooting myself in the foot because I am a gay man, and I could be cutting off or offending thousands of followers, subscribers, and customers. However, I think the questions that I am pondering with my artwork, my poll and this post are ultimately about protecting, inspiring, and accepting young boys who want to dance and explore the various aspects of the art of ballet, and how the world is going to perceive them – regardless of their sexual identity. If these dancers aren’t allowed to have male friends who support them and hang out with them on and off stage, without being automatically assumed as gay (and having to deal with all of the social stigmas and life challenges still facing gay men) — or even if they are gay — if there is no place for these different ideas and definitions of masculinity and the male identity on or off stage, then how will we be able to continue to recruit, finance and support the next generation of male dancers to be a necessary part of this incredible art form? How will we be able to fuel and inspire a new generation of ballet dancers, ballet story lines that portray less toxic male stereotypes, men and women to fund, direct, market and buy tickets to watch these talented men dancers?
On an uplifting note, SFB has hired six of their apprentices into the corps, with an additional corps contract from a graduate from Princess Grace. They have promoted two soloists to principals; Four corps dancers to soloists; an extra principal contract to the stunning NIkisha Fogo from Vienna State Ballet, and have taken on six apprentices, including Olivia Brothers, a former student I was lucky enough to coach.
SAN FRANCISCO, April 22, 2020—San Francisco Ballet (SF Ballet) announces 11 promotions, two new Company members, and six apprentices for the 2021 Season. Effective July 1, soloists Wona Park and Max Cauthorn are promoted to principal dancer, and corps de ballet members Ellen Rose Hummel, Diego Cruz, Lucas Erni, and Myles Thatcher are promoted to soloist. SF Ballet apprentices SunMin Lee, Tyla Steinbach, Rubén Cítores, Lleyton Ho, and Adrian Zeisel are promoted to the corps de ballet. Each of the 11 promoted dancers received training at SF Ballet School, from which previous students make up over 65 percent of SFBallet’s Company. In addition, Nikisha Fogo, first soloist with the Vienna State Ballet, joins the Company as a principal dancer in the 2021 Season. Also joining the Company’s corps de ballet is Luca Ferrò from the Princess Grace Academy. Alexis Aiudi, Olivia Brothers, Pemberley Ann Olson, Andris Kundzins, Gregory Myles, and Alexis Valdes of San Francisco Ballet School are appointed as apprentices starting in the 2021 Season.
Today hit harder than most days. A wave of devastation came across hundreds of young talented dancers as some of the most prestigious ballet schools announced they are canceling their summer intensives. Earlier in the month Houston Ballet already made some tough but responsible choices regarding their summer course, but today Royal Ballet and San Francisco also announced their program cuts. While this is devastating to hundreds, it is the socially responsible thing to do. But how does an 11-year-old or a 12-year-old cope and deal with understanding the larger picture, a picture that not only includes ballet but the entire world?
As a school director, today devastated my students as our entire school was committed either San Francisco Ballet School or Royal Ballet. While our YAGP winners were already devastated earlier this month from the canceling of finals, today was another hard, but expected blow. We had already proposed a stay at home summer course for our students, but it doesn’t compare to the opportunities that were going to lie ahead of them. Most of the winners of YAGP have already committed to international courses across the world, and now they are left with nothing. A year’s worth of hard work gone to the wayside, thousands of dollars in competitive fees, tutus and pointe shoes are now wasted. While these are only short term goals, it is still devastating.
For a lot of young dancers, who are now 17-19, they are realizing that their dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer might not ever happen as companies are announcing their budget cuts and financial strains. Professionals are now questioning their job security and what the future is going to hold for them. And while this economy has tanked, the economic and social trends of ballet and the world have been sped up tenfold.
So what does this all mean?
Ballet for the Masses: Companies are finally realizing what I have been saying for a long time… BROADCAST your performances for a fee. People will pay! So if you are in Los Angeles you now can watch New York City Ballet and so on and so forth. City Ballet will be broadcasting Tuesdays and Thursdays, with Wendy Whelan Lecturing and teaching movement classes. But this now just exponentially opened up your ticket sales. The world can now watch ballet from anywhere at any given time, and while it doesn’t replace the magic of live theatre, it does increase ticket sales by demographically… billions… So if you are an ED or AD out there, I hope you listen and take advantage of what is about it come.
Big Names & Big Talent: With everyone now on social media, and social media numbers being driven up 300% on Instagram and TikTok becoming the fastest growing platform, social media is now more important than ever. Star-studded live classes with principal dancers are selling, but now, taking alongside start-studded students is a BIG thing. Those who are on social media and these kids are becoming more and more circulated and more and more recognized, meaning these are the names that will be driving ticket sales in 3-5 years if not sooner. So, don’t miss the bandwagon. If there is anything that COVID-19 has taught us is that the “influence” you have on social media really does matter. The bigger the name, the more likely a company will be reaching out to you to “collaborate” or “virtually teach” or “virtually take class with”.
VIRTUAL BALLET: While Virtual Ballet is now becoming more and more of reality, and that people are now realizing they can train just about anywhere, or take private lessons from many principal dancers and top coaches, ballet is becoming even more elite and even conservative. Ballet Schools are now recruiting left and right as they can now virtually see thousands of dancers in a week and recruit into their schools.
The rise of the Powerhouse Schools: Ballet schools around the world have always been categorized into three categories. Whether or not we like to admit this or not, it is truth. The categories have always been: A Professional School (A school with a pre-professional program attached to a professional company) Competitive Commercial School (Intensive comp schools that are industry-based driven and placing commercial and contemporary dancers into broadway jobs or agencies) And recreational, or as a lot of elite snobs like to call them: the dolly-dinkle schools.
But here is the problem that COVID has made. Professional schools are now going to be falling to the waste side as the quality is going to go down. Trainee and pre-pro programs are going to be flooded with kids to make up for the financial shortcomings of social distancing. It already happened in 2008, and a lot of these schools are still trying to “recover” their training reputations. But, because of this pandemic, we are now looking at an even bigger flood of trainee programs. It is already hard enough to see a once prestigious ballet school with a company that has a historical name in Chicago had over 30 Trainees this season, with maybe 4 job openings. 30+ kids paying 17-30k a year is a lot of dollars… and so this model of flooding trainee programs will now be the standard to make up for the financial losses in ballet.
This means that schools like Ellison, Elite Classical Coaching, Southland Academy, ICSB, Cary, Sarasota Cuban Ballet, Master Ballet Academy, The Ballet Clinic, Central New Jersey, Golden State, Skyra, and others are going to rise to the top as the most sought after training grounds. Programs with exclusivity and pristine training are going to take even more prominence than before, as they continuously produce strong dancers. While these schools are already powerhouse players at the YAGP, and powerhouses on social media, these schools are just continually going to rise to the top.
So at the end of all of this, who is going to have a job in ballet? Over the next 3-5 years the ones who will be getting jobs are going to be grouped into three categories:
Good bodies for the corps de ballet.
Social Media stars who will sell seats, who are technically gifted and that will have the chance to continue to build a name for themselves and become household names. We originally saw this trend 2011/2012 with the documentary “First Position” and the start of the rise of YAGP and Social Media. Now they are soloists and doctors. Now that we don’t need documentaries because we can follow social media stories, it is going to push this trend even faster.
So, while we try to comfort our dancers and tell them everything is going to be okay, we also need to be honest with them, and constantly remind them that this can not crush them into an oblivion and that you must continue to work harder, push harder, and be even more dedicated so that when all of this is over, and the dust starts to settle they will be one of the ones who will be considered for a job. It is now more than ever, that the focus and rigor of ballet can not fade out, it can not take a backseat, and it can not go to the waste. It is time to realize that you either want this 100 percent and you are going to kill yourself to even have the slightest chance at a job, or you are just going to go to college, or that maybe you don’t want this professionally. Regardless, it is only going to get harder to find a job, so you all need to work 10 times harder, and 20 times smarter.
Not that we can all be jumping right now, but here is today’s ballet step of the day: Entrechat Six. This wonderful battu or batterie step is for both men and women of the intermediate and above levels. This jump usually is done in both allegro and grand allegro and can be done in petit allegro for the more advanced student. Entrechat six is translated as six crossings, but sometimes we forget how we count crossings in beats. 1 cross = is an opening or a crossing.
Illustrated above are where the six crossings are counted.
There are different ways and different thoughts on how to approach an entrechat six, whether that is based on musicality and phrasing the beats on the way up, or hitting the final beat at the landing if the accent is down. Some teachers will tell you to just squeeze the buttocks and legs as tight as you can and you will hit the six, while others might say do an entrechat quatre, and close back. Different strokes for different folks… When I teach entrechat six, I really emphasize the second beat and make sure you SUPER over cross the thighs and then let the legs kind of unwind the tension to create the beats. Again, different ways for different people. But here are some things to look out for, regardless of how you are taught to phrase the beat to accomplish it:
DO NOT BEAT YOUR ANKLES…. oof it is the worst to watch and hear. If you are beating your ankles you aren’t really jumping, and most likely are using your quads. Epic fails. It is also just really poor technique.
DO NOT MOVE YOUR HIPS… another thing to look out for is to move your hips while attempting the beats. Your pelvis should be stabilized because you are turning out both hips equally, and the core is pulled up letting the tail bone pointe down and the pubic bone stays forward-facing.
DO NOT SWING YOUR LEGS… if you don’t over cross your tendus/degagé/jeté, or just keep the tendu crossed, you might have a tendency to open your legs at the diagonal when beating, this makes for small little rond de jambe like beats, which are also wrong and outer quad heavy. Plus, you will look like you are swimming/flailing and kicking instead of beating.
USE YOUR CORE. Make sure the core is engaged and not squeezed. Do not squeeze your abs but keep them pressed, or scooped back into your spine. This will ensure that you take off/jump straight up.
STAY IN PLIÉ… make sure you stay in plié as long as you can by constantly pushing down into the floor so you have the most kinetic energy built up. This allows you to spring up and create ballon.
Date Posted: April 7, 2020
Here is étoile at the Paris Opera, Hugo Marchand doing the most amazing Giselle sixes ever.
So recently, a well-known illustrator recently asked me to illustrate a picture of myself during the quarantine. This picture was supposed to be a self-portrait, but with one condition. The idea was to be looking through the outside and onto you quarantined on the inside. Well, I initially said, “Yeah, sure, no problem.” And so I started, but then I realized that while his portrait was from a small window with telephone lines and trash cans outside his window, and how poetic he must look, mine, on the other hand, would just come off as pretentious and privileged. And while I have worked hard for my success, as I illustrated where I lived and how I lived, I realized that this is just not among artists but also among the dancers of the world.
For those who have home studios or rooms dedicated to dancing in their homes, this transition to virtual ballet has been a lot easier. This is an apparent show of privilege, and regardless of the hard work and success your family has amounted, it still is the reality that ballet is an elite art form. Then, if you look at a lot of these professional dancers broadcasting from home, we are getting an intimate look inside their life. Their kitchen counters are granite; their floors are hardwood; there are sweeping cityscape views and works of art that were not mass-produced.
But the majority of dancers are struggling. Most people can’t afford to buy Marley and a barre on a whim and set up a studio. Most people don’t have a home gym inside their home, and for a lot of young dancers, they can’t afford to continue training because of the lack of income coming in from their parents. I am not attacking those who can afford it, I am just stating a fact.
The world is scary, and the world has a lot of uncertainties right now, but one of the big things COVID-19 is doing, is creating art for all and opportunities for young dancers to keep dancing. All of these free Instagram live streams are inspiring and needed, but then it also raises the point: How are you able to train without getting corrections? It makes people think, “Why pay my student’s online class tuition when I can take from all of these amazing teachers and professional dancers for free?” This logic is flawed too. Since live streams you don’t get corrections, you won’t progress as fast. If you stop going to your school, there is a chance that your school will close because of the financial strain. There are a lot of factors and variables just continually changing out there, and for most, everyone is winging it.
But, the truth of the matter is: What we see during this quarantine is the haves and the have nots of the dance world.
We see those teachers who are setting up home setups with three iPads and two computers, students who have built-in studios at home, the intimate insides of one’s home, and so forth. And while ballet is coming together to provide free resources to help, it still does not close the gap for what is going to come next…
Who is going to be able to afford to come back to dancing after months of no income? Who is able to keep training and staying in shape during this time, and who is not? Who is going to keep progressing, or who is going to fall behind? It will divide those who really want this, and those who were doing it for social aspects, or fun aspects. It is going to divide companies with strong endowments and funding and those who were already struggling to stay afloat. It is going to divide ballet by a lot. It is going to define a generation of dancers who might not get employed. It is going to keep changing the way we move forward drastically. And while I don’t have all the answers, and I wish I did, it just makes me wonder what is going to happen next?