An animated short by Glen Keane
to move your body in a way that goes with the rhythm and style of music that is being played… Webster dictionary.
Unfortunately, that now groups the following into the same professional category: gogo boys, strippers, ballet dancers, and any schmo who prances around tells people he is a danseur. This unfortunately makes for the awkward conversation when out and about, or possibly dating and you are asked the question, “What do you do for a living?”
If you respond with dancer you might get the awkward face as a response, or a creepy face which is usually followed up with, “So you are flexible?”
Alas, we are all resulted with the term ballet dancer. Some might say your ranking, being a principal ballet dancer is kind of the equivalent of the title Dr.
Problems gets run into because the word dancer has such a vast volume that encompasses profession. So, what makes a dancer a dancer? Is it being fierce? Because right off the back, that term is used waaaaaaay to loosely, and usually refers to tricksters. Is it based on having a job? Being a stripper is a job. Artistic Merit? That is subjective, like this blog. Technical Achievement? By what standard since Sophia Luccia can do a billion pirouettes turned in and in tap shoes. Frankly, she can do almost anything barefoot as well. How would you define the profession of a dancer besides holding a contract? What makes once dancer better than another cross genre, profession, and style?
It is about the quality of movement… It is about what you can bring to the company and how you fit in as an artist…
That is just some of the bull shit that you might hear an artistic director spew while he makes a speech before giving an audition class. Reality check, it is about the body, as ballet is art with your body. I wish more directors would just own up to it and say, “This is exactly what I am looking for… (insert requirements).”
Now, if you think this post is going to be about being fat or thin, your quite wrong. In fact this is just a comparison of male body types in ballet and how they have changed through out the decades… kind of.
Jacques d’Amboise, 5’9″
Peter Martins 6’2″
Roberto Bolle 6’1″
What did all of these men have in common? Besides that they are all leading men? Charisma and solid technique. I could have listed any such length of men, but unfortunately time is against me today. I have a date this evening. Now, with this being said, you have to have a leading man for a leading lady. It is a common misconception about the height requirement in ballet because companies varies. ABT is known for the extremely short corps, the average being around 5’4″, while NYCB corps varies because of the repertory being so vast. The same for the women of Paris Opera, and the Bolshoi. (It’s funny because I work in fashion now and the body type requirement is a lot stricter than ballet…) I think the most important thing when it comes to body types this is what is looked at… male or female:
Body Proportion… and no I am not talking about the ridiculous proportions of Bolshoi, or the craziness that is talked about the Balanchine body type… I am just saying, tight waist, long legs, pretty neckline. More important than height and proportion though are hyper extended legs, feet that beautifully arched, hyper mobile backs, turned out hips, and charisma.
I recently saw a video of a male dancer from National Ballet of Cuba, and not only does he have beautiful legs, and is ridiculously flexible, or the fact that he can do amazing tricks…. He was so charismatic… His version of the Don Q variation was so playful, so youthful, and slightly cocky… A very good Basilio…
With that being said, I do think that male body type in ballet has drastically changed. What was once the classic strong V, with thick thighs look has now thinned out and has made way for the thinner men now. Roberto Bolle’s body is like… yummy times ten, but Daniil Simkin, Taras Dimitro, now older Ethan Stiefal, and looking back at Jose Martinez and Mannuel Legris from POB. You might all murder me, and send me more hateful messages, but at this pointe (haha pun intended) I could careless.
Like I said, this blog isn’t for everyone, it is a point of view and perspective… Fact… most ballet companies are made up of people who have come from their school. Fact… Houston is a great company for Texas… Fact: Orlando is a great school for Orlando, and Fact: Smaller schools are great for their associated companies… Fact: My comparison was based on how many dancers are successfully placed, in terms of volumes. Feeding your company with a school is great, but the reality is a company can’t hire every graduate… So where else do they go…. Yes, I totally think Houston is an amazing company, and no I am not misinformed but compared to Boston Ballet and San Francisco, IN MY OPINION, there is a huge difference in training and results…
If you are upset, or find my list horrible and awful… Make your own blog. No one forced you to read mine. Thanks.
Also, for those of you who decided to send e-mails cursing… Super Mature…. I am sure there are hundreds of lists out there that vary, go curse someone else out. If you are associated with a company and school…. that is even worse.
Thanks for reading 🙂
And the winner of this year’s (enter competition) goes to… (a name that is not yours)…
The Competition in ballet is stiff.
From a young age we develop a natural since of competition, call it… survival of the fittest. We naturally compare things, and ask why. The development is natural…. Now, apply it to ballet or any sport, and that “instinct” becomes crazy, psychotic, self-defeating, and neurotic trait…
So, you might be thinking this post is about ballet competitions, but it really isn’t. It is about rejection. Unfortunately, there are thousands of dancers each year competing for very few jobs. First off, if you didn’t get the job, didn’t make it through a round of auditions and got cut, or if you lost… If the first thing you think is, “She didn’t deserve it.” Or, “Why did she get it? She isn’t even that good.” You probably have no business being a ballet dancer, and you are probably an awful person.
So, where does this all begin… Oh yeah, the classroom. Remember when you were the best at your small school, and your teacher would say, “Little (insert your name) please demonstrate the combination.” Back then everyone would watch you, and you would still hang out. Little did you know they hated you, and probably called you teacher’s pet behind your back. Then, you end up a professional or pre professional school and you are the new kid, and probably one of the worst ones there. At this phase you are constantly comparing yourself to others. “Is my leg as high as hers? Am I turned out as much as she is.” And then you see that someone has ridiculous feet and you are like FML… Yup… Then you are constantly looking at yourself and others. You make lifelong friends at these prestigious schools, and then sometime during Junior/Senior year… You realize… We are all competing for the same jobs, and those lifelong friends are now in the same room auditioning as you. All of those comparisons you had in class became a reality and you are fighting…
Sometime later in life, you realize that it wasn’t about the competition with others, and you should have spent more time competing with yourself. Perfecting your craft, your body, and exploring your artistry. I look at the little prodigy Daniil Simkin who was trained privately his whole life, and it did him good. I wonder if more dancers were trained privately if they would be more successful? (insert comments below)
Now, you didn’t get the job, or you didn’t win the gold medal… now what? It is time re-evaluate what just happened. At a ballet competition, they are truly looking for the most potential a student has to offer. Potential being categorized as technique, facility, musicality. As an adult, and someone seeking a ballet job… No one really cares about how much potential you have… They care about where you are at in your artistic career and what you have to offer. This is all based on strength, consistency, artistry, and a solid technique. Now, if you have all those things, and you didn’t get the job… You need to look at what the director was looking for.
Unfortunately, a repertory season is planned prior, and so the director already knows how many dancers he needs and can afford for his company. (Give or take second company members, apprentices and top level trainees.) Most people forget during an audition that there are very few limited spaces, and if a director has one spot open, he/she probably knows exactly who they are looking for.
So, what can you do? Keep training until next season, throw in the towel and go to college, or you can restructure yourself as a dancer. I think the third is always the best option. It isn’t that I doubt your training, but if you consistently keep doing the same thing over and over, you aren’t going to grow as an artist, or change as a person, or refine much of anything. Restructuring yourself as a dancer means approaching your technique differently, changing your thought process at barre and center, figuring out new ways to hear music, and changing the quality of your dancing. These types of things makes a dancer better, versatile and adaptable. Teachers always ask for very specific things, and sometimes we don’t follow them, not on purpose, just because we have been doing it a different way our whole lives, and we miss that special nuance that might make or break your audition.
Also, I believe that if you want to dance, there is a place for you. Your dream might have been New York City Ballet, but maybe you didn’t have the right body type that Peter Martins was looking for that year. Then, maybe PNB, Miami and San Fran only were looking for boys. But most people don’t think of looking at regional companies, even if it is just for a season… like Cincinnati, Sacramento, and Nevada Ballet Theatre. Which, you just might be perfect for. You really never know. After a year at a smaller company, and restructure your dancing… you might just end up at San Fran or Houston. Or, you might end up loving the smaller company, and dance lead roles in two years, which at a bigger company you might never get to dance. Regardless, rejection is going to happen, but it is how you deal with it that makes you a stronger dancer. Whether you are a student and didn’t get into a school or summer program, if you are trying to get a job in a company, you competed and lost, or you are in a company and didn’t get cast for a role, the point is… it happens… Embrace it.
There really isn’t a guide to classical ballets, in fact, that term can be thrown so loosely around… This is not a ballet history lesson, if I need to do that… I will but… by a crap definition classical ballet is the traditional formal style of ballet technique. If that was the case… then the only type of classical ballet that should exist is Paris Opera. So, let us shoot the idea of “classical ballet” out. So here is the breakdown of how I classify the ballets:
Is it a part of various major company repertory and has it been established in ballet history. A ballet is only a ballet if it can be passed down from one generation to the next and be restaged. It is hard to say if a piece can be restaged or not, because the audience has to appreciate it, understand it, and go see it time and time again. This is how I classify the classics. Then in edition to the classics, they are either a story ballet, or just a ballet (this isn’t just Balanchine works, Pas De Quatre, and Grand Pas Classique… Not attached to any ballet in particular but, still classics). Sooo, in terms of “classical” ballets… Here is the major list:
Tchaikovsky’s Major Three: Nutracker, Swan Lake and the Sleeping Beauty.
The Show Stopper Ballets: Diana & Acteon, Don Quixote, La Esmeralda, The Flames of Paris, Le Corsaire, Grand Pas Classique, Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux, Rubies, Stars and Stripes
The Overlooked Ballets: La Fille Mal Gardee, The Talisman, Raymonda, The Fairy Doll, Harlequinade, the Pharaoh’s Daughter, Sylvia
The Romantic Ballets: Romeo and Juliet, La Sylphide, Les Sylphide, Giselle, Manon, A Month in the Country, Emeralds , Pas De Quatre, Eugene Onegin
The Corps Intensive Ballets: Paquita, La Bayadere, Etudes, Symphony in C, Serenade, Diamonds
If this was college football, well it isn’t. Haha. This is bigger than college football, this is ballet. Like football there are ten schools that everyone wants to get into. The only thing bigger than the school you get into, is the company you might dance for as an end result. In comparison, these are the Ivies of the ballet world, and you do have to have top marks to get in. Who are we kidding, you have to have everything to get in… Like the Ivy League list… there are three schools that will always compete for number one in the world. International, and probably the most historical, they are the prestigious Paris Opera Ballet School, the Vaganova School, and the Royal Ballet School. It is hard to say which one of these schools is actually the best, because they are completely different styles, and create very different dancers. 1. Paris Opera Ballet School or to be accurate, Ecole de l’Opera National de Paris, is actually the oldest. The school itself is impossible to get into, and because they are state subsidized like most companies, they can be extremely picky on who they take. Not only is the training ridiculous, but it is based on a points system, and only top marks move on. Now, the bigger question… Why don’t we see a lot of French dancers in the US? The answer is simple, they were made to dance for Paris Opera, and if they don’t get in, they usually don’t want to dance for another company…. Or if they do, it is usually a cutting edge ballet company with a contemporary flare. Paris Opera Dancers can be spotted a mile away for their impeccable control of turn out, their specific style of arms (very relaxed), and their calm attack to ballet.
2. The Vaganova School… The fact that a style is named after them, or pedagogy, it should say something. Like Paris Opera everything is based on the rigorous challenge of first getting in. At the entrance exams not only is the child looked at, but radiographs of their bones, and their parents’ bodies are taken into consideration. This is to guess height, hip width, etc. The school itself is notarious via youtube for broadcasting their graduating class exams, in which students perform the most ridiculous barre and center combinations you will ever see. Regardless, go Russia. This can be seen because it seems that in Russia, everyone has beyond 180 turn out, ridiculous extensions, the soft arabesque arm and most importantly they have the most glorious necklines.
3. The Royal Ballet School, conveniently and beautifully located at Covent Garden. (Well truth be told all of the schools mentioned above are housed at the most glamorous places in the city.) Royal Ballet also has their particular style and thought process behind ballet, don’t confuse this with RAD (Royal Academy of Dance). The Royal Ballet school is known to recruit students from the YAGP, VARNA, IBC, the Prix de Lusanne and so forth. Usually, if a dancer enters the school from a big competition win, they end up in the company. One of the prizes at the Prix de Lusanne happens to be a company spot at Royal Ballet. Royal ballet is known for softer and subtle arms, romantic like arabesque placement, and meatier legs compared to the the two prior.
Now… are has an American School taken place number 4? Nope, I think not.
4. The Rest of the Russian Schools, take place number 4. This includes Bolshoi State Academy and St. Petersberg academy. Russia has definitely turned out powerhouses and they are proud of it. We should be thankful to them, and be more grateful that they don’t all come over to the US and audition for jobs, because then everyone would be unemployed. Hahah.
5. CPYB, if you don’t know what that stands for it is because they aren’t attached to a company. It stands for the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Headed and founded by Marcia Del Weary, CPYB seems to have the most active principals from a school in the US. The training is impeccable, and anyone can go. If you have a young son or daughter, send them there for a summer. They don’t audition. They accept everyone and turn everyone into a powerhouse dancer. Look at a lot of current American Ballerina’s bios… They are probably from CPYB…
6. School of American Ballet, or the notorious SAB. Founded by Balanchine, and the school of New York City Ballet, this might be argued as one of the hardest schools to get into. And they are known for one thing, the Balanchine Aesthetic. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the school, like Vaganova, Royal and Paris Opera, there is a very specific style. How can you spot an Balanchine or SAB dancer? Their hands (the claw), their crazy turn out, the way they take their bow (they break to 3/4 pointe and turn in), and their aggressive attack on musicality. Most of the dancers from School of American Ballet will find a job in another Balanchine like company.
7. NBS, Canada’s National Ballet School, the feeder school to National Ballet of Canada. Housed at the newly remodeled Celia Franca Center, NBS is known for creating extremely artistic and articulate dancers. What is really nice about this school is their Post-Secondary education program. This program is for dancers who have already graduated from school but need that one or two years of refinement, strengthening, and preparation for company life. In the US we call it second companies, but in reality a second company is a free corps. This is an actual program for dancers to utilize.
8. The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, also known as JKO. It is a newer school compared to the rest. In fact it was founded in 2004. It is the school to American Ballet Theatre and headed by Franco De Vita. This school is ridiculously known for their bravura dancers. Like most American schools now, the emphasis on turns and jumps are stressed here. The JKO school partnered with ABT’s Misty Copeland have started Project Plie, a program to help young minorities get the training they need to succeed in the dance world.
9. San Francisco Ballet School, so it was a toss up between the following schools because each are incredible: San Francisco Ballet School, Pacific Northwest Ballet School, and Boston Ballet School. Each one is extremely unique and satisfying for any young dancer. It is also convenient that they are spread across the US. You might be thinking, well if you are going to group those schools you should also at Houston Ballet Academy, Miami City Ballet School, and maybe even Orlando Ballet School…. Wrong. You probably are thinking they are on the same level because their companies are on that same middle field. You are quite wrong. Their schools are incredibly different, and San Francisco, Boston and PNB are known for creating extraordinary dancers. Their dancers all are usually very classically based, with a touch of Balanchine in moderation. These schools push their kids extremely hard, and if they don’t join the company the actively seek work for them at other companies.
10. Again, I have to lump these schools into a group because I like to call them the flashy schools. The Rock School for Dance Education and the Joffrey Ballet School. Both of these schools are very public and active in seeking students through the media. In addition, they strive for competitive edges in the ballet world. The Rock School probably has the most competitors at the YAGP, and usually they finish well. Joffrey actively seeks multi-faceted, and genre-versatile dancers into their school. So, there it is…. my Top Ten (ish) ballet schools in the world. I was going to include Denmark’s because of the Bournonville style, but realistically, the school doesn’t produce as many dancers as the others. I judge a school by the dancers they produce, the technique that they teach, and how many of their students go on to get jobs. That is the important thing here…
The Dream of Becoming a Prima Ballerina…
It is sad to say that this is my first substantial post, a reality check for those who are starting to enter the world of dance. Unfortunately, or fortunately the world of dance has become over-saturated with dancers. This means there are too many dancers and not enough jobs. It seems that when a young girl goes to see the Nutcracker, they instantly want to be Clara or the Sugar Plum Fairy, and so the first seed of ballet is planted into their hearts. This is a great desire and passion, and I think it is very important to expose all children, male or female, to music, dance and art. So then, parents enroll their students at a dance studio, and by age thirteen when the child realizes they really want to be a dancer, it is most likely too late.
Too Many Claras…. Now, it is funny as Clara in the Nutcracker is the main character, or the heroine, but in most versions she doesn’t dance at all. Reality is, Sugar Plum Fairy is the one you want to be. Problem? There are just too many Claras… Unfortunately in the world of ballet, the Sugar Plum Fairy Pas De Deux is reserved for principals and if you are in a regional company, it is usually danced by one or maybe two casts. There are usually 4-6 girls cast as Clara, as a way to sell tickets… What parent doesn’t want to say, “My daughter is Clara in the Nutcracker.” Sooo, let us do the math…. If the role of Clara goes to a girl age 9-13 who shows outstanding promise and great acting abilities, and there are six of them, when those girls become 22-28 who will get cast as Sugar Plum? The reality is harsh… But, when you do become a Sugar Plum, it is totally worth it.
What does this mean? Most parents don’t take the time to research ballet, ballet studios or how the ballet world really works. FACT: A dance studio is not the same as a dance school and is not the same as a performing arts school and is not the same as a ballet school.
A Dance Studio is a recreational place to dance, which means you are there for exercise, exposure to music and the idea of technique.
A Dance School is a recreational place to dance with higher performance expectancy. A dance school usually can also be called a competition studio, or a performance studio. This is where technique matters, but not to the extent of creating a career. This is more for commercial dance route, the Hollywood route, and the scholarships to a UDA college route.
A Performing Arts School is a place for children to develop the fine/performing arts to a greater extent. Most kids in these schools aren’t just out to be ballet dancers, but instead they are also on their way to become a triple threat. BROADWAY BOUND. Performing arts schools usually offer more than just ballet, but modern, contemporary, voice lessons, acting lessons, and so forth.
A Ballet School is a place for children to studio pure ballet. Regardless of the pedagogy, it is completely ballet based, and the emphasis is only on ballet technique with supplemented curriculum of modern, contemporary and occasionally jazz.
So, the best way to insure your child’s future in dance is to make sure you are at the right school for your child. There is nothing wrong with any of these schools, or approaches to dance, but they will basically be the deciding factor of how your child will be received in dance.
So, your daughter was Clara?
Insuring your child has the best chance he or she may need in BALLET. You want to be a good parent, but you don’t know what to do? You think oh, is it even possible? Is my child good enough? Ballet dancers don’t make that much (which is a lie, it just depends where you get a job, like any career). This is not an endorsement to any school in particular, please just go with the scenario. There are few jobs for ballerinas these days, and it seems one of the only ways to get noticed is to go to a legit ballet competition…. True and False… The reality is that those who go to these huge international competitions and do well are on the fast track to become principal dancers AKA sugarplum fairies. BUT, that doesn’t mean that your child isn’t going to make it. There are hundreds of companies that hold tons of ranks, and so your child just might be a snowflake, or a divertissement. Now, it is more important to decide how your child is going to get there… that is when the school your child is at should be evaluated.
And so it begins… the 2014-2015 season of ballet is coming up, literally just a few months away which means two things: pre-ticket sales, and promotions. Okay, so if you don’t know the ballet calendar it goes something like the following, it kind of mirrors the academic school year:
2014 September – November (Fall/Winter Season)
2014 December – (Nutcracker Season)
2015 January – Mid March (Audition Season, for those who are going to summer programs or looking to join a company.)
2015 January – May (Spring Season)
2015 June – August (Summer Programs for those who are still students, and off season for those in a company, or touring season)
A large company will go through 8-20 different programs a season, a regional company may go through 4 programs. A program is basically a run of a ballet, like a mini show. For example: Nutcracker is a program which might run from November-December and have various casts.
Now, to the actual post… the 2014-2015 season has been announced across the board and well there are some pretty awesome things planned across the world in terms of ballet. American Ballet Theatre, also known as ABT is celebrating their 75 anniversary. For those NYCB (New York City Ballet) fans, a huge season is planned with tons of new premiers, as well as the retiring of the legendary Wendy Whelan. Oregon Ballet Theatre hits their 25th anniversary. Paris Opera Ballet is staging a massive repertory, like always. This time under Natalie Portman’s baby daddy Benjamin Millepied as director of dance…. If you haven’t purchased your season tickets, now is the time to do it, as they are discounted greatly.
Now it is time for the rant…. This was all started because Royal Ballet, that is housed at Covent Garden in London, released their promotions list, and to my surprise on the new hires… Natalia Osipova. Don’t get me wrong, I love her. She is a beast. She is crazy talented and beautiful. I just saw her and Ivan at OCPAC. Super beautiful… BUUUUUT really Royal Ballet? There are so many talented individuals in your company who have been waiting to be promoted… my personal favorite Yuhui Choe, and I am just not saying this because she is Korean. And yes, I was totally rooting for Hee Seo at ABT. Regardless, Royal Ballet, that holds their nose in the air to most ballet pedagogies, who prides themselves on being a part of tradition just sold out… The hiring of ballet superstars isn’t to increase the artists creativity, the reality is, it is to increase revenue sales (which I get, I am a business man). I am not blaming anyone in particular, aka the board, the politics within the company, I am actually blaming the artistic director… It is sad that an artistic director doesn’t have faith in their company members to be brilliant enough to fill seats. Shame on you. Kevin McKenzie at ABT, I have been over you since I was like 12. Now Royal Ballet’s fresh from 2012, Kevin O’Hare… that is just so depressing. Boo on you. I am totally bashing Royal Ballet right now because their lack of faith in their company members. This in turn goes into my praise to artistic director’s at Boston Ballet, Houston Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and I hope they make bigger Ballet Arizona. It is sad to think that in order to become a principal dancer you will have to change companies. Whether this is to step down a little and go to a smaller company, or to “trade” companies like a baseball player. How can you cultivate talent, and grow as an artist if you are never given the chance to prove yourself. And when you do get that chance, if you are torn apart by a critic, your chance will be shot to hell? (aka Sascha Redetsky, Jared Mathews, Stella Abrera, Kristi Boone, okay so maybe all of the older soloists at ABT..)
So, I told myself no more blogs. You have enough already, and they are already difficult to manage.(Yellow Like Asian) Then, I reminded myself I don’t have a free blog, and I don’t have a wordpress. This was enough to convince me to go for it. This blog is to educate aspiring dancers, audience go-ers, parents and other dancers on what is, and what is happening in the ballet world… AKA it is me ranting and raving about ballet.
As any first blog post, I should introduce myself. My name is David (personal site), and I LOVE BALLET. No, I am not some crazed fan, or gay man with some over the top extravagant lifestyle. In fact, I do have some legitimacy here. I grew up dancing ballet, and not just at a some dolly dinkle studio in podunk America. I actually went through the entire ballet process, and become a professional ballet dancer. In addition, I have taught ballet, and other genres of dance on many different levels across the United States. Finally, my entire curriculum for teaching is based off Cassa Pancho’s All Things Black and Beautiful and the Balanchine Aesthetic. Finally, I am embarking on starting my own ballet company, Redlands Dance Theatre, click here for more info.
I’m not sure where this blog is going to go, but I can tell you what it isn’t going to be:
1. It isn’t going to be me bitching and complaining companies I dislike in general. (Trust and believe there are a lot I dislike)
2. It is definitely not going to be advice to get into a company. (A Guide… maybe)
3. It probably won’t be a blog slamming eating disorders, cocaine and drinking. (Not that I condone those things.)
4. It is not going to be me sitting on a high horse and just saying things for the sake of saying things… That is why we have artistic directors, haha that was a joke. I will give explanations and so forth.
5. I will not be associated with youtub-ing, posting on IG, or even tweeting… I already have too many to manage.
Now, I can tell you what I want the blog to be:
INFORMATIVE, an education.
INSPIRATIONAL, a future.
INSIGHTFUL, a perspective.
INTRIGUING, a personality.
(If you can’t tell, I totally do PR and Marketing.)