Dancing without Limbs… Disabilities in Dance

dancing with disabilities

You can never win them all, and in fact, most of the time my blog seems to center around controversy. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it. Most of the time. Recently on Instagram, I have been doodling exceptional young talent because I want to go to the YAGP to cover it. I have also been doodling the women of ballet who inspire me. But lately, I have been getting some posts that at first upset me because of the direction they were going in, but then it affected me because of my family life…

Is there room in ballet for dancers with disabilities?

Backstory: I am one of twelve kids, of those twelve nine of us are adopted, and of those nine 6 have special needs. From missing limbs to severe cerebral palsy, my parents adopted them all. When we were younger, a beautiful woman, Jennifer Laurie, offered my sister Leena who was born with Larsen’s Syndrome, a chance to dance because she wanted to be a dancer. Classes were free, and this led to my sister Rebecca to dance and then basically me… Then later on, I got to teach a workshop at the California School for the Deaf in Riverside, and that was a great experience, but…
Current Story: A few young women pointed out that my doodles were racist. That I only pick white women to doodle… Instead of ranting, I just decided to start with Misty Copeland and then doodle women of color in dance that inspire me. I also decided that as I doodle my classical ballets I would doodle color blindly. Then… a few young dancers went off on me, saying I was excluding them because they have disabilities…

Before I responded to them, I had to think really hard… Like really hard… And I had to think smartly. So…. Below are some of my thoughts via vlogging on this issue…

So, how do we change this? Do the government and local communities raise money to find a place for disabled dancers in the performing arts? Or, do world renowned ballet companies start changing the look of their dancers to be more inclusive of ethnicity, disability, etc? What are your thoughts?

A dream workshop with the NYCB — WILL MAKE YOU CRY FYI…

Hand in Hand performed by Ma Li and Zhai Xiowei

Physically Being Me – six stories from Deaf and Disabled Dancers by Foundation for Community Dance

China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe — okay, go China since you have been doing this since the 80’s

Alice Sheppard on Disability Dance and Ability at Emory University
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THE DOODLES:
Thanks again for all the love on INSTA @aballeteducation

Also, don’t forget there are three ways to get a doodle:
1. (DONATE) you can donate by clicking here. I will email you asking for pics so I have options to choose from. It will be posted to my insta when it is done.
2. (FREE) SUBSCRIBE to my blog, follow the INSTA and tag me in some photos so I have some options to choose from.
3. (PAID) You can commission a specific picture or idea by emailing me. Here we can be more specific about what you want, and how you want it done. I also won’t have any rights to post it- it’s all yours.
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DON’T FORGET TO FOLLOW ME ON FACEBOOK & YOUTUBE!

 

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Biscuity Feet… and then some

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Either you have them, you know someone who has them, or some days you feel like you have them. Yup, you got biscuits. What is a biscuit? To be honest, it is a foot that doesn’t point, doesn’t have a shape, doesn’t wing, doesn’t bevel, well… to be honest… It’s a hopeless foot. Yes, in ballet FEET ARE EVERYTHING! A good foot lets you cheat turnout, create a cleaner line, have a more supple landing, but most importantly… It gives people something to gag on.

For most people, if you are cursed with the biscuit foot, you can correct it. So, yes there is hope for you! If you are above the age of 16, it might be harder to correct, but it has been done. I have corrected it on many of my students. Unfortunately, it usually means extreme dedication; like if ballet wasn’t enough dedication, reshaping your foot is, even more, work. It is painful, and it can be dangerous. It can cause tendonitis and make your feet more prone to injury.

Here are some things to help you get rid of your biscuit foot:
1. Work properly…. Most times, your biscuits are caused by you. Sometimes, it is better to move down a level or two to focus on working properly, like engaging your peroneus at all times, making sure you are working through your fourth metatarsal and not pronating. Another thing young dancers do is crunch/ginch/claw their toes and that causes the arch to lock.

2. Stretch! Stretch! Stretch! To get better feet you have to stretch everything. Literally, everything. All of the muscles, tendons and ligaments from the knee down have to be stretched… and now that I am thinking about it, even the legs and hips have to be stretched. They are all connected in one way or another. Don’t be so hardcore you pull a Paris opera and break your arches to get better feet…

3. Strengthen! Once you are all stretched out, and your feet are relaxed you have to properly strengthen the tendons and ligaments in your foot to work properly. Getting a resistant band, or getting onto a pilates springboard are helpful. Other exercises are moving marbles from one box to another, or crunching a towel up, and then flattening it back out using your toes.

Just a reminder: when pointing your foot… it should feel like your arches is a waterfall and flowing over your toes. Your toes should be elongated and pressing distances, not curling to make a shape. Your heel should always feel tension in rotating forward and upwards, in opposition of your pinky toe rotating backwards and downwards. Make sure in standing positions the tops of your feet/arches are relaxed. And finally, whenever the teacher is giving a combination in class, you should be stretching out your feet. Biscuity feet usually have a lot of tension in the arches (both tops and bottoms) and you need to keep them constantly stretched and relaxed. Get a foot roller or tennis/golf ballet to constantly be rolling out. Love this one! << CLICK TO BUY

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THE DOODLES:
Thanks again for all the love on INSTA @aballeteducation

Also, don’t forget there are three ways to get a doodle:
1. (DONATE) you can donate by clicking here. I will email you asking for pics so I have options to choose from. It will be posted to my insta when it is done.
2. (FREE) SUBSCRIBE to my blog, follow the INSTA and tag me in some photos so I have some options to choose from.
3. (PAID) You can commission a specific picture or idea by emailing me. Here we can be more specific about what you want, and how you want it done. I also won’t have any rights to post it- it’s all yours.
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DON’T FORGET TO FOLLOW ME ON FACEBOOK & YOUTUBE!

Corps de Ballet Confessional: JULIA ROWE, San Francisco Ballet

#corpsdeballetconfessional

 

julia roweJULIA ROWE, corps de ballet at San Francisco Ballet/ formerly a soloist at Oregon Ballet Theatre

Photo by Christopher Peddecord (click here to visit his website of stellar work)

I first met Julia Rowe at CPYB, and she was this tiny little thing…. Like she is this short petite girl from PA with a good heart. I saw her in class and knew she was good, probably close to technically perfect. I then saw her Sherry Moray’s Pandora’s Box… and I was like, “hmmm ok.” Then I saw her in like every role in Balanchine’s Nutcracker and was like, “Okay I see you…” Then one day in Alan Hineline’s Sleeping Beauty rehearsal, I was doing something frivolous and we were rehearsing away from the mirrors, so she was facing towards the back where I was sitting. And I noticed that she did these really beautiful, overly turned out ron de jambes, into a fait pas de bourre and they were the most beautiful steps of the ballet; well the entire sequence of steps. She had complete control over everything, and she had this gorgeous resistance in the fait that was gorgeous. My friend david and julia rowe.jpgand I both leaned over at the same time and called it: PERFECTION. On top of that, she was dancing on shin splints. A prom and graduation later, Julia left to SFB and then landed a contract at OBT. She got promoted to soloist and things were going stellar. Small Facebook chats here and there are nice updates… Then she announced that she was leaving her soloist spot at OBT and heading back to SFB… Now at SFB, I get to follow her career closer and hear from her every now and then. But recently we got to catch up and she was willing to answer some great questions… So here it is… Life as Julia Rowe.

 

So, what is it like to be Julia Rowe? INSTAGRAM: @juliamrowe
Age: 26
Height: 5’1”
Training: Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, San Francisco Ballet School
Company: San Francisco Ballet, corps de ballet, 3rd Season (click here for official bio)
Previous Company: Oregon Ballet Theatre, soloist for two seasons, three in the corps

What did you have for breakfast? How do you drink your coffee?
JR: I had a green juice for breakfast, and I drink my coffee black.

What is it like being in the corps at SF?
JR: It’s quite challenging, actually. We do three full-length ballets per season and then about five mixed rep programs. We learn all of the ballets in the summer and fall, but we don’t get to perform until Nutcracker in December. Our regular season runs January-May, and during that time we are usually performing most nights of the week and rehearsing for the next program during the day. It can get quite intense, especially for the corps de ballet.

You left being a soloist at OBT for SFB, why?
JR: Because there was a change in direction of the company, and I was ready for something new in my career. I wanted a different sort of challenge. I wanted to know what it was like to dance every day on that huge Opera House stage, and be surrounded by so much diverse talent all the time. I wanted to know if there could be a place for me here.

When you were a student, and you dreamed of a being a pro– does your experience as a professional compare?
JR: It’s funny. Sometimes I wish I could go back to being a student. The kind of personal attention and corrections that you receive at that point in your training are really invaluable. Once you join a company, especially a big one, you are kind of on your own. There isn’t enough time for individual coaching for all 75 dancers, you know? That being said, you learn a lot about yourself when you have to be your own teacher, coach, mentor, and critic. This is especially true when you are in the corps and the emphasis is placed more on conformity than artistic expression. The beauty in corps work is precision and teamwork. Everyone all breathing together as a singular unit. It’s a different mentality.

Julia in 2008 rehearsing for SFB School Student Showcase doing Kitri’s Variation in the dream scene. Filmed by Dylan Ward.

What kind of pressure do you feel?
JR: Luckily, at SFB, it’s not unusual for corps dancers to get great opportunities dancing soloist and principal roles. Choreographers and others setting ballets generally have their pick of the entire company. Because there are so many of us, there tends to be a lot of pressure to “nail it” in front of a choreographer. There is also this sense that every rehearsal is an audition. The margin for error sometimes feels very small, which I know from experience tends to limit my ability to really make the movement my own. I love to work with choreographers who are OK with mistakes during the learning process(most are). It’s incredibly freeing to be given permission to be yourself in the studio and on stage.

In contrast, learning corps de ballet repertory is an exercise in attention to detail and precision. In a large company, you are expected to be able to quickly and thoroughly learn choreography. This can be tough, especially for new dancers. Luckily, there is a sense of community within the corps. We have all been there, and most of my coworkers were extremely kind and helpful when I was swamped with new information.

 

julia rowe ballet


What kind of pressure do you put on yourself, when it comes to being or trying to be promoted?
JR: the more you think about it, the crazier you get

 

What kind of pressure do you put on yourself, when it comes to being or trying to be promoted? Honestly, I try not to think of it in terms of promotion. I try to recognize every opportunity I have to improve in some way. It is tough, though. We all have dreams, after all! It would be great to get to do more challenging roles, and to not have to suffer through standing in B-plus, but not everyone gets to that place. For me, it’s all about appreciating the moments when I do get to bust out and dancing them to my fullest ability. It makes swan corps way more bearable when you know that you are capable of so much more. Sometimes you just need to remind yourself.

Having outside projects can help, too. If you aren’t getting the artistic growth you want from your job, no one is stopping you from doing it on your own. I have met so many inspiring, creative people in San Francisco not just in dance, but other fields as well. Writers, fashion designers, musicians, visual artists, photographers, you name it. I have even met some incredibly inspiring doctors who take physical therapy and training to an artistic level.

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Julia Rowe and Elen Rose Hummel in Tomasson’s Caprice. (© Erik Tomasson) Accessed via blog.cpyb.org

What do you do in your spare time?
JR: I go to school, read, swim, hike, travel and help my boyfriend (@sashaarro on insta!) with his photography in my spare time. I do the LEAP program at St Mary’s for my undergraduate degree it’s a great program geared towards arts professionals. (click here for more information on the LEAP program)

What is in your dance bag?
JR: My dance bag is a mess. I have at least 6 pairs of shoes, three skirts, a pair of shorts, legwarmers, Advil, Voltaren gel, arnica cream, my Lululemon sweatpants, black Uniqlo heat tech shirt, a puffy vest (also Uniqlo) Click here to shop Uniqlo.

Favorite holiday?
JR: My favorite holiday is New Years because I get to spend it at home with my family. We do a delayed Christmas on New Years because I am still doing Nutcracker on actual Christmas.

Any advice to young women who get their corps de ballet contracts…
JR: Advice to young corps members: Remember what your teachers have told you. Really. Corrections and feedback won’t come as often as they did when you were in school. It’s up to you to figure out how you want to dance and to make it happen. Keep your eyes open. Use your coworkers as inspiration. Be respectful of the more senior members of the company, but don’t hide. You have accomplished something very special by becoming a professional ballet dancer. It’s a privilege to be able to do what you do. Make the most of it! Enjoy it!

Personal Note: Greatest part about this interview? It happened in sections- via at intermission during Swan Lake, her days off, and the Academy Awards…
Editor’s Note: Originally when published I credited Pandora’s Box to Alan Hineline, but it is choreographed by Sherry Moray.

If you are a corps de ballet dancer, and would like to be interviewed for a Ballet Education’s Corps De Ballet Confessional, email me at aballeteducation@gmail.com

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Don’t forget to check out SFB’s next program: COPPELIA, MARCH 8-13- CLICK HERE for tickets, preview and SFB’s website.


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This week in Ballet News…

This week was a super exciting week in ballet world…
Boston Ballet opened Onegin.
NYCB closed their season with killer black and white ballets.
PNB and Houston Ballet took on NYC with killer reviews.
Dutch national Ballet premiered their killer campaign for Best of Balanchine.
San Francisco closed their Swan Lake.
Los Angeles Ballet sold out their Don Q.
Royal Ballet’s Iana Salenko made her debut in Giselle.
Atlanta Ballet named their new artistic director coming from San Fran Ballet: Gennadi Nedvigin
Ballet West had their YAGP Gala
THE YAGP regionals are happening
Corella School of Ballet in Spain’s new PR photos look like they are out of Vogue.
And a bunch more…. but what is more important… Whitney Jensen left Boston Ballet last July, and it was kind of a shocker. 2 weeks ago she announced she was joining Norwegian National Ballet in Oslo, and she departed to take her contract there this week. So here is to you Ms. Jensen and best of luck!
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Follow her endeavors on Insta: @whitneybugs

Secondly…. Has Boston Ballet become a stepping stone for dancers now? In 2004, Sarah Lamb left her principal position to Royal. In 2012 James Whiteside left his principal position for ABT. Last year Boston lost Whitney Jensen  (to Norwegian National Ballet) and Jeffrey Cirio (American Ballet Theatre). So, here are my speculations:

  1. Boston Ballet AD is either an amazing coach and director, and have nurtured his dancers into bigger things or his dancers are extremely talented and they are outgrowing him or he is pushing them to reach out and explore.
  2. Boston Ballet’s repertory and performance schedule isn’t enough for it’s high caliber of dancers.
  3. Boston Ballet’s politics are too intense and no one wants to put up with them.
  4. The Boston audience is as responsive to the company’s performances, thus limiting the budget for dancers and the costs of living are too high.
  5. Boston Ballet has recruited such talent over the past ten years, cultivated it to a point no one saw coming… and the dancers have gone on their own to find ways to push themselves to their limits and find new opportunities to grow.

IF YOU ARE A CORPS DANCER AND ARE WILLING TO TALK TO ME VIA EMAIL OR SKYPE TO BE INTERVIEWED FOR THE CORPS DE BALLET CONFESSIONAL… EMAIL ME PLEASE! ABALLETEDUCATION@GMAIL.COM

 

The Corps de Ballet Confessional…

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You were the best one at your local school, and then you went to a professional school, and you basically kicked ass. Teachers fawned over you. You excelled in the curriculum, and you knew. You knew that one day you would get your company contract. You land your apprenticeship and then get your corps contract. Ten years later, you are standing on stage in B plus, on the side of the stage in a beautiful white tutu. Yup. All of that hard work, all of those hours, killing yourself over and over again. Learning every part, understudying every principal role, and finally… You wonder, “What was the point?” The greatest role you ever did was some random pas de trois in a matinee showing. You might have done Spanish or Chinese in the Nutcracker. If you are lucky you did Marzipan and Dew Drop for a matinee… So, what was the point?

Working in the corps makes life difficult. Every time a season is about to close you are questioning if you will have your contract renewed. Then you are questioning yourself at the beginning of the season, wondering who they have hired? Who is the next hot shot of talent coming up? You start to question yourself as an artist, and you feel completely unchallenged. You have danced the repertory twice and then some. You know every girl part in Nutcracker and have probably danced in every role. Yup, this is the life of a corps de ballet member. You start to think about your sixteen-year-old self, the person who wanted it so badly. Who anticipated the moment you got to step onto a stage. The person who excelled and wanted every moment of ballet… Where did that person go?

Life in the Corps de Ballet is hard, and they are probably the most under appreciated position in a ballet company…. So now… I am honoring the amazing talent in the corps de ballet of ballet companies. Without the corps there isn’t a flock of swans behind Odette, and there aren’t any Shades in Bayadere… It would just be Solar smoking some opium for giggles. lol. So, what is it like to have the job a million girls would kill for? Get ready for our #corpsdeballetconfessional series. A series of posts dedicated to the corps de ballet, mostly interviews with working ballet dancers.

If you are interested in being interviewed for these installments write me aballeteducation@gmail.com

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Check out this video from AOL originals narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker!

A Night at the Ballet….

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Saturday, February 20th at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, Los Angeles Ballet world premiered Coleen Neary’s and Thordal Christensen’s Don Quixote. While the entire world seems to be doing Don Q this month, Los Angeles Ballet tackled this three-act ballet for their 10th season. The audience was filled, and there were very few seats left open in the house. Not that it was important but wearing Dolce never hurt anyone either. Which makes up for the 91 freeway being closed and because of traffic it took almost 3 hours to get there… But anyways…. Let us talk about a night at the ballet.

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Don Quixote is no easy ballet to take on; especially for a smaller company like Los Angeles Ballet. Usually, Don Q require a ridiculously large cast…. Which brings me to my first comment of the evening… Some of the corps de ballet dancers looked overworked, but with that being said the corps de ballet held the ballet together. The amount of dancing they had to do was insane. Of the corps de ballet members, Jasmine Perry looked spectacular. She definitely has grown up a lot since graduating from SAB two years ago. Other than that corps member who did show a lot of promise last season is no longer with Los Angeles Ballet… (i.e.,: Chloe Sherman left for Silicon Valley Ballet, who premiered tonight in Diane and Acteon PDD. ) The corps felt very young, mature, but young.

Of the soloists, I was disappointed not to see Alexander Castillo…. more to come on this… Bianca Bulle was paired with Kate Highstrete as Kitri’s friends in ACT 1. The two were a stellar couple and seasoned LA BALLET members. Bianca then took on Queen of the Dryads in ACT 2. Gorgeous technique and musicality with flares of Balanchine port de bras here and there. Kate Highstrete took on the bridesmaid variation in ACT 3 with gorgeous jumps. Her ferociously long legs ate up the stage. Even with a small slip, she kept her cool and took all of her roles on ferociously. She also danced a principal dryad in ACT 2.

Principal Allyssa Bross was cast as Mercedes…. ehh nothing too exciting to report here or there. Did not dig her side ponytail…. I get they were trying to make her vampy… but it did not work. It just looked like some little girl hair style for ballet class. Her technique was flawless though, and she moved through the steps with ease. Definitely could up the sexy factor.

Dustin True was a great Gypsy solo man in the windmill scene. He brought flamboyancy and vigor to the role. Usually, this is the time I fall asleep in Don Q, but he was quite entertaining. Unfortunately principal dancer Zheng Hua Li was cast as the character role of Gamache so he didn’t dance the entire ballet…

Basilio was played by Kenta Shimizu who is now in his seventh season… He literally can do no wrong. All the bravura that is needed to do Basilio backed with strong technique and a calm approach to the role. But hands down the evening goes to Miss Julia Cinquemani… First I just want to say, normally I haven’t been a fan of her dancing, but it seems that Kitri/Dulcinea is the role she was born for and has created a new artistic maturity that is impossible to take your eyes off of. Her entrances in the first act were great, and the castanet variation was firey… The ACT 3 variation was clean and easy… But what was most impressive was her variation as Dulcinea was flawless…. It was so breathtaking. Every roll down was dream-like and suspended. It is everything that this variation should be. Her lines are still ridiculously high, but more refined now. Her attack is there, but now it is controlled. Her acting skills have improved and in ACT 3, her acting skills stole the show. It was funny and charming, sincere and realistic. Something that ballet should be.

Now time for the bad….. There were a lot of casting choices that I have no freaking clue why they were made…. Okay yes, I do. The artistic directors’ son, corps member Erik Thordal-Christensen was cast in Espada… It was sloppy, unrefined, immature and did I mention sloppy. The rest of the corps technique was flawless, turned out, stretched… and then there was him. This tall, elongated, uncontrolled blonde mess is running around the stage… I don’t know if because he is the son of the directors extra choreography was made around him but he danced probably just as much as Basilio…. And it wasn’t good. His costuming was better than Basilio’s as well…. But regardless… He was a mess. I’m sorry, but he has no business doing this role on the world premier night…Literally… they didn’t use Zheng Hua Li (a principal) or Alexander Castillo (soloist)…. seriously…. ballet faux pas…. don’t hire your kid…. #balletpolitics

Then in Amour/Cupid… 2nd-year corps member SarahAnne Perel was cast…. Which should not have happened… I get that Cupid always given to a short girl, but she is like tiny status. She looked like a little girl next to everyone else in the dream scene….. She was cute enough, but looked straight out of SAB….

The casting should have looked like:
Kitri: Julia Cinquemani
Basilio: Kenta Shimizu
Espada: Alexander Castillo (umm he’s Latin/Spanish boohoo Ummm hello….)
Mercedes: Allyssa Bross
Queen of the Dryads: Bianca Bulle
Amor/Cupid: Jasmine Perry
Bridesmaid: Kate Highstrete

Another issue with the ballet is that in the 3rd act tavern scene… they didn’t have the right size drops for the stage so you could see the hangers and the set behind the “tavern.” In the prologue where Don Q starts his dream… the set looked like some awful high school play. And the windmill looked like it came from a regional production of the Wizard of Oz.

Overall the performance was amazing, entertaining and shortened from the full version. Despite lacking live orchestra, the sound quality was great, and the dancing from the majority of the company was killer. The female corps de ballet at LA Ballet is by nature young and fresh (mostly out of SAB) but clean, controlled, turned out, and concise. The men in the corps de ballet have a lot of personality, but their body lines could be cleaned up. Which is probably hard to do this season as Los Angeles Ballet has hired all Balanchine dancers, but currently taking on the romantic classics this season. As Don Q is a technical showstopper, especially for Basilio, Mr. Shimizu put on a fantastic show. For this particular performance, hands down it goes to Julia Cinquemani for an almost near perfect rendition of Kitri. I just wish in the first act she wasn’t so refined and was more free spirited in her acting like in her ACT 3 version of the role. Act 1 could have been more playful in character, but she was absolutely a principal ballerina. Kate Highstrete, Bianca Bulle, and Allyssa Bross all were stunning and captivating in each of their roles. Chelsea Paige Johnston could definitely up her game as soloist in the company. She took on the Fandango role in Act 3 and as charming as it was… It came off as bad jazz/flamenco. Her partner Zachary Guthier was handsome and very regal in his approach. The acting roles of Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, Gamache all could have been cast as actual actors… Because they all needed to up their game as well…The ballet was overall amazing… Except the sour taste of the ADs’ son being cast in a principal/soloist role… It really did turn me off. You can catch Don Q over the next two weekends. Click here to buy tickets. And get ready for Romeo and Juliet. Hopefully, the casting will be better…. haha.

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What is the Ideal Ballet Body?

 

what is the ideal ballet body.jpgWhile I usually idolize Balanchine, I do blame him for the body dysmorphia complex ballet dancers have as the modern day ballet body type for women was curated by Balanchine. Sure, nowadays we go to the ballet, and the standard for the ideal ballet body type is high. We have this idea that ballerinas are long, willowy, and bendy. From the documentary “Ballerina” the ideal body type of a ballet dancer is “ideally a ballerina will have a small head, long neck, long arms, long legs, slender figure.” Altynay Asylmuratova, Artistic director of the Vaganova Ballet Academy- 2009. And, well as that is the ideal, it is far from the truth. Maybe in Russia and France, ballerinas all look the same since they are hand-selected at the age of ten to become ballet students. So, with that being said, that is far from the American ballet body type. In the US, the body types of ballerinas vary, which should be celebrated. While ballet doesn’t really celebrate diversity, American Ballet Companies do hire different body types. It is hard to say, what the American body type is, but there are four common things that all ballerinas have:
hypermobility- flexibility in the hips, lower back, knees, and body.
Turn Out: the outward rotation of the hip joint. The goal is 180 degrees (90 degrees on each leg).
A low percentage of body fat: while thin physiques are ideal, there are athletic ballet dance bodies with beautiful muscle tone.
Feet- Feet that point beautifully and makes a shape.

I will give it to Balanchine though because he did make exceptions by creating roles for different types of bodies.
When it comes to the “ideal ballet” body type, it seems that American companies have created categories for women.
Tall Girls: These girls are usually tall, and mostly fit in the Russian ideal. When I say tall, I mean like 5’9″. The typical height of a ballet dancer is 5’4″. Normally these girls are excellent at Adagio. Balanchine made room for even taller women with roles like The Siren in Prodigal Son, the Tall Girl in Rubies, and the Dark Angel in Serenade.
Athletic Girls: Normally on the shorter side, and maybe a little broader frame, these women are usually jumping powerhouses and technical beasts. Like Ashley Bouder. If you have ever seen her in Dew Drop… The most ferocious.
Pretty Girls: This is going to sound bad, but then some girls particularly don’t stand out. They are pretty to watch with nice body types, and they blend in well. Usually, this makes up a corps de ballet. While the standards to get a corps contract are changing, these girls will always be in the corps.

After rereading that, I realized that doesn’t sound helpful, whatsoever. Okay, so the reality is, I was in the middle of this post when I was asked to go to a winery and have a drink. The perks of living near vineyards. So now, after a few drinks, and rereading this draft, I am like woah. This post might not have been the most helpful.

So, here is what I can say: When it comes to ballet body types, there is really only one thing that matters, and that is good technique. If you have solid technique, clean technique which also means you are flexible, you can find a job. It might not be at American Ballet Theatre or the Royal Ballet, but there are tons of companies out there. And I mean tons.

The idea of being a thin ballet dancer is kind of ridiculous since you have to be extremely strong and athletic to be a ballerina. You also have to be extremely neurotic and OCD to be a ballerina, but I already touched on that post. Does it help your career to be thin? Sure, naturally, if your body frame is petite and you have a high metabolism, that is an advantage. But there are other advantages to having: like natural-perfect turn out, extremely hyperextended legs, beautiful feet, a super strong psoas, a hypermobile back, even an extremely good ear for music, oooh- or just being smart and learning combinations quickly and taking corrections.

So, for everyone who wrote in asking about their body types- don’t fret. If you want to dance, and you have good teachers and a strong technique, don’t be discouraged. Go out in the world and find a ballet company that works for you and your body type. It might crush your dream that you might never dance at Lincoln Center, but if you truly love the art, and truly want to be a ballet dancer; then you will be happy dancing anywhere. I remember one girl from my ballet school who said if she couldn’t get hired at NYCB she didn’t want to be a ballerina. She went to SAB SI on scholarship for a year, and then the next year she didn’t get a scholarship and the following year she didn’t get in, so she quit. With that being said, I don’t think she was ever in it for the art, the work or the movement. I think she was in it for the prestige or the elitism. Not that I am judging, well I kind of am.

I hope everyone has a good Monday and enjoys my doodle. I have a 10 hour work day in 6 hours, so I probably should try to sleep.

The Future of Ballet…. Adele ‘All I Ask’

So it has hit the world of Social Media by storm, but I thought I would post about it as well. DJ Smart (SYTYCD, Koresh Dance Company)  and Zola Williams with Choreography by Will B Bell and edited by Jose Omar Hernandez. With over half a million views, it brings to light the changing of color and ethnicity in ballet. I recently posted on facebook a statement that caused a lot of controversy via private messages and public posts.

“I’m not trying to say anything racial or political, but for some reason I just truly believe that ethnic ballet dancers have so much more to give with a stronger purpose. ‪#‎thatsall‬

The nature of ballet needs to diversify, and at a faster rate than artistic directors can grasp. As Misty Copeland has really put a face to ethnic dancing, and as Dance Magazine diversified their top 25 to watch this year; more dancers of this caliber should be celebrated not as commercial dancers but truly be identified as ballet dancers. They deserve it.

Here is why I made the comment that I did: As an ethnic dancer you have to dance 10 times better than a white ballet dancer. Not only do you have to prove you are just technically as good as them, but you have something else in addition to. The argument is that you will stick out in the corps, so you have to possess something that will get you promoted. You have to be tenacious, you have to go through this ridiculous mental struggle of race and your reflection. I know I did. I am not saying that ethnic ballet dancers are better, I am saying that the ethnic dancers that do make it in ballet because they have gone through such a journey with their racial profile; something you can not change. I have seen amazingly trained ethnic dancers not get jobs, or get so discouraged in the ballet world that they leave and move onto other things because of race. So, when videos like this come at such a diverse collaboration it warms my heart. And I hope one day, we look at dancers and just say they are dancers, and don’t have to identify their racial profile. Until then, they are finding new ways to present their art, soul and journey.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/150746445″>&quot;All I Ask&quot; -Adele | Will B. Bell Choreography</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/willbbell1″>Will B. Bell</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>

RDT GOES NUTS

It has been a really long journey, and it took a lot out of me but, we did it. After a long four months, Redlands Dance Theatre premiered their first show The Beauty of Ballet. And it actually went pretty well. With the support of Dancing Images Dance Center and their amazing tech, and costume team we did it. First we pulled off Paquita, then Carlos Renteria premiered Self-Help, followed by our version of Nutcracker: A Midnight Fantasy. 

paquita

It was really great to see such amazing people push to their limits and pull off a beautiful show.

Students from the School of dancing Images took on Paquita Polonaise and numerous supporting roles in Nutcracker. They really have come so far!

polonaise

Now, we are pushing forward into the audition intensive. We only have a few spots left, so if you are interested you can email me at david@redlandsdancetheatre.com

swan lake project 2

Now it is time to push forward to start raising money for THE SWAN LAKE, and the process of building our company’s 2016 season.

Thank you again everyone for your support of this blog and of Redlands Dance Theatre.

Previews

With a week away, I am almost done fundraising everything I need to… We just need to raise about $1,000 dollars by tomorrow. Everyone has worked extremely hard to put this show together. I really hope you could find it in your hearts to support the ballet company and school. Greatly appreciated.

David King, Artistic Director of Redlands Dance Theatre
www.RedlandsDanceTheatre.org

You know you trained Balanchine Part 3…

In today’s world of ballet, you have to be living under a rock not to know who Balanchine is. The opposite of that would be living in 1930 and thinking ballet has not changed. These days, the technique has been refined with the help of physics and anatomy. We have mastered our bodies through kinesiology. But musically, we owe Balanchine our understanding of music, and how a dancer approaches music. While classical ballet focuses on the movement first, or the role- the Balanchine aesthetic makes the music first. Everyone has their cup of tea; mine just happens to be vintage Mr. B, with a splash of milk and agave. Every time I take class somewhere else, or somewhere new the first thing that is usually said is, “Oh, your Balanchine trained.” I don’t know if it is supposed to be condescending, but I take it as a compliment. Then I realized every time I take a class that isn’t Balanchine based, my quads die, and I have never danced so slow in my life…

 

 

Serenade_Mear

 

So, while this Thanksgiving Morning I started off with a nice ballet class, I had time to reflect and think, “Thank God for the Balanchine Aesthetic.” In my thankfulness for Balanchine and the Balanchine Trust here are FIVE more You Know You Trained Balanchine if you are taking a technique class other than a Balanchine class and…

1. You are in a class other than a Balanchine class, and you are thinking, “Dear God, could you move any slower.”
2. You are surrounded by non-Balanchine dancers that don’t travel, so you are stuck falling over yourself because the girl in the sloppy bun won’t travel.
3. You are the only male in white ballet shoes.
4. When the teacher gives the frappé or petit allegro combo, and you are like… yes. Then you year the tempo and you are like… no.
5. When you are traveling and killing it in those long fourth positions for pirouettes, and the person you are going with across the floor gives you side eye.

And one more because it is Thanksgiving: You know you trained Balanchine when you are in a non Balanchine class and you think, “These combinations don’t even make sense with the music, and who makes up a combo like that? -____- Only a Russian teacher would give arms like that.”

a ballet education balanchine

George Balanchine

A BALLET EDUCATION: THE GUIDE TO MALE BALLET

Here in this edition, we will kind of go over some things for boys in ballet to help make this journey easier. With the first few blog posts about male ballet dancers doing well, I thought I would expand on some things that might be relevant. I hope you enjoy, Surviving Ballet: The Guide to being a Boy in Ballet.

mens ballet guide

24 pages

digital download: $19.99

For teachers and ballet schools please e-mail aballeteducation@gmail.com to receive a discount.

The Guide To Pointe Work

The Guide to Pointe Work Cover

The Guide to Pointe Work is a short, to the point, and informative booklet about pointe technique. Everything from pointe shoes to ribbons, fit, and how to’s, the Guide to Pointe Work is an excellent companion for the new student/parent/teacher. Available for digital download and e-book: $2.99

The Guide to Variations…

a ballet education cover

You can now purchase the guide to variations in digital form for $14.99
The print edition is available as well through the publisher’s cost.
52 pages on everything you need to know about variations… Click the image above to purchase.

Let the boy dance

His face was pressed against in the glass,
Fingers spread wide, tapping to the muffled sound of the music.
His mind was racing back and forth between reality, and fantasy.
Finally, the door opened and the teacher asked, “Do you want to come in?”
Looking for his mom’s approval, she nodded.
He rushed in.
And that was that.

I always wondered why my mom didn’t put me into dance earlier? From age 3-7 I would religiously watch the Baryshnikov/Kirkland Nutcracker every day, a copy that my grandma gave me. When PBS aired PNB’s Nutcracker, my Grandma recorded it, via VHS and gave it to me as well. I was addicted. I hadn’t even started dance classes yet. There are pictures of me religiously watching it. After preschool, lunch and reading, my mom would try to make me take a nap with her as I would normally get into trouble somewhere in the early afternoon. When these naps came about I would purposefully would toss and turn, and this would lead my mom to let me go to the living room and watch the Nutcracker. Somewhere between Snow and Prologue she would come out, and insist I turn it off and do something educational. I would beg, because the real dancing hadn’t started yet and the clowns hadn’t even danced. Little did I know, that one of those clowns would become a coach later on. Then in PNB’s Nutcracker, I would become obsessed with flowers and snow. Then my life happened, the Nutcracker was going to be in theaters, the NYCB version with Darci Kistler. And that is when I knew that is how I wanted to dance… The problem was, I hadn’t even started dancing yet… My sister and cousins were all in dance… But I wasn’t. Despite the fact that I had to go watch my sisters take class all the time… I hadn’t been enrolled.

My grandma giving me the Nutcracker.
My grandma giving me the Nutcracker.
Me super turned in watching the Nutcracker ... in suspenders, stripes and shoes...
Me super turned in watching the Nutcracker … in suspenders, stripes and cute shoes…

Finally, when it came to be… I wasn’t allowed to do ballet. I did boys class which included jazz and tap.
Then, finally, I knew I wanted to do ballet and I finally got my wish.  It was so late. So late. After an excellent elementary school, I went to a performing arts middle school with the condition that I keep a GPA over 3.5, stayed in the GATE program, and did other extra curricular activities. Needless to say, I wasn’t getting the training I needed. Then Center Stage came out, and I knew that I wanted that life. With the condition that I kept up all my responsibilities, I was able to quite the dance program at the middle school and go to a pre professional school. Then high school came about, and I knew I had to dance more. So, I doubled up on classes, by my freshman year of high school, I enrolled at a junior college so I could accumulate more credits.  By the age of fifteen I had finished high school, differed from colleges to make my parents happy, but I did this so I could focus on ballet.

Then while at this pre professional school, a former principal from National Ballet of Canada told me I would never be a dancer. So, it shattered my world, and I was like, “Fuck. I gave up Uni for this…”
While at the junior college, I found out they offered ballet classes late at night. And I thought, this is perfect! I can double up on my ballet training. I juggled the two back and forth and by January, I had auditions. As rejection letters and acceptance letters came, I was really confused. I had done everything right… I did everything my parents asked me, and everything my teachers asked me but I didn’t get in anywhere that I really wanted. This being SAB.

audition photo
audition photo

Then, while under the advisement of the junior college professor, she told me to consider going to a university and majoring in dance. I knew this isn’t want I wanted, but what if the world didn’t have a ballet plan for me? I was taking class at a college here in soCal and as I finished adagio at center I was walking to the side when a man tapped his finger on the glass and told me to come over. I kind of shook my head, but then the music in class stopped and the professor told me I should go out there and talk to him. I didn’t know who he was. He basically asked me a couple questions and asked if I wanted to come to his school for the summer. I had no clue who he was… It was Alonzo King of LINES Ballet. This was before LINES was everywhere. Deadlines were coming up and my parents told me I had to make decisions… So, while eating my favorite chinese food reading about all these programs, I opened my fortune cookie and it said: You will dance to a different beat.

Fortune cookies are the best.
Fortune cookies are the best.

Being the crazy that I am, I was like THIS IS A SIGN. So, I went to LINES. And as beautiful as it was, and as glorious as it was… I knew that this isn’t how I wanted to dance. I didn’t care about what muscles moved what, I didn’t care about finesse and I didn’t care about how a plié made me feel. I knew I wanted to have long lines, and deep fourths. I wanted over crossed everything and I wanted to move fast… Every modern teacher said I was too Balanchine. Every ballet teacher said I didn’t have the body for ballet. It was really discouraging. Despite all of my kicking and dragging on at LINES I had met beautiful dancers who I still catch up with to this day. I came home discouraged, but my Grandma showed me this article about SoCal girls doing it up big. It was referring to Ashley Ellis and Misty Copeland, just coming off their spotlight awards, coca cola scholars and acceptances to ABT Studio company… So, I moved in with my grandma to train at their studio… The caliber of training was amazeballs… It was intense training… But, it was SOOOOOOO classical. Anything remotely unclassical was frowned upon, and the Balanchine was driven out. Then I went to CPYB, thinking okay, if all of the principals of NYCB have gone here… I must go, and they had a University in the same city, so I could keep going on with my education. The training was beyond exceptional, but this time… life handed me a different set of cards… I never thought I would experience racism in a ballet classroom, I never thought I would be the only asian male for miles, I never thought a lot of things would ever happen to me… and they did.  I grew up in Southern California, my parents are white, and my brothers and sisters are all from different countries. Growing up my best friend was half french half black, and my other best friend was half German half mexican. Racism was the furthest thing from my mind… So, when comments by teachers were made about me being oriental, or that I had to open my eyes bigger… I was like wtf. This was the first time race became utterly important, but it also crushed me. So, despite CPYB’s advice, I decided to go audition for companies and got in. I begged the school the company was associated with to let me come early and just be in the school so I could get out of CPYB. Dance ended but brought teaching… Teaching brought back hope for ballet for me. Watching students leave this summer to join companies, go to SAB, and other summer programs, go off to university to dance on scholarship… Makes me feel like I can really do this… which basically caused this retrospective…

Ten years later, here I am sitting down filling out company contracts, school curriculum and emailing theaters. Crazy. Right? Starting a ballet company where poverty is seen in 30 miles every direction, the average high school drop out rate is over 30%, and the only major theatre is for comedians. Insane right? No, because now I know how important it is to let someone dance. And as I start this crazy journey of starting a company I am loving it. Mostly because the dancers I have hired are beautiful people with beautiful stories and that makes them beautiful to watch.
Kelly is tall. Like really tall. And after having a pre pro scholarship at PNB, and dancing at numerous companies around the US- she was never really pushed into roles because she was so tall. Now, inspired to dance again after having kids, she is beyond gorgeous and has this ferocious tenacity, ridiculous dedication and now that she is pushing for herself she taking on roles with fire and having experienced everything she has gone through as a mom, as a tall dancer, and as a teacher she brings something extra to her dancing. Then there is Carlos, who was a student of mine, coming from the same area. Training him to get scholarship at the Rock School then continuing his education at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, he is back. After fighting his family to let him dance, he comes back gorgeous, strong and long. Jaquie was told she was never going to dance. The studio owner would tell her to her face that she would never dance. Then I came to her studio as a teacher. After pushing and stretching, and challenging her, she got into summer programs and attended. She then got a scholarship to go to University. She is going to commute back and forth to dance. Amanda did everything right in ballet. Went year round at the Rock School, spent every summer at SAB, but ballet life got to her, and she decided to become an RN. Now at a top ranked hospital in the US, she decided she missed dancing, and wanted to start again. These are just short abbreviated versions of their stories, but their stories are also just beginning. It is really that spectacular.
www.redlandsdancetheatre.org
facebook: REDLANDS DANCE THEATRE

Ballet Today

ballet today

I was having coffee with a girlfriend today, at some cute little bistro in West Hollywood…
We were chatting about the promotions that have been happening around the world, because it is that time again… Then we were just having a general conversation about the evolution of ballet, and how things have changed drastically over the past, say 7 years. We laughed about third position, and then we laughed some more about low relevés, and knuckling in pointe shoes and how if we danced back in the 20’s or 30’s we would have been superstars… or not. Then somehow the conversation quickly changed, and she asked me about the blog and who I have recently offended, and what hate mail I have received in my inbox… Recently, I received a letter from a teacher at a University asking me not to mention their school or faculty, I responded politely and accordingly and haven’t heard back from that institution. In their letter they pointed out that they aren’t behind the times, they have just chosen a curriculum that works for them… I pointed out that the curriculum that isn’t geared towards real ballet, or art and instead they are just using their “dance major” as a way to bring in students and money.  I don’t think it is their fault, it is the system’s fault, and the faculty protecting their tenure, benefits and salaries.

Ballet is changing, and changing at a rate that most people can’t keep up with.  When I say most people, I am talking about teachers, coaches, PR directors, Artistic Directors, Choreographers, Musicians, and more.  Ballet is expanding at a rate that no one could have imagined.  Misty Copeland has create an international discourse about ballet, and somehow has brought ballet back to the center of classical arts. #propstoyou If SYTYCD made dance approachable to the underexposed parts of the the US, then Misty definitely created an international scene of ballet and ballet politics.  While she can’t just directly come out and say how she feels, because she wants a job… I feel like there is an unspoken current in ballet happening… There is a mood, a feeling, and uprising where dancers are tired of being overlooked, underused, and under appreciated… I feel like with all of these dance projects and collectives coming together, I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a separation soon. I mean major companies today were started by dancers leaving major companies and joining forces as their own voice, unfortunately they too have fallen into the politics of Artistic Directors and selling seats…

So what can be done today?

Bolshoi has brilliantly created international broadcasts.
PNB has created the best youtube videos.
The Australian Ballet has the most visually gorgeous campaigns.
NYCB has taken advantage of the fashion world.
ABT has banked off Misty and has monopolized Pointe Magazine.
SFB has taken to gorgeous photography.
Teatro La Scala has taken in creating amazing DVDs with ballet Superstars.
Royal Danish Ballet basically created an amazing youtube technique class.
Silicon Valley Ballet, formerly Ballet San Jose has rebranded completely and created the best crowdfunding campaign ballet has seen.
Miami City Ballet has teamed up with Teen Vogue.
Paris Opera has created a gorgeous social media presence, I credit Benjamin.

The list goes on… But how will ballet evolve?
Justin Peck & Myles Thatcher seem to be the new choreographers on the rise. We shall see if their work sustains.
The Cirio Collective and Intensio are creating a new wave of dance projects.
Solo projects headed by Desmond Richardson and Wendy Whelan are becoming quite popular as well, almost reminding you of like 1930’s private recitals and such.
Technique is at the most refined point we have ever seen.
We have pushed the human body to it’s limit, an now are discovering qualities in which we can manipulate it.
Genres are becoming more and more blended.

So, what is next? what is next?

What is Good Ballet?

What is “good” ballet?

I have been asked this a lot… and frankly I was avoiding this conversation as it is super subjective. It is like asking, “What is good art?” There isn’t a definitive answer, which is why I try to explain my opinion. First, we have to go over the context in which good ballet is used.

“I just saw Paris Opera Ballet, and that was good ballet.”

This is referring to a company’s caliber. A good ballet company, doesn’t have to be a big ballet company. A good ballet company has to have numerous artists who are all striving for a vision, in a specific performance. I will say, in order to be a good company, you have to have a strong technical backbone, dancers that can actually move well, and all generally have the same sense or approach to musicality. Some would say they all have the same body type, or body proportion but that is a bold face lie. It really is.

“She is a good ballet dancer.”

This is referring to a professional dancer’s achievement within the art. Just because you are technically sound, that doesn’t make you a good ballet dancer. A good ballet dancer isn’t even defined by turns, or leg up, or ridiculous air time (ballon). A good ballet dancer is an artist, someone who shapes their body to the music, and give the technical steps an emotion, a purpose, and place. A good technical ballet dancer just doesn’t fling their body anywhere in a jump, they have a very specific placement, within a time frame, moving in space, with an intent or emotion.

“This is a good ballet program.”

Referring to the education a dancer is receiving. I think this is the big question that everyone wants an answer to. What is good ballet training. So what, your school didn’t make the Big Ten List … There are plenty of great schools out there… like these ones I wrote about earlier… Well, anyways there are actually two types of good ballet schools. There are ballet schools, and then there are finishing schools. A good ballet school is a where you learn your body, turn out, foot articulation, placement, and clean basic technique. If your school doesn’t emphasize turn out in every combination, it probably isn’t a good school, and probably below mediocre… Turn out is the most important thing in ballet… Unfortunately. A good ballet school teaches you how to use the floor, learn a full ballet vocabulary, teach you how to warm up properly on your own, overly stretch you out, condition you ridiculously, teach you about nutrition, cross train you in pilates, yoga and a secondary form of dance, and educate your parents about summer programs, scholarships, colleges, and careers.

Now, a good finishing school is a school that teaches advanced technique and those ridiculous jumps and turns that no one did give years ago.. Haha just kidding, not really. But a finishing school is where a student really becomes a dancer. They learn how to use their technique to really dance. Some finishing schools focus on a specific style, breeding you for their company… like School of American Ballet. Some finishing schools focus on the strength of technique aka Houston Ballet.

It is really hard to actually say what is a good ballet school, because the reality is, a good ballet school will start and finish you in their company. If your school doesn’t have a company attached, what was the point of being at that school? To train their way and leave? It really doesn’t make sense, and at the same time it really isn’t fair. Paris Opera, National Ballet of Cuba, Vaganova School, are prime examples of start to finish schools… At the same time they are all state funded, which is cause for a whole different post in which I am too tired to get into right now. Plus, I am having a conversation via Facebook with a friend about it. Haha.

Buenos Noches everyone— and cheers to “good” ballet.

THE FUTURE OF BALLET: The Cirio Collective

The Cirio Collective if the first of five start ups I am going to endorse/plug/support throughout the year. To donate click here.

While it is important to be educated in ballet, it is more important to understand that ballet/dance is a living and breathing art form constantly evolving. It is hard to be progressive in today’s industry because genres are becoming more and more blended. That is the thing about ballet, the evolution and expansion is happening at a rate no one ever could have predicted. When ballet dancers would wait for new choreography, it was one thing. Now, ballet dancers are have become impatient with artistic staff (it is super costly to have a choreographer come in and set a new work, and super risky for a payoff) they are exploring their own forms of movement.

While dancers all across the world have been starting small groups/labs/experiments, none have matched the quality and finesse needed to turn into something major. The last of which were Complexions and Cedar Lake. The Trey McIntyre Project lasted, but since evolved. Now, why am I so hopeful for a company/project/collective that hasn’t even debuted?

Jeffrey Cirio is a ballet prodigy. Awesome.

He has good taste in photography and editing. InstaAwesome.

His sister is the epitome and ideal new ballerina. Flippin Awesome.

He has access to good dancers during the off season. Bostonian Awesome + Ballet celeb awesome.

He is smart. Generally awesome. He has really, carefully thought this through… from the aesthetic of his site, to his PR campaigns, to the overall mood of it all.

So, why am I writing all of this out? Here it is…. Ballet has to have good PR. PR encompasses this field of development, fundraising, and the efforts to keep ballet alive. While the Cirio collective will bring in a younger crowd than the typical ballet audience, this crowd is the crowd we have to please. This will be the crowd that supports ballet for the next 40 years, and this new crowd of ballet/dance go-ers is not patient. Between IG, SYTYCD, and blogs like mine, everyone can be a critic, a judge, or even an editor… With that all being said, I also think it can be used for good…

Here is what I am asking… Support the Cirio Collective. Go online, like their page, share their page, share this page, exposure is always a good thing… buuuut you have to donate. I can not stress that enough… YOU MUST DONATE. For all of you moms and dads out there saving for summer programs… How will your kid dance if there is no place for them?

Bonus, they already have their 501c3 which means tax deductible and exempt… I know that this doesn’t help you this tax season… but hey… it will help you next season!

Facebook: Circio Collective

IG/Twitter @ciriocollective

http://ciriocollective.com

So, here we go… Go make this into a reality… Thanks.