Goodbye Ballet

When Your Body Decides to be Done with Ballet
Susie Boyland, contributing writer

Swan Lake 2012 ROH, Swan Lake 2012 ROH
original artwork by Susie Boyland- Swan Lake

If you are heavily dedicated to ballet, it becomes your life and a major part of your identity.  Whether you dance purely for fun or as your career, ballet consumes your every thought and many hours of your day, every day for years on end.  It keeps you in great physical shape and there’s no need to go to “the gym” like most “normal” people.  However, at some point, whether it be at age 15 or 90, everyone’s body decides that it will no longer put up with the physical demands that ballet places on it and somehow we have to figure out how to deal with that.

At the beginning of last year I was devastated to hear that I either needed to have hip surgery or stop dancing.  Dance was never my career, but nevertheless it was (and is) a big part of my identity.  A few months later I was told that actually I needed to have hip surgery AND stop dancing; it was no longer an either-or, it was both.  It’s been 8 months since my surgery and I have yet to figure out how to process this.  I’m still recovering physically and I’m also in denial that I will never again do another grande jeté – my favorite step.  The surgery went well, but my body still seems to be complaining and my surgeon advised against returning to ballet unless I want to be sure of having a hip replacement in my future.  I haven’t taken a dance class in months, but in my mind it feels like it’s just an extended “break” until I can go back, like it has been in the past.  I have taken long breaks due to injury before – in fact I think my longest break from ballet before now was 9 months – but I always knew that at some point I would be able to return and eventually get back to full strength.  This time, that isn’t the case.  I can’t go back, at least not fully.  How are you supposed to deal when you’ve taken your last class and at the time you didn’t even know it?

Former PNB principal dancer Carla Körbes stated before her retirement that perhaps she could have kept dancing at 80% but it wasn’t worth it to her because she needed to dance at 100% in order for it to be fulfilling.  I fully understand that.  In ballet, holding back is not really an option.  Either you go all out or you don’t do it at all. Modifying steps in class due to an injury is not fun and I can’t imagine having to do that for the rest of my life.  I don’t want to go through every class having to think things like, “If I do this step, will I be in pain for days after?  Will I need surgery again if I do this combination full-out?”  Ballet is about pushing limits and going to the extreme so if you can’t allow your body to do that anymore, it just doesn’t feel right.  Pushing the limits of the human body’s capacity is part of what makes ballet so intriguing.  Unfortunately, this aspect of ballet is also what over time erodes our bodies to the point that we can no longer do what we used to be able to do.

I don’t think there is really any one way in particular to deal with the difficulty of not being able to do ballet anymore.  The one thing you can be sure of though is that you know you are able to feel a strong passion for something.  Just like after a breakup or a death of a loved one, you will recover and you will find your passion again, though this time it will be for something else.  Perhaps it will be ballet-related, or perhaps it’ll be something else entirely.  Regardless, you can take comfort in the thought that you have the ability to feel so strongly about something.   Some people don’t have this ability.

Along with the ability to feel passion, ballet dancers have certain other qualities instilled in them that will allow them to excel in any field: determination, persistence, commitment, and an extremely strong work ethic, just to name a few.  Dancers know how to push through pain, conquer the seemingly impossible, and make something incredibly difficult look polished and effortless.

So, when you’re faced with the reality of having to stop dancing, first take some time to grieve – it is, after all, essentially a death.  But this death is different than most in that it presents along with it a chance for a new beginning.  Once you get through the fog and confusion of figuring out how to move on, you’ll find that the world is full of wonderful new opportunities to explore.  I’m still working on finding a new form of physical activity that I both enjoy and my body lets me do, but in the meantime I am pouring my heart and soul into my new passion: photography.  I especially love photographing gymnastics competitions and someday hope to have the opportunity to photograph dancers.  The same passion and energy that I felt for ballet is starting to present itself to me in photography.  Also, I’ve found that after ballet, almost everything else seems relatively easy!

I can’t bring myself to say “I used to be a dancer” rather than “I am dancer” and I don’t know if I ever will.  Using the past tense makes it more real and I’m not ready for that, despite the fact that I’m discovering new interests.  Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney recently did an interview where she talked about how hard it was to have to stop doing the activity that used to be her entire life.  She stated that she didn’t want to use the word “retire,” as so many gymnasts and dancers often do when they hang-up their leotards and pointe shoes.  This is the same way I feel about using the past tense, i.e. “I used to dance.”  In my opinion, once a dancer, always a dancer.  McKayla Maroney will always be a gymnast and I will always be a dancer, even if the only dancing I do is in my head.

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You can see some of Susie’s photography work here and follow her on Twitter at @Gymtertainment.  She also has gone a bit crazy in her post-ballet life and makes videos in a T-Rex costume.

Read Susie’s other article about careers after ballet by clicking here

Saturday Morning Warm Ups

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Every Saturday morning dancers around the world hear their alarm clocks go off and they want to die. The physical demand for a dancer is extremely high, but the emotional and mental demand on a dancer is just as high if not higher… Saturday mornings we are cursed with having to wake up at the butt-crack of dawn to go to class. For professionals, they just had a performance the night before and they now have to get up, go to class, rehearse and perform 1-2 times on Saturdays. It is awful… And for students, for some unholy reason, ballet teachers take Saturdays as a day to dance early so you can get out early…. The concept is awful. Most dancers are at the studio all night on Fridays, and have to return to ballet class by 10:00 AM, which means you have to be at the studios warming up at 9:30ish, which probably means you are up at 7:00 to get ready, eat, let the food digest, and commute to the studios.. This concept has plagued the ballet world for who knows how long… I blame some soviet teacher back in the day wanting to capitalize on off time… #justsayin

russian teacher stories

So, with that being said, a lot of students have written in asking what a proper warm is… Truthfully… it varies by body type, and what injuries you have or are prone to. Usually, a good warm up consists of core muscles, finding your center, articulation through the back, a quick warm up through the feet and knees, and stretching out anywhere that is tight or sore.

Everyone’s warm up is different… mine takes about 45 minutes because I have to warm up a lot because of hip surgeries and a lack of natural ballet needs… I also don’t dance regularly anymore, so I have to start prior to even getting to the studios. If I know I am going to be taking company class or any open ballet class that morning I need to take a really hot shower and crack my ankles, and open the tops of my arches. I then have to eat a steel cut oatmeal and two bananas or I will cramp and die somewhere between degagés and ron de jambes. I also eat hard boiled eggs, toast with peanut butter and avocado… and coffee cake (#fatpandaproblems).

Before I leave I make sure I have everything packed in my herschel dance bag. Gatorade for barre, water bottle for center, coffee to go because I live off it. Trigger point Foam roller, foot roller, theraband, trash bags, sweatpants, variety of legwarmers, dancewear, sewing kit, ballet shoes like 3 different pairs, headphones, headband because my bangs are super fierce right now and my cell phone….

Once I get to the studio and pay for open class, and I change, headphones go in my ears and I find a spot to start warming up.

I start with pilates 100’s…. core hold, and pushups… I write the alphabet with my feet and ankles making sure I articulate all the way through my feet. Then I lay on the floor and start warming up my hips and back…. Tight hips and flexible back is a fun combo to try warming up…. I then stretch out my hip flexors, and hamstrings, and quite my rib cage because after all of the rolling on the floor my rips tend to open… plus I am a big splayer in real life. I sit in my lower back and let my ribs pop open all the time… I could cut someone’s eye with how bad the lower portion of my ribs splay. I then roll through my feet  to relevé in first and second. I cheat in fifth and just check the line. I do some tendus to feel the backs of my legs and then stretch it all out. Splits. Then ready to take class.

Usually, when I take class I have a goal… like petit allegro or pirouettes. So I warm up and take class accordingly. Now that I am a fat panda… I am not really an overall dancer… And because of my body, depending on what is hurting… I avoid certain exercises… or my body tires out really fast so I have to pace myself. If I am focusing on pirouettes, I won’t do a lot of combinations on relevé because I would die, twist my ankle and fall during across the floors.

So… what is a proper warm up for ballet class? Whatever works for your body. A girlfriend of mine has really tight hamstrings so she spends her entire warm up stretching out her legs. Another friend, he has a really tight back, like so tight some days arabesque does not happen for him… So spends his time doing all these modern exercises and yoga positions to get his back going. Another friend of mine is a quad gripper so he spends a lot of time stretching out his quads and warming up hamstrings. Everyone is different…

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SHOP FAT PANDA AND OTHER DOODLES BY CLICKING HERE

What is Ballet?

You could be reading this as a professional dancer looking to retire into teaching, be a teacher already, an aspiring student, a parent of a ballet dancer, or even an adult coming to ballet for the first time. As scary as ballet is, ballet is beautiful and benefits everyone through discipline, repetition, hearing and understanding music, the human anatomy and evoking the one quality that defines the ballet aesthetic: elegance.

Working on my Intro/Preface for the book… 

The technical book

Not the final cover, but using it as a mock up.

Ballet. Classical ballet as an art form can not stand alone, it is the collaboration of movement, music, costuming, lighting and design. When they say it takes a village to raise a child, it takes all of humanities achievements, accomplishments and history to make ballet happen. Ballet as a whole is a reflection of our times, it portrays the context of what was popular at the time, what was happening in the modern world, and how it is unforgiving. Yet, somehow, this art form has survived hundreds of years, because of tradition. The tradition of ballet has been verbally passed down from one generation of dancers to the next, and like traditions and folklore, it has been expanded on, distorted, and refined. Today, ballet is the reflection of that oral tradition presented on the human anatomy to music.

Watching a ballet performance is magical. There is something to be said about getting dressed up for the theatre and watch humans transform into fairies, sylphs, heroes and heroines, star-crossed lovers and swans. It is truly the ethereal escape that for years ballet critics have fawned over. But in today’s ballet world, in the age of technology, ballet has changed. In the 60’s the audiences were balletomanes, knowing dancers by name and rank. They roared in applause for superstars and cried over well-danced performances. Nowadays, ballet companies have the audience of ballet isn’t just captivated in beautiful theaters across the world. Ballet companies are now performing to the masses via social media. The demand for ballet is instantaneous, ballet superstars aren’t created by artistic directors, they are created by their followers on social media.

This means, ballet dancers once again have to find a way to reinvent themselves. While the older generation of dancers moved on to become entrepreneurs with the young millennials, young ballet dancers now are creating such a huge following for themselves by being exceptionally gifted, have the best training the world has to offer and be fundamentally interesting as both a human and a ballet dancer. And now, companies are head hunting again, and having to follow social media trends in dance.

As a result, the demand for excellent teacher has grown. Teachers used to rely on their reputations as dancers, and studios relied on the fact that every girl wants to be a ballerina. Nowadays, studios and ballet schools have to have a combination of excellent coaches, extremely educated teachers, and phenomenal instructors. The three are very different. Additionally, they have to be well connected to the ballet world or the competition circuit of ballet. If a parent or student doesn’t feel that the student is growing or not being pushed to their full potential they will leave and find a school that fits their needs.

Because of the increase of ballet companies in the world, the number of ballet schools has increased, and the number of dance studios has increased. This means, for the potential dancer, there are hundreds of options and many options locally.

When I started the blog, a Ballet Education was just a place for me to rant about my frustrations within the professional world of ballet, but now over the past two years, it has grown to become a resource for parents, students, teachers, and more. So for that, I am thankful that it has grown and has become a source to help others pursue their dreams or help understand what goes on in the world of ballet.

So, as I am preparing to start writing my ballet book… I have encountered a larger problem… The funding for my book… While I have been contacting by smaller publishers, they can’t offer what I need to complete my book, and how I think the book should be published. My book is estimated to be close to 400 color pages, and preferably hardcover because let’s face it… If you have a ballet dictionary it is falling apart after years of carrying it around in sweaty dance bags. Ballet books have to be structurally made to last. As teachers, they are even in worse condition as you write notes in them, and use them constantly, or at least you should.

Finally my notes on technique aren’t just on technique, but how to approach them as the adult dancer, the young dancer, dancers with “difficult body types”, and how my methods of how to teach these. As I am putting the work out slowly to get a feel from publishers and literary agents, and I hope that it happens soon, I hope my future book will help generations of ballet dancers like the ballet manuals prior to mine.

Also, once it is published via the IBSN, I hope you all go out and buy it right away so I can land a spot on a bestseller list. I would be nice to have a “ballet book” (not a biography) make the best sellers list, just sayin. Thank you again.

My blog won’t be updated as I am leaving for two weeks, but when I return: order will be shipped and blogging will resume. I’ve been working on quite a few blog posts. And since I won’t be posting via Instagram or blog, I am just going to publish the rest of my doodles of the day. Remember, this week’s theme was fashion illustrations of what ballet dancers wear, not doodles. (Follow me on Instagram: @aballeteducation)

LOOK OF THE DAYS

Ballet Books… and fat pandas

After much anticipation and deal making, and doodling… I have finally decided on a publisher! I know have I have published digital books in the past for a Ballet Education, but this is exciting because I love hardcopy books! So I have finally figured out some stuff about the publishing of THREE new books for a Ballet Education.

So the first book is the FAT PANDA book. It is a 5.5″x5.5″ softcover book printed on recycled materials! This book is ready for production and shipping! Click here to view This book is on the pricey side… But, unfortunately, I couldn’t get the publisher to come down the the cost.

The second book is the doodle book featuring over one hundred of my doodles. This book is a fundraiser for the blog, and all the proceeds go to the blog and to the scholarships I have been giving out from the doodles. Unfortunately, this book is only on pre-order at the moment, but as soon as the first set of hard copies come in… I will be shipping! It is kind of exciting. 140 pages of doodles.  Click here to view

Finally, I want to take on my magnum opus of publishing for the blog… haven’t figured out a title yet, or a cover image… but you can learn more about this project by clicking here! I am very excited about it!

The idea behind the book is not to create your typical, some what boring ballet dictionary… and I definitely don’t want to create something that no one will want to read… I want it to be helpful and interesting… I definitely want to have the doodles, the technical drawings and other things in the book. I don’t want it to just be vocabulary terms… I want it to actually be useful… If you have any other ideas or what you want to see out of the book let me know by emailing me.

SHOUT OUT TO ALL OF THE FOLLOWERS ON INSTA: @aballeteducation

 

CORPS DE BALLET CONFESSIONAL: Alaia Rogers-Maman

alaia rogers maman

If you follow ballet competitions and the budding young talent in the ballet world, you have heard of her. Her photos are all over Instagram, and her videos have been watched thousands of times. After starting late compared to most ballerinas, she secured a spot in the variation selections at the Prix de Lausanne at the age of 15, and then a spot at the Royal Ballet Upper School… Alaia Rogers Maman is proving herself to be a force of nature in ballet. She is now a corps de ballet member at the prestigious Vienna State Opera Ballet Company. She may be young, but she already has a very defined sense of musicality and intensity. Alaia was super great to chat with over Instagram and Facebook to secure our next Corps de Ballet Confessional.

So, let’s begin: 

Name: Alaia Rogers, although my full name is Alaia Rogers-Maman and that is what is listed in Prix de Lausanne blogs and the company’s site
Website: No website yet although I think it’s a project I would really enjoy , updating it with content and blog posts , I just haven’t gotten around to it and I’m not sure anyone would actually read it   🙂
(I’m sure we would all follow it)
Insta: alaiarogers
Company: Wiener Staatsballett -translated Vienna state opera ballet-click here for website
Company Position: Corps de ballet , 2nd season , first company (click here for her company profile)

Ballet Education: I trained with many different teachers and schools , but I would credit my most influential training to Magaly Suarez her school is “The Art of Classical Ballet” in Pompano Beach, Florida. She really changed me as a dancer and made the idea of me becoming a professional dancer into a realistic possibility. Going to the Prix de Lausanne and getting the scholarship to Royal Ballet School was something I never thought I could achieve before her training . So my education in dance I would attribute to her and the royal ballet upper school .

Age: 19
Height: 5’7.5” or 165.7 CM

How do you drink your coffee?
Coffee – latte no sugar … I love my Nespresso machine

What is your favorite dessert?
Dessert – that is a tough one, I love dark chocolate especially with sea salt or pistachio filling

You went to Royal Ballet upper school, what was that like?
RBS was a trying and wonderful experience. I think that you can find great ballet teachers all over the world but at RBS it is more than the teachers it’s level of talent from the students and the comprehensive education provided. Ms. Stock traveled the world searching for the dancers with the greatest potential and then put them all in the same class. I think that might be what made me improve the most there was being inspired and challenged by my classmates . The pas de deux education there is phenomenal , the boys are of such a high standard and our teacher Mr.Pakri made us understand all of the technical aspects and taught us to trust our partners and be there for each other. The education on ballet history , physiotherapy , character dance, arts funding, and all stages and roles within the choreographic process were taught in great depth. It was also a trying time lots of changes were taking place as Ms.stock made her departure from the school. It was very sad to see her go and later hear I of her illness.

What was it like trying to find a job?
Finding a job was a bit scary at first especially when you see how many candidates show up to an open audition. You really think how are they even going to see me in this sea of girls. Also, there are only a few spaces available to dancers each season, I felt like all the odds were against me. I think doing your research is important,  to look for a company where you can see yourself fitting into the repertory

What was your dream company when you are 15?
I think I had a few dream companies at 15 , Paris Opera and ABT were definitely at the top though

What is it like dancing at the Vienna State Opera?
It’s incredible to work here in Vienna . The opera house is beautiful and I love curtain calls when you can just look out into the beautiful theater and take it all in. The Viennese people are huge fans of the opera and ballet and we are always performing for packed audiences. My director is Manuel Legris (former etoile at Paris Opera) and he has a never-ending wealth of knowledge to share with us. We have such a diverse group of super talented dancers which I feel lucky to be a part of. I really believe this is one of the best places to work in ballet. Few companies have our diverse and exciting rep paired with great dancers and a world-class director.

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How often do you perform?
Our performance schedule varies month to month, but I would say on average about 85 shows per year here in Vienna .

What are you currently rehearsing?
Onegin, Le Corsaire by Manuel Legris, Marie Antoinette by Patrick de Bana, snow queen by Micheal Corder , and soon we start with Mayerling.

How does time off work at an Opera House?
Our company is different than most we don’t have scheduled Christmas or mid season breaks. They try to give everyone their free days when possible based on the programs you are cast in. At times, it can a bit annoying because it’s hard to make plans for vacation or family with little notice but when we all get two months of holidays in summer it makes up for it .

What are some of the pressures of being in a ballet school compared to being in a company?
Ballet school, although at the time, I felt was stressful really isn’t  in comparison to being in a company. In school you and your classmates are all practically on the same level it’s like a mini company where you are all the same rank. In school, your teachers are so invested in you and are constantly giving you feedback and you have hours of rehearsal time and you know exactly what you are going to dance and when. In a company you get very little feedback about your personal progress and have to motivate and assess yourself. You also are preparing multiple pieces at one time with limited rehearsals and have to be prepared to jump into other roles, with maybe only 30 minutes notice and hopefully ONE rehearsal. School years were golden years with lots of nurturing and friendships combined with hard work. In the company it is different, but once you adjust you really enjoy the diversity of the things you dance, the mentorship of more experienced dancers, and the feeling that with each role you really can explore your artistry and grow.
royal ballet school 2012

What are some of the relationships you develop in the corps de ballet?
Well, you develop great relationships. Dancing with a new partners you forge friendships with people you wouldn’t have become friends with otherwise. Also, when you work on a piece that has been in the rep for years and it’s your first time dancing it the more experienced dancers can really help you along the way. I think you can learn a lot from dancers in the corps de ballet there are  really young dancers, dancers starting to get their first big opportunities , dancers who have been in the company for more than a decade , and super moms who somehow manage this crazy time and energy consuming profession with motherhood. So you make all sorts of friends in corps.

What is the biggest difference between European dancers and American Dancers?
I think to compare European dancers and American dancers it is not really possible because British, French and Danish dancers are completely different already. I can only comment on the things I felt I had to change myself once I started dancing in Europe . My wrists, they often dropped and didn’t always elongate my line, finding more light and shade in my dancing playing more with the musicality.

When you were a student, what was the hardest thing for you?
Being a student, I think the hardest thing for me was mental. I started ballet quite late and I was always the underdog or the one who had potential but was behind the other students. Mentally, it was often hard to believe I had progressed enough to do well in a competition or be able to stand out in a group of my talented peers, my confidence wasn’t always on the same level as my capability.

Technically? Mentally? Injury Prone to?
Technically I had struggles too but every student and professional does.

I really believe that if you eat, sleep , and work properly you can avoid most injuries . I have been very lucky I have had only very minor injuries. It’s shocking how many dancers as they get older and start a professional career do so little to warm up.

What is in your dance bag?
My dance bag is huge – lots of Bloch point shoes , theraband, box cutters, sports wrap, chapstick, sewing kit , jet glue , icy hot , leg warmers, rehearsal skirt, shorts , ballet flats, foot spray , sisscors, scotch tape , lambs wool toe pads, my keys and phone

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What is your dream role?
I have many roles I aspire to. I would love to dance a dramatic role like Tatiana in Onegin , Marguerite in Lady of the Camillas , or Esmeralda in Notre Dame.

 What do you want out of your ballet career?
I think I am a very ambitious person , and I want out of ballet what I would want out of any other career I could choose . To continue to improve, to be challenged, not to plateau, to always be working toward something. Ballet is wonderful because you can always grow more. Even the best of the best can continue to work, explore, and create. I love feeling that each class or performance was an improvement on the last.

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Don’t forget tickets to the FINALS for the YAGP are on sale! If you are in NYC- get them now! Click here!


Love the Corps De Ballet Confessional? Check out our first one with San Fran Ballet’s Julia Rowe. Are you a corps member and interested in being interviewed? Email me aballeteducation@gmail.com

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Wednesday Thoughts…

wednesday blues.jpgHello there ballet lovers, ballet dancers & balletomanes …
Sorry, I haven’t posted in a while… But between my birthday and my personal life, I have been quite busy. Today has gotten me down… So as I sit here in my office listening to Rhapsody in Blue, quick sketched this little doodle.  I have been teaching a lot lately, mostly coaching for the YAGP finals next month and getting a young batch of girls ready to go away for the summer. I am actually pretty proud of my students this year: this year I am sending students to SAB, Houston Ballet, Ballet Chicago, the Rock School, Joffrey NY and Arizona Ballet. Pretty happy with these results as this is our first year, and for most of them, it is their first year auditioning.

Tickets to the YAGP finals went on sale today, but since I haven’t raised that much money that has been slightly down. There is something major happening in my life, that has affecting me greatly and deeply. A friend of mine is 25, and losing his battle to AIDS via various infections and PCP… I can’t help but think how fragile life is… and as much as it pains me to say: how insignificant ballet is in the larger picture. Don’t get me wrong, I love ballet, and I love the art… I love art in general, and I definitely think art brings the passionate side of humanity out… But… There are a lot of things happening in the world… a lot of things we could be doing to affect change… Don’t get me wrong… I am all about the changes in ballet… race, ethnicity, gender… but human kind’s problems seem a little more important at the moment.

A good friend of mine once told me that to affect change in the world is almost impossible, but to affect people’s lives you just have to be yourself.

And that is all we can do… be the best version of ourselves and hope that we make a difference.

Our next corps de ballet confessional comes out tomorrow!

And if you would like to a doodle- I am having a flash sale today! CLICK HERE!

xoxo,

a ballet education

 

LET ME BE A SWAN… any swan… company contracts

 

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I have been illustrating corps pictures on Insta to prove ethnic dancers aren’t going to distract from the corps…. #justsayin

 

 

The waiting game… From January until May, sometimes even longer, dancers ages 17ish-22ish wait anxiously for the ultimate business goal: A CONTRACT. For some dancers, there is an additional layer of stress; they are waiting for their college acceptances as their backup plans. It is a scary moment. Usually, these dancers are at professional schools attached to companies like San Francisco Ballet School or Miami City Ballet School, and they are waiting to hear from that company. In addition to waiting for that company to possibly give them a contract, most dancers also auditioned for a million other companies and summer programs, just in case…. It is a scary thing, but it is a part of this career, here in the US in particular.

For dancers who are waiting for a contract there are three common contracts that dancers are waiting for:
1. Corps de ballet: Basically to be invited into the main company is a dream come true, and this is probably the most coveted contract because it is the best paid of the three. If you haven’t danced with a company or completed an apprenticeship year somewhere, this contract is hard to land. Most dancers who are going after corps contracts have completed a rigorous ballet education, finished a traineeship program, and completed an apprentice year at a company. Most dancers who move into corps positions have all this, but there are always the exceptions…. On occasion, and mostly during Nutcracker top students from the school are pulled as fillers to step in for injured or overworked dancers, and on occasion if a dancer performs well under the stress, the schedule, and the stamina factor… A dancer can be given a contract to the corps the following spring… This usually happens in larger companies.
2. Apprenticeship: A coveted spot to spend a year with the company, and basically, you are part of the company except you are the access… You have to work ten times harder to prove you can “fit in” to the company life. The apprentice year for a ballet dancer is hard because you don’t’ know exactly where you fit in. You are kind of in the company, but not really. You have to learn the entire repertory without actually being sat down with, or guided through. Half the time it is via video, by yourself in a studio, trying to see what girl is girl number 10 in snow, and that’s that.
3. Studio Company/ 2nd Company: A lot of companies have now implemented the studio company/second company which is kind of a joke… it is basically 10-20 dancers who double up in the corps de ballet without having to be paid as much. The only place that really has a studio company is ABT. Their second company performs a lot, and is used to try new choreographers out, and for dancers to build performance qualities across different styles of movement.

Numbers…. There are tons of dancers out there… Maybe too many dancers… The industry right now is so oversaturated with talent, that there aren’t enough jobs to accommodate them. This is mostly because the audience and general public for ballet aren’t buying tickets. So, if you think about it there are tons of places where dancers start out…. Quoting my old post “Too Many Claras”

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 that feeds into a company. This is more for commercial dance route, the Hollywood route, and the scholarships to a UDA college career.

A Performing Arts School is a place for children to develop the fine/performing arts to a greater extent on the artistic side. 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 study 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.

With that being said, no matter what school you are at… you are at a school. In the top level, there are maybe 8-16 girls… Of those 8-16 girls, they will usually all get into summer programs… Or at least, half. From there, in the upper level of a summer course, or even the top two levels there will range anywhere between 40-100 girls. Of those girls, 20 might be asked to stay year round. Once you are year-round at a pre-professional school in the top level there might be twelve girls… of those twelve, 4-8 will be asked to join the trainee program… In the trainee program there will be about 12 girls, of those twelve, generously, 3 girls will be asked to join as apprentices… Of those three girls, maybe 1 will join the company… Yes, the odds are that slim, but luckily in America there are hundreds of companies. This is why teachers say it is a privilege to be a ballerina because company contracts are so scarce.

There are hundreds of companies that fuel America’s ballet needs. Unfortunately, that also hinders companies. It means donors are dividing the money in the community, and that is how favorite companies and styles are developed.

There is no guarantee that a ballet dancer will go pro or not… The only insurance you can really get for your child is a good ballet education, at a good school… And in America, there are tons of those… But for those who are serious about ballet, the seriousness of getting a contract is a big deal… And you have to be prepared times ten. It isn’t like college where you put your dream school, backup schools, and safety schools… In fact, it isn’t even like summer programs… When it comes to contracts you go where they want you, and where they can pay you.

When it comes to contracts there are two types contracts… there are union contracts and non-union contracts… Ideally, you want a union contract as it protects the interests of the dancer… It also keeps you from being one of those dancers who are underpaid, overworked, and dancing on injuries. Your contract is so important because it outlines time off, rehearsals standards, how much you can actually dance in a day, and so forth… A good contract will be 10+ pages… A bad contract is two-three pages, and is vague….

So for those of you in the waiting game… Good luck! And for those of you who are embarking on your journey to get a contract…. Keep your heads high, and keep pushing to be the best.

xoxo,
a Ballet Education
INSTA: aballeteducation

So you got the claw… and other bad habits…

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So you have the claw… It’s not the worst thing in the world. Actually, maybe it is… If you don’t know what I am talking about…. a lot of Balanchine dancers are accused of having the claw… It is basically a distorted version of the Balanchine’s hand…. I don’t know if it is because of the way SAB teaches young students how to hold their hands from a young age, or it is because somewhere down the line someone made an impromptu decision to change the shape…. I don’t know. But, this really has nothing to do with the criticism of the “Balanchine” hand… Actually… I am talking about tension…

So, usually, the claw is a result of a Balanchine dancer holding a lot of tension in the hand. Some dancers get the pointer finger, some get cheeseburger hands, some get spatula hand… Regardless, a lot of dancers hold tension in their hands… As a result, the tension distorts the line… Whether it is the breaking of the wrist or the tension in the fingers our hands play an important role in the ballet. Hands complete the line and largely create or direct the negative space the line creates. How to get rid of hand tension? Shake your hands out and get hand massages… Also, put the tension somewhere important… Like your core.

Holding tension in the wrong places creates for the most awkward things:
1. double chin- for dancers who hold their tension by locking back in their neck.
2. Ginchy foot- usually a dancer with good feet pulls their arch back while doing a hard jump, which makes no sense because they have good feet…
3. Splayed ribs- dancers who don’t hold any tension in their core like they should, have a tendency to splay… (I had a really hard time with that… plus having a hypermobile back didn’t help the cause)
4. Drowning face- dancers who don’t breathe usually result in drowning face, or they finish dancing and are hyperventilating and need their inhalers… Oh and some of these people hold tension in their teeth by biting down really hard or clenching their jaw shut… No shade or anything… but I would hate when a particular dancer would come off stage and be like, “I can’t breathe, I need my inhaler” and make this big scene, and cause all the dressers and crew backstage… even though this happened every performance…. like seriously…. I get asthma is a real thing… Totally understand it… but this particular dancer (and you probably know someone like this) would create the most drama out of this… dancers who dance at a higher elevation you totally get to be dramatic because that is like death….
5. Man shoulders… some dancers hold tension in their traps and shoulders which cause a really distorted neckline and unusual muscle build… I think dancers with this issue have an easier time turning, but I could me wrong…
6. Quad Grippers- this is actually really bad for you… gripping of the quads is, well just wrong…. and prohibits technique… and causes thick thighs…. so never a good thing… You probably will need to stretch out 100 times more than most, get massages, and have to start ballet 1 again and work properly… This is the hardest habit to break.
7. Tongue Sticker Outer- Yup… there are those dancers who stick their tongues out to improve concentration…

So- if you are holding tension in places besides your hamstrings, core or back… You need to go get a massage. You probably should also get into lower level classes and focus on where you are holding tension and correct it. It sounds crazy, but tension in the wrong places causes you to work ten times harder than someone who is properly working… Tension in the wrong places is never a good thing… So, get into lower classes and correct your bad habits.

In other news… my Leading Ladies of American Ballet Theatre will be auctioned off by ABT. There are only 6 prints left to purchase… So if you live in the US and would like one, just click the image… Sorry international… these shipping rates are kind of killing me… I will look into it more, when I am not sick.

Leading Ladies of American Ballet Theatre
Leading Ladies of ABT

I am sick with what my best friend is calling bird flu- mostly because I have this weird sounding cough.

Also don’t forget to follow me on instagram to see more of my doodle! @aballeteducation

xoxo,

a ballet education

 

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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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.
—-

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

Follow me on YouTube… it’s new, and rough but I promise you good things are coming!

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…

corps de ballet

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.

don q

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&gt;.</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. 

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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