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

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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.

The Big Five… (summer programs pt IV)

A lot of you concerned parents and students have written in about summer programs… While some of you have already gotten your acceptance letters, and have made your choices; others have gotten numerous rejection letters and are now distraught. First, we need to talk about the big five, which are the five summer program courses that everyone auditions for… Usually… maybe… most likely… The big five in terms of summer programs here in the US are, and in no particular order: San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, School of American Ballet, Boston Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre. (For some, the big five will swap out PNB for Houston, or swap out San Francisco for Joffrey.)

Now, as you probably have experienced, that at the big five auditions, there are hundreds of kids… But this is why I encouraged all of you to make sure you come up with a plan ahead of time. When we (my friend and I) were training we would do the big five auditions, followed by 3 summer programs that are smaller, and then programs we thought we would be scholarship to (safety net)… For me the big five were ideal, but I wasn’t stupid… I didn’t have the ideal body type or natural facility. So, even though I went to those auditions, I would make sure to get to: Miami City Ballet, Orlando Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre, Chautauqua, and Suzanne Farrell. In addition I would do all of the smaller companies like Ballet Met, Cincinnati, Carolina Ballet… And I would randomly throw in regional companies like Sacramento Ballet, and Colorado.Obviously I didn’t do this when I was 13, but come sixteen… It started to really count.

You see, when you are sixteen and a school offers you a scholarship, they see a lot of potential… And at sixteen you probably should be training at a school affiliated with a company.. or have kick a$$ reputation (CPYB, Ellision, Yuri Gregoriev, Cuban Classical of Miami etc). The ideal situation for someone who is sixteen and going away for the summer varies, but this is the reality:

You want to get asked to stay for the year, and if they offer you a scholarship to stay for the year even better.

Summer programs are no longer a chance to get stronger, but the platform in which school directors watch your work ethic.

At sixteen, your primary focus should be landing a job, so you have to be realistic. Not everyone is meant to be in New York City Ballet, so there is nothing wrong with going and looking elsewhere…

In ballet, you have to be smart, and there is nothing wrong with going to a school that adores you and wants to work with you, but most importantly see your potential as an artist.

So, while the big five of summer programs flourish, you can be smart about this summer. Go to a program that is going to make you better, stronger, and most importantly, give you the attention you need. I remember when I went to a summer program that shall remain nameless… I went on a full scholarship and was told I had a trainee spot… we were placed in level 8. After getting there… and entering the first class… There were probably 40 others who were all promised the same thing. The studios couldn’t accommodate so many dancers, and we even had to do barre in groups. 3 days in, I said F it, and packed my bags and left for CPYB. Don’t get me wrong, CPYB was packed, but from the very first class I was singled out, given corrections, kind of humiliated, but pushed to my limits.

Lastly, there are hundreds of programs out there… You have to find the right fit. I remember one summer a girl I knew went away to Kansas City, who wasn’t all that great, but when she came back from summer course she was ridiculously flexible and had leg up. In terms of newer summer programs like Gen Next, Ellision, and so on… I am not really sure, just because when I was training they didn’t exist… haha. Now, I always say, look at the alumni… If their alumni are all uberly talented, and all getting jobs… that’s great and all, but anyone with natural facility, or have a hint of prodigy… they will always find work. period. If their alumni come in all shapes and sizes, then it s a different story. I am currently working on saving/ raising money to go travel the US and watch all of these programs… Soon enough, I will be able to help give you guys more in depth profiles into each school and program.