When I was younger, kids in my ballet class were awarded stickers for coming to class in the proper uniform with their hair in a neat ballet bun. My mom arranged my thick natural hair into individual braids that were nicely pulled back for class, however, I was the only girl who did not get a sticker for being in the proper uniform. I was always told my hair was not right for the class. Eventually, I told my mother about the issue. We met with the director who apologized, and I finally got my stickers. This experience was traumatizing for me. It could have deterred my interest in this art form. Ballet schools must be more accepting of the cultural and racial differences of their students. The ballet community should accommodate hairstyles for Black dancers who have beautiful, naturally coarse hair. Training to be a professional ballerina is challenging and takes a lot of discipline, regardless of who you are. Read more in our September Issue.
5 Variations To Stay Away from (2019)
Thank the Baby Jesus that the ballet competition season is over. If the 2017-2018 season was the year of “Satanella,” then the 2018-2019 was the year of “Dulcinea.” While I have appreciated that people have listened to the first article, published back in 2015, about
5 Variations to Stay Away From, people have searched high and low for the replacements to these five- and they have found them.
While the original list consisted of:
Kitri ACT I
Sugar Plum Fairy
Grand Pas Classique
and White/Black Swan
People have found their counterparts… While there will always be the crowd favorites like Esmeralda, how many Esmeralda variations can we watch? Especially, since Madison Penney demolished that variation and turned it into a show-stopping, trick-filled, pirouette perfection. We also have the standards that will never go away: like Aurora Act III (which is probably the textbook perfect definition of classical of ballet), Coppélia, Paquita Etoile Variation, and Giselle ACT I. But somehow we have replaced Kitri ACT I with the Variation from Laurencia.
Don’t get me wrong; I staged this for ABE COVER GIRL from Master Ballet Academy Tegan Chou last season for her ADC IBC performance. But now it seems that every jazz comp dancer is taking this variation on. And I can see their reasoning, they get to wear a long skirt like Kitri ACT 1, and has the same jeté in attitude. Jazz comp girls think they can get away with their bent knees because of the long skirt, and they can whack everything. In reality, you just look crazy. This is one of the problems with competition and the mindset of, “Well she won with it, so I should do it.” A Ballet Variation is much harder than just the tricks within the variation, and it takes a lot of coaching.
Tegan Chou, age 11, of Master Ballet Academy, ADC IBC.
The very talented Regina Montgomery at her 2012 YAGP Semi-Final from the Rock School for Dance Education. Miss Montgomery is now a demi-soloist at Tulsa Ballet.
We still revisit Esmeralda because we think the tambourine is cool. And now that Masters has modified the variation, we all are modifying the variation and adding as many pirouettes as possible and as many crazy tricks as we can. At this pointe, the variation shouldn’t even have the diagonal of fondu developpés, and we should just do tilt turns on pointe. YAAAAAAAS!
We should take a moment relive Madison Penney’s Amazing win at the Youth American Grand Pri at age 12.
We should also look at Sumina Sasaki’s 2019 Prix win where the commentator rudely says, “Just get on with it.”
Sugar Plum Fairy has somehow been replaced with Dulcinea. While these two variations have the same delicate features, they are both built to be extremely delicate with a coda built into the variation. Mostly it is another ridiculously long variation, and somehow we have slowed down the music even more and made it more painstaking to watch. While I understand we are kids trying to do this variation, so the slower tempo is needed, dear god, it is so painful to sit through… Especially if you are too weak, or too athletic to do this variation. Now that Ava Arbuckle has placed with this variation… let it be.
Elite Classical Coaching’s Ava Arbuckle at her 2019 Semi-Final in Dallas.
San Francisco Ballet’s Natasha Sheehan, age 14, at YAGP Finals in 2014.
Grand Pas Classique has been replaced with Satanella. While we have seen less and less of Grand Pas, thank you. It has been replaced with the two-minute variation from Carnival of Venice- Satanella. While the variation is cute and flirty, it is long; like really, really long. Just like Grand Pas, and people do these variations because they think that the longer it is, the better. Fortunately, that is not true. By the midpoint of Satanella, everyone is ready to jab their eyes out. You would think that it should end before the menage of ballonés, but no, it keeps going… and going… and then just when you think it is done, it still isn’t done. And truth, after Elisabeth Beyer’s performance and Lincoln Center… Can you really follow that up?
We should tall take a moment to relive this magical moment. Elisabeth Beyer of Ellison Ballet at NYC Finals 2018.
Satanella Variation to tempo by Evgenia Obraztsova.
And White/Black Swan has been replaced with Raymonda Dream Variation/Harlequinade. While White Swan is about style, Raymonda’s Dream Variation is about control and constraint. The quality is similar in both variations, but white swan has more stylistic features like exaggerated port de bras. But, they both have painstaking developpés, and truthfully, the extensions in Raymonda are harder as they are done en dedans and in the middle of the variation instead of the beginning. While the drama of the variation is nice, I am always confused when people do this variation as she is dreaming to “escape” a rape. Not the best variation to be teaching young girls, but then again, what ballet variation sets up a strong good role model for young girls? Anyways, this brings me to the painstakingly long variation of Harlequinade. Originally, Whitney Jensen, former Principal of Boston Ballet and now Norwegian National Ballet, brought this variation back to popularity at Varna in 2008 where she brilliantly won the highest honor, the Special Distinction. If you don’t know what that is, it is an award that has been rarely given out. In the entire competition it has been given out a total of 6 times (2018 Antonio Casalinho, 2014 Soo Bin Lee, 2012 He Taiyu, 2002 Lu Meng, 1998 Rolando Sarabia and technically in 1964 Vladimir Vasiliev won the Grand Prix, the top prize the first year Varna was established). But, it seems that Remi Goins set the trend a few years ago by pulling off some ridiculously hard turns at a very young age and now, everyone is going for it: juniors, seniors, pre-comp, Everyone. Here is the problem is the variation from Harlequinade. While it is cute, and it seems relatable for young kids, if you want to show off turns why not do the Medora Variation or Odalisque Variation from Le Corsaire?
Remi Goins at YAGP 2017 at age 12 winning the Shelley King Award for Excellence.
Whitney Jensen doing it big at Varna in 2008.
Here are some other mistakes I have seen this season at the YAGP. I get that the YAGP has expanded and more and more kids are coming into the semi-finals… but if you are a jazz comp school… and you are entering your kids into the ballet category, do them a solid… Find them a better ballet teacher. And secondly, don’t buy a costume from Revolution for 15 dollars, attempt to alter it and add rhinestones and glitter. It doesn’t work. Go and find a seamstress and put the work in or optionally buy a blank performance tutu from Grishko for 400 dollars and spiff it up yourself. Or even better, there is a new costume company that is making blank tutus for reasonable pricing. Also, stop going to more than two semi-finals.
I know that a lot of you are going to as many as you can so the talented kids are weeded out, and you finally place and get an invite to NYC. After the second attempt at a semi-final… if you don’t place… you don’t place. There is no reason to go to a third, and fourth, and this year I saw it… a fifth… Just don’t go… This isn’t Nuvo or Break the Floor, and you are trying to prove you have improved, etc, etc, etc… this isn’t that, it isn’t a circuit, this is a ballet competition that is looking for the best of the best. The whole rule of not being able to place twice was put into place to discourage people from doing more than one. So, please… just stop.
Also, you don’t need to enter FOUR contemporary solos. We get it… you can do contemporary. On average most kids bring two classical variations and one contemporary. If you are an overachiever and your parents want to see you on stage more since they are paying the participation fee, then you might have two and two. But really? Do you need more than that… absolutely not.
This year, I am not going to preparing anyone for the YAGP or Lausanne (or at least not to my knowledge), so I am going to do all of you searching a solid and walk you through the variation-selection process. Subscribe and Stay Tuned to get all the competition info you need.
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The show Dance Moms portrayed some of the craziest, over the top, and outrageous personalities in competitive commercial dance, but that show has nothing on the real-life world of ballet schools.
Recently, my heart has been heavy as Kate Spade, a long time fashion icon committed suicide, leaving a lot of my colleagues at a loss for words. Over the past decade, three major fashion icons have taken their own lives. Then just days later, food legend and TV host Anthony Bourdain took his own life. Brilliant humans, experts in their fields, and role models for millions, all happened to be pushed to a point where they felt that it wasn’t worth it anymore.
I started doing some googling about the rates of suicides in ballet dancers, and even though there was not a lot of hard hitting solid statistical data, the number of articles was very upsetting. The most noted dancer who committed suicide was a 29-year-old lead dancer with the New York City Ballet, Joseph Duell in 1986 after performing in Symphony in C, and rehearsing Who Cares? But, he wasn’t the only one, Juan Carlos Amy-Cordero a principal with Eugene Ballet took his life in 2013, Tallulah Wilson was 15 when she took her life in 2014, in 2012 it was Rosie Whitaker, and the articles went on and on.
When it comes to suicide and the arts… Suicide among gifted individuals is at a higher rate. This might be because those who are gifted have an increased rate of depression, mania and mental illness. We do know, that history has repeated itself over in over again with some of the most gifted individuals contributing to the arts over time. But as I was pouring over the research and articles about these dancers, I started noticing that everyone was talking about the same thing from different points of view.
In articles that I read about why dancers make better employees, or they are going to be more successful in competitive industries… these same characteristics that are praised in these viral posts are the same characteristics that described those who committed suicide: dedication, perfectionism, creativity, representation, thinking outside of the box, OCD. At the same time in 2008, ABC reported ten jobs that create so much pain, that the addiction to painkillers was becoming more prevalent, ballet was number 10.
So, how does this all come together? I was scrolling through social media, well more like trolling, and looking at today’s bright young stars as they are competing at the World Ballet Competition and the prestigious USA IBC’s Jackson Competition. I was watching videos of these elite young dancers prepare for this monumental occasion, and liking all of their photos. But then, I started scrolling through the comments. I started looking through everyone’s insta, as if I was obsessed. I was obsessed, I spent a good five hours. More importantly, I was shocked. I was looking at people’s followers, who bought followers as it is obvious to see blank accounts following from foreign countries like Turkey and Albania… I was looking at how parents were letting anyone follow their kid, despite their followers only posting pictures of women in bikinis and underwear… I was looking at the comments and hashtags used… And I was watching the cyberbullying happen in LIVE time. Don’t get me wrong, I have always known that ballerinas in pretty tutus and pretty lip gloss are some of the most vicious kids on the face of the planet. They do it in the backstabbing, underhanded, sneaky, with a smile on their face kind of a way. I have known that ballet moms are ten times worse, because they do things to sabotage other kids. Like what parent picks a fight or tries to mess with a 13-16 year olds’ life/career? A monster.
I was noticing how a lot of these accounts said “parent owned” or “parent monitored”… I was noticing that a lot these accounts were full of fake inspirational quotes and light-hearted things. While their “friendsta” accounts were full of self-degrading “ballet fails” and random tags about how horrible they are, and how much training they need to do. I started to notice that the big trend was this miserable feeling if they can’t turn or jump, or that their bodies were far from perfect. I noticed that these young “superstar” dancers didn’t even run their primary accounts and that these moms were photoshopping their kids. I noticed that they were paying photographers who cost in the hundreds and thousands to take photos of their kids and have them retouched… Their faces to be more symmetrical, their bodies to be leaned out… some people had no shame in the matter and were photoshopping their kids so horrifically that the background happened to be warped. Trust me… I know… as a former professional editor/retoucher for fashion magazines, you can tell when something is retouched.
I was noticing that the pressure of having Instagram followers for young aspiring dancers was killing the spirit of ballet. That kids were trying so hard to desperately gain ambassadorships and sponsorship from major brands like Russian Pointe, Grishko and Gaynor Minden. I was seeing how hard these kids were working to get something as dumb as a box of merchandise and the ability to put “RP Ambassador” on their profile.
I started to notice people were lying about their YAGP wins… Like putting YAGP 2012 winner, but not putting their semi-final, and letting people assume they were winning at the finals. I noticed that people were making up things like YAGP, #7… This, I am guessing is from the TOP 12, which is called alphabetically by either first or last name depending on who organized it. I noticed that people were posting their YAGP semi-final scores to prove they scored above a 95%, and the responses that were being displayed was kind of intense. All of these things were happening, are happening on social media… It is hard enough that I find parents telling their kids it is okay to lie, cheat and break the rules. If your studio says, don’t train anywhere else, but you are training with a private coach behind your school’s back… what example are you setting for your kid? If you are at a studio that says that you can only compete if you are ready, and you are throwing a fit and at the last minute hopping over to a different school and coach… what example does that set? What does it tell your kid about commitment, about trust, about working hard?
All of these things… watching young girls tear other girls down based on body type or ability… Watching their comments, or even overhearing them in these dance schools makes me wonder if ballet is really worth saving. And it isn’t just students… I have seen it over and over again with professional dancers commenting on others performances, teachers, coaches and more. Even myself… Trust me… There are a lot of times where I have to put the lion back in the cage… especially when writing this blog, there are about thirty posts I would like to post but can’t because of how awful they are, or how it could affect someone out there…
So, beware the monsters of ballet. Make sure you aren’t becoming one, make sure you aren’t creating one, make sure you aren’t contributing to this problem in the arts. And remember, if you are ever feeling unsafe, feeling uneasy, or just need someone to talk to about the pressures of ballet, about what is happening around you or anything- contact an adult or a professional as soon as possible. Remember, your feelings are valid, your stress is valid, and life is essential. Ballet is secondary. Ballet is far from necessary in the grander scale of humanity, so ask yourself, is whatever you are feeling or thinking worth it for ballet?
Ask yourself… what are we doing, what examples are we setting, and how is this going to affect your kid, other kids, families, and the future? Because if you ask me, ballet is not worth becoming a terrible human for, nor is it worth watching me kid become defeated or destroyed at the hands of other parents, students, and teachers. I would also say that ballet social media, the YAGP, and ballet competitions are not worth the time, energy, money, stress or anxiety it is creating on social media.
Notes on Pirouettes En Dedans…
Working on pirouettes en dedans (pirouettes to the inside) can be hard. While it seems like they are easier than en dehors turns, the problem with en dedans is the turnout factor. Whether is a pirouette or attitude turn to the inside, these can be rather difficult to master because of the mechanics. The like all turns, the focus should always be on the supporting leg, and even more so with turns to the inside. Sooooo, let’s begin. Remember if you like this post, share it.
The Preparation Position
Pirouettes to the inside… the first thing you are going to want to focus on is the prepping position. Normally, when learning this turn you start in fourth position in croisé, with the back leg straight. You want to make sure that the supporting arm is in a very placed first position, don’t over cross it. For the working arm, the big mistake is opening up too far. Makes sure it is in front of your body… meaning look over your shoulder and make sure your elbow and hand are in front of your shoulder. A lot of times, young dancers will over compensate in this position and that supporting arm will be so far back… This also has to do with your hips and making sure they are in a true croisé. Make sure you can see both hips in the mirror. Remember, you are only crossing to you “box” not the shape of the room.
The action of getting into the retiré devant can happen two ways. The first way is when the dancer shifts/ fouettés to a dégagé en face position with arms in seconde. The second way is to directly bring the leg into the turning position. While a lot of the torque for the pirouette happens from the working leg, the tension and the inertia that drives the pirouette is still in the supporting leg.
During this time the arms are either moving from third to fifth, or second to first, or second to fifth. Or really any port de bras. The reality is they can be in any position, but there has to be a hair amount of tension built up. Weak arms in a turn is a death sentence. You wouldn’t want to fly in a plane with weak wings, so don’t turn with weak arms. Don’t over twist, and don’t wind up. It is one of the worst things you can do. While most of the energy comes from the arm, it isn’t about swinging into the position, but the amount of control and tension you can build to instantly get into the position and maintaining an inside axial spiral rotation in the upper body while the lower body resists and tries to press en dehors.
The problem with an inside pirouette is that as the supporting side and arms are rotating the axis inwards on the body, the working leg is working in the opposite direction. The common mistake is for the working leg to slightly turn in to help carry the rotations of the pirouette. This is most commonly seen in younger dancers. The more advance dancer knows the keep the knee behind the shoulder, thus causing the turn to “lose” another rotation. But the position itself is quite complicated. I would say it is more complicated than an en dehors pirouette, but maybe it is just a more difficult turn for myself. Unlike an en dehors pirouette, where you place into one position and create your own g-forge from the turnout and push back of the working leg and you can increase the g-force during the turn… an en dedans pirouette is based on the energy prior to the turn (in the prep and the actions leading into the position).
Ice skaters probably have it the easiest when it comes to rotating to the inside on the axis. While most of their jumps are to the outside, most of their spins start to the inside. The basic idea of their spins is their scratch spin. But here is what we can learn from this concept. The turn to the inside has to do with building momentum and increasing their g force by using their working leg to build the g-force. The biggest factor is the tension they build in their arms, back, and core. The coordination between their arms and working leg is crucial. We can take this same concept and apply it when folding into our pirouette. By building tension in the preparation, we are able to close the momentum on top of our axis, like figure skaters. Now to increase the rotations, the supporting side of our body has to turnout/rotate faster than our working side. Our working side is there just along for the ride, placed in a turned out position.
Increasing the rotations
When turning to the inside the quickest way to build rotations is by getting in to the position as quickly as possible but maintaining the tension. The best way I find to get into the position is letting the working arm shift into seconde, and then immediately pull into the reitré position. Don’t over rotate the second position. Then let the working side’s upper body press forward and spiraling up to the position
Option 2: Personally, I like to think of a barbershop pole, spiraling up into as many rotations as possible. Spiral up over the arch, and constantly keep growing up and out of your hips, through your chest and out through your arms.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when preparing, having your hips tilted. I don’t like the idea of “up and forward” in preparation for the en dedans. A lot of people engage this lunging position where the hips are behind the upper body because you are leaning forward. Personally, I prefer that the hips and spine are all in a neutral position right on top of the arch of the supporting side.
Another pet peeve is when turning, not using your lats. Instead of widening the back, people pinch it tight. Remember your back should be completely flat, no chicken wings, not tectonic plates pinching… just keep it completely flat.
Finally, my last pet peeve when turning to the inside is winding up. I hate it. If anything build the moment with the supporting arm, and the second it hits seconde position, pull into fifth (whether that is through first, or cutting en dedans to the fifth). Its one of the biggest mistakes people make and causes them to look extremely turned in. I see it all the time at these competitions, especially in the Paquita etoile variation. The turn in is real… like super real.
To buy the poster click here.
Whether you are twelve or twenty, this variation is one of the most recognizable variations for those who have danced. For a lot, this variation was the first variation they learned in variations class (that or Florine from Sleeping Beauty). This is the variation known as Cupid from Don Quixote. This extremely fast petit allegro variation actually doesn’t have that many petit allegro steps, but the music is extremely fast. From this God awful blonde wig, to the flowy tunic, everything about this variation says, “Hello, I’m Cute.”
Usually reserved for a short girl, this variation opens up with the a series of tombé relevés into attitude plié relevé effacé positions. You need to remember a couple things in this opening sequence:
- Turn out the supporting leg in the tombé.
- Don’t overshoot the corner, and stay square.
- Never whack your leg into the positions, place them nicely. If you are going to do a low effacé leg, lean over the leg to help the line. If you are going to do a high attitude back, don’t pinch your neck back to help make the line.
- Keep the arms exstremely soft, and keep the eyeline in all the positions.
Hold the attititude to be with the music, and change the head.
The next sequence of the variations requires a back diagonal of plié relevé pirouettes to the inside. When you are doing the chassé/tombé, TURNOUT… Hold the working knee back to give you the most turn out and longest line. Make sure you get that knee all the way straight.
The next sequence requires fast foot work, and involves you to be extremely turned out. Focus on hitting all of the positions before the music so you can hold the positions. This is important because you have to be MUSICAL.
Below is Evgenia Obraztsova doing cupid. Personally it is too slow for my taste… but the technique is spot on, and the performance is ideal. It is about being cheerful and constantly changing your facial expressions of happiness and excited. Her eyes play to the audience very well.
Mélanie Hurel of Paris Opera does another stunning version. The Nureyev version. It is more dainty, more french, faster, and done in a full tutu.
Below is Riverbank Dance Company’s young girl (2017) doing the variation on flat. While there are turn out issues, the technique is clean, and the young dancer is polished. She is probably 10? Notice in the upstage diagonal that she hits coup de pied, fifth and fourth.
It seems, as of late, the majority of emails coming in, at the moment, revolve around cross-training… and it isn’t just parents writing in. It is studio owners, colleagues, and other dancer teachers out there. In a recent video on Instagram, it shows super talented dancers cross-training at the gym; not to mention ABT’s obsession with workout videos lately… Mostly, I think, to promote their friend’s business… Regardless… cross-training seems to be what is on everyone’s mind, especially gearing up for competition season.
Ballet Dancers seem to use a million different ways to augment their trainining… from nutrition to physical excercise, cross-training takes just as much time and money as ballet. And no… that doesn’t mean to buy a $7,000 dollar reformer for the house… I mean if you are going to have a pilates instructor come to your house, or you have put in thousands of hours… and have the liquid income… then go for it… otherwise… don’t
So, the first question you have to look at is how many hours a week are you training? This includes private lessons, private coaching sessions and rehearsal hours. Time management is crucial. Different schools have different approaches when it comes to the hours a dancer puts in. Lets say to be conservative for every 5 hours of classes you probably should be cross training at least an hour a week. This could be stretch and conditioning or something as simple as cardio. The reason behind cross training is so that muscles don’t over develop, so that the body is getting an even workout, and to focus on smaller details. This is opposed to regular ballet class to enhance and learn ballet vocabulary technique, rehearsals to learn choreography, private lessons to focus on individual needs… etc.
I know it is a lot… so we are basically saying if your kid is dancing 30 hours a week, they should be cross training 6 hours a week, and still getting 55 hours of sleep in… plus school and homework… and we only get 168 hours in a week. It seems impossible. Ballet schools should be implementing a lot of these practices in the curriculum. But if they aren’t.. then you will have to do it on your own. Make sure you are on the right and safe equipment… and you have a good pair of shoes that support your arches.
Things you should have at home or in your dance bag for cross-training on your own…
Bosu Ball... it is $100 bucks but one of the best investments for your dancer. Not only can you strength train on it but you can also work on balancing and core.
Ways to Cross-Train…
“Dancers spend most of their time in the studio, dedicating themselves to their art. Ballet/dance is their real job and like any job it is a daily struggle and it takes it’s toll on the body. Pilates helps them to rectify the imbalances they tend to create in the studio (from my experience, ballet dancers are particularly asymmetrical). With choreographers and teachers demanding daily perfection, Pilates allows dancers the space they need outside of the studio and outside of class to re-balance, release and re-connect. I started Pilates in my first year of the Australian Ballet School, which is around 23 years ago. Initially I found it hard to understand. Pilates is full of subtlety and nuance and it takes a long time to become familiar with it. When I was dancing my best, Pilates was for the most part a daily routine. A couple of hours of Pilates before ballet class became a necessity for me to feel good on stage. It balanced me out, helped me to rehabilitate injuries and be stronger than the challenge I faced. Simply put, it made my dancing better and more enjoyable.” -Marc Cassidy, former Senior Artist with The Australian Ballet and now owns and operates TrueFormPilates in Melbourne. Quote from Dance Informa
According to Harvard’s SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH, the average child 11-18 should be engaged in moderate or vigorous activity for an hour a day… we got that covered. However, cardio does build stamina and helps burn calories… Not that a kid should have to worry about that… But, this is on top of elite athletics. I mean, I for sure don’t have an hour a day to just briskly walk but it’s something to strive for. I would avoid the treadmill and other weight on the joints activities and focus on like swimming or yoga… though swimming can also restructure the body’s lung capacity and cause broadening of the chest and back… not ideal for girls. Jumping rope on clay is always fun. I avoid biking because it makes your quads larger and tighter.
Children under the age of 15 are not encouraged to weight train whatsoever. According to Harvard and Yale’s studies… it can actually cause bone density and growth issues. (It kind of borders on the same idea that you shouldn’t start pointe to early) Kids should rather do unstructured activities like playing on playground equipment, climbing trees, and so forth.
(Physical Activity guidelines for Americans. U/S/D.o.H.a.H. Services, Editor, 2008)
If you can afford it, and have a place close to you… Gyrotonics is wonderful and magical.
“The GYROTONIC EXPANSION SYSTEM® Method is a unique, holistic approach to movement. Some of the benefits of a regular Gyrotonic practice include a healthier, more supple spine, increased range of motion, greater joint stability, improved agility and athletic performance, and a deep internal strength. Experienced Gyrotonic trainers offer personalized sessions that are adapted to fit the needs of all ages, and abilities, from elderly patients recovering from injury, to highly skilled professional athletes.” – Gyrotonic Website
Injury Rehab and Prevention are extremely important. More and more former dancers have continued their career by attending med school like Alexis Sams. Alexis has not only studied other methods but she has gone on to develop numerous ways for dancers to cross train. Everything from coordination, to strengthening, stretching and pointe… Dr. Sams is another great resource out there. And she isn’t the only one.
From avoiding gluten, avoiding dairy, avoiding meat… and anything else pumped with hormones, it seems supplements are becoming a big part of dance training. I mean, so are essential oils.
It is the first week of 2018, and it already has me thinking… a lot. Between Peter Martins retiring, YAGP Philadelphia being postponed, YAGP Seattle underway, new job offers, new job titles and the pressure of ballet building… it has really made me start to think about a life outside of ballet. Don’t forget you can watch live streams of the YAGP… you have to pay… but it’s enjoyable.
Let us recap A Ballet Education’s Ups and Downs of 2017…
January: I left a job that was basically a lie and the board was stealing. Found out my blog was ranked number 2 as a dance resource and ballet blog in the world, over the Gaurdian, NYT, and Pointe.
March: YAGP FINALS, developped a tremor in my hand and body, quit drinking
April: Blogging and Writing, went Gluten Free
May: Master Teaching Everywhere, became a Red Bubble Top Seller
June: Offered the Job at American National Ballet, met some really great people.
July: Master Teaching at Masters,
August: Moved to Charleston… mid August- left ANB, went Vegetarian
September: Blogging and Writing and Teaching Everywhere, made it one year of the magazine.
October: Given the Chance to work at Phoenix Ballet, got screwed over by close friends, went Vegan
November: Guest taught more, wrote more, traveled to a million places… Worked on my getting my children’s book out there again… fail.
December: Survived 16 shows of Nutcracker as Executive Director, photographer, Guild Coordinator, celebrated Christmas with my family… barely wrote. Lost a ton of weight.
Don’t get me wrong, I saw a lot of great ballet and had amazing opportunities. I am just glad I can look back at 2017 and be done with it.
… now onto January 2018
So far, I have found out that my blog is now Ranked Number 1.
I was given the chance to freelance work in fashion again, and enjoyed it. I have only had two flights delayed, one in which I canceled. Given the chance to buyout of my place in Charleston, which I haven’t been to 3 months. I miss my bed, my clothes, my books. Now I have to figure out those logistics. Mmmm, signed two cool deals that will launch in March.
Decided to cut back on teaching this year and focus on the things that I want in life… And it is only day 5, so I can’t really say it is that great of an accomplishment, but I quit smoking. Have turned into a raging b*tch… But decided since my tremor hasn’t come back to attempt the gym and ballet classes again…
Hey ABE readers, guess what? Guest post. I think this book is really relevant to ballet dancers both professional and training. Sometimes we get lost in our work and sometimes we don’t know where to turn, or you just want a good read… So here is my friend Andrews new book.
“Hey! My name’s Andrew Kendall, a friend of David’s, and 2017 was a life changing year in which a sixteen year old dream was realized—I published my first book. I know that ballet can be a very demanding field. And with demand can often come darkness. In The Dark Dictionary I offer advice to not only combat your inner darkness, but to alter your mindset in such a way that you bring to light the kind of awareness that has the ability to change your life. And when we think about it long enough we’re able to realize that there’s always light in the dark—always a silver lining to discover in the midst of both your creative process and dedication to the art. In a way our minds are a mirror, reflecting back to us our deepest desires or worst nightmares, but when it’s the latter it’s never too late to discover that we no longer have to be a slave it to anymore. With a new year almost upon us, most us of will be looking to start the year of right—with a mindset strong enough to conquer anything thrown our way. If this is you I hope you’ll check out my book. If you ever feel lost, which most of us do, I believe that we are always much stronger than we believe—a message I truly hope to convey within every page.” – Andrew Kendall, author of The Dark Dictionary
Follow me on Insta: AndrewwRichard
To buy his book on Amazon click below
There comes a point for a lot of dancers who have to make the choice of homeschooling. Ballet is so time-consuming, so there has to be a “give and take”. I myself, did high school online and finished in two years, third in my class and with my AA. So, if you are self-motivated it’s a great opportunity to balance dancing and education. The video below was made by a ballet student about her experiences with online school. (@chloechka_art) Props to her for animating at the age of 15, because I am like dying just doing 2D drawings.
So, how do you know when it is right to homeschool? There comes a point where the hours in the day are running short, and it seems that there aren’t enough hours in the day to balance school, homework, dance and rehearsals. For some, the answer is easy and it is to homeschool. While homeschool isn’t for everyone, for those who do want to pursue that option, it isn’t as hard as it seems. Nowadays, you just need to fill out an affidavit and set up your curriculum. If you can financially afford to purchase curriculum that’s probably the easiest way. If you can’t afford to buy a set curriculum, you can piece it yourself. But, one of the best things you can do is find an online charter school in your state.
If you are ready to homeschool and don’t know how to talk to your parents about it, ask your dance teacher, and they should be able to help explain the reasons why, and provide you with proper guidance. If they can’t, you can show them this article.
Parents, if you are student shows you this article, or you yourself are considering homeschooling here are some reasons why homeschooling might be a better option for your child:
- To be a part of a pre-pro program most start at 10:00 AM or 1:00 PM.
- Most ballet dancers are self-sufficient and can work at a faster pace so they don’t waste time.
- Homeschooling allows for more hours of dancing and rehearsals, not to mention if you are asked into a year-round school, it’s an easier transition.
- Travel time. It also saves on travel time and chauffering around.
- It allows dancers to excel at their own pace. Sometimes it is frustrating not being able to control the progress in the ballet studio, so having control of progress in education is a good feeling.
Finally, homeschool isn’t for everyone. Some schools will allow dancers to leave early and skip out on elective and PE classes in exchange for their dance school to sign off on hours. This allows for more hours of dance. And, you should never compromise the quality of education for your dancing because an education is something that no one can take away. You also will need it as a backup plan if you get injured or if you don’t get a contract.
There are so many types of teachers out there, it is important that parents and students know what they are getting. After working across the United States and talking to parents and students, I’ve realized that when it comes to ballet, a lot of people are getting ripped off, majorly ripped off. It is almost depressing. So, what makes a good teacher? What makes a great teacher? What are the differences in teachers? And how, as a dance teacher, do you make yourself better?
What is a Ballet Teacher? This is such a vague term… like such a vague term. Some teachers use certificates to justify their credentials… like the ABT National Training Certification or the RAD levels… Unfortunately, this doesn’t make them good teachers. Also, just because they were a principal dancer… that doesn’t make them a good teacher either. And, just because you have a Russian affiliation doesn’t make you a good teacher. And just because you graduated from a top ballet school doesn’t make you a good teacher either. Additionally, just because you have a college degree in dance or dance pedagogy or something random like a BFA from a random school; doesn’t mean you are going to be a good teacher.
Being a ballet teacher is hard because ballet itself is diverse. The pedagogy, ideology, and science differs accordingly based on each person. Sometimes this a good thing, sometimes it is a horrible thing and waste of money for parents. Not all pedagogies are created equally. and not all bodies can do any pedagogy.
What makes a good ballet teacher?
Multi-tasking: A good ballet teacher usually is someone who can inspire an entire class, while concentrating on the individual needs of each student, all while maintaining a precise curriculum.
Good Eyes: A good ballet teacher has a keen eye for body placement, alignment and can find minuscule errors when a child dances.
Good Ears: A good ballet teacher understands music and can hear multiple melodies and rhythms within a song.
Educated: A good ballet teacher understands anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. Teachers should be able to prevent injuries with healthy technique and should guarantee well-shaped bodies.
Experience: Has experience within the professional world of ballet. It is important to have these experiences so you can help guide students into the professional world.
Connected: A good ballet teacher is still plugged into the ballet world, so they understand what is happening and what the industry is needing, wanting and demanding.
What makes a great ballet teacher?
A good sculptor: An exceptional ballet teacher can see beyond what is directly in front of them and can reshape the body and pull out the ballet technique from their students. This quality is actually very hard to find.
Don’t get me wrong, we need regular ballet teachers out there… but the problem is, that in today’s market of dancers, teachers have to be exceptional and create exceptional dancers. It isn’t good enough to just teach a plié by saying it means “to bend” and then demonstrate the bending of the knees. You physically have to get on your hands and knees, and explain that it is a constant action because it is a verb. It never stops, and it isn’t initiated from the knees, a plié comes from the pressure in the hips rotating outwards and the muscles rotating back, without strain, so much that it causes the knees to bend. The fact that the femur head has to be inside the pelvis, the weight placement has to be so precise. And the depth of the plié has to be controlled from the achilles without pronating or “rolling” of the feet.
- If your ballet teacher just walks around the room and gives general corrections… bad teacher.
- If your teacher sits in a chair and just directs and yells… bad teacher… maybe better off to be a director.
- If your teacher can’t explain the physics and science behind ballet… bad teacher.
- If you are noticing your muscles shaping to be large or bulky… super bad ballet teacher.. and if they tell you it’s genetics… just walk out.
- If your teacher tells you that it’s normal to be injured and you have to work through it… HORRIBLE TEACHER!! GET OUT BEFORE YOU BREAK YOUR BODY.
- If your teacher tells you that you will never be a dancer… definitely get the hell out there.
What is a Master Teacher? a master teacher is someone who has dedicated quite a bit of time and energy on their craft of teaching and has become recognized as one of the greats. Usually, these wonderful people are specifically focused on technique. This title usually refers to someone who has honed their skills as a teacher, and was able to create a method to improve or change the ballet technique for the better. They are everything mentioned above and magnified. To note some of America’s best: Bruce Marks, Finis Jung, Willy Burmann, Marcia Dale Weary and the late David Howard. (I’m not claiming I’m a master teacher, but this is the category I have fallen into, not really by choice.)
…Faculty– Faculty is usually associated with a school, specifically a school with a solid curriculum. A faculty is usually pieced together based on educational credentials, and each faculty member brings something different to create an overall aesthetic or pedagogy of teaching.
…Coach– A coach usually focuses on one thing. Each coach has a specialty, like stretching or port de bras, artistry or turns.
…Ballet Master/ Ballet Mistress– by definition this person is employed by a ballet company to teach and rehearse dancers. Note, you have to employed by a ballet company… a real one. These professionals have usually danced a full repertory and they share their experiences with other dancers in terms of coaching for a role. (Such hard work, I do this too… and it’s exhausting.)
…Répétiteur– Is someone in the craft of staging and translating ballets. Being a répétiteur is one of the hardest jobs in ballet because you have to know everyone’s part, and what is going on at all times on the stage. Their focus isn’t really technique, but production and precision. (I have just started staging full ballets and translating them onto companies and schools, and I have to say, it is a lot of work. Like a lot of work.)
…Director– Someone with a vision… This doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best teacher. Directors have the ability to see an artistic vision and execute it. Usually, they are also decent teachers, decent repetiteurs and have ballet mastered at some point.
…Guest Teacher– Usually, a big name dancer/teacher coming in to share experiences, tips and more. Guest teachers usually have a different take on students as they are there for 3 hours and then they are gone. They are brought in to supplement the training and inspire students. Guest teachers help try to assess and push the kids as hard as they can in a very short amount of time.
If you are a teacher and you want to better yourself, for your school, students and your own self fulfillment.. If you are interested in the Ballet Education Curriculum or Ballet Education Teacher Training Workshop, feel free to contact me here.
Catching up with social media sensation, entrepreneur, and ballet dancer Robbie Downey. And, if you don’t know who she is, she is the eighteen-year-old who everyone has grown up with online. Catching the first wave of youtube channels five years back, Robbie Downey has documented her ballet journey through various social media platforms. So, this cool kid took some time in between sessions at the YAGP FINALS to meet up with a Ballet Education. Between social media accounts with a huge following, and dealing with her own personal ballet journey, Robbie Downey is the voice of positivity. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it to the final round, but she has hopes for scholarships. That is the great thing at the YAGP, you don’t have to make it to the final round to still get a scholarship spot. So, if you don’t follow her, this San Diego native has spent a year at Ellison and now is at Masters in Scottsdale, AZ. She has battled injuries and documents her journey all over social media. Agreeing that in ballet, exposure these days can make or break a career, and with her half a million followers, she has it.
So, how does she juggle it all? With the help of her mom.
How do you take your coffee? Prefers Green Tea
Last movie you watched? Don’t Breathe
Current Song/Playlist: anything by Muse
What does she want out of her dancing? To inspire others and to balance it with dancing for herself.
Favorite thing to do when not doing ballet? Eating good vegan food.
Where to next for ballet? Possibly Spain.
Follow this cool kid on instagram:
@balletfreak / @balletbabble @its_robbie_
Follow her on Youtube: MydanceTV
Shop her brand: Farina.
Like on Facebook: Facebook.
Photos by me 🙂
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
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…
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.
a Ballet Education
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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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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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If you are ages 11+ and you are training in ballet, like seriously training… Not like the, I dance ballet twice a week, supplemented with 4 jazz classes, leaps and turns and competition rehearsals… Like REAL TRAINING… Meaning you are taking at least 3 hours of ballet a day, and you are pushing yourself constantly. You parents are breaking the bank and paying for privates and coaching… You might be aspiring to go the YAGP, (the finals start tomorrow BTW in NYC), you might have your hopes on next years summer programs, or you are going to a summer program this year… This post is dedicated to you… and your parents.
1. “This is not the right place for you.” There are a million different schools out there, and each have their own approach, way of thinking and pedagogy. The reality is that not every body type is meant to dance, every technique. If you are at an ACTUAL super Russian school… Your body has to be gifted with turnout, feet that overly point, and a back that is hyper mobile… If you don’t have all those things… Russian technique is extremely difficult, and your muscles build the wrong way… You get bulky, instead of having that long, rangy Russian look. The reasoning behind this, is that dance studios are businesses and need you to pay the bills. They don’t want to lose students.
2. “You are too good to be here.” Studios again are a business, and so they like to keep dancers around as an “investment”… If your child shows potential, and is the best one at the studio or school, then it is time to move on. Sure, you can still learn things, and become stronger, but the reality is that a student has to challenge themselves. If there isn’t competition in the room, how are they striving to be better? Yes, ballet comes from within oneself, but the reality is, when you are around better dancers, you mentally try harder… Also, you need to be around peers that are at the same level as you, and are experiencing the same things, and struggling with the same things.
3. “You need to diet.” No, I’m not talking about starving yourself. I am talking about what a dancer should actually be eating to ensure a healthy body. The word diet in ballet is so taboo, but the reality is, dancers are burning X amount of calories, and shredding their muscles on a daily basis… So higher proteins, less carbs is a good thing. The amount of fruit and veggies are just generally good, I mean who doesn’t love a detox… Also, eating clean means healthier looking skin, so that is a plus.
4. “Ballet isn’t your thing.” So many times, I have seen girls prepped and primed for the world of ballet, but really they should have pursued jazz or modern. It takes a lot to be a ballet dancer: the right body proportions, the right turn out, the right feet, the right everything… Granted there are variances by company, by AD’s preference, but the reality is…. Turnout, hyper extended knees, a hyper mobile back, and feet that shape well are pretty much required. With the caliber of ballet dancers that schools are cranking out, there really is no room for anything else. If you don’t have all those things, there are other genres that are more relaxed… and if your child LOVES ballet, and dreams to become a professional, than find every possible thing to help make that come true… Private lessons, stretching coaches, pilates, foot stretchers and strengtheners (besides a theraband, but that too!)…
5. “Most of you will not become a prima ballerina. In fact, most of you will not go pro.” Hard reality to accept, but it is the truth. I have gone to some pretty amazing schools, and seen some pretty amazing, technically sound, musical and artistic dancers… but the reality is that most of them did not get a job… Those who do get jobs are BEYOND exceptional… And even those who did get a job in a second company, and then promoted into the first company, most of them were only there four a couple of seasons, if that, and then their contracts weren’t renewed…
From one school I went to in SoCal, which had a very high enrollment, and has produced really great dancers… I think, that 4 eventually went pro out of the senior division, and I think only two are still dancing in major companies. Both are still in the corps…
From another school I went to in SoCal that was a very small school, but offered great training… I think of the 12 students in the highest level, I think 4 of us went professional, but currently only still dances in a major company… still in the corps… I think the rest have gone into teaching… Now CPYB on the other hand… I think like everyone who stuck it out, and pursued dance seriously went pro…
The odds are really slim.
and… to throw in a extra one…
6. “I don’t know.” Very rarely will a teacher admit to something they don’t know. Which is a shame, because no one knows everything about everything. Most teachers very rarely go out and find new ways of teaching, or they don’t bother to go take anatomy courses (unless they go to college) to really explain muscle, ligaments, and tendons… They don’t go out and research how to teach towards ethnic body types, or late starters who’s muscles and bones have already set, or they don’t go out and stay current on how things are done in ballet. Most of them teach the way they were taught, which was passed down from some crazy soviet russian era teacher with a cane… I mean obviously not relevant but whatever. A good teacher goes out constantly in search for new ideas, new ways of approaching technique, and finding the understandings of different body types, ages, etc… (This last post was geared at ballet teachers at random schools, not teachers at professional or pre professional schools.)
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 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
So, here we go… Go make this into a reality… Thanks.
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.