You Know It’s Nutcracker Season When…

robbie downey dancer ballet
Robbie Downey as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Phoenix Ballet’s The Nutcracker

It is that time of the year again…. Nutcracker. Support your local ballet school or company by attending this wonderful holiday tradition. We are days away to close our Nutcracker Kickstarter campaign, and unforutnately, it doesn’t look like it will come to fruition. But, I will relaunch the campaign in the New Year, focusing on next year.

(Click Here to help our kickstarter campaign)

This season I was lucky enough to coach for beautiful Sugar Plums for Phoenix Ballet’s Nutcracker. They included social media star Robbie Downey, YAGP winner Mya Kresniak, YAGP winner Madison Penney, and the elegant Kenzie Thomas. All four young women are so different and took on the role so differently. It reminded me about how wonderful an oppertunitiy to dance a principal role is. These four girls are about to make their debut in Arizona and headline a show.

Now, I am on the opposite side of the country coaching talented young women for the YAGP. These roles are so difficult but it is so amazing to see the attack and dedication these young women have. While Baltimore is cold, the experience here has been amazing.

Finally, don’t forget Issue 8 is out!

(Repost)

Between the holiday parties  and preparing for Black Friday sales, the ballet world is faced with our dreaded, but magical annual tradition of The Nutcracker. Every year around this time, whether it be at Starbucks, the bank or even at some retail store, I am standing around minding my own business… and then it comes on the speakers. That dreadful tune that ushers in the Holiday Season.

While the majority of the world associates it with that one song from that one commercial, ballet dancers around the world hear it and immediately identify the composer, the act, the choreography and the costumes. Yes, it is the Nutcracker.

Recently, I was standing in line with my pas de deux partner, and the music for Snow Pas came on. While it is one of the most beautiful pieces composes for the Nutcracker, we immediately looked at each other with fear in our eyes. Yes, fear. We had just started rehearsals with new choreography knowing that the show goes up in three weeks. We both haven’t been on stage for more than four years, and we immediately decided to order skinny lattes knowing we are about to be in white tights. So, in the tradition of Nutcracker, and in a Ballet Education’s five things…

You Know It’s Nutcracker When…
1. You hear Nutcracker music outside of ballet and want to kill yourself.
2. 1/3 of your company is injured, or battling tendonitis, but still powering through ridiculously long rehearsals that you don’t want to be in.
3. You know every part of Nutcracker, but still are forced to rehearse, clean and tech it all. In fact, you have probably danced every part of Nutcracker at some point of your life and could probably stage it all, with your eyes closed.
4. This time of the year everyone is all about the holiday cheer and festivities, but you are the most tired you have ever been. You want to crawl into a ball and die. You still have to rehearse everything else outside of Nutcracker for the upcoming season’s bills, so your mind is on overload. It is just yucky.
5. You are a boy, and its Nut season and all you want to do is be Kyra Nichols as Dewdrop. Yes, you want to be Balanchine’s infamous Dewdrop and dance the most beautiful entrances, have the most swayed back ever, and dance to the loveliest of music.

Here are some of last year’s Nutcracker Posts:
THE BEAST THAT IS THE NUTCRACKER

5 AWFUL REALITIES OF NUTCRACKER

THE NUTTINESS OF NUTCRACKER

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Top 5 Ballet Boys/Mens Programs (US)

As featured in Issue 6: It is funny that people still think there is a lack of male dancers in the US industry right now. In my opinion, there is a huge surplus of them, but they are flocking to five schools for sure. Sure, back in the day there were a few boys here and there, but now there are budding programs all over the US for these young men. They even have their own summer intensive. Now in Europe, that is a different story because male dancers are coming out left and right. Instagram proves that time and time again.

top ballet schools for boys

So… where are all the boys heading to and why? 

  1. San Francisco Ballet School, Patrick Armand (San Francisco) / THE SFB school has always attracted some of the best boys in the world to come train. Not only are the creating insane technicians, but they also are able to help the young men find their inner artistry. The young men that graduate SFB are usually all very noble looking (that bravura dancer), clean, and strong. (Click here to learn more)
  2. Boston Ballet School Men’s Division, Peter Stark (Boston) /  While the School at Boston has flourished over the years, and with their new studio opening this year, Boston Ballet School has attracted numerous boys into their summer course, where they are recruited for the year. Their boys are usually on the leaner side and known for their pretty lines, good feet, and ease. (Click here to learn more)
  3. School of American Ballet, Kay Mazzo (NYC) The School of American Ballet turns out one type of boy, and that is the long-limbed Balanchine boy. This program is not for everyone, in fact, unless it is your dream to dance at NYCB, this is not the school for you. Again, it really only creates one type of boy, and that is a Balanchine boy. So, unless you are going to a strictly Balanchine/Contemporary Company… this isn’t the school for you. (Click here to learn more)
  4. Houston Ballet Academy, Claudio Muñoz, James Gotesky, boys Program (Houston) HBA has always been a school that a lot of young men head out to. But recently, with the help of social media, HBA has been showcasing their insane technicians and ferocious turners. The HBA creates some of the strongest men out there. (Click Here to Learn More)
  5. The Rock School, Bo and Stephanie Spassoff (Philadelphia) The Rock School is not shy when it comes to showcasing their boys and young men. A school that has been long affiliated with the YAGP, the Rock School turns out some of the best turners and jumpers out there. (Click here to learn more)

So, what does this even mean? It means that the caliber of male dancers right now is incredible. You have to jump and turn, have perfect turnout, be a great actor, and partner. The list goes on and on. But, the silver lining here, is that the quality of male dancers out there right now is beyond exceptional. Don’t get it wrong either, there are tons of schools out there offering great male programs. These programs are A Ballet Education’s top picks here in the US. If you aren’t at one of these schools, don’t freak out you can still have a career from another school.  If you want a chance to go to one of these schools, don’t forget to audition for their summer courses/intensives and then ask/apply to stay for the year.

Keep up the good training!
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These schools are my picks based on several factors included ratio of students to teachers, ratio of male to female students, scholarships awarded, size of the school, graduate placement, perceived value, cost of education, and company contracts. And before everyone gets crazy, I made it clear that 1. It was only US and 2. It is my opinion.

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Notes on Jetés… petit jetés… and awful petit allegro

Jetė

JETE a ballet educationThere is nothing in the world… and I mean nothing… better than a really good, really clean, really technical petit allegro. Yup, it can turn any bad day into a great day… or it can turn a great day into a crappy day depending on what side of the glass window you are standing on…. The problem is, most people are pretty awful at petit allegro, and a lot of the times at smaller studios, most teachers don’t really emphasize petit allegro causing there to be a lot of dancers to have pretty awful petit allegro skills…

I don’t even know where to begin about awful petit allegros… but I think I will start with petit jeté… Or in America, we just use jeté… but I love it…. I love them in petit allegro, in grand allegro, in random combinations… I love them in ecarté, turning, and with beats… I just in general love them… The problem… so many jetés out there are soooo sucky.

What good petit allegro looks like… and no I am not going to shame someone and post a bad petit allegro video… but trust me there are lots of them…

There are multiple approaches to jeté… again they vary by pedagogy. The first conversation to have how to approach a jeté.

jeté ballet

a. This is the way most schools around the US teach jeté. The idea is from fifth to throw the first leg, pass through a semi-second, and connect the coupé when landing in plié… There is nothing wrong with this, personally, I find it yucky… but then again I find a lot of things yucky in classical ballet. The idea is to brush to degagé height and bring the coupé to the first leg, and transition accordingly… If you are a ballet dancer, you will understand… if you aren’t a ballet dancer you throw your working leg into the air, but after the midway point and as you descend, your working leg becomes the supporting/landing leg.

b. The second way of looking at jeté is the way I was taught, the Balanchine way… To throw the first left to whatever height the music allows, and to connect the coupé as quickly as possible and maintain that shape while landing… Then as you grew up, the jeté may or may not become more stylized.
3:19 is the finale of Symphony in C by PNB

c. Finally, when I was older I learned the idea that every petit allegro step had to have two butts up… This concept is hit the height of the jump quickly and hit a clean second in the air, and cut to coupé while maintaining the height, then land underneath yourself… avoiding injury…

Where to put the coupe

Then we run into the issue of coupé… and where to put the coupé… when to connect it, and where to place it. Ideally, coupé back is coupé back, the problem is that we travel and move in time and space… This causes the coupé to move around and get sloppy… Then there is the idea of over crossing the coupé in the air that way when you land you are in a solid position when landing. I am not one to say one way or the other… Another issue people talk about is how high the working leg hits, which varies because different schools teach different degagé heights… Soo, again that varies but… usually I go through for a 45 degrees. When in doubt… keep a clean line either 45 or 90 degrees as a general rule of thumb for all of ballet.

Then you have the issue of leaning… really only choreography calls for leaning… and bending… and usually the choreography is Balanchine or contemporary pieces…

Finally, here are definite things to avoid when doing petit jeté:

  • do not travel forward more than one-fifth foot position front… Don’t get into the bad habit of traveling obnoxiously forward. If a jeté is a degage and fifth, you would only travel forward that one degagé closing from front to back forward.
  • do not travel randomly side… I hate when people do jetés obnoxiously traveling far… it looks weird and not precise. Petit allegro should look like a hibachi chef jabbing a knife into the bamboo between his fingers.
  • do not torque your hips, a lot of young dancers torque or shift their hips like doing the wave at a baseball game… They do it to gain height, which is actually counter productive to everything… and it is awful looking and spazzy…
  • do not grip your quads… use your abductors and the backs of your legs to make that sh!t happen in the air. To get a two butts up jeté you have to pop, but you pop from the pressure in your ankle pressing off the ground, and the backs of your legs snapping forward.
  • DON’T SICKLE or have biscuity feet…
  • don’t tuck your pelvis under or release it back to have duck butt
  • do not over compensate in the knees, that is how injury happens. When taking off and landing make sure your knee is moving over your second toe, and the weight is centered over the ball of your foot and the energy connects from the back of your leg, through your heel, into the ball of your foot… cleaner and safer take off and landing… the landing is the reverse.

Here are some things to work on to improve your jetés:

  • a lot of degagés…
  • jumping at the barre, practicing hitting a clean second in the air…
  • those awful things when you lay on your back and have your legs at 90, in a clean pointed fifth and you beat front back a million times… but this time hi 45 degrees open every time
  • line the barres like a gymnast’s parallel bars and press down on them to lift yourself off the ground and go over the motions military style… like by the number… that way you know exactly the where the clean positions feel on your body.
  • practice using a pilates reformer springboard

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ABT is campaigning hard… too hard…

It isn’t a surprise that ABT has been campaigning hard for their 75th anniversary… but for Pointe magazine to have back to back ABT covers…. kind of fishy… I love Skyler Brandt… I LOOOOVE HEE SEO and Isabella Boylston… but to put Sarah Lane on the cover? #joke I swear to baby jesus that if Sarah Lane is promoted before Misty Copeland… actually if she is promoted at all… There will be some words. Now, I am not the only person in the ballet world who doesn’t believe in being politically correct…
Tsiskaridze has opened his mouth too… click here to read the article … I also actually agree with him… I don’t believe that “Balanchine” dancers are ballet dancers. They are neo classical ballet dancers with amazing technique. If we want to talk about REALLY CLASSICAL BALLET.. Russians and the French win. Duh.  Royal Ballet dancers aren’t my cup of tea either, but I will say they are ferocious in their own way… But hands down the Russians and French… No argument. #justsayin 
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This week we said goodbye to Paloma Herrera and Xiomara Reyes at ABT… which means there will be a lot of new hires and promotions at ABT… #justsayin #goodstuff #teamasian

I wouldn’t be surprised if Misty is promoted after her Swan Lake performance at the Met. #campaigninghard Especially since they are hiring guest artists for the season… #fail. These disappointing things were the reason I started this blog… I read my first blog post today, and it has almost been a year since I created this blog, time flies. Nothing has changed, how frustrating.