Beware of the Monsters…

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.

ballet moms

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.

 

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Why you shouldn’t put your kid into ballet…

I have seen all of these posts about why you should put your kid into ballet. With reasons like: smarter, more successful, better workers and so on, after doing some research, these articles were based on dancers who are now retired… Not students… As RDT has been attracting dancers around Souther California at all different levels of training and different age groups, I have been having a lot of meetings with parents.  This is not a formulated post, nor is it based on extreme research, but rather my experiences as a teacher, dancer, and student. It isn’t that ballet makes people better workers; sure, ballet creates a rigorous work ethic, but that is because I have noticed a lot of ballet dancers have the same personality traits. For girls, personality traits I have noticed that are common among successful ballet students are:

-Slightly introverted, as they are able to consciously have an internal monologue with themselves. Totally helps with developing their artistry.
-Slightly OCD, from the way they sew their shoes, to performance rituals, how they make their bed, or how they have their things organized in their houses. Totally gears themselves for the long haul and rigor of ballet.
-Double egos, one personality is extremely introverted, self conscious, and overly critical which is compensated by being extremely extroverted, fun, ability to goof off, and more.
-Extremely smart. You can’t be dumb and dance ballet, I mean seriously, you just can’t. I have said it a billion times.

For boys I have noticed that the thing they have in common is their extreme confidence, and ego. I don’t know if it is a good thing or a bad thing, but I guess for a boy, you do have to have a thick skin to grow up dancing in tights.

Recently, a mom of a five year old came in to the studios. She wanted her daughter to dance anywhere between 15-20 hours a week. I laughed. I didn’t mean to, that was rude of me. But no five year old should be in the studio for that long. Seriously, what is a five year old going to do for that long? If the average advanced training schedule is five days a week, consisting of a typical 1.5 hour class, 1 hour pointe class and 1 hour misc. pas de deux, rep class, condition etc… that is 3 hours a day averaging out to 15 hours of training a week, and then you add rehearsals and that is 20 hours. What five year old needs that much time in class? Seriously. Then another mom, was complaining that her daughter was placed into the Advanced Intensive course, which makes her daughter dance 18 hours including rehearsals. Her daughter is 14, and the week prior, her mom told me she wanted her daughter to audition for SAB’s summer course…. WTF… Your daughter is already behind in vocabulary technique and still doesn’t have the strength to control her turn out or feet…. Come on…. Then I have moms who are clueless to ballet, but coming in basically demanding that their daughters belong in advanced, when their fifth is not closed, their feet don’t point, and they aren’t flexible. BUT because they were the best at their school previously… They should be in advanced. -_____- Then I have the mom’s complaining about casting… Which ironically, I was beyond fair, and I created 3 cast lists so their kids would learn 3 different roles… and have the chance to dance in 3 different roles. Now they are complaining they have to buy tickets to three shows blah blah blah…. I just don’t get it. If your kid is 11 years old, and all they were cast in Chinese Attendants… wouldn’t you be mad? It’s not like we have a party scene or battle scene to fill…. (in my previous post, I mentioned i cut it out from Nutcracker). Also, it isn’t like you are paying 3 costume fees, or 3 of anything. I don’t know. Maybe I was being too fair? So the typical, decently trained 11 year old is learning Chinese Attendants, Arabian Attendants, and understudying Marzipan… The typical 14 year old is cast 1st cast Arabian Attendant, 2nd cast Marzipan attendants, and understudying either flowers or snow. The typical 16 year old in our trainee program is in 1st cast Snow and Flowers, 2nd cast paquita corps, snow and flowers, and understudying one of the lead variations. I feel like this is pretty fair casting… Even at the schools I was at, I feel like this is typical casting? I could be very wrong, but I felt like this is pretty fair…

So, why shouldn’t you put your kid (any age under 7) into ballet? Because ballet dancers are nuts. No just kidding, not really. The more and more I watch kids enter into ballet, the more and more I see them set up to fail. I see parents that can’t afford the training needed, or pointe shoes needed. I see kids develop unhealthy friendships that are based on talent. If a kid has been dancing since age 3, by the age of 10 their parents are demanding their kids to go en pointe, and some random dolly dinkle school puts them up, with bad technique and so their feet become damaged, or they get biscuity and don’t point properly. It is just a mess. I feel like kids under the age 7 should only stretch, listen to music, take tap class, and do jazz/hiphop. Go compete and gain that stage awareness and self confidence. Go to jazz class so you can learn to be fearless, and have ridiculous tenacity and attack. Start ballet at age 7 or 8, when they can actually sit and focus on turn out, and begin to comprehend how you have to use your facility ballet. I don’t know. Just my opinion.

Ballet Steps

Have you ever wondered what life is going to be like after ballet?

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In a whirlwind of unexpected surprises, I found myself in fashion.
Now come full circle, I am opening up my ballet company. Crazy.

Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner: the TOP TEN BALLET SCHOOLS of 2015

top ten ballet schools
Winner, winner chicken dinner. The list is in. The TOP TEN Ballet Schools of 2015.

There is always a great debate when it comes to rankings. Rankings for anything really are always surrounded by controversy, but we love them. While the list last year reflected the number of graduates from a school in principal jobs in 30 major international companies, this year’s list reflects the power, innovation, and the teacher’s that make these schools. This year we have seen the power of the ballet student. At the ballet competition circuit this year we saw super powerhouse and future stars premier to the world, and we were blown away.

BIG NAMES & BIG SCHOOLS

Harrison Lee took top prize at the Prix , he is from Australia. Gisele Bethea made another strong international competition circuit this year. She is a student in Arizona.  And while these individuals took home top prizes, home schools like School of American Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, the Vaganova School, and POB made surprising debuts for their students.

One of the plus sides of big ballet  competitions, are big ballet schools. Scholarships to the most prestigious schools that have made their place in ballet history.  Unfortunately though, these dancers don’t make a school.  Very rarely does a student start and finish their training at one school, in the US.  Sure, in Europe it is more common because there are state schools that feed into the state supported ballet companies, and opera houses.  So super stars don’t make schools, and shouldn’t be a factor when deciding the best of the best. Now, when looking at a school, you have to ask yourself, if you are in the US, is it a technical school or a finishing school. For example, School of American Ballet is a finishing school… Yes, it is technical, but the majority of their upper level students are from other schools.  Most small studios in the US should be focusing on technique, like learning the basics of turn out, feet, and learning how the body works… This is like CPYB.  CPYB you learn all the basics, but you leave to a bigger school, or professional school to finish out your training, and coaching.  So this was also taken into consideration, which eliminated off a lot of the US schools from last year.

HERE WE GO… the moment you have all been waiting for…

If this was college football, well it isn’t. Haha. This is bigger than college football, this is ballet. Like football there are TEN SCHOOLS that everyone wants to get into. The only thing bigger than the school you get into, is the company you might dance for as an end result. In comparison, these are the Ivies of the ballet world, and you do have to have top marks to get in. Who are we kidding, you have to have everything to get in…

Like the Ivy League list… there are three schools that will always compete for number one in the world. International, and probably the most historical, they are the prestigious Paris Opera Ballet School, the Vaganova School, and the Royal Ballet School. It is hard to say which one of these schools is actually the best, because they are completely different styles, and create very different dancers. Last year these schools took the top.  This year, we have lumped the three into one category, as the SUPER STAR STATE SUPPORTED SCHOOLS.  It really is only fair that the three of them share number one and make room for other schools offering great training, and are more realistic to get into.

  1. Paris Opera Ballet School, Vaganova School, the Royal Ballet School (Upper School).  Historically, the three of them have always ruled ballet, and unfortunately I don’t see that changing anytime soon. But, not everyone is meant to dance there.  Not everyone is a super turned out French girl, or a leggy skinny Russian girl, and very few boys are going to become the power houses that the Royal Ballet School produces. (Remember, huge headliner  names at the Royal Opera are mostly imports from winning huge competitions.) You can’t argue that each of these schools have a very specific style, and produce a very specific look… Regardless if I like the company or school or not…

    The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Anastasia Soboleva & Victor Lebedev Asaf Messerer’s “Class Concert.” Photo: Stas Levshin
    Honorable Mention 1.5: Every other hardcore Russian school.The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Anastasia Soboleva & Victor Lebedev Asaf Messerer’s “Class Concert.” Photo: Stas Levshin
  2. THE SCHOOL OF AMERICAN BALLET, founded by George Balanchine, SAB is probably the only school in the US that can even resemble a portion of what a state school has to offer. Sure, the Balanchine aesthetic is super specific, and the dancers are very… well American, but that is what is celebrated. The school produces great artists and the faculty nurtures dancers to become artists at a young age. Something the dance world loves. School of American Ballet is the feeder school to NYCB, which is oddly unique in the US.

    Her voice is a bit much, she is the corps now… So holla for a dolla…. and how did she not know who the faculty of SAB were… did she just wake up one day and was like I am going to audition for this random school in NYC? You can also watch the first season of strictly ballet about SAB life.
  3. THE JOHN CRANKO SCHOOL, is one of the leading ballet schools, associated with one of the most innovated companies in the world. The Cranko school is known for international power house students. A lot of students after a big win, will decide to attend the Cranko School to hone their technique but most importantly developing the artistry needed to work as a dancer. Then they either join the company or move on.  Oh the Cranko school is associated with Stuttgart.
  4. LA ESCUELA NATIONAL DE DANZA, in Havana, Cuba. Controversy.  While we left this school off the list last year, a huge heat came onto us.  So, let us take a look at the school at National Ballet of Cuba… Just because it is an important moment in dance diaspora, doesn’t mean that it is a good school… Ironically, if we are talking about dance diaspora, we should really look at Russian Immigration changing the world’s perception of ballet through the various wars, and conflicts. But, that is neither here nor there, we are here to talk about schools. While major dance companies have Cubans in their companies, the Cuban school is basically intense Russian training, with a focus on turns… and men.  If you look at these high ranked, high profiled ballet Cuban super stars… they are all men.  After seeing National Ballet of Cuba in Los Angeles, I wasn’t impressed by their women… Creating strong technical powerhouses, the school produces more men than women. (Many of you wrote in saying I left them off the list last year because of socialism, pff. And those who said it is the most important diaspora in dance, maybe not so much, but maybe over the past 50 years… )
  5. THE AUSTRALIAN BALLET SCHOOL, our friends down under are definitely pushing their way to the international front.  With some of the best PR campaigns I have ever seen, the Australian Ballet is a reflection of their school. With a new campaign called project assemblé, the Australian Ballet school will soon have a residence for their students. Despite popular belief the Australian Ballet School is not supported by the state, well it is partially supported by the state. You can audition for the school for placement, but beware, it the application alone is $83 USD.
  6. SAN FRANCISCO BALLET SCHOOL, has truly stepped up their game.  With their ranks at the company being filled with some of the most promising ballet dancers of our time, all of these students at least spent two years in the school. San Francisco has always been the West Coast’s center for ballet, but even more so as this season ended. SFB is becoming much more than just a school, but it is becoming a breeding ground for exceptional talent. Rightfully so, since San Francisco Ballet School claims the nation’s oldest professional ballet school. SFB has now rightfully produced a future superstar choreographer, Myles Thatcher who makes his NYCB premier at the Fall2015 Gala. It is more likely for a dancer to go start to finish at SFB than any other school. SFB has turned into a breeding ground for ballet superstars over the past ten years and is causing many students, and competition winners to go there.
  7. NBS, National Ballet of Canada’s School.   NBS is a healthy structured school in which students really are prepared for the real world of ballet.  Additionally last year, we talked about their program that bridges the last year of school and the first few years of professional ballet life.  The school itself has lost some recognition on the international circuit, as they haven’t had a huge international draw lately…. Also in Canada other schools have risen to the occasion allowing more options for Canadians to train at.  Mainly speaking about GOH Academy that produced international power house Alex Wong. (They were on the list last year, but so many of you wanted to know why Royal Winnepeg, and GOH Academy were left off… Frankly put, when it comes to NBS, you just can’t compete with them.)
  8. THE JUILLIARD SCHOOL OF DANCE, for those students who are 18, and haven’t found a company contract, there aren’t very many places to go.  The Juilliard School of Dance is one of a few exceptionally ranked programs. Another is NBS, number 7 on our list.This University offers dancers a B.F.A for 24 exceptional students. Their program is rigorous but their alumni have joined numerous companies both within the US and abroad. I really, really, really want to encourage dancers after 18, to not give up.  There are places to dance, or continue your dance education without feeling like the oldest one in the room. There are various universities and programs that help continue your training and transition into professional life.
  9. THE SUNHWA ARTS HIGH SCHOOL, South Korea is becoming a powerhouse in producing international ballet super stars. So, is it the rice? No. The Sun Hwa Arts High School is the premier school for young people in Korea to attend. Most of these kids are trained to compete on the international level, and then they transfer schools. As mentioned in a previous post, Korean males are required to serve two years to the army, unless they finish first or second at an international competition. Their training is basically Russian training mixed with extreme stretching technique. Much like the Cubans, an integrated Russian technique refined for a specific body type. A lot of the Sun Hwa girls end up at Kirov DC, which is associated with Universal Ballet of Korea. Why are they on the list? Because it is important to recognize that a lot of Russian based schools have created a technique based off of a specific, ethnic body type.  In this case it is a longer but narrow torso. So many girls at the prix finals were from SunHwa.
  10. Royal Danish School of Ballet This school reminds me a lot of School of American Ballet… Obviously not the same technique, they couldn’t be more different… This school though has a very specific technique, and very specific style. They produce crazy jumpers.  Ironically, the company director is from NYCB.  The school is small, according to their website it has roughly 60-70 students ages 6-16 and paid for the by the state.

The American Ballerina: the 21st century prima

The American Ballerina in the 21st century

What truly does it mean to be an American Ballerina? 
The idea of an American Ballerina isn’t far fetched at all, and actually since the cold war, America has become one of greatest manufacturers of ballet dancers.  While up until the Cold War, ballet was dominated by the Russians.  The history of ballet is funny, because as each generation of prima ballerinas comes to the forefront, they are influenced by culture, society, and what is “popular” in ballet. Today, we are blessed with the wonders of youtube and ballet in cinema, so we can see a variety of ballet dancers instantaneously. So, as a reflection of culture, we now have a true generation of American Ballerinas.

So, we have to kind of set up some conditions that define an American Ballerina:

1. Born in the United States.
2. Trained in the United States.
3. Dances with an American Company.
4. Has achieved the rank of principal dancer.
5. Has contributed to the next generation of dancers.

As we are at a time in ballet that celebrates the most innovate choreography, the most brilliant music, and the most technical phase of ballet, there are two extraordinary women that come to mind:

Tiler Peck and Lia Cirio
Ironically, neither dancer has the typical ballet body type. When we say typical we mean Russian girl body type, or Paris Opera Body type.  Additionally, the two women are completely different.  These two women though have created a new space and new ideal for dance.  Tiler Peck has created a generation of a more jazz meets Balanchine dancer making it possible for competitive studio trained dancers transition into ballet companies and schools. While, Lia Cirio has created an athletic provocative archetype of a prima ballerina. The only two things these women really have in common is really good teeth and a really great smile

The Run Down on these women:

Tiler Peck: sporadic training in the greater Los Angeles area, transitioning to School of American Ballet, joined NYCB in 2004, became a principal in 2009. Gorgeous turns, and fills the stage. First was really seen in the welcome to SAB DVD. Balanchine trained. Subtle sensitivity and sweetness in her approach to roles.
lia cirio american ballerina

Lia Cirio: random school, transitioning to CPYB, joined Boston Ballet in 2004, became a soloist in 2007, joined the Trey McIntyre project, came back to BB in 2010 to become promoted to principal. Banging hyperextension, ferocious arabesque. First major appearance in ballet: YAGP 2003. Classically trained. A body articulate conscious approach to a role.

So what makes these two women stand out compared to say… Hee Seo or Maria Kotchekova? Well, besides the fact that both of these women aren’t born and raised in the US, they are both ridiculously Russian trained, which is gorgeous, I’m not saying that they are awful. I am saying that they fit previous archetype of what a prima ballerina is. While Hee Seo was groomed to take Julie Kent’s place, Maria Kotchekova became the standard of SFB’s short girl. While Misty Copeland has made the compelling presence and awareness of race in ballet, I don’t think her actual dancing is ground breaking. (sorry, I know I am going to hear shit for that) Then we have other leading women in the US: Carrie Imler at PNB creating the athletic look at PNB, Isabella Boylston at ABT has reinvented the Paloma Herrera, but with better arms. Maria Kowroski is like the Balanchine version of Sylvie. Wendy Whelan created the skinny fit athletic body archetype.

As these two women expand their repertory, who knows what they will create for the ballet world? It’s exciting.

In other ballet news: ABT: Paloma Herrera is getting a weird farewell with a matinee performance of Giselle, followed by Xiomara Reyes’s farewell at 7:30.  Totally getting gipped, but maybe her name just doesn’t sell seats? ABT’s PBS special AMERICAN MASTER Series was beyond gorgeous.
NYCB & SFB: have a ridiculously amount of talented people in the ranks of soloists and corps but won’t be promoted until others retire. *cough cough* hang up the pointe shoes *cough cough*
Paris Opera: Natalie Portman’s Baby Daddy is making amazing moves and changes at POB.
PNB: Please promote Leta already.
Atlanta Ballet: Had the most beautiful end to their season.
Milwaukee Ballet: Their version of Cinderella was an okay finish for the season.

Little Jessy is prepping for LA BALLET. Her go fund me is still up, any donations will go towards pointe shoes, leotards etc. http://www.gofundme.com/jessylaballet

Don’t forget to use the code SCIE15 for 15% off Eros Sportswear for Men.

The Guide to FiercenessMy guide to fierceness is almost done. Holla for a dolla!

For the Moms…

ballet moms thank you

Dear Dance Moms (and dads),

I would just like to take the time today and say thank you. Thank you for forcing us to go to class when we didn’t want to, when we needed the shoulder to cry on because we don’t have perfect turnout, for driving us to and from class everyday, driving us to auditions, paying for summer programs, countless pairs of tights and shoes…. Thank you you for massaging out the knots, for all of the chiropractor appointments, for the sacrificing of the thousands of dollars it takes to study ballet, for rhinestoning all the tutus, for dying all of the random things, for buying me that leotard I needed to stand out at an audition in… Thank you for teaching me how to do a bun, for coming to every show, for paying me to fly all over the world to audition, and buying me those special protein bars that are low carb…

Without you & dad I would have never made it. Even though growing up I would accuse you of being a ballet mom, hovering at the window…

And so on… It is your day and I love and appreciate you.

NYT feature on SAB boys for Nutcracker.
NYT feature on SAB boys for Nutcracker.

Now, I would like to take the time and thank my mom who had no clue about ballet for letting me pursue it.  Then I would like to thank all of the moms who have helped me on my way. Thank you for all the rides, thank you for all the custom knit leg warmers and warm ups, thank you for all the advice you gave me and thank you for always helping me. I really did have a lot of ballet moms in my life, that I am very grateful for.

I hope all of you mom’s out there have a fantastic MOTHER’S DAY!!!

Manly Ballet 1

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Fantastic Five: 5 Really Great Male Variations

In the world of ballet, variations define a dancer’s career. As artists a variation is the one moment where technique, artistry and years of daunting rehearsals finally meet. A 2-3 Act ballet is carried by the principals, and the defining moment for them are their variations. For a female in the role(s) Odette/Odile, she is first pushed emotionally, and technically as Odette. Then in a ferocious breath she seductively attacks with stamina, the role of Odile. Then, she has to turn back int Odette, and die. Exhausting. I mean not only does the prima have to act, change roles, act some more, she also has to do two full on PDDs and do an epic 4th act finale. Pretty impressive.

When it comes to the men in ballet, their variations are always kind of bland. It is usually two jumping passes, followed by two pirouette combinations, executed by flawless double tours or entrechat sixs, and then some have a quality menage added in. Either way, these variations have turned into like… the most redundant yet insanely tricked out performances. Like Roberto Bolle cranking out 40 Entrechat six in Giselle… Or Daniil Simkin’s insane turning combos for Corsaire… Or Osiel Gounod in … like every variation. (If you don’t know who he is… youtube that $h!t… it’s like insane.)

Now, there are a lot of male variations that are actually super musical, and super beautiful that are overlooked. Granted… Most of them are either Balanchine, or specific to a company’s repertory. BUUUUT… Regardless… We should take a look at these fantastic five variations for men.

1. “Name of Prince” Variation in ACT II… Paris Opera’s – Nureyev version gives the male two super beautiful variations in the second act. The first uses the music that Balanchine’s Nutcracker uses to bridge party and battle scene. It is a very long variation (7 minutes), but super gorgeous, and demonstrates that boys have arabesques too. It could be that Nureyev really reinvented the male, and as a male ballet dancer he was able to create roles for other men within the confinements of classical ballet. The second variation is from the music sometimes used in ACT III of sleeping beauty for one of the jewels. It is very classical as well but has really gorgeous enveloppe moments. Then, Royal Ballet also gives a super luscious, kind of sensual variation in the second act as well. As sensual as fairytale princes get.

2. Balanchine’s Apollo. Besides the fact that this is probably one of the only ballets with a male name as the title and has the title/leading role… With music by Stravinsky, Apollo never leaves the stage but has two brilliant variations. One is really raw, and the other is really refined. Balanchine cut the first variation and birthing, but people since have put both back in. Both variations are incredibly musical, one of the things that I adore about Balanchine. I think for a lot of male dancers who were trained in the Balanchine aesthetic, and for men in Balanchine companies, this ballet is used to really define their presence in the company. I think NYCB currently has Chase Finlay as the face of Apollo, and prior to him was Nilas Martins (both blonde… kind of suspicious) but, both made names for themselves in the role. David’s Dream Casting: Alexandre Hammoudi (aka Baby Daddy) in Apollo.

Edward Villella, retired artistic director of The Miami City Ballet, as Apollo in the 1950s at New York City Ballet. Photo by Martha Swope.
Edward Villella, retired artistic director of The Miami City Ballet, as Apollo in the 1950s at New York City Ballet. Photo by Martha Swope.

3. The Male Variation(s) from Sylvia. Besides the fact that the Delibes’ score is super danceable and kind of cute… (FUN FACT: the original production of Sylvia was created to open the Palais Garnier for Paris Opera, and the costumes were designed by Lacoste) In the Balanchine PDD, the male is variation is structured like a classical variation, but has really beautiful nuances added in. And like a lot of the classical-like Balanchine male variations (Tchai Pas, Theme and Variations), each one was modified so the steps vary by who dances/staged it. In the Ashton version of Sylvia, Aminta has numerous gorgeous variations. I actually think that the Ashton Version is only danced at American Ballet Theatre, and Royal Ballet. Paris Opera has a version of Sylvia, but it is more contemporary or modern, so it doesn’t count for this list. If we counted that… Then we would have to count numerous other new ballets like Chroma, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, every ballet created by Complexions, Cedar Lake and LINES, and the Cranko Ballets… Though… I really should count the Cranko Ballets… )

Roberto Bolle in Ashton's Sylvia. Royal Ballet. Screen shot off youtube. #boom
Roberto Bolle in Ashton’s Sylvia. Royal Ballet. Screen shot of youtube. #boom leg up.

4. The male variations in John Cranko’s Onegin are like beyond roles and somehow have combined real life and ballet. The music used for the male variations aren’t awfully heavy, and scary sounding. The variations also create this beautiful emotional prism for a male ballet dancer. All of the Cranko characters are always so dynamic. I’ve never seen it live, but have watched the full length on Youtube on five different companies. It is incredible. When I was a student, I never really wanted to dance Onegin, but now in retrospect it is so beautiful to me and I am like -_____-  (that is my Snorlax face)… Not that I was ever good enough, or would ever have been cast in Onegin… but still… a boy can dream.

5. The Liza Variation, from Balanchine’s Who Cares? Music by Gershwin. Probably one of the younger variations as it was choreographed in 1937, but it is super fun. Kind of jazzy, okay, super jazzy but really fun dancing. Seriously. If you ever have the chance to preform it, it is one of the must enjoyable variations to get through. It isn’t like trying to get through the male variation in Theme and Variations or random crazy turns from Corsaire. Did I mention, it really is just plain fun? And Baryshnikov in a Balanchine ballet = love. (Click Here = https://youtu.be/GnWxmELOcBI)

The Male Variation in the Satanella Pas De Deux from the Carnival of Venice tied with the male variation for Harlequinade for variations in classical ballet that aren’t dance enough. Both are obviously classical variations, but I feel like these two ballets are underused. Plus… I think the music is kind of cute. I also think these two male variations are more age appropriate for boys (11-16) competing at competitions. I mean what 11 year old boy should be doing Swan Lake? Then, because I love Balanchine, there are the roles that don’t really have variations but are gorgeous: the male lead in Rubies or Diamonds, the male in the walking pas de trois from Emeralds. I think all the male leads in Symphony in C or Palais Cristal, the male leads in Western Symphony, the pas de deux from Agon.)

Finally, I would like to take the time to talk about Lady of the Camellias, music by Chopin, and choreographed by John Neumeier is another “newer” classic work. It premiered in 1978 with Marcia Haydee, and is a super beautiful full length with male variations… The downside is that even though the story is the same, Val Caniparoli used the same music and redid it, maybe even better … But in this version, the male variations are great but they really  aren’t as dynamic as the females. Lucia Lacarra slayed this for the ballet gods.

To see the 5 variations, watch them on our YOUTUBE channel’s playlist:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdVNSG-GEpYve4cBxruz2mXPT0MV0vPVa

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You know you trained Balanchine… pt Deux… You know you have danced Balanchine if…

We have all heard famous stories, infamous quotes, or my personal favorite, “Balanchine Said…” or “Balanchine told me…” For some ballet dancers, they are lucky enough to dance at the School of American Ballet, and have first hand experience with the New York City Ballet Legends… Or, now across the US, numerous schools have added Balanchine Legends to their staff… Yes, legends… There are legends still among us, which walk this earth, turned out, and elegantly. So, after the original post (here) a lot of people had feedback, and well, there is always feedback with this blog… I was originally going to make some snide remark about it all…. but then I asked myself, “What Would Balanchine Do?”

This post is dedicated to the mature Balanchine dancer…  You Know You Have Danced Balanchine If…

George Balanchine

1. After you have danced a difficult Balanchine role, and your coach, or Balanchine Repetiteur smiles and you know you are on the right track. (Inside you are thinking… Balanchine would be like, “YAAAAS!!! You Better Get It!”)

Stravisnky is Life

2.  Stravinsky is life. You can’t wait till a Stravinsky Ballet is in the season. Who doesn’t love counting 9’s, 7’s, 13’s and other ridiculously well thought out math equations?

Thats Balanchine of You

3. You are in open class, and the teacher touches your hand and is like, “Oooh, that’s Balanchine of you….” You know they are trying to insult you, but you are smiling thinking… “Suki Schorer taught me well… Boom.”

serenade life

4. You know every part of Serenade… Even if you are a man… and we all know that everyone, male or female wants to dance one of the leading ladies… Don’t lie.

like a boss

5. You learn a new Balanchine ballet, and you are like, “Balanchine is Boss.” (You might thinking the song big pimpin’ was inspired by Balanchine… Just Kidding.)

What Would Balanchine Do?

6. That moment you are asked to improv, or make something your own and you ask yourself, “What would Balanchine do?”

No sweetie Ballet Fail

7. You are working on a Balanchine ballet, and you try your own thing (after a very long restless night of it haunting you) and whoever is setting the ballet is like, “No.” And then you start beating yourself up.

Evil Genius

8. You have to get through a ridiculously hard ballet, that requires a ridiculous amount of stamina, in a ridiculous short time… And you think, “What was he thinking?” You know that he is brilliant, and that he is genius, but you stop and think, “I wonder if he did this just to mess with his dancers’ psyche, and then they pulled it off, so he kept it?” or “WHYYYY BALANCHINE…WHY?!”

Dear Mr B

9. That night before casting goes up, you have been busting your butt off in rehearsals and learning the ballet… and right before you go to bed you are like, “Dear Mr. B…”

side eye

10. That moment after the casting goes up for a Balanchine Ballet…

10 Things Ballet Students Should Have…

Things that everyone should have in their dance bag, or readily available.

  1. A foot roller or stretcher.
  2. A theraband, deflated tire tube, or something else elasticy.thera band ballet mundo bailarinistico
  3. Ibprofen, icy hot, or biofreeze. Whether it is for maintenance or prevention, it is smart to just have these. From overworking in class, to muscles and joints locking up, it is always smart to be prepared.
  4. Needle and thread. There is nothing worse than your elastics snapping.
  5. Something to keep you warm: a onsie is my preference. Leg warmers, full length leg warmers, ankle warmers, shrugs etc…

    Rubia Dancewear by Boston Ballet Principal Dancer Ashley Ellis. (moderately priced for custom pieces)
    Rubia Dancewear by Boston Ballet Principal Dancer Ashley Ellis. (moderately priced for custom pieces) Click the pic above to custom order. 
  6. Extra dance clothes. Don’t want to be sweaty gross.
  7. Extra pairs of shoes, for girls always have a good sewn pair with you, just in case the ones you currently are working in die.

    PBT on Pinterest.
    PBT on Pinterest.
  8. A good book.
  9. Hair and beauty supplies, this includes a towel. I always brought face wash because I had acne problems.
  10. A notebook for corrections. I still have all of mine and are fun to look at.

Intro to Summer Programs

The Guide to Summer Programs:

While Christmas is finally here, and Nutcracker is finally over… We now look at the bigger picture, and the next part of the season: SUMMER PROGRAMS!! With auditions literally starting next week, the stress is on. SO, here are some of the truths about summer programs:

  1. Summer programs are not a vacation.  While it might be fun to travel all over the US, the reality is that summer programs are designed for three purposes.
    1. The first is to get the maximum amount of training in while you aren’t in school. So, if you are looking at summer programs as a chance to catch up on technique, then audition away. Dancers drastically change at summer programs for the good and the bad.
    2. The second reason ballet companies host summer programs is to look at the work ethic of potential year round students. For those who are killing themselves dreaming of San Francisco Ballet, your best bet is to go there for the summer. Hopefully, you are around 14-16 with awesome technique. This way you can get asked to stay for the year, and hopefully make it into their trainee program.
    3. Finally, the third reasons companies host summer programs is because it is a huge money maker. If you don’t know the costs of a summer program, check out this post. Summer programs are a way to overflow a school, and make money. It isn’t a hidden fact that ballet companies aren’t doing well, so Summer Programs are a way to generate income to the school/company during the off season (January) and then again in the Summer months.
  1. Names don’t mean anything. While many prestigious schools boast awesome summer programs, it doesn’t mean it is the best training for you. You have to find the school that is right for you, and where you are at in your training. For example, you should not audition for SAB until you are completely sure you are as strong as you can be, technically. SAB is a finishing school, not a training school. If you are behind on your technique, CPYB is the best place to go and get your butt whooped for a month. If you are looking to broaden your horizons in ballet, LINES would be a great add to your resume. And for those of you who are looking for individual attention, go to a smaller program like Ballet West or Atlanta Ballet’s Summer Programs. If you are looking to work on turns, go to the Rock School for Education, and if you are looking to jump go to PNB.
  2. Have back up plans. Like any child applying for colleges, you have to have a plan. Everyone has their dream programs, but then pick others that you know you are going to get into, schools you might get a scholarship to, and schools that are affordable. Have options, because a lot of kids will hit two summer programs in a summer.
  3. How do you know you are ready for a summer program? You have to be mentally prepared because at a summer program the competition in the classroom is stiff. Everyone there is pushing for a year round spot and scholarship for the year. You will be hundreds or thousands of miles away from home, living in dorms, with a hundred other ballet dancers. While you make lifelong friendships, the reality is, they are also your competition. It is easy to become friends, but it is easier to become jealous and get inside your own head, sabotaging your chances of staying for the year. If you are at a smaller school, and you are the best one at your studio, this would be a great growing opportunity.
  4. Finally, use summer programs to see if this is what you really want to do with your life. Summer programs are a great stepping stone to see whether or not you want to pursue ballet professionally. While it is rare for a dancer not to go to a summer program, a summer program is usually required as a bridge between professional schooling and a home studio. Another small step towards dancing Odette in Swan Lake.

You can go to any company’s website or school website to see if they are doing a national tour. The dates are already published. Audition fees will apply. If you don’t have the money, you can call the school registrar and possibly have the fee waived.

Redlands Dance Theatre

Hello Readers, Fans, Haters and General Public…

I appreciate all of the support I have gotten from you all. And now, I am here to ask a small favor of you. I am in the process of opening up a ballet company and school in the Inland Empire, where I live… And I need your help… We all know ballet is expensive, and that ballet companies have a huge turn over, but I believe I truly do know ballet, and understand the world of ballet today. I think a lot of you would agree with me since you are following my blog… Regardless, if you could please share the information below on your social media, e-mail blasting your contacts, and so forth, I would greatly and humbly appreciate it.

Redlands Dance Theatre is a ballet school and company that is going to be opened by David King. If you are interested in supporting this ballet company and school please check out our campaign and website!

Currently, we hold our non profit EIN, and in the process/waiting for our 501(c)(3)

http://www.gofundme.com/e69zbk

www.RedlandsDanceTheatre.org

Thank you again for all of the love,

David King