Dancewear en l’air: The Thumb-Loops Shrug

Shrugs were all the rage when I was a young dancer, but they gave way to off-the-shoulder, retro sweaters and modern, zip-front fleece jackets in the years that followed. Thanks to Black Swan, shrugs are back!

I’ve always loved shrugs because they offer warmth without covering up your pretty leotard. I posted on the Lydia shrug by Bloch some time ago. Mirella’s black shrug style M1105 is slightly looser in the arms for increased ease of movement and a more casual look. This warm-up also features thumbholes at the wrists for security no matter your port de bras. The long arms are great for a slight bunching. Get cozied up by pairing this piece with similarly bunchy legwarmers.

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Inspiration: Nicole Ciapponi

At 16,* SFB corps de ballet dancer Nicole Ciapponi is only just beginning her professional career, but she captured the attention of dedicated ballet fans years ago. National attention initially revved up for a young teenaged Ciapponi when videos of her superb performances of demanding variations like second shade in La Bayadere, second peasant from Swan Lake’s pas de trois and a tough contemporary ballet piece set to Bach’s enrapturing Cello Suite No.1 in G were posted on YouTube.

Canadian-born Nichole was initially trained in Surrey, British Columbia, and in 2007 spent a year at the Goh Ballet Academy. At 15 in 2008, she moved to the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. Ms. Ciapponi accepted a traineeship with SFB the following fall, and was invited to join the corps de ballet in early 2010.

In addition to passing all RAD exams with distinction and earning the solo seal at 14, medal placements at international ballet competitions punctuated Nichole’s final training years. To name just a few, she won a silver at the Genee IBC, a top twelve distinction at Youth American Grand Prix in New York and a gold at the Dance World Cup. She was awarded full scholarships to all of her summer programs, which included Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, San Fransisco Ballet School and Pacific Northwest Ballet School.

Reviews for Ciapponi by Bay Area balletomanes have been very positive so far, particularly for her performance in William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. In an interview earlier this month with Geri Jeter of the California Literary Review, she called it her favorite ballet to work on this year and said, “It was truly amazing to have the opportunity to perform this piece and hope that I can perform it again in the near future.” So do we, Ms. Ciapponi, so do we!

*It is very possible that Ciapponi has turned 17 by the time of this post.

What’s in a (Ballet School) Name?

Whether it’s alphabet soup – SAB, ABT-JKO, SFB, PNB, BBS  – or one-name-celebrity-style – Kaatsban, Joffrey, Rock – major U.S.-based ballet schools often attract young auditionees by their name alone. But what is the actual worth of attending a big-name school? Will it help in your chances to dance professionally? Let’s do a reality check.

The most common misperception about ballet training that I encounter is the idea that attending at a “big-name” school will make or break whether the dancer will be able to secure a professional contract. This is simply not the case. But in order to understand why this is and what can make attending a famous school good, you first need to understand the process of auditioning for a professional ballet company.

The primary concern of most artistic directors when auditioning potential company members is the auditionees dancing ability, plain and simple. For serious consideration for a company position, you will usually need to get invited to a closed audition or a company class. The first step is to send an audition tape package, which may be very similar to an SI audition package, or to attend an open call. Whether you attend a cattle-call (open call) or send a DVD, the primary focus of the initial cut is your dance ability. More often than not, your résumé will just get a quick glance or perhaps not be reviewed at all before that cut.

Once you have auditioned live and in person, the AD (or more likely, the ballet master or mistress), will choose who they would like to speak to or see again. It is usually at this point that only those résumés will be reviewed with any real attention. What’s important to realize from this process is that the résumé is not something you want to count on for getting your foot in the door. The chances of it getting more than a passing glance in the initial stages are very, very small. (That said, your résumé is still an extremely important part of your audition package that should be planned carefully.)

So what’s the point of attending an expensive, famous school in a far-away city if it can’t guarantee you a job – or at least an audition? As you hopefully realized from the audition description, this is all about your dance ability. A high level of technique, artistry and quality of movement are what artistic directors want to see – and a big-name school just might get you there… or it might not.

You see, elite ballet schools across the country, whether big or small, have individualized strengths, features and areas of focus. One school might have small, mostly classical classes that focus on artistry and expression, while another school might have large classes where competition for attention and an apititude in a wide range of dance genres are required. A shy dancer that dreams of performing classic story ballets may not thrive at all in the latter school, but could potentially blossom and find her full potential in the former. The opposite might be true for an outgoing, naturally expressive dancer who is interested in exploring contemporary ballet or mixed-rep ballet companies.

Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s not at all about the name, it’s about the quality of instruction and finding the learning environment that will best accellerate your dance abilities. What you need at the end of the day is not some mythically ideal resume, it’s an ability to perform in class, auditions and on the stage very, very well. And the school that is going to help you do that is the school you should want to attend, regardless of how recognizable their name is.

In fact, name-recognition can and does prevent some young dancers from getting the best possible dance education. I’ve unfortunately seen more than one student pass on opportunities to train at smaller schools with great reputations for personal mentoring and instead jump on offers at glossy, national-level SIs or satellites. Sadly, these students quickly got lost in the crowd and came home challenged, but not as improved and inspired as they should have been.

There is another important caveat about the largest schools that is important to take into calculation. Whether intentionally or not, they will often take credit for a beautifully trained dancer who they did not truly create. That happens most often when an advanced dancer from a small-town school goes to a major school for a final year of finishing. (Remember Center Stage?) In these cases, the bigger school might indeed transform the dancer from a student into an artist (which the smaller school perhaps could not) but usually have nothing to do with the meat and potatoes of the dancer’s training. Recognizable names attract lots of auditionees, so that some schools are able to recruit dancers that are virtually fully trained and place them in their highest levels. (This is also a great testament to the quality of many smaller schools across the U.S.) Ask yourself how many of the advanced dancers were actually trained by the school’s lower classes.

Finally, for company schools, be sure you are not improperly associating the reputation of an affiliated company to the school. Certain companies only rarely hire from their own school, so that the company could be a completely unrelated picture of the school’s capabilities. You should also consider that a regional company’s school might provide more realistic opportunity for future employment than a national one.

Should all famous schools be avoided as expensive wastes of time? Of course not! Well-known schools have the very important benefit of attracting the very, very best staff. What’s important, though, is to take into consideration the many other factors that are important for good training. There are definitely U.S. schools that have built their huge reputations by simply offering only the highest quality training, however you still must be aware that not all programs are right for all dancers. Think carefully about what you need as a dancer, and then find out where to get it!

Dear CBT: Choosing My Daughter’s SI

Dear CBT,

In choosing between the NYC and Georgia Joffrey, Point Park University and CPYB, what do you recommend? My 14 year old will also be doing a 3 week instensive at her own studio in August, so no summer vacation for us if we send her to CPYB’s 5 week program.  How would you rank these options?  I don’t want her to over exert herself, but I’d like her to make notable progress this summer.  Thank you for any insight you might offer.

Undecided Parent

Dear Undecided:

I received a bounceback from the email address you provided, which is why your message is being posted.  I understand your desire for your daughter to improve without overexerting herself, but keep in mind that she’s probably not going to improve much if she does not push beyond her comfort zone a bit! The whole idea of summer intensives is that the dancers, devoid of school obligations, can devote double or triple the time to dance that they normally would. Of course you do not want to push her past what her health can handle, but six or eight weeks of dance will not over exert the average healthy dancer if they are kept properly fed and hydrated.

The conservatory-style programs you are considering are all very good. Your selection should be guided by your goals for your daughter. I will not rank the programs for you, but I will let you know what I know of them so you can decide which one aligns best with your daughter’s goals. Please read through Choosing Your SI and take full advantage of the resources I link there.

Point Park is a small program that has actually has had some success sending its year-round students into professional work on Broadway and in modern dance, though I don’t know if its had any success training professional ballet dancers. I understand that its summer session is comparable in intensity and hours per day to many bigger name programs. I don’t think dancers as young as your daughter can board with the other students there, however. Joffrey NYC has a great ballet program, though they also require modern and jazz. NYC is the most revered location. CPYB has an excellent ballet-focused program that also offers other classes but is really known for honing classical technique in ballet students.

Good luck with your selection. I hope your daughter has a wonderful summer.

Ballet in Film: Male Voices

A new documentary is in the works from Rhee Gold of The Gold School. This six-part series, titled Male Voices will feature the stories of nine teenaged male dancers. The makers of Male Voices followed the young dancers for three months of their training and heard candid narratives about their daily life as well as issues facing male dancers today.

The Male Voices series will premier on March 18 on DanceLifeTV.com with additional episodes each Friday. Don’t miss this important new dance film!