Inspiration: Sharon Wehner

Sharon Wehner has been delighting audiences with her beautiful technique and dramatic, intense interpretations since 1995 at the Colorado Ballet. A California native, the 5-foot dynamo trained with the Studio Roxander Academy, San Francisco Ballet School, San Jose/Cleveland Ballet School and pre-professional company San Jose Dance Theatre. Described as energetic and riveting to watch, Wehner was promoted to Principal of Colorado Ballet in 1999. This spring she is dancing concurrently with the Oakland Ballet Company, with whom she just completed a successful run of their exciting premier program, Forwards!, which featured contemporary ballet and visual arts collaborations.

The repertory of the Colorado Ballet includes an enormous variety for a company of its size, including full-length classical standards, many full-length modern classics such as Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast and Dracula, and an assortment of works by twentieth and twenty-first century choreographers like Tudor, Balanchine, de Mille, Forsythe, Wheeldon and Liang. These opportunities seem to have provided a superb palette for the Wehner to express herself and grow to become the capable artist that she is.

If you can’t make it to a performance of Colorado or Oakland, you can find beautiful shots of Ms. Wehner and other Colorado Ballet dancers in the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Book of the Colorado Ballet, available here.

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The Truth About Company Auditions

Ballet is full of risks. Giselle lift, anyone? Hopefully most are calculated, as in, Yes, You learned to balance in retiré before trying to pirouette so you are less likely to fall on your tuckus. But some risks in ballet are not as easily controlled. For example: pursuing a professional career. Starting a professional dance career is very tough for most dancers. Most dancers do not win international competitions and go on to their dream company at 17. Most dancers are … average. Not average as in, “blah” – Average as in, pretty darn comparable to the thousands of other dancers that have made it far enough to realistically be prepared for company auditions. At that level nearly everyone has top technique and performance ability, making it very tough to stand out.

Auditioning for companies was the scariest part of my training, and I am not alone in that experience. But it was also extremely exciting and memorable. In fact, I probably should have kept a journal to share with my younger dancing sister before she began auditions. Well I never did, but another young dancer named Tara Gragg (pictured in Balanchine’s Rubies, above) created a blog diary about her auditions from this spring. Her goal is to move from an un-paid traineeship and subsequent apprenticeship with City Ballet of San Diego to the almighty Paid Contract. Tara writes about the excitement and stress of auditioning, the high rejection rates, her thoughts on the possibilities of living in various cities and the hard truths of decisions made by the companies. Check out her musings and follow her beautifully-crafted blog with the cute name, Gnarly Toeboots.

Gnarly Toeboots is now on the blogroll here at right. If you want to start reading it from the first post, click here. Also, I’d like you to take special note that even though this dancer trained locally for most of her career and earned a college degree, she is keeping up quite well with her audition peers, thanks to smart planning, good training and hard work.

BalletScoop Visits Dance Advantage for a Guest Article!

If you aren’t familiar with Dance Advantage, you are in for a treat today. I just contributed a teacher’s article to DA about my favorite ballet movies – I hope you’ll check it out!

Nichelle Strzepek makes sure to keep great dance articles coming at Dance Advantage. There’s something for everyone – teachers, choreographers, students and professionals. Click around while you’re there and you’ll find technique tips, dance history, dance news, dance games and way more for students. I always keep a link to this great site on my blogroll for you guys. Enjoy!

Bolshoi Ballet to Hold Auditions

I never thought I would see this in my lifetime, but the Bolshoi Ballet is holding company auditions for the first time in its 235 year history. Invitation is required. To assist dancers, Youth American Grand Prix is now accepting submissions from YAGP alumni for recommendation consideration.

I think we can safely say that this is an unprecedented historical development in the dance world. Sincerest merde to all participants.

Popcorn and Ballet!

Can’t make it to the Palias Garnier to see the Paris Opera? Head over to your local movie theater and you may be able to see Aurelie Dupont or José Martinez performing your favorite ballet! That’s right, everyone is buzzing about Emerging Pictures exciting arts project, Ballet in Cinema, which brings world-class ballets and companies into local movie theaters.

Check out the main page to search for a participating theater near you. Sadly, as much as I love the opera, any theater that is already working with the Metropolitan Opera’s program, The Met: Live in HD, will not enter a contract with Emerging Pictures. Considering that Emerging Pictures not only offers ballet but opera and Shakespeare too, I’m going to root for Emerging Pictures on this one. If your local theaters do not show Ballet in Cinema, you can suggest a theater to Emerging Pictures so they can try to get their contract into your region. You can also encourage your local movie theatre to consider showing Ballet in Cinema.

Have you been to an Emerging Pictures movie theater production? Tell us about it in the comments!

Dear CBT: How to Fix Popping Hips?

Dear CBT,

I used to dance. When I was about thirteen I got less serious, and I quit at fourteen. I am sixteen now and getting back into ballet, and an old problem I had is still around and annoying me.

When I extend my leg to the front, there is a point at which my hip will pop. It is not a subtle pop, but one that can make my leg shake and jar me out of alignment slightly for a split second. It’s not violent, but it isn’t gentle. (It doesn’t hurt, it just feels like stuff is getting rearranged. The pop is mostly felt from underneath but isn’t quite in the butt.)

I don’t remember having this problem when I was young and my hips were narrow, so I somewhat suspect that this has to do with the different angle after my hips widened, if that makes any difference. I don’t know if I should be stretching, strengthening, or both, or how to get at the muscles most effectively.

All I do now is sit on the floor with “butterfly legs,” lean forward with a straight back, and slowly straighten my knees while trying to delay the pop as long as I can. The right leg always goes first. I can get it to about half a demi plié’s worth of bend with effort, but just beyond that there is a pop.

What should I be doing to minimize this problem? It’s distracting and uncomfortable, and I feel like it inhibits extension that my flexibility would otherwise allow.

Thanks for your time. 🙂

– Snap, Crackle, Pop

Dear Snap,

I answered this question a while back in email, but I am posting a modified response now due to a recent increase in very similar questions. Hip popping is all too common in dancers. It is usually related to technique problems and overcompensation for a technical weakness through improper placement or alignment. Most of the cases I’ve seen have been tendon rolling over bone. Untreated, it can go from painless annoyance to painful, inflammed hindrance.

The most common diagnosis for this issue is “snapping hip syndrome”, which usually refers to popping on the outside of the leg when the iliotibial (IT) band snaps over the greater trochanter. Massaging the length of the IT band with a foam roller, careful stretching and (if needed) physical therapy can usually correct this problem. I personally battle with this issue, though it goes away when I care for it how I am supposed to!

Hips are complex systems, and sometimes snapping occurs at the front or, as in this case, behind the hip. Again massage and careful stretching can assist by releasing nerve and myofacial tension, though CAUTION must be taken not to massage the direct front portion of the hip without professional assistance, as this area can be very delicate and may be seriously harmed with improper pressure!

Clicking underneath or at the back of the hip to me indicates a possibly more serious issue, as this would imply development of a disability deeper within the hip socket, not around the outside of it. Forcing turnout could cause this sort of issue. In order to better understand these and other variations of hip popping, please read through these articles:

http://dancers.invisionzone.com/index.php?showtopic=22506.

http://www.theballetblog.com/q-a-a/newsletters/117-is-it-normal-for-a-dancers-body-to-crack-and-pop.html

http://blog.thebodyseries.com/uncategorized/16-dancing-smart-newsletter-62008

http://blog.thebodyseries.com/hips-knees/3-dancing-smart-newsletter-122807

http://blog.thebodyseries.com/uncategorized/462-snapping-at-hip

http://blog.thebodyseries.com/hips-knees/379-hip-pops-sounds-of-trouble

http://blog.thebodyseries.com/hips-knees/14-14

I recommend that you also have this page of anatomy handy in order to better understand the info:

http://students.clinicalbodyworkers.com/students/frame_page/muscle_chapter_3_hips.htm

Bottom line, I definitely recommend that you get a professional medical opinion on this from someone that has dealt with dancers before so they can determine exactly what movements are contributing and what technique problems you have that are encouraging the problem. Also, make your teacher fully aware of the issue. S/he should be able to work with you and your doctor to spot alignment and technique issues that may be contributing and help determine whether there is some greater anatomical problem.

Above all, listen to your body. These clicks and pops are direct feedback that your body is being harmed. Please don’t wait until your are in pain to figure out how to stop a damaging progression.

Inspirations for Late Beginners

Good teachers are careful to caution teen beginners and young dancers generally on the harsher realities of professional prospects combined with beginning “late”, as we very well should. But today I’d like to spend a moment to highlight some great late-beginner success stories of our day. (Female dancers often encounter a higher standard of technique in the professional world and require more years of preparation than men, so we’ll focus on ballerinas here. Also, when you read that a dancer began “formal” or “serious” training at a certain age, that usually indicates that they took recreational dance classes before that.)

Recently highlighted on Dancing With the Stars (a show that recently has recently done a nice job promoting classical dance and its relevance to modern entertainment), Patricia Zhou began serious dance training at about 13 years old. Now 17, Ms. Zhou has made a splash in the international competitions and climbed all the way to the professional ranks of her dream company, The Royal Ballet. Her extraordinary gifts coupled with dedication, hard work and luck have catapulted her into a world that her parents would have had her forego for academics, making the Zhou a testament to passion and perserverance. Enjoy this clip of her on national television:

Kristi Boone, soloist with ABT, also began at thirteen. She had natural facility for ballet’s demands and talks about her first experiences in this ad for Gaynor Minden.

Superstar principal of New York City Ballet Wendy Whelan didn’t start serious training until relatively late, though she did take dance as a youngster. You can listen to her talk about her training path here.

Vannesa Sah, of the tech-savvy pre-professional company Anaheim Ballet, didn’t begin ballet until college. She has some lovely words of encouragement and advice for late-starters here.

Recently retired darling of The Royal Ballet Darcy Bussell began her formal training at the school at White Lodge at 13. Bussell did have some prior dance training then. Her epic career has been an inspiration to aspiring ballerinas of all levels.

Carmen Corella,  Artistic Director and principal dancer with the recently founded Corella Ballet Castilla y León, began her training at around 13 as well. After a successful career reaching to a soloist position at ABT, Corella followed her brother, ABT principal Angel Corella to found their new company with a little help from another later beginner you may have heard of, Natalia Makarova.

Most recently seen in the national campaign for BlackBerry, Misty Copeland is not only a late beginner, having started at 13, but is also the first African-American in two decades to achieve soloist rank at American Ballet Theatre. She has also significantly helped broaden acceptable and appreciated body-types in professional ballet. Clearly Ms. Copeland has multiple broken barriers in the ballet community through her undeniable excellence.

Naturally, I am still going to caution you that a professional contract is a mighty goal even for a female dancer who began at a proper age for it! But like Vanessa Sah, you can certainly find a happy ending for your dance training if your goals are to learn how to express yourself enjoyably through movement in a challenging classical vocabulary. Or would that be a happy beginning?

Update: A reader has pointed out that Zhou’s own résumé indicates that she attended a summer program in 2005 (six years ago) and has taken many Cecchetti exams. I generally try to respect artists wishes to exclude training that they feel was not of a level sufficient to designate it as part of their education. While Zhou indicates that she attended summer dance camp in 2005, I would be suspect of any summer dance program with the word “camp” in it. In fact, the current program is advertised as less than two weeks of instruction.

Zhou does not mention any other ballet training on her resume before Kirov in 2007, so I have chosen to respect her implication that whatever took place before then was too low-quality to have influenced her career to any possible degree. In fact, in this article, Zhou discusses that she didn’t even know that Sleeping Beauty was a ballet, leaving one to wonder if her original school did more harm than anything. As you know, it is much harder to undo bad training than learn from scratch. That said, I do not know anything about her former school personally, so feel free to research it (named in that article) and decide for yourself. I’m also sorry to say that from what I have witnessed, Cecchetti exams in the US do not necessarily provide any indication of whether a student has learned ballet. I have seen many passing students who were wholly pedestrian. Read this post on BalletTalk to understand more about the risks of poor schools, even those who may talk of their Cecchetti exams. This is an important topic that probably deserves its own post, but that will have to wait for another day! The reader has brought a very important issue to the table, and I hope I have done the matter justice for the time being.