COVID-19: Training in Captivity

I didn’t think I’d write on this blog again, certainly not under these circumstances. First and foremost I want to wish all of you safety, security, and hope. Secondly I’m going to offer a little advice for the aspiring dancers out there trying to make sense of training at home at this difficult time.

A lot of free-to-watch and pay-to-watch classes have popped up during this time, particularly in the past week. Everyone from your local dance studio to the most acclaimed professional dancer seems to be offering something right now, while they also try to maintain their own technique and connection to the dance community. The options have become nearly overwhelming and that’s an amazing thing. But I’d like to offer a little note of caution to all of you trying your best to take advantage of this training time: Choose wisely.

Maybe that’s obvious to some of you, but even if you are thinking right now, “I found access to a professional dancer! This is everything I’ve dreamed of,” you might be surprised to hear me say that it’s really, really not that simple. The reason is this: professional dancers work their barre in very unique ways for their bodies and what they need – which is often dramatically different than what a student needs. A perfect example is that unbelievable talent Tamara Rojo.

I’m a huge a fan of Ms. Rojo – her work is a credit to the industry and no one should deny her talent, artistry, and technical ability. But if you watch any of her classes, you will see a myriad of significant technical problems that are easy to start mimicking if you are following along. These are not actually errors – only for Ms. Rojo! They reflect her professional level of working through her body and her style of work specifically. This barre can be great for a professional who does not need someone to observe and learn from. But if you are a student, I guarantee that if you return to class sporting some of her affectations and special movement style, you are going to have a heck of a time unlearning that stuff and it is going to set you back.

In addition, I’ve seen a lot of local dance teachers and less qualified supposedly professional dancers putting on classes as well. I’m sure their intention is good, but – Actually, let me appeal to you all directly: Why not use this time to encourage your dancers to learn from those better than you? Don’t record a half-baked barre in your living room with cats in the way and your poorly demonstrated port de bras and feel that you are doing the world a favor. Be honest with yourself about your limitations and the opportunity here. Use this time to provide your dancers exposure to the kind of training that you should be hoping they can one day have in person. Some of the best dance coaches, artistic directors, and trainers in the world now have classes posted online. You can even do them together with your class. Don’t hold your students back in this way, I’m begging you. If you’re a professional dancer, tell the students out there to make sure they follow good training habits, and talk openly about what you are altering which they should not necessarily copy.

If you’re a student or teacher looking for the best of what’s out there, and trying to avoid the clutter, here are a few recommendations:

YAGP is Upon Us!

It’s that time of year again when young dance talent from around the globe converge on New York City to compete in the largest international student dance competition in the world, the Youth America Grand Prix.

With hundreds of thousands of scholarship dollars on the line, these more than 1,000 dancers and their coaches have been working all year, often multiple years, to showcase their best work. Chosen from among many thousands who auditioned in the United States, Belgium, France, Italy, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Japan, and China, these remaining dancers hope to earn their place in one of the many top schools and companies that will be scouting throughout the event.

Featuring Gala events at Lincoln Center and 30 countries represented in the 2017 Finals, the schedule for this week’s culmination includes:

  • April 12 – YAGP Final Round
  • April 13 – ‘Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow’ Gala
  • April 14 – ‘Julie Bocca: Tribute to a Dance Legend’ Birthday Celebration with International Stars

To call the series star-studded is a vast understatement, as dozens upon dozens of legendary ballerinas and danseurs will be in attendance with many performing in the Galas. And you can be sure to truly see the stars of tomorrow, considering that over 300 YAGP alumni are now dancing with companies around the world like ABT, NYCB, Ailey, Paris Opera, Royal, Stuttgart, Dutch National, and the list goes on. It’s not hard to see why:

A few tickets to these events remain available to the YAGP festivities and can be purchased at https://davidhkochtheater.com. Can’t make it to NY? Subscribe and watch events unfold on youtube at https://www.youtube.com/user/vamproductions.

 

2017 Summer Intensives – Top US Ballet Programs

Credit: Rosalie O'Connor

Credit: Rosalie O’Connor

Happy Turkey Month! And what a busy month it is – Nutcracker rehearsals, finals and the start of audition season.

Last year BalletScoop discontinued the big list of all summer intensives. This was a tough decision, and I know how many of you enjoyed it and relied on it year to year. In the future I hope to collaborate with a colleague of mine to develop a truly interactive and more easily maintainable database of programs (stay tuned for more on that next year)!

In the meantime I’ll continue share with you links to the finest programs that every dancer should know. As far as these schools go, if you are within driving distance of an audition location, don’t think twice about – go!

 

American Ballet Theatre (NY, AL, TX, CA)

School of American Ballet (NY/CA)

Bolshoi Ballet (NY/CT) – Click here to learn about the BBS SI approach.

Pacific Northwest Ballet (WA)

San Francisco Ballet (CA) – This year’s site has had a beautiful overhaul!

Ellison Ballet (NY)

Boston Ballet (MA) – Also featuring a new updated website!

Houston Ballet (TX)

French Academie (NY)

Gelsey Kirkland Academy (NY)

Kirov Academy (DC)

The Rock School (PA)

Need to find a regional program? It’s worth looking at the Pointe Magazine list.  Keep in mind that it’s based purely on opt-in paid placement (so Pointe won’t list programs that don’t pay them money), but it’s still a solid starting point. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, feel free to drop me a line in the comments below and I’ll help you out if I can!

A Dancer’s Musician: Christopher Ferris

Two years ago, I tweeted about and backed a Kickstarter project by Christopher Ferris. Ferris, an artist, composer and performer with a gift for improvisation, works with the Evergreen City Ballet school and training company as an accompanist. I absolutely adore Christopher’s story on his first experience playing for a ballet class –  it was part of the first promotion video about the project here. Ferris became in time a dancer’s musician, able to create just the right mood and perfect tempo for every step and moment.

Working with dancers eventually inspired Ferris to create his own class album, and during the funding push he made some nifty videos where he thanked his backers to his own live music. It was just delightful to hear my own name. Sadly, the project did not reach its goal – but Ferris didn’t let that stop him. Like the true artist he is, Ferris doubled down his commitment to his work.

Today, Christopher publishes this inaugural album, Music for Ballet Class: Syncopé, available utterly for free to listen to here, or for purchase on CD or MP3 files. This body of work represents an enormous effort by the artist, the team at Lake Union Recording, photographer Tim Aguero, designer Ryan Obermeier, and the artistic staff of Evergreen City Ballet, including two former principal dancers with Pacific Northwest Ballet. Plus, it’s beautifully played on a spectacular concert grand piano.

It’s beyond generous for this music to be available free of charge to listen to. Check out the album, and if you like it – for gosh sake’s support the arts and these artists by ponying up for the CD, MP3, or iTunes version!

Congratulations to Christopher and all the artists involved in the making of this beautiful ballet class album. May you inspire dancers and dance teachers around the world.

Dancewear en l’air: K.D. Dance Gets a Reboot

IMG_2252_876701f3-08ae-4c01-bbf9-fb39800d3b1e_grandeK.D. Dance sweaters and roll-down tights were all the rage for dancers in the 90s, but over the years lost the market to bigger names like Bloch and sports brands like UnderArmour. Now they’re back for your consideration with a reboot and a new website.

K.D. remains focused on  craftsmanship, materials, and name-dropping (the first item I clicked on referenced its use in a recent Beyonce photoshoot), but returns with new photography and more of an American Apparel-y type feel. Their new product line is also much more streamlined and focused on particular colors, versus the formerly broad list of endlessly similar pieces available in countless hues that used to take forever to sift through. Is this a better strategy for the dancewear maker? Only time will tell.

K.D. Dance products are made to order, so if you buy from their site you are looking at some wait time, similar to Eleve. If you’ve never purchased a K.D. Dance product, you really can’t go wrong with the 03 sweater, a classic piece that’s an absolute compliment machine.

Misty Copeland & Lauren Anderson Reminisce

It’s always a pleasure to see to two great ballerinas of our time talking about their journey to the stage, but even more so when that journey represents a historical shift in national attitudes about race and art. Enjoy this brief look at the recent Houston interview of Misty Copeland and Lauren Anderson as they offer heartfelt insights to the struggles that diverse dancers face and how they have gracefully handled the challenges life has presented.

I was very fortunate to spend some brief time with the lovely Lauren Anderson last year, so I am particularly thrilled that her stellar career is being remembered in the process of Misty’s celebrations. But I can’t wait for the day when diversity in the performing arts world is so normal that it’s not even newsworthy.

Upcoming Ballet Events!

KMSugar2Haven’t had much time to post since moving to NYC, but I have two great ballet events to announce! First, for those of you who are fans of Kathryn Morgan’s two youtube channels, her website, and her prior career at NYCB, you’ll be delighted to hear that her long awaited return to the stage is not far off! The elegant Ms. Morgan will be performing for one night only in Cleveland at PlayhouseSquare. An Evening with Kathryn Morgan will be and intimate showing of the best excerpts from ballet history plus a newly choreographed piece created on Kathryn Morgan. Mark your calendar for Saturday, September 19, 2015, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are VIP only at $100 a person. A steal if you ask me – it includes pre- and post-show receptions plus a meet and greet with Ms. Morgan. 

Separately, those of you in Connecticut won’t want to miss the upcoming performance of Giselle by The Hartt School’s Community Division. Like hundreds of summer intensive programs across the country and globe, The Hartt School offers a performance opportunity to its students at the end of the course, but in this case it is uniquely a full-length ballet. On top of that, this staging has been directed by the talented Xiomara Reyes of American Ballet Theatre. The performances will take place on July 25th, 2015 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in the Millard Auditorium at Hartt, 200 Bloomfield Ave in West Hartford, CT.

If you attend either of these shows, I hope you’ll post about your experience in the comments below! If you can’t attend these events, treat yourself to a ballet in your local community and support the arts wherever you are.

Dancewear en l’air: Custom Leotards at Miss Jones Dance

il_570xN.733287596_k1dgReady for spring yet? From an aspiring dancer down under, check out these lovely leotards accented with your choice of a variety of beautiful floral and solid springtime fabrics.

Miss Jones Dance is the place on Etsy to find all the cuts and options currently available from this Aussie fashionista.

My favorite leo on the site is this beautiful keyhole front style with a cutout back. The white lycra bottom can be topped with one of ten beautiful patterns. Just in time for spring!

Building a Dance Studio

2009.0142A number of students and colleagues of mine have recently decided to open their own studios. This was never my goal – I love the freedom of teaching without worrying about the hassle of owning a building or harassing parents for their tuition payments – but if your goal is to own your own studio one day, one of the biggest concerns will be how to build it properly.

Rory Foster’s excellent book, Ballet Pedagogy: The Art of Teaching (highly recommended for any aspiring ballet teacher!) has some wonderful tips on this as well as John White’s Vaganova-focused Teaching Classical Ballet. White has some useful comments on studio structure, making sure you have ample space for students to do homework, parents to observe, etc. If you are considering opening a dance studio, do yourself a favor and take a look at what these two books have to say about it.

For the dancing space itself, there are many demands: tap shoes, ballet shoes, pointe shoes, rosin lovers, bare feet… We all know what a great dance studio looks like – big windows, wonderful lighting, high ceilings, sprung floors covered in marley and preferably pretty and stylish! If you haven’t danced in one, go find one and do it. It’s like nothing else. One of my favorite studios that I’ve seen (only in photographs sadly, since it no longer exists) is the studio of famed New Orleans teacher Harvey Hysell, pictured above.

Fortunately there are guidelines available that go beyond the guesswork and which provide specifics for measurements, structure, and fabrication. If you are hoping to build your own dance studio one day, visit the website of the British National Dance Teachers Association, or NDTA, and take a look at their Studio Specifications. After years of experience, they have thought of virtually everything! Ventilation and HVAC, piano space, acoustics, lighting, accessibility, barres and tons of details in between. Lucky enough to have an architect? Harlequin Floors has a whole resource section just for them.

If you have dreams of owning your own school one day, make it the best it can be! Having and safe, beautiful, spacious dance space is incredibly inspiring for dancers and will make a big difference in their experience in your studio.

 

New UK College Dancer Competition by Dance Direct

dancedirectUK dance retailer Dance Direct is launching a competition to help one talented dancer with dancewear gifts and media exposure. To enter, students must be enrolled in a certified dance course at a UK college or university and are required to send in a video of themselves performing classical ballet.

The winner will receive £250 worth of Dance Direct vouchers to stock up on dancewear as well as a featured blog about themselves on the Dance Direct website. This will be shared to 86,000 Facebook fans of Dance Direct, and over 4000 Twitter followers.

The winner of this competition will also be named the ‘UK’s best ballet dancer’ by Dance Direct. More details on this opportunity are available here: http://blog.dancedirect.com/2014/04/11/student-ballet-dancer/

Life as an NYCB Apprentice

Are you in love with all things Balanchine? Do you adore NYCB and dream of joining the company one day? Then you have to watch the AOL Originals series “city.ballet”, available on youtube.

There’s a lot to criticize about the School of American Ballet and the dancers of New York City Ballet, but the Balanchine style, the school and the company live on – thrive – with good reason. For some it’s the only choice. Balanchine’s choreography is all that’s worth pursuing in ballet. Other find it later in life and search for spinoff companies (like PNB and Maimi) where they can have a chance to perform the work without having attended SAB. But if an NYCB apprenticeship is in your dreams, SAB is the only path and here is your sneek peek at what you can expect from life of as an NYCB apprentice and everything after.

PS – Do you love the swishy skirts on many of the female dancers? Check out the BalletScoop tutorial for the classic SAB diy skirt.

My Liebster Blog Award

Sincerest thank you to dearest UK blogger NimbleMouse for nominating me for the ubiquitous yet mysterious Liebster Blog Award! For those of you unfamiliar (and for my 5 nominees), this is a delightfully unofficial award bestowed from one blogger to another, which requires the following:

1. You must link back to the person who nominated you.
2. You must answer the 11 questions given by the person who nominated you.
3. You must post 11 random facts about yourself.
4. You have to pick 5 (or 3 or 11, depending whom you ask) nominees (sometimes with a follower limit) to answer your questions.
5. You can’t nominate the person who nominated you.
6. You must tell the nominees that they have been nominated by you.

So here goes!

1. Which blogs inspired you to start your own blog? Why?

I actually didn’t read blogs before starting BalletScoop! I was inspired to learn how to make a website and maybe learn HTML, so I figured I’d play around with WordPress. Then I realized it would be a good way to post information that I don’t get time to tell my students during class, so I decided to make it ballet-focused. I created the name classicalballetteacher (real original, lol), thinking I would just change it to something cooler later on. It became the url for two years before I finally ponied up the funds to get a “real” domain!

Since then, I’ve created and written content for many sites for friends both in and outside of dance, including www.liveoakdance.comhttp://nolra.wordpress.com, and the soon to be published total revision next month of www.bodyexpressionsdance.com.

2. Favourite quote?

Oh man, so many good ones. You’ve put me on the spot! But here’s one of my favorites:

Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are great because of their passion. – Martha Graham

3. What do you like to read about on other blogs?

Ballet of course, but also many other things like classical music, art, science, and video games.

(Many people who know me from dance don’t know that by day I work at a video game studio where I hire programmers, artists and game designers. I’ve been a gamer since childhood, and I also have an blog on a video game industry site for professional game developers.)

4. Where do you want to be in 5 years time?

Doing more of the same, but hopefully better at all of it! I love my current life. I have a wonderful boyfriend and apartment with two adorable kittens. Wherever they are is where I want to be!

One thing I want to change is that I am currently working on getting back in dance shape. A number of injuries have been holding me back, but many are now heading into recovery, so I hope to be taking my own classes regularly (so yes, possibly teaching a lot less…) for my own enjoyment. I’ll never be able to do what I was doing at 18 or 19, but I just enjoy taking class for it’s own sake. I absolutely freaking love moving to music. There’s just nothing like it!

5. What is your dream job?

Hm… tester for a dance video game? (Which is funny because I don’t play dance video games at home. Also, the testers make no money!)

At one point in life, I definitely would have said principal dancer for blah blah blah company, but I don’t feel that way anymore. I liked performing well enough, but I’ve discovered with maturity that like dancing for myself a whole heck of a lot more than for an audience. Also, I would have hated the financial constraints!

6. How are you feeling?

Pretty good overall!

I love my life. However because I do so many things, I feel like there’s never enough time to devote to everyone and everything in it (my students, my blog readers for dance, my blog readers for games, my day job, my boyfriend, my cats, my apartment which always needs cleaning – thanks cats, my body, my mind, my soul…) So I am very aware right now that I have too many commitments, so I’m not able to do any one thing as well as I feel I should.

7. What is your favourite thing about blogging?

Getting to share my opinion without having to get anyone’s approval! After teaching for so long, I have found that there is no school where you can have all things done your way all the time and where everyone agrees with your philosophies, so there’s real value for me in being able to have a little world of my own where it’s all based in my opinion.

There’s a lot big responsibility there to make sure my facts are correct and that my opinions are based in correct facts, but I like the challenge that presents to make sure I’m on top of my game and a respectable authority on whatever I’m talking about.

8. Who is your idol?

Brenda Romero

9. What is your favourite thing to do?

Enjoy a great feel-good ballet class or video game. Just had a spectacular class at Alonzo King LINES with Sandra Chinn – visit her class if you’re in SF. Right now, my favorite game is the gorgeous Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch by Studio Ghibli and Namco Bandai Games.

10. Do you have any regrets?

Not learning how to code. Actually, I just signed up for Code Academy, which offers baby-level coding courses online for free. Programming is the most promising career of the future, and its fascinating. Too many people avoid it because they think it’s impossibly hard. If you can learn other stuff, you can learn coding.

I wouldn’t call it easy, but will be one of the most useful and rewarding things you do. It’s too late for me to want to pursue it as a career, but I want to learn HTML eventually so I can do more nifty stuff with BalletScoop for you guys!

11. What makes you  smile every day?

My amazing boyfriend, Brendan, who makes me feel so great about myself and taught me to enjoy life! Our two delightful kittens, Ponyo (there’s another Studio Ghibli reference) and Robin (as in Nightwing, as in Batman’s sidekick, naturally) are nonstop smile-generators. Also my coworkers at Gameloft are hilarious, and that makes work stress so much easier. Finally, my students. They always have something unexpectedly funny to say, and they help me not take myself too seriously, thank god.

My 5 nominees! (who have probably already been nominated at some point, but too bad, answer anyway guys!) :

  1. Adult Beginner
  2. Henrik at Tights & Tiaras
  3. Dave at DaveTriesBallet
  4. Tara at GnarlyToeboots
  5. Steve at YouDanceFunny

And my questions (some stolen from NimbleMouse because she had some good ones!):

  1. How did you end up starting a blog?
  2. What was your first ballet class like?
  3. What do you love most about dance?
  4. What has been your favorite moment of your dance training or performing career so far?
  5. Who is your favorite (live or recorded) accompianist?
  6. What is your favorite piece of music you have performed to and why?
  7. Who is your idol in dance or in life?
  8. How are you feeling?
  9. What’s your favorite, I-feel-awesome dance class outfit?
  10. What’s a little known fact about you?
  11. When are you happiest?

Royal Ballet Student Prisca mediates on her final year in the lower school and the expectations she has placed on herself for success. This post is beautifully written and a must-read.

You Dance Funny, So Does Me

(Well, not literally behind the scenes as in backstage.)

There’s nothing like having the opportunity to observe the process that produces the final product and attending the dress rehearsal for American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake was pretty damn sweet. I purchased the incredibly inexpensive ticket through an exclusive deal for Mastercard holders, and first of all, the seats ended up being in the parterre section, which at the Metropolitan Opera House are the prime seats that cost way more than I could ever afford! So in addition to seeing how a high caliber ballet company rehearses, I also got to feel what it would be like to have buckets of money and splurge on the best that money can buy. Well, maybe quasi-best because I could have done without the tall lady in front of me (or the crabby one to her left), but I was too excited to be…

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