Tiler Peck – Destined to be a NYCB Ballerina

Tiler Peck’s story is like a movie. She is from Bakersfield, California and got her start dancing when she was young at her mother’s dance studio. Jazz technique was her favorite, but her mother encourage her to have a strong ballet base. At seven she began to take private classes with Bolshoi ballerina Alla Khaniashvili. Soon after, she began ballet classes in Santa Monica at Westside School of Ballet from former New York City Ballet (NYCB) principal Yvonne Mounsey and with other NYCB alum Colleen and Patricia Neary. She continued to do other performing arts activities such as acting and singing as a child, and with the help of her agent, Victoria Morris, Peck was also able to advance her career. Some of these career pushing activities included movies (I.e. Donny Darko, A Time for Dancing, and Geppetto), ballet performances such as Clara (en Pointe) in the the Radio City Spectacular at Universal Studios at ten, and Broadway in NYC at 11 in the revival of The Music Man. At thirteen her mentors, and NYCB alumni encouraged her to apply to the School of American Ballet. She was accepted and began her studies in NYC for two summers before moving to New York to study Ballet full-time. At New York City Ballet, one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world, she moved up the ranks quickly. In 2004 she joined as an apprentice. In 2005 as apart of the corp. In 2006 she was promoted to soloist. Finally, in 2009 she was moved up to a principal where continues to be today.  (All date and background information found through Dance Magazine’s “The Magnetic Tiler Peck” by Astrida Woods)

Her artistry in her dancing is breathe taking. Peck loses herself on stage in a work and has developed a musicality that is revered. She makes every port de bra, every pirouette, and each arabesque look natural and unhurried. Her presence within pieces such as Christopher Wheeldon’s Carousal or the Romantic duet in Jerome Robbin’s Fancy Free is storytelling that can make any ballet hater want to go see another. Peck’s story isn’t all sunshine and roses. Just like any artist she has had successes as well as set backs. In 2007, at eighteen, she broke her back and was out for six months. That kind of injury, and that length of time being out can be career ending. The loss of technique, flexibility, and the competition of up and coming ballerinas can put many injured dancers at a crossroad where they need to retire. Peck persevered, healed, and became more flexible, a stronger dancer, and developed a thought process of potential plans after dancing.

In the performing arts world there has been exploration among artists who continue to push boundaries as not only an artist, but continue to develop new ways to increase revenue streams and become more of a public face. In music you see artists crossing genres like Taylor Swift going from Country to Pop or even switching performing art styles like Kiesza going from being a professional dancer to a singer. In dance, it’s becoming more prevalent for professional ballet dancers to do other activities outside of their company contract. In Peck’s case she recently had the lead role in a new musical performed at the Kennedy Center called Little Dancer as well as did a six week run on Broadway with On The Town. Peck isn’t the only one in the ballet world doing cross over work. Other artists such as Robert Fairchild (led of Wheeldon’s Broadway Musical An American in Paris) and Megan Fairchild (On The Town). It doesn’t stop there either. Just like musical acts, they are starting to cash in on branding, like Peck with Body Wrappers Apparel, Misty Copland with under armor, and Lauren Froderman with Gatorade.  These crossovers are exciting because Ballet and dance in general is becoming more popular in society and not just looked as an elite art form.

If you look at Peck story it seemed that she was destined to be at NYCB. Her story also gives you insight on how a successful Ballerina gets to the top and understanding that sacrifice as a child is where it starts. Peck didn’t have a normal life. She pushed boundaries by being involved in all walks of the performing arts, left home at a young age, and had developed an understanding that she is not going to be a ballerina forever. For now, I look forward to continuing to see her breath taking performances around the world, as well as being a role model for mini ballerinas to look to for strength, guidance, and an understanding of the dance world.

Below you will find Tiler Peck’s insight and dancing on Balanchine’s TSCHAIKOVSKY PAS DE DEUX


Scooter Braun – Artist Manager for the Next Generation

Ariana_Grande_&_Scooter_BraunHow do I explain Scooter (Scott) Braun in four words? He is the man! He is thirty-three years old, he was named one of TIME Magazine’s 2013 “100 Most Influential People in the World” as well as been on Billboard’s 2013 “40 Under 40” list. He is not only an artist manager, but a friend, confidant, and father figure to his developing young artists. In an interview with The Complex he says, “My job is not to be the all-star quarterback, but to be the coach.” In the music business, at least of past artists I have read about like The Runaways, the Backstreet Boys, and N’SYNC, many managers take advantage of their artists. From taking large management fee cuts (Lou Pearlman) to exposing young artists to situations like drugs and alcohol (Kim Fowley) instead protecting them and being more of an authoritative or parent figure. Scooter Braun seems to be the complete opposite – someone to look up to, to respect, and will put you in your place if you are doing something stupid.

He has high standards for himself, his employees at SB Projects, and for his artists. He invests time, money, and energy in people. Braun has broken more new music acts than any other music executive in the last decade including, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, PSY, Carly Rae Jepsen, and most recently, Tori Kelly. Braun started as a party promoter at nineteen where artists such as Brittany Spears and Ludicrious attended. At twenty, he became VP of marketing at So So Def Records while a sophomore at Emory University in Atlanta. He ultimately dropped out of college while at So So Def and was fired from the company due to a dispute over the direction of the label.

At twenty-four, he started SB Projects. His Company philosophy is that everyone is family. His artists share the same family values and everyone has to get along. He understands that in this business and when managing young people they are going to make mistakes, and since they are growing up in the public eye, those mistakes are more difficult to deal with because everyone has an opinion about it. In The Complex Interview he said, “I’m not interested in the mistakes that people make. I’m interested in how they react to them.” Everyone makes mistakes whether they are kids or adults, but without them we can’t learn and grow.

I think one of the great things about Braun is that he doesn’t put limits on his capabilities. When people tell him that something is impossible he pushes even harder to prove the nay sayers wrong. When he discovered Bieber nobody thought it was going to work because he didn’t have a Disney or Nickelodeon kid’s show backing him. Now, the reach of Bieber’s social networks like Facebook and Twitter can speak to millions of people. According to an article in The New Yorker, in marketing terms, his reach would cost ten million dollars to replicate through conventional advertising methods. Since Bieber’s reach is so high Braun has him communicate and support other artists through his networks. This helps with cross promotion of artists and allows Bieber to have another stream of revenue.

Braun believes in the power of numbers, and the more support, the more potential artists have to be successful. In Forbes Magazine, Braun states, “as a music industry if we remain in competition we die.”  That line is kind of perfect because society is constantly in competition from job hunting to being in line for Christmas to get the hot new toy.  Instead Braun’s approach is support, believing in people, and giving back to others less fortunate through charity with every project and artist he handles.   This business is about getting an artist to say yes, respecting the consumer, making a viable product, getting people to see it, and telling a story that connects with society.  If you have that, success will follow.

Dance Studios – Choosing the Right One

Every dancer has a teacher that has inspired them to dance. From the time I was five years old to high school graduation at eighteen, I had gone to the same dance studio one town over. I had two teachers, who were mother and daughter that instilled my love of dance. Mary Carrow (daughter) and Joan Condlin’s (mother). Liverpool School of Dance was my second home. When I got into high school I was pretty much there every day of the week either taking class or helping as a teacher’s assistant.

Mary was the ballet, lyrical and jazz instructor. She had a grace to her that when she turned she could make it look easy and stop on a dime without any kind wobble. She had a knack for making dance patterns and phrases complicated, but they always looked beautiful on stage by intertwining dancers, developing levels and canons, and speed changes that brought in an audience. Joan had knowledge of tap that could rival anyone. She had been trained by the infamous Al Gilbert (professional tapper and choreographer). Lisa Henson was my lyrical solo instructor who believed I had a real talent and supported me where ever I was performing. We performed at dance competitions, traveled and participated in dance workshops, and developed a team orientated mentality with the other students I danced with in class.

So how do you know the studio you chose for your child is the right one? Firstly, I think a lot of parents push their kids into dance because they want a dream for them that they didn’t have as a child. At least these are a lot of the stories I hear from parents being a dance teacher. I think you as a parent need to first figure out if this is a commitment your child wants to make. Kids know what they like and have a lot more brain power then adults give them credit. Next comes the hard part – the research.

In small towns or big cities you would be surprised how many dance studios there are in thirty mile radius. I cannot stress this enough. Do your research. Check out the websites of the studios. See what kind of experience the instructors have that will be teaching your child not only currently, but as they get older. Go check out a class. In many cases studios will have open houses where instructors will be teaching classes throughout the day, you can meet and talk with the studios and faculty, and you have the ability to view the venue. These are all important aspects to consider when choosing a studio location.

Finally, every studio that you view is going to be expensive and it is a year commitment for not only the child but the parents. Unlike classes at a YMCA or a Boys and Girls Club where the sessions are ten or twelve weeks long, studio classes run from September until June. There are perks to being in a studio instead of a community facility, like consistency of the same children in class so the kids can form friendships, there is a recital at the end of the year along with various viewing days in class, and the student also begins to feel comfortable being with instructors they know and a facility that doesn’t change.

Finding a dance family that fits the needs of your family is important and that dance family can be a support system if your child decide to go to college for dance or make a decision to dance professionally. Also, know that if anything happens tragic or happy in your life that dance family will be there to help you pick up the pieces or join in the celebration. Either way it is important for you as a parent to do your research in the beginning.

The Runaways – Inspiration to Female Rockers

The Runaways redefined music with their all girl punk rock band.  A sound full of guitar solos, slamming bass, rebellious runawaysdrumming, and raw lyrical powerhouses Cherie Currie and Joan Jett.  The girls were fifteen and sixteen years old.  Young, full of hope, and new to the music scene. Kim Fowley (music producer/ manager) met Sandy West (drummer) and Joan Jett (guitarist/ singer) who ultimately got together to form what would become The Runaways in 1975.  Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, Sandy West, Lita Ford, Jackie Fox, and Vicki Blue broke the status quo of male dominated rockers and led the path for other female artists to push boundaries in the industry.

Recently, I watched “Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways.”  The film had interviews with the girls in the band, family members, and Kim Fowley who was the band’s producer and manager 1975-1978.  The Runways signed to Mercury Records in 1976.  They released four albums.  The band was not popular in the state during the time of their release in 1976, which I feel is due to the fact that they were a female rock group (society loves change).  They were heckled by male fans who called them sluts and rejected by a male dominated music industry who believed they were going to be a flash in the pan because they didn’t have that “hot girl” look.  Fowley was constantly using the lead singer Cherie Currie to push the “hot girl image.”  In the beginning, even though they weren’t big in America, overseas they were huge, especially in Japan; “Cherry Bomb” launched them into fan frenzy overseas and brought on new success.  Soon the girls were headlining sold out shows with opening acts like Cheap Trick, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as well as played a three month tour with The Ramones.  Bands that are permanently in the history books of music.

The Runaways had a sad story.  They were brought together by the love of music, but they fell apart because of people in the industry who took advantage of them and didn’t protect them.  When I was 15/ 16 years old I spent my free time in dance classes at the studio, played with my brothers, spent time with family, and were around adults who looked out for my best interest, but these girls wanted to write history; they left home and Fowley promised them the moon and stars.  Instead, they were exposed to the lifestyle of drugs, alcohol, sex, emotional and verbal abuse, hole in the wall motels, and inappropriate men who had a tight grip on their careers.  The girls were encouraged to be jealous and competitive with each other.  There was separation in the band among the girls.  Joan Jett seemed to be the peacemaker in the band, trying to keep everyone together; to be focused on the music.  The official statement was that the girls ultimately disbanded in 1979 over musical differences, but I think it was more than that.  It was four years of turmoil, anger, verbal abuse, multiple changes of band members, and music industry execs exploiting these young kids.

Without The Runaways we may not have had Sleater-Kinney, The Bangles, The Raincoats or The Donnas.  All girl rock groups that have taken that punk rock sound and continue to push the boundaries of music today.  In the music industry their are millions of dollars being tossed around which can change people.  People can become greedy and take advantage of others for their own benefit.  Maybe The Runaways were destined to fall apart.  You can’t really be a runaway once you are an adult.  The rebellious nature has to grow out of you at some point.  Without the disbanding of The Runaways, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts would have never been formed, Blackheart Records may not exist, society would have lost out on songs like “Bad Reputation” and “I Love Rock n’ Roll,” and the better bond and forgiveness that has formed among the girls may have never happened.  The Runaways changed history.  I hope one day they are inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame because they deserve to be there for not only being the first all-girl rock band, but because their music created a revolution that any girl can pick up a guitar and be a rockstar.

Click here for some of my favorite music by The Runaways.  Below are some great interviews with Joan Jett and Cherie Currier.

Interview with Joan Jett & Cherie Currie – CNN

Interview with Cherie Currie – HitFix Blog

His Name was John – How Music Can Remind You of Your Heroes

jafeolaHeroes are people that we look up to, who made imprints on our lives, and who have done amazing things with their own lives.  One of the biggest inspirations in my life was my grandfather.  I was a lucky child because I grew up with one of my many heroes in my house.  My grandfather was a man of few words, but when you were being a dumb ass he would sure tell you and then not talk to you for a few days until you figured it out.

His name was John A. Feola.  He lived in Cooperstown, New York during the depression where his mother died when he was eleven years old.  His brothers and sister were split into foster homes, and his younger brother (Frances), older brother (Anthony), and him were left with their abusive alcoholic father.  He and Anthony were forced to drop out of school at eighth grade to help with bills.

He was a soldier in the 25th Infantry Division stationed in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Guadocanal December 1942-January 1943 launching an attacking and defeating strong Japanese forces, participated in extended combat into other Solomon Islands, which led to the Philippines in January 1945.  The 25th Infantry Division held a record of 165 consecutive days in combat fighting.  That line seems simple.  Just another line in a history book, but for the people who lived it, they got to see the best and worst sides of man kind.  My grandfather was discharged before the war ended.  He married and created a family – two daughters, two sons, and a third son who was his nephew that he adopted (his sister’s son who she had out of wedlock – a scandal back in those days).  He had a life full of loss and hardships, but his family meant everything to him, and he was willing to sacrifice anything for them.   Whether it was working three jobs when he was married to make ends meet, to helping his father keep the rest of his siblings together.

On this day, eighteen years, ago my family lost him very suddenly in the afternoon to a heart attack.  That image will be forever ingrained in my mind as I heard a loud thud hit the ground.  Chaos ensued as ten year old me and my six year old brother grabbed our parents who did everything they could to save him till the ambulance got there.  In this world you never know what is going to happen one minute to the next.  Right before my grandfather had the heart attack he was sneaking around corners scarring me and my brother.  He was a healthy man who still drove (well), had no health problems besides slight diabetes, which he controlled by his diet, and then suddenly he was gone.

Music can be a great healing power when we are sad or happy.  I am a big fan of Dane Schmidt (Jamestown Story).  He has an acoustic sound with heartfelt lyrics from poems that make memories flood back as you are listening to his music.  With Jamestown Story you can get lost in your own thought and start crying or laughing for no reason other then a memory.  The song “Don’t Say Goodbye” has been on my mind lately and I know it sounds more like a break up song, but all music is up for interpretation, and to me this song is really made for anyone who has ever loved someone and lost them.  It can be hard to let someone go once they gone because it seems like a piece of you is missing.  I know as a child, I started acting out a lot right after I lost my grandfather.  I flipped out on my cousin after she asked why I wasn’t crying at the funeral.  I almost failed a grade because I wasn’t doing my school work and the only reason the instructor pushed me through was because of “social necessity.”

jafeola2Everyone deals with grief differently.  For me listening to music or being in a dance studio getting lost in movement are my ways of letting go of that pain.  Just like my grandfather, family to me is more important then anything in the world.  Those people that you think will always be there can be gone in a blink of an eye.  You need to cherish everyday you have with them because you don’t know when it is going to be your last.  We in society need to learn to cherish people not things, not celebrity, not status.  We need fight for those who love us and those we love.  So, I leave you with this thought: Loss is apart of life, but if we make love the stronger part of our lives family can get you through anything.  John A. Feola was the most selfless person I have ever had the privilege of knowing.  He is a hero in ever sense of the word, and I know I will never truly need to say goodbye because he is forever apart of my life.  I hope someday I can be half as selfless as this man who forever change my life.

Listen to Jamestown Story’s Love vs Life Album here where you can find “Don’t Say Goodbye.”