What to Expect when you Bring a Dancer Out in Public

Have you ever seen the music video of Sara Bareilles singing Gonna Get Over You?  It is one of the happiest break up songs I have ever heard.  Not only is she in the middle of the grocery store dancing and singing, but she somehow gets everyone else to join in too.  Granted, at the end of the video she comes to the realization that it was all in her head and bows her head in embarrassment and shame, but it basically sets the stage for what you need to know about a dancer in public.  Needless to say, when out in public with a dancer they can be extremely embarrassing to a non-dancer.  They can decide to jété down a grocery isle, or if music is playing in your general vicinity expect there to be random dancing to that bass pumping beat.  I can admit I’m embarrassing when I go out in public.  Just ask my brother who had to deal with my random dancing when we were last in Los Angeles together.  He had to deal with my bust a move mentality up and down third street in Santa Monica while street artists were getting their jam on.

So why do dancer do this?  They just can’t help themselves.  Imagine your whole life having various three minute sections of your life choreographed to music.  Now imagine repeating these sections so many times that your brain is going to fall out.  Between recitals, competition, professional performance gigs, choreographing, and charity events you have a tendency to lose your mind a little that anytime you hear music you just need to move.  In some situation random dancing is appropriate like on iCarly, a concert, or a music festival because not only are their other weirdos like you, but your friends or siblings that look at you as a crazy person are now joining in on the music that actually exists.  In my brother’s case, he gets the head bob going with his hands in the air like he just don’t care; there is a lot of jumping around and dancing like an idiot.

Lastly, a dancer can randomly start dancing when there is no music playing, but just so you know there is a constant soundtrack in their head.  Let me tell you it never turns off.  You know how I was saying that a dancer has the constant pleasure of repeating pieces or dances over and over again?  Well, that carries over into other parts of their lives.  For example, I become obsessed with certain songs and learn every word.  Then I am singing it for a week and every time I’m singing it to myself I get in my own head, think I’m alone, start choreographing to it, and all of a sudden I can have five people looking at me in the park because they think I’m a spaz.  I leave you with this. The next time you see someone dance randomly in public, I can 95% guarantee they are not crazy they just love life and want you to too.  Join in on the fun and make a flash mob out of their moves or make your own and connect with someone on an artistic level by dancing it out.


I See People – Principal Dancers That Have Accomplished the Dream

538f68a976ab7This past week Misty Copeland was promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre (ABT).  She probably would have been promoted back in 2012 if she wasn’t sidelined for the whole season due to six stress fractures in her tibia.  Needless to say, she was not the only promoted dancer this past week.  Stella Abrera, who joined ABT in 1996 became a principal, as well as two new dancers, Maria Kochetkova (San Francisco Ballet) and Alban Lendorf (Royal Danish Ballet) joined ABT as principals.  Did you know that at the beginning of June there were two new principals at the New York City Ballet – Lauren Lovette and Anthony Huxley?  Right now, all I see in the papers, on blogs and in magazines is that Misty Copeland is the first African-American principal at ABT.  My question is why is this about race?  Becoming a principal dancer no matter what race or ethnicity is an amazing accomplishment.  I believe that bringing race into it is only adding to the racism, segregation, and discrimination in the world.  Now, sit down, hear me out, and read till the end before you judge me.

Becoming a principal dancer is a dream.  A principal is the highest rank in a dance company that any dancer can receive.  These particular dancers not only perform solos regularly, but also are the main casting for pas de duex in the company.  It is a coveted position and is one that every dancer strives to be.  Becoming a professional dancer is no easy task.  It takes a lot of sacrifice that most people cannot even begin to comprehend.  In many stella-abrera-as-gamzatti-in-la-bayaderecases, students begin training at a young age and as they hit around ten to twelve years old it develops into an intense training.  Student dancers who are striving to reach a professional level usually become home schooled and then spend all their free time in a studio training, rehearsing, and practicing.  They sleep, eat, and breath dance.

With the dedication that students have to put into this one and a million chance dream there comes a lot of failure and risk.  The dancer doesn’t
always get the role they want,  they don’t always get hired by the company they want, or make the money they want, but humility, respect, and discipline are all the things a dancer gets because of these types of failures.  There is a respect for the art form, for their colleagues, and for choreographers that push them past their breaking point to make them better than they ever thought they could become.  Being a dancer there is a risk everyday.  You never know when your career is going to end.  A dancer could have a career ending injury, or a company could fold (i.e. Cedar Lake Ballet last month) and that could be it.

In this world, no matter what profession you are in, you need to prove your value and become invaluable.  Misty Copeland is an innovator.  She brought a spotlight to the ballet world through sponsorships, charity work, mentorships, and becoming a spokes person for the art form.  She has become a part of the public eye and ABT would have been crazy not to promote her.  Stella Abrera showed dedicated and determination to one company for over twenty years!  Lauren Lovette started dance as a late bloomer and she was rejected the first time she auditioned for the School of American Ballet (SAB).  Anthony Huxley has been with NYCB since 2007 and started in the SAB in 2002.  That’s thirteen years with a company starting as a child!

nycb-master675These talented, young, and thriving principal dancers have so much to offer the world, but all of this accomplishment has been shadowed by the issue of discrimination.  The definition of discrimination is the treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person based on the group, class, or category to which that person belongs rather than on individual merit.  This does not only include color, but there are other forms of discrimination out there like income, gender, or ethnicity.  My father had to sneak around to play with his friends as a child because of where he lived.  There are all types of discrimination out there.  The sooner we as a society stop looking at things such as color, ethnicity, income, and gender as a threat or out of fear, the sooner we as a society are going to grow and hirer the best people for the job.

Read more about the amazing Principal Dancers here – New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre

Film Review: First Position

FirstPositionThe Youth American Grand Prix is the world’s largest ballet competition that awards full scholarships and job contracts to dancers ages 9-19. Each year over 5,000 dancers enter the Youth American Grand Prix semi-finals held in 15 cities around the world. Only a few hundred dancers make it to the finals in New York City. On the final day at the end of the competition 30 elite Ballet institutions awards scholarships, contracts, and medals to the most promising dancers.

Now, I know I am a little late joining the party since this film came out in 2012 but, First Position shows the dedication, determination, and pressures that young dancers face during their training. This documentary follows six dancers on their journey to the Youth American Grand Prix and some them have technique and talent that I have never seen at such a young age. Aran, 11, is by far my favorite in this documentary. He is a military kid who travels two hours to Rome, Italy for the best Ballet training at La Masion de la Danse. Being a boy, he faces the pressures of society and his peers with being a male Ballet dancer. He has coped with it by ignoring it because Ballet is something that he loves. The stereotype that Aran continues to fight doesn’t surprise me because most boys who get teased for it drop out of ballet by Jr. High School. Miko, 12 & Rebecca, 17 talks about how there friends don’t understand the disciple that is needed to be a ballet dancer. Besides going to school they have cross training, many dance classes, and rehearsals everyday to stay in peak performance form. Joan, 16 moved away from his family from Colombia to New York City to train and didn’t know the language at first.

The amount of sacrifice these children have for the love of dance is something to admire. Few people find their calling in life and even fewer people are willing to do what is necessary to reach success. Miko switched to home-schooling so she could spend more time at the studio. Micheala, 14 was suffering an inflammation of tendentious in her Achilles heel during the finals of the Prix. These kids are not the only ones who have to put in a tremendous amount of effort, the parents have to be just as supportive and dedicated as the students. The parents assist with costumes being dyed, created, and purchased. They pay for the lessons, private coaching, and transportation to and from the studios. And they are the rock when there is a mess up on stage and all you want to do is have a pity party and beat yourself up. I think Miko’s mother said it best, “When bad things happen on stage that is my fault, when good things happen that is all her.”

The documentary shows how a student’s dance that they have practice a hundred times can not go as well on stage as it did in the studio. Falls, stage fright, or a mis-step can throw off your whole piece and can take you out of the running for recognition. Then you have to start back at square one; proving yourself. Everyone that isn’t a dancer is probably asking themselves why do these kids put themselves through this? It’s hard to explain, but I best thought process is have you ever wanted something so bad that you would do anything to get it? That’s these kids. I don’t want to spoil anything so if you want to see what happens to the ballet journey of Miko, Rebecca, Michaela, Joan, and Aran I suggest you watch First Position. This documentary takes you backstage into a world of strength, heartbreak, and dedication of kids who are beyond their years.

Watch the documentary now on Netflix.  Click Here for the trailer.

Performance Nerves and How to Deal

elephantStanding in the wings of the stage, your stomach in knots, and adverting your eyes at all cost from the stage of the dancer performing before you.  Performing can be terrifying and exilirating feeling and the nerves can get the better of any dancer.  So how does anyone stay calm among all the pressure?  Just like sport athletes and their obsession with their favorite socks, shorts, or underwear, every performer has weird qwarts such as having objects that need to be with them on performing days or daily and evening routines.  Anytime I performed in my high school and college days I had five life hacks that always brought my blood pressure back down.

1.  A Stuffed Elephant – I got this stuffed animal when I was sixteen years old from my solo instructor Lisa.  She was one of my biggest supporters growing up as a dancer.  Always had my back at every competition and performance even when she was no longer teaching me.  When she gave it to me it said, “break a leg and remember an elephant never forgets.”  I carried this thing everywhere with me and it is a little embarrassing to say that I even had it in my bag at my college dance performances and choreography showings.

2.  During the late 90s and early 00s portable disk players and tape Walkmans were the iPod of the day.  I had my Walkman with me and before I had to perform I would be listening to the music over and over again to the point where I knew every sound in the music and what sound matched the movement.  A little OCD I know, but what performer doesn’t have a type-A personality?

3.  The three minutes before you are suppose to go on is the longest three minutes of your life!  You try not to look at the stage because if you watch the other dancer and he/ she is great you basically sabotage yourself and if he/ she doesn’t have the greatest performance you get cocky and in turn sabotage yourself.  So, I would go to the farthest part of the wing backstage and jump up and down, stretch my feet, shake my arms….basically do anything that kept me moving and focused so I didn’t look at the stage.

4.  BREATH – It sounds simple.  Breathing is a natural part of a human’s life, but sometimes when a sea of lights hit your body on an empty stage, you have three people judging your dancing ability, and their are thousands of other eyes in the audience watching your every move you can be overcome with a feeling of fear that can paralyze you.  The moment I stepped on a stage I would take a deep breath to make my breathing consistent and as the music begin I would release that breath which would send a calming effect through my entire body.

5.  And finally, avoid physically doing the dance before you get on stage.  Sure practice the hard parts such as that double pirouette to an extension or that switch leap.  When I was younger I had an obsession with trying to run the dance over and over again and by the time I got to the stage I would start to get movement phrases confused or forget parts.  As I got older I realized that running it was creating a mental block by the time I hit the stage.  Trust yourself and your muscle memory.

You are not alone in your nerves.  Performing takes practice and continuing to push yourself to the stage is the only way to master it.  As Taylor Swift said, “Being fearless isn’t being a hundred percent not fearful, it’s being terrified but you jump anyways.”