WATCH: Yannick Boquin on connecting barre with center, and using the arms to your advantage

We’ve shared Yannick Boquin’s insights about dancing and teaching a few times on this blog, but it always feels like something’s missing when we talk about ballet in pure text form. So Yannick and thought maybe we’d put together a video where you can actually see what he’s talking about!

One of the things we wanted to share was how the exercises at barre can and should relate to center. Why do we work the way we do at barre, if center seems completely different? This is to help explain.

In this particular video we’ll focus on Yannick’s thoughts on coordinating the arms with the rest of the body to make sure we’re that our whole body is moving in harmony. The port de bras may sometimes look different at barre than it does in the center, yet the principles remain the same. But enough of my commentary – I’ll let Yannick do the real talking…

Many thanks to Vladislav Marinov, another dancer at the Staatsballett Berlin for filming and editing the video, and to Aurora Dickie, for being a great example of what Yannick teaches. And of course a big shout out to Yannick, for developing the exercises and organizing a very large part of this project!

If you have other ideas for videos you’d like to see, let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to subscribe 🙂

 

 

Letter to a young dancer

I recently received a comment on my Ask Me Anything post that caught my attention.

IMAG0310Michaela, an insightful dance student, recently decided not to pursue dance as a career path, and she was curious to explore the subject of competition, passion, and value in the dance studio.

Because of the rarity of dance contracts and the demands of the craft, most young dancers will not pursue a professional career in ballet. So, in a way, Michaela’s story is that of many students of dance, and I wanted to speak to her and any others that might be in her position. Her story may not be uncommon, but I have rarely heard such ideas articulated so well, so I wanted to share her comment in full before moving any further.

Here’s what she had to say: Continue reading “Letter to a young dancer”

Monks and ballet: an unlikely (but fruitful) combination

Have you ever wondered what monks look like while dancing ballet? Well search no further, because the answer lies just below.

What a surprise it was to have this opportunity to choreograph a ballet on the monks of Plum Village.

I won’t say too much, because the video speaks for itself, but suffice it to say that I had an incredibly pleasant experience rehearsing with the monks during the meditation retreat. It helped me see a lot of what we do from a different perspective from the way we often approach work in the studio. These are things I want to take with me in the future, dancing or not.

A few insights from this experience: Continue reading “Monks and ballet: an unlikely (but fruitful) combination”

Moving forward

Do you remember the scenes in Wall-E with the humans? The ones who are stuck in their hovering chairs: lazy, weak, and uninterested in anything that requires effort to attain? I see now why the animators made them.

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The way we look at those scenes must be similar to the way prehistoric humans would look at us today. How could humans ever get that way?

In this modern age, we no longer really depend on our bodies. And our connection to our bodies has loosened to an incredible degree. We’re not at the Wall-E human level, but we’re not so far away. Look at the way we get around. We get up from sitting on a chair or a couch, we walk a few steps to our car, and proceed to sit immediately after getting into work. Often, our entire day revolves around sitting.

This is a worrying trend. Not only is this neglecting the body, but it does damage to it as well. Physiologically, we require movement to be healthy. We can find many scientific studies that confirm this, but we can also just look to common sense. Most of us know we don’t give enough attention to our bodies.

And to a certain extent, we aren’t to be blamed. Look at the world we live in, look at the comforts we have all around us. How many prehistoric humans had couches? Stoves? Washing machines? Chairs? … Hoverboards?

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All of these things allow us efficiency, but they mean we need our body less. And if we’re using the free time gained to spend a few more minutes (or hours) on Facebook, our bodies are losing out. In modern life, we aren’t forced to pay attention to our bodies, and without a strong will and/or the right environment, keeping in shape is extremely difficult.

I was lucky. I had the chance to make moving my profession. I moved every day and got paid to do so. This caused some other problems in my body, because ballet isn’t exactly natural. But there is one piece of knowledge that even when I’m not dancing every day I bring with me: you don’t forget your body. I understand that being able to move is a blessing. It’s something that we don’t necessarily realize until it’s severely diminished or gone.

And unfortunately, when we are stagnant, our bodies’ ability slowly decreases, almost invisibly. So by the time we realize we can’t touch our toes anymore or that our back is causing us chronic pain, many years have gone by and we have to make an extreme, prolonged effort to come back. Once we’re in some kind of shape, it’s easy to maintain – but it’s incredibly difficult to work ourselves back into shape.

So I want to remind you: Your body is incredibly important. It is intricately connected to your mind – so if you’re neglecting your body, you’re also neglecting your mind. Don’t ignore your body.

If you don’t already have one, find an activity you enjoy and do it regularly. Your mind will thank you for it, and you will benefit in the long run.


This PSA is brought to you by health. I don’t want to proselytize for any one kind of training, as different possibilities for movement abound – all I want to do is remind you, dear reader, that your body is an important part of you. Give it some love!

Here are a few links to different kinds of movement, each of which is designed to keep your body healthy in a well-rounded way:

There are many different types of yoga

Essentrics, a workout based on ballet movement, built around lengthening and flexibility, recently introduced to me by a dear friend

And Tai Chi

These are all interesting ways to cross-train with ballet, by the way. For you ballet dancers that read up until here thinking “I already do something physical. Check!” let me remind you that we can always learn more from other approaches to movement. Each different approach contains its own kind of wisdom. It’s up to us to learn what that is.

Maybe everybody who reads this already has a fitness routine, and you all already know how important your body is. How happy that would make me. What do you do to keep in shape or cross-train? Anything I left out that you particularly like? Share in the comments below.

And then get away from the screen and go enjoy having a body!

Checking in with you

Hey everybody. I’ve been gone a while. Did you miss me?

In deciding how to return to writing for Corporal Culture, it occurred to me that I should be asking you, the readers, what you want out of this site. I’ll include the simple poll below, but any other feedback you might have about the site is welcome in the comments.

Oh, and one more thing: I started a Corporal Culture Facebook page! I’ll link to the articles in this blog, but I also plan on having a bit of content specific to the Facebook page. So come check it out.

Happy polling 🙂

Return from Plum Village

Hi everyone!

Many of you may not be aware, but I’ve been off at a meditation retreat for the past three months.

I realize this is pretty unusual for us in the western world (though not in Asia), but I’m very happy to have done it. A meditation retreat at Plum Village was one of those things that fit in neatly with all of the reasons I detailed in my previous posts about leaving the world of professional dance.

This is going to be a kind of mid-year analysis with myself to see how things are going. Sorry, this post might be a bit self-indulgent… but I thought it might be an interesting exercise to revisit the four reasons I highlighted for leaving the dance world and to see where my life fits into those ideas five months later. Think of it as a reality check.

Continue reading “Return from Plum Village”

Yannick Boquin: ballet tips and a dance class philosophy

This article is going to be quite directed towards ballet dancers, so if you have no knowledge of ballet terminology or coordination, this may not be the post for you. But if you do, you’re in the right place! This is a special post, with a personal contribution from master teacher Yannick Boquin – he wrote the following section himself, and it contains some of the most important underpinnings of his teachings. Look at these as the skeleton, muscle, and joints behind the body of his work: teaching ballet technique to the best in the world. (And whether you know ballet or not, don’t miss the great photo of him as a kid near the end!)

Before sharing his written notes, though, I wanted those of you that don’t yet know Yannick to get an idea of the kind of combinations he gives and his teaching style. Below is an example of Yannick’s class (skip to 1:20 to get to the actual class). Think of it as a sampler of the kind of class Yannick gives every day.

Continue reading “Yannick Boquin: ballet tips and a dance class philosophy”

Another perspective on leaving the ballet world: Chloe Shelby

So, I just the left the world of dance. And you’ve heard my story. But there are lots of other stories out there, often untold to the dance world. Or worse, misunderstood. When we are involved in an endeavor that has required such dedication to reach our level, it can be hard to understand why someone would give all that up.

This is Chloe Shelby’s story. She came up through the school of Oregon Ballet Theatre when I was in the company. She was one of the top students in her class, technically skilled, and smart to boot. I remember watching her in class and onstage and thinking “Man, will I ever have that kind of control?”

However, once she joined the professional world, it turned out that Chloe’s talent wasn’t enough to keep her going. This is not to say that she didn’t have the skills! Even with pure talent, the ballet world is tough – and without an inner fire and devotion to the work, it can be incredibly draining. As she explains, the professional dance world was entirely different from the one where she had been formed as a dancer, and her drive to continue hit a dead end.

But her future is no less bright because of it. Leaving the dance world can lead to so many different opportunities, and Chloe was able to find that inner fire elsewhere.

Continue reading “Another perspective on leaving the ballet world: Chloe Shelby”

Julia Rowe on being promoted to soloist at San Francisco Ballet

I’m a little slow on the uptake here, since Julia was named soloist several months ago, but I wanted to dig into what it means to be promoted – especially at such a revered company as San Francisco Ballet.

Promotions are some of the most sought after things in our world. After years of toiling in the corps, a promotion can act as recognition for all the hard work one has done. Yet, because of the nature of ranked companies and of their relatively flat structure, most in the ballet world never receive a single one. Julia has been promoted twice.

So what does it even mean to be promoted in the ballet world? How might receiving a promotion affect one’s relationship to the work?

Continue reading “Julia Rowe on being promoted to soloist at San Francisco Ballet”

Why I quit my job as a professional ballet dancer (part 2)

This is the continuation of a previous blog post. If you’d like to navigate your way there, click here.


Number 3: I wanted to learn how to build good habits, and I wanted to create.

Now, this may seem like a cop-out to say that I needed to quit ballet to learn how to build good habits. I know many ballet dancers who are intensely devoted to the work and focused on their craft. They do hours of extra exercise during the day, watch ballet videos during their downtime, come to class an hour early to stretch and prepare.

But I wasn’t ever like that. I was good at being efficient. I did the work that I needed to, and avoided doing anything extra on my personal time. I made sure to fulfill others’ expectations at work: I was professional, knew the choreography, and I stayed focused during class and rehearsal. And with that I not only got by, but I did relatively well. Yet there was a resistance in me to any work that went over and above my work in the studio.

Continue reading “Why I quit my job as a professional ballet dancer (part 2)”