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”

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”

Cora Bos-Kroese on the audition process for Kylian ballets and the skills necessary to be seen (and chosen)

Welcome back, everyone. Here we are with another interview, this time with Cora Bos-Kroese. Cora recently set Jiri Kylian’s Bella Figura on us at Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, and she was a blast to work with. Back in the day she was a fantastic dancer who worked intimately with Jiri Kylian. These days she splits her time between setting his ballets all over the world and running her own dance projects in The Netherlands.

I sat down with her to have a conversation about what she’s learned from working with Kylian (and Forsythe!), advice she has for dancers, and her own personal projects in the dance world. I’ve broken up our conversation into three parts, which will come out when ready. In this first section, we talk about the audition process, and the qualities she looks for when running an audition for a Kylian ballet (hint: it’s not perfect ballet technique).

Continue reading “Cora Bos-Kroese on the audition process for Kylian ballets and the skills necessary to be seen (and chosen)”

5 perspectives on the life of a professional ballet dancer

What is it like to be a dancer? What do we strive for? What do we fear?

In my previous article, I wrote about my perspective of the pursuit of perfection in a ballet dancer’s life, and about what that might entail. I got a great response from all of you, but it made me wonder: “How would others describe their motivation for what they do? What do they see as their ultimate goal in being a dancer, and what might be some of their personal obstacles in the way of progressing towards that goal?”

So I decided to reach out to several friends of mine – each in different places in their life, different stages of their dancing career, and different kinds of ballet companies – to get an idea of just how our goals and obstacles in this dancing life might differ, and to see how they might compare.

Turns out there’s plenty of common ground in their answers. Let’s meet my contributors: Continue reading “5 perspectives on the life of a professional ballet dancer”

Corporal questions: Ask me anything

Hi everyone!

The past few months have been an enjoyable exploration of putting down into writing the thoughts and the thought process that I go through during my days in the studio. I hope you all have enjoyed it as much as I have.

But I realized, there’s just one thing missing: a two-way conversation. Continue reading “Corporal questions: Ask me anything”

On dancing and the pursuit of perfection

Not too long ago, a friend aptly noticed that I often refer to our goal as dancers as “reaching as close as we can to perfection.” He wanted me to unpack that statement. What does that even mean? Are we talking about technical attainment? Power or finesse? Maybe something else?

As Steven put it, we’re transitional beings… we’re of this world, and whether we like it or not, perfection is not an option. Such a thing is an illusion.rainbow-background-1149610__180

But having a personal idea of perfection does present a way forward. It is the needle on our compass. What are we reaching for in ballet if not an ideal?

The fact that perfection is unreachable doesn’t mean that our work is meaningless. No, we’ll never reach that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but we will see many things on our journey. Continue reading “On dancing and the pursuit of perfection”

Why the ancient greeks are the best ballet dancers: a brief look at Stoicism

A few months ago, Sports Illustrated released an article entitled: “How a book on stoicism became wildly popular at every level of the NFL.” This article detailed how The Obstacle is the Way, a book about the benefits of applying the ancient greek philosophy of Stoicism to life in the modern world, has spread throughout the NFL, including football players and coaches alike.

I read this book last year, and I found it to be full of wisdom and good advice.

This ancient approach has implications for anyone to live their lives in an optimistic, non-cynical way, but it’s especially relevant for those in a world where every little improvement makes a difference. Practice makes perfect, yes, but only with the right mindset.

If this approach can help the football world, I figure we in the dance world have something to learn from it as well. Even if the two are worlds apart in the kinds of people they attract, both worlds are part of the human enterprise of pursuing perfection, both mental and physical.

Stoicism is a philosophy that understands that while perfection may be unreachable, there are ways to reach a little bit closer. Step 1: Get out of your own way. Continue reading “Why the ancient greeks are the best ballet dancers: a brief look at Stoicism”

Five differences between American and European ballet

Are you a ballet dancer in America interested in hopping over the Atlantic and getting a job dancing in Europe? Or vice-versa? Do your homework first, and have an idea of what you’re getting yourself into. The professional dance world in Europe, while similar to America, is of a different breed, and it does’t always favor the same skills that are accentuated in the states.

Although Petipa originated much of classical ballet, things split off at a certain point  between US and European classical dance. While it may not be fair to lump all of European dance into one group, there are some commonalities that most European ballet companies do not share with America. This is evident in company repertoire, but also in the way they work internally, and each ballet company reflects the cultural environment that shaped them. I’m going to try to shed some light on the most obvious of differences between these two continental dance cultures.

Continue reading “Five differences between American and European ballet”

Yannick Boquin on ballet technique, physics, and how to teach a good class

Welcome! Today I’m trying something new. I thought it might be interesting to interview one of the most prominent guest teachers in the business (art form?) to see what knowledge he could share with us about ballet culture and his long experience as a dancer and teacher.

Yannick Boquin is a guest teacher at many of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world, including the Royal Swedish Ballet, Hong Kong Ballet, Dresden SemperOper Ballet, and of course, my home, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. Educated at the Paris Opera Ballet School, and having danced as a principayannick-boquinl dancer with several companies, most notably the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Yannick has traveled the world and seen many of the similarities and differences between ballet company’s cultures and dance styles. Yannick has his finger on the pulse of the ballet world. He teaches a supremely well thought out class, and has identified a logically consistent view of ballet technique that he teaches in his company class. I recently had the chance to  sit down with him and ask him a bit about himself and about the wisdom he’s amassed through the years.

Continue reading “Yannick Boquin on ballet technique, physics, and how to teach a good class”

Correcting the crowd: how group feedback affects us

How do you inspire a group of dancers to live up to their full potential?

One of the most important skills to learn as an artistic director, ballet master, choreographer, or teacher is learning how to speak to and manage the group. All  bosses have to do it. Organizing a large group of people can be hard at times, and learning the skills necessary to pull the best out of that group can be a long, hard process.

One of the most important tools that can be used is group feedback.Photo on 12-21-15 at 8.07 PM Just as the coach of a football team needs to be able to call the team together to inspire them to action, so does the person at the front of the room need to be able to gather the dancers together to “course-correct.” It might be to suggest a way of approaching the choreography, it might be chiding the group for a lack of focus, or it may be an inspirational talk to boost spirits. It may even be all three at the same time. Group feedback can be used for many different outcomes, but the main idea is to focus the whole group on a particular issue or desired approach.

The principal questions here are: what makes group feedback succeed at its intended purpose? And how can it be used to inspire dancers to work better or harder? Continue reading “Correcting the crowd: how group feedback affects us”