The Dirt with Rachel Foster
Rachel Foster in Paul Gibson’s The Piano Dance. By Angela Sterling
Rachel Foster is the image of power and athleticism. The Pacific Northwest Ballet principal excels at both the intricacy of contemporary works and the precision of George Balanchine’s neoclassical choreography. She trained at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School and attended summer courses at the School of American Ballet and San Francisco Ballet School before joining Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 1998 and then the PNB corps in 2002. In 2009, Dance Magazine featured Foster as one of its “25 to Watch,” and the magazine had it right: Foster, who’d been promoted to soloist in 2008, was made a principal in 2011. Her time in the company also brought her luck in love, and she’s now married to Le Yin, a former PNB principal dancer who’s on faculty at the PNB School. Catch Foster this month in PNB’s “All Premiere” program, November 2–11, and read on for The Dirt.
What did you want to be when you were a teen? It's always been my dream to dance and become a professional ballet dancer. When I was a teenager, my parents would drive me 2 hours to ballet class and 2 hours home every day.
Performer you would drop everything to go see: Alina Cojucaru
Biggest guilty pleasure: Sleeping in. I have a dog named Ceasar who loves his early morning walks.
Favorite food: My husband's wonderful Chinese cooking. Everything else tastes so bland in comparison.
What's your biggest pet peave? Littering
One thing most people don't know about you: I'm really messy at the studio, but at home I'm a neat freak. I love to clean and organize.
If you weren't a dancer, what would you be? I love animals. I could see myself as a veterinarian.
One thing you can't live without: A telephone call to or from my mom every day.
Who is your dance crush? My husband. I still have a dance crush on him.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? My husband and I talk frequently about opening our own ballet studio.
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.