Children in San Francisco Ballet's "Nutcracker" (Erik Tomasson, courtesy San Francisco Ballet)
All dancers, from Broadway performers to avant-garde artists, are storytellers. The minute they start moving, they begin to convey character, emotion, and plot—even if they're performing an ostensibly plotless work. "Think about the famous Martha Graham contraction," says Broadway veteran Arbender Robinson. Even though it's an abstract movement, "each contraction has meaning."
But acting doesn't come naturally to every dancer. Some fall victim to over-the-top facial expressions, which can feel forced. Others struggle to free their minds from the details of technique or choreography. What separates an authentic storyteller from a dancer who does too much—or too little? Training and time can make all the difference.
Bharatanatyam dancer Sarika Bhattacharjee (photo by David Glasofer, courtesy Bhattacharjee)
Happy International Dance Day, everyone! Since 1982, this delightful holiday has been celebrated worldwide each April 29th. Why April 29th, you ask? It's the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre (1727–1810), who's often credited as the creator of modern ballet.
This year, we thought we'd mark the occasion by rounding up some of our favorite stories about world dance. Because we can think of no better occasion to learn more about the beautiful, rich traditions of styles like nihon buyo and bharatanatyam.
One of dancer Kristi Griffith's fitness shots (Wes Klain, courtesy Griffith)
Scrolling through your Instagram feed, you probably notice tons of awe-inspiring dance photos: a penché in front of a waterfall, a jeté over a busy city street. While these tend to get a lot of likes and attention, they may not be the best types of pics to send when you're trying to book a job. You want to keep the focus on what's most important to casting directors: you! So how do you find the right balance between eye-catching and professional? We talked to insiders across the dance world to find out.
San Francisco Ballet's Frances Chung in rehearsal (Erik Tomasson, courtesy San Francisco Ballet)
Even for natural turners, pirouettes from fifth can be a challenge. You need to take off from a small crossed position and stay straight over your supporting leg, from start to finish. "It's the hardest place to turn from, because you can't access your plié as much as you can from fourth," says Jennie Somogyi, former principal dancer with New York City Ballet and director of Jennie Somogyi Ballet Academy in Easton, PA. "I'm always telling my students to plié more!"
If you're struggling with pirouettes from fifth position or want to refine your approach, try these pro tips.
Colorado Ballet Studio Company member Robbie Downey created her first website with her mom's help, using Weebly. (courtesy Downey)
Colorado Ballet Studio Company dancer Robbie Downey has had her website, robbiedowney.com, for 10 years—nearly half her life. It's changed through the years, but in that time, she's relied on it to help secure auditions, network within the dance community, and find her own voice as a young performer at the start of her professional journey.
It's easy to see why having a website is a good idea for any dancer hoping to go pro. At the most basic, "it's a marketing tool," says Andrea Jasper, founder of the creative design and management company Urbane Collective, who has created sites for dancers including Kaelynn "Kay Kay" Harris and Will "WilldaBeast" Adams. Jasper likens a website to a business card—it's a way for casting directors, dance companies, and agents to get an idea of who you are and what you're capable of.
But even if you're not ready to go pro, a website is still a good idea. It's a great way to compile and prepare information that will eventually be a part of college applications, for one. It's also a way to steadily build and fine-tune your portfolio and learn how to market yourself for any career—even one outside of the dance world. Whatever your goals, building your own website can be a valuable experience.
Jan Horvath with vocal students at Steps on Broadway in NYC (courtesy Horvath)
You've been perfecting your technique for years, and now you're thinking about auditioning for musicals—but how are you supposed to conquer acting and singing, too? While dance may be your number-one strength, that doesn't mean you can't bring some serious skill to the table with your vocals and your ability to portray a character. We asked singing and acting coaches about some of the most common challenges dancers face—and their tips for tackling them.
Rachel Kreiling teaching a workshop at New York City Dance Alliance (Evolve Photo, courtesy NYCDA)
When teaching convention classes, many choreographers start combinations mid-song, allowing dancers the freedom to improvise a few eight counts before the piece begins. How do you use those moments to learn and grow as a dancer, even if you're new to the style of dance? DS spoke with convention teachers about the best way to approach improvisation in a class setting.
With over one thousand Instagram posts showcasing her latest improv practice or snippet of competition choreo, it's safe to say Lucy Vallely is never not creating. But how does she avoid burnout? Here, she shares her key tactics for staying inspired and energized, in and out of the studio.
DO keep your body straight up and down. "Many dancers tend to pull their hips back and tip their bodies forward in step-overs, but that makes it difficult to get around," says Nanako Yamamoto of American Repertory Ballet.
Photo by Kaitlin Marino, courtesy American Repertory Ballet
"Lame duck." It sounds like nothing else in the classical ballet vocabulary, right? Also known as step-up turns or step-over turns—or, more technically, as piqués en dehors—these tricky pirouettes show up all over the classical ballet repertoire, perhaps most famously in Odette's Act II variation in Swan Lake. Here's how to keep your lame ducks from looking, well, lame.
It's pretty much undeniable that today's social-media-obsessed culture expects you to build your brand online—even as you're still building your skills in the studio. The positives of gaining exposure as a student are obvious, and posting your dance accomplishments may feel natural if you're already personally prolific on platforms like Instagram, YouTube, or Facebook.
17-year-old Autumn Miller is one of our (and over 900 thousand other fans') favorite dancers to follow on Instagram, where her bubbly posts include insane turning combinations, beautiful dance shots, and adorable family snaps. Turns out Autumn is just as fun and chic IRL. We got the inside scoop on how to steal her California-cool studio style.
B-boy Ray "Nasty Ray" Mora demonstrating toprocking (photo by Josh Salcedo, courtesy Mora)
For most people, the word "breaking" brings to mind flashy feats on the floor. But those eye-catching tricks aren't the whole picture. Breaking actually features four different categories of movement: toprock, footwork (or "downrock"), freezes, and power moves. And while toprocking—the part of breaking that's done standing up—is often overlooked, it's one of the most critical parts of the art form.
"As b-boy Mr. Wiggles taught me, breaking is like a sentence, and toprocking is the introduction," says seasoned street dancer Valerie "Ms. Vee" Ho, who teaches at Broadway Dance Center, Pace University, Peridance, and Juilliard. So how can dancers start their sentences off in a way that'll keep people listening—and watching?
"Final exams." Those two words can strike fear in the heart of even the most confident collegiate dancer. To help you get through the pressure cooker of your dance exams, Dance Spirit asked two recent dance grads for their best stress-relief and time-management tips.