How To Make Show-Stopping Moves Both Impressive and Artful
It's the ultimate groan-inducing moment: A dancer's graceful contemporary piece is going off without a hitch—her technique is flawless, her lines are pristine—but all of a sudden, she's taking four counts to walk to the upstage corner, narrowing her eyes in preparation. She might as well be yelling, “A TRICK SEQUENCE IS COMING." And she's broken the choreography's magic spell.
Tumbling, impressive turn series, feats of contortion—those “wow" moments can take a routine from average to innovative. But pieces that disjointedly alternate between dance and gymnastics almost never impress judges looking for smooth quality of movement. That said, staying in character can feel nearly impossible when you're not comfortable with that scorpion or complex fouetté sequence. So what can you do to ensure your tricked-out routine flows seamlessly from start to finish?
Have the Choreo Down Cold
Maintaining your stage presence during a trick isn't as simple as keeping a steely expression. It's about projecting total confidence and comfort with a step. “That comes with time," says Lindsay Sprague, coach of the University of South Carolina Carolina Girls. Make the rehearsal studio your best friend. “The more you drill," Sprague says, “the less nervous you'll be, and the smoother the transitions will be."
Shaye Smith, a second-year member of the Cougarettes dance team at Brigham Young University, remembers learning the troupe's winning hip-hop routine for the 2015 National Dance Alliance Championships. “There was an insanely hard trick sequence including a kip-up and head spring. When the choreographer, Shandon Perez, first taught us, we all looked terrible," Smith says. “You have to remember that tricks are typically moves you've never asked your body to do before. Be patient—and fearless. You can't get frustrated if it doesn't happen the first time."
But don't let all that drilling lead to a stale, stiff performance. “You want the tricks to seem natural, like they're part of your artistic as well as your technical vocabulary," says Adrenaline faculty member and judge Caroline Lewis-Jones. She recommends practicing the step in a variety of situations, noting that freestyling is often the best way to discover artful nuances in a difficult sequence. Could you perform those fouettés to a piece of music with a different time signature? Could you execute that tumbling pass from the opposite corner? See if you can make the trick work from any direction, on any leg, and with any transition leading into it.
Don't Forget to Breathe
Lewis-Jones, who teaches workshops and sets choreography for studios across the country, says she's constantly reminding students to breathe continuously through a trick. “When I was younger, I'd hit all the difficult steps pretty hard," she says. “But I held so much tension in my body, I had a really hard time with flexibility." Once she learned to use breath to her advantage, Lewis-Jones says, the harder elements—whether they were aerials or crazy 180-degree tilts—became more attainable. Not only does breathing slowly and deeply help you focus, but a good exhale also relaxes your body, allowing your joints and muscles to reach new extremes.
Breathing can also help you maintain a high level of speed and power through the in-between steps. “That's especially important for people who come from an acro background and are more comfortable with the gymnastics-based moves," Lewis-Jones says. For those dancers, the key to a seamless performance is not to belabor or rush the transitions—and consistent breathing can help a piece maintain a consistent level of intensity, without any “I'm about to tumble!" drops in energy.
Hit the Gym
Strength also plays a huge role in your ability to execute tricks confidently and consistently. “Dancers don't often focus on upper body strength training, but that's huge when it comes to tumbling skills, in particular," says Sprague, who notes that in addition to team practices, Carolina Girls work out with a strength coach twice a week. Sprague's dancers focus on body-weight exercises and do plenty of push-ups and planks; Smith adds handstands to her practice. “I'll time myself in a handstand for a minute and a half," Smith says. “It helps my arm and shoulder strength and improves my balance."
Hailey Apligian, a contemporary teacher at Plumb Performing Arts Center in Scottsdale, AZ, cautions dancers against overstretching. “Even for something that shows off a dancer's flexibility—like a scorpion, for example—it's strength building that will ultimately help," she says. “Dancers instinctively think, 'I have to stretch more to get really bendy,' but you need strength to sustain your positions." Targeting your core will help you balance on one leg, and upper-back exercises can boost the muscles required for back extensions—like those tricky scorpions.
Sprague notes that stamina is also critical for dancers hoping to make tricks look natural. “It's one thing to transition smoothly into a trick that's 20 seconds into the piece," she says. “But, frequently, the most impressive or acrobatic elements come at the end." Low-intensity aerobic workouts—doing intervals on an elliptical, or swimming laps—will build the stamina you need to be able to think about timing that aerial beautifully with the music, rather than just surviving it
The University of South Carolina's Carolina Girls showing off their skills (Joshua Aaron Photography, courtesy Lindsay Sprague)
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.
It's never too early to start thinking about your dream job. And summer intensives are an essential step down the road to achieving your dance dreams—whether you want to perform in music videos, ballet companies or Broadway shows.
With 19 programs across the U.S. (plus additional international programs) Joffrey Ballet School offers options for all types of dancers with all types of goals. Whatever you may be working toward this summer, there's a program that will help you get that much closer. We put together a guide to help you find the right one, based on your dream job:
At the tender age of 9, Destiny Wimpye moved cross-country with her mom so she could train at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. The leap of faith paid off: Destiny's spent summers training at the School of American Ballet, the Ailey School, and Pacific Northwest Ballet; performed for Michelle Obama at the White House; and danced beside Mariah Carey in a TV special for Disney. Now she's a full-time student at the Colburn Dance Academy under the direction of former New York City Ballet principals Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette, and it seems fated that Destiny will one day dance her dream role, Dewdrop in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. "I'm a jumper and a turner," Destiny says, "so I think it fits me pretty well."
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Amber Ardolino in "Hamilton" (courtesy Ardolino)
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Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over four decades of experience, often hangs posters with dance-related quotes on the walls of her studio, on everything from creativity to the hustle to the importance of teamwork. Sometimes the right words from dancers who have been there are just the push you need to spark your imagination and remind yourself why you love what you do.
In that spirit, here are 10 inspiring quotes from dancers on what their art form means to them, and why it's worth fighting through the hard parts:
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Of course, we know a list like this is bound to be controversial—so if you disagree with our lineup, have at it in the comments!
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The one problem? Pointe shoes have traditionally only been designed for women. Until now.
Are you a college student curious about what goes on behind the scenes at your favorite magazine? You're in luck—because Dance Spirit is searching for an editorial intern for summer 2019!
We'll be accepting applications through March 1. Internships pay an hourly stipend and require a minimum two-day-a-week, onsite commitment in our NYC office from June to August. (We do not provide assistance securing housing.)
If you're interested, please send a cover letter, resumé and two writing samples to Margaret Fuhrer at email@example.com. Be sure to put "Summer Internship Application" in the subject line. All attachments must be formatted as PDFs.
We will interview selected candidates in March in person or by phone, and let candidates know by mid-April if they have been chosen. Please note that we do not accept high school students, or any students under 18, and that we give preference to college juniors and seniors.
We can't wait to meet you!