Tag Archives: new york city ballet

Debunking Ballet Myths

 

While many people admire ballet as art form, it’s also often criticized. Unhealthy body image is one of the most common complaints. But are these criticisms based on reality or myth? Let’s examine some of the most common ballet myths and see what’s real:

1. All ballet dancers are anorexic.

The average professional ballet dancer spends anywhere from five to eight hours each day dancing their butts off; imagine how slim you would be if you exercised that much! Ballet also naturally creates longer, leaner lines in the body, unlike other athletic pursuits such as running, which create bulkier muscles. Although they are slender, most dancers are health-conscious—they have to be in order to have enough energy to get through their long, active days…although their busy schedules mean they snack throughout the day as opposed to eating huge meals (it’s hard to be light on your feet with a full belly!).

2. If you want to be a professional ballet dancer you have to start taking ballet classes early, like when you are still in the womb.

Just look at ballet superstar Misty Copeland; her story will burn that myth right out of your head. Copeland didn’t begin taking ballet classes until she was thirteen, yet in 2007 she made dance history when she became the third African American female soloist (and the first in two decades) at American Ballet Theater. Another classmate of mine at the School of American Ballet didn’t begin ballet until she was twelve but later went on to dance with New York City Ballet.

3. All male ballet dancers are gay. There are certainly a lot of good-looking men in ballet but just because they put on tights doesn’t mean there aren’t some hot-blooded heterosexuals in the mix. The real-life partnership between New York City Ballet principal dancers Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck is not just one of the most romantic love stories in ballet history (teen sweethearts, drama, breakup(s) and a happy ending when Fairchild proposed in Paris), it is one of the most prominent ballet marriages today. Other well-known ballet couples include San Francisco Ballet Principal Dancers Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan, Boston Ballet principals Carlos Molina and Erica Cornejo and Nelson Madrigal and Lorna Feijoo, Ballet West soloists Easton Smith and Haley Henderson. Still not convinced? Rent “The Turning Point” (a classic ballet film) and watch Baryshnikov make his moves.

4. You have to be a twig if you want to be a ballet dancer. While this was true during the Balanchine era, perspectives on dancers’ bodies is changing dramatically and today’s dancers are more muscular and feminine. Take a look at the lineup of dancers from companies like LINES Ballet, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and Ballet Black. English National Ballet Artistic Director Tamara Rojo recently made it known that she’s not interested in employing underweight ballerinas. Ballet dancers such as Kathryn Morgan, a former New York City Ballet soloist, St. Paul Ballet dancer Brittany Adams and New York City Ballet veteran Jennifer Ringer are becoming more vocal about promoting a healthy body image. If you want to delve deeper on the issue, check outStrength and Beauty,” a documentary about ballerinas’ personal accounts of dealing with issues like weight.

 

5. Ballet dancers are weak, timid girlie girls who love anything pink. If that were true, why are droves of football players signing up for ballet? Headliner Steve McLendon of the Pittsburgh Steelers says, “ballet is harder than anything else I do”. Ballet dancers are not delicate little flowers, nor is ballet easy. It’s actually enormously difficult both physically AND mentally. A dancer has to remember several ballets’ worth of choreography at any given time PLUS be strong enough to leap, turn, grande battement, and relevé for (sometimes) HOURS on end.

balletGirls

6. Pointe hurts. Stretching hurts.

It doesn’t hurt if you’re doing it right! Well, okay, pointe shoes sometimes hurt when you wear them day after day for hours at a time. But dancers build up their flexibility and foot strength over time. It’s a process where things progress slowly. Beginning pointe classes, for instance, are very brief. If things hurt, it’s time to slow down or back off and if you experience pain when you’re stretching it’s actually a clear indication that you’re pushing things too far.

7. Ballet dancers naturally dance well at parties and nightclubs. Just because someone is a ballet dancer does not mean they’ll be a hit on the dance floor at your next party. Trust me; these are two very different types of dancing. In fact, ballet is so regimented and precise that it’s difficult for ballet dancers to cut loose. It’s much more likely they’ll resemble a spastic electrocuted chicken on the dance floor.

8.All female ballet dancers are ballerinas. Typical cocktail party conversation: “Oh, I didn’t know that you were a ballerina!” Um, I’m not. I’m a ballet dancer. Only the highest-ranking female dancers in a ballet company are ranked as ballerinas. The corps and soloist dancers in the company are not ranked as ballerinas yet.

9. Since ballet terms are French all ballet dancers speak fluent French. Sadly, no ( je suis desolée). Just because ballet terms are in French does not mean that we speak French fluently, nor is there any guarantee that our pronunciation incredible…or even correct.

10. Ballet dancers are not the brightest bulbs in the pack. Refer to item number 5 above, for how much dancers have to remember (A LOT). This skill also serves dancers well in school, since more dancers are choosing take college courses in the midst of their dance careers, with the blessings of top ballet companies including American Ballet Theater and New York City Ballet (who offer scholarship money to their dancers). Boston Ballet recently teamed up with Northeastern University to offer a program to help dancers earn their degrees while they are dancing. The university’s flexible schedule accommodates dancers’ routines and the company’s scholarship fund covers up to 80% of tuition…which means there are a lot of brainiacs on pointe out there.

As you can see, most myths don’t stand up to investigation. Whether your attitude towards ballet is “love it” or “leave it”, you can now make an educated choice.

Classical Music That Will Rock Your World

 

This WISH playlist doesn’t read like a typical YA playlist, but just like Indigo, the main character, I grew up submerged in classical music – it spoke to my heart. I had a few crushes over the years but Tchaikovsky was my first true love. Indigo listens to this type of music a lot, not just because she needs to know the music she’s dancing to intimately but because the music is achingly beautiful. It may not get any airtime on MTV or go viral on YouTube, but classical music has topped the charts for centuries. Why? Because it rocks. No one knew this better than George Balanchine, founder of New York City Ballet, and one of the world’s most famous choreographers. Balanchine had a true knack for choosing exquisite music for his ballets. Give them a listen. You might just find this music will change your tune.

art by xjaneax

art by xjaneax

Ballet: Serenade

Music: Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48

Composer: Peter IlyitchTschaikovsky

Premier:

George Balanchine used this music when he choreographed Serenade. The first performance of Serenade was on June 10, 1934, by students of the School of American Ballet, at Felix Warburg’s estate, White Plains, New York.

Serenade is a milestone in the history of dance. It is the first original ballet Balanchine created in America and is one of the signature works of New York City Ballet’s repertory. Balanchine had a special affinity for Tschaikovsky. “In everything that I did to Tschaikovsky’s music,” he told an interviewer, “I sensed his help. It wasn’t real conversation. But when I was working and saw that something was coming of it, I felt that it was Tschaikovsky who had helped me.”

Ballet: Concerto Barocco

Music: Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, B.W.V.

Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

Premier: 1941

Balanchine said of this work: “If the dance designer sees in the development of classical dancing a counterpart in the development of music and has studied them both, he will derive continual inspiration from great scores.” This work began as an exercise by Balanchine for the School of American Ballet. In this ballet the dancers are dressed in practice clothes, probably the first appearance of what has come to be regarded as a signature Balanchine costume for contemporary works. On October 11, 1948, Concerto Barocco was one of three ballets on the program at New York City Ballet’s first performance.

Ballet: Chaconne

Music: Ballet music from the opera Orfeo ed Euridice

Composer: Christoph Willibald Gluck

Premier: 1976

A chaconne is a dance, built on a short phrase in the bass, that was often used by composers of the 17th and 18th centuries to end an opera in a festive mood. This choreography, first performed in the 1963 Hamburg State Opera production of Orfeo ed Euridice, was somewhat altered for presentation as the ballet Chaconne, particularly in the sections for the principal dancers.

This is one of a handful of ballets where the dancers wear their hair down, adding to the ethereal quality of the piece. I was lucky enough to perform this ballet with Pacific Northwest Ballet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City.

Ballet: Square Dance

Music: Concerto Grosso in B minor, Op. 3 no. 10; Concerto Grosso in E major, Op. 3, no. 12 (first movement), Sarabanda, Badinerie e Giga (second and third movements)

Composer(s): Antonio Vivaldi / Arcangelo Corelli

Premier: 1957

In Square Dance, Balanchine joined the traditions of American folk dance with classical ballet. He felt the two types of dance, though widely different in style, had common roots and a similar regard for order. He wrote: “The American style of classical dancing, its supple sharpness and richness of metrical invention, its superb preparation for risks, and its high spirits were some of the things I was trying to show in this ballet.” This ballet is known to be one of the most demanding for the corps, both in the complexity of the steps and the amount of stamina required to perform it.

Ballet: Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbündlertänze”

Music: Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6

Composer: Robert Schumann,

Permier: 1976

Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbündlertänze” was one of Balanchine’s last major works. Against a setting inspired, in part, by the works of the 19th century German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, a series of dances unfolds for four couples. While not literally a biographical narrative, the ballet draws on the life of Schumann, its alternating moods suggesting the episodes of joy and depression that marked the composer’s short career and difficult romance with Clara Wieck. Original dancers were Suzanne Farrell, Kay Mazzo, Heather Watts, Karin von Aroldingen, Jacques d’Amboise, Ib Andersen, Peter Martins and Adam Lüders.

MORE READING:

How to become a professional ballet dancer

World Ballet Day

A day in the life of a professional ballet student

Ballet on the Big (or Little) Screen

Anyone who’s ever wanted a behind-the-scenes look at the world of ballet pretty much has their pick these days. After the recent success of World Ballet Day where millions of viewers tuned into live streams from five top companies the interest in ballet is at an all-time high. Here is an additional handful of series and films to help you get your fill. Happy viewing!


 

Breaking Pointe: A reality show about Ballet West, a ballet company based in Salt Lake City, Utah. The show is described as “A series that goes behind the stage curtain for an intense, unfiltered look at one of the most competitive ballet companies in the country. Beneath the beauty and glamour of the dance and costumes is a gritty dog-eat-dog world of extreme athleticism, focus, dedication, passion, pressure and, of course, the hunt for the unattainable perfection.” The show ran for two seasons before calling it quits but you can still catch the episodes for free. Even better news: you can binge watch the series.

city.ballet: Enter the graceful but competitive world of ballet through the eyes of executive producer, Sarah Jessica Parker (Parker currently sits on the board of NYCB). This behind-the-scenes docudrama reveals what it takes to perform on the ultimate stage, the New York City Ballet. 12 episodes plus a number of extras.

Big Ballet:  A three-part series that chronicles the highs and lows of a plus-size amateur troupe mounting a production of Swan Lake. Led by ballet legend Wayne Sleep, who worked through his own size issues as the shortest dancer ever to debut on the Royal Ballet stage, and Prima Ballerina Monica Loughman, Big Ballet shows the world that it’s not about the size of the dancer, but the size of the dancer’s heart.

First Position: Every year, thousands of aspiring dancers enter one of the world’s largest ballet competitions, the Youth America Grand Prix. FIRST POSITION follows six extraordinary dancers as they prepare for the chance to enter the world of professional ballet, struggling through bloodied feet, near exhaustion and debilitating injuries, all while navigating the drama of adolescence.

Afternoon of a Faun: The Tanaquil Le Clercq story. Of the great ballerinas, Tanaquil Le Clercq may have been the most transcendent. She mesmerized viewers and choreographers alike – her elongated, race-horse physique became the new prototype for the great George Balanchine. The muse to both Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, they loved her as a dancer and a woman. Balanchine married her and Robbins created his famous Afternoon of a Faun for Tanny. She was the foremost dancer of her day until it suddenly all stopped. At age 27, Tanny was struck down by polio and paralyzed. She never danced again.

Still need more?

Marie Claire’s 5 Best Ballet Films of All Time

MUBI’s 15 Best Ballet Films

 

Why School of American Ballet Summer Intensives Are Important

As the final week of SAB’s Summer Intensive approaches, every dancer wonders the same thing: will I be asked to stay on as a permanent student? While it’s an incredible experience spending the summer in New York City while studying with the top ballet faculty in the country, the invitation to stay on is what really matters. This marks a dancer as having enough promise to have a ballet career, perhaps one day with New York City Ballet.

SAB states that Peter Martins, Chairman of Faculty at SAB and Ballet Master in Chief of New York City Ballet, observes every student in class. Mr. Martins and the faculty assess each summer student’s interest and technical accomplishment but only a select few are asked to stay on. Many students attend two or three SAB summers before they’re ready for the Winter Term.

I was asked to stay on for Winter Term after my second summer at SAB. At that time George Balanchine was still alive and running New York City Ballet, but he rarely came to the school (and never during the Summer Intensive). Instead, Antonina Tumkovsky (one of the most influential teachers at SAB, who taught there from 1949-2003) conducted student evaluations, with help from Nathalie Gleboff (the School’s Executive Director). Although I understood nothing that was said the day my class was evaluated, it was nerve-wracking (and obvious) when I was being discussed. Days later, when my ballet teacher gave me the good news that I had been asked to stay, my life was irrevocably changed: I was going to study full-time at the top ballet school in the country, leave my family behind, and move to New York City on my own.

I was fourteen years old.

As crazy as this sounds, it’s a common scenario for young dancers, although I left home earlier than most. Since ballet dancers begin dancing professionally in their late teens, training has to happen even earlier.

Next week is the final week of SAB’s Summer Intensive, and my thoughts are with all of the hopeful, young dancers who have traveled so far and worked hard to follow their dreams. This may be one of the most stressful weeks they’ve ever had, but I hope they remember to soak it all in, enjoy the magic of New York, and learn everything they can.