Category Archives: Dance and Culture

Dance Etiquette for Dummies

Stretch - Phone Dancer
Don’t pay more attention to your phone than your technique!

You may not know it, but there’s an art taking a dance class—and it’s not just in doing the steps.  In each  genre there are certain unspoken rules of do’s and don’ts.  Break the unspoken rules of dance etiquette and you’ll stand out for all the wrong reasons.

(Many of these rules apply outside of dance, too.  Just last week I was next to someone in yoga who was checking his phone in the middle of downward dog).

In this world where we have so many distractions, we also need a time to devote our whole attention span for an hour or two.  The key to getting the most out of a dance class is about being tuned into the moment and focusing on what’s inside…not the distractions on the outside.

 

  • Turn your phone off.  What if there’s a major disaster in the middle of class?  What if someone just liked your status?  Chances are your phone updates can wait.  And I don’t just mean turning it to silent—turn it off.  Don’t check it during breaks, don’t glance at it during warm ups.  Besides, then you can feel extra popular when you get out of class and see the build-up of notifications. 
  • You can look, but not judge.  I love watching other people mess up in dance class—because I’m usually doing the exact same thing.  When I see someone figure out how to correct a mistake in their form, or do a move that much better, you learn from them.  But there’s a fine line between constructively pinpointing improvement points, and making yourself feel superior because someone fell out of a turn.  Class is about making mistakes and learning from them—be respectful and remember that someone not getting a combo right doesn’t make you a better dancer. 
  • Keep the chatter to a minimum. It’s hard when you finally get to see a bunch of your friends, but make sure that your conversations don’t distract from the class, and never speak in the middle of a dance combination.  Feel free to cheer when someone knocks a combination out of the park, though! 
  • Be aware of your personal space bubble.  Sometimes you’ll be crammed into a packed class with barely enough room to lift your hands above your head.  Always, always, always be aware of the space around you.  It’s expected that your space bubble will bump into a few others, but try send your awesome extension into your neighbor’s nose.
Stretch - Room for Everyone!
See? There’s plenty of room for everybody!
  • Remember what your mother taught you.  It’s a good practice to always thank your teacher at the end of the class.  It’s a tough life to be a good dance teacher—often full of long days, whiney students, and sweaty studios, and a genuine acknowledgement at the end of the day can remind them just how much we need them.  

What are your dance class pet peeves?  Feel free to chime in on our Facebook, Twitter, or below in the comments about what dance etiquette is important to you!

An Open Letter to Accompanists

Dear Accompanists of the World,

Last week, I posted an article about the many days of the year that celebrate some form of dancing—ballet, hip hop, ballroom, and many more.  However, there is one important element of dance who needs to be appreciated, and yet is constantly ignored as a background player: you, the accompanist.

You are the forgotten heroes of the dance and performance world.  Rehearsals are useless without you, classes are dull.  But you do so much more than that.

You play just a hair slower when you see that we’re having problems with a fast combination, but not enough that the teacher will catch you doing it.  You subtly emphasize the melody when I’m behind.  You wink at me after I get called out by the choreographer for messing up the steps.

For me, a good accompanist is the reason that gets me out of bed for a 9am ballet class.  You’re the reason I hold my developee just a little higher, that balance just a fraction longer.  You pull that extra oomph out of me when I think I have no more to give.

When I was nine years old, I wanted to quit ballet.  Ballet can be a boring exercise, particularly because it is so dependent on strengthening tiny muscles and holding frankly absurd positions for painful minutes, and after six years of being told to turn my feet in unnatural directions, I was tapped out.

My mother, in her infinite wisdom and apathy for my suffering, refused to let me quit.  I spent another three years going to dance out of duty.  In fact, my mom ended up putting me in a summer workshop where I took dance for six hours a day (there’s a reason we don’t complain to my mom), but it was this workshop that changed my view of dance.

I didn’t notice at first that they had brought in a new accompanist for this workshop.  To me, accompanists played the same classical airs, but seemed to run the melodies through a filter that made everything seem like a dirge playing in half time.  They seemed less like humans, and more like animated metrenomes.

And then she started playing.

She didn’t play Bach.  She didn’t play Rachmaninoff.  She played Harry Potter.  And how she played it.  It wasn’t just about plunking out the notes, but making music.  She didn’t look down on us because this was just another Saturday morning ballet class full of twelve-year-olds, but a special concert that only we got to hear.

For the first time in ballet class in years, I wanted to dance.  I wanted to dance well enough to fit that music, and I’ve been working towards it ever since.

When an accompanist plays well, they become another character in the dance that you can interact with.  They add more flavor to the piece, and dancer and musician can feed off of each other creating a symphony of music and dance together.  Great accompanists are great musicians who truly see that all the world is a stage and hold nothing back, even in rehearsals.

I cannot thank you enough for the hours of sweaty rehearsals, repetitive numbers, and the infinite patience and skill you bring to each and every occasion. There’s not an accompanist appreciation day—yet—but I think you all deserve our respect and gratitude for inspiring us to become skilled, versatile performers.

 

photos-page-piano

Football vs Ballet

Misty vs FootballI came into this article expecting to find irrefutable proof that dancers easily outdistance their competition.  I remember back in high school when a football player challenged a girl who took spent about four hours dancing after school each day to a push up contest—and she beat the pants off of him.  I thought that when I wrote up the details of football vs ballet, the winner would be clear.

The results surprised me.

I won’t say that I’m completely biased against football—but I will admit that I may be just a bit jealous because football players get paid millions of dollars more than their dancing counterparts, or because most people in the US have at least one favorite football team, but couldn’t care less about their local dance company.

It wasn’t that football players were far above dancers in the stats–but it was how similar the two disciplines were. The more I researched, the more surprised I was to see similar correlations between reasons for injuries, longevity in the profession, and hours of practice though really, I shouldn’t have been–they’re both athletic activities that depend on perfect physical execution).  This table below is just the tip of the iceberg of what I uncovered:

Ballet Football
Calories/hour 600 656
Hours of practice/day 7.5 2-8
Percentage of injuries/year 61% 264%
BMI 13-18.5 18.5-24.9
Average Retirement Age 34 28
Average Salary $22,516-100,000 $4-14 million

You can tell just from this small chart alone what some of the advantages and disadvantages of each activity are.  It’s one thing to think about the injuries a football player sustains when it happens on screen—it’s another to see how the numbers add up.

It’s also another thing to hear about eating disorders in dancers and to see the hard evidence in their BMIs.  The lowest healthy BMI for women is about 18.5—to see that that number is the highest of the range for professional dancers, and should be a wake up call to those in the field.

It was amazing to see the similarities between these two disciplines that seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum.  It also introduced another difficult point: how do you determine the winner?  Football players certainly have much higher incomes, but an astronomically higher injury rates.  Dancers have a longer careers, but only by a slim margin.  Both dancers and football players are put under extreme stress during their primes, but dancers have a much healthier mental state after they retire.

Footballer in ballet
It’ll probably come out a tie in the end, but it’s a great excuse to post pics of football players doing ballet in the meanwhile!!

A disclaimer: Research on the impact of sports and dance on both mental and physical health is an emerging field, so bear with me on some of the numbers.  As football and ballet are two very different disciplines, there won’t always be exact crossovers in the data, as ABT is going to report different data than the NFL will (for example, most reported dance injuries were sprains, breaks, and other muscle and bone-related injuries.  The most prominent NFL injury statistics ignore sprains almost completely and focus on concussions).  What I aim to do is present the big picture, and maybe those with the money and resources to research these ideas properly will follow up!

Growing Pains: Building a Professional Company

I know we make it look easy, but it’s a lot harder to get a dance company off the ground and en pointe (pun 100% intended).  I know a lot of new dance companies sprouting up—which is amazing—but there are a lot of pitfalls and obstacles waiting for new troupes.  Here are just a few that Stretch Dance Co. has faced a new professional dance company—and how we’re overcoming them.

If you’re part of a new company, chime in on any difficulties your organization has come across!

Location, Location, Location

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This dance studio was dark and had huge poles in the middle of the dance floor. It also had a random cactus in the corner that I almost cartwheeled into!

Stretchers came from all over Southern California for rehearsal, so it can be hard to find a central, safe place to dance.  It took some time to find our perfect rehearsal space—especially because Lyndell has just as high expectations of her rehearsal spaces as she does her dancers.  Helping to search for a rehearsal space was one of my first jobs when I offered to help with some of the background work of Stretch, and Lyndell’s requirements mandated that a studio have sprung floors, restrooms on the premises, and free parking nearby. (Insert pics of past studios and mention why they didn’t work)

How we’re overcoming it: After a few starts in other studios, Lyndell found Studio A Dance.  It’s an awesome, warm space that meets all of requirements and then some.  My favorite part of the studio are the Christmas lights strung up outside!

I Have Lived a Thousand Years   a Fractured Atlas sponsored project
Fractured Atlas has been a huge help in spreading the word and coaching us through grant applications!

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The arts is always suffering for funding, and new professional dance companies find it even more difficult to make ends meet. You can read here to find out more.

How we’re overcoming it: We are working to make the company more stable through personal donations, handled through Fractured Atlas.  We’re also starting to apply for grants.  We managed to nab a grant from Disney in 2013, and hoping to add more this year!  Once our productions get underway, we’ll be able to generate income from ticket sales, but until then, every little bit from friends, family, and donors helps!

Who Are We Again?

Part of the problem with applying for grants, and sometimes even venues, is that new companies don’t have much stage or street cred.  Established companies like Alvin Ailey don’t need to explain who they are to many theaters or foundations because they’ve been around long enough to have built a name for themselves.  It’s even harder to for Stretch because theatrical dance isn’t a common dance form.

How we’re overcoming it: Stretch is lucky to have an awesome social media manager in Matt Lardner (thanks Matt!), and weekly blogs, posts, and videos help make a name for ourselves.  Lyndell also interviews with Variety City,  World Dance Awards, and the Shoah Foundation (and looks totally at home no matter what!) to help spread the word.

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And these are just a few!  Phew!  Something tells me I’m going to end up writing a follow up to this post.  Anyway, new ventures (whether it’s a professional dance company or otherwise), feel free to chime in in the comments on your experiences!

Make a New Year’s Resolution That Matters: Support the Arts in 2014!

It’s that time of year again.  Time for throwing out the cigarettes, getting a gym membership, and going for one last binge of all the chocolate in the house so that you can start the new year right.

This year, instead of making a New Year’s resolution that you probably won’t enjoy (because no matter how much you say you want to eat healthily, it’s no fun saying no to cookies), why not try something that enriches your mind and keeps the arts alive?

This year, why not make it your New Year’s resolution to support the arts?

Saying that the arts are the first to go in times of economic hardship is so cliché, you almost don’t need the statistics to paint how hard it is for theaters to survive in today’s cultural climate (but don’t worry; I have the numbers to prove it, too).

Closed Theater - National Theater
We lose more than just the performers without support. The National Theater was built in 1911 and is a registered historic building, but has fallen into disrepair.

First Lady Michelle Obama believes that “our artists challenge our assumptions in ways that many cannot and do not. They expand our understandings, and push us to view our world in new and very unexpected ways…. It is a form of diplomacy in which we can all take part.”  History proves her point. The first African American musical performed on Broadway in 1898, almost 60 years before the first integrated public schools.  The first gay actor came out in 1933, 75 years before  California legalized gay marriage.

But not all government officials believe in the power of the arts.  It’s strange that the arts budgets are cut first, particularly by as they generate $9.59 billion annually in federal tax income alone, and pump in over $60 million into the economy each year.  In comparison, a proposed spending reduction act in 2011 that threatened to eliminate funding to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities would save $167.5 million a year—a mere fraction of what the arts brings in.

Arts for Humanity
Arts education has shown that test scores can jump 20-22% in Math and English in elementary and middle school students.

And the trouble with the arts doesn’t stop and start with theaters.  Over the past ten years, elementary schools offering performing and visual arts opportunities dropped from 20% to 3-4%.    This is a critical time to begin learning, as students who study music consistently outperform (literally) their counterparts in math and science national tests, and arts students are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement.

There are so many ways to support the arts, and each one plays a vital role in the health of the arts.  I’m not saying you have to go out and donate your entire life savings to your local theater.  But theater is about building communities–and we can’t do that if you don’t click out of the YouTube videos, change out of your pajamas, and meet us halfway.

See community theater. See professional theater.  Go to an art exhibit.  Help the local school paint their sets for their show.  Give a gift basket for a theater’s fundraiser.  Skip Starbucks for a week and donate the money you saved to a theater.  Support the arts.  You’ll be fulfilling your New Year’s resolution to cut back on coffee, and supporting institutions that build stronger, more open-minded communities…and that’s a New Year’s resolution that will last far beyond 2014.

 

Photo credit: http://afterthefinalcurtain.net/2013/01/24/the-national-theatre/http://www.artsforhumanity.com/about-us/funding/

Stretch - Donate