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The first session I attended was on Saturday afternoon. Entitled Presenting Ballet Across America, it was a panel of artistic directors of ballet companies and critics. Sitting on the panel were the Washington Ballet‘s artistic director, Septime Webre, and associate director, Jeff Edwards. From the Boston Ballet, artistic director Miko Nissinen. From the Joffrey Ballet, artistic director Ashely Wheater. Critics Jean Battey Lewis of the Washington Times and Theodore Bale from Boston rounded out the panel. The moderator was the NY Post’s Robert Johnson.

Though I am but a baby in the world of balletomanes, even I was able recognize the star power of this panel. Topics discussed were accessibility, outreach and education, programming choices, touring, music, and relationships with critics. On this last topic, I thought it was a nice touch to have critics from the same cities as two of the artistic directors, given their long-standing, if at times adversarial, relationships. I was going to neatly summarize everything, but there were so many nice nuggets of insight and quotes that the below is essentially a cleaned-up version of my notes.

 On accessibility:

 To gain an entry point to dance, audiences need to find something that they can connect with. Some connect with abstract ideas and emotions, while others need more explicit or literal imagery. Dancegoers seem to have shorter attention spans than operagoers. Why is it operagoers will happily sit through a 4 hour opera, but dancegoers squirm in their seats if it’s over an hour? These considerations may be factored in for whether a work will contain an intermission or not.

On the use of popular music to appeal to broader audiences: 

Very few of those pieces have any staying power, because they relied on the strength of the music or the star power of the musician rather than on the strength of the choreography. Tharp’s Sinatra Songs is an exception because it was such a significant contribution to the American jazz canon (it’s been done by 17 companies, and counting). Live music is so important to the art. It’s not financially feasible to have Sting go on tour with you. If we do want to use contemporary music, we need to start seeking out one of the many talented, but lesser known musicians working today.

On TV, video and movies:

This is an exciting time where dancing being #1 on TV for the first time in decades is very exciting. It’s a moment of opportunity. We’re just waiting to see a reality show about ballet! There needs to be better integration of video and dance– the video behind the dancer showing abstractions or cues has been done. An example of innovation was given from the Paris Ballet where video showed activities going on live offstage that vastly contrasted with what the audience saw on stage.

The Company did more harm than good to the Joffrey. It trivialized the company and was a caricature of the artistic director and his process. It would add value to have dance critics write about dance movies and dance on TV, rather than a TV or movie critic that knows nothing about the art. Two exceptions cited were Lewis’ review of Fred Astaire movie reissues, and Bale’s review of The Company

Someone asked why so few video dances apply the classical dance vocabularly (mostly modern and ballroom). Maybe it’s because ballet thinks so rigidly in terms of the rectangular proscenium stage, whereas video benefits from more dynamic facings and shapes. HD technology is a good thing– it allows more of the movement to come through the screen, even on proscenium-filmed video dances.

Would companies ever consider a shift of resources from live to video dance? To do it right, you have to invest millions of dollars in the right equipment, which will become obsolete in just a few years. It’s not financially feasible because it would take too much away from the audiences. What about alternative sources of funding? Forsythe did a DVD the documents his whole process, and it was funded by museums.

On education:

We need to think about how we can better develop talent in the USA. 40% of companies are foreign and 70% of principles are foreign. This says something about the quality of our own training. Other countries have rigid training and curricula in place. We need to look at what sort of standards of quality we should require for teachers and students. Discipline and rigor are lacking, yet we are trying to do too much too early (i.e., 8 yr olds going en pointe). Schools affiliated with companies are money makers so there’s an incentive to keep standards lower, such as holding on to students that are not progressing, to keep getting their tuition.

On diversity:  

 It is difficult to attract African American dancers. They mostly seem to gravitate to historically AA companies such as Ailey. What could companies do to become more representative of the communities they belong to?

There is a trend now to more varied body types. How we talk about shape and weight has changed, and our eyes have changed in terms of how we see bodies.

 On dance criticism:  

Dance critics can do more to inform their audiences and provide context. There is too much “inside baseball,” assuming readers know much more than they do about dance. In terms of how companies see their critics, articles should be constructive and emphasize the singular point of view so that readers understand that it’s coming from just one perspective.

I find that I’m often apologizing for not having posted in a while. My general goal is to post at least three times a week and to stay up-to-date with a core group of dance blogs on my feed. But that can’t always happen. I travel quite a bit for my job, and two thirds of the places I go are small and rural towns. Internet access can be iffy there and my days are so long that there’s no time for writing.

Then there’s the fact that I tend to be more inspired to write when I am surrounded by dance. I seek out dance opportunities on the road when I can (more on that later), but I am missing out on my normal classes on rehearsals. I was on an airplane during the last episode of Step It Up and Dance and anyway, it seems most hotels I stay in do not carry Bravo tv in their lineup.

Then there is my at-home routine. Missed classes mean that I’m constantly struggling to get my body back into top dance shape, and missed rehearsals can mean missed performance and casting opportunities. My family and friends are important to me, and being away so much means that I may miss additional classes and practices to spend quality time with them.

If you are like me, just trying to balance (as the subtitle of this blog says) a passion for dance with real life, I’ve put together a list of some of my own strategies for balancing your traveling lifestyle with your love for dance.  Even if you don’t travel too much, some of these things can apply to you whenever you travel.

  1. Take care of your body. Just about every hotel these days has a gym, and if they don’t they usually have an agreement with a local gym. Going for a run on the treadmill will help you maintain cardiovascular endurance, and it also helps me be wide awake for those early morning meetings. As for stretching, I try to do short yoga sequence before bed, maintaining flexibility and centering me before bed. I’m not so good about working out at home, but I find that the close proximity of the hotel gym (or a yoga studio: see my post Keeping Balance on the Road) motivates me to work out every day.
  2. Travel can be a minefield of junk food– acknowledge it and do what you can to minimize the damage. I was going to entitle this one “watch what you eat” but I wanted to practice what I preach. Sometimes it can be impossible to avoid eating fatty simple carbs when that is your only option, and the cookie tray/candy dish that comes out mid-afternoon can be hard to resist. Acknowledge that this is a challenge and try to load up on fruit and other healthy options when the opportunity arises. Even in the most rural haven of fried food, there is usually a salad and a vegetable side dish on the menu. If you don’t follow this one, at least you’re working out every day at the gym! It behooves all of us to eat healthy for a variety of reasons, but mine is seeing my bloated, lethargic self wearing nothing but a spandex leotard in the floor-to-ceiling mirror at the next ballet class.
  3. Take advantage of the alone time to practice. Usually all I want to do when I get back to my room is conk out on the bed and turn on the boob tube, but taking even just 10 minutes to go over some complicated steps or practice a barre sequence can make a big difference and will make you feel like you did something. I hardly ever have time to practice at home. Even if I’m alone at home, I feel guilty about laundry or dishes (or writing in my blog!) but you don’t have those pressures in the hotel room. Take advantage of this precious time.
  4. Go to class. Although I said 2/3 of the time I’m in small, rural towns, I didn’t mention that the other 1/3 I go to large cities. Chances are, any city with a population over 100,000 is going to have some opportunities for dance. Do your research before you leave so you can schedule appropriately. For classes, a google search for “[city name] adult dance classes” will pull up some local dance schools offering evening classes for adults. Make sure you call ahead to make sure they take students on a drop-in basis, and that classes will be offered the dates you’re there. It is often hard to make this work, but doing your research in advance will at least keep your options open. It is also great for your development to study with different instructors in different cities.
  5. Social dancers: this is your golden opportunity! If you are a social dancer– salsa, swing, etc, travel may be one of the very best things for your growth and confidence as a dancer. Most large cities have at least one opportunity each night of the week for social dancing. Here again, google is your friend (i.e., “detroit salsa”). My strategy when I walk in the door is to ask the organizers where the serious dancers hang out. More often than not, they will introduce you to the best dancers, who in turn will be excited to dance with someone outside of the same old group. Living in a city with a large a vibrant salsa scene (DC), it is fun and confidence-boosting for me to travel to smaller cities where I can be a big fish in a small pond. Every city has its own distinct style of social dancing, and exposing yourself to new styles and new partners will help you improve by leaps and bounds. See my account of Salsa in Seattle for an example of this.
  6. About 4 and 5: bring some extra cash and a shot of courage. Getting out there to find classes and clubs in an unfamiliar city is not always easy. It may entail a pricey cab ride and you have no idea once you get there if it was worth the trip (see The $52 cha cha cha). Obviously, have your wits about you and ask around about the neighborhoods you are going to to make sure it is a safe place to go on your own. But don’t let being alone be your only excuse. Chances are, if you show up and put yourself out there, you are going to be glad you did.

Happy Trails!

Only a fool would voluntarily go to Chicago in the middle of January (and before I get any haters, I grew up in an even colder place, so I know what I’m talking about). I spent the last 24 hours in Chicago and although my visit there was by no means voluntary, my consolation prize was some salsa tourism.

Was it worth the $20 in cab rides, $10 cover, $2 mandatory coat check, and $20 bar minimum (which the bartender sweetly informed me of after handing me my $7 drink), having to wait an hour for the DJ, which didn’t start until 10:30 (on a Tuesday night?!), and then dragging my tired self out of bed at the crack of dawn the next morning to give a presentation whose sole purpose was to deliver some bad news? The verdict’s still out on that one, but let’s rewind, shall we… Read the rest of this entry »

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