Ballet dancers and competition dancers have always had a strange, often strained, relationship. Over the years there’s been a bit of snobbery on both sides since the requirements, training, and short-term goals so greatly differ. Since So You Think You Can Dance began gaining popularity, the gap has been bridged to an extent. It’s forced dancers in all genres to expand their horizons.
Ask any competition judge what the most important class a dancer can take is. They’ll reply: Ballet. Ballet. Ballet.
I challenge you to find any established ballet company these days whose season only features classical works.
Times have changed. Audiences have changed. And now the dancer must change. These days, in order to make dance a profession, you must be more versatile artistically and technically than was required in the past. Contemporary works (ballets included) call for stronger bodies, more turns, highers jump. Yoga, Pilates, and other forms of cross-training are absolutely essential.
Last weekend, the studio I work for attended a dance competition and convention in Houston. While I didn’t grow up dancing the competition circuit, I’m always excited to see other dance teachers in action. Regardless of genre, the people hired are professionals – experts in their field. You can always find something in others’ teaching to incorporate into your own class.
– While observing a jazz class, I picked up new floorwork to help strengthen hip flexors (you’d better believe I’ll be adding this to my yoga classes too!) and an awesome exercise to help dancers gain height in saut de chats and grand jetes.
– A contemporary teacher claimed that “Arms are the glitter of your body. They make it look pretty!” What beginning ballet student wouldn’t be inspired to pay more attention to port de bras with that analogy?!
– I gained new insight for teaching artistry for dancers performing even the most classical story ballet in a lyrical class.
The list goes on. Did I mention their ballet teacher, Linda Giancaspro, was fabulously wonderful? And not only because we both have the Vaganova background, incorporate yoga and Pilates into conditioning classes, and she’s danced with Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev… She had tips for teaching ballet runs without looking like a lunatic, how to get kiddos to balance in retiré on demi-pointe after a pirouette, and so much more!
I went into the weekend not knowing what to expect, and left feeling excited to get back in the studio and begin new works. I still prefer creating full lengths and it’s what I’ll continue to do, but I’m inspired nonetheless. And at the end of the day, I guess that’s really what it’s all about for all of us – getting together to share our love and passion for movement.