Dancers After Dark

“The one thing you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and dance and build and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that just possibly you are walking down the street naked… that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.” Neil Gaiman

One evening in late January I met with photographer Jordan Matter in Downtown Little Rock. Twenty minutes later we hopped a fence, I tossed all my clothes to the side, and scrambled onto a pile of logs in 19 degree weather. On October 18, that image will be released by Workman Publishing in Jordan’s new book, Dancers After Dark.

While my photograph isn’t social media friendly, you can pre-order the book here. Maybe you’ll be able to spot the splinter that’s now permanently embedded in my left butt cheek. xx


Weekend in Little Rock

Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas wasn’t exactly the most thrilling of experiences. I spent the majority of my teens plotting my escape, and my present day visits are fewer and further in between than either of my parents would like. It’s a sleepy spot in a forest-covered state caught somewhere between a town and a city. There are no professional sports teams (in the entire state), no opera (they barely have a ballet company) the restaurants all seem to close by 9pm (midnight on the weekends if you’re lucky), and there’s not even a real Lululemon (it’s a “pop up” store or something like that). However, when a former schoolmate asked me to teach at her studio’s summer intensive, I found that I couldn’t say no. So I spent the beginning of this week in Little Rock.

Rock City Dance Center is nestled in a shopping center in West Little Rock next to the only Whole Foods in the state (score!). Four studios (one underground) painted in bright colors, with new marley flooring in 3 of them (one remains wood for the tappers), an awesome health vending machine, a vibrant faculty, and enthusiastic students! The class slots were too short for a full master class, so I taught ballet variations (Silver Fairy & Aurora’s Variation from Act II of “Sleeping Beauty”) on two days and yoga for dancers on one. The mentality was very similar to my current studio and I felt right at home with the friendly staff and dancers.

I was also able to catch up with another former schoolmate who started Little Rock Urban Farming which grows, processes, markets and distributes produce in the Little Rock community. They do tons of community outreach, education, and training as well as dining events. It was so exciting to see the farm and how much it’s grown (no pun intended) over the past few years! Here are some photos I took while visiting the farm in between yoga classes on Tuesday.

Little Rock is growing and progressing in leaps and bounds, and it’s a joy to see the success of so many friends!

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Ballet vs Dance Competition

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.

For example:
– 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.

Working With Gymnasts

A few weeks ago, I received an email from one of the local gymnastics coaches asking if I’d be interested in working with their junior olympic team. It seems that the new floor routines involve far more traditional dancing than there has been in recent years. Basically, they need to become more “graceful.”

I’ve had two Saturday mornings with their competitive gymnasts Levels 4-6. I get an hour with each group which is doable since they’re already warm. The younger gymnasts are still learning body control and the basics like my Level I ballerinas, but I’m amazed by how strong the older girls already are. Alas, I’ve noticed a direct correlation between age, strength, and… well… the stiffest port de bras I’ve ever encountered. Bending elbows and softening hands is going to be quite the challenge, but I love their enthusiasm, positivity, and dedication!

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