I taught a stage in Napoli, Italy recently where a student asked me:
What skills do I need to become a good dancer? Knowing that my
opinion is subjective but because this student earnestly wanted to know, I felt
compelled to answer. Here is a synopsis of what came off the top of my head…
What skills do I need to become a good dancer? Knowing that my opinion is subjective but because this student earnestly wanted to know, I felt compelled to answer. Here is a synopsis of what came off the top of my head…
Acquiring tools that will help you become a better dancer might begin with knowing you have a true, burning passion for movement and physical expression while having a realistic healthy approach and outlook on dance and your talents.
Determination, dedication, discipline, tenacity, savvy, drive, patience and a professional attitude toward your training are definitely critical to creating the skill set and qualities you will need.
A sense of humor, not to take it (dance) and yourself so seriously, also wouldn’t hurt from time to time. There will be moments when you will have to step back, do some self-inventory, and take a hard look at the reality of what you are trying to accomplish. Try to see the bigger picture (how and where you fit into it…) from an objective perspective, with a discerning candid eye. Careers evolve in dance by a combination of luck, happenstance, preparation, fate, and talent but not in any specific order, time frame, rhyme, or reason.
Work diligently on things that challenge you both physically and artistically, devoting time to making them better.
Be accepting of your limitations while not dwelling on them. Always nurture and honor your own special talents and individuality.
Never compete with other dancers.
Support talent in others and watch your contemporaries because you will grow from what you learn from them.
Strive to be good malleable clay and a courageous foil for teachers and choreographers. Be an expressive dancer who gives physically, emotionally, and intellectually to other artists as well as an audience.
Learn to keenly decipher physical information through an integrated construct of all your training thus far, so your contemporary work supports your classical training and vice versa.
Always have respect for teachers and the art form they impart to you. Exhaust the possibilities and parameters of your training over years of trial and error before you discard what you deem invalid, not useful, or nonessential. Training requires discipline and that process takes years to learn, develop, and appreciate fully. You need a broad frame of reference to be successful in a field that is constantly changing and evolving.
Be compassionate with yourself about your training and the many manifestations and incarnations you will go through as an artist!
Know that your path as a
dance artist will be filled with successes and disappointments. Take them all as
best you can, in stride and in equal measure. Nothing is owed or promised to
Know that your path as a dance artist will be filled with successes and disappointments. Take them all as best you can, in stride and in equal measure. Nothing is owed or promised to you.
Try to maintain a modicum of humility and gracious nature about your talent and work. Developing a sense of entitlement is a huge step in the wrong direction.
Know dance history. It is your heritage as a dance artist. Be mindful of all that has come before you in all dance idioms and the lineage of dance you represent. Be a contributing part of this continuum of dance. Add your unique newness.
The dance world is a small, be mindful of how you present yourself and what you put out there…you eventually reap what you sow!!!
It wouldn’t hurt to have a great head shot and get a good agent!
There are no new steps and you are only as good as your last plie…
NOW GO! Power the Universe!!!
In my last two weeks with Ballet Level II, I focused specifically on two areas as a way of entering into the world of classical ballet.
We spent the first week "obsessing" about feet, paying close attention to the way the weight falls down through the long bones of the leg into the ankle joint and then is distributed to the heel and the metatarsals. The first day, I asked the dancers to work in socks, so they could get the sensation of standing on demi pointe with their weight in the center of the metatarsals and not shifted to the big toe joint, a common cause of injury. This exercise also helps the dancer in feeling the weight fall into the heel at the bottom of the plie, not shifting solely onto the toes which causes an extreme flexing of the ankle joint, another common cause of injury, shin splints, tendinitis, etc.
We worked on using the ankle without building
up tension in the Achilles. I asked the dancers to point the foot with the foot
sole muscles rather than the calf muscles, keep the toes spread and relaxed on
the floor, and lift the arches of the feet without cramping the metatarsals. It
was a crazy but interesting exercise to structure the entire class around this
investigation of the feet. I also stressed that this obsession with feet was
meant not only for the feet to "look pretty" and to have a finished
line, but also to increase sensation of the floor. This transfer of information
from the feet to the brain is as important for a dancer as it is for a pianist
to feel what his or her fingers are doing on the keys of a piano.
The second week, I focused on the natural feeling of opposition in bilateral movement. This is so important in ballet training, where every step has an oppositional action through the body, just as arms swing in opposition to the legs when we walk or run. We began by doing simple exercises that give this sensation from the floor through the top of the head. We talked about the organic origins of "epaulment", how the turn of the shoulders and head give ballet positions a sense of movement even when static.
Finally as we head into Reviews Week, I asked the students to execute combinations with great musical precision, concentrating on moving in exact unison - as a group - as if in a "test class" where they would be judged by outside eyes on their technical and artistic abilities, many working as part of one distinct whole. It was a pleasure to see how well the class responded to this. When our distinguished guests artists, Teresina Mosco and Elise Lummis, observed the class, they were impressed by the students' commitment and ability to apply themselves to their work.
NEXT is a course for BFA4s designed to help prepare them for the next phase of their lives. It’s about what each young artist will be doing, individually, after leaving CalArts. In this class, they are asked to step back from dancing, choreographing and making dance for the camera to begin looking at their post-academic, professional, and artistic lives. NEXT is about self-analysis, research, and creating portfolios.
For most of the BFA4s, next year will be the first time in sixteen years that they will not be going to ”school”. The fact that they will soon be on their own colors how they approach their work in the class.
At present they are in the throes of refining and targeting their resumes. Yes, it is an assignment but they no longer seem to be looking at it that way. Now, they are looking at the assignment as if their life depends on it. And in approaching it from this very particular point of view, they have an intensity and focus beyond what I have often seen in this kind of work. They are beginning to realize that it’s not about school anymore.
From BFA1 to MFA, each student has made a conscious decision to study at CalArts. Once here in this cauldron of choice, some students tend to want to be told what to do, and are happy trying to excel at just that. Others want to find their own way of doing everything, and can chafe at constraints and the specificity of tasks.
The ones who get the most out of CalArts are still actively choosing. They focus intently on the specificity of a given task, but then attack that task with their own unique personality and taste, as if they had chosen it themselves. They work just like the BFA4s are now working on their resumes. They do tasks, not to do well in school, but as if their life really does depend on it.
And, of course, their artistic life does depend on it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a choreographic assignment, part of a dance technique class, or anything else. Their habits as artists, now and in the future, will be the result of the accumulation of their unique experiences wrestling with each task.
So now, I am trying to help all our students approach everything the way the BFA4s are approaching their preparations for the future. I don’t see the point in them just showing me that they can do the assignment, or whether they are simply trying to get a grade, or if they are working to be “correct”. To me, the whole point is for them to choose, over and over again, to personally delve into the challenges of every task given, knowing that what each is really creating is their own artistic life, their future, their life altogether.
Dance for the Camera started out the spring semester with a playful assignment called "Portraits". Each student was asked to make a self-portrait in movement. This assignment required students to use storyboards and to direct a camera operator to video tape their dance with 16 shots, 10 shots of camera in edit, and 1 minute of handheld camera.
Generally, I’ve noticed that camera operators have a habit of using zoom to get closer to the dancer’s body. This can be very limiting. Dancers, however, use the handheld camera quite naturally, moving easily while shooting.
Holding the camera close to the center of the body allows a smooth and organic "dance of the camera". (If the dancer/cinematographer was equipped with wheels and wings, we would no longer need cranes, tracks, dollys, and jibs! ....mmmm ....something to think about!)
Once the camera operator melds with the camera and the moving dancer, the process of filming actually becomes a duet - a contact improvisation of sorts - between dancer and cinematographer. A synergy is created that allows an improvisation that creates a new dance out of the original choreography.
Contrasting levels and directions, I very often become so involved with filming that I find myself rolling on the floor, and running in all directions. Like live performance, the collaboration is totally unique to the moment and is impossible to repeat. Playing with planned shots and handheld improvisation allows the artist to develop diverse footage that can then be used and played with during the editing process.
The students enjoyed the “Portraits” process. Some were concerned about having enough time to complete everything. Ultimately, they were surprised to find how effective this method truly was. They managed to film everything they had hoped to shoot and well within the given time frame.
If we allow ourselves to play, we always find such incredible possibilities. Maybe one day we even be able to "fly with the camera" .....mmmmm!
One of the most important aspects of our program is production!
In the course of one school year there will be at least 12-13 concerts that are produced by the School of Dance to showcase the talents of students, faculty, and guest artists. These concerts give the entire community a chance to view work from fully produced productions to productions that have minimal technical elements. However, each of these concerts needs technical support from stage management to ushers.
I feel each one of these positions is just as important as the performers and choreographers because the crew is responsible for making a production move smoothly. As an educational tool, it is important that each student have practical experience in technical production so that they can dialogue with designers and technical theater personnel about the requirements for their work. We require that students experience the practical application of technical production in addition to the courses that the curriculum provides. The “Crewing” assignments are essential to the educational effectiveness of our program.
The “Crewing” assignments are based on year level and course
level work. Every consideration is taken to assure that each student
fulfills at least 7-8 positions before graduation. These positions range from
Producer, Stage Manager, Light Board Operator, Running Crew, House Manager and
Usher. Also, a consideration of cast list is taken into account when scheduling
a “Crew.” If there are any personal conflicts, the student does have the opportunity
to replace him/her but should keep in mind that they will need to fulfill the
position as some later time.
The “Crewing” assignments are based on year level and course level work. Every consideration is taken to assure that each student fulfills at least 7-8 positions before graduation. These positions range from Producer, Stage Manager, Light Board Operator, Running Crew, House Manager and Usher. Also, a consideration of cast list is taken into account when scheduling a “Crew.” If there are any personal conflicts, the student does have the opportunity to replace him/her but should keep in mind that they will need to fulfill the position as some later time.
“Crewing” lists are posted at least two weeks before the
production to enable students to schedule their time around the call times for
each production. Keep in mind that these positions are an essential part of
every production and the students’ participation and support is essential to
the success of all our productions.
“Crewing” lists are posted at least two weeks before the production to enable students to schedule their time around the call times for each production. Keep in mind that these positions are an essential part of every production and the students’ participation and support is essential to the success of all our productions.
A description of each position and the responsibilities associated with the position are given in the Student Handbook.
A description of each position and the responsibilities associated with the position are given in the Student Handbook.
Please remember that these positions are not only essential
to the success of all our productions but the responsibility of every student in
support of the work of their peers, faculty, and guest artists.
Please remember that these positions are not only essential to the success of all our productions but the responsibility of every student in support of the work of their peers, faculty, and guest artists.