Dance: Now and Then
Updated: Feb 24
I have been fortunate to have danced with various companies and in different disciplines throughout my career. I owe much of that to the training I received, in addition to personal passion and ability, THAT, I fully understand. Being a professional dancer is hard, mentally and physically, and so much has changed over the past 20 years.
One of the things I love about dance is that it is universal. Dance is art. No matter who you are, where you are, or who you are with, one can communicate through dance, it evokes feelings and emotions in ways that are sometimes difficult to communicate otherwise. The things is, I fear we are in the midst of losing connection with the art and it is evolving to become solely about tricks rather than technique and artistry. I may call this the "So You Think You Can Dance Syndrome". Ever since the competition aired in 2005, there has been a change in the industry. I graduated high school in 2005 from UNCSA and joined the Joffrey Ballet that year. It was a dream come true.
PC: The one and only Mark Goldweber :)
I was never a competition dance kid. In fact, I did gymnastics when I was young and started dancing as a Junior Luv-A-Bull in 98. *Slight pause here just to remember the 98 Bulls team and recognize the excitement that team brought to entire communities* I began dancing by taking a weekly jazz class with a few of my elementary school classmates and I really enjoyed it and my teacher suggested I also take ballet classes. I hated the ballet classes, I'm talking crying before going to class. I can't remember exactly when, but something clicked for me and what I hated became my passion. I ended up changing studios and auditioned for the UNCSA high school program. At that time, UNCSA had excellent teachers such as Melissa Hayden, Frank Smith, Kee Juan Han, Christine Spizzo, and more on staff. Learning from them was incredible and I cherish those moments greatly. Many of the things they taught me are still things I use in practice throughout my day and when I teach. The emphasis was on technique, on alignment, on artistry, and more technique. That is how you stay safe, proper technique. The only times I have been injured physically in dance (knock on wood) is when a teacher overstretched my hip and bruised my bone and when I relapsed into an eating disorder and almost tore my antitubular tibialis. More on all that to come.....
Going back to technique and tricks. What I am saying is that I have been able to continue performing and dancing throughout my career because I received proper training and focused on technique. The goal was not to kick my face or whack my legs open every second, the goal was to be strong and in alignment. I can't tell you the number of times I have walked into a studio to sub a class and there is a child, a CHILD, who comes up to me telling me about an injury. Lest we not forget how often an injury occurs to an adult or professional dancer. The key to having a long career and with a healthy body for years to come, is proper technique, injury prevention, and awareness of body and mind.
Due to the "So You Think You Can Dance Syndrome" and dance competitions, there has also been a drastic change in attire for dancers. There was always a community for those who liked to put their bodies out there in skimpy outfits and bra tops and booty shorts, but now kids, KIDS, are wearing these things to dance in. I'm not saying to cover everything up, but we need to take an ethical look as to what this is doing to our minds and the health and safety of children and adults. Entertainment is notorious for having this sense of you need to do whatever pleases the teacher and whatever the teacher says is the right thing. No. I have suffered because of this idea and it needs to stop. Why on earth do I need to judge a competition where young girls are coming out on stage with their genitalia falling out of their bikini bottoms kicking their face and rolling on the floor? How? What am I supposed to say? I'm saying it. I'm saying it right now. It needs to stop.
I recently submitted an application for a cruise line and they sent me back confirmation of receipt as well as interest in me recording videos of learned choreography. I watched the videos they wanted me to learn and record and I simply thought, no. The very first two "across the floor" portions are kick your face, kick your face, whack your tilt, pirouette, step step jete, and the second was tilt jumps and calypsos. Do I know how to do these things? Yes. Can I do them? Yes. Is that what I want to be judged on? Absolutely not. How is that showing proper technique? It's not. Is this what I want to be doing for an entire contract? No way. That's how you get lifelong injuries. Do a freaking ballet combination and you will be able to see who has had proper training right away. I would be willing to bet my possessions on the fact that if cruise ships and other entertainment companies started hiring dancers based on technique and not on tricks that they would see employee retention, a massive amount of decrease in the injury rate, an overall healthier organization, and improvement in their shows and events. Seriously, I would bet on it. There are so many talented dancers out there who are often overlooked simply because their tilt jump wasn't over-whacked. I decided not on filming a submission for a couple of reasons: 1) where was I going to find the space. Outside? I'm not hurting myself on concrete. 2) I don't want to be doing that kind of choreography everyday. 3) I'm not putting on a sports bra and booty shorts to compete with an 18 year old. 4) The work I have done and the videos I have sent along with my resume are more than enough for a casting director to see what I am capable of. Here's an idea......let's make sure we are doing personal interviews when hiring and not just an audition.......this would change the industry entirely.
Entertainment in general, especially dance, is not very rewarding monetarily, we don't do it for the money. We do it because we love it. Let's change the conversation, the industry standards, the expectations, and the casting, and help dancers have a long and fulfilling career that is focused on artistry, technique, and health!
I plan to write a bit about the dance and entertainment industry, including eating disorders, mental health, physical health, different career paths, etc. Let me know if there are any questions you may have that you would like answered! Sending love to all.... keep up the good work, keep working on your craft, and don't let them fool you with the tricks, your technique matters.
Photo of me and Paolo Cervellera in "The Festival of the Lion King" at Disney's Animal Kingdom shortly before Covid took over the world! *Pro tip-find yourself a good partner. Paolo is the best.*
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