Tag Archives: Dance

Why Do YOU Dance?

By Vicki Parsons, Butler Center for Dance & Fitness Director

I knew at a very young age that I loved to move my body. Whether it was playing tag with the neighborhood kiddos, hiking, swimming, or one of many sports, I loved it! And while dance lessons were not on the list, I can tell you that when the music played, I could not be still.

I fondly remember the dance craze of the 60’s: The Twist, the Mashed Potato, the Loco-motion. And if you grew up in the 70’s you probably grooved to the Funky Chicken and YMCA. Every generation has their dance – dance has always been, and will always be.

America’s Dance Craze

America’s fascination with dance exploded with the popularity of So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars. Last summer, ballerina Misty Copeland’s breathtaking Under Armour ad brought ballet into our living rooms.

Dance can be seen on billboards, in TV commercials, and sells everything from Mountain Dew to cell phone service. The rising interest in dance as an alternative form of exercise has positively impacted the fitness industry.

Why Do YOU Dance?

butler-center-dance

People love to dance. But why? I decided to play roving reporter at Ballet Austin’s Butler Dance Education Center this past week and investigate. I didn’t have to rove far since  we bring dance to adults of all ages and ability levels 7 days a week. I walked from studio to studio asking people, “Why do you dance?” I asked professional company dancers, dance instructors, people sitting in the lobby, children in our kid’s camp… I even asked the barista at Starbucks and took to Twitter to hear what people had to say! 

“Dance is one of the things that brings me the most joy!”

 Tara Alperin, Butler Center Instructor

“Dance has always moved me.”  – Company dancer Orlando Canova

A photo posted by Ballet Austin (@balletaustin) on

 

“I dance to chase the crazies away.”

– John, Starbucks Barista

“I dance to work out. It’s a fun and positive way to exercise. I have lost 18 lbs. dancing!”

– Laura, Butler Center Member

“Nadanam, manidhanaaga pirandha ovvoruvanum alli alli paruga vendiya amurdhamada adhu!”

Prakash Mohandas, Butler Center Bollywood Instructor

“I dance because it’s like physical journaling; a way to speak when I don’t have the words. Sometimes it’s happy, sometimes it’s sad, but I always get that amazing feeling of release once I’ve done it.”

– Boo Ruis, Butler Center Instructor

“Yo bailo, porque el baile es vida, es una expresión de creatividad, es arte en movimiento, es mi libertad”

– Janet Alvarado, Butler Center Customer Relations

“We celebrate Dance, revel in the universality of this art form. Dance crosses all political, cultural and ethnic barriers and brings people together with a common language – Dance.

World Organization for the Performing Arts

“I dance because I don’t really have a choice…when I hear good music, my body just reacts to it with movement. It’s the best feeling.”

– Hannah Brightwell, Butler Center Instructor 

Now tell us why you dance at @BalletAustinCTR !

The Third Day Theory

By Anne Marie Melendez, Ballet Austin Company Dancer

The third day is always the worst. Your alarm goes off in the morning and the simple action of rolling over to shut it off is painful. Your neck is stiff,  your arms are aching, your back spasms, and your abdominal muscles feel torn. And then, you try to stand up.

First day back in the studios (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

First day back in the studios (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

First Day Back

Coming back to work as a professional dancer after a three month layoff (sometimes longer!) can be similar to your “First Day of School.” It’s both exciting and slightly scary. The whole crew is back together, there are lots of hugs and “How was your summer?” inquiries, as well as welcoming the few new faces. You’re a little bit worried about how out of shape you might be and wonder how well your legs are going to hold you up as the day goes on. But on Day 1, there is always a buzz of energy that comes with the beginning of a new season. The excitement of new repertoire to work on, new opportunities, and the new goals we have set for ourselves. And we’re not tired yet.

Company class starts promptly at 9 am and is always taught by Artistic Director Stephen Mills. Day 1 feels familiar, regardless of how much dancing you did over the summer, Day 1 is the time to ease back into the daily grind. This season was no different.

Frank Shott during company class on the first day. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Frank Shott during company class on the first day. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

What Do You Do All Summer?

Every one of us approaches our summer layoff differently, while always trying to stay in shape in some form or another. A handful of the dancers teach at the Ballet Austin Summer Intensive, including Orlando Julius Canova and Christopher Swaim. Some dancers take on other dance projects or opportunities, whether local, or off to some other parts of the world. For instance, this summer Oren Porterfield, Jordan Moser, Jaime Lynn Witts and Ed Carr performed in Asheville, North Carolina with Nick Kepley’s Motion Dance Theatre. Ashley Lynn Sherman just returned from an intense three weeks at the National Choreographers Initiative in Irvine, California, while Preston Patterson co-directed and choreographed for the Southern Illinois Music Festival.

Some of us take on other projects outside of the dance field, such as my husband Paul Michael Bloodgood, who continued finishing up his first feature length documentary film, Trenches of Rock, which is currently undergoing sound editing/mixing as well as color correction. And others, while still trying to stay in shape, incorporate huge life events into our summers, such as Grace Morton and Ian Bethany who were married in a beautiful Seattle ceremony this past July.

The 2015/16 Season

(Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Season Opener, Hamlet, includes several fencing scenes as part of the ballet. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

The 2015/16 season starts us off with Stephen Mills’ Hamlet, one of my personal favorites. For most of the company, rehearsals start off with a bang. Associate Artistic Director, Michelle Martin, usually starts rehearsing the larger group sections right away. For a production like Hamlet, this meant starting with scenes like Ophelia’s Funeral and the opening Wedding scene. We need time with these scenes to get the material out to the dancers, but also to have time to clarify and clean steps. Sometimes Stephen takes the opportunity in these early rehearsals to make small adjustments and changes to choreography. The nuts and bolts of the ballet remain the same, but the nuances evolve and grow with each restaging.

From Day 1, the men cast as Hamlet (Frank Shott & Paul Michael Bloodgood) and Laertes (Christopher Swaim & Jordan Moser) start fencing rehearsals. Since not all of the ballets in our repertoire involve fencing, and since it involves swinging sharp objects, it’s a good idea to start these rehearsals early… And slowly.

Week one is generally about getting a good bulk of the material laid out and to slowly work through it before we start layering our characters on top of the movement. Week one often times also includes our first costume fittings. Though the costumes for Hamlet are already built, wardrobe has a limited amount of time to make repairs and adjustments for specific dancers.

A photo posted by Ballet Austin (@balletaustin) on

The Third Day

My Third Day Theory is basically that the third day of new movement or choreography is the day you are the most sore. This seems to remain true whenever we start a new rep or have a new visiting choreographer. With new material you inevitably are using new muscle groups that you may not have been using the same way a week ago. Or the high probability that there is lots of repetition as we learn a new phrase of choreography. Nothing prepares you for dancing all day, like dancing all day. And this isn’t the type of gym where you might have a “leg day,” and then focus on a different muscle group the next. Everyday is “leg day” in ballet.

The tools are still all there, but what we lack most is stamina. I think general stamina problems like jumping for long periods of time, and calf endurance are pretty common across the studio. For the men, it’s also often lifting/partnering stamina. Lifting weights at the gym isn’t quite the same as lifting a woman all day long. A human body’s weight distribution isn’t as evenly balanced as free weights, and free weights don’t change shape and position when you lift them. 

And for the ladies, it’s the pointe shoes. “Little Pink Coffins,” as I like to call them (thank you Allisyn Paino for that one,) are really brutal that first week back. By Friday afternoon you can usually find the ladies lying on the floor with their swollen feet up in the air and looking forward to their evening ice bucket.

(Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood

Ballet Austin dancers recovering after their first week in their “Little Pink Coffins” (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

TGIF

As the week rounds up, we’re still sore, but usually not as bad as Day 3. But I find it a welcome fatigue. A reminder of the muscles I still have and the years of experience and training behind me. There is something gratifying about working your body that hard and feeling like you really earned your weekend rest, or your Friday night pizza, or your glass of wine, or whatever it is you personally look forward to on Friday. The first week back always reminds me that what I do for a living is quite a special and remarkable thing.

So, cheers to surviving Week 1! Get some rest, ice your feet and we’ll see you back at the barre bright and early Monday morning!

Spending My Summer Vacation With Ballet Austin

By Bill Piner, Academy Director  

Ahhh… Summertime in Austin. The time when everything slows to a crawl. The sun is high in the sky and temps top 100. Everyone heads to the lake, or to cooler climes in northern states. You would think it would be nice and quiet at 501 W. 3rd St. But you’d be wrong.

Summertime is actually one of the busiest seasons at Ballet Austin. Classes at the Butler Center for Dance & Fitness are packed 7 days a week for the entire summer and the Academy’s Senior Summer Intensive Program brings students from as far away as Japan and Panama to Austin for six weeks of intensive study and potential job opportunities.

Ballet Austin Summer Intensive Level 8 (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Ballet Austin Summer Intensive Level 8 (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Each summer, after a 27 city audition tour, over 250 students descend on Austin.
They come here to take part in a program that is designed to improve their individual dance skills. For the post-high school crowd, they audition for a coveted position in Ballet Austin II, Ballet Austin’s paid apprentice company, or the Butler Fellowship Program, a nine-month, intensive training program that provides 15 talented students the opportunity to train at Ballet Austin tuition-free.

A Day In The Life

This is a very concentrated and intensive time for the Academy. From 8:45am to 6:15pm the studios are filled to capacity with some of the most focused young adults you will find. From my office I can look into the Armstrong/Connelly Studio. Right now the Level 6 dancers are learning a piece of original choreography from Company Dancer and Academy faculty member, Christopher Swaim, which they will perform at a small performance at the end of the session. Chris’ choreography pushes these young dancers to new limits and challenges them to take risks and find new strengths.

For the highest levels it’s all about learning what’s unique about Ballet Austin and assimilating. Will they be accepted into the year-round program or not? Will this be the next step in their personal and professional lives or not? There is a lot riding on these few weeks and it can be a nerve-wracking experience.

“I chose to spend my summer training at Ballet Austin because I was looking for an opportunity to further my dance career. Having just graduated from high school, I wanted to come to a program where I could possibly stay for the 2015-2016 season, and I knew that Ballet Austin could provide an opportunity for me. Ballet Austin’s summer program has reinforced the technique I know, expanded my artistry and allowed me to think differently about my dancing. Not only have I grown as a dancer in just four weeks, but I have also met new people with whom I have become extremely close. My classmates and I have had different yet relatable experiences. Even though some of us may be competing against each other to get a position as a Fellow or Ballet Austin II member, we all share one similar trait: the love for dance. This similarity allows for friendships to be created which aid the extremely memorable and enriching experience here at Ballet Austin.” –  Kayla Hallman

Kayla will be joining the Butler Fellowship Program in August.

Summer-Intensive

Associate Artistic Director Michelle Martin correcting a student’s position. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

I choreograph on the two youngest levels in the program, where they are still struggling to find the control over their bodies that will enable them to make the prescribed shapes of classical ballet. The pace is slower, but the sense of accomplishment is just as great. When the entire group performs for an audience of their peers (final rehearsal on performance day is performed in front of the other levels in the program) and the cheers of approval erupt, I’m reminded why I chose this profession. This struggle, this mastery, this acceptance is something they all can relate to and it seals a bond that will stay with these young artists well beyond their six weeks in Austin.

Teaching (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Bill Piner, Academy Director, rehearsing with Level 4 student for upcoming Summer Intensive performance. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

These bonds and friendships, challenges and growth, fun and hard work, all combine to make the Summer Intensive experience one that will live with these dancers forever. This is a huge commitment and requires dedication and sacrifice from the entire family. This is another aspect of the program that I find inspiring – the fact that parents will do everything in their power to provide the best for their kids. And the fact that these kids will take that challenge and some of them will become professional dancers. Over 70% of Ballet Austin’s professional company of dancers started right here in the Summer Intensive. For them, and many others, the sweating, struggling, laughing and learning ended with the ultimate goal, a professional contract and the realization of so many dreams and aspirations.

This is how I’ve spent my summer for the past 24 years. It may not be as relaxing as going to the coast, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Mother Ginger voting ends Nov 30

Just 10 days remain in our 2012 Mother Ginger contest. As we draw closer to announcing a winner, we hope you’ll enjoy these backstage moments from a few of last year’s Mother Gingers.

To see the 2012 nominees and vote, visit www.balletaustin.org/motherginger/.

Inside a Sugar Plum Fairy’s dance bag

With our Golden Anniversary production of The Nutcracker opening in a mere few weeks, I thought you might like a peek inside a Sugar Plum Fairy’s dance bag.

ballet-austin-the-nutcracker

Twelve-year Company Member Aara Krumpe really likes “the familiar.” Whether it’s wearing warm-ups she’s owned for years (pictured above), standing at “her” spot at the barre, or eating oatmeal for lunch every day, tradition is the name of her game.

How very fitting for a Sugar Plum Fairy…

ballet-austin-the-nutcracker

Since Aara was 15, she’s warmed up every day at the barre in a pair of old, soft pointe shoes. As her rehearsal and performance pointe shoes “die”, she cuts off the laces and saves them for barre work. In her words, ‘they just feel better than wearing ballet slippers!’

Something else Aara can’t live without is her yoga block, which she uses to do splits, stretches and to lay flat. In another note on tradition, Frank Shott – with whom Aara will dance for the 7th year and her barre mate since 2001 – constantly steals the block.

ballet-austin-the-nutcracker

Aara brings her ballet bag, originally a diaper bag given to her by Trainees, to and from work each day and then keeps a smaller separate bag in the studio for rehearsal. Her must-have dance bag essentials? A surprisingly small number of things:

  1. Cheap White Rain hairspray (she is the “wispy tamer”)
  2. A tupperware of oatmeal for lunch each day – “I realized I’m not a protein person. I need carbs. Oatmeal gives me enough energy and stays with me all day.”
  3. Emergen-C, just in case
  4. At least one unsewn pair of shoes and her sewing bag
  5. Thera-band for stretching and strengthening

ballet-austin-the-nutcracker

With The Nutcracker rapidly approaching, I asked how long a pair of pointe shoes – which take her 30 or 40 minutes to prepare – will last. Her answer? “Two run-throughs.”

Last but not least, I asked Aara if she has any secret tricks or tips. She had two suggestions for me:

  1. Elasticized pointe shoe ribbons (available at Discount Dance Supply), which are more comfortable over her Achilles tendon
  2. Perry’s Pork Chop Fridays. See you there?

 

You can see Aara on stage this holiday season dancing as Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. For tickets, click here.

From Angel to Sugar Plum Fairy

From the children who perform as Angels to the professionals who dance the principal role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, The Nutcracker is as much a part of ballet as tendus and pliés.

This year, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating the Golden Anniversary Production of Ballet Austin’s The Nutcracker. Tickets here.

Dancer Preview: Taking “Light” to Miami

Today, Ballet Austin heads to Miami to perform Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project. See what’s going through Company Dancer Anne Marie Melendez‘s head as she prepares.

There has been a buzz of excitement around the Ballet Austin studios over the past couple of weeks. There is something about touring that charges us dancers up like few other things. The idea of traveling somewhere, all expenses paid, sounds glamorous at first glance. But going on tour can definitely bring its own set of challenges, obstacles, and concerns especially when it involves a ballet such as Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project.

Having performed Light as recently as March certainly aided in putting the ballet back together rather swiftly. Still, we took it section by section, reviewing the mechanics of the movement as well as the musicality. These elements are so important when presenting a ballet like Light because those pieces have to be so clear and must lay the foundation for the narrative and the emotional element that comes with performing the ballet.

In addition to rehearsing Light, we have also been busy revisiting The Nutcracker, as it will be fast on our heels once we return from Miami. The two ballets couldn’t be more different from each other as I literally spent a few days going from being the Snow Queen in a tutu, to running around barefoot and being dragged across the floor by my arms. It was quite confusing for my body – my calves and ankles would be tight and sore from the classical work, and my back and neck would be stiff from the more modern movement. Let’s just say there were quite a few hot baths, ice buckets, yoga sessions, etc…

As we prepare to leave for Miami on Thursday, I have a list of logistical concerns. What do I pack? In addition to what I would normally pack for any other trip like clothing and toiletries, I also need to bring an entire list of things that are dance and performance related. Outside of the obvious leotards and tights, I need my performance shoes, extra shoes for my understudy duties (which of course I won’t need – *knock on wood* – but they must be packed!), stage makeup, dance bag and all associated peripheral devices like my calf roller. And yes, yoga mat, you WILL fit in my suitcase. I have a list, and I’m checking it twice!

My other concern is food. Yes, clearly there is food in Miami, great food no doubt, but this is not a vacation. Just as most sports athletes have their eating, sleeping, and training routines leading up to events, dancers are quite similar. I normally take into consideration what I eat, but I am never pickier than I am during performance week. It’s not so much of a superstition as it is a need to efficiently fuel my body so that it can function as best it can when the time comes. Performance week is not the time to try something new, so my concern, being out of my element and out of my own kitchen, is how to maintain my routine. So far I’ve decided to bring Clif Bars, instant oatmeal, and head to the market once we get to Miami to stock up on some bananas and other easy to grab snacks.

All of these logistics are not unlike the mechanics of the choreography – they are the foundation of what we are ultimately trying to present. Overall, I am both nervous and excited. I think a certain amount of nerves is healthy, it means you care about the outcome of something. I’m excited to share Light and Ballet Austin with a new community, and I’m curious how both the company and the work will be received.

This evening, Paul, Ashley, and I just finished watching the documentary “The Last Days.” I think continuing our education is an important way to prepare before we leave on Thursday, as it continually informs the work we are doing in the studio and on stage, and most importantly, it reminds us of how vital it is to keep telling this story.

 

In Miami? You can see Anne perform Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project on stage this Saturday and Sunday. Tickets here.