‘DanceTopia: The Podcast’ – Ep. 1 ‘On Fouettes and New Beginnings’- Show Notes

I’m thrilled to announce my latest project: DanceTopia: The Podcast!

This is my new bi-monthly podcast where I’ll share news, musings, rants and ramblings about my favorite topic, and yours –dance.

The show notes section is my place to brain dump anything I may have missed or need to clarify from the show and to provide additional context or information about anything that was said during the podcast. The notes will be divided according to the section of the show in which the reference was made.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Warmup 

I realized after I said it that Anytime, Anyplace  was one of the Janet Jackson songs that wasn’t necessarily remembered for its choreography. Instead, when she performed it live, Janet would invite a male member of the crowd on stage and have them sit in a chair or perform the song sitting seductively in a chair alone. But it would have been too awkward to cut it out and, in any case, you get the idea.

You can buy Misty Copeland’s book Ballerina Body on Amazon, or swoop it up at your local library like I did.

^^Not an excuse. This book has tons of photos.

Center Combo 

I know Odette/Odile is a dual role. But Odile was the one doing fouettés so that’s why I said Misty Copeland was Odile as opposed to mentioning both Odette and Odile.

You can find my original blog about the matter here. And you can watch the video and see Misty’s response on Instagram below:

View this post on Instagram

Link in my profile. I’m happy to share this because I will forever be a work in progress and will never stop learning. I learn from seeing myself on film and rarely get to. So thank you. I will always reiterate that I am by no means the best in ballet. I understand my position and what I represent. I know that I’m in a very unique position and have been given a rare platform. All I’ve ever wanted is to bring ballet to more people and to help to diversify it. I’ve worked extremely hard to be where I am and I believe that what I bring to the table is authentic artistry with a unique point of view through my life experiences, and my unusual path and upbringing. Also as a black woman and black ballerina. I would love to see all of the incredible deserving black dancers get the opportunities that I have. I will forever be humbled and extremely grateful for the fact that I get to do what I love for a living, that I get to do all of the incredible roles that I do, in particular Swan Queen. There are so many ballerinas that never get to experience dancing the most iconic and demanding role in a ballerinas repertoire. I have so so so much respect for what I do and for the ballerinas I stand on the shoulders of. I’m in awe everyday that I am a part of such an incredible art form that has changed and enriched my life in so many ways and that I get to do it all with ABT. I don’t decide who’s promoted or what roles I dance. I never envisioned myself as the Swan Queen after being in the company for almost 15 years before i was given the opportunity. I have such deep and conflicting feelings connected to Swan Lake. As a black woman and as a ballerina given the chance to take on this role. I often question if I deserve to perform this role. My conclusion, I do. Some of the most memorable Swan Queens in history have brought so much more to this role without having to present the incredible and evolved technique of today by doing insane tricks that bring some to see Swan Lake. For the anticipated 32 fouettés. But it is so much more than that.

A post shared by Misty Copeland (@mistyonpointe) on

View this post on Instagram

Link in my profile. People come to see ballet for the escape. For the experience of being moved through our movement and artistry, not to score us on the technicality of what we do. This is why ballet is not a sport. A ballerinas career is not, nor should be defined by how many fouettés she executes. They are a part of the choreography to tell a story of pulling off the entrancement she holds over prince Siegfried. The point is to finish the 3rd act with a whirlwind movement that sucks him in just one last time before it’s revealed that Odile is not Odette. This is the incredible beauty of ballet. To move people. I’m happy to have this dialogue because it’s something I believe in whole heartedly. The history of ballet and it’s origin of pure freedom and expression is what we need to hold onto. Not to come into the theatre as a critic armed with judgement. I do appreciate the changes in the ballet technique, focused on evolving our technical abilities, but the point is to move people and for them to understand the stories we tell through dance. And that is an incredible responsibility and opportunity I will never take for granted.

A post shared by Misty Copeland (@mistyonpointe) on

Here’s the link to the NYT article I mentioned.

Even though I’m familiar with Swan Lake and knew very well what people were talking about when news of Misty Copeland’s fouettés surfaced, I’d never actually seen the ballet in its full length (due more to lack of opportunity than lack of interest). I believe that my seeing or not seeing the ballet has no bearing on my argument that it’s both racist and intellectually dishonest to criticize Misty Copeland so heavily for not doing the 32 fouettés. However, because I always want to be as well informed as possible when speaking on the podcast, I went ahead and watched a version of the ballet on Youtube. I’m still right, America is a hateful backwards country that would rather see a McDonald’s eating bigot in the White House than a Brown-skinned woman in ABT.

Other notes: 

Apologies for my jingling bracelets (I’ll have to remember to take those off next time), my hissing radiator and my stuffy nose (the result of my typical post-show head cold).

In the future, I’d like to have transcripts of each show available. However, this week’s took a lot of  time to edit and I wanted to get it up ASAP so transcripts will (hopefully) happen with the next episode. Pray for my fingers.

Dance World News (Feb. 23, 2017)

We open with a bit of sad news as the president continues to express his intent to cut the NEA, which not only funds the arts and various dance companies, but also provides aid to news outlets like PBS and NPR.

 

Happy 150th birthday to the Boston Conservatory. Relive some of the prestigious school’s history and learn more about its exciting winter and spring lineup.

New research shows that dance training can lead to mental health problems including psychological inflexibility, anxiety and depression.

Take a break from Dance Moms and binge-watch Kelly Ripa’s Youtube reality series Joffrey Elite. The show follows 10 dancers at the Joffrey Ballet School who enter dance competitions. The series will release new episodes every week for the next four months-goodbye weekend plans, hello bed, sweats and popcorn!

 

Meet Russell Janzen, the New York City Ballet’s newest principal!

Looking to cross-train? Swimming, running and rowing are among the best cardio workouts for dancers. Get your gym shoes on!

 

 

Save the National Endowment for the Arts!

In lieu of a Terpsichorean Heroes post, I wanted to share how you can be a terpsichorean hero today. All it takes is your signature.

In the wake of the inauguration of President Donald Trump, major changes have taken effect including executive orders that defunded Planned Parenthood, increased deportations, and suspended entry for Syrian refugees, among other radical decisions. Also rumored to be under attack is the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The NEA provides valuable funding for the fine arts (dance, visual arts, music, etc.) as well as literature. This endowment, which has found itself on the chopping block many times in the last three-and-a-half decades, has helped organizations including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, LINES, Chicago Children’s Theatre and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

Currently, according to The Hill, the new administration is planning budget cuts that would eliminate the NEA and  The National Endowment for the Humanities. The new administration plans to also privatize The Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

You can help preserve this important benefactor to the arts by signing this petition to the White House. The petition needs to reach 100,000 signatures to get a response from the White House, hopefully it will be a good one!

For more information about how the NEA has pushed the dance world forward, click here. To learn how the arts help the world around you, click here.

Terpsichorean Heroes: Phoebe Pearl

It all started with an Instagram post.

rockette-ig

That is (part of) how The Radio City Rockettes performance at Donald Trump’s inauguration became national news a month before the scheduled appearance. In the wake of her moment of outspokenness, Phoebe Pearl, the Rockette who made the post about the performance has become a dance world hero.

“The women I work with are intelligent and full of love,” Pearl said in her original Instagram post. “I am speaking for just myself but please know that after we found out this news we have been performing with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts.”

Since publicly voicing her displeasure at being compelled to perform at the inauguration, Phoebe Pearl has maintained her stance. Most recently, Pearl spoke at an event hosted by the Bessie Awards at the LaMama Theatre, where dance icons like Yvonne Rainer praised her courage and toasted the first amendment. But for Pearl, this was more than just an act of bravery. “This isn’t political, this is about human rights. No matter where you come from, your sexual orientation or race, you deserve respect, you deserve love,” she said.

I’m just standing up for human rights….standing up for what we all deserve, and how we treat each other. As artists we all owe it to ourselves, owe it to the community. It’s our obligation to use our platforms to do what’s right. This isn’t political, this is about human rights. No matter where you come from, your sexual orientation or race, you deserve respect, you deserve love. We live in a country that grants us the right to speak against something that’s against that.”-Phoebe Pearl

“It is this essential American freedom of expression that dancers embody in their physical work onstage. Dance and all artistic expression are by their very nature personal and political, and a critical part of our national cultural dialogue,” said Bessies director Lucy Sexton. To Phoebe Pearl, to her fellow dancers at the Rockettes, know that we support you, that we salute you, that we stand ready to fight for your—and all of our—rights under the Constitution, especially the precious right of Americans to freely express ourselves.”

While Pearl may not think of herself as being overly courageous, the bravery of her act cannot be ignored. Thus far, Pearl is the only Rockette to speak out using her real name. Another Rockette gave an exclusive interview to Marie Claire under the pseudonym “Mary” but many others have remained silent. Pearl has also not backed down from her original statement, instead holding fast to her beliefs and continuing to publicly claim them, even as the Rockettes performed at the White House today.

In a world that is as small as that of professional dance, speaking out publicly against your employer can have severe consequences. While The Rockettes organization has said that the dancers’ fears of retribution are unfounded, Rosemary Novellino-Mearns, the former dance captain of the Radio City Ballet Company, begs to differ. Novellino-Mearns successfully rallied to save the Radio City Music Hall from demolition and have it registered as a city landmark in the 1970s, efforts she discusses in her new book Saving Radio City Music Hall: A Dancer’s True Story. In a recent interview with journalist Sheryl McCarthy, Novellino-Mearns explained  why it has taken more than 40 years for the story to be told.

They were not gracious in their defeat. Rockefeller center…it was truly a David and Goliath story and the little guy won. And I don’t think the Rockefellers liked that–were used to that–and they buried the story completely… I never worked there again.-Rosemary Novellino-Mearns

Whether Pearl’s job is on the line remains to be seen but even if she continues to high kick as a Rockette, her actions will remain a poignant statement that the decisions of dance organizations are not always (if ever) reflective of the dancers who comprise them.

A Gig by Any Other Name: Thoughts on the Rockettes Inauguration Controversy

I’m sure most dancers (and people in general) have heard this story in some form. On Dec. 23 BroadwayWorld.com released an email from the American Guild of Variety Artists saying that the Radio City Rockettes were obligated to sign up to perform at President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20.

“I must remind you that you are all employees, and as a company, Mr. Dolan obviously wants the Rockettes to be represented at our country’s Presidential inauguration, as they were in 2001 & 2005. Any talk of boycotting this event is invalid, I’m afraid,” the email said.

As I read the emails, two questions popped into my head. The first, just as we are often asked to separate the art from the artist, can a working dancer separate a gig from its context? Furthermore, should directors, choreographers and other leaders in the dance world ask this of dancers and fire them if they refuse?

Are all gigs equal?

AGVA framed performing at the inauguration as just another job.  But is it ever really okay to accept a job, your own personal convictions be damned? One of my favorite bloggers Alison Green of Ask A Manager often talks about what she calls “philosophical alignment” and I think it’s pretty relevant to this post. Philosophical alignment means knowing what is expected of you by your employer and either deciding that you can adhere to what they want or that you may have the standing to convince them to try another way. So if you truly feel that you can separate yourself from whatever the gig is and just embody the choreography you were given, then I guess go for it. Or, if you think you have good enough reason to get out of doing a job or believe you can try to convince your employer not to do the performance at all, then that is also worth a try.

But this particular issue doesn’t simply end with the dancers, which brings me to my next question…

How much power should bosses/ADs/choreographers have?

The other (larger) half of this issue is AGVA and the Rockettes as an organization. Although the Rockettes released a statement saying that performing in the inauguration was optional, in the emails, full-time dancers were required to sign up, seemingly regardless of interest. It has also been reported that initially seasonal dancers were emailed about the performance asking for availability and full-time dancers, who are required to participate in any and all jobs outside of their pre-approved vacation time, were simply told the details of the performance, without the choice to opt out.

Let’s say for the sake of the argument that this was indeed a required performance. Is it the place of an Artistic Director/agent/choreographer/etc., to ignore or ask that other dancers and performers ignore their own personal convictions or be fired? It seems like a pretty unfair bargain for dancers to have to make, but since dance companies are run like businesses and have standards and procedures in place, as long as they remain within those standards, it would appear that they can compel the dancers (their employees) to do whatever they wish.

But this inauguration is no ordinary gig. In an interview with Marie Claire, an anonymous Rockette identified as Mary said, “We do a lot of events, but there have been no events that could cause trauma. And doing this would cause trauma for some people.”  A gig that a dancer feels can cause trauma or even could jeopardize their future down the line (e.g. dancing in a burlesque show when you one day hope to work with children), is different. Dance is already physically draining and often emotionally taxing. No dancer should feel compelled to potentially cause themselves trauma or personal distress, lest they lose their job.

There is also the problem of how this will look to the public–the people who pay to see the Rockettes dance. For decades and even now, the lack of diversity within the Rockettes (a dance company that didn’t allow black women until 1987) has been problematic, or to use Mary’s word “embarrassing.” No black Rockettes have signed up for the inauguration and Mary believes (correctly) that an all white group of dancers will send a startling and telling image to the world. People’s perceptions of dance companies are largely based on what they see on stage. To AGVA, it may really be just a job, but the world doesn’t know what goes on behind the scenes, or in the mind of a director. Reports have already surfaced that ticket sales to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which is having its final show dates this week, have dropped off significantly since the Rockettes announced their intent to perform at the inauguration. The impact down the line could be even more damaging since public opinion is fickle but strong and once it’s against you, recovery is a slow and sometimes futile process.

I won’t be watching the inauguration for personal reasons, but I am interested to see the conclusion of this story. Will the Rockettes high kick their personal feelings to the curb, will AGVA and the Rockettes organization have a change of heart, or will something totally different and unexpected occur?