Letter to my 15-year-old-dancer self

Dear 15-year-old Jorie

First of all, it’s me or rather you from 10 years in the future. As I write this it’s 11:08 Chicago time, which means it’s just after midnight in Miami (not factoring in any futuristic travel time changes) so you’ve probably finally drifted off to sleep after coming home from dance (hip hop tonight, right?) eating dinner and finishing your homework. Algebra II is rough, I know.

Anyway, I’m writing because last month we celebrated our 25th birthday and our unofficial 20th anniversary as dancers! A lot has happened in the last decade. Most of it is good, a tiny bit of it isn’t so good. But rejoice, you made it to 25 and you’re still dancing!

Right now I’m at home not feeling great after a less than stellar heels class (that ended up turning into a hip hop class because I left my heels at home). Writing this letter to you is my way of temporarily turning my aggravation into gratitude. So, in case you’re curious and want a sneak peek into what your future looks like, here are a few things you need to know about your life as a dancer, from yourself, 10 years in the future.

You WILL have a professional dance career.

And it will be cooler than you could even imagine. You’ll dance on some of Chicago’s most famous stages – The Ruth Page Center for the Arts, The Reva and David Logan Center, even the House of Blues. You’ll do so many genres from contemporary to jazz, you’ll even get to do hip hop. Last December you shot a music video right before Christmas. The best part? You’re still taking class and people still want to work with you. Your knees occasionally hurt, but they still work so as far as I’m concerned, it’s far from over!

You’ll get to teach…Tap.

Right about now, you’re pretty ambivalent about tap – and it’ll only be worse by the time you finish high school (sorry). I get it, contemporary and hip hop are cool and you want to be good at what’s cool. It makes sense, in that teenager-y way. But tap will give you the chance to pour into so many people. You won’t just teach technique. You’ll help people, young AND old, learn confidence, openness and compassion, and you’ll get to set some cool pieces in the process. Tap will also become a way of exploring your Blackness and increasing your wokeness as a dancer and as a person. I’m sorry to tell you this, hon, but right about now you’re pretty self-hating and problematic. But, again, don’t worry. We’re going to fix it in college and beyond!

You’ll never get out of your head.

I literally just got this correction last Saturday. To get out of my head. And I still don’t know what it means or how to do it. We’ve gotten used to thinking through everything because in some situations it was the only way to get through a class, routine, life,etc. But it may be starting to hinder you – so watch out for that.

You’ll experience racism/racially insensitive behavior in the dance world.

A bit of a buzzkill I know – but it’s coming. Actually, you’ll start noticing some of it in the next year (No, it’s not okay for her to be loudly calling one of the only other Black girls [not you, folks know better thankfully] in the studio a n*gger. It’s not funny, and it’s even less funny that no one in a position of authority said anything to her. That pit in your stomach is there for a reason). You’ll be othered, slightly fetishized and witness instances of cultural appropriation and white people centering themselves in Black experiences. Take it in stride because…

You’re more proud than ever to be an #unapologeticallyblackdancer.

Hell, it’s your blog’s slogan. Chicago was the best thing to ever happen to us because we learned about so many new ways to dance and create art. We also got to see more melanated trinas, hip hop dancers and contemporary dancers than we ever thought possible. And we get to call ourselves one of them. I know, cool right? I’d come over and pinch you but they still haven’t quite worked out time travel yet.


Now that I’ve given you a glimpse into the future, there are a couple of things I want you to work on right now. Well, once you wake up, go to school and are back in dance again.

Stop worrying about what your teachers think.

Learn as much as you can, apply corrections and take notes. But don’t hang onto every word your teachers say and don’t treat them like deities. This goes for your regular teachers and the master teachers you take from at conventions. You’ll find out some less than flattering things about a couple of folks, but for the most part, the journey you take as a dancer will show you that everyone wasn’t right to count you out.

In the name of all that is holy, STOP worrying about what all of those other kids think.

Seriously, you barely remember most of them, and a lot of the ones that were the cruelest to you haven’t done HALF of the things you’ve done. I know it’s hard to be the underdog, to know that nobody thinks you’re good or deserve to be there – but keep going and ignore them. They won’t be begging you for jobs or auditioning for you (at least not yet), but you’ll be better off on the other side of their meanness and bullying.

Don’t give up in class

You already got chased around a dance room this summer for stopping an across the floor combination halfway across the floor. This one is still a work in progress, but just push through – without failure there is no growth. It doesn’t feel good to not get a combo, you’ll never be okay with not winning scholarships.  Again, I’m writing this as I’m sulking in my room after a class that didn’t go well. But keep going – it gets better, I promise. And we still have plenty of growth left in us.

Remember the people who loved you

There are a few. Remember the teachers who never gave up, who showed you how, who wanted you to succeed.  Remember them more than you remember the people who doubted and ignored you. I’m still holding out for an Emmy, Tony or some other cool award for our artistic pursuits. You’re already friends with most of these fantastic teachers on Facebook but just keep their names stored away in your mind so we can shout them out in our acceptance speech.

And last but not least…

Enjoy this time

Enjoy where you are right now. A high school student with no responsibilities who can take class, go to conventions and learn without any pressure. You don’t have bills, you don’t have a full-time job and you don’t have any injuries.

You’ll never be this young again. So once in a while just breathe, take stock of where you are and be thankful, and use that moment of gratitude to help you dance like no one is watching and leave your heart on the stage.

Love,

Jorie from the future

Reflections: Jordan Peele Uses Ballet to Examine Duality and Blackness in ‘Us’

 

After repeated side-eyes from my mother and incredulous reactions from friends, I finally made it to the theater to see Us, Jordan Peele’s latest thriller. The dancer and budding culture critic in me are both glad I did.  

Us is the kind of work where every bit of imagery carries weight. At the same time, every viewer has permission to draw their own conclusions after seeing the film. Because there’s so much to see and take in, everyone is going to zero in on one thing or another that jumped out at them.  For me, the visual that stood out the most was Peele’s use of dance to drive the story.

Obligatory disclaimer: This article has spoilers. If you haven’t seen Us and plan to in the near future, read at your own risk.


Dance and Us

Dance, specifically ballet, plays an integral role in the development of Us’ central characters Adelaide “Addie” Wilson (played by the stunning Lupita Nyong’o) and her tethered twin Red. Addie’s growth as a ballerina speaks to themes surrounding expression of Blackness, assimilation, duality, the other-ness of the Black body and Black liberation.

From the film’s start, dance takes centerstage as a mode of communication for Addie. She uses ballet to recover from a traumatic experience with her tethered reflection at a funhouse in Santa Cruz that rendered her mute. Several flashbacks show Addie doing exercises at the barre as a little girl. Notably, Addie avoids her reflection in a studio mirror as she practices out of fear of seeing her tethered reflection smirking at her.

Over the course of the film, ballet becomes a recurrent part of Addie’s relationship with Red as Red reveals that a solo Addie performed as a teenager (which she recreated underground), inspired her to help the tethered escape and murder their human counterparts.

At the climax of the film, the two engage in one final pas de deux as images of Addie’s teen solo (set to The Nutcracker’s “Pas De Deux: Intrada”) flash in between. Addie ultimately bests Red and kills her as the two share one last, jarring embrace.

But, just before the movie’s conclusion, we learn that “Addie” is actually one of the tethered, and dragged her real world counterpart underground after their first meeting, taking her place above. So it was actually the tethered Addie studying ballet, avoiding her reflection as she did pliés, and performing a solo in front of a crowd, as real-world Addie became her subterranean shadow.

Ballet and Blackness

As I said before, Jordan Peele’s selection of ballet to drive Addie’s growth is no accident. As Addie grapples with the existence of a tethered version of herself, her study of dance parallels her attempts to regain and perform normalcy as she addresses her blackness.

Historically, dance has acted as a method of communication, celebration and identification in the Black community. Take, for example, Crip walking, which allowed gang members to identify themselves through a series of detailed foot movements and hand signs. On college campuses, Black Greek letter organizations (of which I am a member) codified their history and distinguished themselves with stepping and strolling. Even traditional African dances held a variety of purposes, from courtship, to denoting social class or occupation.

By contrast, ballet is a genre that originated in renaissance-era Europe and was traditionally inhabited by white people as a demonstration of class and nobility. Though Black ballerinas have made important strides throughout dance history, it remains a style known for rejecting Black people and their bodies. Why else would it be news that a pointe shoe company finally started making brown shoes in 2018?

Addie, in her study of ballet, attempts to fit its rigid, Eurocentric standards, sacrificing elements of her Blackness in the process. During her solo, we see her childhood pigtails and oversized Thriller tee replaced by a sleek bun and a sparkly white tutu. Her body is lithe and thin as she twirls onstage. But, as she gains acceptance through the lens of a style that glorifies white bodies, Addie ultimately loses her innate, rhythmic connection to Black movement as viewers see when she struggles to snap on beat in the movie’s opening scene.

Reflections in Ballet

Conforming to the demands of the ballet world, Addie finds herself unwilling or unable to see herself, even as she dances in a room full of mirrors. Addie’s literal fear of her reflection becomes symbolic when you consider the timing of the movie. Us, and presumably, Addie’s dance training, begin in 1986. In 1986, the Rockettes hadn’t accepted their first black dancer. Lauren Anderson hadn’t made history as the first Black principal dancer in The Houston Ballet – and wouldn’t for another four years. Misty Copeland was a child and more than two decades away from becoming The American Ballet Theatre’s first Black female principal dancer.

We as the audience are led to believe that Addie avoids her reflection out of the dread of seeing her tethered twin grinning back. But, as Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz said, “[I]f you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.” One can only wonder if the person gazing back at Addie really is a monster, or if a lack of representation in the ballet world forced Addie to see herself as other and recoil from her own image.

Ballet and the struggle for liberation

The film’s plot twist further connects the idea of assimilation to Addie’s ballet career. Rather than pursuing dance to heal, Peele seems to imply that tethered Addie actually used dance to help her assimilate and appear human. Meanwhile, her formerly untethered self, now Red, dances with her underground, hitting walls and collapsing as Addie soars at center stage, with both finally realizing their own individual freedom during the peak ballet solo. Addie releases herself from her tethered past, gaining acceptance in a white art form, and Red sees that she can liberate the tethered through her dance. In their final confrontation, the two characters’ interpretations of their movement and corporeality merge as they fight for dominance in the untethered world.

It seems this choreographic struggle for freedom between Addie and Red is intentional. In an interview for Vanity Fair, Us producer Ian Cooper mentioned that the choreography for Addie’s solos revolved around the idea of “[P]recariousness—as if you should have a partner but you don’t.” As teens, Addie and Red dance separately but together. When they meet face-to-face years later, the two perform their adversarial duet as it was meant to be danced–in urgent unison, with the knowledge that liberation and the ability to live and move without inhibition are at stake.

The idea of the phantom partner and two opposing identities moving together reinforces the ideas of two great Black intellects: W.E.B. Du Bois’ and James Baldwin. Du Bois’ concept of double consciousness–the notion that Black people have multiple warring selves inside them, held together only by their intrinsic strength– and James Baldwin’s assertion that “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time” both shine through in Red and Addie.

For me, this duality is key to understanding how ballet weaves through Us’ plot. Though Addie appears calm and serene onstage as she performs for an approving audience, her inner consciousness of herself as a Black woman, lies just beneath the surface, embodied in Red’s attempts to copy Addie’s solo. This private ego becomes more frustrated and enraged as it is suppressed and hidden. Similarly, no matter how much we try to conceal and code-switch our Blackness away, it remains. And just as Red finally escapes her prison, our anger, history, trauma and our desire for freedom will eventually emerge and wreak havoc on the people and institutions that try to bury it.

BEDS 18: Thoughts on an “off” day

This post was actually tabled over a year ago but since I’m behind and need to find a way to make up the days, I finished it and it’s going to be my BEDS post for today. Enjoy!

 

Today was not a good class day…

 

I did what I normally do. I got up. Got dressed and went to 1 p.m. ballet class. But unlike other times where I left with a “hurts so good” mentality, this class, which again, I always take had me feeling small. Except actually, it wasn’t the class, it was me.  I never felt centered, I felt fat and overheated (and I trained in Florida). I couldn’t focus and I just didn’t feel good about myself that day. And it’s funny because this week I’ve gotten more than one compliment on my growth and work, from teachers and colleagues. But I just didn’t feel good about me and I think it is because I’m struggling internally with things not related to dance. I went to class not feeling great and thought I would feel better but my mind wasn’t right.

On off days, I’m usually madder at myself than I should be. Kind of like falling on stage, off days probably usually feel worse than they look. But because I juggle so many things in addition to dance and I’m almost never able (whether it’s because of time or my own physical limitations) to train as hard as I’d like, I always feel like it’s a sign that I don’t work as hard as other dancers and am less deserving of the right to call myself a professional dancer.

Whether it’s a rough rehearsal or a bad class, I usually ream into myself afterwards and drown in video study or obsessively watching old videos and critiquing myself. But despite my tendency to do this, I recognize that it isn’t healthy and I want to find better ways to hold myself accountable as a dancer. So I’m starting to try to find positive things that demonstrate my growth, even in the midst of a rough day. Whether it’s improved turns, my feet getting better, or simply getting through a class, I’m trying to look at the positives. Because there’s so much good in my life and my career as a dancer, and to castigate myself the way I do is silly and counterproductive.

BEDS Day 10: Brief thoughts on dancing while natural

As I write this, I’m sitting in my bed, bantu knotting my hair. Typing out this blog is my way of giving my arms and wrists a break.

A lot has been written about natural hair in the professional dance world, from the three Alvin Ailey dancers who shared their natural hair routines with Essence in February, to the viral images of dancers rocking their curly tresses. I, myself, have been fortunate to find companies and opportunities that embrace my Blackness and my hair. During one of my most recent shows, I proudly rocked a curly frohawk, and got so many compliments on it.

But there have been other incidents, too. Times where I’ve been othered and made to feel as though my hair isn’t appropriate. Times where I’ve heard stories about my peers’ hair struggles regaled to me as we reapply lipstick and jam bobby pins into our already throbbing scalps.

The dance world has made slow, incremental strides toward embracing Black hair. But days like the night before a show, when I was told to make my puff look like more of a ponytail to match the non-Black girls in the company. Or the times I felt obligated to straighten my hair or wear extensions to achieve a long ponytail or bun. Or worse still, when I hear and see incidents of non-Black women wearing cornrows and bantu knots as a way to “look crazy” or “stand out,”  when hair styles that would get me a side-eye or reprimand from so many directors are helping other people get jobs.

These are the things that let me know that the struggle isn’t over. That Black dancers still have a lot of fighting to do before we are seen, the way our white counterparts are.

And to that I say, let’s get ready to rumble.

BEDS Day 9: Starting over yet again

Yesterday marked my first day at a new teaching gig for a performing arts program for children. It’s the first time in over a year that I’ve taught kids and even though the first day went pretty much without incident, I’m still nervous.

As I mentioned in my “What I’ve Been Up To” blog post a couple months back, teaching children has never been my forté, for a few reasons:

  1. I have no patience–I get frazzled and I either get anxious and cry or get angry and yell.
  2. I’m not great at relating to kids–I noticed when I was teaching at the first school that some of what I was asking the kids to do was going  a tad over their heads or boring them. There’s no quicker way to lose control of a classroom than to bore kids. I’m hoping that this time around I’ve learned enough to not have that problem.
  3. I have difficulty differentiating between age-appropriateness and pandering to children. Contrary to what a lot of the world seems to think, children are smarter and capable of more than people think. Making things excessively simple and squeaky clean does them a disservice. That said, I do still want my students to feel like kids and not have to embody or learn anything they’re not ready for. This type of push pull can be confusing, but I’m hoping this new gig will be a chance to work through it and really become a great teacher that challenges her students while still recognizing their youth.

These hurdles aside, I’m hoping that my year of experience teaching at a studio and my (admittedly brief) previous experience teaching children will come in handy. By teaching at a studio, I’ve learned how to plan out a class and how to develop a class with a consistent student base over a period of time.  My experience teaching kids has taught me a little bit about what engages them and a lot about what not to do when you’re charged with the care and artistic enrichment of kids (yelling, getting anxious, letting the kids get over on you–all really terrible ideas).

 

Hopefully, this time I’m successful.

‘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.

What I’ve Been Up to – Vol. 1: Teacher Teacher

One of the main things I’ve been doing dance-wise on my blogging sabbatical is teaching tap at a local dance studio. I got the job in September through what I can only call a series of fortunate events and am now in the middle of my second session teaching two adult intermediate and beginner tap classes.

This isn’t my first teaching gig, but it is my longest running one and it’s, frankly, the first one where I’ve really felt like I knew what I was doing. My first “teaching” jobs were as a camp counselor at my dance studio’s summer camp when I was 14 and 15 , teaching barre fit at a neighborhood studio and finally most recently teaching dance to K-2nd grade students at an elementary school last fall/winter. And they went, well there’s no sense in sugarcoating, pretty poorly—with the exception of the barre class…that one was okay.

^^^This it was not

It was more like this^^^

Yeah, I like to say that teaching kids just isn’t in my ministry. I have the patience of a gnat and too much energy is overwhelming for me (#introvertprobs).

So being able to work with people who are capable of higher order thinking and reasoning,  listening and following directions–and also don’t need to go to the bathroom every few minutes–has been a welcome change, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had to make adjustments.

 

Relax and Take Notes….

The biggest thing I’ve learned from teaching adults is to always come prepared. I know lots of teachers come to classes not having thought about what they were going to teach and are fine but for me it just causes anxiety. This is mainly because classes with adults move much more slowly than kids’ classes. You’re not spending any time wrangling little people, so it’s easier to cycle through exercises and combinations quickly and run out of things to do earlier in the class.

Because of this I now have a notebook….

And in this notebook I write out everything I plan to do for class. More often than not, I don’t get to everything but I’d rather run out of time than run out of  things to do.

 

Repetition is Good. Repetition is Good.

This is something that’s been said a lot recently by a tap teacher I take class with and it’s SO TRUE! I’m still adjusting to the fact that I’m not dealing with people who get bored easily so it’s okay for me to keep exercises and repeat things (to a point). That said, I don’t want to teach the exact same class every week, so I do try to introduce at least one new element per class that we can build on for the next few weeks. Once I see everybody getting the hang of it, I can retire it and move on to something else.

So far, I’m having fun. I’m making extra money (always nice $$$$$$$$), my friends have come to take my class a few times, and I’m actually getting to know some of my students, one even invited me to have drinks on their birthday! I’m glad things fell into place so I could take this job and I can’t wait to see how my students grow and how they help me grow!

 

 

Revue: With Ballet in My Soul: Adventures of a Globetrotting Impresario by Eva Maze

Yes, I spelled revue like that on purpose, it’s a stylistic choice.

I recently had the pleasure of being asked to review Eva Maze’s memoir With Ballet in My Soul: Adventures of a Globetrotting Impresario. The book is written by Maze and starts with her early days in Bucharest, Romania, during which she survived a bout with scarlet fever, a disease that would end her classical dance training before it had a chance to begin.

Each chapter is named after a city or country Maze lived in. The memoir shows Maze’s college years, marriage to her husband of nearly 50 years Oscar Maze, and the eventual beginnings and success of her career as an impresario, during which time she produced shows for notable dance companies including Lar Lubovitch, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, José Limón Dance Company and Bella Lewitzky Dance Company. The memoir ends with Maze’s eventual retirement to Sarasota, Florida, where she currently resides.

If Forrest Gump were a dancer, this is how I imagine the movie would have played out (haven’t had the chance to read the book yet–it’s on my list). The book beautifully integrates dance and the arts as a whole with major world events. Photos and visuals appear on nearly every page showing Maze as a child, young woman and as she is today at 95 years old. Coupled with newspaper reviews of many of Maze’s shows and historical photographs,  the book is one part memoir, one part photo album and one part history archive.

Maze has a front row seat to WWII, the raising and tearing down of the Berlin wall and the tragic massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympic games, among other landmarks in time. What’s interesting about With Ballet in My Soul, although it doesn’t become apparent until the very end of the book, is that because Maze spends the majority of her adult life living abroad, we aren’t given a glimpse into how dance intersects with major American events. The assassinations of  JFK, Dr. King and Robert Kennedy, the space race, and even the rise of computers and the internet are all omitted from the story save for a passing reference near the end. While it would have been interesting to see dance as a part of American history,  these elements aren’t missed.  Maze goes into amazingly descriptive detail to discuss her time in places like Berlin, Tokyo and Paris both as a producer of performances and as an observer of cultures.

While I generally enjoyed Maze’s discussion of the various environments she lived in throughout her life, there were times where I felt her assessment of other people’s cultures could veer into the territory of being a bit voyeuristic and problematic. An example of this is in the opening  lines of Maze’s chapter about India. Maze describes her life in Europe as “organized” and “middle class” but calls the Indian culture “chaotic, dirty, noisy, hot, poor and very exotic.” This othering happens in other areas as well including a section where Maze refers to a Kabuki dance theater in Tokyo as “exotic,” and it definitely took away from my enjoyment of Maze’s narrative.

It is no secret that it is a privilege to get to travel freely and experience other cultures. Maze does appear to become a student of the cultures she is able to live amongst and seems genuinely interested in learning the dance styles and history of places like New Delhi, Kathmandu and Tokyo. But her attempts, however subtle or unintentional, to differentiate her European upbringing from other non-western cultures, and even from being American (even though she lived and attended college in New York) are off-putting, and put a damper on my appreciation of what would have otherwise been an engrossing narrative.

Privilege aside, Maze does tell an engaging story that flows nicely from the beginning of her life as an aspiring ballerina to her present situation as a woman who has lived a full, rich life and can now enjoy the fruits of her labor. I often say that the key to success as a dancer and in life is to lean into the fact that your career won’t look like the career of the person next to you, the dancer your age, or anyone else. Eva Maze’s desire and willingness to have dance and the arts in her life in any way possible led her to have a brief professional dancing career and a longer and fulfilling career as an impresario. I’d say this could be a worthwhile read for dancers and dance lovers who want to learn about dance from someone who danced briefly, and also learn about what life can be like after dance.

You can purchase to book on Amazon.

Dance World News (Aug. 26, 2017)

First things first… Happiest of Birthdays to the O.G. Dance Momma, whose truck (R.I.P.  Chrysler Aspen) became a bus to and from Orlando for competitions and a home for lost dance shoes, my Mom!!! Love you so much!

And now…on to the news of the world, the dance world that is.

 

  • From the corps to choreography: Alvin Ailey Alum (one time for alliteration) Jamar Roberts will be premiering his first choreographic work for the company “Members Don’t Get Weary” during the company’s upcoming season on Dec. 8. Set to the music of saxophonist John Coltrane, the work is, “a response to the current social landscape in America [and] takes an abstract look into the notion of one ‘having the blues,'” Roberts said in a statement. Learn more here.
  • The Boston Ballet Goes Black:  The Boston Ballet recently accepted three new Black Members into its corps. Dancers Daniel Durrett, Chyrstyn Fentroy and Tyson Clark will be joining the company during its 2017-2018 season. On the whole according to the Bay State Banner, the company is comprised of people representing 15 nationalities.
  • Cast your votes for Dance Magazine‘s Readers Choice Award!
  • With its new location in Memphis’ midtown entertainment district, Ballet Memphis hopes to bring ballet out of the suburbs and position it as a relevant urban cultural fixture. Learn more here.

👀

Watch this!

 

This video shows a troupe of robots dancing in perfect sync. At 1,069 they have also taken home the Guinness World Record for most robots dancing simultaneously (which I didn’t even know there was a record for…)

Dance World News (March 22, 2017)

Rest in Peace…Dance innovator Trisha Brown passed away on Saturday March 18 after a long illness. Brown studied under Anna Halperin and later went on to revolutionize post modern dance with her own company, the Trisha Brown company (founded in 1970). Brown is known for her works including Set and Reset and Watermotor. Brown was also known as a visual artist with drawings appearing in various exhibitions and museums. Brown retired from dancing in 2008 and received numerous including the MacArthur “Genius” Grant (she was the first woman to receive this award), two Guggenheim fellowships, the New York Governor’s Arts Award and the 1994 Samuel H. Scripps American Festival of the Arts Award.

Former American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet Dancer Michael Maule passed away. Maule was born and began studying dance in South Africa. After moving to the United States, Maule performed with ABT and NYCB partnering with ballerinas including Alicia Alonso, Alexandra Danilova, Maria Tallchief and Alicia Markova. Maule also taught at Juilliard and served as the head of the Academy of the Arts in Chamaign-Urbana

Sneak Peek…Jennifer Lopez held a press event for her upcoming show World of Dance. “It’s like a dream come true and, like, the perfect job for me. In a sense, we created literally the perfect show for me to be a part of,”  she said about the show. World of Dance is set to premiere in May and will feature Derek Hough, Ne-Yo and Jenna Duwan-Tatum as judges. Benny Medina, Lopez’s longtime manager, and the show’s executive producer promises that the show will   “to do to dance what ‘The Voice’ has done to singing.”

Dancing into Space…Dance and science will collide again, in Pearlann Porter’s new “The Invisible Jazz Labs” series. The work will debut at Point Breeze’s The Space Upstairs above Construction Junction and will also include field studies at Carnegie Mellon University.

Make Dance not War Women in Gaza have begun forming dance troupes and performing at Christian and Muslim weddings. These troupes were formed to generate income for women, combat unemployment, the and challenge the conservative culture and  traditionally male dance world in Gaza. “This will not stand in the way of the source of my livelihood, nor will it stop me from developing my talent and achieving fame in this field,” said Naha, one of the dancers who declined to provide her full name to Al Monitor.

Saying Goodbye…After 50 years of training dancers in the Oakhurst, Calif. area, the Patti Law School of Dance will be closing its doors. This closure is occurring as a result of the expansion of the Golden Chain Theatre School of the Performing Arts. Patti Law, who also helped found the GCT is less than pleased “After working all those years to keep the GCT open, and to be there to burn the mortgage in 1999, It’s just not right to dismiss one of the founding members who loves the Golden Chain. This is not the way I dreamed it would all end,” she said.

Let the kids dance…The Dance Liberation Network is calling for the repeal of New York City’s “Cabaret Law,” which prohibited three or more people from dancing in a club without a license. The law was reportedly created to regulate black jazz clubs and is still enforced.

 

What’s going on in your dance world? Did I miss anything? Let me know below!

Terpsichorean Heroes: Isabella Boylston Gives the Gift of Ballet to Her Home State

ABT principal Isabella Boylston is giving the gift of dance back to her hometown of Sun Valley, Idaho.

The 30-year-old ballerina is organizing the inaugural Ballet Sun Valley. The three-day festival will take place at the Sun Valley Pavilion and feature performances from the New York City Ballet, Royal Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and the Mariinsky Ballet.

“This feels like a very personal project,” Boylston told the New York Times.

While Boylston has yet to reveal her full cast-list of dancers, she says they are all dancers with whom she has an existing relationship. Boylston herself will be dancing the solo originally intended for Sara Mearns from “The Bright Motion.” Gemma Bond has also been commissioned to choreograph a piece based around a solar eclipse that is supposed to happen over Sun Valley the weekend of the festival.

“We thought that would be a cool theme to draw inspiration from,” Boylston said.

Boylston is hoping this festival will become a regular event. Congratulations, Isabella. DanceTopia wishes you the best of luck.