When the Career Transitions for Dancers annual gala kicked off last night with a swinging routine by the NYC school children of Yvonne Marceau and Pierre DuLaine's Dancing Classrooms, I immediately thought, "Who trained these kids?" Not only were they technically strong, their spirit was infectious, truly upholding the gala's title, Jump for Joy. Held at NYC's City Center, the night was a chance to honor the work of CTFD, an organization that provides career counseling, grants and training to dancers transitioning to their next line of work. (So it only seemed fitting that the evening began with artists just starting out.) The gala also celebrated a stage legend: The one and only Liza Minnelli accepted the Rolex Dance Award. Her speech highlighted the joys of dance and she even sang a bit from "New York, New York."
The event's other performances—including Suzanne Farrell Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Jason Samuels Smith and members of The Big Apple Circus—were also energizing, but the most inspiring moments were given by a few former dancers who acknowledged the looming scariness of retiring from dance. (Which is where CTFD comes in.) For instance, we heard from Leslie-Arlette Boyce, a former Dunham dancer and professor at Bard, whose grant from CTFD helped her find a new passion as a very successful photographer, and Lisa de Ravel, another former ballet dancer who went back to school to study psychology and now is the dean of students at Princeton Ballet School and works as an advisor to dancers and parents.
While the stories clearly illustrated the importance of arts organizations like CTFD, they more so proved (not surprisingly) the value of quality dance training. Not only does it create versatile and strong performers, but dance training helps to shape flexible, resourceful and intelligent human beings. The Dancing Classrooms students in their Swing, Swing, Swing routine certainly demonstrated this thought. (And if you've seen the documentary about Dancing Classrooms, Mad Hot Ballroom, you'll remember that the kids exposed to ballroom dance lessons exhibited a change in behavior, drive and an interest in academic work.) Dance training helps students learn to be adaptive, receptive and hard working. They learn to be fearless and dynamic. They learn cooperation, dedication and how to think critically. The list goes on. So while it was a truly amazing night of dance honoring the work of tireless career counselors and the invaluable organization, we should also celebrate the often thankless work of dance teachers around the world, because without them, many artists would be without crucial lifeskills that can come in handy at any point in their lives. Thank you!
Starting this Saturday, the Children's Museum of Manhattan on the Upper West Side will have an interactive dance exhibit called "Let's Dance!" Basically every facet of dance is featured in the exhibit: kids can explore lighting design with a special child-friendly lighting box; choreograph with the use of props, signs and costumes; create accompaniment with percussion instruments; manipulate posable figures; see incredible dance photography and video; and, best of all, interact with the dance portal, where they can watch, learn and interact with professional and student dance companies like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dancing Classrooms, Mark Morris Dance Group and Martha Graham Dance Company. Whew. That's a LOT of great stuff.
Kathleen Kelbe, Pembroke School of Performing Arts | Pembroke, MA
Total budget: $100,000
Project timeline: 3 months (ongoing)
Kelbe expanded from 1,600 to 6,000 square feet. She used Rosco's SubFloor and Adagio vinyl and broke her extensive renovation into three phases.
Ellen Marshall, Off Broadway Dance Center | Fulton, NY
Total budget: $60,000
Project timeline: 3 months
Marshall renovated a Methodist church into a 4,000-square-foot studio, with Stagestep Flooring Solutions' marbleized gray Timestep in her two studios.
Diana Griffin, Fusion Dance Company | Palm Harbor, FL
Total budget: $40,000
Project timeline: 45 days
From restaurant to studio! The checkerboard ceilings were a restaurant leftover that Griffin decided to keep. Her O'Mara sprung floors were self-installed in her 7,000-square-foot space.
Barclay Gibbs, Dance Conservatory of Maryland | Bel Air, MD
Total budget: $10,000
Project timeline: 2 days
Gibbs chose Gerstung Floor Systems' AirBase 600 for her 2,000-square-foot studio. This semi-permanent flooring will travel with her, should she change locations in the future.
Nigel Burgoine, Ballet Theatre of Toledo | Toledo, OH
Total budget: $4,000
Project timeline: 1 day
In her work as director of physical therapy for New York City Ballet, Marika Molnar relies on tools like bands, balls and Pilates equipment to rehabilitate and strengthen dancers. She says there's a place for such tools in daily dance classes, as well. Resistance and stability tools can help students develop strength and even break bad habits. "Say someone is compensating because of a weakness or restriction—that's what they're always going to do," she says, even after a teacher corrects them repeatedly. "If you give them something that makes things a little unfamiliar, their brain has to participate more. It becomes not only a physical exercise but a cognitive one." The dancer learns in a new way, and improves.
Molnar has collaborated with Pilates expert Joan Breibart and PTs at Westside Dance Physical Therapy to create a series of tools and exercises with dancers' training and recovery needs in mind. Here, she shares three of her favorites.
Christy Wolverton had a student who often either missed class or seemed to be sick. "When you're in our pre-professional company, attendance is huge," says Wolverton, owner and director of Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, Texas. She tried to be patient with the dancer and communicate with her parents to get a better idea of what was going on at home. "When she was diagnosed with a serious illness," she says, "we were relieved that we didn't come down on her for something that wasn't her fault."
Laura Glenn can still remember the excitement she felt watching the Limón Dance Company perform at Central Park in the summer of 1962. "I turned to the person next to me and whispered, 'He's going to be my teacher!'" she says. Two weeks later, she started as a Juilliard freshman, where she indeed studied under the legendary José Limón before joining his company in her second year.