How Well Do You Know Baryshnikov, Ballet's Renaissance Man? Test Your Knowledge!

Photo by Martha Swope, courtesy of Billy Rose Theatre Division, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Mikhail Nikolaevitch Baryshnikov is one of the greatest male ballet dancers of all time, ranked with Vaslav Nijinsky and Rudolf Nureyev. Hailed for his performances with American Ballet Theatre in the 1970s and '80s, Baryshnikov has had a wide-ranging career, spanning the realms of choreography, performance, direction, film, television and theater.


After training at the Vaganova School in Leningrad and performing with the Kirov Ballet, he famously defected to the West in 1974. He soon joined ABT, wowing ballet enthusiasts with his performances alongside partners Natalia Makarova and Gelsey Kirkland. His magnetic presence, brilliant dramatic interpretations and near-perfect technique quickly made him a star. He had the deep demi-plié, elegant lines and ballon required for an expert classicist, yet was chameleon-like in his ability to embody different choreographic styles, regal or provocative.

In 1978 he left ABT to join New York City Ballet, though he returned nearly two years later to become ABT's artistic director. During his decade-long tenure, he revived beloved classics and commissioned new work from choreographers such as Merce Cunningham and José Limón.

He also pursued an acting career, on both stage and screen, starring in The Turning Point (1977) with Shirley MacLaine and White Nights (1985) with Gregory Hines.

Today, the 69-year-old Baryshnikov serves as artistic director of the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City, which he founded in 2005 as a gathering and creative space for dancers and other artists.Though best known for his virtuosic dancing,

Baryshnikov also choreographed, acted, curated and directed throughout his career:

  • Push Comes to Shove (1976) Choreographed by Twyla Tharp to showcase Baryshnikov shortly after his arrival at ABT, this jazzy showstopper set to ragtime and Haydn highlighted his versatility against Tharp's personal quirky vocabulary. Off-balance turns, lightning-quick directional changes, complex musical phrasing and fleeting moments of pedestrian movement provided him with the challenge he was craving prior to his defection.

  • The Nutcracker (1976) Baryshnikov conceived, choreographed and directed this production of The Nutcracker for ABT. His darker, more psychologically driven version portrayed Clara as a young girl on the cusp of womanhood and beefed up the roles of the Nutcracker Prince (which he danced) and Drosselmeyer. It was adapted for television in 1977, with Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland in the lead roles.

  • White Nights (1985) For this feature film, Baryshnikov, as a Russian dancer/expat, acted and danced alongside tap star Gregory Hines. In one of the most famous scenes of the film—and Baryshnikov's career—Hines' character bets Baryshnikov 11 rubles that he can't perform an 11-rotation pirouette, to which Baryshnikov responds by executing all 11 turns flawlessly.
Did You Know?
  • Baryshnikov received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance as a Russian dancer and heartthrob in The Turning Point (1977).
  • Though arguably one of the most famous dancers ever, Baryshnikov may be better known by the masses for his role as Russian artist Aleksandr Petrovsky in the last season of the hit HBO series "Sex and the City."
Dance Buzz
PC Break the Floor

Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.

"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."



The Boy Factor doesn't just have to do with competition scores: It's how we treat boys throughout their dance education. "We idolize the boys," says Ashley Harnish, a teacher at a competition studio. "We build entire dances around one boy, and we teach them that we need them more than we need the girls."

On the surface, The Boy Factor is flagrant sexism. But what's really behind the phenomenon? "So often, young male dancers are bullied because our culture says that dance is for girls," says a second national competition adjudicator. "This stigma pushes some judges to reward boys by scoring them higher than their female competitors." The Boy Factor also stems from a simple fact: There are far more girls than boys in the dance world.

"Judges see boys as valuable commodities," says Marissa Jean, a staff member at Broadway Dance Center's new building for children and teens and a teacher at several competition studios. "To encourage their career in dance, judges will throw a little extra their way. It could be placing them in the top ten or giving them a special award. They nurture them a bit more than the girls."



But by trying to retain more male talent, are we suggesting to girls that they are less valuable to the dance world than boys? "There's so much about this getting into these kids' psyches," says Childress. "Like, 'Oh the boy will beat me no matter what.' How do we teach self-worth knowing that you're going up against a boy, so what's the point?"

The Boy Factor is a product of and a contributor to the culture that sends the few men in dance up the glass escalator: "Many boys growing up in the dance world are not told the word 'no' often, so they tend to climb the professional ranks more quickly than the women," says Jean. We often bemoan the absence of female leadership in dance, but the damage is already done if we've taught young women that their gender determines their value to our community.

So what can be done about The Boy Factor? First, we could change how we encourage boys to continue dancing. Instead of empowering young men by devaluing young women, we could work as a community to dispel the culture of toxic masculinity that discourages boys from pursuing dance in the first place.

But it also falls in the hands of judges and teachers. "We need to increase awareness," says the second adjudicator. "A lot of us judges don't realize what we are promoting and the messages we send through our scoring and awards. If enough of us band together, I think we can make a difference so that this part of our field is less toxic."

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Every true dancer knows just how valuable a perfectly arched foot that curves effortlessly from the ankle to the end of the toes is to a performance. In fact, it's so important, it seems we've all taken an unofficial pact to spend inordinate amounts of time stretching our feet with ominous looking contraptions that cause us severe pain. We are completely crazy! With good reason, but crazy, nonetheless.

In order to keep us all inspired to stretch our toes until they are drool-worthy, DT compiled a list of five dancers whose feet we have a very real crush on. Honestly, these guys should get their toes insured! Truly, they are perfect.

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Students need strong feet for pointe work, but few concentrate on their toes specifically. "Fatigue sets in and they start knuckling," says Atlanta Ballet podiatrist Dr. Frank Sinkoe. This puts excess pressure on the nails, causing bruising. The exercises below strengthen the arch and intrinsic muscles, which flex the toes and support the feet.

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It could be argued that half the battle of owning a dance studio is getting people to follow the rules. To ensure your business will run like a well-oiled machine, it helps to have clear expectations in place for students and their families—and, most important, to make sure everyone knows them from day one. Of course, every school is unique, and behavior that may be acceptable to you might be out of the question for someone else. "There are so many studios out there," says Dana McGuire, a studio co-owner in North Kansas City, Missouri. "Know and stand by what you're about." Here, four seasoned studio directors discuss the issues they consider non-negotiable.

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