Ballet Class Blogging: Video Day

Yours truly just can’t win. Now that my hamstring has healed, my vocal chords are broken. I’ve had a lingering runny nose for a couple of weeks, but my symptoms haven’t been bad—it's been a nuisance more than anything. But starting on Tuesday, I’ve been limited to a hoarse whisper. Last night, I headed to class with two videos in hand.

 

I'm always excited to show my kids ballet in action—besides pictures of ballerinas, Nutcracker renderings or those Barbie ballet movies, they don’t often see professional ballet. (Many students are new this semester, too, and this was definitely their first time viewing classical ballet.) Also, keep in mind that most of my students are 6.

 

Video 1: The VHS American Ballet Theatre at the Met. I showed the first 15 or so minutes of Paquita, starring Cynthia Gregory and Fernando Bujones. And if you look closely at their tiny faces, you can see my all-time hero, Susan Jaffe. In addition to Paquita being one of my faves, I picked this ballet because of the abundance of arabesques (we’ve just started exploring them in class), clear patterns and the adagio that the corps performs in sync, in a long diagonal line.

 

My students loved the pas de deux—they were stunned by the pointe-work, lifts, pirouettes and extensions—and they also remarked at the distinct lines and formations the corps dancers created. A few noticed the Spanish flair to the music, and I was impressed that the girls picked out so many steps we do in class.

 

But this moment, by far, was funniest:

“They keep doing this move where they brush their feet…sliding it out, like this,” says Student 1. She’s sitting, but mimics a fast tendu.

Not missing a beat, Student 2 yells out: “Hello! They’re called tendus—we do those everyday!”

 

Of course, 6-year-olds are going to be 6. The next student to raise her hand told me that the letters P and H together make an “F” sound.

 

Video 2: Moving to more contemporary choreography, we watched two bits of the DVD Fosse (the recording of the Broadway show). My goal was to show them that ballet is the root of other dance styles, like jazz. We watched Edwaard Liang’s “Percussion 4” solo from Fosse’s Dancin’ and  “Crunchy Granola Suite,” also from Dancin’.

 

During Liang’s solo, another student piped up: “He’s as graceful as a ballet dancer but his moves are like jazz.” Bingo! “This should be called jallet,” she continued. “Jazz and ballet.”

 

The girls loved “Crunchy Granola Suite”—they couldn’t stop moving. It was so cute—they had to get up and dance around. After all, the music is catchy and after that long slow build up… Who can blame them?

 

 

Photos of video covers; I highly suggest getting a copy if they're not already a part of your library.

 

 

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Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

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Robbie Sweeny, courtesy Funsch

Christy Funsch's teaching career has taken her from New York City to the Bay Area to Portugal, with a stint in a punk band in between. But this fall—fresh off a Fulbright in Portugal at the Instituto Politécnico de Lisboa, School of Dance (ESD), teaching and researching empathetic embodiment through somatic dance training—Funsch's teaching has taken her to an entirely new location: Zoom. A visiting professor at Slippery Rock University for the 2020–21 academic year, Funsch is adapting her eclectic, boundary-pushing approach to her virtual classes.

Originally from central New York State, Funsch spent 20 years performing in the Bay Area, where she also started her own company, Funsch Dance Experience. "My choreographic work from that time is in the dance-theater experiential, fantasy realm of performance," she says. "I also started blending genres and a lot of urban styles found their way into my choreography."

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Courtesy Meg Brooker

As the presidential election approaches, it's a particularly meaningful time to remember that we are celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment, when women earned the right to vote after a decades-long battle.

Movement was more than a metaphor for the fight for women's suffrage—dancers played a real role, most notably Florence Fleming Noyes, who performed her riveting solo Dance of Freedom in 1914 to embody the struggle for women's rights.

This fall, Middle Tennessee State University director of dance Meg Brooker is reconstructing Dance of Freedom on 11 of her students. A Noyes Rhythm teacher and an Isadora Duncan scholar, Brooker is passionate about bringing historic dance practices into a contemporary context.

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