City.ballet." Recap: Episode 9, “Partnering

Lauren Lovette and Craig Hall in rehearsal

New York City Ballet is known for a lot of things—Balanchine’s choreography, no real “stars,” those extra-wide fourth positions—but none more so than putting the women up front and center. As Andy Veyette puts it (and as Balanchine himself put it, many years ago), “Ballet is woman” at NYCB. Again and again in this episode, the male dancers emphatically state that their main job as partners is to make the ladies look good. “It’s not about you,” says principal Amar Ramasar. “It’s about making the woman look beautiful.”

The dynamics of this attitude frankly fascinate me. I mean, maybe women have a historical position as always being right when it comes to their interactions and arguments with men, but the men of City Ballet are so finely attuned to their female counterparts, so ready to take the blame for any kind of onstage mishap, that they almost come across as devotional. I was fascinated by this article in the current issue of Pointe magazine where five leading male dancers remember School of American Ballet teacher (and former principal and partnering all-star) Jock Soto instructing them to always, always take the blame. No matter what.

I’m sort of touched by this attitude, even as I recognize the unfairness of it. (Let’s face it: At some point, it’s gotta be the woman’s fault when a bit of partnering goes wrong, right?) It’s a hybrid of modern-day chivalry, in a way. As Chase Finlay says, “It’s about making the woman feel safe.”

Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
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After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy TUPAC

When legendary Black ballet dancer Kabby Mitchell III died unexpectedly in 2017, two months before opening his Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center, his friend and business partner Klair Ethridge wasn't sure she had what it took to carry his legacy. Ethridge had been working with Mitchell to co-found TUPAC and planned to serve as its executive director, but she had never envisioned being the face of the school.

Now, Ethridge is heading into her fourth year of leading TUPAC, which she has grown from a fledgling program in an unheated building to a serious ballet school in its own sprung-floor studios, reaching hundreds of students across the Tacoma, Washington, area. The nonprofit has become a case study for what it looks like to carry out the vision of a founder who never had the chance to see his school open—and to take an unapologetically mission-driven approach.

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