New York City Ballet principal Daniel Ulbricht takes on a new role: artistic advisor to Manhattan Youth Ballet

Who’s the short guy at the front of the classroom with the springboard jump, permanent high spirits, muscular technique and insatiable stamina? It’s Daniel Ulbricht, principal dancer with New York City Ballet. Ulbricht is widely renowned for his electrifying presence onstage. What isn’t so well-known is his talent for teaching—and his remarkable drive to do so.

Last June, Rose Caiola, the executive artistic director of Manhattan Youth Ballet, announced that Ulbricht, who’d been teaching regularly at MYB, would become artistic advisor to the pre-professional ballet academy. The departure of François Perron, the former managing artistic director of MYB, left a vacancy for a teacher and advisor with energy, foresight and the ability to pull the best out of young ballet students.

Erin Fogarty, the director of programming at MYB, had worked with Ulbricht at the New York State Summer School of the Arts in Saratoga. “I have been friends with Daniel for many years, and I’ve seen him come to life as a dance educator,” she says. “He’s so good with kids of all ages, and he really knows how to deliver information.” NYCB principal Wendy Whelan, who teaches at MYB when her schedule allows, also admires Daniel’s teaching talent. “Daniel is a natural,” she says. “He’s organized and very confident and comfortable. The guy likes to talk and explain—he’s generous with his knowledge.”

After Perron’s departure from MYB, Ulbricht says, “I started doing a little more at the school than just the guest-teaching spot. I was frequently coaching and running rehearsals.” He sat down with the MYB staff and NYCB artistic director Peter Martins and made a plan to work this demanding post into his dancing schedule. Now, as artistic advisor, “Daniel is in a lot of the meetings for our programming—what we want with the curriculum, how we are developing and changing it, helping it grow, what the kids will perform, what variations we think they should learn,” says Fogarty. “He doesn’t sit here at a desk, but he has major decisions to make.”

But why, at the age of 27—and the apex of his performing career—would Ulbricht want to divert his energy to another demanding job? Even before the appointment, he was devoting 50 percent of his time outside of NYCB to teaching jobs, often during stretches on the road. “I’m hoping that this will help me build something,” he says. “To really sustain and accelerate progress, you have to have a more present approach to teaching. I thought it would be interesting to create a unique platform here, an open forum to make this as successful as possible for a nice caliber of teachers and students.”

“I think he’ll do a fantastic job,” Whelan says. “I’m sure he’s chomping at the bit—he has so many ideas, so much energy. He dances a lot with the company, but not as much as some others, so he wants to fill in the time with more dance.”

As artistic advisor, Ulbricht’s duties include teaching at least twice a week at MYB and helping to outline and improve a solid curriculum and standard for the school. For the past 16 years, MYB has offered a diverse curriculum that included Vaganova and Balanchine training. Ulbricht hopes to highlight the faculty’s teaching strengths and find out what shortcomings need to be addressed. “If I have one teacher teaching style A and another one teaching style B, I’m losing the cohesion I need,” says Ulbricht. “That’s probably the most sensitive area as well, because a lot of teachers get very comfortable in their styles, but that’s really what it’s about—getting the teachers on the same page so the students can take full advantage of this opportunity.”

But he admits that he will be experimenting as he goes along. “The syllabus is ever evolving in dance, I find,” he says. “You see a wave of students who do pirouettes particularly well and you go, ‘OK, that’s great.’ But if you have a school that doesn’t have very strong partners or jumpers or balancers, you need to address that. You want to find something that has a structure but can adapt. The dance world is changing, and we want our techniques to grow with it.”

Ulbricht began his teaching career at age 21, giving classes at NYSSSA during NYCB’s summer residency at Saratoga. At 23, he co-led the NYSSSA session with Jenifer Ringer and has been in demand as a teacher ever since. His style of teaching matches his vibrant presence onstage. “I would say it’s very high energy—that’s for sure,” says Ulbricht with a chuckle. “It’s a mix of strong classical technique and the speed and musical nuance that the School of American Ballet gave me. I am very positive and upbeat. I don’t want to see a student walk away from a class without reaching her potential.” A lot of students, he points out, think they can do anything because they see it on TV or YouTube. “They have to understand that there are still mechanics and technique involved—then we can have a really good discussion,” he says.

But Ulbricht wasn’t always confident at the front of the classroom. He started out so nervous that he would stutter through pliés. “I could show steps, but I had a hard time vocalizing them,” he says. Gradually, he learned that, just as with his dancing, a little fun went a long way. “I learned that the students did better when they were enjoying what they’re doing—when they weren’t doing tendus and pliés like they’re long division,” he says.

A number of mentors led Ulbricht to examine the methodology of teaching. Peter Boal, former NYCB principal and now artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet, tops the list. “He has a way of showing the combination without showing off,” says Ulbricht. “He realizes that sometimes people need to see how something is supposed to look. He’ll show it and you’ll say, ‘That’s amazing—I get it now.’ It’s very revealing, the way he demonstrates.” Ulbricht also cites Michael Vernon, now the Ballet Department chair at Indiana University, for giving him insight into how to work with people, and Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux for teaching him about Balanchine’s legacy while he was a student at the Chautauqua summer intensives.

Nonetheless, Ulbricht stresses that dancing is still his number-one job, and that teaching has only enhanced his performance quality. “Every time I teach a step, it’s like teaching a language—I’m looking up the verb, the origin and the usage of it,” he says. “Then I see how I can apply that knowledge to my craft onstage.”

One of Ulbricht’s top priorities for MYB is to bring in dancers from NYCB and American Ballet Theatre to teach and choreograph, making a tangible connection between the studio and the professional stage. “It’s not just about seeing so-and-so onstage in a tutu, but seeing that person and knowing that she cares about me and my dancing,” says Ulbricht. And he believes the professional dancers—Whelan included—will learn as much as the students. By encouraging both his colleagues and his students, he aspires to inspire both.

Choreographically, Ulbricht will be cutting his teeth with MYB, as well. “I always use the word ‘dabble’ when it comes to my choreography, because I think I am still discovering my voice and my process,” he says. He relishes unhurried time in the MYB studios to create, which is unlike the often-frenetic process at NYCB.

Ultimately, Ulbricht wants the ballet world to progress, and he wants to be part of the process. He thinks of his students as lightbulbs. “There are some who flicker, some who need to be replaced and some who are beaming bright,” he says. “My goal is to get that whole classroom beaming. My job is to turn it up to a brighter wattage. Success to me is if somebody says, ‘I received the best training possible.’ You never know what your students might become—they might become dancers, or fans of ballet, or philanthropists to the arts. But I want to instill that passion so that they can enjoy dance at any time in their life.” DT

 

Joseph Carman, former soloist with ABT and the Joffrey Ballet, is the author of Round About the Ballet.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Show Comments ()
Via Beyoncé's Instagram

This past week, Brianna Bundick-Kelly broke the internet when she posted a video of her dancing Beyoncé's Beychella, only hours after the live performance. The Virginia State University freshman, who's Twitter handle is "Briyonce," told Business Insider that she taught herself the choreography in 40 minutes. For dance teachers, this might seem just like another day at the office–dancers are supposed to pick up choreography fast, right? But Bundick-Kelly gets some serious props for her near flawless slaying of the Queen B's latest moves from a video, a feat she's no stranger to.

Keep reading... Show less
Showstopper's National Finals Opening Number Performance

Showstopper has been making its impact on the dance world since 1978. Before then, dancers didn't have a stage to perform on, the opportunity to learn from peers, or a competitive outlet like most sports. Debbie Roberts recognized this missing piece in the dance community and that is how America's first and longest running dance competition, Showstopper, was born. Debbie taught dance for over 26 years and owned and operated her own dance studio for 20 years. She is now the owner and National Director of Showstopper, along side her husband, Dave Roberts. Dancer, teacher, business owner, author, and mother, Debbie has made dance her life's career.

Keep reading... Show less
Artists in The Royal Ballet perform The Age of Anxiety. Photo by Joe Plimmer, courtesy of The Royal Ballet

The Royal Ballet, under the artistic direction of Kevin O'Hare, will be screening the company's Bernstein Celebration as a part of the Royal Opera House's 2017–18 cinema season April 20–May 20. The program celebrates American composer Leonard Bernstein with work from the company's three associate choreographers, including Liam Scarlett's The Age of Anxiety and new works from Christopher Wheeldon and Wayne McGregor. The screenings will be held in movie theaters around the world, with nearly 50 in the United States and Canada.

Keep reading... Show less

Schedules, routines, parents, music and so much more—there's plenty on your plate already. Why mess with the headache of collecting orders and cash if you don't have to? MoveU can take that off of your hands entirely with their Online Stores. Create beautiful one-of-a-kind designs with their designers and watch your store come to life! How much does the set-up cost? Nothing! In fact, you earn 10% back on all orders your dancers make in that store.

How do you start? MoveU has three handy steps to help you begin!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Marueen Straub, left, co-owns the studio with her mother Diane, right.

Last week, the Professional Arts Academy in Edgewater, New Jersey, caught fire, and the entire studio was destroyed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Tiffany Taylor and her baby Skyler

When dance teacher Tiffany Taylor decided it was time to go back to her job after having her baby, 14-month-old Skyler, she knew she needed to find a way to bring her little one to work with her. At Maria Priadka School of Dance in South Orange, New Jersey, where she teaches, students can't begin taking lessons until they are 2 1/2 years old, so putting Skyler in class while she taught was out of the question. To solve the problem, she decided it was time to create a dance class that both caregivers and babies (from 6 months to 2 years old) could enjoy. Shortly after, Boogie Woogie Babies was born.

During a Boogie Woogie Babies class, moms, dads, nannies and caregivers have the opportunity to bust a move while carrying their snuggly babe on their hip. Taylor says classes are generally based in hip hop and always incorporate fun and lively music for everyone to enjoy.

"We start class sitting in a circle, where we sing songs," Taylor says. "We use scarves and other props while playing games like Ring Around the Rosie to get our bodies moving. Then, everyone will get up and either hold their babies or let them run free if they want to, while I teach the choreography, which is built around their kids. We do a new routine every week with different songs and formations to keep things fun for the 45 minutes I have them in class."

While Taylor teaches Boogie Woogie Babies at Maria Priadka School of Dance every Sunday, she's also traveling to different locations around New Jersey to expand her classes into an entire movement that everyone can experience. "Everyone really enjoys these classes," she says. "We recently had one where 40 students showed up to a class at a local library. The kids were jumping around and loving it!"

If you're interested in learning more about Boogie Woogie Babies, you can follow them on Instagram at @boogiewoogiebabies or Facebook at Boogie Woogie Babies.

Dance News
Because who doesn't want their feet to look as gorgeous as Sara's? (Photo by Christopher Lane)

Ah, the quest for the perfect, foot-flattering, technique-enhancing pointe shoe: It can feel like a never-ending saga. Still on the hunt for that ideal pair? Then you won't want to miss The School at Steps' annual Pointe Shoe Workshop and Fair, happening this Sunday, April 22nd, at 6:30 pm in NYC.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by Paul Goode, courtesy of Bill T. Jones

New York Live Arts, directed by Bill T. Jones of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, is holding an interdisciplinary festival, Live Ideas 2018: Radical Vision, April 18–22, at the New York Live Arts Theater.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored