New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin. Photo by Nick Nakahara, Courtesy Pazcoguin.
As conversations in the ballet world about race and representation have opened up in the past few years, its most beloved holiday tradition, The Nutcracker, has come under scrutiny as well. Last year New York City Ballet made changes to its second act Chinese Tea variation, removing elements of racial caricature from both the costume and makeup and the choreography.
NYCB soloist Georgina Pazcoguin, who is part Filipino, was one of the voices fighting for that change. This year, as companies and schools worldwide are gearing up for Nutcracker season, Pazcoguin, along with former dancer and arts administrator Phil Chan, is back with a new campaign. Final Bow For Yellowface is an online platform dedicated to educating companies and schools on how to veer away from offensive Asian stereotypes (yellowface) and providing resources on how to make those changes. The site also lets readers join dance world luminaries including Virginia Johnson, Julie Kent, Adam Sklute, Troy Schumacher and Christopher Wheeldon in signing a pledge to end the practice of yellowface onstage. We touched base with Pazcoguin to hear about how this initiative came to be, and what she and Chan have in the works for the future.
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe
Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."
Forsythe has taught Horton at AAADT since 1973 and continues to mine the technique daily for its legendary specificity and discipline. Photo by Nicole Tintle, courtesy of The Ailey School
Ana Marie Forsythe's eyes twinkle, and a smile plays at the corners of her mouth as she welcomes the 40-plus teachers who are enrolled for her two-week-long Horton teacher-training workshop at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater studios in New York City—plus me, a dancer and writer, taking part for the day. As we watch Genius on the Wrong Coast, a film about Lester Horton, the "princess of Horton" (as someone aptly refers to Forsythe) offers her own version of a director's commentary: She identifies faces as they appear onscreen and interjects her own narration ("Fortification 15—that's the one I hated so much," she says).
Tade Biesinger and Kandee Allen, photo courtesy of Biesinger
It's officially the one month out of the year that's exclusively about gratitude, and there's nothing dance enthusiasts are more thankful for than our dance teachers. They're everything to us!
Case in point: we reached out to Marymount Manhattan freshman and former Billy Elliot: The Musical star, Tade Biesinger, and asked him to write a thank-you letter to his hometown studio owner/teacher Kandee Allen. The result brought tears to our eyes! How Biesinger feels about Allen is how all of us feel about our teachers.
Allen and Biesinger. Photo courtesy of Biesinger
Check out what he had to say, and then write a thank-you message to your dance teachers in the comments of our Facebook page.
"In part, I became a teacher because I felt the need to help others dance," says Slattery (center in all black). "Working on this project has been so fulfilling, and I look forward to it each week." Photo courtesy of Orlando Ballet
A year ago, Orlando Ballet School offered a weekend workshop called "Come Dance With Us." The pilot program was designed for children with physical special needs and disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, brittle bone disease and a variety of conditions that require children to wear braces or use walkers and wheelchairs.
The workshop was such a positive experience that the school expanded it to 10 weeks. Recently, I was given the opportunity to teach within the program. To my surprise, the students were capable of participating in ways I wouldn't have expected.
In a short time, I've been so impressed with the children's ability to modify movement, not to mention the joy and incredible spirit the students bring to class each week. It has been an extremely valuable experience for me as a teacher, and I have learned a great deal working with these inspiring kids.
Photo by Jacqueline Connor, courtesy of Nowakowski
In 2015, Houston Ballet demi-soloist Jim Nowakowski made a shocking career about-face when he soared into the heart of pop culture and made Top 6 on Season 12 of "So You Think You Can Dance." The commercial world was taken by his flawless technique and perfect lines, while at the same time classical dancers were surprised by his choice to leave a coveted position with Houston Ballet. He was an enigma—and now he's done it again. He has recently returned to ballet company life and is well into his second season with BalletMet.
Mia Michaels has learned the power of inspiring those she works with. Here, rehearsing Rockettes. Photo courtesy MSG
Dancers are human, which means they're bound to make mistakes from time to time, both on and off the stage. But what happens when those mistakes burn bridges? In an industry so small, is it possible for choreographers and performers to recover?
In a moment of vulnerability, three-time Emmy Award winning choreographer Mia Michaels opened up to Dance Magazine about some of the bridges she herself has burned, the lengths she's gone to in order to rebuild and the peace she's made with the new direction her career has taken because of them. —Haley Hilton
Photo by Julianna D. Photography, courtesy of Abreu
Although Rudy Abreu is currently JLo's backup dancer and an award-winning choreographer—his piece "Pray" tied for second runner-up at the 2018 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and a variation of the piece made it to the finals on NBC's "World of Dance"—he still finds time to teach. Especially about how he hears music.
"The Vaganova style is so pure and logical. It's designed to show your deficiencies, not to disguise them. You're forced to be honest with yourself," says Ellison. Photos by Jim Lafferty
Edward Ellison shapes his students like clay. If a leg needs more turnout, he rotates it and drops the hip into place. If a torso is off-kilter, he pokes and lifts until everything's aligned. During combinations, he watches with intense focus, and when someone pulls off a difficult step or sequence, he radiates pride. His dedication to both his pupils and the Vaganova technique he teaches is evident in his every word and gesture.
Ellison has long been known as a master teacher, but since he launched his own school in 2005, his reputation for excellence has only grown. Ellison Ballet is small by design—during the year, there are usually between 30 and 40 students, while the summer intensives draw 175 to 200—but the school's output rivals that of larger, more famous academies. Ellison only accepts the best of the best, dancers who show potential that he's confident he can shape into something spectacular. That attitude pays dividends; his students dominate at major ballet competitions, and his graduates perform with top-tier companies around the world.
"We expect a lot from our students," Ellison says. "I believe they can achieve something extraordinary, but to achieve the extraordinary takes extraordinary work. How much you want that end result will show in what you do every day." Given his complete commitment to his students, he could just as easily be speaking about himself.
Bodily with his Center Stage Performing Arts Studio dancers at Nationals (here) and (at right) with his Creative Arts Academy students at a competition. Photo by Tisha Dayton, courtesy of Bodily
Chaz Bodily consistently creates hip-hop numbers that take top awards at some of the most prestigious conventions in the country. His work is equal parts innovative, entertaining and tasteful. The Utah-based choreographer splits his time between three highly competitive dance studios: Dance Impressions, Creative Arts Academy and Center Stage Performing Arts Studio.
It all begins with a concept, says Bodily, who trained in hip hop, ballroom, contemporary and ballet at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio. "Coming up with the story is the hardest part," he says. "I run seven or eight miles every day, and the entire time I'm just generating ideas." Once an idea comes to mind, he writes it down, then runs it by a trusted group of friends and fellow artists to gauge interest. "I can tell pretty quickly if something's going to work or not," he says.
Mastering a fish lift, with Nicholas Mishoe and ADA students Connor Medrow and Renee Shubov. Photo by Sori Gottdenker, courtesy of ADA
What makes someone ready to leave a successful performance career to buy a dance school? For Nicholas and Shayne Mishoe, that turning point came while Nicholas was touring in the Netherlands with the Dutch National Ballet. "Dancing late into the night on a hard stage, getting on a bus and driving a couple hours and doing the whole thing again the next day, for a month—one night, I thought, 'I've had enough of this,'" Nicholas says.
"We train dancers to be accountable for their own dancing," says Shayne Mishoe. Photo by Sori Gottdenker, courtesy of ADA
"The life we were living didn't feel sustainable long-term," adds Shayne, who was performing on a project basis in Amsterdam, while also teaching ballet, Pilates and Gyrotonic. Operating their own school had always been their dream, and after Nicholas' bus tour through Holland, the stars aligned. Shayne knew that the founder of her childhood studio in New Jersey, where her mother has also taught since the early 1990s, had been thinking about selling. She and Nicholas talked it out, made the phone call and set the plan into motion.
Through Instagram posts, Roberts, who has a background in fitness and architecture, chooses off-beat locations to showcase site-specific choreography for events, like this gallery opening at Long Island City's Cigar Factory. Her strong web presence operates as a 24-hour business card cultivating the element of surprise.
Pop-ups rely on the delight of being in the right place at the right time. Such flashes of intrigue have changed the way consumers engage with products and services, according to "How Pop-Ups Took Over America's Restaurants." Because dance itself is built on impermanence, many artists embrace fleeting moments to market themselves on the web.
Below are five suggestions to get you onboard the pop-up train.
Choreographer Andrea Giselle Schermoly, center, demonstrating. Photo by Andrew Yew, courtesy of Schermoly
You might think ballet competitions are all about the dancers—offering them valuable exposure, scholarships and job opportunities. They serve as vehicles for growth, with dancers spending countless hours working to perfect every step they'll take in front of the judges. But these same events have also become a way for choreographers to launch their own careers. The competition work they make helps to refine their voices, and it offers the chance to dive further into the creative process with pre-professional students. DT spoke with five award-winning choreographers about their roles on the ballet competition circuit, and how this unique opportunity has both inspired and elevated their craft.