Rest Your Feet, Exercise Your Mind

For everyone getting ready to head off to summer intensives, here's another thing to add to your packing list: some good books! Reading can be a great way to give your exhausted body a much-needed rest. Books in print, e-reader editions, books online, whatever floats your boat, check out some of the great works out there about dance. 

The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons for Working Together by Twyla Tharp
Throughout Tharp's extensive career, she's worked with some of the most prominent dancers, companies, musicians and designers in the world, and it's from these experiences that she draws the material for her book about collaboration. Designed as a companion to her earlier book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life (a must-read about the process of creating dance), The Collaborative Habit covers the ins and outs of working together, from the characteristics of good collaborations, to warning signs that a collaboration may be dysfunctional, to different types of collaborations (between friends, with an institution, virtual, to name a few). Though most of the anecdotes in the book are dance-related, Tharp stresses the importance of collaboration in all walks of life. 

Apollo's Angels by Jennifer Homans
Be warned: This book is long. Don't be deterred by it's length, though, because on its pages is a wonderfully rich  history of all things ballet.  Covering dance from the age of Catherine de Medici and Henri II in 1533 to the innovations of Balanchine in mid 20th-century New York, plus everything in between, no aspect of ballet history is left untouched. Homans offers spectacular insights into the nature of ballet, and what it means to be a dancer. 

Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet by Gail Grant
Originally written in 1967, there have been numerous updated editions published, most recently in 2009. This book covers nearly every ballet step there is, with special attention paid to what each movement  is called in the French, Cecchetti and Vaganova methods. Another plus? It includes a pronunciation guide for some of those tough to sound out terms. A lightweight paperback, this guide is the perfect size to throw in your bag as a quick reference for any questions you may have throughout the day.

Murder in the Fifth Position by Edgar Box
Originally written and published in the 1950s by Edgar Box, this whodunnit ballet mystery was re-released this year under the name of the true author— critically-acclaimed Gore Vidal. The story follows a PR man turned detective trying to solve the murder mystery of a prominent New York City ballerina who fell to her death onstage—landing in a perfect fifth position. A good one for down time before bed or between rehearsals!

Titles to look for in the next few months...
Dance Medicine: Head to Toe: A Dancer's Guide to Health by Judith R. Peterson, MD
This book offers a complete look at the common injuries and illnesses that affect dancers, written by the former attending physician of the Pennsylvania Ballet. Scheduled for release in late June.  

Bunheads by Sophie Flack
A novel about a dancer's search for identity and fulfillment in a prestigious NYC ballet company, written by former NYCB dancer Sophie Flack. Scheduled for release in October.


















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Angela Sterling, Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet

Clear your schedule now for Monday, January 29th, 2:45PM (EST)/ 11:45AM (PST). Pacific Northwest Ballet will be live-streaming rehearsal from Kent Stowell's Swan Lake, straight from their Seattle, WA-based studios. To psych us up for their on stage performances February 2nd - 11th, PNB is letting us in on their Act II rehearsal.

From the corps of swans to Odette and Prince Siegfried's pas de deux, and the infamous four swans, this rehearsal is not to be missed. You can sign up now for a live-stream reminder on their site. In the meantime, we'll be brushing up on our Cygnets with this PNB sneak peek.

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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Summer Study Advice
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Videos are a great alternative when auditioning in person isn't possible. Here are some general guidelines for making a good impression.

1. Follow directions. Before filming, research what each school you're interested in requires. "It demonstrates your ability to follow instructions, and schools pay attention to that," says Kate Lydon, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre's summer intensives and the ABT Studio Company. "If the guidelines haven't been followed, your video might not be watched the whole way through." You may need to make multiple versions to accommodate different schools.

2. Videos should be no longer than 10 minutes. "Keep it short, simple and direct," advises Philip Neal, dance department chair at The Patel Conservatory and artistic director of Next Generation Ballet. "You have to be sensitive to how much time the director has to sit down and look at it." Barre can be abbreviated, showing only one side per exercise, alternating. Directors will be looking at fundamentals—placement, turnout, leg lines, stability—but don't ignore musicality or movement quality. Make sure music choices match combinations and are correctly synced in the footage.

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Career
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I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

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Videos

They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

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