Ask Amy: Technique or Artistry


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Click here to send it to Suzanne Farrell Ballet dancer Amy Brandt.


I go to a strict school that is very technique driven. However, the summer intensive I just attended focused more on performance quality. Going back to my old studio, should I keep thinking about my presentation or return to dancing like a stiff robot? How can I still please my teacher? —Lauren
One of the wonderful things about summer programs is that they open your eyes to new perspectives. As you start branching out into the larger dance world, you’ll discover many different and sometimes contradictory approaches to training, all of which contain elements of truth. Your home studio’s emphasis on technique may feel a bit robotic or boring, but it probably stems from the valid philosophy that you should learn the rules before breaking them. A strong, solid base is essential, so try not to be dismissive of your teacher.

However, it’s imperative to develop artistically if you want a professional career. This summer served as a major artistic awakening for you. Rather than throw it all away, apply what you’ve learned to your meticulous technical training. Test the waters—see where your newfound presentation fits within the boundaries of your school’s syllabus. Take advantage of variations class, rehearsals, even jazz classes, where you’ll have more artistic freedom. And give your teacher a little credit—she knows that you’ve been studying with other instructors and probably expects you to return home dancing a little differently.

At the end of last season, my director gave me a principal role (our company is unranked). I felt very proud of my performance. But I’ve just been cast in a role usually done by apprentices. I can’t help but feel discouraged. How do I get back to the dancer I was? —Sherron
Trust me, most of us know how you feel. Casting rarely pleases everyone, and it’s hard not to interpret a minor role as an ominous sign of rejection. However, try not to take it so personally. In unranked companies, directors have more freedom to cast who they feel best embodies the role, and in this instance you simply may not be the right fit. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad dancer; it just means your movement style or even your look doesn’t suit this specific ballet. Your director may also simply want to give other dancers opportunities.

The artistic staff obviously sees your potential based on last season’s casting. But remember, one principal role doesn’t mean you’re entitled to them from now on, especially when you’re a young company member. Since it’s early in the season, don’t panic—and definitely avoid coming off as defeated or ungracious. Use this setback as incentive to work harder than ever. If poor casting continues throughout the year, try talking to someone on the artistic staff to gain insight into their casting decisions and see if there’s something you need to improve.

My shoulders naturally slump forward. When I try to push them back, my teachers tell me I look too stiff. But when I relax them, they tell me to push my shoulders down. I’m not sure what to do. —Emily
I can relate—I’ve been fighting slumpy shoulders my whole career. Called rolled shoulders, they can result from having weak upper back and tight chest muscles, and unfortunately create a self-conscious or lazy-looking aesthetic. Luckily, stretching and strengthening exercises, along with some added awareness in class, can help improve your posture.

Karen Clippinger, a kinesiologist and professor at California State University, Long Beach, recommends this exercise from her book Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology. Sit crossed-legged on the floor and hold a Thera-Band taut between your hands; have your palms facing up and elbows bent at a 90 degree angle. Keeping your elbows close to your sides, pull the ends of the band apart so that your shoulders externally rotate. Then, arch your upper back, making sure to engage your lower abdominals to prevent your pelvis from tipping forward.

Sometimes dancers overcompensate by squeezing their shoulder blades together tightly, almost eliminating the space between them. This could be what you’re doing when your teacher says you look stiff. Instead, push your shoulder blades down and lift your chest slightly (keeping the ribs together), as if you’re wearing a beautiful diamond necklace. At the same time, imagine both shoulders expanding outwards to the sides. This should help you engage the right muscles.

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Eighteen-year-old Sarah Patterson (foreground), with her classmates at New Ballet School. She's decided to stay home this summer to take advantage of outdoor, in-person classes. Courtesy New Ballet School.

Why Planning Summer Study This Year Is More Complicated Than Ever

When it comes to navigating summer intensives, 2021 may be more complicated for ballet students than last year. On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic's spring spike in 2020, summer programs went all-virtual or had very limited capacity. This year is more of a mixed bag, with regulations and restrictions varying widely across state and county lines and changing week by week.

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Chris Hardy, Courtesy LINES

Check Out These 2021 Summer Intensives Especially for Adults

After a year of shuttered studios, virtual-only classes, and waving to ballet buddies over Zoom, summer intensives are back. For adult students, packing up for a few days of intensive training might seem like a pipe dream, as many of us spent the last year trying to fit in ballet classes while juggling work and, for those of us with kids, remote learning. With the country opening up again, let's start planning (safely!) for workshops that allow us to jump into technique, conditioning and, of course, high-elbowing some new friends.

For in-person intensives, please check the studio's website for detailed health and safety guidelines, including policies on masks, cleaning/hygiene, social distancing, and the policy on having to cancel in-person programs due to COVID-19 restrictions.

CALIFORNIA

Alonzo King LINES Ballet Adult Dance Intensive (virtual only, via Zoom)

May 28–31, San Francisco

Immerse yourself in the celebrated home of Alonzo King, the artistic visionary who created LINES 39 years ago. Now in its second year as a virtual offering, this four-day workshop includes ballet, yoga, Pilates, choreography and contemporary. Students also have the option to drop in to class if they can't commit to all four days.

KENTUCKY

Lexington Ballet Adult Ballet Intensive

July 12–16, Lexington

Why should thoroughbreds have all the fun of training in the horse capital of the world? Reach new heights in your training at Lexington Ballet's Adult Ballet Intensive. Join school directors Luis and Nancy Dominguez and principal instructor Ayoko Lloyd for a five-day workshop that includes conditioning, Pilates, technique and repertoire. All classes are held in the evenings, and the program welcomes beginning through advanced students.

A group of eight smiling adult ballet students\u2014seven women and one man in the middle\u2014pose in a line and stand on their right leg in tendu crois\u00e9 devant.

A group of dancers pose at a past Lexington Ballet Adult Dance Intensive.

Ayoko Lloyd, Courtesy Lexington Ballet

Louisville Ballet Adult Summer Intensive

May 31–June 4, Louisville

Polish off a glass of sweet tea (or two), and then work up a sweet sweat at Louisville Ballet's Adult Summer Intensive. Geared towards beginning through advanced levels, students ages 18+ can take part in half- or full days of training. Classes offered include technique, pointe and jump strengthening, modern, Pilates and yoga. Students will also perform in a livestreamed performance on the final day.

MASSACHUSETTS

Brookline Ballet School Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

June 23–27, Brookline

The Red Sox and New England Patriots may get a bulk of the glory in Beantown, but the city is also a mecca for ballet. At Brookline Ballet School's Adult Summer Ballet Intensive, students (beginner or intermediate level) will spend three weeknights and two weekend mornings in technique and repertoire classes, wrapping up with an informal performance on Sunday afternoon.

NEW YORK

Kat Wildish Presents (virtual, via Zoom)

June 14–25 and July 12–23

Join master ballet teacher Kat Wildish in a virtual intensive that aims to take your training to the next level. Each day, in one-hour classes, Kat will lead students of all levels from basic to advanced in various ballet exercises. The group will be limited to 20 dancers, so each person will get personal attention.

A group of older adult ballet students in leotards, tights or leggings, stand in two lines with their left foot in B+ position and holding hands, as if rehearsing a ballet.

Kat Wildish (far left) working with adult students at Peridance Capezio Center

Matthew Venanzi, Courtesy Kat Wildish

OHIO

artÉmotion Adult Ballet Summer Workshop

June 14–19, Cleveland

Head to the Buckeye State for a week of training under the tutelage of Ballet West first soloist Allison DeBona and principal Rex Tilton. In this Adult Ballet Summer Workshop, beginner and intermediate/advanced students will fine-tune their skills in two classes every morning: a 90-minute technique class followed by a one-hour class in one of the following disciplines: pointe/pre-pointe, acting, men's and women's variations, conditioning.

PENNSYLVANIA

Amy Novinski

May 24–28 and June 28–July 2, Philadelphia

Those interested in the Vaganova technique may want to check out Amy Novinski's Adult Workshops. For the five-day May workshop, newbie dancers can look forward to classes devoted to ballet, jazz and yoga. For those more advanced, the June workshop offers more rigorous technique, contemporary ballet, pre-pointe/beginner pointe and jazz.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Ballet Academy of Charleston Adult Summer Intensive

July 26–30 and August 2–6, Charleston

Embrace the low-country charm in historic Charleston, where a weeklong Adult Summer Intensive at the Ballet Academy of Charleston invites beginning through advanced students to take classes in technique, stretching/Pilates/yoga, pre-pointe or pointe (for advanced students), variations, jazz, modern, contemporary and choreography. You may choose the half-day or full-day program.

TEXAS

Houston Ballet Adult Intensive

June 1–5, Houston

For intermediate/advanced students with at least three years of ballet training, Houston Ballet's Adult Intensive might be the perfect place to hone your skills. The school has two-, three- or five-day options, and includes ballet technique, variations, yoga and Zumba.

UTAH

May 31–June 5, Salt Lake City

Ballet West welcomes students of all levels to artÉmotion's one-week Adult Ballet Summer Intensive. Classes include ballet, contemporary, pointe, jazz, modern, acting, and men and women's variations. Available in full-day or half-day options, those dancing only in the morning will take two 90-minute technique classes. The full-day experience offers the opportunity to be choreographed on for an in-studio performance on Saturday, June 5. All students will also have a professional dance photo shoot with Logan Sorenson.

A group of four men in dance practicewear face the right corner of the room and raise their arm as if beckoning someone. Three of the men stand in parallel, which the man in the middle sits in a wheelchair.

A men's class at artÉmotion Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

Logan Sorenson, Courtesy artÉmotion

INTERNATIONAL

The August Ballet Retreat in Leeds

August 28–30, Leeds, UK

The three-day August Ballet Retreat in Leeds offers classes for students of all abilities. The mornings are devoted to technique, and in the afternoon, students will focus on repertoire. In the past, The Ballet Retreat has taught solos from Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet and Giselle. One detail is still tentative: If the retreat is unable to take place in person due to the pandemic, it will be offered virtually over Zoom.

Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp

July 2–10, Morlaix, France

The Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp is in the heart of France's Brittany region. In this full-day intensive, intermediate through advanced-level students will be led by an international faculty. Dancers can look forward to morning ballet classes and rehearsals in the afternoon. The week of training wraps up with a performance of Bournonville's Napoli at a nearby theater. Please contact the school for information about room and board.

Still shot by cinematographer Benjamin Tarquin, Courtesy Post:ballet

10 Online Ballet Performances to Catch in April

Spring is in full bloom with another round of exciting digital dance offerings. This month, companies across the country are releasing world premieres, season finales, artistic collaborations and more. We've rounded up some highlights below.

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