Have you ever seen a dancer stand in arabesque looking like a prima, then have difficulty stringing together a pas de bourrée? What she’s missing is coordination. It may seem simple, but without the ability to move all parts of your body together efficiently, grace and clarity will be impossible to achieve.

“For me,” says Peter Boal, artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet, “the essence of coordination is catching momentum, whether that be the torque of your back, the rejection of the floor or the speed you have launching into a jump.” Coordination is key to finding that essential flow that makes dancing seamless.  

Focus on the Big Picture

“The most natural form of coordination is opposition,” says Raymond Lukens, artistic associate at American Ballet Theatre’s ABT/NYU Masters Program. “It’s a motor skill humans learn by crawling and walking.” However, ballet requires so much form—pointed feet, turned-out legs—that when dancers focus too much on the details they lose the freedom to be coordinated, taking away what nature provided. Dancers can get back in touch with their opposition by incorporating épaulement, which connects the two sides of the body through the use of the back, head and shoulders.             

Putting broad strokes of movement into the body first and then refining the details can also help. In PNB company class, Boal gives “a tremendous amount of exercises that have the dancers launch away from the barre.” This forces them to shift their weight, and focus on moving the body as a whole from the start of class.

ABT’s curriculum builds coordination with a simple rule: Students must move their arms and legs together. Mannerisms like letting the arm trail behind the legs when closing to fifth can actually make the body less coordinated. “Opening and closing the arms and legs together ensures that when you’re in a neutral place, your arms are in a neutral place,” says Lukens. Think of grand jeté: If the arms are late to close before taking off, the port de bras will work against the thrust of the movement, and the jump won’t achieve its full height. 

Sometimes when dancers go from student to professional their coordination can seem stilted, but often this is just due to the process of maturity. “The body-brain connection, on average, isn’t complete until age 15,” says Lukens. “Somebody who is 18 is still developing.” Franco De Vita, principal of ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, adds, “Also, when dancers first get into a company there can be apprehension. A tense person can’t move so easily.”

Master Musicality
Dancers who have difficulty with coordination often have difficulty with musicality, too, says De Vita. Jill Johnson, director of Harvard University’s dance program, says musicality can provide an inner, driving metronome that helps a dancer find coordination.

Make musicality a priority in class: Instead of allowing yourself to lag behind the beat to squeeze in a longer balance, a higher jump or a few extra turns, force yourself to stay on the note to train your body to move musically. “Dancing musically is anticipating which way your body weight needs to go—never being on balance, but always carrying the momentum so that you arrive at the next position on the note,” Boal says. “Your mind has to be at least half a count ahead of your body.” If the musicality of a certain phrase has complex syncopations, clap it out or listen to the music without dancing.

Play Brain Games
Coordination is also about the mind. One of Johnson’s mentors, choreographer William Forsythe, gives dancers a series of coordination exercises created by Dr. Paul Dennison. “The theory is that your right side is governed by the left side of your brain and vice versa,” Johnson says, “so if you cross your right hand to your left knee, by crossing the midline of the body you’re coordinating the neural synapses since both sides of the brain are being used.”

Johnson also works students’ brains by asking them to reverse combinations from front to back. “My teacher Erik Bruhn’s famous phrase was, ‘Now reverse it.’ Coordination has a lot to do with being able to think on the spot,” she says. “And sometimes allowing yourself to feel completely disorganized can help you learn about how your own coordination works.”

At times, improving coordination is just about teaching your body how to move. Learning jazz, character, tap, Spanish dancing and other styles can be beneficial. “When I taught at Ailey, I sometimes observed Horton class,” De Vita says. “I remember seeing my students doing double pirouettes in attitude finishing with the legs in a split. I couldn’t believe it—just yesterday it was impossible to do double pirouette in attitude in ballet class. They’d say, ‘Oh, but in ballet it’s not a free movement.’ I say, ‘What do you mean?’ ” Letting go of your quest for better turnout, better feet, better extension can bring your focus back to the essentials of simply dancing.



The New Kirov Academy

The Kirov Academy of Ballet of Washington, DC, has gotten a makeover. After its principal benefactor withdrew financial support last year due to economic difficulties, the school named Martin Fredmann artistic director. He hired new teachers and introduced a more current version of Vaganova technique, including nuances such as rolling up and down from pointe rather than springing. “I want the students to be fully integrated into the ballet world of now,” he says. Instead of only performing Petipa variations, the dancers learn full acts of ballets as well as neoclassical pieces. “Dancers need to be prepared to enter a corps,” he explains. Also new is a two-year program for preprofessionals ages 18–22. In addition, the school launched a studio company of advanced students, which performs at local schools and other events. “The heritage of this school will not change,” Fredmann assures. “We’re just bringing it up to date.”


High Schools Unite

Auditioning for colleges can be overwhelming—even before the quest for financial aid. Wish you could try for dozens of scholarships in one fell swoop? Check out the National High School Dance Festival. This yearly performance-packed weekend showcases original choreography from high schools across the country. Last year, almost 40 colleges and summer programs (including Juilliard, Texas Christian University, Mercyhurst and others) attended—and offered scholarships to the students performing. “NHSDF gives students an extended audition for these higher education programs,” says executive director Kathryn Kearns. The 2012 festival will be held at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, March 8–11. Applications are due January 13. Selected schools will be invited to showcase their pieces in one of the six gala or concert performances over the course of the festival weekend. See nhsdf.org.


California To China
If you dream of dancing abroad this summer, check out Long Beach Ballet. Its six-week program begins with a three-week training intensive in Long Beach, followed by a week-long residency with the National Ballet of China, Guangzhou, and then a two-week tour to other Chinese cities where the students perform, sightsee and take class with local dancers. The program is open to students ages 13 to 20, selected through a national audition tour, and costs $4,985. See longbeachballet.com/summerChina.html.


A Fresh Perspective
In addition to giving students rock-solid technique, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet is now looking to foster their imaginations. This January, the school will launch a new student choreographic workshop called FirstSteps. Four choreographers will be selected from among the current CPYB student body, after interested dancers give faculty members a detailed proposal. The chosen students will then have nine days of rehearsal in the studio before presenting the finished works on January 21.

CPYB principal faculty member Laszlo Berdo, who will direct the program, says, “I want students to come into this workshop with a blank slate, to explore their creativity.” However, there’s also a secondary motive: to make the students better tools for choreographers. “Once you go to the other side and are in the front of the room, you start looking at dancers in a new way,” says Alan Hineline, the school’s resident choreographer. “You begin to understand how artistic directors or choreographers see you and what the expectations are.”


Technique Tip:

“Whenever you dance, think of speaking with your feet. Early in my career, Atlanta Ballet’s ballet mistress Rosemary Miles gave me that correction, and it led me down a whole different path of using my feet—not only making them as articulate and supple as possible but also having strength and control.” —Milwaukee Ballet dancer Julianne Kepley

The Conversation
Ballet Stars
Photo credits, clockwise from bottom left: Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet; Jayme Thornton; Jochen Viehoff, Courtesy Stephanie Troyak; Karolina Kuras, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet; Jim Lafferty; Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Altin Kaftira, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet; Scott Shaw, Courtesy Shamar Wayne Watt

Dance Magazine has just announced their annual "25 to Watch" picks and we naturally went straight to the ballet people. The 2019 list includes up-and-coming dancers, choreographers and companies, and you may even see a few familiar faces from Pointe's 2018 "Stars of the Corps." You can check out Dance's full list here. In the meantime, get ready to see a whole lot more from the ballet dancers (and choreographer!) ahead.

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Murphy's pregnancy announcement has us jumping for joy. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy ABT

Congratulations are in order for American Ballet Theatre star Gillian Murphy and her husband, former ABT dancer Ethan Stiefel, who are expecting their first child next June!

Murphy announced her pregnancy today on Instagram:


She will not be dancing in the company's upcoming tour or the 2019 Metropolitan Opera House season, but plans to return to the stage next fall.

We have no doubt that Murphy will be the ultimate cool mom. Here's why:

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Ballet Training
Students at The Ailey School practice balancing in retiré. Photo Courtesy The Ailey School.

"In Cuba, everybody turns," says Caridad Martinez, a ballet faculty member at The Ailey School and a former principal with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Here, she walks us through the exercises and techniques that comprise "the Cuban secret" of pirouettes in general, and fouettés in particular.

Pirouette Basics

Two legs in plié: The Cuban methodology teaches the fourth position preparation for turns with both legs in demi-plié. The benefits of this approach are speed and control, says Caridad Martinez. "That push of the back leg to passé, at the moment of relevé, makes it easier to generate more turns."

Finish up: For all turns, says Martinez, "we teach to finish on relevé, because that's when you really finish. Hold the position a little bit more—gluteus in and up, turn out the standing leg, open the knee and stay! Don't leave anything behind."

Spotting secrets: To find a more active torso, says Martinez, "have the sensation that you quickly bring your back to the audience." This "switch" of the torso propels you farther around, and with more energy. In addition to spotting with rhythm, try telling yourself "Back! Back!" You may find you effortlessly have the force for that extra rotation.

Round arms: "We keep the arms rounded," says Martinez of the Cuban method, though she notes that it's not incorrect to extend to allongé. She gives a simple exercise to help her students coordinate their port de bras in turns: Hold an object in your opposite hand (the left, if you are turning to the right) as you prepare. At the moment of the relevé, quickly pass the object to your right hand as you turn.

Fouettés, Cuban-Style

The progression: Following the Cuban training method, Martinez builds strength and coordination for fouettés systematically in class. "It's very important not to skip any steps," she says.

  • Begin with consecutive relevés in retiré, both at the barre and in the center.
  • "Then do that with a quarter turn, then a half. That is awful! But later you appreciate it."
  • Progress to three consecutive full pirouettes, holding the leg in retiré as you plié between turns.
  • Repeat the above, this time extending the working leg à la seconde with the plié between turns. Then add a beat, back-front, to the passé as you turn.
  • Pirouette, plié á la seconde, pirouette is one way to fouetté. "When you have the coordination and the technique to control that, the next step is to go to the front and then seconde," says Martinez.
  • Work up gradually, starting with three or four fouettés.

Options: As noted above, the working leg in fouetté may extend directly to the side with plié or rond de jambe from front to side. With rond de jambe, you have a further choice: You may relevé with the à la seconde and then turn, or open the leg in plié and relevé at the moment of the pirouette. "We use both," Martinez explains, depending on the choreography.

The twizzle: Rather than pushing off from fourth directly into a high passé, many students allow the back foot to linger on the floor as they begin to turn, causing the passé to over-cross and the standing leg to turn in. In fouetté, the consequence of this is that the working leg drops too low when it extends. "That leg does not come down," Martinez cautions. "Feel that you isolate from the hip to the knee, and keep that distance the same."

Extra Tips

1. "Practicing balance—that is the students' homework," says Martinez. She suggests trying promenade on relevé at the barre, going en dehors with the leg in retiré and en dedans with the outside leg in cou-de-pied.

2. During fondus or ronds de jambe at the barre, Martinez works on the transition from plié attitude en avant into écarté derrière: "Extend the standing leg and get to écarté at the same time—that coordination is important when we are thinking about fouetté." Practicing attitude, as opposed to extending fully to the front, helps prevent over-crossing.

Ballet Training
Photo courtesy Catherine Park.

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Ballet Fantastique's Tracy Fuller and Gustavo Ramirez in Babes in Toyland. Photo by Bob Williams and Stephanie Urso, Courtesy BF.

Eugene, Oregon–based Ballet Fantastique debuts a forgotten holiday classic December 14–16. Babes in Toyland, co-choreographed and produced by mother-daughter duo and company directors Hannah and Donna Bontrager, pulls from source material ranging from Victor Herbert's original 1903 operetta to Disney's 1961 film. "We watched all the movies and read as many different versions of the story as we could find," says Hannah. The pair distilled the elements they liked best to create their own amalgamated plot. "The story is filled with joviality and lovable, familiar storybook characters," adds Donna. The cast also pays homage to the world's best-known holiday ballet, The Nutcracker. "We've added a character called Mother Gingerbread, and some gingerbread kids," says Hannah.

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Photo by Lucas Chilczuk, courtesy of Brooklyn Ballet.

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Danielle MacInnes via Unsplash

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Julia Roberts in "The Commuter," choreographed and directed by Justin Peck. Screenshot via The New York Times.

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Haley Schwan. Photo by Brooke Trisolini, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

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As a child, Schwan studied gymnastics, jazz, tap and contemporary dance in her native Michigan, before turning her focus to ballet. After a summer intensive at the Kirov Academy of Ballet at age 12, Schwan began studying there full-time until age 16, when she was invited to the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia.

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Trending
Christine Shevchenko and Devon Teuscher, photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

This is Pointe's December/January 2018 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

Christine Shevchenko and Devon Teuscher have spent practically half their lives with each other. Both dancers joined American Ballet Theatre's Studio Company in 2006. The following year, they graduated into the main troupe as apprentices, again together. They've sat next to each other in every dressing room they've ever occupied, and shared hotel rooms on the road. And in September 2017, at the age of 28, they became the company's two youngest female principal dancers—on the same day. If they weren't such good friends, they would probably be sick of each other.

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Last winter, we told you all about "Finding Clara," a YouTube series produced by tween clothing brand Justice. It followed four BalletMet Academy students cast in BalletMet's The Nutcracker. This year, it gets even better: The heart-melting show has been turned into a full-length documentary. Finding Clara was released today for rental and purchase on Amazon, Google Play and iTunes.

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Everything Nutcracker
Courtesy Justice Studios

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Ballet Training
Elisabeth Beyer and Daniel Sarabia rehearse "Grand Pas Classique" in New York City before heading to Havana. Photo by Kevin Hesse, courtesy Ellison Ballet.

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Atlanta Ballet dancers in rehearsal with Yuri Possokhov. Photo by Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet.

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Joel Prouty (far right) trains professional dancers such as James Whiteside, Katherine Williams, Lloyd Knight and Lauren Post. Photo courtesy Prouty

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Ballet Careers
"With the recent passing of Mr. Mitchell, I feel an even greater responsibility to share and grow the vision he began," says longtime company member Lindsey Croop. "Art is both transformative and transcendent, and because of DTH, there is a place for everyone." Photo by Kyle Froman for Pointe.ne."

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Everything Nutcracker
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.

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