Ballet Stars

James Ihde's Advice for Male Dancers on Dealing with Bullying, Being a Better Partner and Why Tricks Aren't Everything

James Ihde partners Lillian DiPiazza in Balanchine's Concerto Barocco. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy PAB.

One of Pennsylvania Ballet's longest tenured dancers, soloist James Ihde is retiring from the company after 25 years. The Kent, Ohio–native began his dance journey at the Dance Institute of the University of Akron and The Rock School before joining Pennsylvania Ballet in 1993. His numerous stage credits include George Balanchine's Agon, William Forsythe's Artifact Suite, Jiří Kylián's Forgotten Land and Christopher Wheeldon's Liturgy. Before his final performance on May 13, Ihde offers his advice to young male dancers looking to follow in his footsteps.

On Coping with Stereotypes

James Ihde Ihde and Ian Hussey in Matthew Neenan's Archīva. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy PAB.


"Once you are dancing and you see how many guys are in it and how physically hard it is, you realize the stereotypes about ballet being feminine and just for girls aren't true. People who say such things don't know what being a male dancer is all about and are basing their views on stereotypes passed down to them. A lot of guys put up with teasing or bullying and continue because they know they are actually getting the better end of the stick: I'm doing this amazing thing that I love, and I'm getting all these rewards from it. That outlook helped me. Don't let somebody else tell you what you are supposed to enjoy."

Starting Out—and Thinking Beyond Tricks

"When you first get in a company, they want you to be someone they can rely on who knows the choreography and looks good onstage. Guys tend to get ahead of themselves, always working on the big tricks that you are only going to get to do in a principal role. Later, if you are struggling to get noticed, working on being a reliable partner is a great way to set you apart and get you considered for larger roles."

Being a Better Partner

James Ihde With Dayesi Torriente in David Dawson's The Third Light. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy PAB.

"Unlike a lot of things in ballet you have or don't have—like good feet, extension, turnout and jumping ability—partnering can be a learned skill. Your primary objective is to always take care of the woman. Don't worry so much about how you look. If you make her look good, you will by association. I became a better partner by thinking about their comfort level, being very open to change, and learning to use their counterweight versus trying to muscle my way through things. The more you can do that, the more fluid and relaxed the both of you are going to be."

Secrets of a Long Career

James Ihde With Alexandra Hughes in Wayne McGregor's Chroma. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy PAB.

"Be an all-around good dancer and employee: Work hard, be polite, easy to work with, teachable, responsible and respectful. Those things can get you really far. Understand it is not always going to be about you—you can't fall apart when things don't go your way. Be a part of the team. When you have an opportunity, do your best to contribute what you can and what is unique about you as an artist."

Show Comments ()
Your Training
Dara Oda in Ben Stevenson's Alice in Wonderland with Texas Ballet Theater. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Texas Ballet Theater

These three current professionals opened up about opting for a degree first, how it impacted their careers and their favorite college memories.

Dara Oda, Texas Ballet Theater Dancer

Photo by Max Caro, Courtesy of Texas Ballet Theater

Belhaven University, BFA in dance (ballet emphasis), 2014

Growing up, Dara Oda knew she wanted to dance professionally, but she didn't feel ready to audition at the end of high school. "It was really easy to think of college as a fallback," she says. But her perception soon changed. "When I went to Belhaven and saw the level of training I would be getting, that encouraged me to pursue my dream but also be proactive and get my degree at the same time."

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Why your dance floor is slippery and how to fix it.

The biggest problem dancers have with floors is that they are too slippery. Slippery is unstable and dangerous, a formula for disaster. But did your floor start out slippery or did it get that way over time? Just one of many questions that need to be answered before we can fix the problem
Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Houston Ballet demi-soloist Alyssa Springer and principal Chun Wai Chan in rehearsal at Jacob's Pillow. Via YouTube.

Houston Ballet is at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival this week—and company soloist Harper Watters is taking us behind the scenes as the company settles in at this historic landmark. Catch HB in action on their first day of class and rehearsal, and stay tuned for more vlogs from Watters throughout the week!

Ballet Stars
Kajiya as Gamzatti in Stanton Welch's La Bayadere. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet.

Your director Stanton Welch claims that you can hover in midair.
Really? I am not sure that I can do that. I do know that I repeat things over and over because I need to find my own way with each step, and maybe the floating quality happens in there somewhere. I just do it.

If you had to pick one signature role which would it be?
Just one? I can't. I have two. One is Giselle, because she's a human and not a creature, and people can relate to love and heartbreak. Stanton's Madame Butterfly is also important to me, because I met him when I was 17 and had heard that he thought I would be great in the role. I finally danced it in 2016 and it's a spectacular part.

Kajiya as Giselle in Stanton Welch's "Giselle." Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Pacific Northwest Ballet School Professional Division students take Eva Stone's modern dance class. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB.

"Who here is terrified of choreographing?"

It was a question posed by Pacific Northwest Ballet School teacher Eva Stone five weeks ago, sitting on the floor among her class of female summer intensive students. "Almost all of them raised their hand, but I said, 'Don't worry, I got you,'" says Stone. "'I'm going to give you tools and skills and you're going to build on them.' It's amazing how their perspective changed in five weeks."

Stone's choreography class, introduced into the summer program last year, served as a pilot for a new initiative at PNB School beginning this September. New Voices: Choreography and Process for Young Women in Dance is a year-round class dedicated to educating and encouraging 14 to 16-year-old female students in the art of dancemaking. Made possible through funding from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, the 38-week course was created to help address the lack of women choreographers working in major classical ballet companies.

PNB School is one of several academies offering choreographic opportunities to its students. Houston Ballet Academy and the Chautauqua Institution, for example, hold workshops during their summer intensives, while Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Ballet Academy East recently joined forces to create a choreographic exchange program. And School of American Ballet offers numerous choreographic projects for its dancers, including one for women. What makes PNB's initiative unique is its year-long scope and structured focus on composition.

Keep reading... Show less
News
The company is searching for an artistic director who is "humane"—and who might not be a choreographer. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Ever since Peter Martins retired from New York City Ballet this January amid an investigation into sexual harassment and abuse allegations, we've been speculating about who might take his place—and how the role of ballet master in chief might be transformed.

Until now, we've only known a bit about what the search for a new leader looks like. But yesterday, The New York Times reported that the company has released a job description for the position. Though the full posting isn't available to the public, here's what we're able to discern about the new leader and what this means for the future of NYCB:

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Photo by JoelValve/Unsplash

Even though it's still summer, audition season will be here before you know it. The goal is to look, dance and feel your best when auditions roll around. You're likely focused on improving as a dancer technically and artistically, but aesthetics are (unfortunately) something companies will consider as well. To look your best, healthfully and mindfully crafted body goals will make a world of difference.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Lia Cirio and John Lam perform Tar and Feathers with Boston Ballet. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

A few years ago, Boston Ballet principal Lia Cirio was tasked with performing a contemporary program one week and dancing in The Sleeping Beauty the next. "We were doing Jiˇrí Kylián's Tar and Feathers, which had me sliding around in socks," says Cirio. "The day after the premiere, I had to run my Aurora variation. I needed my technique to be stable, for both my brain and body."

Being in a ballet company doesn't mean you will always be dancing entire evenings, let alone rehearsal days, in pointe shoes. With today's preference for more eclectic mixed bills, a dancer might need to shift from pointe shoes to socks, slippers or even heels. Yet moving between footwear can be tricky—you can easily get injured if you are not prepared for the differences in sensation and shifts in balance. But when you're frequently asked to switch footwear, what's your body, much less your feet, to do?

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Genée IBC gold medalist Monet Hewitt of New Zealand. Photo by Keith Sin, Courtesy Royal Academy of Dance.

If you missed the Genée International Ballet Competition's live-streamed finals this weekend, we've got you covered. Last night, 17-year-old Joshua Green of Australia and 16-year-old Monet Hewitt of New Zealand were named this year's gold medalists in the men's and women's category, out of 14 finalists. Caitlin Garlick (Australia) and Basil James (United Kingdom) won silver medals, while Enoka Sato (Japan) and Jordan Yeuk Hay Chan (Hong Kong) took home bronze. Chan also won the Margot Fonteyn Audience Choice Award, and Green was given the Choreographic Award for Dancer's Own Variation.

Gold medalist Joshua Green. Photo by Keith Sin, Courtesy RAD.

This year's IBC, which took place in Hong Kong, brought together 51 dancers between 15–19 years old and representing 13 nationalities (including three Americans). The candidates, all of whom are trained in the Royal Academy of Dancing syllabus, spent five days receiving coaching from esteemed faculty on a classical variation as well as a solo choreographed by themselves, a teacher or a peer. The dancers also had to learn and perform a new solo by specially commissioned choreographer Carlo AC Pacis.

Catch the winning dancers as they each perform Pacis' work below, and stay tuned—next year's Genée IBC takes place in Toronto.

News
Boston Ballet is bringing Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free to the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, MA. Photo by Gene Shiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.


Houston Ballet Brings a World Premiere to Jacob's Pillow

August 15-18, for the first time in almost four decades, Houston Ballet is appearing at Jacob's Pillow, the famous summer dance festival in Becket, MA. Headlining the program is Just, a world premiere commissioned by the Pillow and choreographed by HB artistic director Stanton Welch, set to music by contemporary composer David Lang. Also from Welch are Clear, an abstract piece for seven men and seven women, and excerpts from Sons de L'ame, with music by Chopin. The company will also perform In Dreams, choreographed by former Pillow choreographic associate Trey McIntyre.

Keep reading... Show less
Editors' List: The Goods
Gaynor Minden's celebrating 25 years in the best way possible: With a sale! (via dancer.com)

Time for a quick pop quiz: What does "BTS" stand for?

A. Back To the Studio

B. Behind The Scenes

C. Back To School

D. Back To Shopping

Answer: All of the above! We've searched far and wide to round up a quartet of blockbusting BTS online sales that you won't want to miss. Ready, set, stock up on everything you'll need for the 2018–2019 year of dance.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Viral Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!