Turnout And The Dancer: A Closer Look

 

Jan Dunn, MS

Jan Dunn, MS

This month I’m offering you some thoughts on turn-out, that often-debated subject in dance (especially ballet) that we all worry over / strive for / get obsessed with.  I am especially indebted to long-time dance medicine colleague and researcher, Dr. James Garrick, MD, for his insightful comments on this article–and a special “thank you” also to Dr. Matthew Wyon, PhD – Research Centre for Sport Exercise and Performance @ University of Wolverhampton (UK) / Vice President of IADMS, for his input as well.

Enjoy–and Pass It On

- Jan Dunn, MS, Dance Wellness Editor


OK, so let’s talk about turn-out…that elusive external rotation of the legs in the hip socket that dancers (especially ballet dancers) all strive for.

This post is going to be just a brief foray into that (often thorny) discussion. I’m not going to give you detailed anatomical information–there are various online resources (as well as books) especially written for dancers that can give you excellent, very specific anatomical detail (I’ve provided a partial resource list at the end).

What I do want is to share with you what I feel is important for every dancer / teacher (and parent) to know–gleaned from 40 years of teaching dance / 35 years in the dance medicine field / 32 years of teaching Anatomy, Kinesiology, and Injury Prevention to dancers in university dance departments.

Just the Basic Facts, Ma’am

Turn–out, as every dancer and teacher knows, involves rotating the legs outward from the hip socket. It enables us to be able to have full range of movement in dance, especially in sideways directions.

A Brief History of Turnout

Louis XIV of France

Louis XIV of France

Turn-out has historical beginnings going back to the French and Italian courts, evolving from a combination of different things–such as fencing / having to move sideways or back your way out of the king’s presence (so that you wouldn’t ever turn your back on him) / and (my particular favorite) – in court, turning one’s leg out to show the intricate designs on the heels of one’s shoes (France’s King Louis XIV – “The Sun King”, who founded the Royal Academy of Dance in 1661 – was actually one of the first to do this, to show off his elaborately decorated shoes to the court!).

For many years, the desired “perfect” turn-out meant (especially in ballet) that you had your feet completely turned out, straight side to side, in a 180 degree straight line. But unfortunately…

Very few people have a hip socket that is capable of rotating the femur (thigh bone) completely out to the side–so the extra slack instead gets transferred to the knee joint and foot (for a full detailed analysis of how this all works, see some of the resource articles mentioned at the end). This is called, as you probably know, “forcing” your turn-out–which means that you are using compensatory movements at the knee, foot (rotation / twisting), or lumbar spine (hyperextension, or “swayback”) to increase the apparent range of your turn-out.

The problem is–if dancers “force” their turn-out from the knees / ankles / lumbar spine, not-nice things can result, especially over time.

More Basics

The structure of our hip joint is something we are born with—different factors determine how much / how little turn-out we have at the actual joint. For example:

  • The shape of the bones
  • How deeply set into the hip socket the femur (thigh bone) is
  • How tight or loose the ligaments are
Hueftgelenk-gesund.jpg

“Hueftgelenk-gesund”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

You will find some online sites that say you can possibly change your structural, inherited turn-out with early training (between ages 8-12), but this is still very much debated in the dance medicine and science field, and some of the people who are most knowledgeable about this, from a research perspective, do not think it is really possible.

What can be changed, however, is muscle imbalance–both strength and flexibility–around the hip joint, which can limit hip external rotation.

Interested? Read on!

The average person on the street usually has turn-out in the range of 40-45 degrees. We know that dancers usually average around 55 degrees, and occasionally slightly more–but very few people have that 90 degree turn-out in the hip socket that equals 180, when the heels are together in 1st position.

So when you see dancers standing at the barre in 180-degree first position, the chances are pretty good that they are “forcing” it, and taking the extra stress in the knees and feet.

Why Forcing Turnout Is Not Good

Première pointes.PNG

Example of forced turnout, resulting in “rolling” of the feet. Photo: “Première pointes”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Over time, forcing turn-out puts undesirable force and pressure on joints / body parts that were not designed to do that–in particular, the feet / knees / lower back.

Be aware that there are some dance blogs that will tell you that’s it OK to do this (force at the knee / foot / lumbar spine), but those sites are ignoring the majority of the dance medicine research–which tells us that it is potentially detrimental and injurious to those body parts, over time. To quote well-known dance science researcher / author, Karen Clippinger, MS, in her textbook “Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology” (Human Kinetics, 2007):

Failure to maintain turnout at the hip and excessive twisting from the knee down are believed to be a contributing factor to many injuries of the knee, shin, ankle, and foot”.

Other prominent researchers in this area will all tell you the same thing–and add injuries of the lower back to the list as well.

Interesting Things To Know About Turnout

The front of the pelvis/hips need to be kept flat on the floor-rolling the hip up (of the tested leg) will distort the results. This can be done without a goniometer (the instrument the PT is using in the photo), to give an a fairly accurate “eyeball” ROM (range of motion) estimate of both external and internal rotation at the hip. Photo: Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology – Karen Clippinger (Human Kinetics, 2007)

Turn-out Tests

Testing how much turn-out you actually have at the hip socket should ideally be done by a dance-familiar physical therapist or trainer (or physician).

There is one prone (lying on your stomach) “eyeball” test that I like to use, which can give you / your teacher a fair idea of where your range falls–and while physical therapists would use a goniometer (the instrument used to measure joint angles) to give an exact reading, it is possible to use this same test to give an approximate estimate of the dancer’s hip external rotation.

Muscular Imbalance Issues

I mentioned above how muscle imbalance can affect your turn-out (remember our article on Causes of Injuries? – the importance of muscle balance….?). If the muscles on one side of the joint are stronger (or less flexible) than the other, it will limit full range-of-motion for that leg, in all directions–including turn-out.

It’s important to note that the hip internal rotator muscles are weak and tight in many dancers (especially ballet)—and that this will limit the amount of external rotation that can happen. Dancers can sometimes increase their measured degree of turn-out by as much as 20 degrees when they do have this imbalance situation and are put on a program for stretching and strengthening the internal rotators.

And sometimes, you aren’t actually using all the natural turn-out that you do have, simply because the external rotator muscles aren’t strong enough to hold it. So that principle of equal muscle strength and stretch is really important here…and remember that weak muscles = tight muscles.

We usually have one leg that naturally has more turn-out than the other–but be aware that muscle imbalance can also make that happen as well (here is where you need a PT to do some analysis / muscle testing). Assuming that there actually is a structural difference between R and L (there is with me, as with many dancers), you should never try to force the lesser-turned out leg to match the greater one. That will only lead to more problems down the road. Determine which of your legs is less–for example, R is 55 degrees, and L is 50–and then always match your legs to that lesser angle, to avoid stress and potential long-term injury.

Turnout In Performance?

Research in dance medicine has shown that in performance, we don’t use the same amount of turn-out as we do in class–we use less. This begs the question: If this is indeed the case, why do we insist on emphasizing extreme turn-out in class, when it does not transfer to performance?

Tibial Torsion Issues

child_rotational_def_causes01We are often told that in a well-aligned turn-out position (i.e not forcing), we should aim our “knees over toes” – specifically, the 2nd toe (or the joint space between the 2nd/3rd toe, which is the center of the forefoot).

This is indeed correct for a leg that has a straight tibia (shinbone) – but if you are among the dancers who have tibial torsion (where the tibia rotates inward slightly, with a slight curve to the outside of the leg), that knee / 2nd toe alignment doesn’t quite match up.

There is nothing wrong with tibial torsion–it is just a different structure than a straight-line tibia–but it is important to know about, as both a teacher and dancer. (In dance screenings that I’ve participated in, as many as 40-50% of students had this type of leg structure).

Dancers with this type of anatomy often need to line the knee up with the great toe, as opposed to the 2nd, or between 1st / 2nd toe joint–as opposed to 2nd / 3rd. Forcing the knee over to the 2nd toe can cause supination (rolling outwards) in the foot, and additional problems at the knee joint.

It’s best to work with a knowledgeable dance teacher / trainer / physical therapist, if you have this type of leg alignment so that you can find the optimum position for your own individual structure.

Last, But Not Least, Turn-In!

Having a lifetime in dance and preventing injury is what it’s all about, and in that light, listen up, folks:

Turning in is equally important for dancers–maybe more so than turning out. It’s the imbalance around the joint that leads to injury, remember? So if you’re only always turning out (as many ballet dancers do) and never doing exercises in parallel, or more importantly, turn-in, you aren’t really using some of the important muscles around both the hip and knee joints…and that pre-sets us up for injuries down the road.

Plus, an important thing to realize is that those turn-in movements are keeping our actual hip joint healthy, over long years of use. It is full range of motion in any joint that keeps it healthy, and works to avoid arthritis. By only doing turn-out movements, and never / rarely doing parallel / turn-in, we are ignoring a good segment of the joint capsule…and joints that don’t move fully develop arthritis way faster than joints that move all through their natural range of motion!

So if your dance environment doesn’t provide good opportunities to use turn-in, find outside activities like Pilates, that will help keep your body in good overall balanced strength and flexibility.

A better example of first position, with no "rolling" - not 180 degrees.

A better example of first position, with no “rolling” – notice that it isn’t 180 degrees!

And Remember–Turn-Out Doesn’t Make or Break You As A Dancer

There are so many things that all come together to make a good dancer. It’s not only the body we are born with, but the training, the artistry, the personality, the musicality…the list could go on and on.

Dr. James Garrick, MD, one of the pioneers of dance medicine, long-time physician for the San Francisco Ballet (among other companies), and researcher on turn-out, always counsels dancers to not get hung up on how much turn-out they do or don’t have. He reminds them that some of the world’s greatest dancers do not have that magical 180 degrees, and that working within your own natural turn-out, and focusing instead on all the many things that make us beautiful dancers–is what’s really important.

So – dance on – and don’t force your turn-out!


Resources for further reading

There are many sites that discuss turn-out online–here are some that I like:

The Truth About Turnout | Dance Spirit

www.dancespirit.com/2010/10/the_truth_about_turnout/

Understanding True Turnout In Dance | Dance Advantage

Centerwork: Understanding Turnout – Dance Magazine – If …

Turnout for Dancers: Hip Anatomy and Factors Affecting …

(Editors Note: this is an extremely detailed anatomical description)

Books:

“Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology” – Karen Clippinger –Human Kinetics, 2007

“Dance Medicine Head to Toe: A Dancer’s Guide to Health” – Judith R. Peterson, MD – Princeton Book Company, 2011

“Finding Balance” Fitness, Training, and Health for a Lifetime in Dance” (2nd Edition) – Gigi Berardi – Routledge, 2005


Editor Jan Dunn is a dance medicine specialist currently based on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, where she is owner of Pilates Plus Kauai Wellness Center and co-founder of Kauai Dance Medicine. She is also a Pilates rehabilitation specialist and Franklin Educator. A lifelong dancer / choreographer, she spent many years as university dance faculty, most recently as Adjunct Faculty, University of Colorado Dept. of Theatre and Dance.  Her 28 year background in dance medicine includes 23 years with the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) – as Board member / President / Executive Director – founding Denver Dance Medicine Associates, and establishing two university Dance Wellness Programs

Jan served as organizer and Co-Chair, International Dance Medicine Conference, Taiwan 2004, and was founding chair of the National Dance Association’s (USA) Committee on Dance Science and Medicine, 1989-1993. She originated The Dance Medicine/Science Resource Guide; and was co-founder of the Journal of Dance Medicine & Science.  She has taught dance medicine, Pilates, and Franklin workshops for medical / dance and academic institutions in the USA / Europe / Middle East / and Asia, authored numerous articles in the field, and presented at many national and international conferences.

Ms. Dunn writes about dance wellness for 4dancers and also brings in voices from the dance wellness/dance medicine field to share their expertise with readers.

 

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Dance Competition: Thoughts From A Pro

Dance competition

Today we have Drew Vamosi with us to talk about dance competitions. Drew is one of the people behind Leap! National Dance Competition, and we asked him to share some thoughts on what Leap! judges look for, as well as his tips for preparing to compete…

How important do you feel overall appearance is in terms of competition? Does what the dancer is wearing matter, or is a nice, neat presentation enough?

​The dancer needs to wear a costume that fits the piece and the dancer’s body type. Often we see costumes that are not flattering on the dancer especially when weight is a factor. The dancer needs to feel confident and a costume that fits helps immensely!​

What is the biggest mistake you see dancers making at your competitions?

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CD Review: Music for Ballet Lovers Vol. 7 “Precious Holiday Moments”

Music for Ballet Lovers Vol. 7 “Precious Holiday Moments”
Yoshi Gurwell

by Rachel Hellwig

Precious Holiday Moments CD screenshot

Holiday music is always an enjoyable addition to November/December ballet classes. Yoshi Gurwell’s “Precious Holiday Moments” offers 28 tracks of Nutcracker melodies and traditional carols for intermediate+ center practice, in addition to 20 tracks of original music for barre. Some of the compositions for barre more engaging than others, but, overall, they are effective.

The Nutcracker selections are the highlight of the CD. They stand out for their creative arrangements and often cleverly combine pieces from Act I and Act II. If you want to add a little Nutcracker magic to everyday class, this suite should do the trick. Or, if you feel your students have grown tired of Nutcracker tunes from rehearsals, these arrangements may revive their interest in the music by showcasing it in a different light.

The traditional carol tracks are delightful as well. Gurwell adapts their speed and rhythms to suit different exercises, but, for the most part, they retain their easily recognizable melodies.

Overall, this collection makes a fun supplement  for the holiday season.

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Process Focused Thinking In The Dance Classroom

PSM V26 D768 Brain of gauss
by Janet Rothwell

As a choreographer and dance educator, process is very important to me. It is through my creative process that I problem solve and create various products. My process can vary depending on the task at hand or even on how I feel in the moment. Any changes in my process are usually reflected in the product outcome as well. One example of how changing my process can be helpful is when I am choreographing a work and I do not want it to look or feel like the last piece I created. Changing my process can help me to create new movement and fresh ideas.

In order to teach my students about the value of process I give them many assignments where they have built in time to explore and play. I also have them reflect on their process answering questions like: How did you go about learning a movement sequence? How did you work within your group on a project? How did you approach the creation of your movement?

I often have students work in small groups on various choreography assignments. The most recent project I gave them was to create a short choreographic study based on initiating movement from certain bones in their body. The main goals were for students to learn the names of the bones, where they were located, and how it feels to move from those bones in their body.

The assignment included a rubric which required students to use specific choreography tools and a required length of counts for the whole dance. Often time when I give an assignment like this with a clear rubric of expectations, students look at the list of what the dance must include and work towards this end goal first instead of taking the time to experiment and play with movement ideas. I have to remind them that I’m giving them many days to work on the project to include the process of discovering the movement they want to use and they have time to change their minds and let the dance evolve. I use many analogies like when you create movement and choreography with your group you are writing in pencil not pen so as you go on if you don’t like something simply erase it and make a change.

The majority of the classes that my high school students take are very product focused and students can either be right or wrong with their product. It can be very challenging for students to shift their perspective in my class and linger in the process focused perspective as a means to create and problem solve. In dance class with a creative assignment there is not one way to do anything right so there are many right answers and what I try to teach my students is that I want them to discover what they feel is the best and right answer for them. They discover this through their process.

Having an emphasis on the process rather than the product does not mean that I do not care about the end product. On the contrary, I think that when the process is more fulfilled the end product is also more likely to be fulfilled and realized in a deeper way. The way we go about getting to an end product is through various paths and that we honor the paths we try out and discover what each one has to offer. Students edit and revise more while focusing on process in order to create the product.

As students embrace this mind set I see a shift in the quality of their work and their work ethic. In a world of instant gratification and product focused thinking it is becoming more and more important that we teach young people to value the process, the how we get to an end goal. Teaching students to be process focused can have great implications in many areas of their lives and help them to problem solve in creative ways. I hope to help my students become creative problem solvers and leaders in the world they live in.


dancer posing upside down

Janet Neidhardt

Contributor Janet Rothwell has been a dance educator for 10 years. She has taught modern, ballet, and jazz at various studios and schools on Chicago’s North Shore. She received her MA in Dance with an emphasis in Choreography from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and her BA in Communications with a Dance Minor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Throughout her time in graduate school, Janet performed with Sidelong Dance Company based in Winston-Salem, NC.

Currently, Janet teaches dance at Loyola Academy High School in Wilmette, IL. She is the Director of Loyola Academy Dance Company B and the Brother Small Arts Guild, and choreographs for the Spring Dance Concert and school musical each year. Janet is very active within the Loyola Academy community leading student retreats and summer service trips. She regularly seeks out professional development opportunities to continue her own artistic growth. Recently, Janet performed with Keigwin and Company in the Chicago Dancing Festival 2012 and attended the Bates Dance Festival.

When she isn’t dancing, Janet enjoys teaching Pilates, practicing yoga, and running races around the city of Chicago.

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Making The Most Of Chance: Choreographer Greg Blackmon

 

Greg Blackmon. Photograph by by Cheryl Mann.

Greg Blackmon. Photograph by by Cheryl Mann.

Greg Blackmon is a new choreographer and DanceWorks Chicago alum. DanceWorks Chicago was founded in 2007 and gives early career artists an environment where they can build a foundation and hone their artistry through training, collaboration, performances and mentoring opportunities. They also showcase work from established choreographers.

Greg recently choreographed “PACK: And for All the Lost Ones” for DanceChance, a showcase which features choreographers chosen by chance. Afterwards, his piece was taken into the DWC repertoire – marking the first time that DWC dancer has become a DWC choreographer.

“PACK: And for All the Lost Ones” will make its premiere with DWC on Sunday, November 16 at DanceMoves.

 

What inspired your piece “Pack: And for All the Lost Ones”?

The piece is actually about a friend of mine and former DWC dancer, Marco Antonio Huicochea Gonzalez, who passed away during his time with us. It was a really rough loss for all of us, and after a few months of reflection I decided I would like to honor him through the art form we got to share with one another. So I dropped my name into the fishbowl at Dance Chance and wound up getting selected, which allowed this idea to come to fruition.

 

What music did you chose for this piece?

I chose a song by an Icelandic band called Sigúr Ros, “All Alright.” I’d heard it when a friend of mine used it years before for a piece of his own and I’ve always been in love with the juxtaposition of the music’s reflective, emotional tone and its instrumental minimalism.

 

What style is “Pack: And for All the Lost Ones”?

I would consider the piece to be contemporary. I’ve implemented some ballet principles, but re-imagined and reconfigured them to fit more organic movement.

 

What is your choreographic process like?

Since I’m just starting out, I think I’ll say my process from piece to piece will be different every time. I like to believe every task– not just in dance, but in life in general– has a formula specific to itself that will breed the most success in terms of what your goals are. This piece started with me taking a lot of note from the emotional displays of animals, mainly dogs/wolves, and fusing that honesty and the body language with styles of contemporary movement that I love.

 

When did you find out that “Pack: And for All the Lost Ones” was going to be added to the DWC rep?

A few weeks after Julie saw the piece at Dance Chance, she asked if Matt (the other original dancer and a current DWC company member) and I would like to perform “Pack…” at the Dance for Life kickoff gala this summer, which was exciting in itself because so many people that I admire in the dance world got to see it. And then about 3 or 4 weeks after that, Julie asked if we could meet to discuss how it would work its way into the DWC repertoire.

 

How did you feel when found this out?

I was absolutely ecstatic! This was my first creation as a professional choreographer, and I didn’t even aspire for it to be anything more than what it was– a short, sweet dedication to a very dear friend and to the family that I’ve found in DanceWorks Chicago, as well as a sort of memorial for everyone who’s ever been lost from this world (because everyone means something to someone. And everyone is loved very dearly by someone.). And it’s grown into something that a ton of other people will get to see and hold dear to their hearts because of one idea that I had.

 

What did you learn during your time at DanceWorks Chicago and how has it helped you?

I could write a book on everything that I’ve learned here. One of the most important things is that you really are a person first and THEN an artist. I think a lot of dancers can get really caught up in the idea of this art form we dedicate our lives to and all of the prestige surrounding the mental and physical dedication it takes, and we forget that we have to be people inside of the movement. Otherwise, you’re just someone else who can throw a leg up or point your foot and pretend to say something, or imply an idea, but never really say anything…never really give it meaning.

I’ve also learned to be more patient and a bit less of a perfectionist. I’ll never forget Julie Nakagawa pulling me aside one day while we were on your and telling me “Just do the work. Don’t fuss or obsess about the mistakes. Just… do… the work. That’s really all anyone can ask of you. But you have to really do it.”

 

Greg Blackmon. Photograph by by Vin Reed.

Greg Blackmon. Photograph by by Vin Reed.

What are some of your dance goals and dreams for the future?

I think my biggest dream for the future is to continue exploring movement and manifesting both my own ideas and the ideas of others through dance. It’s so much fun translating something as abstract as a simple thought into something as tangible as dance. And I love knowing that the things I can put on a stage will touch each audience member in a way that’s unique to them and their experience, because that’s what art does. It stirs people in a multitude of ways and the beauty of it lies in the undeniable sincerity of their response.

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18 Things I’ve Learned About Being A Professional Dancer

Alessa Rogers, photo by Rick McCullough

Alessa Rogers, photo by Rick McCullough

Dance, like any other career, has a learning curve. With time and experience, you find ways to navigate your daily life in this art form–and piece by piece you learn what works best for you in terms of a career path. It isn’t always easy–especially in the beginning–but over time, most dancers find their own way.

Our new series features posts from professional dancers from companies across the nation. They’ll be writing about a variety of different topics, sharing a behind-the-scenes look at what this career looks like up close…each from their own individual perspective.

Today we’ll be hearing from our new contributing writer Alessa Rogers. A dancer at Atlanta Ballet, she has graciously pulled together some of the most valuable things she has learned over the course of her career to share with you here–including a piece of advice from Twyla Tharp! Look for more posts from Alessa and other professional dancers in the coming months.

We hope you are enjoying this new series!        -Catherine


dancer doing a grand jete

Alessa Rogers rehearsing Possokhov’s Classical Symphony, photo by Charlie McCullers

 by Alessa Rogers

There is no formula for being a professional ballet dancer. There are some obvious requirements like having a good work ethic, a good teacher, a fair amount of luck–and a lot of Advil. But there are some other tips that I’ve picked up over the course of the past couple decades that I have found useful in my career.

1) Don’t quit. This may seem like a no-brainer but sometimes I feel like the reason that I managed to become a professional dancer over some of the girls I trained with is simply that I stuck with it and they didn’t.

2) Be nice. By criticizing others you take energy away from improving yourself. Gossip will not make you a better dancer and it will definitely make you a less desirable person to be around. Remember that the dance world is incredibly small. You will run into the same people again. Make it so that when you do run into those people they are happy to see you. You never know when it will pay off to have been kind.

Even when you are doing a solo, don’t forget about the countless people who helped you get to where you are today–your parents, teachers, the artistic staff, even the production crew. These people don’t get a curtain call or spotlight. Be grateful to those people in your life and when you get a chance, pass it on.

3) Love your body, worship it, treat it well. As a dancer, your body is the only instrument you have. Listen to it when it hurts and needs special care. Kiss your feet before a show. Say thank you to your body after a long week. Ballet gives us nothing to hold, so care for your body like a museum would care for a masterpiece.

4) Learn from others. Watch dance voraciously. Watching the people in your class is the easiest way to do that but these days you can watch almost anything online. If possible go see professional dance live. Ask professional dancers questions. Learn from them. But learn from your friends too. A correction for them is also a correction for you. Which brings us to:

5) Corrections are good things. Don’t feel ashamed or take it too personally if you get a correction. Feel grateful that you have a chance to improve. Strive to hear a correction only once.

As soon as I am given a correction I repeat it in my head a few times to help it stick. Later I might write it down. Be patient with yourself if it does take some time to apply. Bodies respond differently everyday and habits are hard to change but make no excuses when something doesn’t work. Mistakes happen, even when you are a professional dancer. Learn from them and then let them go.

Alessa Rogers, photo by Rick McCullough

Alessa Rogers, photo by Rick McCullough

6) There will always be someone better than you. The sooner you realize this the sooner you will be able to be proud of where you are right now and how far you’ve come. Having people who are better than you should give you inspiration–not depression. Be gentle with yourself. A dancer has to work hard enough, don’t put yourself down while you are doing it. Trust me, other people will do that for you. Be patient with yourself and ignore the naysayers, especially if the naysayer is you. You are almost certainly better than you think you are.

7) You have to find the right company for you. It might take a few before you find a good fit. Having a dream company is good for motivation, but realize there are so many factors that go into hiring dancers. If that dream company passes you up because they need a brunette this season that shouldn’t crush your dreams of being a dancer in general.

Find a company that will appreciate you and also push you to be the best dancer you can be. When you do get a job don’t be afraid to have respectful conversations with your director about issues that concern you. Also, cattle call auditions are rarely the best way to be seen.

8) Work smart. A ballet career is so short. You have to work hard to make use of the time you have. This does not always mean physically (but do that too). You can save a lot of time and energy if you use your brain as well.

Instead of throwing yourself into doing something poorly over and over again pause and think about how you could approach it differently. You’ll find you have more control over your body and improve more rapidly. Decide before each combination what you are going to focus on in that combination. It might be your port de bras or playing with the musicality or spotting a different place. Thinking about an intention before each combination or visualizing the choreography in your head before you actually take a single step will help enormously.

Also, do your homework at night. Go over your part, research your roles and take care of your body so you are prepared for the next day.

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Dance Against Cancer – Dance Performance Photography At AXA Equitable Theater

Gillian Murphy and Jared Matthews in Don Quixote Pas de Deux. Photograph by Christopher Duggan.

Gillian Murphy and Jared Matthews in Don Quixote Pas de Deux.

by Christopher Duggan

It’s always a joy to photograph Dance Against Cancer because it’s a dance performance for a good cause and there’s an all-star cast. I’m always excited to see all these amazing performers in one place for one evening, and this year was extremely special for me, because my mom survived major pancreatic cancer surgery last year.

Tyler Angle and Maria Kowroski in Chaconne.

Tyler Angle and Maria Kowroski in Chaconne.

The program starts off with a voiceover from the artists, introducing themselves and saying who they are dancing in honor of – or in some cases, who they are dancing in memory of.

Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild in Acheron.

Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild in Acheron.

This year, I made these photographs in honor of my mom. I’ve never had cancer hit so close to home before and it feels very different to contribute to this program when the person on my mind is my own mom. Thankful for her doctors and nurses and thankful for dance artists who move for a cause.

American Dance Machine for the 21st Century in Simply Irresistible.

American Dance Machine for the 21st Century in Simply Irresistible.

American Dance Machine for the 21st Century in Simply Irresistible at Dance Against Cancer at AXA Equitable Theater in NYC.

American Dance Machine for the 21st Century in Simply Irresistible at Dance Against Cancer at AXA Equitable Theater in NYC.

 

Contributor Christopher Duggan is a wedding and dance photographer in New York City, the Berkshires and beyond. Duggan has been the Festival Photographer for Jacob’s Pillow Dance since 2006. In this capacity, and as a respected New York-based dance photographer, he has worked with renowned choreographers and performers of international acclaim as well as upstarts in the city’s diverse performance scene.

Christopher Duggan, Photo by Julia NewmanHe photographs dancers in the studio and in performance, for promotional materials, portraits and press, and he often collaborates with his wife, Nel Shelby, and her Manhattan-based dance film and video editing company Nel Shelby Productions (nelshelby.com). Together, they have documented dance at performances from New York City to Vail International Dance Festival.

Christopher Duggan Photography also covers the finest wedding venues in the Metropolitan and Tri-State areas, in Massachusetts and the Berkshires, and frequently travels to destination weddings.

His photographs appear in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Knot, Destination I Do, Photo District News, Boston Globe, Financial Times, Dance Magazine, and Munaluchi Bridal, among other esteemed publications and popular dance and wedding blogs. One of his images of Bruce Springsteen was added to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and his dance photography has been exhibited at The National Museum of Dance and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

His Natural Light Studio (http://www.christopherduggan.com/portfolio/natural-light-studio-jacobs-pillow-photography/) at Jacob’s Pillow is his most ambitious photography project to date – check out his blog to see more portraits of dance artists in his pop-up photo studio on the Pillow grounds.

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