DVD Review: BALLET 422

by Rachel Hellwig

BALLET 422, a documentary by Jody Lee Lipes, offers a behind-the-scenes look the creation of Justin Peck’s Paz de la Jolla, his third ballet for New York City Ballet and the company’s 422nd new work.

Without the use of voiceover narration or intermittent interviews, the film shows scenes of Peck dancing alone in the studio for a phone camera, making sketches of steps and formations for the ballet, using his computer as an aid, and giving directives in rehearsal–“isolate the elbows”, “it’s not crispy enough”. But if you’re looking for more detailed insight into his choreographic process and the ideas behind Paz de la Jolla (as a well as filmmaking process), you’ll want to turn on the commentary by Peck and Lipes in the Special Features section. You’ll have to do this on your second viewing though, because will be layered over the film’s sound. I found the commentary enriching and I do wish it could have been incorporated instead being a supplement. Nonetheless, there is an effective, quiet drama evoked in the minimalist approach.

BALLET 422 also features backstage scenes, Peck’s collaboration with costume designers, discussions with lighting director Mark Stanley, and work with the late Albert Evans, former NYCB dancer and ballet master. As for the dance scenes, they give glimpses of the unique qualities of the principals of Paz de la Jolla: the athletic, lightning-speed sprightliness of Tiler Peck (no relation to Mr. Peck), the rebounding energy and charisma of Amar Ramasar, and the understated sophistication of Sterling Hyltin. Moreover, the dance scenes and performance clips capture some of the most exciting elements of Peck’s choreography –the Balanchinian propulsion of speed extended into a digital-age pulse and the prose poetry in his manner of melding contemporary and classical.

Magnolia Pictures, 75 minutes.

Purchase this DVD:


Book: Dance Science: Anatomy, Movement Analysis, Conditioning

Aloha! I would like to share with you a new book in the Dance Wellness field,  “Dance Science: Anatomy, Movement Analysis, Conditioning” by Gayanne Grossman, PT. Specific Information on the book is below.

Gayanne has a long background in dance medicine and science, working with injured dancers and teaching anatomy / kinesiology at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, as well as heading up the Performing Arts Wellness Program for Lehigh Valley Health Network. The book is aimed at high school / college-level dancers, and is  a terrific resource for those looking to dig deep into the scientific arena, and to stretch their knowledge about the body and safe dance training / technique. It can also serve as an excellent scientific reference manual to keep on hand. Please pass it on!  Take care – Jan Dunn, MS, Dance Wellness Editor


For students of human movement, kinesiology, dance science, and dancers, Dance Science takes a positive approach to what a dancer can do to dance better through an understanding of anatomy and an analysis of movement which, in turn, will decrease injury rates. It presents anatomy and motion in a dance-specific way that teaches readers to appreciate and take ownership of their bodies through hands-on experiential activities.The book concludes with an approach to exercise design for enhanced performance integrating the principles of dance science. Accompanied by 90 anatomical illustrations, 30 photographs, and 3 graphs.

320 pages, 7″ x 10″, Paperbound, ISBN 978-087127-388-8  $49.95
Hardbound   ISBN 978–087127-387-1  $39.95

Order from:  Princeton Book Company, Publishers

Here is an excerpt from the text:

Training Efficiently and Safely for Needed Stability

Start strength training using isometrics. Use varied positions and joint angles. They will facilitate motor learning in many positions.

For example, your hip joint hyperextends; the femoral head abuts the Y ligament well past normal hip extension. You do not gain stability from it soon enough. Your pelvis may be in posterior tilt before your femoral head stops moving forward. Compare with a dancer whose femoral head stops at the Y ligament with minimal hip hyperextension: this dancer feels stable because the lumbopelvic and hip alignment are closer to neutral at end range hip extension. The hypermobile dancer needs extra training to know how to feel where that position is located. Begin with isometric holds, focusing on femoral head placement. (See Stork Stand and Weight Shift exercises later in this chapter.)

Strength train hypermobile dancers with isotonics, too. Use in the inner ranges (smaller movements) at first then increase the range of motion. Here is an example:

Begin standing at the barre and resist the first few inches of hip flex–ion, then repeat for hip abduction, adduction, and extension. When improvement is noted, increase the range of motion another inch or two. Tie one end of a light-weight exercise band to the barre and the other end to your ankle. Because hypermobile people may gain strength at a slower rate, increase the resistance when you are able to.

Include proprioception training in standing, sitting, or pushing up on stable, then unstable, surfaces to increase the awareness of joint position. Include slower combinations to facilitate correct postural control. Should hypermobile dancers stretch? Not too much. Dancers love to stretch so this behavioral change can be a challenge. Hypermobile people have a lot of stretch and they have decreased proprioception. They have to stretch quite far to feel end-range motion, sometimes into an extreme range of motion that may not be safe. These dancers are looking for feedback from the joint receptors and an enormous ROM may be necessary to stimulate these receptors in a hypermobile person.


Review: Dance Inspiration Cards

by Rachel Hellwig

Dance Inspiration Cards Photo

Seeking inspiration for improvisation and creative dance exercises? Then you’ll want to check out Sari Eran-Herskovitz’s “Dance Inspiration Cards”.

Eran-Herskovitz, an artist with a master’s degree in psychology, has designed 29 cards with illustrations featuring animals, nature, and abstract images. The collection also contains one blank card on which you can draw your own picture or simply use as “a joker representing any image you choose during the game”. The instructions explain that “the aim of the game is to allow experimentation and expansion of the range of self expression through movement”.

Suggestions are offered for different types of group games and the use of background music is encouraged, but there are many ways to use the cards. I enjoyed just going through the deck at home and improvising on my own. In class, teachers may want to stick to the cards depicting animals for younger students as movement ideas will be more readily apparent. For older students, including the abstract images will enhance the challenge. The cards could also be used as prompts for more formal choreography exercises and projects.

Regardless of how you employ them, the “Dance Inspiration Cards” will be a helpful, creative tool in group settings or in individual artistic exploration.

Beautiful idea. Beautifully created.


Vegan Ballet Shoe Options


by Catherine L. Tully

If you are a vegan dancer, or if you are simply an animal lover, you may want to consider purchasing slippers from Cynthia King Vegan Ballet Slippers. These ballet shoes are made without the use of animal products, and are therefore, cruelty-free. This is also connected to habitat conservation and clean waterways, as livestock production often has a heavy impact on the environment around it.

If you would like to be a part of this conservation effort, it stands to reason you may want to think about using dance shoes that stand behind these principles. Currently, Cynthia King Vegan Ballet Slippers offers three different types of shoes – one designed specifically for professional dancers. Here is some information on each:

1. Original Vegan Ballet Slippers

vegan ballet shoes

This is the original line of vegan slippers manufactured by Cynthia King Ballet Slippers. They are canvas shoes with a pleated toe, stretch drawstring and non-slip sole. These shoes are available in both full and split sole options for children, and in split sole for adults. All of the options are available in pink, and the adult split sole also comes in black. The shoes are $24.99, plus shipping and handling.

2. Activiste

canvas vegan shoes

The next variety of shoe offered is the Activiste. A light pink canvas option for children, it features many of the same elements of the original shoe (pleated toe, stretch drawstring, canvas material), along with an improved non-slip split sole that provides optimal grip, a u-shaped vamp, and light cushioning at the ball and heel of the foot. It is available in light pink. This line retails for 26.95, plus shipping and handling.

3. Pro-Line

canvas ballet shoes

The third option is a line of shoes that was created with the professional and pre-professional dancer in mind. The Pro-Line has all the features of the Activiste (pleated toe, improved split sole with optimal grip, stretch drawstring, u-shaped vamp, light ball and heel cushion), along with it’s own unique “blush” color. In addition, this line features a special stretch canvas upper. Available for both adults and young adults, these shoes retail for $32.95, plus shipping and handling.

If you would like to learn more about the history of Cynthia King Vegan Ballet Slippers, see our post about the company here. To purchase shoes, find out sizing details, or to read more about Ms. King, please visit their website.

Disclosure: 4dancers was compensated for writing this post.


The Phantoms Of The Ballet: The Wilis

“Giselle in the Forest” — Short Dance Film by The Australian Ballet with Modern Music

by Rachel Hellwig

You know the story— Boys meets girl. Boy courts girl. Girl falls in love. Girl discovers she’s been two-timed. Girl goes mad. Girl dies. Girl becomes ghost. Boy visits girl’s grave. Boy is captured by vengeful ghosts. Girl’s ghost saves boy.

The story is, of course, Giselle and the ghosts are the Wilis. In fact, Giselle‘s original title was Giselle ou les Wilis, “Giselle, or The Wilis”. Though a product of the Romantic Era and its fascination with the supernatural, this ballet from 1841 has nonetheless endured and attained classic status. Interestingly, pop culture’s current interest in vampires, zombies etc. echos the tastes of the period in which Giselle was created.

So, let’s take a look at the Wilis, a most elegant member of the undead…

Folkloric Inspiration

The Wilis have their roots in European legend. Théophile Gautier, author of Giselle’s libretto, took his source material for the Wilis from a passage in Heinrich Heine’s On Germany:

“There is a tradition of nocturnal dancing known in Slav countries under the name of Wili. The Wilis are affianced maidens who have died before their wedding-day; those poor young creatures cannot rest peacefully in their graves. In their hearts which have ceased to throb, in their dead feet, there still remains that passion for dancing which they could not satisfy during life; and at midnight they rise up and gather in bands on the highway and woe betide the young man who meets them, for he must dance until he drops dead.

Attired in their bridal dresses, with garlands of flowers on their heads, and shining rings on their fingers, the Wilis dance in the moonlight like the Elves.”

Theatrical Development

Ballet of the Nuns at the Paris Opéra (1832). Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image.

Ballet of the Nuns at the Paris Opéra. Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image.

The Wilis’ theatrical ancestors are found in the Ballet of Nuns from the opera Robert le Diable (1831) by Giacomo Meyerbeer and in the full-length ballet La Sylphide (1832). In the Ballet of the Nuns, ghosts of nuns rise from their abbey graves and dance in the moonlight. In La Sylphide, spirit-like beings known as sylphs dance in the forest at night. The visuals of these ballets with their white-clad women dancing in eerily-lit scenes set the stage for arrival of the Wilis nearly a decade later. Both the Ballet of the Nuns and La Sylphide originally starred Marie Taglioni, the ballet star credited with helping create the “tutu and toe-shoes” vision of the Romantic Era dancer. Anna Kisselgoff relates:

“’Robert le Diable’ raised the curtain on Romantic ballet. Naturally, there were many previous phases contributing to the Romantic esthetic in dance. But the preoccupation with the supernatural that characterized so much of 19th-century ballet could be traced to the success of the ”ballet of the nuns” in Meyerbeer’s first production at the Paris Opera.

”Robert Le Diable” led directly to the creation, in 1832, of ”La Sylphide,” the first complete Romantic ballet. The libretto for ”La Sylphide” was written by Adolphe Nourrit, the tenor who had the title role in ”Robert le Diable” and his sylph was of course, Marie Taglioni. Filippo Taglioni, her father and who is usually credited with the dances in the Meyerbeer opera, choreographed ”La Sylphide.” And another member of the same team, Pierre Ciceri, the stage and lighting designer responsible for the gasp-producing effects in ”Robert le Diable,” introduced the same ghostly gas lighting into ”La Sylphide.”

Otherworldly Attire

Carlotta Grisi as Giselle in Act II (1841). Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image.

Carlotta Grisi as Giselle in Act II (1841). Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image.

The long white tutus of the Wilis are based on the costume trend that Taglioni introduced for the more benign creatures of La Sylphide. The University of Utah’s ballet history page explains:

“The Romantic tutu is first seen in La Sylphide and was designed by Eugène Lami (1800-1890) […] By complementing Taglioni’s ethereal style of dancing the tutu triggered a new image in the mind of the public; that of the Romantic ballerina, transmuted into a creature soaring amidst a mist of muslin.[…] Like the pointe shoe, the Romantic tutu actively assisted the ballerina with the interpretation of her role, adding a buoyancy and unreal suspension to her fleeting steps and a softness to her landings.55″

Are They a Dream?

Of course, a possible interpretation of the Wilis is that they are a figment of Albrecht’s tortured thoughts. Anna Kisselgoff writes, “Whether he actually sees her ghost or imagines it in Act II is the kind of question 19th-century Romantic ballets such as this one have always left unanswered.”

What do you think? What’s your interpretation?

Giselle and Albrecht Say Goodbye at the End of Act II


The Specter Of Stage Fright…

"Dança" by Luci Correia. Licensed under CC Attribution 2.0 Generic. [Changes to photo: filter added]

Dança” by Luci Correia. Licensed under CC Attribution 2.0 Generic. Changes to photo: filter added

by Rachel Hellwig

Stage fright can feel like the ultimate self-betrayal. After all, dancing is what you love most, you’ve put in hours and hours of rehearsals, you’ve carefully warmed up, you’ve reviewed the steps in your head, the big moment has come… And now, you’re caving to fear. However, rest assured—

Your fear is not irrational. Don’t beat yourself up over it.

As Aaron Williamon, professor of performance science at the Royal College of Music, has explained:

“It’s not a natural thing to do, going out and dealing with such high levels of stress in public. And it’s nothing to do with age or inexperience. No matter how highly skilled a person is, the body’s preprogrammed stress responses mean they can enter a different physical state and sometimes even a different psychological state.”

For me, as a regular performer (albeit in the “passionate amateur” category) stage fright is inversely proportional to the size of the performing venue. In a larger theater, where in the audience is mostly consumed in darkness, I experience minimal nervousness. In a smaller theater, where I can see the people sitting in the front rows, nervousness is more of an issue. In a studio performance, where I can see the faces of everyone watching…well, let’s just I say this is where I need the most improvement…

My experience with a frustrating bout of stage fright during a studio performance this past summer inspired me to research the topic more. Beyond the common suggestions of calming techniques and “be prepared”, here are some interesting thoughts and reminders I came across:

The Audience Is Not Hoping to See You Fail

“The audience is not there to see [you] fail. Think about it. Every time you go to a performance or a play or a musical, do you sit in the audience and think, “I hope they fall…I hope she messes up…oh, I really want to see them do badly…”? You don’t!” – Kathryn Morgan, Performance Anxiety & Stage Fright

So true and yet so easy to overlook. Also, when you do see a performer make a mistake in a show, are you filled with delight or scorn? No. You probably feel empathy and as well admiration for their courage to keep going.

The Audience Probably Isn’t There to See You At All

“Remind yourself that they’re not here to see or hear you, unless you’re a very famous person, or your mother’s in the audience.”- Blocked by Performance Anxiety?

This is especially true in school dance shows, recitals, and semi-professional productions. (It’s probably even true in many professional productions) Be honest. In most performances, most people are just there to watch their family members and/or friends perform. So, “dance like no one is watching” because there’s probably quite a bit of truth in that!

It Could Be Helpful to Imagine Worst Case Scenarios

“Try to think of the worst case scenario, and then give yourself advice what to do if it happens: I could forget my steps (OK, I’ll improvise). I could fall off or on the stage (well, in case something like that really does happen, I should only worry about not injuring my legs, not my pride, and after all, it will make a great anecdote some day!). I could fall out of rhythm and completely mess up the whole dance (I’ll catch up with it after just a few seconds, I know I will), etc.”- 3 Tricks To Help Irish Dancers Overcome Stage Fright

This takes “be prepared” to another level. But, if it makes you feel more comfortable to consider different backup plans like this, then why not? If nothing else, the idea that a major error will “make a great anecdote someday” is a good frame of mind to keep things in perspective and take the pressure off yourself. (See Kathryn Morgan’s Performance Mishaps & Funny Moments video for a good laugh.)

You Might Not Be Able to Completely Free Yourself From Stage Fright…

“I am onstage more than fifty years. Sometimes I do shows every night for weeks. Still, it never doesn’t come. Starts four hours before. I don’t even try to fight it anymore. I know it will always be there.” – Mikhail Baryshnikov, I Can’t Go On!

Yes, it’s a rather horrifying thought. But, when all else fails, you might just have to accept that stage fright is an obstacle you will regularly have to ride out. But dancers are used to dealing with obstacles, and, at the end of day, it will be well worth the ride. Remember, you’re in good company if Baryshnikov knows exactly what you’re going through!

"IMG_9361.JPG" by  Gabriel Saldana. Licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

IMG_9361.JPG” by
Gabriel Saldana. Licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic. Changes to  photo: filter added


Flash Feldenkrais for the Busy Dancer: Part I

We’re pleased to offer you “Flash Feldenkrais for Dancers” — by Nancy Wozny. Nancy is the Somatics expert on our Dance Wellness Panel — she wrote the article introducing Somatic work, and why it matters for dancers, “A Somatic Update for Dancers” in August of 2014. Nancy is a Feldenkrais practitioner herself, and is sharing her expertise with you in this series of “Flash Feldenkrais” postings — here is the first one.  Try it  –  I think you will like it.  Enjoy!       – Jan 

Jacob's Pillow

B: Brandon Collwes, Molly Griffin, and Brandin Steffensen of Liz Gerring Dance Company in glacier. Photo Christopher Duggan

Note: This is the first in a series of Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement Lessons that have been streamlined for dancers.

by Nancy Wozny

Watching Liz Gerring’s dancers in glacier this summer at Jacob’s Pillow navigate their way through a glorious feast of highly nuanced movement reminded me of how somatically rich some contemporary dancers’ lives are these days. Because Gerring’s vocabulary is so mind bogglingly detailed, her dancers are neurally nourished with novelty on a daily basis. Gerring’s dancers also move as if each step is a question, embracing an exploratory process, so that each movement feels like an act of discovery. The sheer abundance of specificity not only makes for compelling choreography, but has an added benefit to the dancers, and possibly the viewers as well. Just watching these deft movers made me feel as if I was getting a month-long Feldenkrais retreat thanks to those handy mirror neurons at work.

Sometimes, we forget just how diverse a dancer’s life is when considering the role of Somatics for today’s dancer. Somatics, defined by philosopher Thomas Hanna, is the study of the body as a lived experience. In my first piece for 4dancers, A Somatics Update, I outlined the characteristics of the field, which include cultivating an accurate sense of awareness, the use of non-habitual movement, resting between actions and attention to our habits, to name a few. The Feldenkrais Method, one of many somatic practices, is particularly useful for performing artists, especially dancers because of their complicated movement lives, which includes both repetition and novelty.

Contemporary choreographers and educators regularly look to change the status quo in what they are asking dancers to do. The movement in today’s dance classes and choreography is considerably more varied than it was say 20 years ago. What does all this have to do with Somatics?

You are busy, and all of us dance health folk are always trying to make you busier. Do this! Do that! The list of what a dancer needs to do besides daily technique class to stay healthy seems to grow each year.

I understand the demands of today’s dancer enough to know that anything can be streamlined to fit an artist’s schedule, even the prolific work of Moshe Feldenkrais, who created over 3,000 brilliant Awareness Through Movement lessons. And trust me, each one is a gem. Although it’s always beneficial to do longer and more complicated lessons, especially when you are in recovery mode, it’s possible to receive a benefit from shorter lessons.

Feldenkrais could very well be the father of cross training as well as somatics, as he addressed expanding our habits head on by introducing the role of novelty in movement as a neural refresher.

We also need to keep in mind that Feldenkrais Method and dance share some of the same domain, which includes inventive movement. The average dancer has no shortage of novelty in their lives, as they regularly meet the demands of today’s choreographers who tirelessly look for new ways to put the human body into action.

Maintenance mode doesn’t quite need the same time commitment, especially when you are getting a good amount of somatic diversity in your daily classes and rehearsals. However, a dancer’s time and energy budget is tight, so perhaps a need-to-know approach may be more doable when it comes to maintaining your somatic health.

With all of this in mind, I offer Flash Feldenkrais for the Busy Dancer, streamlined lessons that address common conditions in a dancers’ working life, which sometimes involves an abundance of novelty. That can be discombobulating in its own right. Sometimes, we need to scale back, look to more central organizations, and simply calm the whole system down. And because it’s Feldenkrais, a tiny bit of novelty pops in at the end because we always need a little post Feldenkrais play time.

Flash Feldenkrais Lesson #1: Returning to Neutral

When to do this lesson: When you have been doing a lot of performing or traveling, or both at the same time. Anytime something has thrown you off from your center, this lesson will help reel you in. I find it to be a somatic palate cleanser, and a “returning to your baseline” lesson.

Why do this lesson: You will find a wonderful ease in your limbs afterward. It’s the Feldenkrais equivalent of straightening out your holiday lights when they get all in a jumble.

What do you need to do this lesson: A soft mat or blanket and 15-20 uninterrupted minutes in a quiet room.

Remember: Rest between each step and before you fatigue. Do each instruction just a few times. Make the movement as easy as possible.

Lie on your back with your legs long and your arms by your side. Sense your contact against the ground. Bring your right arm up so that your fingers point to the ceiling and your palm faces your midline. Notice the effort it takes to do this movement.

Bend up your knees and bring your feet to standing. Bring your right arm up again and move your right arm slightly toward and away from your midline. Notice the “sweet spot” when you pass through neutral.

Bring your right arm up again and move it slightly toward your head and then toward your feet. Notice when you pass through neutral.

Bring your right arm up again and move it toward the midline and away, then toward your head, then your feet, always returning to neutral between each movement.

Repeat steps 1-5 with the left arm.

Repeat steps 1-5 steps with both arms at once.

Repeat steps 1-5 with the right leg in the air.

Repeat steps 1-5 with the left leg in the air.

Bring all limbs into the air and spend some time improvising. Play with the limbs moving toward and away from each other in various configurations. This is where the imagination can slip in while you find some new and fun ways of moving your limbs in space.

Rest on your back again. Lift your right arm into the air and notice how easy it is now. Come to sitting, then standing. Walk around and notice your sense of ease and grace.

NEXT UP: Stay tuned for the second installation of Flash Feldenkrais for the Busy Dancer, which will focus on organizing oneself for a shift and cleansing the kinesthetic palate.

Nany Wozny

Nancy Wozny is editor in chief of Arts + Culture Texas, reviews editor at Dance Source Houston and a contributor to Pointe Magazine, Dance Teacher and Dance Magazine, where she is also an contributing editor. She has taught and written about Feldenkrais and somatics in dance for two decades.


Get Connected With Us!

Visit Us On PinterestVisit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookCheck Our Feed
Behind Barres
dance class music
Hobson 7
Blog Book

Copyright Notice:

All material on this site is copyrighted and cannot be reprinted or used without permission of 4dancers. Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved.