We are pleased to welcome back guest contributor Gigi Berardi, dance author and critic, who has written over 150 articles and reviews that have appeared in Dance Magazine, Dance International, The Los Angeles Times, among others. She is also a natural and social scientist currently on the faculty of Western Washington University.
Her academic and background and performing experiences allow her to combine her passion for both dance and science. Her fifth book, “Finding Balance: Fitness and Training for a Lifetime in Dance” is in it’s second printing, and is one I highly recommend especially for younger dancers. Gigi’s master degree thesis in dance, from UCLA, focused on older dancers who were able to continue dancing and performing well past the age when most have to retire because of injuries – i.e, what were they doing differently that kept them actively performing into their 50′s, 60′s,70′s? Her current book project is called “A Cultivated Life” — look for it soon!
- Jan Dunn, MS, Dance Wellness Editor
by Gigi Berardi, MA
To be honest, I don’t like using the term, “older dancer” to describe dancers over 30 or 40 or 50. I’m not exactly sure why (it connotes “less than,” not as compelling?) – although I used it mightily in my Masters thesis at UCLA, developing “Case Studies of Older-aged Dancers and the Factors that Contribute to the Longevity of Their Performing Careers” (UCLA, 1989). But, the “older-aged” part now, for me, is about psychological and emotional staying power in dance, as I describe in “Bill Evans: “Changing the Body and the Geography of Modern Dance” (Dance Magazine, pages 38 – 43, October, 2003) and elsewhere, see: http://myweb.facstaff.wwu.edu/gberardi/performing_articles.shtml.
It seems to me that for most dancers in their 40s and older, the important questions for them are, “do they feel like they can still do what they want to do in a particular role?” and “do they want to?”
Few dancers are being taken off the stage, fighting and kicking, and screaming “Nooooooo…” I think that what happens, over time, is more subtle (and, if you will, nefarious). They begin to have fewer opportunities for lead roles (for whatever reason, but I must say that audience demand for younger, thinner, and those more capable of dizzying pyrotechnics may comprise a sensibility that artistic director are particularly aware of). Further, past injuries may be catching up with them, other conditions in the work place may be undesirable (re: physical space, etc.), and they may have other personal constraints (wanting to raise a family, spending more time with their children) or financial ones (wanting to be financially solvent at the advanced age of 45, say).
From my perspective as a dance critic and using a lens of physicality, as a career progresses, it is nimbleness and stamina that seem to be on the wane. Strength and flexibility, emotional prowess, commitment to conditioning (for me right now, as a “mature” dancer, Thai kick boxing is my passion) and a diet high in good fats and low in sugar – all seem to characterize dancers with staying power. Nimbleness and stamina are the more illusive traits.
What to do, then, for a “lifetime in dance” (the subtitle of both editions of my Finding Balance book)?
- feed that mind with good cholesterol and saturated fat (for more, see my forthcoming book, A Cultivated Life, 2014) that coat the myelin sheaths in and around and of all the parts of the central nervous system,
- get some sun, which helps in all of the above,
- find your passion in conditioning – martial arts or Franklin Method ©, or Pilates, or step aerobics, and above all,
- keep dancing, which is the best way to build character and flexibility and strength and stamina in all that dancers do.
Or, dancers might want to look for a job in Europe where all (above) seems easier. See: “From Dance to Danse: Why so many American Dancers are Heading to Europe” (Dance Magazine, 2009, at website mentioned in this article).
Gigi Berardi holds a MA in dance from UCLA. Her academic background and performing experience allow her to combine her interests in the natural and social sciences with her passion for dance, as both critic and writer. Over 150 articles and reviews by Ms. Berardi have appeared in Dance Magazine, Dance International, the Los Angeles Times, the Anchorage Daily News, The Olympian, The Bellingham Herald, and scientific journals such as BioScience, Human Organization, and Ethics, Place, and Environment. Her total work numbers over 400 print and media pieces. Her public radio features (for KSKA, Anchorage) have been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Dance Critics Association, and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, as well as Book Review editor for The Journal of Dance Medicine & Science. A professor at Western Washington University, she received the university’s Diversity Achievement Award in 2004. Her fifth book, Finding Balance: Fitness and Training for a Lifetime in Dance, is in its second printing. Her current book project is titled A Cultivated Life.
Today for our student spotlight, please welcome Rachel Burn…
1. Can you tell readers how you became involved with dance?My mother was a dance teacher and so my sister and I grew up going to ballet, acro and jazz when we were little. As a teenager, though, I began to love it for myself and a friend who had previously done a dance degree gently nudged me that way, which I’m always very grateful for!
2. What do you find you like best about dance class?
I’m not sure there’s a best thing! Class is simply the most amazing thing/place for a dancer… I prefer it to performing some times! It is a unique and significant experience to be amongst a group of like-minded ‘Body Thinkers’, all sharing the same space, music etc, and whilst sharing that space also being alone to work just for yourself. What other opportunity do we get to pay attention to the very internal state of our bodies? Humans have bodies, not just brains, and a huge majority of the world don’t ever connect themselves to their bodies in an intentional way, I think they don’t really know themselves as a result, to set that time aside daily is the same thing as a faith/spiritual practice. I could go on and on…!
Physically I like the opportunity that class gives to teach your body new things, work hard, get tired, get sweaty, to develop the fullness of your fitness – agility and clarity alongside stamina and strength etc – and that very primitive joy that comes from flailing everything around to loud music! J I don’t understand why more people don’t love that.
In terms of being a freelance professional dancer, my experience has been that class is where you meet your network. Most of my work and projects and the dancers who I am currently working with have come from just meeting people in class and getting chatting. Contemporary dance doesn’t have a simple and clear system put on us to develop ourselves professionally so making your own network is important – it then joins up to other networks, other dancers, other projects…
3. What is the hardest part about dance for you?
This is a very difficult question… the answer is rather more about my insecurities than about dance itself. I personally at times can find it hard to be working in an industry that many of my peers and family don’t understand. They support it, endlessly in fact, but maybe also think I’m a bit odd or missing the point. But that might just be my paranoia! I don’t mind that I also have to waitress, or that I am usually broke or that a lot of my friends are married with mortgages and children – some people let those things push them out of dance.
4. What advice would you give to other dancers?
I would say to just keep going… there is absolutely not a direct and straight career ladder to climb. If you get a great project for a while and everyone thinks that this is it for you, you’ll always earn money now and travel the world on huge stages, you need to know that that is absolutely not necessarily the truth and a week after that contract ends you might be dancing at a kids party, but THAT’S OK. You need to do what you need to do to keep going. Be wise in your choices and look after yourself physically and spiritually, it really is a tough world to be in and you need to be in a good state to deal with it. Keep doing class.
5. How has dance changed your life?
I took a three-year break from dance and if I hadn’t gone back to it I would be a secondary school teaching assistant in my home town living a comfortable and timetabled life… Gary Clarke was a Butlins Red Coat and Natasha Kahn (Bat for Lashes) was a teacher in a primary school – so I feel in good company – we all need some thinking time, but at some point you have to answer the niggle in you to do what you need to do. My prompt came from watching Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake for the millionth time one Christmas and thinking ‘What am I doing?? Why aren’t I dancing? I need to re-train’ and it’s been forwards from there. I have less money and less stability than ever before but far more assurance in myself, understanding of and energy for life, and I know that I’m doing the thing that I need to do. I think that’s important.
BIO: Rachel trained at Middlesex University, graduating with a BA Honours in Dance Studies with a particular focus on choreography, followed by completing a year of further training at the Merce Cunningham Studios in New York and performing with the Repertory Understudy Group. She has choreographed for Cloud Dance, Actual Size, Middlesex University students, Switchback Productions and currently a variety of her own projects, including Pullover, Pull Through, Flick, performed at Woking Dance Festival and for the Surrey Dance Collective. She has also worked with H2 Dance, Laila Diallo, Douglas Dunn, Shobana Jeyasingh and Gary Clarke.
by Danielle Downey
Whether you are a dancer or just sucked up into the endless fast pace of today’s lifestyle, fueling your body with healthy on-the-go snacks is a key task to master in order to perform your best on stage or in life.
Eating large meals between rehearsals or before a show is not exactly conducive to our lifestyle as dancers. No dancer wants to do grand allegro or 32 fouettes after chowing down on a large feast, but on the other hand, choosing not to eat is surely not a better option. Thankfully between the spectrum of starving yourself and the ‘yuck factor’ of feeling too full, there is the ingenious happy medium of snacking!
It seems that the strongest, most beautiful dancers that grace the stages are on a lifelong journey to master the ‘technique’ of healthy on-the-go snacking. So whether you already spend countless hours in the studio rehearsing or you are young student aspiring a professional career, it is beneficial for all of us to do a frequent check of our eating (specifically snacking) habits to ensure we are fueling our body with the maximum amount of nutrients and energy to feel and dance our best.
The great thing about snacking is that no matter what your taste buds or dietary needs require, the options are essentially endless! When reevaluating your snacking habits or looking for new ideas, thinking simple is surprisingly a smart and easy tactic. What is your favorite salad or healthy meal? If you break it down into it’s simplest components you will usually be left with a handful of healthy snacking options. By eating these simple foods individually throughout the day you are still receiving all of the nutrients from your favorite healthy meal while never having your waistband feel too tight.
As a dancer I am constantly tweaking my snacking habits. By trial and error and inspiration from other dancers around me, I am on a mission to find the perfect combination of on-the-go snacks to dance and feel better than ever! At the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre we receive a five minute break every hour. Changing my pointe shoes or leotard, using the restroom, checking my phone or just resting my legs are on the short list of things accomplished on those five minute breaks, but most importantly, I always reach for a quick on-the-go snack to keep my energy up for the next hour of rehearsal. My locker has become a makeshift pantry and I take advantage of the company refrigerator to store perishable items. I strive for natural foods high in protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Here are a list of my favorite healthy on-the-go snacks:
BANANAS- I have replaced the adage about apples with ‘A banana a day keeps the doctor away’. Nothing against apples, but I definitely grab a banana every day because of their high levels of calcium which are key to preventing muscle cramps. Bananas also supply 35% of your daily B-6 requirement which is used to help grow new cells. The fiber found in bananas also helps you feel full longer.
GREEK YOGURT- Greek yogurt has a much higher protein content than regular yogurt, and depending on the brand you prefer you can easily give your body 10-18 grams of it. I have also found that the thicker consistency of Greek yogurt helps me feel full longer.
BARRE. A REAL FOOD BAR.- Developed by a fellow Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancer, Barre is a delicious nutrition bar on the market developed with dancers in mind. Julia wanted something to fuel her without weighing her down, something sustaining yet easy to digest, and something containing only the finest all-natural ingredients. When she brought the first product (straight from her food processor) as her healthy on-the-go snack, I tried some and fell in love. When I said I would buy some off of her, the idea for Barre was born!
DARK CHOCOLATE- Snack? Dessert? Call it what you wish, but dark chocolate has been making headlines for its health benefits. It contains more antioxidants than some fruits and vegetables, which can help reduce blood pressure. Chocolate lovers rejoice, but obviously, moderation is the key. I keep a large bar in my locker and break off a small piece whenever I need a small pick-me-up.
NUTS- Nuts are such an easy on-the-go snack, no utensils or refrigeration necessary. The omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts offer many health benefits but one that is really key for dancers is management of inflammation. Nuts are also a great source of arginine, an amino acid which boosts immune function and promotes wound healing.
KASHI GOLEAN CEREAL- I had to add this in because it is a personal favorite of mine in the studio. Keeping a zip lock bag of this right by my barre spot or in my dressing room at the theatre makes for super convenient on-the-go snacking. The 7 whole grains found in this cereal are a great source of complex carbohydrates. It also contains 13 grains of protein!
QUINOA- Coined as a ‘superfood’, quinoa has a long list of health benefits. Containing all nine amino acids, it is one of the most protein-rich foods you can eat. Quinoa contains almost twice as much fiber as other grains, which is key to helping you feel full on those long days of rehearsal. It contains iron which helps keeps the red blood cells healthy and increases brain function. Quinoa also contains lysine which helps with the growth and repair of body tissue. In addition to its ‘good for you’ qualities, it has endless possibilities in the kitchen (salads, desserts, breads, and much, much more!).
So no matter where you are on your journey to master the art of healthy on-the-go snacking–we can all benefit from doing a monthly reevaluation and refreshment. Get inspired by what is fresh now in the market, what other dancers you look up to are doing, or just tune into what your body needs or craves. Remember that our bodies are like automobiles which carry us where we want to go in life; we should refuel them often and with only the best!
Contributor Danielle Downey has a been a member of the Barre Team since it’s conception. She traveled to Las Vegas for Barre’s first convention, she did some early graphic design work for the look and brand of Barre, and is now marketing Barre through social media outlets. She has seen Barre go from it’s very earliest stages (straight from the food processor in Julia’s kitchen to the studio in a zip-lock bag) to a real food bar recognized by dancers, athletes, and regular ole’ folk all across the country.
Danielle also dances in the Corps de Ballet with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Prior to joining the company, she trained in the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Graduate Program. She received her early training with the Lake Erie Ballet and spent summers training with Boston Ballet and Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.1
Until this disc, I was never a fan of show tunes and popular music for ballet class. David Plumpton’s skill and sensitivity make West End to Broadway a fun and functional class album. Plumpton plays with warmth and a light hand, making this a great CD for intermediate or advanced classes. Clear, consistent tempi without over-emphasis of every beat will give dancers the freedom to enjoy the breath and richness of this music. Selections from Aida, High School Musical, Chess, and more offer something for all ages and tastes.
The disc includes seventeen tracks for barre and twenty for center with no repeats, though many are long enough for both sides. There are several lovely adagios (“Unexpected Song” from Tell Me on a Sunday is divine), multiple tracks for port de bras in center, plenty of waltzes for turns and allegro, and enough bounding, bouncing jump tracks to get any class light on its feet. Who can resist lofting through the air to “Gaston” from Beauty and the Beast?
West End to Broadway is a fun addition to teachers’ libraries for intermediate, advanced, or adult ballet classes.2
by Christopher Duggan
My wife Nel Shelby, a dance videographer, and I have been coming into rehearsals with longtime New York City Ballet dancer and international ballet superstar Wendy Whelan as she creates work with choreographers Alejandro Cerrudo (Hubbard Street Dance Chicago), Joshua Beamish (MOVE: the company), Brian Brooks (Brian Brooks Moving Company) and Kyle Abraham (Abraham.In.Motion), and we’re over the moon about filming and photographing behind-the-scenes moments to preserve and promote these amazing collaborations.
After years of photographing and filming performances and rehearsals, Nel and I believe in the power of great dance documentation, but nothing compares to seeing Wendy Whelan perform live. She is captivating, enthralling, alluring – I just can’t describe how I feel when I watch her dance. It’s simply incredible.
When the artists showed what they’ve been working on to an audience at the Guggenheim’s Works & Process performance series this month, I was photographing and Nel was filming. When the show came to a close, I looked over at Nel and she was crying.
There’s just something about Wendy.
Contributor Christopher Duggan is the founder and principal photographer of Christopher Duggan Photography, a New York City-based wedding and dance photography studio. 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.
He has created studio shots of Gallim Dance, Skybetter + Associates and Zvidance, among others, and in 2011 alone, he has photographed WestFest at Cunningham Studios, Dance From the Heart for Dancers Responding to Aids, The Gotham Dance Festival at The Joyce Theater, and assisted Nel Shelby Productions in filming Vail International Dance Festival.
Duggan often teams up with his talented wife and Pillow videographer Nel Shelby (http://nelshelby.com). A New York City-based husband and wife dance documentation team, they are equipped to document performances, create and edit marketing videos and choreography reels, and much more.
Christopher Duggan Photography also covers Manhattan’s finest wedding venues, the Metropolitan and Tri-State areas, and frequently travels to destination weddings. The company’s mission is straightforward and heartfelt – create timeless, memorable images of brides, grooms, their families and friends, and capture special moments of shared love, laughter and joy.
His photographs appear in The New York Times, Destination I Do, Photo District News, Boston Globe, Financial Times, Dance Magazine, Munaluchi Bridal, and Bride & Bloom, among other esteemed publications and popular wedding blogs. One of his images of Bruce Springsteen was added to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s celebrated photography collection in 2010. His company has been selected for inclusion in “The Listings” in New York Weddings magazine.0