Teaching Students to Teach Dance

By Janet Rothwell

"IMG_8440" by Jo. Licensed under CC Attribution 2.0 Generic.

IMG_8440” by Jo. Licensed under CC Attribution 2.0 Generic.

We all know the saying “if you can teach it then you know you know it.” I often have my students teach or help each other with movement they are learning in class to empower them and allow them time to know they know the material without constantly watching me demonstrate. One of my favorite assignments is when I have my students create and teach and full lesson plan to the whole class.

I put my students into pairs and they pick a theme for their lesson. Some theme examples are: movement initiated from certain body parts, extremes in timing or playing with rhythms, and moving into and out of the floor with smooth transitions. Once my students pick their theme they start to create a movement phrase that demonstrates their theme. They also have to create movement that travels across the floor and a warm up, all of which must be centered on their chosen theme.

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The Bolshoi’s Anna Nikulina – On Dancing Juliet

The Bolshoi's Romeo & Juliet, Photo by Damir Yusupov.

The Bolshoi’s Romeo & Juliet, Photo by Damir Yusupov.

Today we have something special for you – the Bolshoi Ballet’s Anna Nikulina talks about what it’s like to dance the role of Juliet…

What are the challenges in preparing for the role of Juliet?

For me most likely the biggest challenge in preparing for Juliet was that the actual ballet goes by too quickly. The performance is only two hours and it is hard to live through this role for such a short period of time, beginning with Juliet as a young girl, only 14 years old and to go through such a difficult journey in love, suffering, and death. And because there are so many different sides and emotions and to have to release all this in one performance was probably the most difficult thing.

What do you enjoy most about dancing this role, and how is it different than other lead roles?

I would say that Juliet is a true role, because in performances there are “parts” and there are “roles.” And I think I enjoy the difficulty in it both physically and emotionally. Juliet is a young girl and then falls in love with Romeo and there are difficult aspects of this role physically, but in reality it is not the most difficult in terms of technique; there are certainly harder roles. But to live through it is hard – you can keep rehearsing this again and again, and with each rehearsal, you discover new things and new sides of Juliet that you can reveal. This is what I enjoy most.

There needs to be a special bond with your partner (Romeo) for this ballet. Is it difficult to create this? Do you do anything specific to make it happen?

Regardless, I try to live through the performance with Romeo and soon you get this feeling, slowly, not right away that occurs between two people, and I remember that once Yuri Nikolaevich Grigorovich said to me during rehearsal that he saw a certain chemistry between us. And I truly started to fall in love during this time, in love with Sascha Volchkov as Romeo. And I felt really as though I loved him. But this was of course during rehearsals (laughs). And I think Sascha had a similar experience. We had a special and unique connection and I actually would not have preferred to dance this ballet with anyone else at the time.

Can you explain the role of the music in this ballet? Do you have any favorite sections?

The role of the music is truly enormous and it is genius. And you can live through all your emotions through this music. My favorite part is probably the balcony scene and the end of Act II, because it is so tragic and when you listen to the music without dancing it is amazing itself but when you are able to move and emote to it, it is truly amazing.

This is an extremely emotional ballet. What specific things do you use to communicate your emotions to the audience clearly?

Your coach is very helpful in this process because when you are rehearsing, you are expressing emotions and it is important for these emotions to be visible, so your coach can really help to determine whether you are delivering those emotions enough to reach the audience. There are times when you think you are expressing everything you can, even through movement, but you realize that what you are trying to express isn’t always clear. To express emotions, the coach’s eye is very important. Also, Zeffirelli’s film really helped me and inspired me in my interpretation of Juliet.

Viewers across the US have the opportunity to see Anna Nikulina perform Juliet at the cinema – the Bolshoi Ballet will be on the big screen for one performance only on March 8th! Search here for a theater near you.

BIO: Anna Nikulina was born in Moscow. In 2002, she completed her training at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography (teacher Elena Vatulya) with distinction and joined the Bolshoi Ballet Company. She rehearsed under the late Yekaterina Maximova. In 2004, at the age of 19, she danced Odette-Odile for the first time. Today her teacher-repetiteur is Nina Semizorova.

She took part in the Bolshoi Theatre Studio of New Choreography project, dancing Aurora in Riccardo Drigo’s Rosary pas de quatre from the ballet The Awakening of Flora (choreography Marius Petipa, reconstruction Yuri Burlaka) and the Carpets pas de quatre from Cesar Pugni’s ballet The Humpbacked Horse (choreography Alexander Gorsky, reconstruction Yuri Burlaka; 2004), and likewise — with Denis Savin — she appeared in the number Acquisition to music by Sergei Rachmaninov, produced by Yuri Klevtsov (2006)

In 2007, she appeared in the ballet Old Ladies Falling Out to music by Leonid Desyatnikov (choreography by Alexei Ratmansky), which was shown first at the Territory Festival, and then under the auspices of the Studio of New Choreography project (workshop).

Disclosure: 4dancers accepts compensation for promoting this series


Dancer Profile: Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland. Photograph by Rosalie O'Connor. Used with Permission from American Ballet Theatre and Rosalie O'Connor.

Misty Copeland. Photograph by Rosalie O’Connor. Used with Permission from American Ballet Theatre and Rosalie O’Connor.

“I have never set limits for myself” – Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland actually laughed the first time her teacher told her she had the talent to become a professional dancer. At the time, the teenaged Copeland didn’t even know what it meant to be a “professional dancer”. Yet, from the start, she proved to be a prodigy. Beginning ballet at the late age of 13, she became strong enough to do pointe after only three months of training. Five months later, she was cast as Clara in The Nutcracker. At age 15, she received a full scholarship to attend San Francisco Ballet School’s summer intensive program. By age 19, she joined the corps of American Ballet Theatre.

But her career did not have smooth start. She soon fractured a vertebra in her lower back during rehearsal- an injury that took a year to fully recover from. Furthermore, doctors were concerned that her bones weren’t as strong as they should be because she hadn’t gone through puberty yet. They put her on medication to start the process. As a result, Copeland quickly developed a figure that was not considered ideal for ballet. When ABT management told her that she needed to “lengthen” (code for “lose weight”), she was devastated and fell into disordered eating. But, eventually, and with the encouragement and mentoring of a former ABT dancer, Copeland began to embrace her new body. She said, “My curves became an integral part of who I am as a dancer, not something I needed to lose to become one.”

In 2007 Copeland was promoted to soloist, the first African-American in two decades to achieve this rank at ABT. She hopes to go on to become the first female African-American principal in the history of ABT. Copeland has made it one of her goals to promote greater diversity within the ballet community. She says, “I’d like to continue to inspire dancers, especially dancers of color, in this art form. And I’d like to be remembered for changing the minds of people that may have been closed off to what they expect to see in the ballet world.” Copeland’s advice to everyone is to “accept everything about you that makes you different.”

Fun Facts:

  • She enjoys listening to music before a performance- just not classical music.
  • When she performed in Swan Lake as a corps member, she would quietly sing to herself to get through the second act. She said, “it’s agony, so you have to go someplace else in your mind.”
  • Her favorite step is grand jeté. Her least favorite is fouetté.



Follow Misty On:

Her Website: http://www.mistycopeland.com/home.html
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mistyonpointe
Instagram: http://instagram.com/mistyonpointe
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mistycopeland

Photos of Young Copeland Dancing:

In Class

Pas De Deux


Copeland Dancing at Age 15:


Copeland Dancing at Age 18:


 Copeland Dancing Today:





The New Yorker Profile: An Unlikely Ballerina

Copeland’s Journey in Dance, Race in Ballet

Teen Vogue: Ballet Star Misty Copeland Talks Overcoming Racism and Body Shaming on Her Way to the Top

Excerpt from Copeland’s Memoir “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina”

Misty Copeland: On Clean Eating And The Eyebrow Pencil She Can’t Live Without

Copeland Talks About Her Diet and Favorite Cosmetics

You Asked–Misty Answered

Q&A with Copeland

Cupcakes & Conversation with Misty Copeland, Soloist, American Ballet Theatre

Ballet News Interviews Copeland

NYC Dance Project: Misty Copeland

Photographs and Interview with NYC Dance Project


Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina

Copeland’s Memoir


Copeland’s Children’s Book


Language And Motion: An Elegant Relationship


RE|Dance Group, photo by Cole Witter

by Michael Estanich

As a dance artist I strive to build connections—between viewer and dancer, between music and action, between image and feeling. For me, moving is the purest way to do that, though its purity needn’t be exclusive. At RE|Dance Group, I develop work that explores the limitless range of human feeling. In order to accomplish this, I stack a variety of images atop each other in the hopes of crafting a multi-sensational experience for the audience. Because all of my senses so beautifully intertwine allowing me to feel deeply and experience life, I welcome all sensorial images into my work. I rely on the audience’s willingness to dispel tradition and embrace curiosity.

Text and visual design collide with movement in all of RE|Dance Group’s work. I create fully realized worlds where every action, sound, and visual carries important information in understanding the whole. I find that these multiple entry points invite the viewer to lean forward and feel.

I enjoy memories and remembering. There is visceral pleasure in retelling something from the past. To me, words and action are undeniably linked. I enjoy how memories translate in my body—through action and in words. I enjoy the process of connecting what I hear to what I see. It is remarkable how willingly the mind catches on and constructs truth and understanding when we engage with all of our senses.

RE|Dance Group, photo by Robert Roser

RE|Dance Group, photo by Robert Roser

There is comfort in language. We rely on it to let others know how we feel and what we need. To use language to share a part of myself seems so natural. To juxtapose language with motion excites me. Both together enrich the possibility to understand and to feel. This notion is important to me. I want the audience to know that we are complex, that we are moving, hearing, speaking, smelling, tasting, feeling beings and that they can recognize a part of themselves in a singular, special moment inside my work.

With that goal in my mind, I use whatever medium most potently communicates the idea—be it a sly, organic dancing trio, a cacophony of sound, a massive large-scale visual sculpture, or a simple connection through language. Each on their own is powerful art, but combined they produce a complex aural and visual landscape where, as an artist, I get lost in the beauty of my imagination.

See RE|Dance Group perform “It’s About Love Again This Year” at Links Hall, March 6-8 2015. Learn more about the company on the website.

Michael HeadshotMichael Estanich (Artistic Director, RE|Dance Group) is an Associate Professor of Dance at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He teaches modern dance, composition, dance pedagogy, movement analysis and dance history. He earned his MFA from The Ohio State University and his BFA from Denison University. His creative research currently examines ideas of space, architecture, landscape and habitation often resulting in dances supported by sculptural environments. He and Lucy formed RE|Dance Group in 2009 as a means to explore long distance collaboration. Michael’s performance credits include Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, Cerulean Dance Theatre, Rebecca Rosen, Melanie Bales, Bebe Miller and a reconstruction of Mark Morris’ acclaimed choreography All Fours. He teaches annually at the Trollwood Performing Arts School in Moorhead, MN and at the American College Dance Association (ACDA). He is the North Central Regional Director of ACDA.


Ballerina Ashley Ellis Talks Pointe Shoes

Photo by Ashley Ellis

Photo by Ashley Ellis

by Ashley Ellis

You may have heard of dancers referring to their body as their instrument. It is so true, and we must constantly take care of our instrument so that we are able to ‘play our music’ to the best of our ability.

With this said, for a ballerina there is a whole other very important factor that comes into play. Pointe Shoes. Keeping with the same analogy, I’d say that pointe shoes are like the bow to our violin. They go together to create the ‘music’ of a ballet dancer. How she feels in her shoes can greatly affect her dancing experience.

There are a number of pointe shoe brands out there, and a dancer will usually try many different makes and models before settling on one. My very first pair of pointe shoes were Contempora by Capezio (they were pink and very small, hehe). After that I spent a few years in pointe shoes made by Sansha before settling on FREED Studios Professional, which is what I wear to this day.

I will admit though, that I am currently testing out the waters with a new pointe shoe, FREED Classic. They aren’t far from what I am using now but as any ballerina can tell you, once you find your shoe it can be a real challenge to switch brands. The reason for this is that after spending so much time in your chosen pointe shoes they become a part of your foot so to speak; you learn how to articulate and “use” your feet in these shoes.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

The biggest difference between what I have been wearing, the ‘studios’, and the new (to me) ‘classics’ is that the studios are what we call a stock shoe and the classics are handmade. The truth is that I could go on and on about the differences between the two, but well, for your sake I won’t bore you with ALL of the details!

Because the FREED classics are handmade they can be custom ordered for the personal needs of individual dancers. This means that they will not only fit better by shaping them around a dancer’s foot, but can also accentuate strengths and give more support or pliability where it’s needed. In fact, the alterations that can be made to these shoes are seemingly endless–it’s really quite remarkable.

Despite all of the wonderful aspects of having a shoe made just for you, it takes time to get it just right, and when it comes down to it you must feel at home in them. As for me, I am still at home in my stock shoes.

It seems that the general thought that comes to mind when thinking of pointe shoes is, “ouch!”. I don’t know how many people have asked me if the box is made of wood (no, not wood, just many layers of fabric and glue). It’s funny because once you reach a certain point in your professional career you wear them so many hours throughout each day that it really isn’t all that painful. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t walking on clouds, but your feet become strong, and do toughen up over time.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

That said, most dancers will still create some sort of little barrier between the toes and the actual box of the shoe for protection, some of which include: various kinds of sports tape, masking tape, duct tape, toe pads made of foam, wool, rubber—even gel-filled ones. I wear a simple toe pad made from a thin layer of lamb’s wool. I actually didn’t wear anything in my shoes until about two years ago. My teacher didn’t let us when I started out on pointe so that we would really have to feel the floor and articulate our feet better.

One of the most important things to know is learning how to break-in your pointe shoes. They are not the kind of shoes that you can just slide on your foot and wear. If you do—well—they will feel like wood and cause much more pain than they should. This ritual is yet another aspect of wearing pointe shoes that is individual to each dancer.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

How I prepare my shoes:

  • Cut the shank.
  • Add glue to the middle of the shank where I need the most support.
  • Sew the insole back down so it doesn’t roll up under my arch.
  • Step on the box, then work it a bit to soften the upper box area.
  • Wear them a bit to break them a little more and form them more to my feet.
  • Bang them really hard on cement so they are quiet as well as easier to move in.
  • Glue the inside upper portion of the box.
  • Sew on elastic and ribbons.

Even though there are those days when I get to that 6th hour of rehearsal and my feet are simply swollen and ready to be soaked in a big bucket of ICE, I do truly love dancing on pointe; with the movement qualities that it allows, and illusions that it can create.

Boston Ballet presents Lady of the Camellias, running from February 26th through March 8th. Tickets are available here. See Ashley perform the lead role of Marguerite at the Saturday matinee.

Ashley Ellis

Boston Ballet’s Ashley Ellis

Contributing writer Ashley Ellis is a principal dancer at Boston Ballet. Ellis hails from Torrance, California and she received her dance training at the South Bay Ballet under the direction of Diane Lauridsen. Other instruction included Alicia Head, Mario Nugara, Charles Maple, and Kimberly Olmos.

She began her professional career with American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company and later joined American Ballet Theatre as a company dancer. In 1999, Ellis won the first prize at the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Award, and went on to become the recipient of the Coca Cola scholarship award in 2000 and 2001. She has performed in Spain with Angel Corella’s touring group and joined Corella Ballet in 2008 as a soloist. In 2011, Ellis joined Boston Ballet as a second soloist. She was promoted to soloist in 2012 and principal dancer in 2013.

Her repertoire includes Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty; Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker; Natalia Makarova’s  La  Bayadère;  Marius  Petipa’s  Swan Lake; Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse, VIII and Polyphonia; Harald Lander’s Études; Michel  Fokine’s  Les  Sylphides;  Rudolf  Nureyev’s Don Quixote; Christopher Bruce’s Rooster; George Balanchine’s  Serenade,  Coppélia,  Symphony  in Three Movements, Symphony in C, and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux; Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto; Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room; Stanton Welch’s Clear; Angel Corella’s String Sextet; Wayne McGregor’s Chroma; Jorma Elo’s Awake Only; Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free; Jiří Kylián’s Wings of Wax, Symphony of Psalms, and Petite Mort.


The Bliss & Pitfalls Of Making The Ultimate Solo: A Group Therapy Session For Choreographers

by Jamie Benson

Lights come up on a lone figure, the one burdened with putting a trance over a packed house of smart phones. It’s a tall order to be sure. You don’t just have to dazzle, you have to captivate, ooze an indisputable it-factor that dares an audience of TV brains to look away, as if they could. The best/worst part is that you probably put yourself in the position to be this dance mystic. It’s your fault.

It’s your solo after all.

In an attempt to simplify my life as a choreographer (Ha!), I recently dove headfirst into the idea of making new solos. This was after previously doing a lot of ensemble pieces. It’s more freeing and more terrifying than ever. You’ve been there right? (Or will be.) Let’s have some group therapy real quick and see if we can come out the other end a little wiser, a little more capable of entrancing our next packed house. Game? Good.


Photo by Stacey Adams.

Potential Pitfall: How Does It “Read” (a.k.a Do I look nuts?)

It can be tricky to clearly represent the source of whatever emotion one is exploring as a soloist and harder to suss out how it might “read” to an innocent audience-goer. There’s a more immediate response when working with other performers. They laugh when it’s funny, look at you cross-eyed when it’s too complicated or unintentionally awkward, and so on and so forth. As audience members, we’ve all experienced that performance where a soloist goes from poised dancer to insane person in seconds flat. As choreographers we think we know how something looks from the outside because we feel it so deeply. But as an audience member, one can become perplexed and feel alienated really fast if there’s no immediate access point, such as a topical reference, a common emotional gesture, something. Even if we deliberately create space for the audience to make their own choices about what we’re doing, our job is still ultimately to communicate something through movement.

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Student Spotlight: Genevieve Eveleigh

Genevieve Eveleigh

Genevieve Eveleigh is 16 years old and currently trains at English National Ballet School in London alongside 400 other candidates. Before ENBS, Genevieve attended a non-vocational school, but was allowed time away to pursue additional ballet training during Year 10. This resulted in spending time with Autrand Ballet in St. Raphael in the south of France alongside regular schooling in the UK.

Genevieve has studied the Royal Academy of Dance syllabi up to and including Advanced 1. She was a pupil at Milton Academy of Dance and also attended the Associate Programme at The Royal Ballet School in London and The Tring Classical Ballet Academy at The Tring School for Performing Arts.

In 2014, Genevieve was the winner of the Genée Dance Challenge Level 3 semi-final but, unfortunately, couldn’t attend the final due to injury. She was also a finalist for the Molly Lake Award. Having just watched the Prix de Lausanne, Genevieve has aspirations to compete in 2017, and her ultimate goal is to secure a contract with a classical ballet company.

How did you become involved in dance?

My Mum signed me up for ballet when I was probably three, thinking that it would be good for discipline – I think that I was quite strong willed. As I got older, I used to dread my once-a-week class and my Mum used to drag me along to my local dance school, telling me that “I would thank her one day.” I have to admit that she was right – as always!

Now I love the challenge; the ability to push myself through self-imposed boundaries, working with my body to master what it is I have been trying to achieve – it’s incredibly fulfilling when that moment arrives.

What do you like least about class?

My least favourite thing is choreography, which is where I am really out of my comfort zone. I find it really challenging.

What is the hardest part about dance for you?

Confidence and patience. Lots of people think that ballet is all about sparkles and glamour. The truth is that it is tough and brutal. I think that if art is your passion, it’s one of the many reasons that you fall in love with ballet. You do get knocks but you still have to hold your head up high and carry on with confidence.

Patience for me is a work in progress and I struggle with it. If I can’t achieve something I have a tendency to get frustrated and beat myself up. Things don’t get mastered with a click of your fingers… blood, sweat and tears is no lie. If you want it you have to work for it, but give yourself time and notice your improvements as well as recognising what you need to improve on.

What advice would you give to other dancers?

The dance world is competitive. Don’t be fazed by the girl next door on the barre or the one doing triple pirouettes – focus on you and compare yourself to the dancer you were yesterday.

How has dance changed your life?

Dance has made me stronger as a person – more focused, more disciplined, and more mature. Through ballet I have learned to express myself far more eloquently than with words and I have found a world of people to connect with. I love my life and, yes, I’m so grateful to my Mum for not allowing me to give up all those years ago.


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