Interview: Matthew Powell Of “Find Your Fifth”

Matthew Powell (center) and the cast of "Find Your Fifth". Photograph by Shane Ohmer

Matthew Powell (center) and the cast of “Find Your Fifth”. Photograph by Shane Ohmer

What drew you to the profession of teaching dance?

To be honest, it was at first for very selfish reasons! As a young dancer, I was given some advice from my Artistic Directors to begin teaching as a means of improving upon my own technique. As a dancer, it is sometimes difficult to feel what exactly your body is doing. Teaching provided me with the opportunity to take the role of the onlooker, see corrections that needed to be made on my students, and apply them to myself. I started teaching at a very young age, and I really think it enriched my dancing on the whole.

What does your average work day look like? Give us a little snapshot of your life…

I’m freelancing a good bit these days, so my schedule is a bit all over the map. At the moment, I’m in Carlisle, PA teaching for Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet’s summer program and having a blast, but there is always a long list of ‘to do’s’ to keep my life running back in New York. Here’s what today looks like:

7:00am – 9:00am – Answer questions for this interview over coffee and a bagel.

9:00am – 10:30am – Teach my morning class at CPYB

10:30am – 1:30pm – Head to Staples to print, sign, scan and email a contract for a new ballet I’m creating for Point Park University in Spring of 2016. Then I head to the Post Office to ship two orders of ‘Find Your Fifth.’ We are a small start-up, so orders are processed not through a company, but from my apartment in Queens (or wherever I happen to be). You should see my living room. It’s a ‘Find Your Fifth’ extravaganza in there!

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Inside My Dance Bag: Miami City Ballet’s Samantha Hope Galler

Samantha Hope Galler as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Miami City Ballet’s  "George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker". Photograph by Daniel Azoulay.

Samantha Hope Galler as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Miami City Ballet’s “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker”. Photograph by Daniel Azoulay.

How many years have you been doing ballet? 

I began ballet at the age of five, so twenty years now. 

What are some roles you’ve danced with Miami City Ballet?

I joined Miami City Ballet in 2014. Since then, I have performed roles such as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Balanchine’s The Nutcracker and as the Harp Soloist in Balanchine’s Raymonda Variations.

What’s your favorite thing about ballet?

Being completely swallowed by light on stage.

What’s inside your dance bag?

I usually have about 6-7 pairs of Capezio Arias to rotate, gel toe pads, second skin, toe spacers, Sansha ballet slippers, two rollers, stretching stick, headphones, iPad, grey theraband, shoe scraper, fashionable duct tape, band-aids, Oragel, scissors, towel, hand cream, alcohol wipes to clean my feet at the end of the day, alcohol spray for pointe shoes, extra rosin, perfume, garbage bag pants, purity face wash, wine holder for my pointe shoes, Salonpas deep relief roll on, pliers, sewing kit, red stretch strap, and, for snacks, I always have Gu Brew and Quest bars to get me through my day if needed, plus tic tacs or mints.

Samantha Hope Galler Dance Bag Contents 1


Samantha Hope Galler. Photograph by Daniel Azoulay.

Samantha Hope Galler. Photograph by Daniel Azoulay.

Samantha Hope Galler, a Bedford, Massachusetts native, spent 13 years training with The Ballet Academy, Inc., under the direction of Frances Kotelly in the Cecchetti Method. She performed six seasons with The Northeast Youth Ballet under the direction of Denise Cecere. She continued training, on scholarship, with Boston Ballet School and received the PAO Merit Trainee Scholarship. She received the NFAA Honorable Mention Award in Ballet. Galler spent summers training at Boston Ballet, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Boston Conservatory. She danced with Cincinnati Ballet in their 2008-2009 season under the direction of Victoria Morgan.

Samantha spent five seasons with Alabama Ballet under the direction of Tracey Alvey and Roger Van Fleteren. During her tenure there, she was promoted to principal dancer. She had the honor of performing some of her dream roles including Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, The Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, The Sylph and Effie in La Sylphide, Myrtha and Moyna in Giselle, Dryad Queen and Mercedes in Don Quixote, and the Rancher’s Daughter in Agnes De Mille’s Rodeo. Her Balanchine roles included Dark Angel in Serenade; The Sugarplum Fairy, Arabian and Lead Marzipan in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™; and the principal roles in Allegro Brillante and Tarantella. She has also performed in Jiří Kylian’s Sechs Tanze, and Van Fleteren’s Shostakovich and Romancing Rachmaninov, both world premieres. Samantha joined Miami City Ballet as a member of the corps de ballet in 2014.

Follow Samantha on her website and blog.


How Ballet Helped Me Learn How To SUP Surf

Ballet on a Surfboard - Miami Beach

Ballet on a Surfboard – Miami Beach

by Todd Fox

I’m a Bunhead Surfaholic!!! That’s right, my career focus and lifelong passion has always been ballet and there’s not many things in this world I love as much as ballet, but surfing is definitely one of them. I surf every chance I get and am probably one of the only surfers in Florida who strikes ballet poses while riding a wave. Over the years I’ve surfed on all sorts of boards including long boards, short boards, foam boards, plank boards with no fins, kayaks, canoes, boogie boards, etc.– if it floats I’ve surfed it and probably tried to do some ballet on it as well.

Ballet on a SUP - Miami Beach

Ballet on a SUP – Miami Beach

A few years ago I began noticing more and more stand up paddleboard (SUP) surfers catching waves at the local surf breaks here where I live in Miami. I had previously paddled a SUP on our calm south Florida inter-coastal waters and it was super fun but surfing on a stand up paddleboard looked intense. I couldn’t believe surfers were dropping in on waist to chest high waves while using a paddle to maneuver these giant heavy SUP boards. It looked like an incredible workout as well as a ton of fun so I decided to give it a try and bought a used 10’6″ Surfseries SUP off Craigslist to start learning with.

Ballet on a SUP - Miami Beach

Ballet on a SUP – Miami Beach

I had been a traditional board surfer for many years and figured the transition to surfing on a SUP would be relatively easy, plus I’m a professional ballet dancer and have good strength/balance/coordination, right? WRONG!!! I couldn’t believe how incredibly difficult it was to balance on a SUP in choppy water and the workout was much more intense than I imagined, it gave a whole new meaning to the word exhaustion. Paddling a SUP on nice glassy calm water is an amazing full-body workout but when you add waves, rip currents, and rough surf to the equation, the physical demands become much more extreme. Complicating matters was the fact that where I surf most often, Miami Beach, rarely has “clean” easy-to-paddle surf, most of our good surf is accompanied by rough, choppy ocean conditions. Without going into too much detail, this is due to Miami’s geographic proximity to the island chain of the Bahamas located directly to our east. On my first attempts I could only manage to stand on the SUP briefly, once the board started to wobble or bob up and down as a result of the choppy surface water, I would immediately lose balance and fall off every time.

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CD Review: Modern Ballet Studio Melodies, The Classical Class

The Classical Class Photo

Modern Ballet Studio Melodies, The Classical Class
Christopher Hobson

by Rachel Hellwig

Christopher Hobson’s Modern Ballet Studio Melodies, The Classical Class features arrangements of classical music from Schuman to Strauss to Shostakovich.

Among familiar ballet tunes you’ll find the buoyant “First Shade Variation” from La Bayadere, the whirling finale from Paquita, Prokofiev’s charged “Dance of the Knights” from Romeo and Juliet, the “Grand Waltz” from Les Sylphides, and “Siegfried’s Variation” from Swan Lake.

Other works include the luxuriant “Flower Duet from ‘Lakmé’” by Delibes for adage at barre, Malcom Arnold’s serene, skimming “Allegretto from ‘Scottish Dances ‘” for adage in center, Schubert’s quirky “Moments Musicaux” by for petit allegro, the lilting “Skater’s Waltz” for grand allegro, and Faure’s delicate, haunting “Pavane” for port de bras.

If you’re looking to incorporate more classical music in your ballet classes or seeking to supplement popular music, this collection is a good choice.

Preview tracks here and purchase on iTunes.


Interview: New York City Ballet Corps Member Laine Habony

Laine Habony. Photograph by Kenneth Edwards

Laine Habony. Photograph by Kenneth Edwards.

by Rachel Hellwig

At what age did you begin ballet? Where did you receive your early training?

I began dance at age 3. Both my older sisters danced and I begged for a year to take class too. I started in a combo ballet/tap pullout class at a Montessori school and my first recital was a tap recital.

The next year, I started ballet and tap classes at a small studio called Denton Ballet Academy. I moved to Ballet Conservatory (BC) when I was 8 to train with Kelly Kilburn Lannin. Ms. Lannin introduced me to classical ballet, modern, tap, jazz, and musical theater. It was a great performance studio that fed into a local company, LakeCities Ballet Theatre (LBT).

I was invited to join LBT at age 11 and performed many ballets there for two years before leaving for NYC. At BC/LBT, I was able to train with Ms. Lannin, Shawn Stevens (NYCB and Twyla Tharp), and Allan Kinzie (Boston Ballet) as well as guest artists including Michael Vernon (Royal Ballet), Josh Bergasse (On The Town, Smash), Marco Perins (La Scala), Julie Kent (ABT).

When did you realize you wanted to be a professional ballet dancer?

I always preferred tap/jazz over ballet until I was 11 years old – then I got my pointe shoes! I auditioned for summer programs that winter and spent my 12th summer at ABT NYC. I knew then I wanted to be a professional ballerina in NYC. When I was 13, I performed Serenade with LBT and knew then it was Balanchine all the way.

I saw on YouTube that you competed in Youth American Grand Prix (YAGP) when you were 13. Tell us a little about that experience and what you learned from it.

I did compete in YAGP when I was 13. It was a great year. I did two classical pieces – Satanella and Aurora’s first variation from Sleeping Beauty. I also did a contemporary piece choreographed by Shawn Stevens to Vivaldi called Red Cardinal. I had gorgeous tutus sewn by Elizabeth Schillar, a tutu designer in Texas. She allowed me to help with the creation, picking fabric and even sewing on all the crystals.

I won 1st place in Classical in Dallas and Top 12 in Contemporary and went on to compete in the YAGP NYC Finals. I had great scores and great comments and was offered full scholarships to quite a few places including Canada National and John Cranko, but I had to decline them all because I already knew I was going to the School of American Ballet (New York City Ballet’s official school) on scholarship.

Training for YAGP is an experience a young dancer cannot replace at that age. Private lessons that provided individual performance coaching were so valuable for my technique and confidence. My coaches taught me to work for the sake of experience, not to win a contest. I learned that a dance career is a marathon not a sprint, and not to get caught up on losing or winning any one thing.

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Dancers: Let’s Talk “Core Control”

Henry Vandyke Carter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Henry Vandyke Carter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

by Jan Dunn, MS

Aloha! — Happy August! The posting below is one I’ve wanted to bring you for a long time–discussing “core control” (alias “center” in dance).  It’s something that’s very important, yet not that many people – dancers included – really understand what it’s all about.  (And thanks to Denver Dance Medicine
Associate Sarah Graham, PT, provider for Colorado Ballet and many Broadway touring companies, for her help in clarifying the information from a medical perspective).

I hope that after reading it (along with Part Two, coming in a few weeks!), you’ll have a better idea of what all this “core” talk is, and how to best incorporate it into your dance life.  My best to all –

For some time I’ve been wanting to bring you an article on “core control”. I put it in quotation marks because it’s a term that conveys different things to different people, and not everyone really understands what it means. In the dance world, we often refer to “center”, as in “find your center”–but many dancers do not really understand what that means, either.

The term “core control” is everywhere in the media / fitness world, and many people think it means “abs”. And abdominal muscles (one in particular) are very much involved in “core”– but there’s much more to it than that. From reading this post, I hope you come away with a better understanding of exactly what it means, and hopefully get some hints and cues on how better to incorporate it into your life–both in dance and in everyday movement, because it is important in everything our body does!

So much has been written / so much could be said–it could be the topic of several different posts. But over the years, teaching dance / Pilates / Franklin, I’ve evolved a specific way of teaching it to people, using a fairly short version that makes sense to everyone.

In the medical field, it is the same as back stabilization–in other words, when your back and torso are strong and able to provide support for your entire spine and limbs—because your arms and legs are going to be more fully able to move and be supported by your torso, to do all of those gorgeous extensions and powerful movements we love to do and see in dance, when your “core” musculature is strong.

So with that said, from here on out, I’m going to use the term “back stabilization”, which you now know means “core”.

This post is going to be in two-parts: In this first segment, I’ll do a lot of explaining. For the second one, I want to show to you some specific exercises and things you can do at home or in the studio to help increase the strength of all the muscles we’re talking about here–i.e, ways to help improve your back stabilization / “Core Control” / “center”.

The Four-Legged Stool

There are a good number of muscles / muscle groups involved in back stabilization, but we’re going to simplify it and talk about the 4 primary ones. When teaching, I like to use the analogy of a 4-legged stool.

Think of it this way:

You have a 4-legged stool made up of 4 main parts, all of which are necessary to keep the stool (your torso) upright and strong, and in balance.

1One leg of the stool is the Transverse Abdominal muscle, or TA for short.

This is the deepest of the 4 abdominal muscles–on top of it is the Rectus Abdominus (RA), or the “6-pack” muscle (whose main function is to flex – bend forward – the torso, not to provide back stabilization). Under the RA are the obliques, running in two different directions. They help stabilize the torso, but they are often over-used, and then the really important one, the TA, is not working in the most beneficial way.

By modified by Uwe Gille (Gray397.png) [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By modified by Uwe Gille (Gray397.png) [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The TA is right next to the abdominal cavity (and one of its jobs is to help keep the abdominal organs in place). Its fibers run horizontally, across the torso, all the way from the lower ribs down to the pubic area. It wraps around the body and integrates into a large fascia (connective tissue) in the back (see illustration above). So it’s literally almost like a corset around the torso. Researchers have identified the lower portions of the TA, the ones in the low belly / just above the pubic area, as the crucial ones active in back stabilization.

2 – the 2nd leg of the stool is the Pelvic Floor.

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CD Review: Modern Ballet Studio Melodies Volume 6


Modern Ballet Studio Melodies Volume 6
Christopher Hobson

by Rachel Hellwig

Christopher Hobson’s Modern Ballet Studio Melodies Volume 6 is an eclectic mix that combines “melodies from classical, contemporary, pop, jazz and musical theatre”. The album is intended for all levels of ballet and features 30 tracks. Some of my favorite selections include:

Stranger in Paradise

This song from the 1950s musical “Kismet” borrows the melody of Alexander Borodin’s “Dance of the Maidens” from the ballet scene in the opera Prince Igor. Naturally, it’s good fit for fondu.

I Giorni

Ludovico Einaudi’s cinematic music often brings to mind images of dancing, so I was delighted to see that Hobson included one of the composer’s best-known works in an arrangement for port de bras.

Livin’ on Prayer

Bon Jovi meets ballet? Yes, it actually works quite well. Without obscuring the melody, Hobson adapts this signature song into a piece for petit allegro.

The CD also offers arrangements of tunes like “Someone Like You” and “Happy”, as well as works like “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?”,  “Autumn Leaves”, “Seventy Six Trombones”, and the World War II-era hit “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree”.

Preview full-length tracks here and purchase on iTunes.


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