Category Archives: ballet

Cinema: Ballet Shoes

To find out more about this movie, see this post! Enjoy!

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City Ballet of San Diego

by M. Harker April 2009
 The 2008/2009 season opener for City Ballet of San Diego was a mainly classical ballet program with one lyrical dance piece. The November 8 performance at the Joan B. Kroc Theatre featured City Ballet’s co-director/choreographer, Elizabeth Wistrich’s short version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Diane & Acteon Pas de Deux” and “Grand Pas Classique.” The finale, Wistrich’s 2004 work, “Leave the Light On,” added a special twist to the evening affair.

The music of Felix Mendelssohn played as the curtain rose to reveal the simple forest backdrop for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” A recorded version of the music was used and accompanied by a recorded narration of the play used during mime segments. The poor sound quality of the narration was an unfortunate miss that only detracted from the ballet. Getting past the sound was one issue; having a clear view of the stage was another. Main floor seating was on a virtually flat surface. Without an incline, nearly 50 percent of the view was obstructed by those in the preceding rows. The size of the stage also seemed to be a problem for several dancers, as falls and collisions were a recurrence.The character Puck is synonymous with “Midsummer.” As such, expectations for this key character are often quite high. Cast in the part of Puck was Daniel Salvador; a dancer that projects good energy and enthusiasm, but underplayed his role as the mischievous character. Among the mortals, Janica Smith’s Hermia and Geoff Gonzalez’s Demetrius were convincing, and Ariana Samuelsson was delightful and giddy as Helena. Gerardo Gil as Lysander danced skillfully, but seemed emotionally detached from his character. The King and Queen of the Fairies, with Sarah Bek as Titania and Taurean Green as Oberon, were strong technically, but the connection between them was not evident. In the role of Bottom, David Levy brought a playful quality to his character. The romance between the smitten Titania and the transformed Bottom, turned donkey, was charming and one of the most memorable scenes.During the first intermission, it was a prime opportunity to move to higher ground to watch the remainder of the program. From this vantage point, Agrippina Vagonova’s, “Diana & Acteon Pas de Deux,” music by Cesare Pugni, was far more satisfying. Sarah Bek, all dressed in pale blue with arrow in hand, was a vision of beauty and strength as her character Diana, the hunting goddess, depicts. Taurean Green was well suited for this role and gave a solid performance in this ever-popular ballet.The only tutu on stage that evening was worn by Ariana Samuelsson in Victor Gsovsky’s dazzling “Grand Pas Classique,” set to music by Daniel-Francois Auber. Samuelsson and her partner, Gerardo Gil, were elegant in white and danced together with grace and precision. Samuelsson demonstrated unfaltering strength with her intricate pointe work. Facial expression was missing in Gil’s performance, but his solo was beautifully executed, showcasing clean lines and excellent timing with the music. Afterward, Gil’s energy level started to fade resulting in an anti-climactic finish.

“Leave the Light On,” a five part piece, was performed to the rock/blues music of Beth Hart. Women danced barefoot with loose hair and in simple dresses, which seemed fitting for this representation of Hart’s turbulent emotional journey through life, as expressed in her lyrics. The dance style had modern and contemporary influences such as loose movements with big free-flowing arm and body rolls. Technical elements were in their turned out, pointed feet, long, extending straight legs and turns and leaps with their bodies in upright positions. The men had shorter dance sequences, but their presence didn’t go unnoticed. During one segment, the audience hollered as the men strut downstage in unison while sustaining a lift with one of the female dancers. The dancers were clearly enjoying themselves as they performed and the positive vibe was infectious. When the performance was over, the audience left the theater feeling energized.   

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Excerpt From “FERNANDO BUJONES, An Autobiography”

Zeida Cecilia-Méndez December 2009

In 1972, the American Ballet Theatre, founded in 1940, was at its peak, capturing the attention of audiences, critics and dancers all over the globe. In my mind, ABT stood out from the rest because it had the most exciting repertory of them all—this is where the great classical masterpieces were. Some of these works had been performed for decades by legendary dancers, and they were the heart and soul of the company. I was fully aware the company’s wealth was its heritage and its stars.

Royes Fernandez and Lupe Serrano, Erik Bruhn and Carla Fracci, Toni Lander and Bruce Marks, Eleanor D’Antuono, Ted Kivitt, Michael Denard, Paolo Bortoluzzi, Sally Wilson, Karina Brock, Dennis Nahat, Christine Sarry, Gayle Young, Scott Douglas, Roni Mahler, Cynthia Gregory, Natalia Makarova, Ivan Nagy, Michael Smuin, John Prinz, Jonas Kage, Bill Carter—those were only some of the names that were making Ballet Theatre such an exciting company! ABT had the history, the magic, and the inspiration that made me want to dance. American Ballet Theatre was where I wanted to be. Our ballet masters and regisseurs, Enrique Martinez, Michael Lland, Scott Douglas, Patricia Wilde, Dimitri Romanoff, themselves had fantastic backgrounds, having danced with some of the legendary ballet companies. Choreographers like Anthony Tudor, Agnes DeMille, Eugene Loring and Glenn Tetley, Eliot Feld, Jerome Robbins, Jose Limon, Alvin Ailey, were also part of the company’s great strength, adding depth and a new dimension to the existing classical repertory.

Without a doubt, there was one person at the helm of this remarkable ballet company, Lucia Chase. At the time I didn’t know much about this woman, but as the years went by, I came to admire her greatly. Lucia had the kind of courage and commitment you need to pursue your life’s dream, and even more, to make it come true. She had it, and American Ballet Theatre was the culmination of her dream, her magnificent obsession. ABT lived through Lucia Chase. I am sure her vision and stubborn determination to keep her company alive through good and bad times has earned her the brightest star in ballet heaven. Without her, the most glorious ballet seasons our country has ever seen would never have happened, and because of her, that company secured its place in history.

From the beginning, my rehearsals with ABT were very challenging. Soon we would be opening our summer season at Lincoln Center’s New York State Theater. I had been cast in six full-length works, and had to learn all those parts in less than one month’s time! I was dancing in the First Act “Peasants” and Third Act “Neapolitan Dance” of the full-length “Swan Lake.” I was a warrior in David Lichine’s “Helen of Troy,” the Drummer Boy in “Graduation Ball,” a Cow Roper in Agnes de Mille’s “Rodeo,” in the corps of Jerome Robbins’ “Interplay,” and in the corps of Harald Lander’s magnificent “Etudes.” It was a repertory of dreams.

During the company rehearsal period I had gotten a taste of what “corps de ballet” work was all about and now I realized the days ahead meant long hours of classes, rehearsals and performances. My first time on stage with ABT came during a performance of “Swan Lake.” That evening, Prince Siegfried was being danced by Bruce Marks. Right before the curtain opened, he walked to me, shook my hand and said: “Good luck! I wish you the best in your career.” Some of the older dancers embraced me and wished me good luck and as the State Theater’s curtain rose and I heard the applause of the audience, I felt the adrenaline rush and excitement of knowing I was now part of that great company.

This book can be purchased from Books & Books, Barnes & Noble,, or from Fernando’s web site at

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On the Record With Choreographer Edgar Zendejas

Ariel Osterweis Scott December 2009

Born in Mexico, choreographer Edgar Zenejas danced with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal [now BJM Danse], and Gus Giordano Dance Chicago before starting his own troupe, ezdanza, based in Montréal. He sat down with Dancer to talk about his creation methods, the choreographers who inspire him, and his recipe for turning Montréal’s economic blues into fertile ground for collaboration.

Q: Did you dance as a child?

A: No, I started when I was 16. In my country, my parents weren’t close to the world of dance at all. I found it, liked it, and went for it. No one was interested in art in my house. I discovered dance in high school when two performers came to perform.

Q: When you were a dancer, did you know you were a choreographer? We know that not all dancers are choreographers and vice versa.

A: Actually, not at all. I never planned it. It wasn’t in my thoughts until I arrived in Canada. As a dancer, opportunities came about to choreograph, such as workshops, so I started doing that and started developing my own vocabulary and I really enjoyed it.

Q: What do you feel characterizes your own vocabulary?

A: I think my vocabulary is a mix of different influences I had as an artist, in my career working with so many people. I would say they have all influenced me, but some are very strong. I really enjoy their movement and working with them.

Q: Who?

A: I can mention three: I worked with Twyla Tharp at Hubbard Street, Crystal Pite from Canada (she was BJM’s resident choreographer), and Ulysses Dove. When I worked with Dove I was very young (at BJM). It was a very strong but beautiful experience. He came for only two days to work with us. I was second cast for that piece and when he came he put me in first cast and I was really touched.

Q: Do you consider yourself a contemporary ballet choreographer? Modern? How do you feel others categorize you?

A: I think right now there’s a fusion of dance. And to classify my work…well, it has a strong base of classical ballet technique. [Throughout] my career, I was taking ballet class and working with contemporary choreographers with freedom of movement and creation (but the base was always classical). My work is very based in classical technique, but the influence of other choreographers has brought in this other term called “contemporary.” I do have a special style here in Canada. It has been a little hard for them to define my work here, which has been good and bad. The contemporary people here in Canada don’t classify me as contemporary; they think I do too much technique. The bigger companies like Les Grands Ballets [Canadiens de Montréal] see my work as contemporary. I kind of like that uniqueness of the work. I’m just waiting for them to recognize…that it is contemporary but it’s also classical. Also, this is something that’s been happening in the States as well; they see my work as contemporary.

Q: Your movement is both fluid yet organized. I can definitely recognize movement phrases, but I also sense a certain kind of drama. I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about your process. Do you come in with phrases? Do you collaborate with the dancers?

A: My work as a choreographer has developed over the years. I remember the first work I did. I was really creating everything—counts, each step. I would be so tired after the creation. Then we [at BJM] had this wave of improv and European style of creating. In the beginning I had a hard time working with such choreographers, but then I started enjoying it a lot, so I took part of that for the way I was working. In terms of myself, I like to create phrases, or what I call “combos.” The number I create depends on the length of the piece. I do like for the movement to [become] familiar for the audience and the dancers throughout the whole piece. In the beginning I used to do tons of steps from the beginning to the end, and it was so much work and [audiences] didn’t appreciate it. So I came to enjoy movement [executed] in different ways. I wanted to see how you could develop a phrase: floorwork is completely different from the standing version [of a phrase]. Working in colleges and universities has given me a lot of freedom to experiment because the students really go for it. They are like, “We’ll do anything you tell us.” It’s great because I learn a lot from them and I learn how to work better, so, by the time I work with professionals I have the base.

Q: Do you feel there is a dramatic or narrative impulse to your pieces? How do movement and the dramatic come together in your choreography?

A: It’s been different with every creation. Sometimes I feel really inspired by some event in my life—some relationship, something very personal, so I will decide to express it through movement with some kind of music that gives me this feeling. But sometimes I feel very inspired by the music and I don’t think of narrative or emotional expression; I just want to do movement with music. But its very interesting to see how the audience receives it because everyone identifies according to their own experiences or culture…

Q: In terms of your relationship to music, do you tend to use prerecorded music, or do you also work with composers?

A: My experience with composers has been amazing. I met composers here in Montréal and Europe and they have been with me for many creations. One of them is Edouard Dumoulin and the other is Jean-Philippe Barrios. They have been working with me for so long and almost for free. Their music is amazing. It’s great to work with people like them because sometimes they see my movement and they create through the inspiration of my work or I explain what is in my head and they create through that, so it’s a collaboration. With recorded music, it’s completely different; it’s already set.

Q: In terms of the thematics of your pieces, how does your Mexican heritage or culture play into your work? You touched upon the fact that different audiences respond differently to your work, but in terms of your own cultural heritage—whatever that means to you—do you draw from your own background, or not?

A: That’s another good question because as a Latino choreographer, some people hire me to do a “Latino” piece or something with “roots.” I did a piece for Luna Negra. They said, “You can do a contemporary piece but it has to have something Latino in it.” That piece and another I did for BJDM are two pieces I decided I had to be inspired by something from my culture. I did a piece called “Besame Mucho.” It has sections and explains my place in my culture as a Mexican person. I used a very famous Mexican singer: Chavela Vargas.

Q: Who are some living choreographers you consider yourself to be in conversation with?

A: I had an opportunity to give a workshop in Portland and the other choreographer was Jennifer Muller. I remember being young in San Diego, seeing her company, and I was extremely touched. I don’t remember steps or anything, but I remember coming out of that show very high. When I saw that she was working next to me I felt very small but at the same time, just very excited and I wanted to talk to her. She is such a beautiful lady, and I just tried to absorb as much as I could about the way she thinks. She is extremely smart. Another choreographer here in Montréal I respect as a person—she has so much passion for dance—is Margie Gillis. She is a soloist. Talking to her has been a beautiful experience. I like the humanity of these two choreographers.

Q: How do you develop material in your dances?

A: I do two or three combos. From that, I work myself, develop something from each phrase. Then I ask the dancers to do tasks. I will say, “Can you take all the arms of the combo without moving your legs?” It becomes something totally different. Or I will say the opposite. Or sometimes watching the combo, I will sit in the back of the room and I see another perspective. I have noticed lately that my work is very three-dimensional. Sometimes I finish the piece and tell the dancers, “Now we’re going to face the back in this part.” So I change the front for them. They’re not very happy, but they adjust and it’s beautiful because you see something totally different. I collaborate with the dancers a lot, for example, “Can you transfer this phrase onto the floor?”

Q: What are you currently creating?

A: Right now I want to promote my company a bit more here in Montréal. Just like in the States, the economy is not doing very well. So, it’s been hard to have a real season in a theater. So, I am creating a studio series for my company every month to bring a different artist in to collaborate with us each time—singers, musicians, painters. Every show will feature a different one. Hopefully at the end of the year (because each one is short) we can create a full performance with all these artists.

Q: So, it’s as though the bad economy has forced you to stage all these interesting collaborations.

A: Coming back from the States—and here in Canada—that’s all I hear: so many cuts. So, let’s do something low budget, create something more local, more for the community. Let’s have donations or something. These will take place in inexpensively rented studios. Canada supports the arts as much as they can. We get a lot of support from the government. Once you are in it, and they know you, you have made it. It takes time, but I’m happy. Hopefully I’ll get a grant for the studio series project so I can pay everybody.

For more information on the work of Edgar Zendejas, please visit:

Ariel Osterweis Scott, a PhD candidate in performance studies at UC Berkeley, is a contemporary dancer, choreographer, educator, and scholar. She can be reached at

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A Closer Look: Rudolf Nureyev

Lindsay Dreyer December 2009

There is perhaps no male dancer more significant, more celebrated, and more influential than Rudolf Nureyev. There was nothing particularly special about Nureyev’s humble beginnings in Ufa, the capital of the Soviet Republic of Bashkir. But as he grew, he developed a talent so immense and a spirit so full of passion that he touched the lives of millions around the world. From his controversial defection from the U.S.S.R. to his courageous battle against AIDS, Nureyev did everything with character, nonconformity, and incomparable charm.

Nureyev was born on March 17, 1938 aboard the Trans-Siberian Express Railway, near Lake Baikal. He was the youngest of four children and the only boy in the family. When he was 3, Germany invaded the U.S.S.R. and his father was called to service until 1946. His mother Farida struggled to keep the family healthy, but food and resources were scarce. His ticket out was ballet; he saw a performance in 1945 and decided he was going to become a dancer.

He began taking folk dancing lessons in school and later studied ballet under Anna Udeltsova and Elena Vaitovich, both of whom had danced professionally. They noticed young Nureyev’s potential and urged him to study in Leningrad. Although he was accepted to the Bolshoi Ballet School, he ultimately decided to study at the Vaganova Academy (Kirov Ballet School) in 1955 at the age of 17, where he trained under Alexander Pushkin.

Nureyev spent two years at the Kirov school and upon graduation received a contract to dance with the company. During his three years with the Kirov, he partnered all of the company’s ballerinas and performed lead roles in “Don Quixote,” “Giselle,” “La Bayadère,” “The Sleeping Beauty” and “Swan Lake.” Nureyev had gained a reputation not only as a gifted performer, but also as a troublemaker. He danced to his own rhythm, quite literally, and often walked out of the studio or rehearsal during arguments with directors and choreographers.

When the company went on tour in Paris in 1961, Nureyev did something that went down in history. He “defected,” or in other words he refused to return to Moscow despite orders from the KGB. French officials granted him permission to stay, and Nureyev began his new life in the West where he was free.

In 1961, he made his London debut and received an offer from the Royal Ballet to dance “Giselle” with Margot Fonteyn, and so began another chapter in Nureyev’s life. His partnership with Fonteyn was epic; not only were they brilliant together on stage as artists, but they maintained a meaningful friendship even after the curtain fell. Although the age difference was great (Nureyev was 23 and Fonteyn was 42 when they began working together), the two remained lifelong friends.

Nureyev danced throughout Europe and the U.S., taking over a hundred roles by more than 40 choreographers, including Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Kenneth MacMillan and Paul Taylor. His range as a performer was unprecedented—from contemporary to classical, melancholy to humorous, there was nothing Nureyev couldn’t do, including choreograph.

In 1983, he became the ballet director at the Paris Opera, a position he held for six years. His contract allowed him to continue guest performing with other companies while handling his responsibilities by phone. During this time, his health and stamina began to decline after learning he was HIV positive. Nureyev shifted his career goals and began dabbling in film and later in music, still determined to work as much as possible despite his weakening condition.

Although he had planned to continue working, he succumbed to the illness and died of AIDS related complications on Jan. 6, 1993. He was 54. Perhaps the most technically proficient and charismatic performer of all time, Rudolf Nureyev changed the perception of and raised the standard for male dancers. His brilliant legacy will live on indefinitely.

World AIDS day is Dec. 1. To get involved, visit For more information on Nureyev, visit


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Another Coup for the Washington Ballet: A Dazzling “Don Quixote”

Judith Lynne Hanna, Ph.D. December 2009

Loving duets, spirited solos and ensembles, lively humorous characters, enchantment and plain fun! “Don Quixote,” a full-length classical ballet, was a perfect fit for The Washington Ballet (TWB). The alchemy was superb. Artistic director Septime Webre drew on his Cuban roots, once again bringing Latin flair and passion—especially with guest ballerina Viengsay Valdés from the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, her first solo performance in this country.

Valdés complemented the dynamic 20-member company and these emerging artists: two apprentices, the eight-member Studio Company and about 50 dancers from the Washington School of Ballet. There were also several guest artists from the community and beyond. Quite a display of talent! The luxurious costumes and scenery were courtesy of Houston Ballet and additional children’s costumes were courtesy of Tulsa Ballet. Thanks to budget limitations, the dancers performed to recorded music.

The story of “Don Quixote de la Mancha,” a famous novel by the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, was first adapted for ballet in the 18th century in Vienna. New versions followed, the most famous and enduring adaptation was created in the 19th century by choreographer Marius Petipa, of the Tsar’s Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg, and composer Ludwig Minkus.

“Don Quixote” in its many transformations has had reknown performances world-wide. Anna Pavlova brought an abridged version to the West in the 20th century. The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Ballet Rambert, the Vienna State Opera Ballet and the Australian Ballet performed their adaptations. Mikhail Baryshnikov mounted his rendition for American Ballet Theatre, and George Balanchine created a modern adaptation for New York City Ballet.

And in the 21st century, former dancer, Boston Ballet director and internationally-regarded repetiteur Anna-Marie Holmes staged her interpretation of Petipa’s “Don Quixote” for TWB’s premiere performances in October, 2009, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

As the curtain opens, Don Quixote (well-played by Luis Torres), a valiant, eccentric elderly gentleman, dreams of Lady Dulcinea (Valdés), heroine of a story he was reading. She ethereally appears behind a scrim. In the Don’s delirium, he sets off to save Dulcinea from her persecutors. His squire, Sancho Panza (Zachary Hackstock), a funny country bumpkin, accompanies him.

At the Barcelona port, the lovely, spunky Kitri (Valdés) seeks out her sweetheart, the gallant young barber Basilio (Jonathan Jordan). Her blustery father, the innkeeper Lorenzo (Peter DiMuro) tries to force Kitri to marry the rich nobleman Gamache (Carlos Valcarcel), a parasol-toting fop. Don Quixote arrives and, imagining Kitri to be Dulcinea, invites her to be his partner. The crowd supports his hallucination. Kitri and Basilio run off with Lorenzo and Gamache in hot pursuit. The Don and Squire follow to right all the wrongs.

The lovers seek shelter in a huge windmill and encounter Gypsies who entertain them. Don Quixote, thinking his Dulcinea is in danger, attacks the windmill. He falls in exhaustion and dreams that Cupid leads him to a magic garden where the Queen of the Dryads brings a grateful Dulcinea to him. Sancho Panza awakens the Don, and he sets off once again to find his lady. Kitri, Basilio, and their friends celebrate their escape when Lorenzo, Gamache, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza arrive. Basilio pretends to kill himself and Kitri begs Don Quixote to intercede with her father so that she may marry the apparently dying Basilio. The ruse succeeds and Basilio springs to life. Kitri and Basilio perform the famous wedding pas de deux. The Don and Squire continue the quest for Dulcinea.

Valdés set the quick-paced tone and exemplary technique for “Don Quixote.” She has performed the role of Kitri in various productions of this ballet, including at award-winning dance competitions. Valdés exudes radiant charm as she flashes a broad smile and sparkling white teeth. She commanded the entire stage with spitfire turns and leaps, shoulder shimmies, and unusually lengthy balances en pointe in arabesque.

Jordan, also a prize-winning dancer, was a gallant partner. A slender man showing surprising strength, he effortlessly lifted Valdés into the air. His solos had extraordinary leaps and turns, including what Webre calls an “unusual jump with a whipping turn in it—it is a kind of rivoltade but rightfully should have its own name.”

Among the outstanding performers were Jared Nelson as a Gypsy; Morgann Frederick, Jade Payette and Elizabeth Gaither as friends of Kitri; Maki Onuki as Cupid; and Sona Kharatian as a taunting, seductive street dancer.

The square life and festivities were filled with Spanish folk dances: sequidilla, fandango, and a group dance to the accompaniment of a woman marking time with a long stick, plus dancers performing hand claps and finger snaps. Ten dramatic matadors in red and purple brocade twirled their capes, arched their backs, and performed a variety of leaps.

TWB’s masterful “Don Quixote” is testament to the company’s growth in stature under Webre’s direction. He announced that marking his 10-year anniversary with TWB, the company published its first book, “Wonderland,” a limited commemorative of beautiful images available at $55 through TWB (202-362-3606).

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Just Say Yes to a Drug-Free Dance Studio

Lindsay Dreyer December 2009

 Although members of the ballet community have remained relatively tightlipped, it’s no secret that drug and alcohol abuse continues to plague pockets of this high art form. From the recreational use of illicit drugs to the dependence of prescribed and over-the-counter painkillers, the ballet world has a long and unfortunate history of dabbling in it all, and it’s time to start talking about it.
In 1986, Gelsey Kirkland shared her personal struggle with drug addiction in her infamous book “Dancing on My Grave.” Although her addiction was an extreme case and her circumstances were unique, she still shocked readers and opened their eyes to this growing epidemic in the ballet world. Just one year after the release of Kirkland’s book, her longtime friend and colleague Patrick Bissell, principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre, died of a drug overdose at the age of 30.
In the years that followed, many ballet companies and schools that once turned a blind eye buckled down and adopted zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policies. Dancers began understanding the importance of respecting their bodies and taking care of their instrument. Psychologists, nutritionists, and substance abuse counselors were added to school faculties, and it seemed as though the dance community was heading toward a drug-free future.
So how can a teacher or artistic director maintain a healthy, drug-free dance studio? The best way to combat the problem is to equip young students with the tools they need to resist the pressure to experiment or turn to drugs. Whether one runs a small ballet studio or teaches at a large performing arts school, it’s important to create a caring environment where everyone feels valued, worthy, and part of a team.

According to Katie Bergstrom, former corps de ballet dancer with New York City Ballet (NYCB) and graduate of The School of American Ballet (SAB), aspiring ballet dancers deal with the same issues facing regular high school students. “There was always a group of kids who were considered the ‘bad kids.’ I think the main reason kids did it was for recreational/experimental use. They just wanted to look cool,” she recalls.

Dance teachers should look out for signs that students are experimenting with drugs and/or pressuring other students to experiment. Sometimes they can be difficult to spot, especially when the substances being consumed are over-the-counter. “I don’t know if you could call Advil a painkiller, but that is really overused and I think makes it easier for people to think its okay to take things like Vicodin and drugs like that,” reveals Bergstrom.

But drug use is not the only problem to look out for. According to dancers like Bergstrom, alcohol abuse is fairly common in the professional realm. “I think it’s easy to feel like its OK to abuse alcohol, only because it’s obviously more socially acceptable,” she explains. “After a long day, your body is killing you, and you just want to sit on the couch with a big glass of red wine. I think it’s easy to get into a cycle of drinking on a daily basis as a way to unwind and numb the body. It’s like a painkiller in a sense.”

Ballet dancers are extreme perfectionists, which is what drives them to soar beyond expectations. But sometimes, the need for perfection can drive them to unknowingly sacrifice the health of their bodies for the perfect silhouette or the perfect arabesque. The best thing a teacher can do is to educate his or her students about taking proper care of themselves, and above all, loving and respecting their bodies. Creating an open line of communication will show your students you can be trusted and that you truly care about their health and well-being.

But sometimes, it’s better and more effective for students to hear the advice from an outsider. Bringing in a professional nutritionist for one-on-one meetings or group discussions is a great way to get students involved in the dialogue. At SAB, for example, students are required to attend “Finding Your Way” programs in Alcohol & Drug Education, Nutrition & Wellness, which are designed to give them a well-rounded educational experience.

Additionally, it’s important for teachers and faculty members to set strict rules and adhere to them. “The faculty at SAB, during my years, were relatively strict and we were taken care of really well,” explains Bergstrom. “I felt like the RAs in the residence hall did a really solid job of keeping track of everyone. Curfews were strict, and they had to know where we were at all times, until the age of 18.”

Zero tolerance drug and alcohol policies are the best way to keep your studio substance free. For example, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s substance abuse policy states: “Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s forbids the possession, consumption, sale, or storage of any alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs on School property or School sponsored events. Students face immediate dismissal from the School, and will be referred to the proper authorities, should they be involved in any of the above activities.”

It’s not enough for these policies to be set; they must be adhered to, even when the offense involves your best or favorite dancers. Exceptions cannot be made. At Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (CPYB), even scholarship students are held accountable. “CPYB has a zero tolerance policy for drug and alcohol use as these actions endanger the safety and well-being of the offending student and others. Scholarships can be withdrawn anytime at the discretion of the artistic director,” reads the 2009-2010 student handbook.

The best thing a teacher can do, above and beyond setting and adhering to rules, is to create an environment based on positive encouragement. “Being a dancer is incredibly taxing, both physically and emotionally. You spend all day standing in front of a mirror, judging, perfecting, and picking apart every aspect of yourself,” says Bergstrom. “For most of the young dancers, you start your career aiming to please. That is all you want to do. A smile, a nod, anything! And when you’re that young, you need it.”

The good news is that dancers these days are smarter than ever before and are taking the initiative to make better choices. They have learned from the painful stories of Gelsey Kirkland, Patrick Bissell and others. “It’s different than it was in the 80s,” says Bergstrom. “For the most part, dancers want to take care of their bodies and stay healthy.” And that is certainly half the battle.

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