My Margot Ballet Book Review

Margot book cover

From the LinkedIn group “Teachers of Classical Ballet” I learned that Ken Ludden had published a personal memoir and biography of Margot Fonteyn. I emailed Ken to ask if he would consider allowing me to interview him about his book, and he kindly accepted! (The interview will be posted next week.) I bought the book and it took about three or four weeks for me to read it, but that’s only because I didn’t have the luxury of foregoing all my daily duties (but I would have liked that!). I didn’t realize what a close relationship Ken had with Margot as one of her most trusted friends. If you want to get a close up look at this remarkable woman, this is the book to read.

I’ve posted a review of this book on Amazon. His book is available on Amazon using this link: http://amazon.com/My-Margot-Ken-Ludden/dp/1312075228/

Ken Ludden’s beautifully written memoir and biography of Margot Fonteyn offers the reader a glimpse into the life of one who was under the sheltering wing of one of the world’s most renowned and loved ballerinas. A touching tribute. No closer look into her life and character can be found. This book is not only fascinating but superbly written. Ken’s recollection of events and conversations is uncanny, and he writes in such a way that I could visualize the scenes as his stories unfolded.

Not only does he offer a peek into Margot Fonteyn’s world; he also shares a lot about Rudolph Nureyev—his childhood, defection, and his demeanor (which I was sad to hear was often quite rude). Throughout the book he mentions his interactions with many other famous dancers and teachers and schools, and I found every bit of it very interesting. His own life’s work would be enough to fill a book, but he expertly weaves the story so it always relates back to Margot.

Ken’s intrinsic goodness and humility are endearing. He shares a conversation with Tito, (Margot’s husband) where he reflects, “My basic view of my life is that it should be of service to others, and the idea that it was to make an impact on the world was very foreign to me. I still believe that being of service to the needs of others is the highest esteem, but I also see that carrying forward the legacy of Fonteyn is a higher service than nearly anything else I could do, and it does impact the world.”

I highly recommend this book, and I know that Margot herself would be quite pleased with it!

An Interview with Nancy Lorenz Author of "The Strength of Ballerinas"

the-strength-of-ballerinas-nancy-lorenz

Nancy Lorenz’ new book, The Strength of Ballerinas was released this month, and I’m excited to share an interview I had with her about her book and writing about dance!

Your book, “The Strength of Ballerinas” was just released Sept. 9th. Is this your first book?

Yes. It is my first book, and, like The Nutcracker, I am still envisioning sugarplums dancing in my head! It’s almost like seeing a baby grow from birth to that important first birthday. You go through the different stages, and it is all new to you. All of the years and hours spent in imagining and shaping the story comes to fruition when you hold it in your hand in finished form, or see it on the bookshelf at Barnes and Noble. It is a dream come true about my favorite subject.

What inspired you to write about a ballet dancer?

Well, much of it was born out of my own experience – attending ballet classes, dreaming, aspiring, but some of it really taps into the idea of art itself, and the passion for it. I published an academic paper in June, 2013, called The Philosophy of the Red Shoes, in which I wrote about artistic passion, and how it drives people. Ballet, as well as music, art, opera, acting and painting is an extension of one’s identity, personality, and ability, and is expressed through a person’s individual perspective. No two people will express a dance the same way.

I wanted to write about a ballet dancer, because so many women have taken ballet, and can identify with this common experience. Whether or not, they took class for a year, a few, or even became elite, most women have touched ballet at some point in their lives, or, wanted to. There is something about that tulle that makes even the busiest executive reflect back and smile, as she remembers that recital she did when she was five.

In my book I say that ballet dancers look like “heavenly beings” as they dance onstage. That draw to the tulle and ethereal movement creates a dramatic fairy world that captures our imaginations. It moves our souls to joy or tears as the music crescendos for the corps. It floats on the strings of a sweet violin drawing us to the woman in tulle, who tragically dies, or demonstrates a broken heart. It makes us soar when we watch a grand pas, or a bravura performance. Ballet uses music, and like all arts it demonstrates the height of civilization. Mankind creates this art, a meta-reality that exists only for a few hours onstage. It disappears until the next performance, but remains in the hearts and minds of those who view it.

I had to write about ballet.

Are events in the book based on someone you know, or experiences from your own life?

Yes, many of the events are based on my own life. I was not an elite level dancer, like my character, Kendra, although I longed to be. I had some obstacles, such as having to start too late, but there are other obstacles that girls face as well, such as injury, geographical proximity to a good school, money, ability, parental support, whether financial or emotional. I gave my character, Kendra, the obstacles of a cross-country move, away from New York, and also one of illness. How much would that artistic passion drive her, and, would her strength as a ballerina, both physical and emotional serve her well to overcome those obstacles?

I made a cross-country move with my husband years ago from New York to California, just like Kendra. It was difficult to get resources together after a move. Everything was new. Where was the best supermarket, a good doctor, E.R., job, classes? A move is one of the top ten stresses on the stress scale, they say. Kendra has more than one. She moves away, starts a new school, and becomes seriously ill – all stressful. Will her ballet training kick in?

I didn’t have an illness, or a little brother with special needs, but Kendra and I share similar philosophies about ballet. Many of her thoughts are mine as well.

What were the challenges in creating the story? (Did you travel, interview dancers, do research, etc.)

I didn’t travel, but I did some research into geographical locations. I knew New York already having lived in midtown Manhattan for over ten years. I did some research on California’s central and northern regions, and discovered more about vineyards than I knew before. I kept doing research into Multiple Sclerosis, as I wanted to ensure that I had the latest information about diagnosis, treatments, etc., as medicine changes quickly. Even now, there could be breakthroughs that are new! It was fun though, as I really love research, and find so many things interesting. I don’t; mind sitting in front of a computer, learning new things, and adding more to my knowledge base.

Do you write full time and what are your current projects?

I wish that I could write full time! No, I am a college adjunct in my day job. I love to teach though, and find a lot of reward in teaching, not only reading but also especially writing. I like to impart the latest writing techniques to my students to help them be the best writers they can be. And, now, I can offer them even better credentials than a Masters degree; I am an author as well. Since that fact, I feel even more qualified to teach them to write. I do, however, write every day to practice, as I always aim to do better and better myself as well.

What part of writing this book was the hardest?

The ending. I struggled with the ending greatly. Should I make this a happy ending, or a sad one? Should I make it vague. I threw out the vague ending, because I hate vague endings myself. When I read a book, I want to know in black or white, what happens to the character, or what he/she wants to do. So, I threw out the vague ending, as I didn’t want to do that to my readers. Happy, or sad?   Well, you’ll have to read it to find out!

Did you learn anything from writing your book (and what was it?)

I learned that it was hard to not only tell a story, but to give it depth of character. Protagonists usually have the most depth, but I wanted my secondary character, Petey, Kendra’s little brother to have depth as well,   I think that I achieved that. I love Petey. He doesn’t say much, but I think he stands out in his little way.

Writing fleshed-out characters requires much thought. Peripheral characters need to be memorable as well. Charles Dickens was a master of describing a character in a sentence or two. You could see him or her plainly. That was talent!

I always think of that proverbial “maid” part in comic plays. The maid usually has only a line or two, but you remember that maid long after the performance is over. What was it about that performance or that line, the costume, or the personality that made the maid a standout? That is the challenge in writing characters.  

Do you have advice for other writers?

Don’t give up! I knew you’ve read this before, but it’s true. So many talented people give up before really trying. This also applies to all of the arts. Keep going! Determination and perseverance can move mountains! Don’t worry about the rejections. Many writers, ballet dancers, artists, musicians and actors face them every day. It goes with the territory! Keep your eye on the goal, and keep going!

Is there anything in particular you’d like to say to your readers?

Well, I think I said it earlier. Ballet is a common experience that many girls and women share. We’ve all dreamed to be the ballerina in tulle, whether we danced at Lincoln Center, became a patron of the arts, or ended up as a Management Consultant in a corporation. The point is that art is out there and many of us reach for it. Some reach for the costume; others for the fame; most reach for the goal because they have to dance.

I love the end credits for the film, The Turning Point, in which ballerina, Leslie Browne, dances. She portrays Emilia, who seems to dance now, almost as if just for herself – for the sheer joy. Even though we may want to dance those tragic ballets, there is no tragedy at the end of this film – only joy.

And, isn’t that what we all dance for – the joy?

Nancy Lorenz

www.Nancy-Lorenzauthor.com

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Fast Tendu 4/4

Begin 5th position, preparation 1st port de bras and arm stays in 2nd

&1&2     Tendu front, close 5th front, tendu side, close 5th front
&3&4     Repeat first 2 counts
&5          Lift front foot to cou de pied stretched position front, close 5th plié front
&6          Degagé front, close 5th position front
&7&8     Repeat &5&6 with degagé side and close 5th position back

1-8         Repeat first phrase from the back

1-2         Tendu front , close 5th position front
&3          Tendu front, close 5th position front
&4          Tendu front, close 5th position front plié
5-8         Tendu inside leg back same pattern (1 slow 2 back quick finishing in plié)

1-2         Tendu side, close 5th position back
&3          Tendu side, close 5th position front
&4          Tendu side, close 5th position back in plié
5             Relevé passé working leg from 5th back to foot at front of the knee
6             Close working leg to sous-sus front
7-8         Turning towards the barre to the second side, close 5th plié

Grand Waltz 3/4

Grand Waltz from upstage L corner

1               Temps levé 1st arabesque on R leg
2               Faille L over
3               Glissade R closing L front
4               Assemblé R beating fbf to finish R front 5th
5               Tombé onto R facing upstage R corner
&6           Coupé L under, assemble R to close 5th back
7-8           2 entrechat six
&              Tombé onto L facing downstage L corner
1               Coupé R under and temps levé in 1st arabesque facing upstage R, arms 3rd
2               Chassé coupé chasse L to downstage
3-4           Assemblé en tournant arms 5th en haut finish R front 5th
5-6           Tombé onto R, pas de bourrée
7               Glissade to open 4th
8               Saute de chat with L arm 5th en haut, R arm 2nd

Genée International Ballet Competition App Free app gives users exclusive insider view

2013 Genée Ballet Competition Winners

I was recently made aware of a free app for dancers! The Genée International Ballet Competition 2013 app (Genée app) is for iPhone, Android, and tablet users and is free to download. The app was designed to give users a unique view inside the flagship event of the Royal Academy of Dance since 1931: the Genée International Ballet Competition. Last September the event was held in Scotland where 58 dancers from 14 different countries trained for nine day to compete on stage at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow.

Contenders performed a solo of their choosing as well as a traditional variation from a Petipa, Ashton, or MacMillan ballet. Those who moved into the Finals also performed a female or male variation choreographed by Canadian Robert Binet.

2013 Genée Ballet Competition Winners

2013 Genée International Ballet Competition Winners and Judges

The app was produced by Dance Gazette, the magazine of the Royal Academy of Dance. It is very intuitive, with instructions on how to navigate to follow the week long journey of dancers in the competition. You can watch videos, look at pictures, read information, and bookmark sections you might want to return to again. If you ever get stuck on a screen with no indication of how to close it or how to move to another screen, just tap the center of the screen and you’ll be returned to where you were.

The Genée is an extraordinary experience. Competing internationally and being seen by artistic directors is a great opportunity. Past winners have gone on to have fulfilling careers in the best companies around the world.” – RAD President and prima ballerina Darcey Bussell CBE

2013 Judges Christopher Hampson, Darcey Bussell, and Kevin O’Hare.

2013 Judges Christopher Hampson, Darcey Bussell, and Kevin O’Hare.

The videos allow you to see each day of the event through short narrations by Artistic Director Lynn Wallis, with dancers active in the studio and on stage in the background. She tells what it means to be a part of the competition and what the experience provides to all the dancers, not just those who win. Each video is best viewed landscape, but you must then turn your phone back around to get back to the app.

Ballet App Screen ShotThere are pictures and quotes throughout of previous winners, judges, accompanists, and other involved in making the Genée successful. You can click on the + to see the caption for a picture and click on the “ (quotation mark) for quotes. It doesn’t take long to get a feel for the competition’s atmosphere and the app is fun as well as educational. This was a fantastic way for the Royal Academy of Dance to share this annual event with the public!

For more information, to buy tickets to the 2014 Genée competition in Antwerp, and to download the app, go to:  https://www.rad.org.uk/achieve/the-genee/genee-2013-1/videos-and-photos

 

 

Rond de Jambe a terre 3/4

Begin 5th position R foot front

1               Tendu R to side
2-3           Temp lié onto R (stay in fondu) and tendu L, port de bras away from barre
4               Temp lié to point tendu R, arms 2nd
5-8           Rond de Jambe en dehors 4 times finishing point tendu front on count 8
1               Close 5th position plié
2-3           Releve passé to developpé derrière
4               Close sous-sus back
5               Plie 5th position
6-7           Relevé passé inside leg to developpé derrière
8               Close sous-sus back
1               Tendu front in fondu on supporting leg
2-4           Straighten and rond de jambe en dehors 3 times
5               Finish lifting leg to 90° front (arm to 5th en haut)
6-7           Grand rond de jambe en dehors to arabesque
8               Close 5th position back
1-4            Grand port de bras forward with inside leg front in 5th position
5-8           Grand port de bras back with inverted arm
1-24         Repeat all en dedans
25-32      Grand circular port de bras in sous-sus and balance arms 5th en haut

Bilateral Cheilectomy Facing the fallout from years of dancing en pointe

Xray showing closed space at base of big toe joint

One thing I never imagined when I was dancing were the effects it would have on my body later in life. At the peak of my dancing career, my chiropractor said he hoped I could walk when I was forty. I laughed. But it stuck in my head. And here I am on the other side of 40 and I know if he could see me now he’d be singing, “I told you so!”

Dancing was a most glorious part of my life, although it was short-lived. I was healthy and took care of myself, and mostly dealt with sore muscles and fatigue. But while practicing a lift with my partner I somehow came down and landed on his shoulder. The lift was a hard one, because my sense of where I was in space was totally off. He threw me up so I was horizontal to the floor and then I was supposed to twist 2 or 3 times coming down. This was right before my graduate concert in which I was dancing three different roles, including a modern solo that involved a lot of jumping and crouching and rolling on the floor (I was a “sprite” or “elfish creature”). Another piece was choreography by my partner and had some corps dancers, and the last was the bedroom scene in Romeo and Juliet. This choreography was pretty contemporary and also involved some unusual lifts that made my ribs hurt on a good day!

We patched up my ribs with bandages that matched my skin and wrapped it around a few times. It was tight but I could still breathe. No one could see it under my costumes. Still, it was probably foolhardy to go on with the show, but as dancers do, we went on with the show! It was the last step before I graduated and left Arizona, and it had to be done. The show went fine but my ribs were sore for a long time after that. [Read more...]

Center Adagio 3/4 or 4/4

Ballet Combination

Center Adagio Combination

5th position R foot front croisé
1-4          Developpé to ecarté devant R leg
5-8          Carry R leg to croisé  devant in fondu supporting leg and change arms
1              Step forward onto R leg croisé
2              Lift to attitude croisé  derrière
3-6          Promenade in attitude to straighten to 1st arabesque in fondu
7-8          Pas de bourrée to 5th position croisé  L foot front
1-3          Developpé front foot (L) to 1st arabesque on R
4              Fondu on supporting leg
5-6          Pas de bourrée to 4th position croisé  in plié
7-8          Pirouette en dehors to finish in attitude croisé  derrière
1-4          Promenade en dehors in attitude with both arms 5th en haut
5              Developpé back leg thru to relevé croisé  devant
6              Tombé onto R leg croisé  devant
7&8        Contretemps, chassé pas de bourrée to the right finishing L foot front 5th croisé
1-32       Repeat all from other side

Center Pirouette Waltz

Ballet dancer posing on pointe

Begin 5th position R foot front, en face

1-2          Tombé R, pas de bourrée to 4th position (en face) preparation plié
3-4          Pirouette en dehors to cou de pied devant in fondu
5              Relevé and extend R leg 45° side (arms 2nd)
&             Fondu on supporting leg and cou de pied R foot back
6&a        Pas de bourrée en tournant to 4th position croisé  – lunge prep for pirouette en dedans
7-8          Pirouette en dedans on R to finish L foot front 5th en face
1              Balancé to R
2              Balancé to L
3-4          Soutenu turn to R finish 5th position croisé R foot front
5              Tendu R croisé devant
6              Lower to 4th lunge prep for pirouette en dedans
7-8          Pirouette en dedans to finish L foot front en face
1-16         Repeat all to L

Turns across the floor 2/4 or 4/4

Tendu croisé  devant in upper L corner of room

1-2    Piqué turn en dedans
3-4    Soutenu turn to 5th plié
5-6    Pirouette en dehors from 5th to fondu on supporting leg, extending working leg 90° front
7-8    Fouetté turn

Patience, Perseverance, and Punctuality What Dance Can Teach Us About Life

What-Dance-Can-Teach-Us PPP

I’d love to take a poll to learn why parents enroll their children in dance. My parents did it because my friend who lived next door took tap and ballet and taught me everything she knew. She adored her teacher, and since I simply couldn’t get enough out of my friend (and because I knew I wouldn’t get real tap shoes unless I took a real class—I used patent leather shoes as a substitute), my parents were subjected to my begging until they relented.

For those parents who aren’t sure their money couldn’t be better spent elsewhere, I’m writing this series of posts about what dance can teach about life. The first in the series was awareness and poise. Today I’m going to tackle what I call the P trio: patience, perseverance, and punctuality. They intermingle a lot, so it seems appropriate to put them together.

Patience-is-a-virtue

Patience comes first. Anyone who takes ballet can attest to the fact that double pirouettes and going en pointe do not happen overnight. So, first of all, as a student you learn that you must be patient with the process. This means that you take classes that your teacher recommends and you know that when you’re ready to move to the next level he/she will move you up. Within the process, you must also be patient with your own development, with your ability to pick up combinations quickly, and with any physical barriers that might not play in your favor. Being patient with the process as a whole and with yourself as you struggle through the personal process of becoming a dancer are vital to steady progress.

And so it is in life, no? We all know patience is a virtue, and most of us are fairly capable of being patient with others, but how many of us are patient with ourselves? From dance I learned that it’s okay to be confused the first time you’re introduced to something. It’s a good idea to watch others who do it better and figure out what they’re doing differently too. The best thing dance has taught me about patience is that I don’t expect to be a whiz the first time I try anything new. I know I just have to keep applying myself and that over time I may (or may not) become a whiz at it.

Persevere-and-get-it-done

Perseverance is an important trait in a dancer. Remember the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”? Well, it’s undeniably true! Not only is perseverance important, in a dancer it is pretty much imperative. I remember feeling such satisfaction when I could finally watch and learn a combination well enough to stand in front at the barre. For years I had to stand between people so that I had someone to follow when I forgot what came next! Okay, so then I eventually felt confident to stand in front or go in the first group in the center as well. But THEN came pas de deux (or partnering) class… Now we can really talk about patience and perseverance! When you begin working with someone else these two qualities are essential.

What’s exciting about learning perseverance from dance training is that the whole process, as with patience, relies on diligence. For example, a dancer takes class daily. It doesn’t matter how good you become; you still have to take class every day if you’re to maintain the strength and technique you’ve achieved (and you can always improve). It continues after class and into rehearsal as well. How many times do we repeat pieces of choreography before we’re ready to perform it onstage? You really don’t have a choice in the matter—“do it again” is a common refrain in rehearsals. Even if you did everything right, you have to work with everyone else in the piece which means exactly where you’re standing at any given moment has to line up with where everyone else is standing. Keeping lines straight, staying equidistant, synchronizing your arms and where to focus your eyes…getting all of these things right means doing it over and over again. And then when you move from the studio to the stage you must block everything again to make it work on stage.

For me, dancing gave me the gift of perseverance that I’ve applied to my life in numerous ways. I don’t expect things to be perfect without a lot of fine tuning. I don’t give up halfway through a project I’ve begun. Sticking with something to completion is huge, and I owe my ability to finish what I start to the training I received in ballet.

I-never-could-have-done

Punctuality is last, but not least. Knowing you should be punctual and actually being punctual are two separate beasts. Punctuality isn’t about your good intentions. You are either on time, or you’re late. When I had to rely on a parent to drive me to ballet classes in another city I was often late. It wasn’t my fault! But it didn’t matter, because late is late. I dreaded walking into class after it had started because many teachers wouldn’t allow you to just pick up where everyone else was. If you missed plies then you had to do them on your own and catch up as quickly as you could, and that is if your teacher allowed you to do this. Sometimes you can be so late to class that catching up isn’t even possible, so you have to sit out and watch.

You can bet that whenever I have to be somewhere now, I am very VERY rarely late. Early is best, but on time will do. When you go to ballet class on a daily basis you quickly learn that being late has consequences you’d rather not deal with, and so you get into the habit of giving yourself more than enough time to get there. Personally, I think punctuality should be a virtue. When we’re late for appointments we are stealing the time of whoever is there waiting on us. Tardiness (to me, at least) is inconsiderate. So as someone once said, “Better late than never, but better never late!”

And so it is that patience, perseverance, and punctuality are wonderful characteristics bestowed upon those who dance. Each one is a necessity, and each one can easily be applied to any area of life as well. What I’m trying to say here is that so many life lessons are learned in dance training that it doesn’t matter if you end up dancing for a livelihood. Those hours spent in the studio are not for naught if you end up in law school, nursing, banking, or home-making. So many valuable lessons have been learned and so many respectable character traits have been developed during that time, making whatever you set out to do in life more easily attained.

An Interview with Pianist Massimiliano Greco

Greco at the piano

Many dancers don’t realize how fortunate they are to have live piano music during their ballet classes. Now that I’m writing about dance, I’ve decided to search around the world for some of these pianists who make their living playing for ballet.

I was astounded when I first heard Massimiliano’s music for ballet class. His music is not only played with the technical expertise of a concert pianist, it is soulful, unique, soaring. And now I have the great honor of introducing my readers to Massimiliano Greco, composer and pianist. He works for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo and is currently the Main Pianist and Music Director for the Académie de Danse Princesse Grace. Here is some of his music for adagio at the barre.

“What most impressed me, and I have to say, even surprised about Massimiliano Greco is his total adjustement, because of being an exquisite pianist and musician, not only to the demands of the dance, of which he is humble and devoted accompanist, but the sensible and intelligent introspection in the ballet world. He follows, underscores the rhythms, the cadences and the fascination of dance, so with him, masterfully, you can listen to dance and see the music.” –Alberto Testa, Dance Journalist, writer of dance books

Massimiliano Greco

Massimiliano Greco

Inside Ballet: At what age did you begin your piano training?

Massimiliano Greco: I started to study piano at seven years old and it was very casual. I remember I was with my parents at a friend’s house and there was a piano. My mother asked me to try to play it. It took not so much time to understand how it worked and I began to improvise with one finger. Since then I can say that I have always played piano.

Inside Ballet: How did you come to begin accompanying ballet classes?

Massimiliano Greco: When I was younger, I never thought of playing for the ballet. I was trained to become a concert pianist. In fact, towards 1992 I had already done a lot of concerts.

Then unfortunately I had a car accident that stopped me for one month. In that period of sadness I tried other jobs as a pianist. There was a small dance school near my home and someone told me that I could play the piano for ballet classes. I asked the school and they let me try it. And even if I was a little “shocked” from the different working situation, it went really well!

Inside Ballet: What is it that you enjoy most about playing for ballet; what is it that makes you want to continue doing it?

Massimiliano Greco: At the beginning I was interested as a composer. I liked the possibilities of creating a communication between the phrases that drew the dancers in with their arms and legs and phrases of musical melodies. Still now, each time I find dancers capable of connecting their movements with the phrasing of my music something special happens in the air…that’s Art! In that moment I think miracles are possible. In my life I’ve met many passionate dancers and I’m sure I’ll meet many others with whom I’ll create an artistic atmosphere, an artistic communication. Music and dance together can change the world and make it better.

Many dancers and ballet masters asked me to record CDs for their classes, so I made a collection of 12 CDs for ballet classes and choreography. Now I can say that my music is known in many parts of the world.

Inside Ballet: How does someone learn to play for ballet classes? Are there piano books for ballet accompanists, or do you have to find music and put the musical selections together yourself?

Massimiliano Greco: When I started I didn’t know anything about playing for ballet…for me it was very far from my knowledge as a musician. My luck was in starting with RAD syllabus. They have fixed music scores and so I immediately started to understand what kind of music is good for pliés or for a frappe etc. In any case there’s not much, talking about books, about playing for ballet. And about the scores there’s more, but the pianist has to do personal research creating his own repertoire for the exercises in the class.

Usually pianists get their experience playing day by day but many of them give up because at the beginning the work can be very hard and difficult to understand from the normal training of a pianist.

That’s why I decided to teach other pianists to play for ballet. In my academy I’m responsible for a complete “Ballet Pianist Course” to train pianists for this job.

Inside Ballet: Do dance accompanists connect to discuss new ideas with each other (online or otherwise)?

Massimiliano Greco: At the moment there’s not a special connection between ballet pianists. Personally, I know some colleagues all around the world, but they’re casual contacts created from specific occasions. In fact, I want to create an official database of all the ballet pianists in the world—pianists who work in ballet companies, professional academies and freelance ballet pianists—a sort of official professional ballet pianists’ register. Then my idea is to organize an international meeting in which we can meet each other and we can play for classes with the support of ballet masters and dancers. I hope to start the organization of this project in the next season.

Musical Selections and Contact Information

To listen to more of Massimiliano Greco’s music for ballet class or for choreography check out his website Musicaedanze – Music for Ballet Class. He also has a blog at massimilianogreco.blogspot.it.

For more information on ballet class CDs, you may email him at [email protected]

Greco accomplished his musical studies and graduated with the highest marks at the Conservatory of Music “N.Piccinni” of Bari, studying with Maestro Hector Pell. He also studied musical composition with Maestro Ottavio De Lillo, in Bari, and won 1st prize in several piano competitions.

Awareness and Poise

What-Dance-Can-Teach-Us

Artists must be familiar with the mediums they use to do their work. Musicians playing wind instruments learn which keys to press to create a C and what they must do with their breath to produce variations in sounds. Painters usually work in many mediums and choose suitable ones for the piece, such as oil or acrylics or watercolors, pencil or charcoal, or use them in combinations. This is true for dancers as well. Dancers learn not only about anatomy, which is important if they are to understand proper alignment, but also about cause and effect. As they reach the age where they’re dancing en point or rehearsing choreography, dancers will quickly discover what will happen if they don’t take care of themselves.

  • If I don’t build up calluses on my toes then they will rub raw and bleed.
  • When I haven’t eaten all day I usually don’t have much strength or energy to jump in class.
  • Forcing turnout weakens my knees and ankles.
  • Rehearsing without properly warming up the muscles can lead to soreness and possible injury.
  • I have a hard time remembering the steps when I stay up too late the night before.

The list goes on and on of course, but this cause and effect gives us greater awareness about our own bodies and minds. I believe that knowing our limits (and that we do have them), being sensible about warming up, and eating a healthy diet among other things teaches us that this one body—the only one we will ever have—must be cared for if we want it to last.

Another thing dance gave me that has been applicable in other parts of my life is poise. Poise, to me, is much more than carrying oneself with assurance and grace. For me, it’s what happens before that outward manifestation. It involves calming the mind, putting away the worries of what could go wrong and bringing forth the positive thoughts about how you want to appear onstage. Once you quiet the mind and trust your body to remember the choreography, you step onstage and put faith in yourself. And believe it or not, you maintain faith in yourself until you’ve completed what you went out there to do. If you make a mistake, you must learn to train the mind to immediately forgive and forget, so as not to make a complete mess of what follows. Completing the dance to the end and not giving up somewhere in the middle is a good metaphor for whatever we undertake in our lives.

Learning the power of the mind, trusting in yourself, caring for and nourishing your body, and understanding that as humans we have physical limits and aren’t invincible—all of these are essential elements on the path to success and happiness, no matter what career you ultimately choose or what direction life takes you. And when life takes you down a path you weren’t expecting, these attributes will prove invaluable in dealing with whatever comes your way.

Grand Battement 4/4

cd-2

If you haven’t yet discovered the piano music of Gill Civil, then you’re in for a treat! Here you can find two musical selections for grand battement in 4/4 to go along with the combination below. One is called Cavalcade, the other is Jubilee Stride. These are from her album called Dancing Keys 2.

5th position at the barre

1       Tendu devant (front)
2       Lift to grand battement devant
3       Lower to point tendu devant
4       Close 5th position
5-6    Grand battement front, close 5th
&7     Passé close 5th back
&8     Degagé side and close 5th front
1-7     Repeat side
&8     Degagé back, close 5th back
1-16   Repeat all from back

Repeat a second time with pirouette from 5th instead of passé

Music available from http://pianomusicforballet.com

Do You Have a Backup Plan? Ballet Dancers Need a Backup Plan

Close up of one way signs on street

The professional life of a dancer is relatively short. You spend about ten years training, and then hope to dance into your 30’s (and if you’re lucky, until you reach 40). There are many dance career alternatives. However, what if for some reason you want to venture away from dance and go into something completely new? How do you know what you’d be good at, how you’d learn something new, and how to get your foot in the door?

I found this thorough list when searching for careers that would be good for “creative types”. Another article on that site gives some great advice for planning a career path. I agree that you should be careful not to become intimidated or overwhelmed by what your new endeavor will entail, and then never even take the first step forward in your new pursuit. Once you start finding out more information, getting whatever training you may need, and eventually looking for jobs in that field, you might be surprised at how quickly the momentum picks up. I can give a recommendation that I now wish someone had given me when I was studying ballet at the university, and that is to minor in something else. If I’d minored in business, it would have made it infinitely easier to start and run my dancewear store, or to run a ballet school.

I’ll tell you a little about my personal story, because I changed career paths a couple of times for different reasons. My intention during all my years of training in dance was to dance professionally and teach ballet. Since I hoped to teach at the university level, my education included getting a Master of Fine Arts degree in dance. During this time, as well as after, I was able to dance professionally, but unexpected life events came into play as well as injuries I’d never anticipated that caused me to cut my professional career short. I found love, married, and discovered my Achilles tendinitis was so severe that I could no longer dance en pointe without excruciating pain – all in the space of about two years. And then I became pregnant with my first child and that changed my priorities around completely.

While I was dancing in Lexington, Kentucky I visited the local dancewear store several times. I found that they were not very willing to get me what I needed (something as simple as canvas ballet shoes) if it wasn’t something they currently carried. Their store was very small and the leotards were Lycra with vivid colors and strange designs. It was difficult to find things for a ballet dancer there. This is where my first career change began to take shape. It all started with this thought, “I wish there were another store in this town”. If I were to have a store, I imagined, I’d staff it with dancers to add credibility and to give expert advice on fittings to customers. I’d carry several brands of pointe shoes and offer leather and canvas ballet shoes, as well as leotards in more subdued colors and with more traditional styles (such as cotton or supplex camisoles, tanks, three quarter, or long sleeves).

From this one thought came the realization of my own dancewear store in Lexington! I knew little about running a business, but took it one step at a time until one day we turned the sign to ‘Open’ and began to sell items that were quite different from the other store. There was a market for both (they catered to cheerleaders, gymnasts, and the like, and we catered to the serious student and professional), so we quickly became well known and successful. After nearly ten years in business, we sold the store to move to North Carolina. Dance Essentials, Inc. in Lexington has now closed completely, but I’d learned so much about business software (QuickBooks, etc.) and about using Microsoft Office applications like Excel.

Once we arrived in North Carolina, my husband still hadn’t found a job and it was imperative that I submit applications immediately. As Charlotte is a huge financial center, I landed an entry level position at the headquarters of a large bank. Fast forward twelve years and I am an Information Technology professional, honing my skills in software development and support, and turning my attention to the business analysis side of things. Who’d have thunk it possible? Definitely not me.

Life throws curveballs and it’s up to us to make opportunities out of them. One thought can change your life. If it’s appealing to you and learning about the career is stimulating, then keep on trucking. Get yourself on LinkedIn and start networking with like-minded individuals and those who may be able to connect you to your next thought. Good luck!

Using a Mazurka in Ballet Class Grand Battement at barre

Mazurka sheet music

Having a pianist accompany your ballet class adds an element of liveliness that you just can’t get from a recording. I plan on interviewing some folks who accompany ballet classes for a living, but for now I wanted to share some things I learned today.

The definition of Mazurka (in Polish, mazurek) is a Polish folk dance in triple meter, usually at a lively tempo, and with accent on the second or third beat. (wikipedia.org)

There’s a blog post here by Jonathon Still about about using the mazurka in place of a waltz for some ballet combinations. He even points accompanists to a website with American Memory Sheet music where you can search for and find sheet music.

And here is a combination that would go well with a mazurka!

1-3    Grand battement devant, lower to tenu close 5th (arm 5th en haut)
4-6    Repeat to the side (arm 2nd)
1-6    Repeat back and side to complete en croix (arm arabesque, side)
1-2    Grand battement devant, close 5th (arm 5th en haut)
3-4    Grand battement side, close 5th back (arm 2nd)
5-6    Grand battement back, close 5th (arm to arabesque)
1-5    Cloche battement with INSIDE leg fbfbf (arm 5th en haut)
6       Close 5th position front
1-24  Repeat all from the back.

Degagé with Plié Barre exercise in 2/4 or 6/8

5th position at the barre
1-2        Brush to 45° devant, plié in 4th – arm 5th en avant
3           Straighten knees and carry working foot to 2nd at 45° á la seconde, arm to 2nd position
4           Plié in 2nd
5-6       Carry working foot to 45° devant, close 5th position front – arm 5th en haut
&7&8   Degagé devant 2x closing 5th front both times
1-2       Degagé side, plié in 2nd position – arm 5th en avant
3           Carry working foot to back 45° and straighten knee – arm 2nd
4           Demi plié in 4th position – arm en avant
5-6       Carry working foot to 45° side, close 5th back – arm 2nd
&7&8   Degagé side 2x closing 5th front, 5th back
1-16      Repeat all from back with arm in arabesque instead of 5th en haut

Once a Dancer, Always a Dancer

Tammy Rhoades and David Wood in Nutcracker, 1991

It’s interesting how dance can consume a person.  I wrote a post about how some people just have a passion for dancing that cannot be ignored, and how this passion drives us to push ourselves through trial and error and pain and suffering (sometimes, from injuries).  But at some point, our bodies age and we have to move on…if we’re lucky enough to continue working in the field we love, we become teachers or choreographers.  However, for some of us, we move into a completely different arena.  We become mothers and fathers, we work jobs with regular people…that is, people who don’t have flashbacks of Nutcracker performances when they hear Tchaikovsky’s score on the radio or in the mall.  We find dance career alternatives.

When I first stopped dancing it was because of Achilles tendinitis.  I also had a husband and a new baby that naturally changed my priorities in life.  We lived in Lexington, Kentucky where I had performed a little with the ballet company, so when we went to performances I was watching all my old dance friends on stage.  I cried every single time we sat in the audience to watch a performance.  Deep inside I was grieving the loss of dance in my life.  Sure, I was teaching.  We started a dancewear store so I was in contact with dancers all the time.  But I knew that I would never again put on my pointe shoes and dance on stage.  It was like a part of me—a huge part—had died and would never come back. [Read more...]

Teaching Creative Movement

Teaching Creative Movement

Ballet class with children ages 3-5 is often called “creative movement” rather than ballet class. Then at age 6 it is sometimes referred to as “pre-ballet”, which is when they are usually ready to stand at the barre and learn the mechanics of alignment and ballet positions. Creative movement can be taught many different ways—none better or more effective than another—so I will just share some of the things I did with this age group (and felt were effective) when I was teaching them dance.

First of all, kids this age don’t have a very long attention span! Two minutes is about as long as you can stretch one activity before moving on to something else. I always felt that a 45 minute class was the absolute longest these kids could handle, unless you are combining it with some tap, too. I’d also say that if you have more than eight children in the class then you should probably have an assistant there to help you out.

I structured my creative movement classes more or less the same way each week. Kids do like repetition and it helps them feel more comfortable if they have a good idea what to expect. We would begin sitting on the floor in a circle, wide enough that when they put their arms out to the sides they wouldn’t touch their neighbor. At the beginning you can have them sit cross legged or with the soles of their feet together or their legs stretched out straight in front of them. Sitting cross legged is easiest for them, and when you want them to focus attention on sitting up straight and using good posture through their backs, necks long, and shoulders down, this is helpful. [Read more...]

How to Pick Up Combinations Quickly

Young woman in park, writing in notebook

I was reading someone’s blog the other day, and one of the comments was from a young dancer who was having trouble remembering combinations in ballet class.  I thought this would make a great blog post because I, too, was one of those dancers who stood in the back and tried to blend in. Eventually I became one of the quickest to pick up combinations and was no longer afraid to stand in the first spot at the barre or go with the first group in the center. Here are some of my ideas about how you can pick up combinations quickly. [Read more...]