the man behind the camera

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I’ve posted before about the brilliant work of world renowned ballet photographer, Gene Schiavone (remember?).  Now the talented and always kind photographer is working on a new series whose setting is, well, not exactly the Mariinksy.  I found Huffington Post’s article covering Schiavone’s latest project, shooting (mostly) non-dancers in cemeteries, to be an exceedingly informative read.  Gene discusses his secrets to capturing that perfect ballet shot (hint: the music is very important!), and how his work has evolved over time.  Check it out and let me know what you think!

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All photos by Gene Schiavone, via his Facebook fan page.

breaking silence

So how many of you watch Ballet West’s reality show, Breaking Pointe, on the CW?

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I must admit, despite the lack of dancing and frequent “scriptnyness” (yes, I just made that word up, go with it), Breaking Pointe is a guilty pleasure of mine.  Not because of the struggling romances or catty dancers all vying for the same part, but because I can relate to so much of the company life that really makes up the bulk of the show.  The tension during casting week, the constant uncertainty of status, the strict hierarchy, the fear of being displaced the following season, the exhaustion and frustration of long rehearsals, the disappointment of being overlooked…it’s all too familiar.  Feeling the need to finally speak out about her reasons for supporting the production of Breaking Pointe‘s second season (despite the disapproval of much of the ballet-involved public), company member, Allison Debona posted a lengthy status on her Facebook fan page prior to the reality show’s season 2 premiere.

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Shedding light onto an issue most people are completely naive to, Allison bravely discussed the financial struggles shared by ballet companies around the country.   She also points out the high level of responsibility and maturity involved in pursuing ballet as a career.  Allison draws attention to the fact that the dancers on the show are all human, and with that comes mistakes, obstacles, and drama.  While these issues may not be directly addressed on the show, giving ballet exposure on such a large scale could lead to a greater understanding of the “mysterious” profession, snowballing its popularity and perhaps saving this beloved, yet slowly corroding art form.  Huffington Post wrote an interesting article in response to Allison’s bold status.  Read it here, and let me know what you think!

a letter from your dance teacher

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Last night I stumbled upon this article from Huffington Post, and found it so intriguing I knew I had to share it with all of you.  The piece is written as a letter to the dance students of 2013 from “Your Dance Teacher”.  Although I have never actually taught, I immediately related to the letter from a student’s point of view, and I’m sure many of you will too.

Ms. Beckford’s letter addresses the many emotional hardships dance students undertake as a result of “harsh” or seemingly unreasonable teaching techniques from their instructors (you’ve all heard of ballet teachers using canes, scarves and brute force to literally whip kids into shape, right?).  However, instead of sympathizing with the discouraged or frustrated student as you might initially imagine, this letter expressly sides with the dance teachers of the world, explaining that they are merely trying to help in the only way they can.  This is something I not only agree with out of mere principle (seriously, read the letter, it is all so very well articulated), but also from first-hand experience.  Yes, public, sarcastic comments from instructors during dance class can be rough.  Humiliating even.  But it should never be disparaging.  If a teacher takes the time to correct you (which does sometimes happen so many times in one class you might begin to think you’ll never be able to make that correction), it means they see potential in you.  It means you should just work harder, not give up.

Although I do wish this letter had been written to me during my often tumultuous years of training, I wouldn’t have had to read it to know that my teacher’s biting remark about my floppy feet in petit allegro was not a result of her anger towards me or dissatisfaction with her own life; It was a direct representation of her dedication to me and to her job as an instructor of dance.  By inherently knowing this (okay, it did take some convincing from my mother), I was able to not only respect my teachers, but also befriend many of them.  And these friendships have lead to a mutual professional appreciation and connections all over the world.  Last month, when my old ballet teacher, Milica, came into town from Serbia to set Sleeping Beauty, she immediately told me how proud of me she was and how impressed she was with my growth over the years we’ve spent apart.  Next month while I travel throughout Paris, I am thrilled to be able to call up one of the teachers who changed my dancing the most, Yves (pictured above, he is a Paris native) to show me around.  It’s like Ms. Beckford says:

“The teachers who gave me the harshest, most brutally honest corrections are the ones I learned the most from. I didn’t like what they had to say, but in my day, we just went home and cried — never did we accuse the teacher of disrespect. Weeks, months or even years later, I realized how right the teacher was. That said, their corrections didn’t mean I was a) a bad dancer b) never going to dance professionally c) meant to be a Taco Bell employee.”

A lesson that it seems many of the ballet students of today could benefit greatly from.  Being a dancer takes a very thick skin.  If you want to be a professional and you don’t have a thick, outer coating protecting your emotions from criticism, you have two options: either grow one, or try soccer.