Monthly Archives: March 2013

A typical day at the dance studio

Dance studio

Photo by Kim Roberts

A dance teacher’s role extends beyond the walls of the studio and the hours of an evening of dance classes. While every dance studio is different, a typical day is a fast-paced and exciting one for any dance teacher.

Here are three different perspectives of what a dance teacher’s typical day is like from three dance teachers from Ken and Jean Dance Studio, who were featured in the last post from The Ballet Barre. The following Q&A is an excerpt from an interview and asks a question to dance teachers Darcy Field, Sandi Plavchak and Jen Tancraitor.

The Ballet Barre: What is a typical day like at the studio?

Darcy Field, studio owner and dance teacher:

“My typical day is a little bit different, being a studio owner. Generally when I’m up in the morning there’s a lot of either book work, or program work, or costumes. Right now, I’m ordering merchandise while sitting here, So for me, it really is not a job where … I’m at the studio and those are the hours. It’s extremely long hours, just in the aspect of the recital and everything that has to be ordered for the recital. So it certainly ramps up, but the process really starts in August for the recital [in June]. The nicest part is really coming in and seeing the students.”

Sandi Plavchak, dance teacher:

“I would always start out in the morning searching for music for the day in my library and going through what I’m doing with the class for each day, so a lot of pre-planning. It’s never really a typical day, something always erupts. A little one needs something that they didn’t need before, or they’re having an emotional, dramatic day, so you have to sort of stop and figure out how to keep them going while the entire class is going. So there’s always something going on throughout the day, sometimes parents need a little encouragement … so you need to find the time to talk to them.

The classes roll right into the next with very little break, so it’s typical that you go from the 4-9:30 hour and barely catch a breath, but as long as you’re prepared that anything can happen, and it doesn’t throw you through a loop if you don’t get in what you wanted to get in in a day. You know, eventually, what you planned with them will take place at some point, but you can’t set yourself to a specific time frame. Because with so many kids in different age ranges, something’s bound to come up that sort of throws you.

And for me, often I’ll do a pattern that I think would be perfect, and the next week I’ll hate. And I could leave it and no one would be the wiser, but for me I have to fix it and backtrack and take a couple steps backward to step forward.”

Jen Tancraitor, dance teacher:

“A typical day is very hectic. It’s very enjoyable, though, and there’s always costumes to be props to be prepared and costumes to be fixed and choreography to do. So it very hectic, but also very enjoyable in the same sense.”

Clearly a lot goes into a single day of classes at a dance studio. Dance teachers need to juggle students and parents, music and choreography, props and costumes, and any other surprises that pop up during the day without missing a beat. Teachers like these need to be ready for anything on any day of tap, ballet, jazz, cecchetti, pointe, stretch, and acro classes.

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The art of teaching dance to young ballerinas, tappers, jazz dancers

Dance teacher

Photo by Kim Roberts

What is the most important part of learning to dance? The dance shoes? The music? The recitals or competitions?

It all comes down to the dance teachers.

Young dancers often grow up in the same studio from age 3 to their high school graduation. That gives their dance teachers the unique opportunity to see them grow and transform as dancers and as individuals.

From personal experience, I can honestly say that I had the best of luck in my dance training because — in my extremely biased opinion — I grew up with the absolute best dance teachers in the world. You probably feel the same way about your dance teachers. These feelings just go to show how influential dance teachers are in the lives of their students.

I had the opportunity to talk to three of my former dance teachers from Ken and Jean Dance Studio in North Versailles, Pa., to discuss what goes into being a dance teacher.

Check out this video package below of my interviews with these three teachers during a typical Friday evening of dance classes in March.

Multimedia Video Package: The Life of a Dance Teacher from Kim Roberts on Vimeo.

Clearly, these dance teachers absolutely love what they do every single day. Their passion for dance and for their students is evident, and the work incredibly hard to make the classroom experience the very best for young dancers. Through my interviews with them, I found out that being a dance teacher is so much more than what happens in a classroom.

“The classroom aspect is the most important part,” said Sandi Plavchak, a dance teacher at Ken and Jean’s. “But besides that, there’s so much background that goes into it, from searching for the right music, to choreography aspects, to performances, to costuming. There is scenery involved, there are props always required and necessary for various dances, and the end result is, performance-wise for the show, for not only for those kids to be onstage and feel great and like they’re having so much fun and they’ve learned so much, but for the audience members to feel like every number is a little bit different and the process is enjoyable, whether you’re involved in dance or not. And that aspect takes a long time to accomplish as well.”

For studio owner and teacher Darcy Field, whose parents, Ken and Jean Phifer, opened the studio, her favorite part of her job is the chance to see her dance students grow up in the studio.

“I think what I like best is working with all ages and seeing that continuity. I wouldn’t want to work with all young, and I wouldn’t want to work with all advanced. I really think it’s that ability to work with all ages,” Field said.

The opportunity for dance teachers to really get to know their students over many years is what makes the bond between dance student and teacher so strong. For teacher Jen Tancraitor, who grew up at Ken and Jean’s herself and then returned as a full-time teacher after college, it is a joy to teach students that she sees every single day for dance class.

Dance Teacher

Photo by Kim Roberts

“I don’t have kids myself, so every child I see here is really my own, in a sense that I get to see them every single day and I get the joy of seeing them every single day and seeing them grow from a young kid into an older kid,” said Tancraitor. “I haven’t been here very long, so knowing when I was 18, seeing some of the kids that I assisted with now graduated, means a lot, and it clearly shows my journey through dancing and what has been accomplished through that.”

Dance teachers combine their love of dance and their love of teaching students in the classroom every single day. Their students grow and improve in their technique, their character, and their love of dance every day as a result of their teachers’ love and dedication.

Top 5 Dance Movies

Dancers

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

You’ve got to love a good dance number — the kind that makes you tap your toes and want to get up and join in! Great dance movies are everywhere from every era, and I’ve put together a list of the top 5 dance movies (or just movies that have great dance scenes in them). So take a look and see if your favorite made the list, and enjoy the videos of some of the best dance numbers from those movies.

Movie #5: Dirty Dancing

This iconic coming-of-age movie charmed audiences across America in 1987. It is still considered a classic today, and its famous dance scenes are the reason it made this list. This final dance to “Time of My Life” is treasured today, thanks to the romantic partnering by leads Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. Check out this video clip of the dance!

Movie #4: Singin’ in the Rain

This 1952 movie is a classic for so many reasons. Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor make a dynamic duo along with Debbie Reynolds in this movie about the beginning of “talking pictures.” Kelly and O’Connor give a memorable performance that is the true essence of classic tap dancing. “Moses Supposes” is a fantastic dance number from this movie because it shows the impeccable skill and technique of these great dancers of history. Take a look — they don’t miss a sound!

Movie #3: Step Up

Step Up blends hip hop and the streets with graceful jazz and ballet dancer. The two characters, Tyler and Nora, come together to share their love of dance. This movie from 2006 is a great one to show how different styles of dance can come together beautifully. Here is the final dance scene from the movie — a thrilling and exciting combination of jazz, ballet and hip-hop.

Movie #2: Center Stage

This 2000 movie shows ballet at its finest in its many different forms, from classical to contemporary. It gives some insight into the struggles and challenges of aspiring ballerinas in New York City’s American Ballet School. To read a more in-depth review of the movie, check out my previous post: “Review of the dance movie ‘Center Stage.'” The best dance number in this movie is without doubt the contemporary ballet piece at the end of the movie. Take a look at this video to see why this ballerina and her bright red point shoes made the list!

Movie #1: Hairspray

Who doesn’t love a good musical? 2007’s Hairspray never ceases to lift my spirits and make me desperately want to join in! The best dance number in this movie is the movie-ending, show-stopping “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” where Tracy Turnblad and her family and friends celebrate the breaking of racial and social barriers in 1960s Baltimore. This iconic dance number features a huge group of dancers in perfect synchrony. The bright outfits and up-do hairstyles add fun and flavor to this ’60s throwback. Check out this video and enjoy this scene from my #1 dance movie!

New York City Ballet, a world-class company

The New York City Ballet is at the top of the list of the world’s esteemed ballet companies. Here is a brief profile of the company, including its history and current information, plus some photos and videos from the company.

History

Lincoln Center

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

The idea for the company came from Lincoln Kirstein, who wanted to start a ballet company in the United States that was self-contained, meaning it would train its own dancers through a ballet school and have its dancers perform original works created specifically for them. Together with famed ballet choreographer George Balanchine, Kirstein made his dream a reality when he started a new company in 1933.The company faced great challenges in its beginning years, but it was able to withstand even the struggles that came along with World War II. Esteemed choreographer Jerome Robbins got on board as well, and the New York City Ballet company flourished. It performed in what is now the David H. Koch Theater that opened in April of 1964, and the company has been based there ever since. A unique feature of the New York City Ballet is that it also has a summer home. Every year, the company performs in Saratoga, New York, at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. In addition, the company has made many trips around the world to perform at various venues in countries such as Russia, Australia, Japan, and South Korea. For more details about New York City Ballet’s rich history, check out the company’s website.

Today

New York City Ballet is the largest ballet company in the United States, with about 90 dancers. Choreographers George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, and Peter Martins contributed to the 150 works choreographed just for the New York City Ballet dancers since the company’s start. The official ballet school of the company is the School of American Ballet in Lincoln Center, which consists of about 350 aspiring ballerinas who study under the watch of the company’s directors and ballet masters. This school feeds directly into the company.

Performances

New York City Ballet is a company like no other. In fact, the company performs more ballets in a single year than any other company in the world. The 2012-2013 season, for example, includes more than 75 works. For a full list, check out the company’s season repertory.

Videos

Check out these great videos that give insight into what happens in a professional ballet company, plus some examples of these dancers’ incredible skill and technique!

Video #1: This video shows what goes on behind the scenes in a renowned ballet company like New York City Ballet.

Video #2: Here is a fun look into a ballerina’s most treasured possession: her pointe shoes.

Video #3: Now take a look at New York City Ballet’s “Serenade,” choreographed by George Balanchine.

Review of the dance movie “Center Stage”

Have you seen the newest McDonald’s Shamrock Shake commercial on TV? Check it out below!

Doesn’t that actress look familiar? If you’re a dancer, you might recognize her as Amanda Schull, the actress who played Jody Sawyer in the 2000 dance movie Center Stage. Schull has made plenty of TV appearances in recent years with roles on shows such as Pretty Little Liars, Suits, Psych, Grimm, and Two and a Half Men. The St. Patrick’s Day-themed McDonald’s commercial made me want to watch Center Stage again since it’s been a while.

Here is my review of the movie that’s a timeless classic for ballerinas everywhere.

Plot Summary

Center Stage movie poster

Photo from imdb.com

Center Stage follows young ballet dancer Jody Sawyer and a group of her friends through a year at the esteemed American Ballet School in New York City, from auditions to the year-ending showcase that serves as an audition for the country’s most prestigious ballet companies. Jody faces many challenges throughout the year — her less-than-perfect turnout and feet are continuous detriments to her technique, and other dancers are always better than her. Jody dedicates her mind, body, and soul toward making herself the best ballerina she can be, and she is cast as the lead in Cooper Nielson’s (a famous ballet dancer and choreographer) ballet in the showcase. Jody deals with love and loss throughout the process of preparing for the performance, but she ultimately performs flawlessly in the showcase. She lands herself a principal dancer position in Cooper’s new ballet company, and she finds inner strength and confidence that give her a new and improved outlook on life and dance. Jody’s friends also face challenges like attitude problems, finding their own dreams, and injuries that make them stronger people and dancers who are finding their place in the world.

Themes

This movie deals with the harsh difficulties of the competitive world of ballet. From the very beginning, we see that competition in a place like American Ballet School is cutthroat. Nearly every dancer who made the cut to be in the school in the first place was the best dancer in the studio they came from. So already, there is a room full of incredibly talented dancers all dreaming of the few spots available in professional ballet companies. These dancers have to come to terms with their own limitations as well. Ballet is the strive for perfection, and since no one is perfect, each dancer has to realize his or her weaknesses and choose to either work past them or let them be limitations. In addition, Center Stage tackles the issues of body image and eating disorders through Maureen, a character who forces herself to throw up as punishment for eating a slice of pizza. The movie also shows the drama that can go on behind the scenes in a professional company. Love and lust among dancers, directors, and students add plenty of drama and emotion to the mix that audiences would never know about from watching only what happens onstage. Continue reading

Preview of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s “Unspoken”

PBT's Unspoken

Photo from pbt.org

This coming weekend marks the final performances of “Unspoken, a mixed repertory performance put on by Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) at the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The production will include three ballet pieces:

  • “Serenade” by George Balanchine
  • “Jardin Aux Lilas (Lilac Garden)” by Antony Tudor
  • “Drink to me Only with Thine Eyes” by Mark Morris

First, “Serenade” is a classical ballet piece choreographed by George Balanchine (1904-1983), one of the leading choreographers in the world of ballet. Balanchine served as artistic director for the New York City Ballet, and he choreographed 465 works during his career. “Serenade” debuted in 1935 in New York City, and it is danced to Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade in C Major.” The dancers go through four movements, including the fast-paced “Russian Dance” section, which is performed by four corps de ballet members. For more information about this ballet, check out this video!

Second, “Jardin Aux Lilas (Lilac Garden)” is a famous piece choreographed by Antony Tudor (1908-1987) in London in the early twentieth century. The  piece tells a dramatic tale of two young adults about to embark upon an arranged marriage. The dancers rely not only on their talent and technique, but they also need to be good actors to portray the emotions of the story. Below is a video of a segment from this ballet:

Last, “Drink to me Only with Thine Eyes” is a piece of ballet choreography by Mark Morris. Born in 1956 in Seattle, Washington, Morris founded the Mark Morris Dance Group in 1980. Since then, he has created more than 130 works for his company, including “Drink to me Only with Thine Eyes” in 1988. He is also experienced in opera as well as dance and choreography. The contemporary ballet is a different  piece for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, giving the production a more well-rounded feel. Take a look at this video clip from Mark Morris’ ballet:

“Unspoken” is Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s only mixed performance of the 2012-2013 season. Located in the smaller, more intimate August Wilson Center located at 980 Liberty Ave. in downtown Pittsburgh, the ballet allows audiences to get up close to the dancers onstage and get a taste of choreography from some of the leading choreographers in ballet.

This weekend’s performances are on…

    • Thursday, March 14 at 7:30 p.m.
    • Friday, March 15 at 8 p.m.
    • Saturday, March 16 at 8 p.m.
    • Sunday, March 17 at 2 p.m.

To read a review of the first weekend of “Unspoken” performances, check out this article from the Pittsburgh City Paper.

Past productions in this season by Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre include “Giselle,” “The Nutcracker” and “Moulin Rouge — The Ballet.” The company’s final production of the season will be “Cinderella,” with performances April 19-21 at the Benedum Center.

The Ballet Barre on Break

Spring Flowers

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

Hello, dance lovers!

Just wanted to give you a quick heads-up: There will not be any new postings from The Ballet Barre this coming week, March 3-9, 2013. I will be on Spring Break, so The Ballet Barre will be on hiatus for a week. Have a great week, and keep on dancing!

Dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt.
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.
– William W. Purkey