Dance classes around the country are not few and far between. Dance is becoming increasingly popular, as a result of commercial television shows, and more recently, the Olympic Games.
Open dance classes are on the up with over 200 classes a week taking place at Pineapple Dance Studios in Covent Garden for example, also featured in a television series on Sky 1 complete with jazz pants, cropped tops and urban dance sneakers. Other open classes taking place across the capital include The Place, Danceworks and Studio 68.
In addition to this, many dance students attend weekly technique classes with the view to take examinations with their dance school and progress through the ‘dance ranks’, trading in leather practice ballet shoes for pink pointe shoes. Many dance students dream of one dancing upon a vast stage in a feathered tutu, and others of becoming teachers themselves, correcting the leotard-clad young dancers before them and embarking on a variety of techniques. These techniques are similarly seen in the open classes of less formal institutions, without the commitment.
Despite one class option being slightly stricter of uniform than the other, both offer dancers the chance to engage with their passion, be it classical ballet, tap dance, jazz dance, musical theatre, and everything else in between. Both offer the chance to progress through the increasing levels of the technique in order to both challenge them and achieve goals as dancers. Whilst these goals may not differ in themselves, classes all over the country and even the world offer dancers the great opportunity to engage with likeminded individuals and teachers, reach their potential, and most importantly to have fun. Whether dancers are kitted out in the world’s most prestigious pointe shoes or ten-year-old jazz shoes, the power of dance unites all these dance students in one love.
Now the London 2012 Olympic Games are over ahead of the Paralympic Game in a couple of weeks, many have raised the question both online and in print as to whether dance could qualify as an Olympic event. The artistry, strength and flexibility of dance can be seen in many existing events of the Games, the most obvious examples being Gymnastics and Rhythmic Gymnastics.
Dance has had many links with the 2012 Olympics. One of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Principal dancers, Matthew Lawrence, created a routine for the Welsh and five times British champion gymnast Frankie Jones for the Rhythmic Gymnastics British Championships ahead of the Games. Jones was the only British individual rhythmic gymnast to compete at the 2012 Olympics, working hard with Lawrence, as well as BRB’s Body Conditioning Instructor Jennifer Mills. Jones received ballet classes as part of her preparation for the competition, complementing her body’s ability to create any imaginable shape or movement: a rhythmic gymnast takes elements of ballet, and then stretches it to the extreme. Rhythmic gymnastics is a combination of gymnastics and dance and its origins lie in a wide variety of disciplines, including classical ballet. Here it is clearly demonstrable that both disciplines are closely related yet have evolved in different ways.
The Team GB backstroke expert Liam Tancock revealed that dance has too featured in his training, having taken ballet classes in order to improve his swimming. Tancock maintained that his success in the water was the result of ‘thinking outside the box’ in order to develop additional qualities of dance to boost body strength and improves strokes. Whilst you would be unlikely to see Tancock donning ballet tights and satin ballet shoes, it is clear to see that dance is not only a complementary discipline to other activities, but its own success in its own right. Why shouldn’t we see tutus and leg warmers on ballet’s competitive athletes at the 2016 Olympic Games? The ideals ‘faster, higher, stronger’ are extremely applicable to the art of dance, with Albert Einstein and then Martha Graham maintaining that ‘dancers are the athletes of God’.
Many may argue that the absence of dance is due to it being such a subjective discipline, unable to be measured either numerically or objectively. However, both Gymnastics and Diving feature which are art forms in themselves and are judged via a complex scoring system in order to achieve potentially unbiased and accurate results. With both events developing and constantly becoming more challenging, the possibility of achieving the perfect 10 score has been eliminated to account for the increasingly demanding nature of the events, viewed relatively. It seems the art of dance and ballet cannot be measured numerically, but perhaps more in how it affects the viewer, which of course would be impossible to score.
Perhaps if dance were to be included in the Olympic Games, the level of artistry, musicality and expression would have to be reduced in the face of accurately ‘marking’ the competitors’ arabesques, multiple pirouettes and extensions, which would then mean that what is being executed is not aesthetically ‘dance’ in its entirety. The dance elements of 1972 Gold illusive gymnastic legend Olga Korbut were once appreciated by scoring systems, but are now considered time-consuming in relation to the huge tumbles and requirements of twenty-first century gymnastics. These are now unable to affect the final scores in a significant way, in what some may argue as a graceless exhibition of athleticism at the expense of beauty and performance. However, today’s gymnasts somehow continue to capture audiences and expend the illusions of the stage.
Summer Schools for 2012 are nearing their end, with students young and old packing up their holdalls, packing up their tap shoes and jazz trainers ready to begin their examination classes once more in September. From musical theatre, to ballet, to singing workshops, summer schools host a variety of dance genres for children and young people of all ages, offering everyone who takes part a great chance to have fun, make new friends, and improve their dance or theatrical technique.
Some summer schools are rather more specific in their genre, such as high-end ballet classes complete with satin pink ballet shoes and plain yet stylish leotards. Summer schools of this category usually take the format of daily classes in techniques such as classical ballet and repertoire work, devised to enhance students’ classical technique and fulfill their desire to improve and advance in their chosen subject.
However other summer school varieties cover a range of dance genres and activities, touching on subjects such as tap, ballet, modern jazz and singing work, providing a wealth of opportunity to have fun and enjoy the passion for dance. Many encourage students from countries all over the world to join in the fray, each giving heaps of energy and enthusiasm, and often only requiring a pair of dance sneakers.
Many students may view their yearly trips to summer schools a welcome relief from the rigour of weekly exam and technique classes, allowing them to ‘let their hair down’ and get a real feel for how the institution they are attending operates on a day-to-day basis. Often culminating in an end-of-week show, complete with the Lycra and sequins of borrowed costumes, weeks of summer schools from July to September are hard work, but truly enjoyable.
Over 12,000 performances and events across the UK celebrating the Olympic Games are marked by the London 2012 Festival, which bursts into life on 21 June 2012. The London 2012 Festival will be the most exciting festival the UK has ever experienced, bringing more than 10 million opportunities to observe some completely unique dance, music, theatre, fashion, food, art and film events. The Festival is the finale of the Cultural Olympiad, which has been inspiring creativity through art and culture in young people since 2008. It encompasses a wide range of events, from local projects to large-scale performances, in which 18 million people have taken part in so far… with or without their legwarmers!
Many events that are included can be taken part in by audience members completely free of charge, be it the free outdoor pyrotechnic and percussion extravaganza or the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra premiering of a new work , followed by the arrival of a gigantic ship sailing into the town centre accompanied by leotard-clad dancers and aerialists. With incredible cultural events and top artists from across the world, Londoners and many others from across the country enjoyed four spectacular launch events across the UK on 21 June, and the following events which continue until 9 September 2012, the last day of the Paralympic Games.
The festival includes dance performances such as Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Candoco Dance Company and Big Dance 2012. Big Dance is one of the UK’s biggest dance celebrations, featuring thousands of events inspired by numerous different dance styles taking place across the UK. The events include classes, workshops, courses, performances, flashmobs, film screenings, competitions and world record breaking attempts, open to both dancers and non-dancing fans alike, encouraging them to pull on their dancing shoes and get involved. The Big Dance 2012 national programme is being delivered by the Foundation for Community Dance in partnership with a network of regional dance organisations known as Big Dance Hubs.
Former Royal Ballet star Carlos Acosta is set to make his feature film debut in The Day of the Flowers, due to receive its world premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival on June 25, with the UK release due later in 2012. The plot follows two Scottish sisters leading very separate lives, who have a mutual clue to follow. This sees them rush to the airport in a vintage white Mini Cooper and set off for Cuba, where their parents spent many happy years in the 1970s, with the film sharing a very vintage feel with its audience.
Acosta plays a ballet teacher who is working a double life as a tourist guide in order to survive. One ballet scene, enabling Acosta to revert to his ballet shoe roots, sees him take on an extremely authoritative manner. Another dance scene emerges when one sister asks Acosta to dance in a club, forgetting the whole of Cuba can dance, as can Acosta. Whilst previously partnered with pointe shoes and sparkling tutu skirt wearing ballerinas, Acosta again demonstrates his sheer versatility. Despite this, the film is not programmed to showcase his dancing to new audiences, but to wow existing fans vying for another glimpse of the star in another capacity: acting. A far cry from his previous ballet tights and tunics, Acosta meets the sisters as a tour guide, inevitably rescuing their inexperienced Cuban presumptions.
Aside from taking on this role within The Day of the Flowers, Acosta also has strong links of this kind with his nephew Yonah Acosta, who currently dances with English National Ballet and won the People’s Award earlier this year. Combining the rosin-laden stage with the film set, the Acosta family continues to demonstrate there are no limits to their talents.
Dancing on the whole without ballet shoes, or diamond encrusted tutus, male ballet dancers are mostly utilised on stage to display the female ballerina in the best possible light to the audience and critics alike. While this has been a tradition of classical ballet for many centuries, the twenty-first century has marked a series of changes in the male-female relationship on stage, with increasing numbers of female dancers required to lift and support their male partners in dance genres.
Balletboyz, an all-male company has also turned the male classical ballet dancer tradition on its head, and sometimes quite literally. Made up of 8 young men, the Boyz are more likely to sport jazz shoes than the white tights and unitards of their male dancer predecessors. Whilst this history is an integral part of dance today, it seems important that the dance sector should not become stagnant – it should continue to evolve and adjust to the shifts in the industry, and the social and cultural contexts of everyday life.
As the creation of Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, Balletboyz was founded in 2001 as contemporary and classically driven company. Both founders were members of The Royal Ballet, both dancing principal roles including Romeo, Prince Siegfried and King of the Sweets. They have additionally created roles for choreographers such as Kenneth MacMillan, Twyla Tharp, William Forsythe and Christopher Wheeldon. Through the formation of Balletboyz, Nunn and Trevitt have fused the classical and contemporary, moving away from the soft shoes they were once used to, and creating a passion-fuelled company full of inspiring young men.
In 2005 Balletboyz became Associate Artists at Sadler’s Wells, London’s leading dance house, and 2010 saw the first edition of Balletboyz’ groundbreaking project, the TALENT. Nunn and Trevitt selected nine male dancers from a variety of backgrounds, working with them closely to create a company of performers. The show toured nationally and internationally receiving fantastic reviews, confirming that Balletboyz do indeed wear the dance crown, and will continue to push themselves physically and creatively.
The Prima ballerina of English National Ballet, Daria Klimentova, is performing alongside her pas de deux partner, Vadim Muntagirov and the rest of the Company in Sydney until June 17, epitomising the worldwide success of English National Ballet, and the international recognition they will continue to receive in the arrival of new Artistic Director Tamara Rojo in August. Sydney will see Klimentova and Muntagirov perform a fantastic display including the Black Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake.
As one of the pointe shoe primas in the twenty-first century, Klimentova is a beacon for English National Ballet, hired by then Artistic Director Derek Deane and partnering Muntagirov for recent years. The now stars of the company were thrown together by current Artistic Director Wayne Eagling, and are now being marketed as today’s Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, the most famous ballet duet in dance history. Fonteyn and Nureyev also had an age gap of 19 years, yet against the odds, both couples have internationally wowed critics and shone to perfection in their respective tutu and dance tights grandeur.
Kilimentova’s life, however, does not stop at performing. Each summer she runs a season of international ballet classes in Prague, her hometown. She is in high demand by the Czech National Ballet, which requested her as its own Director three times, turned down each time by Klimentova due to her continuing desire to dance. With English National Ballet Klimentova and Muntagirov are also in high demand as a duo: after their stint in Sydney they will also be visiting Denmark, performing Swan Lake in London, a gala in Mexico, Swan Lake again in Moscow, culminating with a week in Singapore.
2012 alone demonstrates the sheer power of the grace, unity and strength of the Klimentova-Muntagirov partnership, the tiara on the head twenty-first century ballet and the yardstick from which aspiring ballet dancers must extend their technique and performance.
It is important to note the profound influence Graham had over the development of modern dance, and to how it is referred today. Throughout her life from May 11th 1894 to April 1st 1991, Graham established her dance and choreographic career over the span of 70 years, and is now considered the mother of modern dance, having created a fully codified modern dance technique. Graham choreographed 181 masterpiece dance compositions during her lifetime, each of which utilise specific movements of her technique, such as the contraction, release and spiral.
The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance was established in 1926, through which Graham was, and still is, renowned for her intense, dramatic portrayals of life through movement. This signalled the beginning of a new era in modern dance, with tutus and pointe shoes falling by the wayside as block-coloured unitards, extravagant costumes and bare feet took to centre stage. Costume continues to be an important aspect of the Graham repertoire, reflecting the nature of the works performed by the company, perhaps the most famous being Graham’s Lamentation in which she wore a tube-shaped Lycra costume in her portrayal of grief.
To celebrate what would have been Graham’s 117th birthday in 2011, Google dedicated their logo to the life and legacy of Graham for a day, demonstrating the sheer influence Graham had over the United States, regardless of the rest of the world and the dance industry (see our article about the Martha Graham Google Doodle). Echoed through her use of costume – from, for example, dressing male dancers in traditional ballet tights to showcasing their leanness in minimal underwear today – Graham caused dance to evolve, adding further abstraction and creativity to the twentieth century and beyond. She has inspired numerous artists from all genres within the world of the arts and revolutionised dance by creating an entire movement vocabulary that is still celebrated today.
Urban Strides, the renowned street dance specialists, pride themselves providing the ultimate street dance experience for every dance ability level from the age of 7 to adult. Urban Strides aims to fulfil this through creating the most exciting, inspirational and authentic street dance experience possible, delivered with passion, positivity and fun, and possibly some knee pads!
Founder Andy Instone’s sheer passion and commitment, emotionally, physically and mentally, launched Urban Strides on the road to success. Originally self taught, Instone has since studied mainstream forms of dance – Ballet, Jazz, Contemporary and Tap – and has travelled around the globe to learn from the pioneers of original street dance and hip hop styles, taking authentic dance, movement and expression to as many people as possible. Instone fuses funk movement with classical training techniques and choreographic conventions in order to add quality and dynamics to Urban Strides’ ethos and work.
Urban Strides offers classes, workshops, community work and performances, having also branched out into creating “streetwear” dance clothes and DVDs of their work. A variety of street dance styles are practised by Urban Strides, in order to provide a whole and comprehensive experience for those involved in the Urban Strides t-shirt clan. Additionally, Urban Strides has extensive experience and understanding of the education sector, regularly providing workshops for A Level and GCSE students, as well as inspirational workshops for beginners. Performances conducted by Urban Strides are additionally produced to be as accessible as possible for audiences, opening up the dance sector to everyone with their vibrant and exciting choreography.
The philosophy of Urban Strides means it aims to provide the highest quality possible at an affordable price, be it classes, workshops or performances. The accessibility of Urban Strides too means that if it’s your first day stepping into your urban dance sneakers, or you fifth year of pulling on your favourite street dance hoodie, Urban Strides is for you.
A controversial question throughout the ballet world surrounds the “correct” age for dancers to go en pointe. For the aspiring ballet dancer, pointe work may begin at a much younger age (approximately 11 or 12) than perhaps a dancer who enjoys the “ballet tights ideal” of one or two casual classes per week.
Many strands run through the age argument, such as those regarding the height of the instep, the individual and relative strength of the foot – in its complex structure of bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles – and the dancer’s ability to control their body en pointe. Naturally, different circumstances affect each and every decision to train the body for this transition into pointe shoes.
In addition to this debate is the decision of the brand and type of shoes to select. Each foot requires different constructions of shoes, and a ballet dancer often remains committed to one type of pointe shows throughout their whole career. The most popular choice of brands appears to centre on those from the likes of Capezio, Bloch, and more recently, Gaynor Minden. Each shoe has its own appeal and its own unique design, meaning a first fitting for pointe shoes can be a rather long process! Despite the fact that there are few bespoke creators of pointe shoes, brands can often be customised by the dancer to suit their own feet.
For example, the Freed Studios shoe, as a stock shoe, tends to fit many people. However, an increased workload or intense pointe classes may mean that a more customised shoe is needed. Bloch shoes, in comparison, have been seen to incorporate rather innovative techniques of heating the shoe and using this to mould its shape to the individual foot. This therefore emphasises that the art of acquiring pointe shoes is no less than the art of twirling in a tutu: the shoe must be completely right for the foot that may one day posé into a leading role.