Too Late To Dance?

Too Late To Dance?For new starters of dance, or those who are contemplating it, a common question is a simple one: is it too late to dance?

It is never too late to dance! The practice of dance and dance classes can be done at any age or any time. Categorised by both style and ability, first dance classes needn’t be daunting and can be initiated at any age. Recently the BBC reported a story of older dance learners and an increase in the number of people taking up dance lessons. Scottish Ballet’s Regenerate classes for older moves, for example, were spotlighted, demonstrating the unity and sheer enjoyment behind the ballet barre for all the participants.

Younger dancers ask this question too, however, but geared towards a timescale of dancing professionally, and whether it is too late to attempt this. It is not too late to begin to dance as a teenager and go on to become a professional performer, rather than hold dance as a pastime. Many dancers have done this as older students, such as modern dance pioneer Martha Graham and choreographic guru Matthew Bourne. It is neither impossible to secure dance as a primary occupation at 30 or 40: age has minimal impact on a struggle to ‘make it’.

Dance is definitely a choice; personal and general obstacles may mean some lovers of dance may choose not to pursue a career in dance, in any form, but this is entirely unrelated to age. You must have sufficient knowledge to reasonably choose to continue through obstacles towards a career in dance, or to take on another lifestyle choice. There are no right or wrong choices, and the latter does not mean that dance is no longer a part of your life, just not your primary occupation. Similarly, if you do choose pursue a dance career, it may still evolve into another avenue which is just as fulfilling.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

One Year On: Gymnastics And Dance

2012 Olympic Opening CeremonyA year on from the London 2012 Olympic Games, there is much celebration about the phenomenal events which happened precisely one year ago. Over the past year much has come from the Olympic legacy, with sports and cultural institutions benefitting from the heat wave emanating from the dust of the Olympics in the capital.

Dance has rarely been out of the news over the past year, for example focusing on the ordered Bolshoi Ballet acid attack and Tamara Rojo’s incredible steering of the English National Ballet, of which she is Artistic Director and Lead Principal dancer. Despite the fact that not all the dance news for 2013 has been good news, it has been a positive sight to see dance get so much recognition from national press, not just specific dance rags.

Many may be hopeful, following the year’s events for dance and the series of ‘firsts’ that have been seen, such as the Bolshoi performing at the Royal Opera House for over 5 years, that dance may one day be present at the Olympic Games. It is clear that dance is not only a complementary discipline to other activities, but its own success in its own right: will we see dance in Rio at the 2016 Olympics? The 2012 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’.

It is arguable that dance could qualify as an Olympic event through its artistry, strength and flexibility, very similar to that of Gymnastics and Rhythmic Gymnastics, and maybe even Diving and Equine Dressage! For rhythmic gymnastics in particular, the discipline is a combination of gymnastics and dance, and its origins lie in a wide variety of disciplines, including classical ballet.

Spotlight On Inspiration: Debbie Moore OBE

Pineapple Dance Studios LogoDebbie Moore OBE is the founding business woman behind Pineapple Dance Studios – and its associated clothing brand – bringing accessible, open classes to dancers all over the capital. Now aged 67, she shows no sign of slowing down.

Moore began her career as a model at the age of 15, gradually entering the dance and health industry following disruption to her modelling career. Following the closure of the only dance studio in central London, Moore was inspired to create Pineapple Dance Studios from an old pineapple warehouse in 1979.

This was not all Moore accomplished, as a pioneering business woman. She went on to launch the Pineapple clothing range, inspired by the dancers in her studios and their unique ways of customising and accessorising their clothes to accentuate their bodies. As a result, Moore became the first female Chairman to take her company public on the London Stock Exchange when Pineapple became a public company in 1982.

Moore was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2010 New Year Honours List following her continuing to strive to achieve the best for her brand. Her book, ‘The Pineapple Dance Book’, an insider’s guide to the world of fitness and dance was published in 1983, and ‘When A Woman Means Business’, offering business and lifestyle advice based on her own and other female entrepreneurs’ experiences was published in 1989. This book in particular was reprinted in Chinese in 1999, as an inspirational guide for Chinese businesswomen.

Moore is a ground-breaking force in fighting for success, in both the business and performing arts sectors: 2010 also saw the Sky One observational documentary series ‘Pineapple Dance Studios’ aired in the UK to fantastic success, winning the Royal Television Society Award for Best Features and Lifestyle Series. The series went on to air in several countries, including Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Norway and Singapore.

Debbie Moore is certainly a force to be reckoned with!

Reasons to dance

Reasons to Dance

First of all, and most importantly, dance makes us happy! We get to do something we love every week, wear beautiful and sparkling costumes, improve our dance technique and performance, have fun, make friends and keep fit! Exercising through dance releases hormones called endorphins which make us feel positive, spreading to other areas of our lives too.

As well as increasing endorphin levels, dance keeps us healthy and active, and is far more enjoyable than going to the gym! Dancewear and gym-wear are quite similar, but there are so many designs of leotards, dance sneakers and other dance clothes, we are simply spoilt for choice. Dance also lowers stress levels by stimulating our brains in other ways, and takes your mind of other worries that are nagging away – dancing is fun, free and exciting!

Aside from learning about technique, different dance styles and new skills, dance also educates us about our posture and how we look to the outside eye. This has benefits that run far wider than for just dance alone, making us look younger, feel healthier and increase our longevity as humans who have learnt about the correct way to hold ourselves. Dance also increases strength and flexibility by improving joints, muscles and general stamina, as well as toning the body up.

By dancing, we are creating opportunities to meet new people as well as creating time for ourselves. There are no distractions meaning you can concentrate properly on learning the steps, polishing the routine or simply working on your technique. Meeting new people and making friends also means that dance becomes enjoyable on another level, socialising with others who share your passion.

Above all, dancing and taking part in dance classes mean we learn more about dance and engage in our favourite hobby – what’s not to love?!

Is Dance Becoming Mainstream?

Dance in the Mainstream

From the dazzling tutus and glittering tiaras of the big ballet classics to the modernised works of flesh-coloured leotards and soft ballet shoes, the popularity of dance appears to be increasing rapidly. Arguably as a result of the viral nature of social media and the innovative experimentation that is taking place in studios all over the world, the dance world and its audience are privy to fantastic creations and experiences which provide for their expectations.

Despite the modernisation that ballet is undergoing, for example as a result of Wayne McGregor of Random Dance’s instatement as Resident Choreographer of The Royal Ballet in 2006, it is clear that the classics of the ballet world are also able to satisfy the hungers of audiences. McGregor’s influence over twenty-first century dance is undeniable, and whilst his work is technically outstanding and completely compelling, the repertoire of the Royal is also made up of works that have resided there for centuries. Classics such as Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker are three of a number of well-known and loved productions which are presumed to stay within ballet repertoire for years to come.

Classical ballet was once seen as a high culture, rather than a popular one, yet this is also changing. The Royal Ballet LIVE was screened online in 2012, providing 200,000 dance-lovers and non-dance fans alike with the opportunity to take a peek into the working lives of professional ballet dancers. The iconic film production Black Swan starring Natalie Portman also took the ballet world by storm, depicting a violent and manipulative ballet environment, but ultimately extending ballet’s reach to wider audiences, increasing its popularity. The London 2012 Olympic Games also demonstrated a cultural shift, with ballet proving to be an influence in more than one area. Team GB swimmer Liam Tancock revealed that regular ballet classes were included in his cross-training, and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s principal Matthew Lawrence created a routine for the five times British champion gymnast Frankie Jones for the Rhythmic Gymnastics British Championships ahead of the Games. Dance is clearly demonstrated to appeal to and provide for a wide audience reach.

Dance has also been able to reach audiences through social media, making it ultimately accessible. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and various other platforms are able to translate the art of performance and reception to many who may not have the opportunity to access dance originally. For example, many dance companies have Twitter accounts clocking up thousands of followers, who are able to connect with and access a valued insight into the life of the company, rehearsals and classes – even the founder of Twitter is a ballet fan!

Past Dance Practices

Thomas Wilson's "Correct Method of German and French Waltzing" (1816)

Viewing traditional dance from many countries around the world can be eye-opening. It is a refreshing change to view other techniques, hear different music and see different costumes as a source of inspiration. For the performer and choreographer, traditional dance practices from other countries and cultures can often be a learning curve in their methods of working.

There is a wealth of information within different dance practices, and especially those regarded as traditional, in order to inform and progress the art form. These practices are extremely different from the urban dance forms, dance sneakers and nude leotards we see in today’s dance scene, yet some are still very popular, considering Strictly Come Dancing and similar television shows for example and how mainstream it has now become.

For instance, what is now called the Viennese Waltz is the original form of the waltz which emerged in the second half of the 18th century. It was the first ballroom dance performed in the closed hold or “waltz” position, derived from the Ländler in Austria. The dance that is popularly known as the waltz is actually the English or slow waltz, danced at approximately 90 beats per minute, whereas the Viennese Waltz is danced at around 180 beats a minute. As the waltz evolved, some of the versions that were performed at the original fast tempo came to be called a “Viennese Waltz” to distinguish them from the slower waltzes. Today dances of Ballroom or Latin origins still play a large part in social cultural context, and are accessible too.

South East Asian dance, also plays a big part in today’s dance scene. Bharata Natyam and Kathak dance are both highly influential in choreographers’ work, such as Akram Khan, seen in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Bharata Natyam is a classical Indian dance, denoting various 19th and 20th century reconstructions of Cathir, the art of temple dancers. As a traditional dance-form known for its grace, purity, tenderness, and poses, today Bharata Natyam is one of the most popular and widely performed dance styles and is practiced by male and female dancers all over the world. Similarly, Kathak is one of the eight forms of Indian classical dances, with the dance form tracing its origins to ancient India. Its form today contains traces of temple and ritual dances, and the influence of the bhakti movement, using its past as a catalyst for new.

Today’s strong notions of Kathak, and many other forms of dance, in choreographers’ and performers’ work demonstrates the sheer strength and legacy of dance, and how much the past influences the present in every single dance discipline.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Nutcracker’s Royal Touch

Margrethe II of DenmarkDuring the festive season, the dance world is abundant with Holiday inspired productions, and 2012 is no different. The Nutcracker is always a sure-fire family favourite, full of ballet slippers, magic and mystery, however one version this year is standing out for a very different reason. Queen Margrethe of Denmark, it has been discovered, has designed all the costumes (more than 100) and four large stage sets for The Nutcracker which is currently being performed in Copenhagen by the Royal Danish Ballet at the Tivoli Theatre until 22 December 2012.

Choreographed by Artistic Director Peter Bo Bendixen, The Nutcracker is displaying Royal flourishes as a result of the Queen’s talents. For the past two years the Queen has been immersed in every aspect, from sketching each costume individually (as a celebrated artist under a pseudonym) to designing the set and correcting the choreographer on historical and cultural inaccuracies. Members of the ballet company have had to experience costume fittings with the Queen, and she has been fully involved in the whole process, regarding the production as “work” and making the dancers feel as comfortable as she possibly can.

This year the Queen of Denmark celebrated forty years on the throne, but has demonstrated a clear talent in the land of theatre, ballet, and the Kingdom of Sweets, drawing upon much knowledge and research to aid her life beyond the palace walls. The director of the production aimed to make the Danish Nutcracker ‘feel’ very home-grown and Danish, with the Kingdom of Sweets replaced by Copenhagen’s Tivoli gardens, and the fairy-tale writer Han Christian Anderson distributing the presents on Christmas Eve.

It is clear that 72-year-old Queen Margrethe devotes much of her time to the arts, having attended almost every ballet shown in Copenhagen in addition to having taken ballet classes for the past thirty years with a group of her childhood school friends.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Dance in the Media


Having seen a huge influx of dance and the performing arts in the media recently such as So You Think You Can Dance, Got To Dance and Dancing with the Stars, it comes as no surprise that the number of participants engaging in dance classes has increased considerably. A survey conducted by YouGov in 2011 in the prelude to the Dance Proms at the Royal Albert Hall found that just over 1 in 5 British adults have become interested in dancing as a result of shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and So You Think You Can Dance, not considering those throughout the rest of the world and of alternative age groups, donning their dance shoes and pulling on their leotards.

The appeal of dance runs far and wide and today dance seems to have taken on a more of a popular culture persona as more people are becoming aware of it and its benefits. Pirouetting against the stereotype, ballet, for example, does not have to be girly and strictly disciplined; there are a huge variety of dance class choices meaning that there is an option for everyone. No sooner had gym culture taken over our lives, dance cults began to make an appearance, such as Zumba and Bokwa, reinforcing the notion that engaging in physical activity does not have to involve a treadmill.

Naturally, open classes such as those at Pineapple Dance Studios and Danceworks to name just a couple of dance studios in the capital, regardless of those throughout the rest of the country, mean that dancers new and existing will dig out their legwarmers or invest in some shiny new ones, obtaining those essentials to embark on or continue their dancing lifestyle. Dancewear is also increasingly becoming ideal for gym and leisurewear, making it versatile, up-to-date and inspirational, be it performing high kicks, squats or champion chill-outs.

It seems the dance bug is here to stay!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The History of the Tutu

Alexandra Ansanelli in a Pancake Tutu (Royal Ballet 2008)

Since the beginning of ballet history and up to the present day, tutus have been the centre point(e!) of all classical ballet, be it in a little girl’s dream in pretty pink tights and shoes or even in the snazzy modern costumes of George Balanchine’s ‘Rubies’ in Jewels. Tutus have changed in design over the years but have always retained the certain illusive quality that surrounds ballerinas. To many, tutus epitomise the ethereal, magic aura that surrounds ballerinas on stage, and without a tutu, the performance may be quite different.

The term “tutu” derives from the audience members in cheaper seats, which were originally at the front of the auditorium. These viewers were able to see beneath the ballerina’s tutu: the length of these was dictated by the ballet patrons who wished to see the dancers’ spectacular feats whereas those in the cheaper seats had a view of the ballerina’s derriere, or the French “cucu”, which eventually became “tutu”.

It is said that the first tutu was the Romantic tutu worn by Marie Taglioni in the 1832 performance of La Sylphide – the Romantic era – which showed off her footwork. This style of tutu was and still is of three quarter length in a bell shape, also seen in Giselle. The Classical tutu followed, which is a shorter and stiffer skirt of a slight bell shape ending just above the dancers knees and extending outwards from the hips, seen in Balanchine’s Jewels worn by the ‘Emeralds’. Next was the Classical Pancake tutu which is short and extends straight outwards from the hip. It may also contain a wire hoop along with extra stitching to keep the layers stiff and flat together. The Balanchine/Karinska tutu was next, also known as the “powder puff” as a short skirt with no hoops and a fuller appearance. By no means least, and certainly not the last for ballet as it is known today is the Platter tutu, with its flat top which sticks straight out from the ballerina’s waistline, with skirts continuing to define both the shape and style of tutus.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Wayne McGregor and John Travolta

Wayne McGregor

Wayne McGregor CBE, the resident choreographer at The Royal Ballet, has revealed that he first became interested in dance while growing up in the 1970s. It was seeing John Travolta in Grease and Saturday Night Fever at the cinema that made him realise that was the type of dancing he wanted to do, with those moves and dance forms the ones he began to imitate, which many a jazz shoe clad dancer may still emanate today. Shaking his hips and donning his flares and high-heeled boots, Wayne McGregor set out on a dance journey that he probably would never have guessed would lead him to one of the most prestigious, tutu wearing ballet companies in the world: The Royal Ballet.

McGregor’s parents encouraged him to be academic, but also gave him the confidence to try anything. He went on to take part in amateur dramatics, organise tea dances and form his own dance company (Wayne McGregor | Random Dance) but never set out to hold such a key post at The Royal Ballet. One of McGregor’s most recent works, Carbon Life, saw a very different style of ballet: black ‘block’ pointe shoes dominated the stage, accentuating the lines of the leg in a different capacity through abstract, cube-like costumes, a far cry from McGregor’s Travolta inspiration!

McGregor has revealed that he is obsessed with the technology of the body, reflecting the values of Carbon Life and at an extension, creating super-human bodies for his dancers. In addition to his contemporary and classical credits, McGregor is also known for choreographing Radiohead’s Lotus Flower video and for serving as movement director of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire… both of which lacked leotards and ballet shoes! Part of McGregor’s aim is to continually find a way to communicate ideas through the body to audiences in order to help them think differently about the world around them… and dance itself.

Image courtesy of body_pixel on Flickr.