Ben Tackles Ballet For Strictly

Ben CohenOne of the nations favourite evening entertainment television shows, Strictly Come Dancing, has already gone through the usual set of harsh critiques, soft touches and goodbyes for its contestants. Ex-prima ballerina Darcey Bussell – and President of the Royal Academy of Dance – is back on the hit show for a second series as judge, bringing a feminine and arguably more human touch to the panel, and that is discounting her more effeminate male counterparts!

Aside from the usual waltzing, jiving and cha-cha-ing, contestants have already found themselves subject to extra training. Former rugby star Ben Cohen has found himself at the ballet barre, having been sent to ballet lessons as part of last week’s training for Strictly. Cohen is one of the bulkier contestants, implying he must work doubly hard to achieve the expected lines and performance quality.

Cohen’s professional partner Kristina Rihanoff had previously voiced her concerns about how much weight training he had been doing, leaving him much too stiff and bulky for dancing. As a result Cohen has been attending ballet lessons in an attempt to make him more nimble. Cohen freely admits his lack of good posture, aiming to improve this, along with his overall dancing appearance.

It is hoped that Cohen’s ballet lesson stint lasted him through to his next performance, a waltz to What The World Needs Now – however in order to prolong the result of ballet Cohen must embark on a much longer commitment to ballet classes, rather than just those required by the cameras and public relations for the show itself. Cohen has commented on his extra stretch and improved poise for his waltz, ready for former Royal Ballet principal dancer Bussell’s eagle eye.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Pushy Parents?

Dance MomsIt has been the subject of much speculation over many years, however with the turn of the twenty-first century it seems that dancers will stop at nothing to achieve. Behind these dancers are their parents and dance teachers, encouraging and even directing these young students into a dance world they may not wish to be a part of. In addition to this, they not by physically ready for this kind of work either.

The work of subject is high pressure and high performance dance contests in which applying the same amount of make up and fake tan to a small child as a dancer on Strictly Come Dancing has been rather controversial. Whilst the child may enjoy the dancing, the music, and the social life that comes with dance classes and competitions, it must be noted that they do not have the knowledge of any alternative, and therefore the motivation to pursue another activity.

Whilst younger children are more flexible then their older counterparts, it is apparent that many dance teachers and parents abuse this, pushing the dancers to force their bodies to contort and lengthen before they are perhaps quite ready, substituting health and wellbeing for a leg up by the side of the head and a box jump greater than that in the hit movie Fame. Starting this work (too) early may be detrimental to the dancer’s future and is not a pre-requisite for a successful dancing life.

It is an assumption to label these parents and teachers as “pushy”, as seen on television programmes featuring dance phenomenons such as Baby Ballroom and Baby Disco: it is clear that overall each parent has the child’s interests at heart, however sometimes this gets lost on the way to our television and computer screens.

Game Changers

Sky Sports Game ChangersSky Sports has recently launched an initiative to get more children involved in sport by launching ‘Sky Sports Game Changers’ on Saturday mornings. An both an incentive and an inspiration, the show will feature regular appearances from a host of sports stars and Sky Ambassadors including David Beckham and Jessica Ennis-Hill to persuade children to get active and get involved.

The show also sees Olympic medallist and 2012 Strictly Come Dancing winner Louis Smith MBE learning a new skill: classical ballet. As the first of its kind, Game Changers followed Smith in his attempt to hone the pliés, jetés and even a small performance as part of his challenge, broadcast on Saturday 24 August.

The series began with a live skills session from Sky Sports Living for Sport mentor and inline skating world champion Jenna Downing. As well as live studio skills sessions that get the young audience involved, the sports stars will visit schools and sports clubs. The shows will be supported by downloadable Skill Sheets available from the Game Changers website to help young people learn the basics of a new sport.

Broadcast live in front of a live studio audience of young people, the shows are presented by Olympic Gold medallist Darren Campbell and Di Dougherty with Paralympic wheelchair rugby captain Steve Brown among the show’s reporters. Game Changers will draw on the expertise of many of the 75 athlete mentors who are part of Sky Sports Living for Sport, the free initiative that uses sports skills to inspire young people in a third of all UK secondary schools. Alongside Sky Sports Living for Sport, Sky Ride and the Sky Sports Scholarships scheme, Game Changers is another demonstration of commitment to all levels of sport following the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The Top Ten Dance Music Videos

Dance Music VideosNowadays, music isn’t all about the sound – it’s about the dance too. And some of the best music videos have got some real moves on display. We conducted a survey to find out which are the music videos that most put you in the mood for dancing, and showcase some of the best movers in the industry. So get yourself over to YouTube right now and check out these incredible music videos.

10. Billie Jean – Michael Jackson

You couldn’t have a list about dance music videos without mentioning the King of Pop at least once, so here’s MJ kicking off our survey results right away. A running theme of Michael Jackson’s videos was that feeling of watching a short film in its own right – and Billie Jean is no different. Lit paving stones, randomly appearing cats, a mysterious detective; what’s going on in this video is anyone’s guess. But Michael pulls off some of his most famous moves in this iconic video, and is well worth watching again and again.

9. Time Warp – The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Whether you’re a fan of Tim Curry in fishnets or not, there’s no denying that it’s a catchy dance. While it’s not the most complex of dances on this list, it’s one that can be picked up so quickly that it’s often performed by revellers on nights out!

8. Can’t Touch This – MC Hammer

Big tune, big glasses and absolutely huge cargo pants – what’s not to love about this iconic music video? As arguably MC Hammer’s signature song, U Can’t Touch This became one of the most popular singles ever made. That energetic dance is exhausting just to watch – and it really takes a talented dancer to have a go at some of Hammer’s moves, such as ‘The Running Man’ and the ‘Hammer Dance’.

7. Harlem Shake – Baauer

Not really a music video as such, but Baauer’s Harlem Shake didn’t need to spend thousands on production of a vid – thousands of Youtube users sorted that out instead. In early 2013, a fad of performing The Harlem Shake took hold, resulted in a wealth of videos of performers ‘dancing’ in the loosest sense of the word. There’s no denying it though – even if the dancers aren’t always up to scratch, they’re pretty amusing.

6. Vogue – Madonna

Released in 1990, Madonna was at the pinnacle of her career when Vogue hit the charts. The video itself was produced after hundreds of dancers appeared at a casting call in Los Angeles, and is filmed in homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood. That angular, smooth dance is now coined as ‘Vouging’, and requires a great deal of concentration to pull off properly!

5. Single Ladies – Beyonce

The look, the outfits, the hair, the film style and the dance – everything about Single Ladies is iconic. Coming in at number five on our list, this great chart-topper showcases some of the best dancing ever on a music video.

4. Macarena – Los del Rio

One of the most well-known one hit wonders ever the chart, Macarena was an international hit after its release in 1995 and continues to be one of the most iconic tracks of the 90s. Los del Rio were a lounge act who composed the song chorus ad hoc, and the remix which would become so popular included English lyrics sung by Carla Vanessa. And the dance – supposedly, it was devised by a local flamenco teacher!

3. Bad – Michael Jackson

As part of an 18-minute film written by Richard Price and directed by Martin Scorsese in 1987, Bad is one of Jackson’s most memorable dance offerings – not least because of that signature crotch grab. Many of the parts of the film actually make reference or homage to West Side Story.

2. Thriller – Michael Jackson

Easily one of the most iconic music videos of the 80s, everything about Thriller is quintessential Jackson, and it’s no wonder it got such a high place on this list. This video has got everything – zombies, werewolves, red leather jackets, memorable dance moves, shuffling – this is quintessential Jackson.

1. Gangnam – Style Psy

One of the biggest pop hits of 2012 – if not the biggest – Psy’s Gangnam Style broke all sorts of records. In fact, it would become YouTube’s most watching video, even more than Justin Bieber’s Baby. Our survey saw this vid come out on top. Quirky, strange, and with an easy to learn dance, we’re not surprised it ranked so high. What do you think?

The Top Ten Best Dance Film Scenes

Dance Films

Who doesn’t love a dance film? For uplifting moves and some real great tunes, you can always rely on a good dance film to perk you up. It’s no surprise that many dancers get their first interest in the world of movement from seeing an actor bust a move on the big screen. Everyone’s got a film that made them fall in love with dance.

To find out which dance film we are most in love with, we conducted a survey amongst dance film fans – and the results weren’t all that surprising! Read on to find out which dance films have the best dance scenes, and sit back and watch our favourite big screen heroes strut their stuff!

10. Fame (1980)

In at number ten is American musical classic Fame. With music by Michael Gore and choreography by MTV dance instructor Louis Falco, it’s no wonder this film has also been ranked in Entertainment Weekly’s top 50 Best High School Movies.

9. Step Up (2006)

Showcasing one of heartthrob Channing Tatum’s breakthrough roles, Step Up follows the story of two very different dancers in two very different social classes, and who must rely on each other to cement their professional futures.

8. Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Say what you like about John Travolta – the man has got some moves. In at number 8 on our list was his solo dance scene in Saturday Night Fever, in which he takes to a gloriously fabulous lighted stage in an equally fabulous pair of flares and dances the club to a standstill.

7. West Side Story (1961)

You can’t get more iconic than that opening scene – two rival gangs who ‘fight’ by pulling off some slick dance moves in front of each other. For style, grace and stone cold coolness, West Side Story is the quintessential retro dance film.

6. Footloose (1984)

It’s not great in the world of musical-drama Footloose – upbeat Chicago teen Ren has moved to a small town in which rock music and dancing have been banned under the order of a local minister.
There’s plenty of feel-good dance numbers in this, but of course what made number 7 was the dance to the film’s catchy theme tune. And it really is a toe-tapper!

5. Flashdance (1983)

Despite the fact that it opened to negative reviews by critics, Flashdance became a box-office hit and is now one of the best-loved dance films ever made. And the dance scene that made this list? It has to be that iconic finale, in which Alex dances for all she is worth. What a feeling!

4. Grease (1978)

It’s another appearance on this list for John Travolta – this time in 1978 classic Grease. There’s so many great dance scenes to choose from – but what made number four in our list was that toe-tapping classic Greased Lightning.

3. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Yet another film starring John Travolta! And it’s another iconic dance scene from the Tarantino blockbuster. Even though it’s not quite as complicated as some of the other dance scenes on this list, it’s still a favourite at weddings even now – and you can’t say it’s not memorable.

2. Singing in the Rain (1952)

You can’t have a list about the best dance scenes without Singing in the Rain – so here it is, in at number two. And the scene which everyone loves so much? Of course, it’s Gene Kelly singing – and dancing – in the rain!

1. Dirty Dancing (1987)

Don’t tell us you’re surprised – the most loved dance film scene comes from Patrick Swayze romance flick Dirty Dancing. The coming of age drama is one of the most loved dance films ever made – and who can’t fall in love with this final dance scene?

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Busby Berkeley

Busby BerkeleyBusby Berkeley, born November 29 1895 (died March 14 1976) was a highly influential Hollywood director and musical choreographer, famous for his elaborate musical production numbers that involved complex choreography through geometric patterns. Berkeley’s works used large numbers of showgirls and props as fantasy elements in on-screen performances which were both captivating and impressive.

Berkeley made his stage debut aged five, acting in the company of his performing family. Following his serving in World War I, during the 1920s Berkeley became a dance director for nearly 30 Broadway musicals. As a choreographer, Berkeley was more interested in his chorus girls’ ability to form attractive geometric patterns, creating an awe-inspiringly regimented display perhaps inspired by his army experiences. However, his audiences experiencing the Great Depression of America made Berkeley very popular, and he went on to choreograph four musicals back-to-back for Warner Bros.: 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Gold Diggers of 1933 and Fashions of 1934.

For his choreographic work, Berkeley began to develop his theatrical techniques for the musical numbers of films, such as Samuel Goldwyn’s Eddie Cantor musicals. Here he trialled and extended techniques such as the “parade of faces” in which each chorus girl’s face was shot with an individual, loving close-up. He also began to move his dancers around the stage, and later beyond the stage in shooting highly cinematic shots containing as many kaleidoscopic patterns as possible. The ‘top shot’ filming technique, shot from above, became synonymous with Berkeley’s work, another kaleidoscope shot which also appeared in the Cantor films.

As a choreographer Berkeley was allowed much independence in his direction of musical numbers, yet they were often in great contrast to the narrative sections of the films, focusing on decoration and the aesthetics of dance and glamour. Many of his innovative creations have been heavily analysed, some critiqued for their display, or perhaps exploitation, of the female form as seen through the “male gaze”. However Berkeley always denied any significance of his work, arguing that his main professional goals were to constantly improve his work and never repeat his past accomplishments.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Theatreland Cinema

Digital Theatre & CinemaLiveSimilar to many ballet productions that have recently been screened in cinemas, it will be possible in the future to catch up with your favourite West End shows with a bucket of popcorn. Digital Theatre, which makes filmed theatre productions available for download online, and CinemaLive have paired up to screen some of the best of British theatre in UK cinemas, both new works and those from theatrical archives.

Digital Theatre has partnered with film producers CinemaLive and will present its first series of screenings in September 2013. No titles have been annoucned yet for the screening programme, but the focus will be primarily on West End productions, including David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing and David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. In turn this will presumably make West End productions more accessible to larger audiences, however this may also decrease their unique exclusivity, and the singular experience of taking in a production in the heart of Theatreland. Despite this, opening up West End productions to other audiences may also increase revenue for theatres in inspiring audiences to see other and alternative productions that they may first have seen in the cinema.

Since the launch of National Theatre Live in 2009, theatre has had an increasingly regular presence in cinemas. In June 2013, NT Live will broadcast its first West End production, The Audience which stars Helen Mirren, following the lead of Graham McLaren’s production of Great Expectations, which was live-broadcasted its opening night around the UK. This took around £80,000 at the box office, emphasising the decline (or perhaps increase) of audiences visiting West End theatres, but ultimately expanding the possibilities by offering audiences another chance to catch past productions they might have missed.

Founded by Robert Delamere and Tom Shaw in 2009, Digital Theatre now hosts productions from some of the UK’s largest theatres, including the Royal Court, the Royal Shakespeare Company Shakespeare’s Globe and the Almeida theatre.

First Position

First PositionFirst Position, a ballet documentary-come-movie to be screened in cinemas in the UK, paints a thrilling and moving portrait of the most gifted ballet stars of tomorrow as they prepare for the chance to enter the world of professional ballet. Bess Kargman’s award-winning box office hit documentary follows six extraordinary dancers, complete with bruises, blood, injuries and near exhaustion, as they follow their dreams and enter the Youth America Grand Prix, held annually in New York for boys and girls aged 8 to 19.

Every year, thousands of aspiring dancers enter the Youth America Grand Prix as one of the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions where talented dancers compete for the coveted title. In the final round hundreds of young dancers compete for only a handful of elite scholarships and contracts and it is imperative that nothing short of perfection is performed. First Position showcases the awe-inspiring talent and passion that is displayed by the dancers, and had its World Premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and was named the audience choice’s first runner-up for Best Documentary. It also won the Jury Prize at the San Francisco Doc Fest, the audience award for Best Documentary at the Dallas International Film Festival, the audience award for Best Documentary at the Portland International Film Festival, and the audience award for Best Documentary at DOC NYC.

First Position centres around the protagonist characters of Jules Jarvis Fogarty, age 10, Aran Bell, age 11, Gaya Bommer Yemini, age 11, Miko Fogarty, age 12, Michaela DePrince, age 14, Joan Sebastian Zamora, age 16, and Rebecca Houseknecht, age 17. The dancers are from all over the world, and First Position reveals the dancers’ fates, with most of the group emerging from the competition with a statuette, award, scholarship or contract with a ballet company.

Andrew Lloyd Webber: 40 Years

Andrew Lloyd WebberITV are set to celebrate Andrew Lloyd Webber’s impressive and vast 40-year career with a 90-minute television special to mark his musical achievements. Stars such as Samantha Barks, Kimberley Walsh, Tim Minchin and Nicole Scherzinger are among the performers who will take part in the show which aims to celebrate the on-stage work of Lloyd Webber, rather than be a tribute to said work, which is sure to continue far into the future.

Aptly named ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber: 40 Years’, the 90-minute programme will be hosted by musical theatre icon Michael Ball, donning his top hat and tails to make sure the show goes down a storm for viewers. The show will include performances of songs from the Lloyd Webber’s shows, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats and Evita. Both Jesus Christ Superstar and Cats have seen recent revivals for the stage, giving younger audiences the chance to see musicals that they may have been unable to see in the shows’ heyday. However, these examples alone demonstrate the power of Lloyd Webber’s music to communicate with audiences and continue to attract them to fantastic shows up and down the country, and even all over the world.

The evening will also feature the first performance of a song from Lloyd Webber’s forthcoming show, Stephen Ward, and will include Lloyd Webber sharing anecdotes and discussing his musical influences in creating for a blockbuster show. Contributions from those people within the performing arts industry who have worked with him will not be thin on the ground, with the programme detailing Lloyd Webber’s unrivalled contribution to theatre.

Lloyd Webber will be using the ITV programme to celebrate his four decades in the West End with an evening that promises some spectacular performances and a deeper insight into the man himself.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The 2013 Dancing On Ice Champion

Dancing On Ice 2013

Another televised dance-esque competition show is over for the year: Dancing on Ice saw Olympic gymnast Beth Tweddle crowned the winner with partner Dan Whiston. Whilst many may argue that neither gymnastics nor ice skating have much to do with dance, it is clear that the skills of dance lend themselves to other disciplines which also contain elements of art and performance.

Being able to sustain a performance and carry your audience through a routine, piece or instalment is one of the key ingredients for success. With your audience hanging on every artistic word of your performance, it is no longer split into technique, performance skills, personality, and costume, and so on. You are able to create an illusion in the performance space, and go on to win Dancing on Ice!

The public vote meant that Beth – who won Olympic Bronze in the Uneven Bars last summer – and her partner Dan beat actor Matt Lapinskas’ two perfect ’10’ routines, complete with show tights and lots of sequins! The pair also impressed the judges with their version of the Bolero, made famous at the 1984 Winter Olympics by Olympians Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean, who also feature on the show. Late 2012 also saw a 2012 Olympian win on television: gymnast Louis Smith beat his competitors on Strictly Come Dancing, mirroring Beth’s win in 2013. It has been revealed that there will be a ninth series of Dancing on Ice in 2014.

Prior to her Dancing on Ice win, Beth has had much success in the world of sparkly leotards and chalk: gymnastics. In addition to being an Olympic Bronze medallist, Beth is a triple World Champion, a six-time European Champion, a Commonwealth Champion and a seven-time consecutive National Champion. Beth has competed at three Olympic Games: Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012.