Thursday, December 25, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Varna International Ballet Competition 1983

I am thrilled to be able to show you an exclusive. Valery Lantratov has not yet seen these clips himself!

They are videos of the 1983 Varna International Ballet Competition. Although the video is not professional, and has a few glitches here and there due to its age, it shows a young Valery Lantratov and a stunning Tatiana Pali. I'm thrilled to be able to share them here and thank you very much to Youtube user Ketinoa who was generous enough to take the time to go into the archives and share these with us.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What An Obama Administration May Mean for the Arts

On Sunday's Meet the Press, the president-elect spoke about his vision for arts and culture in the White House. (A clip of this segment of the interview can be found on the blog of Americans for the Arts.)

"Part of what we want to do is to open up the White House and remind people this is the people's house," Obama told Tom Brokaw. "Thinking about the diversity of our culture and inviting jazz musicians and classical musicians and poetry readings in the White House so that once again we appreciate this incredible tapestry that's America... Historically, what has always brought us through hard times is that national character, that sense of optimism, that willingness to look forward, that sense that better days are ahead. I think that our art and our culture, our science--you know, that's the essence of what makes America special, and we want to project that as much as possible in the White House."

We have already noted that the Obama children take ballet lessons and that Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel has his own dance background.

Shortly after Obama named Emanuel as his White House Chief of Staff, the president-elect announced Bill Ivey, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1998-2001, would head his transition team for arts and culture.

If you want to know a bit about Ivey's perspective on culture, go to a library and check out a copy of his book Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights.

In the book Ivey argues the public's right to access its cultural heritage is threatened by monopolistic corporations, ever-expanding copyright laws and the erosion of the concept of the "public domain," and "fair use." He makes a strong argument for the concept of the cultural commons-- an artistic heritage that belongs to the entire community.

There is no guarantee, he writes, "that music, drama, literature, and dance created over the past century will be made available, or that, when we look for it, the heritage we seek will exist."

In 1999, while he was still heading the NEA, Dance Magazine ran a biographical feature on Ivey:

"For me, the excitement of working with the Endowment is trying to accomplish two things," he told Dance Magazine. "I'd like to leave this job with the agency stronger than it was when I came in, supported with a broad consensus that the work we do here is important to society." Ivey's second goal is to preserve the country's "living cultural heritage," he said, "so that young people in the year 2000 and beyond have good access to the creativity of artists who have gone before."

For dance, this means documenting the choreography of American legends such as Martha Graham, Alvin Alley, and Fred Astaire. In a refreshingly honest statement, Ivey admitted that he didn't know enough about dance to come up with other names off the top of his head, though he knew that there were many more. He did note, however, that Pilobolus and the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company--both known for their high energy and innovative choreography--are his favorite troupes to watch. "I think they're wild," he said.

The NEA's most contentious experience in the spotlight under Ivey occurred on June 25, 1998, when the Supreme Court decided to uphold the law requiring the organization to consider decency as a criterion in allocating grants. The law originated from the 1989 controversy surrounding Robert Mapplethorpe's homoerotic photographs, and was recently challenged on grounds of freedom of expression by New York's chocolate-smearing performance artist, Karen Finley. While many artists consider this highly subjective criterion a violation of free speech, Ivey supports it wholeheartedly.

This summer Ivey told Danielle Maestretti, in an article that appeared in the Utne Reader, that he is concerned that Americans have become consumers of art rather than creators.

"We feel that sports are invigorated when many people can play at many levels. While we understand that amateur basketball players are not going to be as good as a superstar, there’s no sense that they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. But in the arts, around the fourth or fifth grade, we find people who have special talent, we separate them, give them special attention, and create some terrific artists who serve society—but we tend to denigrate the amateur."

He went on to call for a greater value to be placed on the imaginative solutions that artists could bring to an entire range of problems: "If we’re talking about a new sewage disposal system, there should be an artist on that panel; there should be artists on school boards and neighborhood commissions, not to make the project look pretty, but to bring a unique approach. Artists are very good at metaphor, at seeing less-obvious links, at right-brain thinking that might not be linear but that gets you to a good result by making an imaginative leap."

In 2005, an essay Ivey wrote entitled "America Needs a New System for Supporting the Arts" was discussed in Back Stage.

"If I had titled it," Ivey told Back Stage, "I would have called it 'It's Time for America to Reassess Its Approach to Intervening in the Cultural System,' and I use the word 'intervene' rather than 'fund' because I don't know that all questions involving the vitality of America's cultural landscape are all about money."

In particular, he noted that "the 1996 Telecommunications Act laid the groundwork for the consolidation of radio stations" and "the Digital Millennium Copyright Act toughened criminal penalties on unauthorized duplication of recordings, films, and software code, and extended the penalties' reach into the homes of average citizens."

Both measures, Ivey argued, undermine the ability of artists and arts organizations to foster creativity. He also wrote that he was "slightly queasy" about the "disconnect between the priorities of the cultural sector and the reality of the arts system... Had those of us who cared about the health of America's system for supporting the arts, by concentrating narrowly on cultural nonprofit groups and the agencies and nongovernmental organizations that help them, overlooked the policy interventions that were really shifting our cultural landscape?"

Resources for Further Reading

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Preventing Injury in Dance

Did you know that in Connecticut it is illegal to pirouette while crossing the street? To be fair, this is not simply a ballet bias, you're not allowed to walk across the street on your hands either.

When I read articles like the one linked above, I am always left wondering what the story is behind such laws. How, exactly, did the question ever come up? Sometime in Connecticut's past, someone must have been injured while pirouetting in the street.

Which leads us to today's topic, preventing injury in dance. Coventry University is researching the biomechanics of ballet and Irish dance in order to devise ways of preventing injury. The link above will take you to a video about the program which uses some of the same computer technology that has been applied to animation and video games to chart the loads on various muscles during a pirouette or a grand jete. The researchers note that ballet and step dancers are especially prone to injury, and by scientifically charting what is happening to the body they hope to come up with says of preventing such problems.

[Note: the video requires the Quicktime plug-in. I was unable to get it to play in Firefox.]

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Exhaustion of Tickets

The picture to the left is a promotional shot for a young stars of the Bolshoi gala. The description of the production translated from the Greek by Babel Fish is:

The appearances of this young stars, that honour the art of dance with the immaculate technique and the lyricism that allocates, have as resulting from the exhaustion of tickets as soon as they circulate in all their appearances per the world.

You have to love Babel Fish translations. Pictured suspended in air is Vladislav Lantratov, who is quickly moving up the Bolshoi ranks.

Unfortunately, I have not yet found any Internet photos, videos, reviews or references for the senior Lantratov's production of Don Quixote. The Russian National Ballet Foundation, directed by Valery Lantratov, has just completed a highly successful tour of Don Quixote in Cyprus and Lebanon. Plans are underway for a return to the region in the spring.

In between, he will be back in the United States teaching classical ballet technique at studios across the nation. Our calendar has finally been posted, you can look at it via the link on the right. If you would like to take a class with Valery Lantratov, contact one of the schools on the schedule.  Many, but not all, of them open master classes to outside students.  We do not know which studios have this practice, so you will need to contact them directly.

We have only three more dates we are trying to fill. If you have a studio in Florida, and would like to have a class with Valery Lantratov, please contact us at  We are now hard at work on our summer schedule.  Please let us know if you would like a summer intensive with Valery Lantratov-- our schedule is filling quickly.

Incidentally, I came across another celebrity to add to the "did you know he was a dancer?" file. James Lipton, host of Inside the Actor's Studio, revealed in his 200th episode that he was once a serious dance student. His own answer to the "Pivot questionnaire" item: "What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?" He replied that he would like to be a principal dancer, but forever young and without injury.

We agree that this would be a great career choice if such a thing existed!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Let's Hear it for the Science Nerds!

Who says scientists got no rhythm? The winners of the "Dance Your PhD" competition have been announced. It's an annual challenge that gives scientists the opportunity to express their thesis work through dance.

Here is a clip of one of the winners, Sue Lynn Lau, a graduate student at the University of Sydney, Australia, who designed a routine as a representation of her thesis, "The role of Vitamin D in beta-cell function."

The crucial role of sunlight exposure as the most important source of vitamin D in humans led to this light themed dance:

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Business of Ballet and the Ballet of Business

Last week I wrote about how ballet is invading the White House. I included a clip of Barack Obama roasting Rahm Emanuel by referring to the similarities between ballet and politics. I also uncovered the secret dance background of comedian Stephen Colbert. Does dance help you succeed in business?

Over at Voice of Dance there is an article that poses just such a theory. John R. Killacky wrote:

Personally, dance gave me poise, self-confidence, musicality, and cultural literacy. I learned to work in an ensemble, as a soloist, or in the background. Improvisation illustrated how group wisdom was superior to solo problem solving. Choreography helped me understand gesture and spatial design. I was able to locate myself in the world. Through dance, I crafted an identity with other gay men as positive role models.

In running a one-person office for Laura Dean and then Trisha Brown in the early 1980s, I relied more on ingenuity than on experience when booking and managing tours, writing grant proposals, working with Boards of Directors and balancing the books. Since I had no prior administrative experience, the dancer in me was often called upon to work intuitively.
While the article appeared in Voice of Dance, and the theme is therefore dance not business, I would argue that Killacky's tale says more about the nature of entrepreneurship than it does about the benefits of dance.

It is true that running one's own business requires flexibility and some of the same insecurity of an artist's life. But it does not follow that an artist's career inherently prepares one for a business career. If that were true ballet companies would always be flush with cash and business executives would be begging for grants. (Ok, that last part has become true, but only recently.)

As we work with dance schools across the nation, one of the most common things we hear is a plaintive "we're a non-profit," which comes as the first sentence in a conversation about what the school cannot afford. In my experience, dance-based enterprises are not famous for their profitability.

That an entrepreneur draws on his dance background is not surprising. Being an entrepreneur can be all consuming. You do not have the safety net of a regular paycheck from an employer and you never know if your top client will suddenly go elsewhere or if that payment you're expecting to cover your costs will come two months too late. It requires all of your skills, cunning and past experience-- whatever that may be. If you were a dancer, you will surely draw on the skills you learned in that field just as you would the skills you learned in books, in school, in the Boy Scouts, at church and in your camping hobby. All of your knowledge will come into play.

My point, of course, is not to dismiss the value of dance. Simply to say that we should measure its value for what it is, not its value in the economic marketplace. This is a harder thing to quantify, certainly and it is why we keep turning to arguments like "dance is important because it helps you with math and science." (i.e. don't worry, dance is preparing you for something practical at which you can make money.) Dance instruction is important because it teaches you dance. Dance is dance's value.

Of course, I welcome other points of view in the comments.

Stocking Stuffers for the Dancer

And while I have you here, and we're talking about business, I wanted to remind you about two books that we have available which make great Christmas gifts for the dancer in your life. First is the new "Dancer's Quote Book."

When I started this blog a couple of years ago, I wished that there was a good book of quotations by and about dancers. I only came across one or two small gift books with a dance theme and so I began compiling my favorite quotes as I read interviews and books. The result is The Dancer's Quote Book, a collection of dance humor and wisdom.

Valery Lantratov is quoted here, as are Mikhail Baryshnikov, Martha Graham, Anna Pavlova, Isadora Duncan, Fred Astaire, Gregory Hines and many others. The quotes explore dance in all its complexity, from technique to body image to pain and spiritual joy. It is available now through as a paperback book or a downloadable ebook.

We also have two copies left of A Child's Introduction to Ballet autographed by Valery Lantratov. (After those are gone, you will receive a copy autographed by the author, but not the dancer.) We believe we have created a book that makes learning about ballet fun for kids. (And their parents too!) Beautifully illustrated by Meredith Hamilton, it has illustrated ballet stories, fun facts, dancer biographies and explanations of ballet terminology and positions. It even comes with a CD with musical selections from the world's great ballets.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

This Week in Dance History: November 16-22

November 16, 2002- William Marrie, 33, was tragically killed when his motorcycle collided with a cab in New York City. A former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, he was performing in the Twyla Tharp/Billy Joel Broadway hit Movin' Out at the time of his death.

November 17, 2002- More than 200 dancers completed Russia's first 24-hour ballet marathon. The dancers performed about 20 arrangements, both classical and modern, at the Marinsky theatre in St. Petersburg.

November 18, 1989- The Los Angeles Times reported on a new dance craze. "Lambada is a mix of Latin rhythms like Colombian cumbia, Dominican merengue, Argentinan tango and Brizilan samba ensembled in a new and contagious sound."

November 19, 1988- Alan Covacic of Great Britain finished square dance calling after 26 hours and 2 minutes, a Guinness World Record. The event happened at the Wheelers and Dealers Square Dance Club in Aylesbury, Great Britain.

November 20, 1903-Russian ballerina Alexandra Danilova was born. One of the most popular dancers of her day, she began her career at the Marinsky Ballet before forming a small group with George Balanchine and left Russia for a tour to Europe in 1924. From then on she was a presence in the West, engaged by Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes from 1924-29, she next danced with de Basil's Ballets Russes and Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Read more about her life and career at Andros on Ballet or watch her in action at Youtube.

November 21, 1766- The first permanent theater in America, the Southwark Theater in Philadelphia, opened.

And on this date in 1912- Eleanor Powell was born. Known as the "Queen of Tap," she began her career in Vaudeville and went on to be one of the greatest film dancers of Hollywood's golden era. She co-starred with many of the silver screen's greatest stars including Jimmy Stewart, Robert Taylor, Fred Astaire, Nelson Eddy, and Robert Young. (The clip below features Eleanor Powell in Ship Ahoy. Singing at the beginning is Bert Lahr best known as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz.)

Also on this date, in 1937- Eugene Von Grona's American Negro Ballet debuted at Harlem's Lafayette Theater. The company was comprised of respondents to an advertisement in the Amsterdam News offering free dance lessons at the Harlem YMCA. Thirty of the strongest dancers were chosen, and trained. The original program, choreographed by Von Grona to Ellington, Stravinsky, W. C. Handy, and J. S. Bach, received a lukewarm reception by critics. The company survived only five months.

November 22, 1928-The one act ballet Bolero with music by Maurice Ravel opened at the Paris Opera. The music was more enduring than the ballet.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ballet in the White House

Ballet classes may be coming to the White House. You may have heard that President-Elect Barack Obama's daughters study the art. "No matter where he is on the campaign trail, Barack Obama has made it a point to return to see every one of his 9 and 6 year old daughter's ballet recitals," writes the organizer of the "Ballet Dads for Obama" group.

Obama has also chosen a former ballet dancer as his chief of staff. Rahm Emmanuel, who is also said to be the inspiration for the West Wing character "Josh Lyman," danced for a year at Sarah Lawrence after turning down a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet School; as a freshman, he appeared in a modern-dance piece called “Desire.”

Katia Bachko, while editor of Dance Teacher Magazine, once tried to interview him on the subject of dance, but her attempt fell flat. (She wrote about it in the Columbia Journalism Review)

Ron Reagan, Jr, the President's son (left), is apparently unimpressed by Emmanuel's dance chops: “I’m not trying to knock him or anything," he said, "but, O.K., it’s like if I’m a well-known actor—not a big star, but I appear in movies—and you’re talking about someone who was in the drama club in high school.”

In this clip (below)from a political roast from 2005, Barack Obama describes the value of ballet for a career in politics.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Vladislav lantratov

Reviewing my ballet subscriptions over on Youtube, I discovered this pleasant surprise, a clip of Vladislav Lantratov, Valery's son, dancing La Sylphide with the Bolshoi Ballet. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Dancing for your Vote

Funny Pictures

Sky News did a list of the top online videos this week and number one was a clip of presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain busting a move.

Here's the full clip for your viewing pleasure, in case you haven't seen it:

Obama's real moves? Well...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dancing with the Stars

Youtube surfing revealed an interesting fact today. Among the unlikely celebrities who did ballet is Stephen Colbert, at least according to this clip from the Charlie Rose Show.

Do you know of any other celebs with a surprising dance background? Please post them in the comments section.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Scientific American Takes on the Dance

Scientific American must have been in a terpsichorian mood lately. In addition to the Stayin' Alive story I mentioned a few days ago, the publication has tackled the question Why Do We Like to Dance?

First, people speculate that music was created through rhythmic movement—think: tapping your foot. Second, some reward-related areas in the brain are connected with motor areas. Third, mounting evidence suggests that we are sensitive and attuned to the movements of others' bodies, because similar brain regions are activated when certain movements are both made and observed. For example, the motor regions of professional dancers' brains show more activation when they watch other dancers compared with people who don't dance.

This kind of finding has led to a great deal of speculation with respect to mirror neurons—cells found in the cortex, the brain's central processing unit, that activate when a person is performing an action as well as watching someone else do it. Increasing evidence suggests that sensory experiences are also motor experiences. Music and dance may just be particularly pleasurable activators of these sensory and motor circuits. So, if you're watching someone dance, your brain's movement areas activate; unconsciously, you are planning and predicting how a dancer would move based on what you would do.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dance News of the Week: Stayin' Alive-- Literally

CNN reported this week that the disco anthem Stayin' Alive has the perfect beat for CPR.

In a study from the University of Illinois medical school, doctors and students maintained close to the ideal number of chest compressions doing CPR while listening to the 103 beats per minute Bee Gees anthem.

Dr. Matthew Gilbert, a medical resident, noted that Queen's Another One Bites the Dust had a similar beat, but its theme didn't seem as appropriate.

You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Update from Valery Lantratov

Valery Lantratov is hard at work on a full production of Don Quixote with his Russian National Ballet Foundation which will be touring Cyrpus this fall. He follows that with a performance of The Nutcracker, which will give more than 20 performances in Moscow this winter ending only a few days before his trip to the United States!

He hasn't had time to record any new podcasts, but he sends his greetings to all of the students who have taken part in his classes and he's looking forward to seeing many new and familiar faces this winter.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Introducing The Dancer's Quote Book

When I started this blog a couple of years ago, I wished that there was a good book of quotations by and about dancers. I only came across one or two small gift books with a dance theme and so I began compiling my favorite quotes as I read interviews and books. The result is The Dancer's Quote Book, an 85 page collection of dance humor and wisdom.

Valery Lantratov is quoted here, as are Mikhail Baryshnikov, Martha Graham, Anna Pavlova, Isadora Ducan, Fred Astaire, Gregory Hines and many others. The quotes explore dance in all its complexity, from technique to body image to pain and spiritual joy. It is available now through as a paperback book or a downloadable ebook.

I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I enjoyed compiling it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

This Date in Dance History: October 5-11

October 5, 1883-Serge Grigoriev régisseur of the Ballets Russes for twenty years from 1909, was born. In an era before videotape, Grigoriev remembered and recorded the choreography of the Ballet Russes’ great choreographers like Vaclav Nijinsky and Michel Fokine.

And on this date in 2002- Mia Slavenska, one of the leading ballerinas of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo passed away at age 86. Known for her “glamorous virtuoso technique” she also starred in the 1938 motion picture La Mort du Cygne or Ballerina.

October 6, 1949- Roland Petit’s Les Ballets de Paris opened on Broadway at the Wintergarden Theater. Featuring scenes from Carmen, L’Oeuf a la Coque, Pas d’Action and Le Combat, it ran for 116 performances until January 1950.

And on this date in 1974- Bernadette Peters and Robert Preston give "two of the finest performances of the season," in the words of the New York Post when they opened in Mack and Mabel, the David Merrick produced musical about the silent film era. The production ran only 65 performances at the Majestic Theatre.

October 7, 1909- Rimsky-Korsakov's last opera, The Golden Cockerel, opened in Moscow. Five years later it gained fame in Paris as a Diaghilev ballet.

And on this date in 1982- The Musical Cats had its U.S. premiere at the Winter Garden in New York City.

October 8, 1961- Jerome Robbins’ Ballet USA, which consisted of The Concert, Afternoon of a Fawn, and New York Export: Opus Jazz Moves, opened on Broadway at the ANTA Playhouse. It ran for 24 performances.

October 9, 1928-The Light of Asia opened at Hampden’s Theater. It featured the last choreography by Ruth St. Denis for a Broadway show and ran for 23 performances.

And on this date in 1972- "Dude: The Musical” had its premiere on Broadway. I might, as theater writer Patricia Bosworth speculated, “go down in theatrical history as Braodway’s most monumental disaster.” The Broadway Theater was transformed into a thematic area for the elaborate production at a cost of $800,000. The audience sat in valleys, foothills, mountains and trees. The musical itself was universally panned and ran for 16 performances. During one of the final performances, its author Gerome Ragni, reportedly barked at audience members “Go back to your seat. Just go sit down and suffer with everybody else.”

And on this date in 1975-Drums, Dreams and Banjos, a work choreographed by Gerald Arpino for the U.S. bicentennial celebration, featuring the songs of Stephen Foster, had its premiere by the Joffrey Ballet in New York City.

October 10, 1684-Jean-Antoine Watteau, an artist whose work (an example of which appears to the right) reflects the influence of the opéra ballet, was born on this date.

October 11, 1907-Tap dancer Peg Leg Bates was born.

And in 1918- Ballet master and Broadway choreographer Jerome Robbins was born. He would go on to be an innovative choreographer of ballets created for the New York City Ballet, Ballets U.S.A., American Ballet Theatre, and other international companies as well as a director of musicals and plays for Broadway, movies and television programs. In his 79 years he choreographed 60 ballets and won numerous awards including five Donaldson Awards, four Tonys, two Oscars for the 1961 film version of West Side Story and an Emmy for a televised version of Peter Pan.

And in 1970-Natalia Makarova, prima ballerina with the Kirov Ballet, who had defected from the USSR in September joined the American Ballet Theater.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

This Date in Dance History September 28-October 3

September 28, 1934- The Fountain of Bakhchisaray debuted at the Kirov. It was the first ballet to be created by the notable choreographer Rostislav Zakharov. Based on a Pushkin poem, it tells the story a brutal Tatar chief, the Khan Girei, redeemed by tragic love for a young Polish princess, Maria. Dance critic Clive Barnes described the ballet as a “melodramatic, blood-and-thunder tearjerker.”

And on this date in 2000- Ballet for Life, which celebrated the lives of Bejart Ballet dancer Jorge Donn and rock star Freddie Mercury, both of whom died of AIDS at the age of 45, opened at Sadler's Wells Theater. “It was a moving but joyful appreciation for the two men, and it showed the company in so many different moods and styles,” wrote Dance Magazine reviewer Margaret Willis.

September 29, 1964- President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a bill creating a National Foundation for the Arts and Humanities.

And on this date in 2001- An animal psychologist from Exeter University in England held a “horse ballet” at her farm. She taught what she called classical ballet steps to her horses. The equine dancers performed in a ring to music which ranged from classical to country and western and the Beatles

September 30, 1961- The Kirov Ballet finished a successful run at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Dance Magazine reviewer Doris Hering wrote of the company: “The Kirov ... has used restraint as the key to its style, both in dance and in mime. But with the exception of Shostakovitch Seventh Symphony, it has not created a comparable simplicity in its staging and decorative aspects. If it is fair to judge from the repertoire of three full-length classics and two variety programs that the company brought to New York, it, too, gives dance an operatic context. The Kirov Ballet might almost be called anachronism.”

And on this date in 1974-Cynthia Gregory, principal dancer for American Ballet Theater, announced she would perform in Cuba. She was the first important U.S. artist to visit the island nation since 1961, when diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba were severed.

October 1, 1936- Edward Villella, the New York City Ballet dancer and founder of the Miami City Ballet, was born. In recognition of his achievements, President Clinton presented to Mr. Villella the 1997 National Medal of Arts. Also in 1997, Mr. Villella was named a Kennedy Center Honoree, and was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

October 2, 1929-Tanaquil LeClercq, one of the original members of Ballet Society, the forerunner of the New York City Ballet, was born. During her brief career, he danced 40 roles, most of them created for her by George Balanchine, to whom she was married from 1952-1969. Her dancing career was ended prematurely when she was stricken with polio and paralyzed from the waist down in 1956. (A video of Tanaquil LeClercq is available on Youtube, but embedding is disabled.)

October 3, 1886- Birthdate of Russian-born costume designer Barbara Karinska, responsible for the costumes worn in every major ballet presented by the New York City Ballet from 1948 to 1977. The New York City Ballet has a tribute to the costumer on their web page.

And on this date in 1941- Chubby Checker was born. He would go on to record the only song to go to No 1 on the U.S. singles chart twice—once in 1960 and again in 1962. That song was “The Twist.” “The Twist, wrote Eldridge Cleaver the author and civil rights leader, "was a guided missile, launched from the ghetto into the very heart of suburbia.The Twist succeeded, as politics, religion and law could never do, in writing in the heart and the soul what the Supreme Court could only write on the books.”

And on this date in 1956- The Bolshoi Ballet appeared at Covent Garden for the first time.

And on this date in 1974- Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov danced the Don Quixote pas de deux with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet at the Manitoba Centennial Concert Hall inaugurating their dance partnership.

October 4, 1951- The Gene Kelly musical An American in Paris had its premiere in New York City. The film featured a 17-minute ballet sequence choreographed by Kelly to music by George Gershwin.

And in 1973- Hans Van Manens’ ballet Adagio Hammerklavier premiered in Amsterdam. It was described as a piece on the "disharmony in relationships caused by unfulfilled desires."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

This Week in Dance History: September 20-27

September 20, 1967-The ballet Astarte created and choreographed by Robert Joffrey was first presented by the City Center Joffrey Ballet at the City Center, New York with Trinette Singleton and Maximiliano Zomosa. Described as “choreo-cinema,” Astarte featured acid-rock music, film segments and disco-style lighting.

And on this date in 1996- Paul Draper, the dancer credited with creating ballet-tap (a mixture of ballet and tap dancing) passed away. In a 1948 review, John Martin, dance critic of The New York Times, likened his feet to fingers on a keyboard. ''His touch is sensitive, full of dynamic shading,'' Mr. Martin wrote. ''His phrasing is beautifully free and rhythmic, and against the background of his carefully chosen music he invents the most delicate and rapturous counter phrases.''

September 21, 1998- Russian deputy prosecutor general Aleksandr Zviyaguintsev announced that Rudolf Nureyev was posthumously rehabilitated. The dancer had been sentenced in absentia to seven years in prison when he defected to France in 1961.

September 22, 1964-Fiddler on the Roof, a musical by Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem with choreography by Jerome Robbins opened at the Imperial Theater in New York City. Wallace Muro, a dancer who performed in the production said, “There was a rule about the bottle dance. Periodically one of the dancers had to drop his bottle… Jerry Robbins wanted it to be exciting. He felt that the audience needed to understand that those bottles weren’t glued on—they were really balanced.”

And on this date in 1996- Ludmilla Chiriaeff, the Canadian ballerina and founder of Les Ballets Chiriaeff and the Academy of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and L'Ecole Supérieure des Grands Ballets Canadiens, passed away at age 72. In October of 1993 she had received the Governor General's Award for performing arts in recognition for her exceptional contribution to culture in Canada.

September 23, 1996- Alberto O. Herrera, father and lawyer of ballerina Paloma Herrera of the American Ballet Theater, filed suit against designers Paloma Picasso and Carolina Herrera for the right to register his daughter's name as a trademark. Paloma Picasso launched her perfume bearing her name in 1984. Carolina Herrera introduced a perfume called "Herrera" in 1988. Both opposed the trademark.

And on this date in 1987-Bob Fosse passed away at age 60. Fosse’s choreographic style was heavily influenced by his early burlesque experiences. He toured with his own dance act, The Riff Brothers, when he was only 13. His stage productions as a choreographer include The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Sweet Charity, Pippin and Chicago. His film musicals include Sweet Charity and Cabaret for which he won an Oscar. His last musical film All That Jazz is believed to be autobiographical.

September 24, 1932- Svetlana Beriosova the Lithuanian-born classical ballerina known for her 20 year career with England's Royal Ballet was born. Ballet Magazine said of the ballerina: "Tall, serene and beautiful, she danced the classics with a slightly remote, mysterious air, through which on rare occasions broke a wonderful sense of humour - she was for instance the great Swanilda of her generation; and towards the end of her career she created a series of roles which wonderfully used her maturity."

September 25, 1905
-Harriet Hector, known as "America's Most Cleverest Ballerina," was born. She was famous for her backbends and stunts like tapping up and down an escalator en pointe.

September 26, 1917-Vaslav Nijinsky danced with Diaghilev and Ballet Russes for the last time in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

September 27 2003
- Donald O’Connor the actor and song and dance man best known for the “Make ‘Em Laugh” number in the film Singin’ in the Rain passed away at age 78. He also appeared in such '50s musicals as "Call Me Madam," "Anything Goes" and "There's No Business Like Show Business." He also starred in the Francis the Talking Mule series.

Rubber Legs

These dance numbers from Al "Rubber Legs" Norman have been shared all over the Internet. I discovered Al Norman on the blog of Henrik Eriksson of Sweden, who writes about swing and jazz dance music. So far, using the usual superficial search methods of the Internet Movie database, Google, Find Articles and, I have come up with little biographical information on Norman beyond the fact that he came to movies by way of Vaudeville and Broadway.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Question of Arts Education

“Artists speak to us in a language that carries meaning that cannot be conveyed through words. Will our children be able to understand what they have to say? Even more, will they know their messages exist?” -Elliot W. Eisner, U.S. professor of education and art

Less than 10 percent of state arts budgets went on arts education in the past 20 years. This, say Rand researchers, has led to a declining interest in arts.

In the preface of its report Cultivating Demand for the Arts, which is available for free download, the authors note:

"Recent reports and commentaries point to a growing gap between the quantity of artworks produced by American artists and arts organizations and the desire and ability of many Americans to experience those artworks. This report offers a framework for thinking about supply and demand in the arts and suggests that too little attention has been paid to cultivating demand. It identifies the roles of different factors, particularly arts learning, in stimulating interest in the arts and enriching individuals’ experiences of artworks. It also describes the institutional infrastructure that provides arts learning for Americans of all ages."

Back in 1988, Frank Hodsoll, chariman of the National Endowment for the Arts, observed:

“While 15 per cent of the elementary school day is devoted to the arts, it is likely taught by general classroom teachers who lack relevant training in the arts. Although 17 per cent of the junior high/middle school day is occupied by the arts, it is likely focused on creation and performance, with no attempt to impart historical or aesthetic context. It is almost entirely confined to visual art and music, with very little dance or drama and no attention to the design or media arts…we will be counting on the voices of the American people to join us in one loud chorus for arts education.”

Although this quote is 20 years old, it seems as though the situation has hardly changed and the loud chorus for arts education was more of a hum.

One of the arguments that is often put forward for arts funding is that studying the arts improves performance in other academic areas. For example, music increases math proficiency. Why do we resort to this argument instead of arguing that arts education increases art proficiency?

We are, perhaps, used to making economic arguments for educaton. Go to school, get an education, and you'll make more money over the course of your life. We're hard pressed to argue that years of focus on ballet or poetry will increase someone's earning potential.

And why is a philosopher, poet, musician or dancer likely to have a lower income? Here we get back to the Rand study, which argues that we don't fund arts because we didn't learn their value in school.

Assuming that most of our readers fall into the supply side of these economics (dancers, dance teachers, artists) do you agree with Rand's assessment? How would you suggest increasing demand for arts in general and classical arts in particular? Are we doomed to be locked into a cultural value system where a lack of arts education breeds a disinterest in arts, which leads to less value and support for arts education? The comments are open. Ideas and opinions welcome.

Resource of the Day

In my random blog surfing, I came across a web page with the redundant title "Russian Video from Russia." It has a lot of ballet postings on a ballet theme.

Friday, September 12, 2008

This Week in Dance History September 13-19

September 13, 1913-Charles “Cholly’ Atkins the U.S. dancer, choreographer and vaudeville performer was born. Atkins was credited with giving the Motown recording artists their distinctive choreography. They didn't know his name," wrote Detroit Free Press dance critic David Lyman of Atkin, "But Friday night, when the Funk Brothers got to that point in 'Stop! (In the Name of Love)'-- the point where the Supremes plant their feet and defiantly thrust their arms forward - nearly every person in the Detroit Opera House joined in with the choreography."

And on this date in 1960- The American Ballet theater, the first American ballet company to perform in the USSR, began its tour before a packed house at Moscow’s Stanislavsky Theater.

September 14, 1996- Actress and dancer Juliet Prowse passed away at age 59. Prowse's dreams of becoming a ballerina were thwarted by her height. By the time she was 14, and attending the Royal Academy of Dance, she was almost six feet tall. Instead she became a dancer in European nightclubs. While dancing in Paris, she was spotted by Hollywood choreographer Hermes Pan and signed to a role in the movie “Can-Can.” Soviet Premier Khrushchev was invited to watch rehearsals for the movie. The next day, he denounced the dance as immoral. Prowse's photo accompanied the news stories in newspapers worldwide and she became an instant celebrity. (In the clip below, she is in the red dress.)

September 15, 1834- Fanny Elssler made her debut in Paris in La Tempete, a ballet based on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

And on this date in 1876-Nikolai Sergeyev, dancer and company manager of the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg, was born.

And on this date in 1952- American dancer Charles Atkins made his last Broadway appearance as a dancer in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at the Zigfeld Theater.

September, 16 1996- Dancer and actor Gene Nelson passed away at age 76. He was inspired to become a dancer after seeing the Fred Astaire film “Flying Down to Rio.” He is best remembered for the role of cowboy Will Parker in the film “Oklahoma!”

September 17, 1904-The first major British choreographer, Frederick Ashton was born. Ashton, wrote New York Times reviewer Jack Anderson, "did much to develop a distinctively British balletic style characterized by elegance, lyricism and graciousness. A versatile choreographer, he created ballets that drew on or evoked literary sources, that told stories and that were simple responses to a musical score. To each of his dances, Sir Frederick brought a distinctively musical and humane perspective and an attention to detail that also helped to define the national style."

September 18, 1905- The Tony Award winning dancer and choreographer Agnes De Mille was born, the niece of the famous film maker Cecil B. De Mille. In 1939, she was invited to join the American Ballet Theatre's opening season. Here, she created her first ballet, Black Ritual, in 1940. This ballet became the first ever to use black dancers. But it was her 1942 Americana ballet Rodeo that truly put her on the dance map. She choreographed the musicals "Oklahoma,” in 1943, and "Brigadoon," in 1947.

September 19, 1927- Isadora Duncan passed away in an tragic accident in Nice, France. The dancer, considered the mother of modern dance, was fond of long, flowing scarves. She was wearing one in her friend’s Bugatti when the cloth wrapped around the axle. She was yanked from the car and dragged. “I never saw Isadora Duncan dance," wrote British novelist Rayner Heppenstall, "That, I believe may well be my best qualification for writing about her. For it seems that nobody who did see her was able to tell about it sanely…Evidently, if I had seen Isadora Duncan dance, there would have been no chance of critical sanity. With such a woman, you must either be outraged, or laugh or fall cataclysmically in love; and find yourself in Jericho anyway. I fancy I should have fallen in love.”

Saturday, September 6, 2008

This Dance in Dance History: September 6-12

September 6, 1954-Mr. Strauss Goes to Boston, an operetta about Johann Strauss headlining the great Boston Jubilee of 1872, had its premiere at the New Century Theater in New York with music by music by Robert Stolz & Johann Strauss and choreography by George Balanchine. Time Magazine’s verdict: “Far from conveying any of the devilish Strauss charm it babbles about, the book doesn't even billow with good lush operetta sentiment; it is just crushingly dull.” It closed eight days later.

September 7, 1954-Western Symphony had its premiere at the New York City Center. Performed by the New York City Ballet and choreographed by George Balanchine to music by Hershey Kay, it was first presented without décor and danced in practice clothes. Costumes and sets were added the following year.

September 8, 1935- Prokofiev’s score to Romeo and Juliet was completed soon after the composer’s return to Russia from Paris. It was first performed at a concert in Moscow in October of the same year.

And on this date in 2007-Alex Romero, a dancer and choreographer who directed Elvis Presley’s dancing for the movie “Jailhouse Rock” and also worked with Presley on three other films, passed away at age 94. “A gracefully athletic dancer,” in the words of the Los Angeles Times, Romero got his start in movies in the early 1940s. He was a featured dancer in “On the Town,” a 1949 film that starred Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. He also performed in the 1951 film “An American in Paris,” which also starred Kelly. In addition to Jailhouse Rock, Romero choreographed the Elvis movies Double Trouble, Clambake and Speedway.

September 9, 1958-Waltz-Scherzo choreographed by George Balanchine to music by Tchaikovsky had its premere at the New York City Center performed by the New York City Ballet.

September 10, 1896- Adele Astaire was born. Adele Astaire had a successful vaudelville act with her younger brother Fred Astaire.

And on this date in 1970-The film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Starring Jane Fonda, was released. The film focused on a group of dancers at a grueling dance marathon and was based on a 1935 novel of the same nameby Horace McCoy who worked as a bouncer at several marathons in California.

September 11, 1850- Swedish soprano Jenny Lind was born. She was so popular that many dances were created in her honor: The "Jenny Lind Polka" and "Jenny Lind's Set of Waltz Quadrilles" are two such dances published in an 1858 dance manual. "The Jenny Lind Polka" is believed to be the music New York dancing master Alan Dodsworth played in 1844 when he introduced the polka to America.

And on this date in 1964-The ballet Cinderella to music by Sergei Prokofiev was presented in the United States for the first time by the Kirov Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York with Irina Kolpakaova and Yuri Soloviev.

September 12, 1905- Dancer, director and choreographer Agnes Demille was born. In 1939, she was invited to join the American Ballet Theatre's opening season. Here, she created her first ballet, Black Ritual, in 1940. This ballet became the first ever to use black dancers. In 1942, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a company that came to the United States because of World War II, invited de Mille to choreograph a ballet for their repertory. She created Rodeo, a highly energetic work with a uniquely American spirit that captured its opening night audience so much that it received 22 curtain calls. One critic called it "refreshing and as American as Mark Twain." De Mille went on to choreograph some of the biggest Broadway hits in the 1940s and 1950s, such as One Touch of Venus in 1943, Carousel in 1945, Brigadoon in 1947, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1949, and Paint Your Wagon in 1951.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Dot Reid's Dance Stunt

Back when we were in Monroe, Michigan to teach a class at the River Raisin Center, I mentioned the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit to Windsor, Canada.

I had come across a history of the bridge that noted that a "toe dancer" had made her way across the span in its early history. With a little research, I've managed to find some more information on this moment from dance history.

In 1929, Dot Reid, the 16 year-old pictured on th left established a long-distance toe-dancing record, according to the Olean Evening News. Reid billed herself as the "niece of Wallace Reid, late matinee idol." and performed her achievement to the tune of a jazz band which rode along beside her on a truck as she tippy-toed the two mile span and then continued on her toes to the Windsor City Hall to pass a letter from Congressman Robert H. Clancy to the Windsor mayor.

It took her 36 minutes and 40 seconds and she won $250 for the stunt. (How much would they have to pay you to toe-dance for two miles?)

Tip Toe Through the Tulips - Eydie Gormé

Monday, September 1, 2008

Poems of the Dance

For a lover of books and history, Google Books, which is working with univeristy libraries to digitize old works, is a treasure. I have forever taken great joy in walking through dusty shelves and pulling down old volumes to become aquainted with minds from another era. Now you can do the same without the dust. (Eyestrain is the trade off)

I hope that ever-lengthening copyright terms, or ever-shortening attention spans, do not rob future generations of the great joy of rediscovering works created in our day.

I discovered a 1921 volume called Poems of the Dance, edited by Edward R. Dickson. In it was a lovely poem by Mary Carolyn Davies. I believe the book to be in the public domain and so I am sharing it in its entirety here. Enjoy.


God's in me when I dance.
God, making
Spring Out of his thoughts
And building worlds
By wishing.
God Laughing at his own
Queer fancies,
Standing awed,
And sobbing;
Creating —
God's in me When I dance.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

This Date in Dance History August 31-September 5

August 31, 1748-French ballet dancer Jean-Étienne Despréaux was born. In the days when complicated court dancing was a requisite for anyone who wanted to climb the social ladder, the dancer , choreographer and teacher was a highly valued member of society. Napoleon himself took dance lessons with Despreaux. Despreaux was also the husband of Marie-Madeleine Guimard, one of the eras most famous ballerinas.

September 1, 1996
- Then a record-breaking crowd of 72,000 performed The Chicken Dance at the Canfield Fair in Ohio earning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.

September 2, 2006-Willi Ninja, known as “the godfather of vogueing” passed away. Ninja was a self-taught dancer who became a fixture in Harlem ballrooms and was featured in the documentary film Paris is Burning. His vogueing style, which consists of a combination of model-like poses and creative arm, leg and body movements, inspired Madonna’s “Vogue” music video.

September 3, 1910- A musical revue called The International Cup, the Ballet of Niagra and the Earthquake closed on this date at the Hippodrome Theater in New York.

September 4, 1890- Antonia Merce, stage-named La Argentina, the most celebrated Spanish dancer of the early 20th century was born on this date. Excerpts from her biography including many photographs are available via Google Books.

And on this date in 1970- Natalya Makarova, leading ballerina of the Kirov Ballet, sought and obtained political asylum in London. She went on to join American Ballet Theater.

September 5, 1967- Robert Joffrey’s Asarte ballet opens at the New York City Center. Joffrey describes it as “modern as a psychedelic fantasy.”

And on this date in 1993- Jelly's Last Jam closed on Broadway after 569 performances. The play starred Gregory Hines in the role of Jelly Roll Morton. "
Mr. Hines's brilliance is no secret," wrote Frank Rich in the New York Times. "Few, if any, tap dancers in this world can match him for elegance, speed, grace and musicianship, and, as if that weren't enough, he also happens to be a silken jazz crooner, supple in voice and plaintive in emotions. In the role of Jelly Roll Morton, Mr. Hines gets to display these gifts to the fullest, not to mention his relatively unsung prowess as an actor. Even when the band is taking a break, every note he hits rings true."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who made this summer tour such a success. In the end we gave 98 classes in 17 states. We made a lot of new friends and reconnected with many old ones. We had a record number of cancellations, but also found a surprising number of great studios which were able to add classes on very short notice during our free days. We always appreciate new friends.

We're now working on our schedules for both winter and summer of 2009, and believe it or not, they're already filling up quickly. If you'd like us to come to your studio again, please drop us a line at

If you were in one of our last cities, where we ran out of copies of A Child's Introduction to Ballet, and you'd like to order one, we have four copies left autographed by Valery Lantratov. We will not be getting any more autographed copies before Christmas, so if you want one, be sure to order now. The autographed copies will go out to the first people who order.

Over the next few days, I'll be back tracking and filling in details on some of our prior travels. They'll appear here in chronological order as they happened, not as I got around to writing them.

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy this video clip of Valery Lantratov performing the Corsaire variation in 1986 in Tokyo Japan as part of the Maya Plitsetskaya and Soviet Stars tour.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

And on to Wauseon

The tour ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. That is to say, quietly and without fanfare, for after two large classes at the Stars School of Dance in Wauseon, Ohio, we concluded with simple private instruction.

(The bear is trying to get it, but alas, her arms are too short.)

By August 19, the Wauseon schools were already in session, so some of the students had to rush to get to class on time, and we appreciate their dedication. Hard to believe summer is almost officially finished.

We sailed into the sunset with that pirate tale Le Corsaire, a one on one variation class. So we'll leave you for now with a performance of that variation by the Moscow Stanislavsky ballet's Margarita Lovina.

Thank you to everyone we met on the road, and we look forward to seeing many of you again in winter.

Monday, August 18, 2008

What A Feeling

"She has danced into the danger zone where the dancer becomes the dance..."-lyrics, Maniac from the film Flashdance.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is the setting of the dance film "Flashdance." (Don't feel too bad if you don't dance like Jennifer Beals in this clip from the original movie. She doesn't either. The big dance number at the end featured two dancers and a gymnast in addition to Beals' beautiful face. The break dancer is a man!)

Pittsburgh is also one of America's most underrated towns. Pennsylvania's second largest city, with its reputation as a working-man's land of coal and steel is an attractive confluence of mountains and rivers and Valery Lantratov and I count it as one of our favorites. This is our second visit together to the city, but our first time teaching here. Next time perhaps we'll have enough time to experience the down town, cut in half by Mount Washington; and we'll be able to ride up it on the Duquense Incline.

We were very pleased that the Janet Hayes School of Dance was able to invite us on short notice to make up for some earlier cancellations.

The studio is in a hilly, wooded area in a large building. We had a warm reception and "great emotion" for this class.

Yep, we're steel-town folk.