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.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Alternators and Altoona

It was the alternator. So a tour that began with electical problems in the home, wrapped up with electrical problems in the car. By August 17, we had come full circle.

Our vehicular emergency required us to make a few changes in our schedule, but fortunately we were able to do so with out canceling any classes. The good folks at Kathy's School of Dance in Curwensville, Pennsylvania rescheduled their Saturday class to Sunday morning. The 9:30 AM class began our special marathon day. Thanks to everyone for getting up so early.

From Kathy's we traveled to Andrea's School of Dance in Bellwood, Pennsylvania, almost smack dab in the center of the state.

Andrea's web page notes that "The studio is near several restaurants, a grocery store, a Dollar Bargain store, and a Kopp Drug Store. There is a playground just across the walk bridge and the library is only one block away." It is also next door to a giant cannon. I assume the cannon in the parking lot has something to do with the veteran's hall across the street and that it is not a warning to students to behave or else. If it is, it seems to have done the trick.

Bellwood was a bit like the calm before the storm.

After this class we headed to the very lively Altoona Dance Theater, which was bustling with parents, teachers, students of all ages and reporters from both the local newspaper and television station.

In fact, you can see the newspaper reporter's photo gallery online.

Thank you to everyone for the warm welcome and the home-baked cinnamon rolls. They will help us with the energy we need for our two last-minute add on classes on August 18.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

If I Ever Get Out of Here, I'm Going to Katmandu

Since we began our educational tour in early June we've logged in 90 classes and traveled 7,901 miles (12,715 km). If we had driven in a straight line rather than circling the U.S. we could have driven to Kathmandu, Nepal. (We're brushing up on our Newari now.)

So it's probably not entirely surprising that we're currently stranded in Scranton while our trusty Ford Escort is up on the blocks.

We'd like to thank all the friendly folks in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania who helped us get to our second class at the Whipple Dance Studio yesterday, and who helped us make arrangements for towing. We hope to be back on the road soon.

Katmandu - Bob Segar

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sumo in Bridgetown

Bridgetown, home of the All That Dance Studio, is in the part of New Jersey that lives up to the name "The Garden State." We passed dozens of fruit and veggie stands in the peak of their season after leaving the ubiquitous east coast toll roads.

It was a big day for state-seeing. We drove through parts of Virginia, Maryland, and Deleware to get to New Jersey and afterwards made our way into Pennsylvania again. We saw the Philadelphia skyline through the blades of the windshield wipers.

The local newspaper, The Daily Journal, ran a story on our visit. Here are some excerpts:

HOPEWELL - Injecting humor into the lesson, Valery Lantratov put at ease the nervous ballerinas who were attending a master class with the distinguished Russian ballet dancer at All That Dance Studio.

"If you position yourself like this, you look like a sumo wrestler. No. Like this. Yes?" he said in a thick accent while he demonstrated the correct and incorrect ways to perform a demi-plie in second position. It was the second of two sessions he held at the studio on Shiloh Pike on Thursday.

The students, from 12 to 20 years old, adjusted themselves accordingly. "Yes, like this. No sumo. Dance is a difficult job, but you do nice motion. Organic motion. Every time, speak ... for you," he added, motioning away from his body as if giving a gift. "No tension."

"It's like having a celebrity here," said dancer Meredith Shaw, a daughter of the owner. She was wearing the perfect ballet dancer hairstyle — a precise bun with a flower tucked inside the taught roll, looking much more dressed up than the other dancers.

...Studio owner Linda Shaw said that while she offers several master classes each year, getting Lantratov to come was a big deal.

"We try to do one to two master classes each year, but this is our first ballet master class we've had," she said of the eight-year-old studio. "The students could not wait to get here to attend the class. The high school seniors know how important it is" for them to learn from such a professional before they enter college dance programs...

Most of the instructors they learn from are female, so having a lesson from a male teacher was a benefit, she said. "It gives them another perspective, they may have something different on how to correct things. It's good to see his interpretation — a man's style."

Lantratov, who holds a teaching certificate from the renowned National Academy of Theatrical Arts-GITIS, has said he views ballet not as an old art, form but as an eternal one, and one that can transcend differences.

He has said that he saw dance as a way to bring countries together, despite policy differences they may have. "No matter what might happen between the countries in the world, dance can deliver peace, compassion and art — eternal values," he said.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Maryland School of Ballet

We were very pleased to be invited to teach at the Maryland School of Ballet and Modern Dance. The school posted its own write up on its web page, and as I struggle to get caught up in my accounts of our travels, I hope they will not mind if I quote their text:

Students at the Maryland School of Ballet and Modern Dance, Inc located in Bel Air MD welcomed Mr. Valery Lantratov, Artistic Director of the Russian National Ballet Foundation to teach their students this past Wednesday, August 13, 2008. Mr. Lantratov has had a distinguished career as a dancer in the companies of Vladimir Vasiliev, Maya Plitsetskaya and Ekaterina Maximova and international tours with Rudolf Nureyev.

Maryland School of Ballet and Modern Dance students, ranging in age between 10-18 thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to study with Mr. Lantratov while he was on tour in the United States. Mr. Lantratov commented that “he has been in hundreds of studios throughout the world and was very impressed with the Maryland School of Ballet and Modern Dance students and the ballet foundation they have received”. The Maryland School of Ballet and Modern Dance will welcome Mr. Lantratov back in 2009 when he returns for another tour.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Free Day with Flowers

On August 9 we had another unexpected free day due to class cancellations.

While unexpected, it wasn't entirely unwelcome as it gave us an opportunity to do some rare sightseeing.

We passed up Cleveland's Rock N Roll Hall of Fame and visited the Cultural Gardens, a lesser known local attraction.

The area is made up of gardens honoring the various nationalities that populated the Cleveland area. There are statues of the great poets and composers of such nations as Germany, Ukraine, England and India.

We also used the opportunity to photograph some of the lovely flowers growing there. We were so pleased with the results that we decided to offer some of the images on notecards in our online store. (View the "floral gifts" section.)

Thank you to Shane and Jennifer Hunter for hosting us, and for showing us the tourist side of Cleveland.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Take Me to My Maumee!

We had classes in two states on August 7. It's much less impressive than it sounds, though. Temperance, home of the Bedford Dance Academy, is in Michigan but is essentially part of the Toledo, Ohio metro area, as is Maumee, Ohio the setting for our second class at the On Q Dance Center.

We hadn't been to Temperance (pictured above) in a while, and it gave us a little pang of nostalgia, because it was the first studio we ever taught at when we began our educational tour project two years ago. We were very pleased to be invited back.

And, of course, it is always a pleasure to make new friends as we did at On Q. The studio, with its bright red walls, was great for photographs. Everything just seems to "pop" in there. If this picture isn't enough, the studio has its own gallery on its web page.

Ohio is one of the states where I (Laura Lee) lived in the past. I spent some of my youth in Bowling Green, not far from Maumee and Temperance. We lived right behind the "Beer, Wine and Plumbing Store." I swear I am not making that up.

My family used to joke that there must be a state law that every sign in Ohio had to be missing at least one letter. That law may have been rescinded and moved to South Carolina, based on information from more recent journies. (The Carolinas also seem to have a law against consecutive numbering of expressway exits) But even so, I thought our entry into Ohio would be a good excuse to share with you some of my favorite advertising signs from the tour:

"Only Rocks and Dirt"

"Free Stuff-- Behind McDonalds"

Then there are the signs that suffer from a lack of punctuation:

"Always Save Ice Cream" (I thought this might be a political statement)

and "Free Wireless High Speed Microfridge"

Incidentally, did you know that Ohio is the only state in the union with an "offical rock song?" Two points if you can name it. (Answer below) The Buckeye State also has a state fossil: Isotelus; a state beverage: tomato juice and a state reptile: the black racer.

Hang On Sloopy - McCoys

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

You Remember Rabbits?

In Flushing, Michigan we entered the new camera phase of our tour.

At Judy's School of Dance (slogan: "Reach for Your Star") we had our first opportunity to try out our new Canon XSI Digital Rebel camera.

Motion is a tricky thing, and we began to master it a bit more as we went on. Yet even though these are a little blurry, I like these shots and hope you do too.

As you can see, the younger of two classes are performing a rabbit jump designed to teach technique and coordination with a spirit of play. In other words, it's fun. Sometimes a little blur captures the moment fairly well.

The other notable thing about this studio was the presence of a local news reporter who interviewed Valery and some of the students after class. I'm afraid I didn't catch the name of the weekly, but if any articles show up on line, please send us a link.

The Bunny Hop - Warren Covington

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Monroe, Michigan

A native Detroiter, I have traveled the stretch of I-75 between Detroit and Toledo more times than I can count. The trek is complicated these days by a major construction project on the highway near the Ambassador Bridge. A two-year project, nearly half way done, is improving access to the bridge and surrounding neighborhoods. People from Detroit love to tell you that their city is the one place in the continental U.S. where you go south to get to Canada. You do so via the Ambassador Bridge. Opened in 1929, its 1,850-foot center span made it the longest suspension bridge in the world. Its total length was 7,490 feet, with the U.S. and Canadian terminals almost two miles apart. The Ambassador Bridge's history page says that a girl toe danced across the bridge early in its history. If anyone has any historic news clips on this event, I'd be curious to read more about it.

The massive construction projects-- all roads in Michigan seem to be under construction right now-- compelled us to go home a different direction, giving us the opportunity to discover the Village of Waltz.

One of the major landmarks between Detroit and Monroe, Michigan is the pair of cooling towers of Fermi II nuclear plant near Monroe. It produces about 15 percent of the power for Detroit Edison and is one of the largest nuclear power plants in the state. It is also what brought presidential candidate John McCain to Monroe on the same day we visited.

Such visits tend to pass us by with little notice. We're told that a major film festival brought Madonna to Traverse City, Michigan on the same day we were there as well. But our focus is ballet...

At the River Raisin Center in Monroe, Michigan, Valery taught a three hour session consisting of technique and variation class. The students were talented and extremely fast studies.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Moscow School

We are enjoying a refreshing and unexpected day off today in Rochester, Michigan, which is giving me an opportunity to catch up on work and on happenings in the greater dance world.

I came across a story in the New York Times about the Bolshoi Ballet's new summer intensive program in Manhattan. Written by Claudia LaRocco, who came up with such gems as: "...certain mothers watched passively as their children auditioned and others hovered about the studio door with gimlet eyes, sharply hissing corrections as their daughters, some too young to have fully grasped the difference between first position and first base."

Valery Lantratov is a Moscow Academy (Bolshoi School) trained dancer, so I found it interesting to read about people's impressions of Moscow, especially Soviet-era, dance instruction.

"The Bolshoi," she writes, "has evoked images of...strict, even cruel teaching methods."

We have come across this stereotype in our travels as well. Sometimes students stand at the bar, shaking like a cell phone on vibrate, anticipating a Russian martinet who barks orders. We've heard stories of Russian instructors who hurl insults and smack students.

This is one reason Valery often begins a class with a reassuring, "Don't worry. I help you."

If Valery Lantratov is the only Moscow-trained dancer you've taken class with, you may find echoes of your own experience in the Bolshoi student's response to their classes. As LaRocca reported: "All had been amazed at their teachers’ gentleness and pleased with their approach, in which corrections were given as much by manipulation of the body as by verbal instruction."

We're heading into the home stretch in our tour with classes tomorrow in Monroe, Michigan followed by classes in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia before Valery heads back to Moscow.

If you were planning on ordering copies of A Child's Introduction to Ballet for Christmas gifts or any other reason, be sure to order before August 15th if you'd like a copy autographed by Valery Lantratov.

We'd also like to share some news on the publishing front. My (Laura Lee's) book, Blame it on the Rain, has just been released in Chinese. This is the third international edition joining Japanese and Korean printings. We're still waiting for it to come out in Russian.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Up North

For many years, I have been fascinated by Buckley, Michigan. I was reminded of this on our return trip to Ballet Etc. in Traverse City. Buckley is a village of 550 people. It, and a lone gas station, are the only outpost of civilization between Cadillac and Traverse City.

Early in my radio career, I lived in Cadillac. (I was the afternoon announcer at the now-defunct WKJF AM/FM, "Your Light Rock, More Music Station.") Cadillac surrounds a lake, and each shore of the lake has a distinctly different feel. My house was on the non-tourist side. It was then one long highway of mom and pop shops. It seemed to have changed little since the 1950s.

I lieved in the town for half a year before I even knew the resort side of the lake, with its hotels and restaurants, was there.

There is a lot to do in Cadillac for the person who enjoys hunting, fishing or snowmobiling. I was more of an indoor girl. And when I became tired of my cramped and isolating radio studio experience, I would make the trek to Traverse City. I became very familiar with the route and its landmarks.

Every time I came to Buckley, this tiny outpost with a bar, post office and not much else, I would wonder briefly what life in the town must be like-- miles away from any place-- a community the size of my high school graduating class.

Cadillac has changed quite a bit in the intervening years. Valery and I had the pleasure of staying on the resort side of the lake before heading on to our class in Traverse City. (Hint: If you want to plan an economical weekend getaway to Traverse City, think about staying in one of the lake front motels in Cadillac. They're much cheaper, while still rustic and scenic.)

Although we were lodged on the resort side of the lake, I couldn't resist driving to my old stomping grounds. Something has happened to the town-side of Cadillac. Most of the mom and pop operations have closed down and been bought up by chains with their plastic facades and bright colored logos. The 1950s era businesses that remain, which once had an untouched charm, have been made shabby and out of date by the juxtaposition. Cadillac seems somehow both more built up and more run down than I remember.

The radio station building where I onced worked remains, although it is a lifeless, automated router for another station. The "Incredible Broadcast Machine"-- a decidedly credible Winnebago painted with the station logo-- has driven into the sunset. Half of the office space (which was once home to Muzak) has been given over to H&R Block.

Yet little Buckley, Michigan remains the same and life is probably the same as it ever was. And it retains its power to spark my imagination.

Valery and I have traveled all over the country and we've seen tropical Florida, the Alabama gulf coast, Midwestern farm country but there is no place like home. He is from Moscow, I am from Michigan, and the type of nature that grows up north, its pine trees and lakes, are refreshing and familiar. This is the kind of natural world we both enjoy.

Ballet Etc. is a pleasure, in part because of this environment, undistubed by the noise of heavy traffic. As we headed into the studio all we heard were the songs of birds.

And of course we enjoy the metaphorical fresh air of a visit with Tom Morrell, one of the great friends we've made on our travels. Thanks so much for giving us another opportunity to work with your students, and thanks too for the Traverse City cherry souvenirs.

John Prine & Iris Dement - Our Town - John Prine & Iris Dement

Friday, August 1, 2008

On to Wisconsin

We moved from July to August with a very successful two days at the Toe to Toe Ballet School in Elkhorn, Wisconsin.

Last time we were here, the studio, build from a converted bank vault, was barely larger than a walk in closet with corners that jutted into the room at odd angles. Since then, Toe to Toe has danced its way into the former wig shop next door and is much more bright and spacious.

Our first day was a class for the young students followed by a book signing. The next day we had two more levels. First the intermediate.

And then for the advanced students, technique followed by an introduction to partnering.

We very much enjoyed our time in Wisconsin. Thank you to Colleen Huberty for making it run so smoothly.

On Wisconsin (2006 Remastered Album Version) - The Routers