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.