David Howard instructs Tamara Rojo
David was one of the most respected and renowned ballet teachers ever
Photo by Johan Persson
The Nutcracker Prince’s Kingdom.
© Gene Schiavone
DANCING ON NEPTUNE
TORONTO, ON (October 21, 2013) – Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS), in collaboration with Mark Morris Group’s Dance for PD®, Sarah Robichaud, Founder & Creative Director of Dancing with Parkinson’s™, and researchers from York and Ryerson Universities, is hosting a 12-week dance program to study the physical and neuropsychological effects of dance on people with Parkinson’s disease (PD). The program, known as Dancing with Parkinson’s at Canada’s National Ballet School (DwP@NBS) is taking place at NBS’ state-of-the-art facilities in Toronto, Ontario. It will study how dance is able to seemingly bypass the neurodegeneration occurring in the PD brain and facilitate improvement in movement for those with PD.
PD is a neurological disorder that severely inhibits movement; it affects more than 100,000 Canadians and over 7 million worldwide. There is currently no cure, but dance has been found to temporarily alleviate some Parkinson’s symptoms, improving gait and balance as well as offering psychosocial benefits. The neural mechanisms by which dance is able to uniquely facilitate these benefits have not been researched until now.
Led by York University Centre for Vision Research’s Professor Dr. Joseph DeSouza as well as Ryerson University graduate student and NBS alumna Rachel Bar, DwP@NBS will see twenty PD participants take part in a weekly dance class co-taught by NBS Artistic Faculty and Sarah Robichaud, both trained in the Dance for PD® method. Volunteers electing to participate in the study will undergo a series of brain imaging scans to help researchers understand how dance affects changes in brain network activity and structure. While being scanned, participants will be asked to listen to music they have danced to during their classes and visualize themselves dancing. Preliminary data gathered by examining professional ballet dancers and non-clinical populations has already shown that after learning a dance, changes in brain activity are detected in primary auditory cortex and supplementary motor cortex, when visualizing a dance while listening to its music. Partial funding for the start-up and research comes from a generous donation from the Irpinia Club of Toronto and Parkinson’s Society Canada.
“As a former student of NBS and professional dancer, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to combine my passion for academic research with my love of dance,” said Rachel Bar. “Dance appears to have a uniquely positive impact on people with PD. I hope the knowledge gained through this project will help direct the future of evidence-based dance programs to aid people living with Parkinson’s across the country. I am also grateful to NBS Artistic Director, Mavis Staines for her instant willingness to open NBS’ doors to our research and extend the art of dance beyond its traditional borders.”
Jessica Cohen photographed by Oliver Endahl, for his Ballet Zaida series
Liam Scarlett’s ‘Viscera’ (part of the Royal Ballet’s early November 2012 triple bill at ROH)
Svetlana Zakharova, 2009. © Persefoni Balkou
Intermediate Men Technique class, School of American Ballet
Your Training: Conquering FavoritismEvery teacher has her pet pupils. How do you deal when you’re not one of them?
The stakes couldn’t have been higher when Janessa Touchet joined Pacific Northwest Ballet School. It was her final year of training, and she’d moved 2,700 miles out of her comfort zone for an opportunity that, if all went well, could launch her career. But the experience soon turned sour. In a class full of outstanding talent, the teachers quickly found their favorites. Touchet wasn’t one of them. Unfamiliar with the nuances of Balanchine style, she received little encouragement, and the competitive environment overwhelmed her. “There were times when I would try to put myself in the front and other dancers would come stand right in front of me when the combination began,” she recalls. “I would just push myself to the back. I let it happen.” Many times, she wondered whether she should give up.
Favoritism has serious consequences. Especially in the final years of training, when every correction and bit of tailor-made advice is vital, being overlooked can mean being left behind. A teacher’s pet pupil gets more than an ego-boost. She gets the crucial support of a mentor. She gets the roles that challenge her technique and let her shine in performance. She gets the calls made on her behalf to company directors. It’s easy to resent the dancers who seem to use up all the praise. But instead of getting frustrated, be proactive and get the attention you need.
Who Becomes a Favorite?
Studios are naturally divided up between The Favorites and The Others. But teachers’ biases have less to do with students’ natural talent than you might think. “It’s a lot about simple things like students’ body language, their willingness to listen and to apply corrections,” says School of Richmond Ballet director Judy Jacob. Teachers want to be successful at their job just as badly as you want to become a great dancer. They gravitate toward the students who are most engaged: the ones who enthusiastically move to the front during center and join one of the first groups as the class moves across the floor.
Don’t hang back; show your eagerness to work and improve. Think about the impression you’re making from the instant you walk through the door. If there’s a dress code, follow it. Actively warm up before class instead of nonchalantly chatting with friends. Project a positive attitude. “Open your face and your eyes,” says Jacob. “Don’t fold your arms.”
Most importantly, make sure the teacher will feel that their time spent with you is worthwhile. “Teachers love it when they’re giving a correction to one student and can see that other students are paying attention and trying to apply that correction,” says Jacob. “That can really endear you to a teacher.”
Be Your Own Advocate
If you feel ignored, don’t just assume you’re not worthy of attention. “Most of the time the teacher just doesn’t even realize they’re overlooking someone, so talk to them about it,” says Marjorie Grundvig, co-director of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School. Approach your teacher immediately after class to ask when it might be convenient for the two of you to sit down for a few minutes. Then explain how you’re feeling and what you’ve been doing to try to improve. If she’s been giving you a correction you don’t understand, say so. Ask what you can do to get more opportunities.
Also, Grundvig often finds that when an advanced student doesn’t appear engaged in the studio, she is struggling in some other aspect of her life. Be sure to speak up when you’re under stress, or else teachers may write off your distraction as a lack of dedication.
When It’s Time to Go
It’s not necessary to be every teacher’s favorite in order to get meaningful direction. As long as you’re getting feedback, and you feel yourself improving, it’s okay to not be the best in your class. You also have to be realistic: There’s almost always going to be somebody more advanced than you—and if she has the talent to become the next Ashley Bouder, you can’t expect a teacher not to get excited about her.
Yet not every school is right for every student. Teachers’ preferences are as varied as their personalities. If you don’t feel your teacher is invested in you, and your attempts to improve the situation haven’t helped, you may consider seeking different training. Ballet is a subjective art, and your particular talents or style might be a better fit at another program.
For Touchet, who’s now a principal at Cincinnati Ballet, her time at PNBS was valuable despite her not feeling favored. Not only did it expose her to Balanchine technique, it helped her develop the competitive edge she needed to succeed once she became an apprentice at CB the next year. “Looking back, I learned that if I’m not getting attention, I can’t just stand in the back,” she says. “I need to fight for what I want.”
A Little Perspective
While it seems some students are destined to be loved by everyone, most will feel completely invisible to at least one teacher. It’s so common, in fact, that yes, even the guys go through it.
When Carlos Miguel Guerra was accepted to the Luis Casas Romero School of the Arts in Cuba at age 10, he was told he had barely made it. “A lot of the teachers didn’t believe in me,” he says. “They would tell my family that I should leave because I’d never be a ballet dancer, I didn’t have the right qualities.”
The lack of support was emotionally draining. After particularly rough classes, he would go home and spend hours watching videos of his idol, Jose Manuel Carreño. “It would inspire me and I’d forget what the teacher said,” says Guerra. “I would go in the next day and just try to work harder.”
Now a principal at Miami City Ballet, Guerra ultimately proved his teachers wrong. In fact, Guerra credits much of his success to the fact that he wasn’t a favorite as a student. “It made me stronger,” he says. “In the end it feels really good because you did it for yourself with hard work, not because somebody loved you. For me, that’s more gratifying.”
By Kathleen McGuire