Sorry for the delay in writing another post. Things have been a bit crazy at my end. I had a trial period for a writing gig I didn’t get (which took up an enormous amount of time for four weeks). I’ve been gearing up my new column at Examiner.com. Plus, we’ve had time spent on National Dance Week events, apartment searches in New York (finally found one!), parent observation day at the studio, writing and sending out press release for the year-end company performance, and attempts to find decent ballet tights to keep Julian outfitted for the American Ballet Theatre summer intensive. This week at the studio we have student reviews. In two weeks, Julian performs in Copellia with Los Gatos Ballet (find out how to purchase tickets here)—which I have to miss because my daughter has her final synchronized swim meet in Sacramento— and the following week is tech week for Teen Dance Company’s 10th Anniversary Concert (purchase tickets here). Then, of course, we have the concert, and the dance year officially comes to an end. Phew!
At least at that point we have a few weeks of “down time.” However, Julian plans to dance up a storm in between studying for finals so he is in shape for ABT. In fact, tomorrow he is meeting with two of his old teachers to work on conditioning. No rest for the weary.
I have not, however, forgotten that I need to post the second part of my interview with Duncan Cooper. If you don’t remember who Duncan is, please go back to this post to read the brief bio I offered. While in the last post Duncan offered his strong opinion on dancers’ education inside and outside the studio, in this post he answers questions I posed about the issues he sees most commonly in male dancers.
Boys Must Slow Down and Learn Technique
I asked Duncan this question specifically, “What technical dance issues do you see most commonly in boys?” His response was short and to the point: “Lack of technique.”
“So, how can boys resolve this issue?” I queried, of course, as a follow up. He answered, “The solution to that is to get into classes and to slow down and get the basics. With boys, lack of technique is more prevalent, because there are fewer boys interested. So, they often learn late about it and scramble. Like young boys just going into marshal arts, they wants to break bricks and do all these great tricks, but they don’t want to do any of the foundational work that’s required. They don’t want to sit on two logs for five hours; they want to take the easy route.”
When Duncan gives boys challenging choreography at conventions—something Julian, in particular, enjoyed about the classes he took with Duncan at NYCDA, he says few of the boys he sees in the room at conventions have the ability to do the moves correctly and “most of those boys have not earned the right to do those steps yet.” This brings up a common issue.
Expectations for Girls Are Higher
“Often we let boys do more than they should, because there are so few boys and we want boys so badly,” Duncan explained. “Women are often much better than boys, because there are more of them and we expected more of them. So, the technical level of what is expected of them is higher.” In other words, they rise to the level expected of them.
Be a Matinee Idol
Duncan said he also finds a need from boys to connect with their masculine side. “It’s not always just steps; it’s also your inner movement. I say to them, ‘Be a matinee idol. Be Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt.’”
Additionally, he said, “There is sometimes a loss of connection with them with musical phrasing. They rush through the music, so they don’t really hear the music. And then they need to relay that music in a matinee idol style.”
While dancing in a masculine way is a given, Duncan suggested boys watch Gene Kelly in any of the films he made. “Notice his charisma, his character. He’s a real man dancing on stage,” said Duncan. “Or watch Fred Astaire. See how they both relate to women and tell a story while they dance.”
Movement Tells a Story
All of this is important, Duncan explained, because nine times out of 10 if you dancing in a show on Broadway or even doing a full-length ballet your movement tells a story. Boys need to learn how to have their movement tell the story of their dance or of their inner dialogue. “It’s not just movement for movement’s sake, because that gets boring,” Duncan said. “We want them to learn that their movements tell a story, whatever that may be, whether there is an actual story to the dance or not. If I make a gesture, it means something, it means something to you…We want them to bring their individuality out in the movement. We want it to be unique to them but we want them to stay within the framework of the choreography that the choreographer is giving them.”
No Movement Without Emotion
Duncan added that he would like boys to understand that there is no movement without emotion either. “I don’t mean be overly dramatic. But movement comes from emotional content. It’s not just this emotionless move. Whether you are relating to a women or the audience is moved by you. The greatest dancers can step onto stage and they haven’t done one step and the audience goes, ‘Ahhh,’ he concluded.
Note:Duncan had more to say, and I’ll hopefully have time to transcribe the last part of the tape and post another blog add this coming week.
I really enjoyd reading this post. I like hearing what professional dancers have to say, especially about tips and corrections.
Slowing down and really working on clean technique is SO important, not just for the quality it brings to the movement, but also for the sake of avoiding injuries and not dancing ahead of one’s physical development.
My son has experienced a big slowing down and returning to basics this year at his residential program, and while he wasn’t so thrilled by the prospect of it at the beginning of the year, he’s learned that it’s really been a blessing to have a different focus in his training at this time.
In his previous schools, he was pushed ahead and advanced, skipping entire years of training here and there, because he is able to pick up on movement very quickly. He was not a late starter, but found himself in classes with older kids because of his motivation and the ease at which he could grasp new steps. This wasn’t really the best thing for him at all, which we now know in retrospect, though at the time we thought it was great.
Something you might ask Duncan about, or that he might comment on in the future, is the frequency with which boys are pushed into partnering work too soon. A lot of schools get so excited to have a boy around and want him to partner as soon as possible, often times before he is technically ready to do so and physically mature enough for it to be safe for both the boy and girl involved. This can lead to all sorts of injuries, and is something I think parents of male dancers should be particularly cautious of.
Slow and steady is really the best way to train, girls and boys alike. 🙂