Tag Archives: eleanor powell

Reader Topic: Getting Free Dance Lessons

9 Mar

So I was contacted by a reader who moderates the website http://fr.ee, a website that is solely devoted to getting freebies in life, including how to get free dance lessons.  He suggested that as a topic for my blog and I am happy to oblige…because unsurprisingly, I have opinions on this.  They already have a post that is more focused on ballroom dances like salsa, so I thought I’d tackle styles that I’m either more familiar with or have somehow managed to make its way into my category bar you see to the right.

I must preface by saying that my general views on dance are that it is in essence free.  You can put on some music (or not) and whatever movement you do (or not do) IS dance.  Untrained perhaps, but that doesn’t make it undancelike.  In fact, when I attended Separate Panes at OSU, one of the performers was not quite a trained dancer (a work in progress if you will) and yet he moves sinuously and with purpose.  It was obviously innate to him and Svetlana even mentioned how unfair it was that he danced so beautifully and she is a dance major (and ballet extraordinaire).  Unfortunately not everyone is born with such natural abilities, but dance is also one of those things where you get what you put into it.  If you invest the time and money you will see changes…changes of varying degrees depending on your body and your natural abilities but the point is if you want any change, you need to invest in it.  I promise if you do, dance will find a way to reward you!  At any rate, this is not to say you can’t enjoy a little freebie or two and sometimes that’s all you need to get started.

For free ballet lessons, there are a couple of things you can do.  You can watch videos on YouTube or slightly better, borrow an instructional video from your local library.  Personally, I don’t recommend either because if there’s one dance form that really necessitates being in the studio, it’s ballet.  I realize that some people may not have the confidence and that it can all be overwhelming to show up in a leotard and learn a bunch of new French words.  In that sense, watching a few videos is a good way to relieve some of the anticipation and at least see what some of the basic movements look like.  Even the fact that you can rewind videos can be inhibiting…after all, the art of catching up is a part of learning to dance.  If you’re learning a petite allegro and haven’t mastered all of the little jumps, negotiating with your body to get through it when it’s crunch time isn’t going to happen if you have the luxury of rewinding!

It is possible to get free ballet lessons though…for example, BalletMet, the premiere ballet company in Columbus, Ohio puts in vouchers for one free class in every program that they hand out if you attend a performance.  Getting into the performance for free is a different matter, but the voucher of course is.  If you’re really shady, you can even hang out after a performance and pick up programs people left behind or dig through the trash if you must.  If you’re super-shady, you can even ask if any of your friends are going, ask if you can have their free class and/or have them play raccoon and dig through trash for you.  It’s not glamorous…but it is free.

For jazz classes, my opinion differs a bit.  Pretty much the only way to get a free jazz class is to hope a studio might have a “bring a friend” day or a “first class free” kind of deal and there’s no way to find that out unless you know someone who attends that particular studio (I brought a friend once to a jazz class at OSU…talked to the teacher beforehand and she was cool with it.  Come to think of it, if you are a college student, checking to see if your university offers dance classes is another potential opportunity for free classes.  If you’re already paying full time tuition, why not?).  So talking is your best weapon, but I actually do approve a bit of videos for jazz.  Jazz has some neat tricks and when it comes to learning a trick-type skill, sometimes the “monkey-see-monkey-do” approach works best.  For example, watching videos is how I learned the mechanics of an illusion turn (not that I can do one, but I know how it works thanks to video).  Also, videos online in particular have been a way for innovative moves to be passed around, because unlike ballet, jazz has tons of room for new steps.

When it comes to modern, I believe it’s important to be in the studio (or not) again.  What I mean is it’s important to be somewhere…in a group, in a space, with a someone who can tell you what you’re doing or you can decide what to do, together.  The beauty of modern is that it doesn’t have to be a studio…I love it when dances take place outside.  A great way to get free classes in modern technique though is to keep your ear to the ground for any upcoming festivals, symposiums and workshops.  Modern dancers need income of course, but they are also more eager to spread their ideas, techniques and style than in any other dance form, resulting in some free opportunities.  It can be hard to find your way into the modern community though and my recommendation is to start with a local university with a dance department, since a lot of research happens there and local events often emerge as dance majors and graduate students seek to solidify their voices as they get their degrees.  These are emerging artists that need guinea pigs…volunteers are greatly appreciated.

As for tap classes, I have never taken a tap class but I can offer one unique idea.  I do not joke when I say this, but volunteer at a senior center.  I know someone who did, found out that some of the residents were hoofers and learned from them for what?  For free.  It’s an idea that is full of win-win because the old folks love to have visitors and something to look forward to and you get free tap lessons.  Think about it, this is the generation that grew up watching the likes of Fred and Ginger, Eleanor Powell and that handsome devil Gene Kelly.  For the elderly of today, tap was a BIG DEAL in their day and recreational lessons oh so very common.  This is not to say I think you should find a senior center and interrogate each resident until you find one who can tap…but the opportunity may present itself if you’re already volunteering.  They’re bound to have wonderful stories too about tap dancing in its golden age.

If none of the above works for you…be a man.  Literally.  You’d be surprised what that can get you in the world of dance.

They SHOULD make them like they used to

11 Aug

So I thought today I would talk about something besides ballet, but I lied.  Who am I kidding?  I adore ballet and I’ve been wanting to put some of my thoughts into writing on that hoot-and-a-half, Maurice Bejart.  I couldn’t decide on whether I wanted to talk about my favorite of his 2.5 works that I’ve seen on youtube, or whether I wanted to tackle the beast of Stravinsky, and include Bejart’s works in an unintelligent analysis of The Rite of Spring and The Firebird, and how it seems like a number of ballet choreographers feel some burning need to do their own version.  Which means one of two things…the music itself is either highly inspirational (quite possible) or ballet choreographers are neurotic about competing with each other (less likely, but still a possibility), in a “my Firebird can beat up your Firebird” kindergarten kind of way.  Sometimes I even picture the Wilis of Bejart, Michel Fokine and Uwe Scholz (among others I’m sure) slapping each other in the afterlife while engaged in a heated argument over Firebird.  Obviously, were they all alive and in the same room, as artists they would have a mutual respect for each other and discuss their visions in a scholarly fashion, but this is my imagination, not theirs.

Anyway, there are only a few excerpts from Scholz’s version available, which is no fair.  And although there is video (with sheety sound quality unfortunately) of the Bejart Ballet doing Firebird, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater did a production and might release a DVD, so this whole Firebird shebang will have to wait.  To do otherwise would damage my already waning credibility as an amateur dance critic and enthusiast.  The point is, I lied about lying; I’m not going to discus ballet in this entry.

I’d like to take a moment to pay a little homaggito to tap because my previous entries regarding tap were far from profound.  Not surprisingly, this should be interesting, because although when tap was at its peak in the glamorous sparkle of Hollywood during the big band era, one of my FAVORITE periods in music, I know nothing about tap (secretly or not so secretly, I’ve always wanted to learn and even have the gall to think I could be good at it, although to be honest I’d take tap classes just for the big band music).  I don’t even know a single step.  I don’t know how it works, but I know what I know, I like what I like and I find it fascinating.  Rhythms in general are pleasing to the soul, and wouldn’t you know it…I just typed “fascinating.  Rhythms” which means I can bring up my favorite tap dance to Fascinatin’ Rhythm.  But not now (aren’t I full of surprises?) because the performer who made it famous deserves to be mentioned first…the one and only Eleanor Powell.

Ellie was mostly trained in ballet and even danced en pointe for one movie, but this will make you sick…she didn’t even like tap at first and almost quit but stuck with it, and by stuck with it, I mean she took TEN formal lessons.  Then she skyrocketed like a prodigy and the rest is legendary.  Now I kind of missed out on the whole Fred Astaire hysteria because my parents and grandparents didn’t really watch movies and had no tradition to pass down, and even now I’m not particularly obsessed…but I fell in love with Ellie without hesitation.  Fred himself said Ellie was a better dancer than he, which is monumental and unfortunate considering he got more recognition than she did.  But it doesn’t matter…she was born to dance and it’s a wonderful thing that so many of her performances were captured on film.  She had machine gun feet, and thanks to ballet could do huge battements, the splits, and a flurry of turns that would even make a ballet dancer jealous (and trust me, they do).  Makes you wonder how talented she was at ballet, but lucky for us she found her calling.

It wasn’t that she was just a good dancer either…she had a magnetic and vivacious personality to boot.  In fact, I think one needs that to truly be a great dancer, and sadly that’s severely lacking today in so many ways.  Bland personalities make for bland performances, and while the “pretty faces” make money for no reason, the real personalities and talent out there suffer (something tells me if Ellie were alive today she’d be pissed about this too).  There’s a video of her giving a short speech at Fred Astaire’s lifetime achievement award ceremony, and just listening to her in that couple of minutes gave me goosebumps, made my ferociously cold heart melt and make my eyes tear up.  On the one hand, it’s kind of ridiculous that one can get all choked up from a teeny video, but on the other hand you can’t help but feel the power of her presence; almost as if her warmth is reaching out to you.  You just can’t help but like her.  Either that or I’m becoming way too sappy for my own good…I can’t even watch Extreme Makeover Home Edition because I cry every single time, and I even tear up at commercials for The Biggest Loser.  COMMERCIALS.  And this coming from the kid who once said “I would cry if I were a real human.”  Times have changed, folks and folkitos.

Le sigh.  Now as previously mentioned, Fascinatin’ Rhythm was my favorite dance that she did, and it was an epic little bugger, with the way the set had to be moved around (by hand!), multiple piano players, a band, a chorus of dancers.  This was the first dance of hers that I ever saw, and it was one of those moments where you can’t tear your eyes away and you just have to watch with a smile on your face.  And the music was CHOICE.  Hello, Gershwin! ::swoon::

Another similar vid (higher quality):

Now here’s another video where you can see her huge battements and get a better sense of her delicioso leg line, and how in control she was of her body.  And isn’t it fantastic to see a solo female dancer with a male corps, and NO partner?  Although I swear if classic tap weren’t such a suit and tie deal, I’d be completely sold (I HATE dressing up).


And now I shall conclude with some memorable and chuckle-inducing quotes:

“A tap dancer is really a frustrated drummer.”

“I’d rather dance than eat.” <–TRUESIES

Amy Sedaris can tap…can you?

31 Jul

“Wonky…that’s French.”

-Karen Eliot

I know ballet is all for increasing range of motion, but as someone who started as an adult and is trying to simultaneously increase RoM as well as build strength, it can be really annoying.  I’ve been working on stretching my hip flexors more, after I found a really good tip in an article for equestrian riders.  As dance people know, sitting tightens your hip flexors, and riders do a lot of sitting, so they need to stretch in order to avoid the laundry list of back problems, hip, knee and foot problems that can happen as a result (reason #56932 to treat your hip flexors well…not just for a pretty arabesque!).  We all know that lunges help, but what the article stressed was really engaging your abdominals while stretching (oops), slightly turning in the leg behind you (double oops), squatting further down on the leg in front to increase the stretch and not by arching the back (triple oops) and raising the same arm of the leg behind you in order to increase the stretch through the side of your back (oops²).  After a few weeks of doing this at barre while the teacher demonstrates, after long periods of sitting and whenever I’m warm, I think it’s made a visible difference.

The thing is though, anytime you increase flexibility your body has more to work with and has to reorganize itself.  The process of finding that all over again is a beastly one.  Today the disease manifested itself in wonky pirouettes, which for the first couple of months in the summer had been going really well…I wasn’t too forceful with singles and doubles were getting cleaner.  But NOW…even trying to demi-plié in fourth for the preparation isn’t working.  It doesn’t feel right anymore…and forget about grande plié in fourth (but really, does that EVER feel right?).  This whole ordeal has been making me feel really nervous about pirouetting at barre especially, and today I managed it on the right side (weird) but my typically better left side was an epic fail.  Plus I smacked my fingers on the barre a couple of times, and of course it was at one of the metal center barres which are even more unforgiving than the wooden ones.  The second time I bludgeoned my pinky, I somehow managed to jerk it backwards and smack my elbow on the barre too.  That takes a special talent.

Speaking of special talents, I would like to take the time to highlight one of the goddesses in my pantheon, the specially talented comedienne/actress/entertainer/author, Amy Sedaris.  For whatever, reason, I have a fondness for short, funny women.  A good number of my closest friends are short women, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I fancy the likes of an Amy Sedaris or a Kristin Chenoweth (who has a maltese named Madeline Kahn Chenoweth and I too once had a maltese not to mention Clue is only one of my all time favorite movies EVER…oh divine Ms. Chenoweth).  Anyway, Amy’s book, I Like You, is practically my bible; I adore her ridiculously senseless sense of humor, baking without perfection and makeshift crafts.  Now, she recently had a role in that movie Dance Flick, which despite my obsession with Amy, I probably won’t go see because I don’t do those parody movies, but she was on Letterman around the time it came out a few months ago, putting hardly any effort into promoting the movie, but what she did reveal was a very special talent for tap dancing. (jump about 4 minutes in if you just want to see the dancing…but feel dirty and ashamed if you do)

It’s like she’s channeling Eleanor Powell.  If you enjoyed Amy’s dancing, then you’ll like watching her perform a traditional Indonesian dance in this clip from the Strangers with Candy movie.

Strangers with Candy also starred Stephen Colbert, who is also a gifted dancer.  Check out his ballotté into a series of double rond de jambe en l’air with a promenade.  That’s some complicated work right there.

And on a completely related note, I’m watching The Soup on E! as I write this and Joel McHale just mocked that banshee Mary Murphy for her shrieking, and called Kayla and Brandon’s disco methamphetamine-inspired.  Oh I love that guy.  And he’s from Mercer Island!