A new era for dancers

So, I've recently returned from teaching 2 weeks at the Hubbard Street Advanced Level Summer Intensive held at the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. This is just something that I do every summer break now- I give up vacation time to teach ballet and rep to the next generation of dancers. After years of doing this, I've come to realize that I am very passionate about it and it's always a highlight of my year to see young dancers learning and growing in a challenging environment. 

These kids are young but very intelligent and insanely talented. At our summer intensives, we really throw a lot of information their way. They're in technique, somatic, and cross-training classes all morning followed by about 3 hours of rep in the afternoons. I know how grueling this schedule can be. I was one of those kids, after all.

But even after years of summer training, a BFA program, and 6 years dancing professionally, I still feel like I'm missing a few key elements within this business of professional dance life. YES, technique is important. YES, one should train in multiple styles of dance. YES, I do believe that focusing on dance practice and skill leads to future success as a professional.

It used to be that a 'well-rounded dancer' was proficient in multiple techniques, had a certain level of artistry, and was adaptable to different styles and choreography. I feel that these days, what makes a 'well-rounded dancer' is one that is smart in other aspects of dance as well. A dancer should also know how to negotiate a contract, edit a dance reel, create a brand and market for themselves as individual artists, write a grant; and maybe most importantly, a dancer should know how to finance their own career. At this point in time, you need other skills outside of dancing to support yourself in this field. 

I see it in these young students every summer. They know virtually nothing other than "I want to be a professional dancer, therefore, I must dance all the time." But the reality is that not all of them will get that far. Not all of them have the passion or even the talent for it. But if we can alter what we as educators can offer them, we might find fewer discouraged dancers trying to figure out what they'll do next. Instead, we'll find smarter and more engaged administrators, marketers, directors, and visionaries of dance in the future.

Maybe it's just me...of course some dancers can count on their talent and pure artistry to get them far. Opportunities seem to just show up for them along the way. Prodigies. I know a few. And I admire them deeply.

Regardless, I was inspired at USC. They seem to understand the need for change within the context of dance in today's world. I think they've also realized that putting the dancer first will benefit both parties in all future endeavors. I guess I just want to create a better way to serve future professional dancers and those who end up leaving the field. These thoughts are a start and I felt they were maybe important enough for others to see.

My theater essentials

Theater weeks are hard. Tech times are shortened, you have to adjust to the new space, learn the ins and outs of the backstage area. They are overall pretty exhausting. I found out early on that without the items that make me feel comfortable and at home, theater weeks can be even more brutal. 

Below is my list of essential items at any theater whether at home or on tour.

  • Sneakers! We perform mostly in socks and bare feet and without shoes that means you're walking around loading docks, kitchens, and bathrooms with no protection. I have an old pair of Nike running shoes that I wear every day but have thought about switching to my favorite Nike Flyknit Racers. The flyknit material is comfortable, flexible, and breathable. I highly recommend them.
  • A jacket! Theaters are freezing! I always pack a sweater and a jacket. Again- I remain faithful to Nike. My fave is my black and white windrunner (pictured). 
  • Heating pad/Dancer toys. I'm talking therabands, lacrosse balls, golf balls, foam rollers, massage sticks, toe spacers. The works! Heating pads help with the cold, help with achy muscles, work as a pillow when you need a nap. A must have!
  • Your favorite warmups. I like to layer a lot for class on stage. Jacket, sweater, favorite pants (Nike), a selection of tanks and tees, cozy socks, a scarf. Sometimes I'll add mukluks to the warm up (they are super popular amongst dancers, especially ballet dancers). I found some available online here.
  • Hair and makeup necessities. I use Garnier Fructis products for hair. I mostly like the smell of them but their gel and hairspray together work wonders. As for makeup, we get a yearly stipend from MAC makeup to stock up for the season, so pretty much all of my makeup products come from them. One exception is my brow filler from Benefit Cosmetics.
  • Shower products. I sometimes shower just before a performance- get the hair wet, get the muscles warm. And I will always shower after a performance. A travel size shampoo, conditioner, and body wash do the trick for me. L'Occitane has beautiful products- I use their Almond shower oil. Or I'll use soap that one of my coworkers makes! We call it Floap (Florian+soap).
  • Merde gifts. I'm not sure if dancers are the only ones who give each other gifts before a premiere but it's one of my favorite traditions. I admit that I am always the one who forgets to bring a gift for opening night but will make up for it later in the run- I promise! You can see a close up of my collection of knick-knacks pictured here. They mostly serve as reminders that we all care for each other and bring back happy memories for me.
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  • Other things you might consider: A book (for when you're off duty), personal photos (to put up at your station), a selection of teas and candy.

I'd love to hear what you deem a theater essential! Message me or let me know in the comments.

BONUS: Friends from my home studio in North Carolina have launched their new business barre + bag! Pre-order your all inclusive theater needs here

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Around the Harris Theater

I figured I'd start with my week at The Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

The Harris Theater is home to Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, where we recently celebrated an evening of Crystal Pite for our 40th Anniversary Winter Series. It is home to 29 other Chicago-based music and dance companies and is host to "celebrated artists and ensembles from throughout the world."

Many of my friends from other dance companies have performed here numerous times and I, for one, am so grateful to be part of one of its highly acclaimed resident companies.

For those continuing to perform here and for those returning, I've compiled a list of some of my favorite places near and around the Harris Theater of Chicago.

  • Best Coffee: Hands down- Intelligentsia Coffee, 53 E. Randolph St. Located just a block west from the theater, this is a great spot if you're in between shows and also conveniently located if you're on your way from public transit. My favorite is the Turmeric Tonic tea!
  • Post-show Cocktails: Chicago Athletic Association, 12 S. Michigan Ave. The dancers and friends of Hubbard Street love gathering here after our last performance of each series. Our preference is usually in the library on the 2nd floor where it's a bit quieter and more private. The game room or Cindy's rooftop can also be super hot spots when they're not too crowded. There's also a small bar menu available for hungry dancers. I recommend the burger and the rosé.
  • Late night Dinner: Cherry Circle Room. This little hideout is located in the back of the game room of CAA. It is one of my all time favorite restaurants. Great decor, cool vibe, easy-going and friendly wait staff, the food is phenomenal! I couldn't recommend this place more. Just make sure to invite me next time you go :)
  • Breakfast/Brunch: Wildberry Cafe, 130 E. Randolph St. Right across from the Harris Theater. This is one of Chicago's top-rated brunch spots. I actually have never eaten here but have heard that it's delicious. Seems like a great place if you have time before your matinee performance.
  • Other places of note: Mariano's is also across the street if you prefer to buy your own groceries (fresh fruits and greens, hot meals, kombucha, etc..), Maggie Daley Park, next door to the theater is the perfect spot to sit and eat said groceries or read and relax in between shows. They have a fun ice skating rink if you're here during the winter. Macy's, CVS, and Walgreens are all within a few blocks in case you need to hit the MAC makeup counter or you forgot your hairspray. Athletico Physical Therapy is located on the basement level of the Pedway system in case of any lingering pains or injuries occurred during tech and performances. They are some of the greatest therapists I have ever encountered. Lastly, The Blackhawks Store, 333 N. Michigan Ave, is not too far away. Grab a cool jersey as a memento to remember your time in Chicago. I'm partial towards a Duncan Keith jersey.

Let me know in the comments if I've missed anything or if you'd like to add your favorites!

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's 40th Anniversary Winter Series

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's 40th Anniversary Winter Series