Tag Archives: dance

White Christmas: Chicken Soup for the Soul

Normally I’m all about respecting each holiday’s dance space, but this year my psyche is all “fuck you, Thanksgiving, you killed the Indians” and has moved right from Halloween into Christmas. And with that move, I’ll gorge myself not on turkey and stuffing, but on classic holiday movies full of white people dancing.

And the best white people dancing holiday movie is, hands down, White Christmas.

White Christmas is my chicken soup for the soul. Each December, my cousin Jonelle and I would curl up on our Nonna’s plastic-covered couch and settle in to watch our favorite holiday movie. Then we’d spend the next few weeks pretending we were the Haynes sisters. (Poor Matt had to be freckled-faced Haynes the dog-faced boy.)

This movie stands the test of time because of extreme attachment vis-a-vie nostalgia (just like claymation Rudolph), but also because of its fantastic set construction (unlike claymation Rudolph). I mean, how many times have you walked into a train club car and been severely disappointed it didn’t look like this?

white christmas club car

The plot of White Christmas is as flimsy as a California “winter” coat in Massachusetts February. But the dancing. Oh, the dancing! There’s a minstrel number with a cast of 50,000 who are summoned to rehearse show material at a Vermont ski resort, even though the day before they were given time off to be with their families for the holidays. The show must go on! Families be damned! That’s the Christmas spirit.

Still, all this escaped me as a child because I was dazzled by Vera Ellen.

If you ask me, the star of this movie was not Bing Crosby. It was Vera Ellen. Vera Ellen should have been a bigger Hollywood name than Ginger Rodgers or even Fred Astaire, but her acting chops were not quite on par with her phenomenal dance skill. Watching her perform in this movie as a kid inspired me to 1. belt the shit out of my sweaters and 2. love dancing even more. I mean, take a look. This routine still holds up to today’s high standards of technique.

I will refrain from linking to all the rest of the dance numbers in this movie that I obsessed over as a kid (including the Martha Graham spoof, which again went right over my head). But you just don’t see dance highlighted in movies like this anymore. Yes, there are movie musicals, but they often feature dance doubles in weird cuts instead of the real thing. And yes, TV musical episodes are becoming a thing, but they usually feature the show’s stars with barely passable voices doing awkward jazz squares.

Quick, right now, name a big Hollywood star who is known for his or her dancing?

Okay, besides Channing Tatum.

None, right? There’s none. Even those who have a background in dance don’t usually get a chance to showcase it. It’s upsetting and it’s pulled me right off topic onto a totally different tangent.

Back to why White Christmas is the best! Did you know that Bob Fosse is the uncredited choreographer? Very apparent in the tilted pelvises and isolated shoulders of “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.” (If you ask me who Bob Fosse is, you’re dead to me.)

love

Now, I know I said I love this movie, but I wouldn’t be The Olive Gal if I didn’t point out a completely shitty plot hole that you could drive a Christmas tree through. George Clooney’s aunt Rosemary spends the second half the movie mad at Bing Crosby because she thinks he’s trying to exploit his old army General. But she forgives Bing when he goes on TV to sing about how the General is hard up for a job. I don’t know about you, but I’d be way more pissed about someone singing the following about me on national TV than if they brought a TV crew to my ski resort to film their show:

What can you do with a general
When he stops being a general?
Oh, what can you do with a general who retires?

Who’s got a job for a general
When he stops being a general?
They all get a job but a general no one hires

Awesome. Merry Christmas, General. Here’s so much pity from your famous army buds.

Anyway, one of the best things about White Christmas is the fact that it doesn’t crack out on Christmas, and yet still makes you feel all Christmasy. Of course, that might be because this scene happens at the end of the movie:

WC ending

Okay, maybe it cracks out just a little.

Despite the girls clearly too young for pointe shoes, this incredibly sappy scene, complete with audience sing-along, just puts everything right in the world. It’s that last sip of warm soup that coats your belly and leaves you satisfied but not bloated. Your ailments have been cured. Your Christmas will be white. And you just might show up to the next Christmas party dressed in that Mrs. Claus outfit.

This 9-Year-Old Prodigy Is Making Me Rethink My Life

Adrian RomoffToday I came across a video of a 9-year-old boy playing Beethoven and Chopin with the technique, phrasing, and passion of someone well beyond his years. Adrian Romoff is a cheeky little monkey who’s headed into 10th grade next year and will likely graduate high school in the next two years.

That’s right. He’ll graduate high school when he’s 11 years old.

Watch him play and I dare you to not be bowled over by his talent.

Seeing Romoff on YouTube (and then watching his America’s Got Talent audition),  made me think about what I was doing when I was 9 as a dancer—shuffle ball changes, mostly, and perhaps figuring out how to do a single turn. Initially, I felt that familiar twinge of regret that I hadn’t worked harder, started earlier, or had the natural talent that so obviously flows through this kid’s fingers. But then a second, more mature feeling stepped in and talked me down from the ledge.

There’s no need to feel threatened by this child prodigy. There’s no need to regret anything in your life because one child happens to be incredible smart and gifted. I can look at him and appreciate what he’s got, yes. But then I can also mourn for him, because I know there’s a whole part of childhood that he’s missing out on.

And this is not to knock his parents or judge his own life choices. He is certainly experiencing something most kids never will. But as I’ve grown, I’ve learned that every. single. life experience is a trade-off. For this one thing that you get, another thing gets taken away.

I started dance at an older age than most, which left me at a bit of a setback. I used to kick myself for this while I was deep in the throes of my dance obsession. But that late start also meant that I spent the early years of my childhood in free play to explore many interests with no commitment. I dug holes in my backyard looking for dinosaur bones. I went to science camp. I painted and colored. I wrote stories. I rode horses. Looking back, I’m so grateful for those experiences. And I’m also grateful for the years of dance when I had no time for anything else.

This child, Adrian Romoff, is experiencing something wonderful. He’s in deep, he loves what he’s doing (it’s written all over his face). He’s extraordinarily smart, so he’s sailing through school at an incredible rate. But on the flip side, he loses out on hours spent watching ants march into their holes, riding bikes with neighborhood friends, playing baseball, dancing, listening to music, building forts, whatever. My guess is he spends a lot of time practicing and studying, and has little time for any other extracurricular activities. Later on, when he’s older, he will recognize that was a sacrifice he made. He may feel a little regret…or he may not.

All this is to say that with any life choice there is an equal and opposite non-choice, and either one of those experiences can be validating and life-affirming. If Romoff didn’t choose to play piano, he might just be a regular little boy having fun. Personally, I’m glad he chose it because he can now share his gift with random strangers on the Internet and move them to tears, to really think hard about their life, to appreciate what he’s doing, and to also appreciate what they themselves didn’t do.

Haters Gonna Hate

Yesterday was a bit of a bummer. I posted an article on xoJane about the Free People ad, and I got a fair amount of flack for it in the comments section. It’s the Internet, so it’s not like I was surprised but…well, okay, I guess I was a little surprised. I just didn’t find the topic controversial enough to inspire backlash. But it did.

So for a minute, I felt bad for myself. It felt like someone tossed a wet blanket over my excitement to tentatively venture back into dance writing. Then a friend of mine blessed me with some very important words:

hatersgonnahate 2

You know what? I can dance if I want to. I can leave my commenters behind. Because my commenters don’t dance and if they don’t dance then they’re no commenters of mine.

Okay, actually, if you don’t dance you can still be my friend/commenter. Also, I’m not going to all of a sudden start writing about dance and only dance from now on. Yesterday made me realize that I do need some balance. One of the hardest things about dance is that you can become so absorbed in it, so thoroughly obsessed. Once it’s got it’s grips in you, it’s easy to wrap your entire identity around it. So I won’t do that. I’m about so much more than dance now. But it can still be an important part of me. Just as important as, say, a good olive spread or a really moving episode of Dr. Who.

…What? You know I love me a good spread.

I Just Can’t Quit You, Dance

In 2007, I had a difficult decision to make. I had been working at Dance Spirit magazine for four years, slowly clawing my way from intern to front desk to editorial. It felt like a slow climb at the time, but looking back, I realize I had a lot to learn.

dance recital
Why yes, that is some blue eyeshadow and a sequins scrunchie.

I was getting antsy. I had been dancing since I was 7 and writing about dance since 2001. The topics started to loop around every year. Fall was about getting back in studio shape. Winter usually had some kind of ballet focus. Spring was college programs. Summer meant competition season. Around and around we went. In came a new crop of dancer/models. Out went another round of dancewear and costumes.

When I first started, I was so excited to be so immersed in the world of dance. This was everything I had ever dreamed about! Combining my two passions. Rubbing elbows with my dance idols. Sharing whatever knowledge about the dance world I had gleaned from working professionally in New York. It was the dream job…until I injured my back and could no longer dance.

Then it was just painful. There was the physical pain of sitting at my desk all day long, yes. But mostly I was crippled by the emotional pain of being surrounding by an artform that had been my whole world—one that I could no longer participate in in the way that I desired.

So I walked away.

I’ve spent the last seven years completely avoiding dance. I have barely written about it, taken a class, or even watched a dance program on TV. It’s become the pink elephant in my room. But I think it’s time to open my heart to it again. I know this is silly, but something about the atrocity of that Free People ad, and the way that it has (NOT) resonated with dancers on the Internet has jostled something inside of me loose.

I miss it.

I’m not quite sure what this means. Do I take some D-list Zumba class at the local Y? Something tells me that won’t satisfy my thirst. Do I have dance parties in my bedroom with my 3-year-old? (Ahem, I may have already started doing that.) Perhaps this simply means I start writing about it again. Not about trends or dancewear roundups, because let’s be honest, I don’t know anything about that anymore (plus none of you care). But I do know a lot about the dark underbelly of dance. The joy, yes, but also the profound, profound misery. The fleetingness of it. The unfairness of it. The physical toll it takes.

Dance broke my heart. But I still love her. And I’m going to tell you all about it.

This is Why Dancers are Pissed at That Free People Ballet Ad

Free People ballet
nope nope nope nope

My Facebook feed exploded this week when a Free People ad ran that featured an embarrassingly untrained “dancer” who talked about how she had trained in ballet since she was 3 years old. The ad was for a new line of ballet/movement wear, and it was painfully obvious that the model was selected for her lithe frame and gorgeous face, and not so much for her technique.

My dancer friends winced, snarked, and clucked tongues all over The Book. Not too long after, the Internet got wind that the dancers were mad, yo. In this article for AdWeek, dancers were interviewed expressing their disgust about the model’s lack of training, as well as the danger of going en pointe without proper strength and positioning.

A lot of non-dancers on the Internet are wondering why us dancers are so up in arms about this. So what that Free People chose someone who’s not very good? Give the poor model/dancer a break! (And I do feel bad that she’s getting so much flack. It’s not her fault. Let’s direct our anger at Free People, and not the poor model who was probably psyched to book the commercial and had no idea the damage she’d be doing.)

Well, let me explain. Imagine Free People was running an ad about a singer saying that she had taken voice lessons since she was 3 years old. Then imagine that the singer screeched her way through a Celine Dion song off-pitch and with little, if any, musicality. That would be awkward, wouldn’t it? To play the ad off like it was aspirational? That’s essentially what Free People is doing with this ballet ad. To us, watching this amateur dancer warble her way through ballet exercises en pointe is the equivalent of a tone-deaf, untrained singer attempting a song in a difficult range by one of the greatest divas of all time.

But it goes deeper than that. Dancers aren’t only peeved that Free People decided to run an ad that showcased poor technique. It’s that there are literally thousands of beautiful dancers out there who are highly trained—why not select a dancer who has the proper skill for the ad? Not only is it more aesthetically pleasing, but it also won’t alienate the audience of dancers you are trying to get to buy your product.

The problem is, in the “industry,” skill is not the most important factor—even when you’re talking about auditioning for actual dance jobs (versus a commercial for dance clothing). Perhaps it’s not the case with professional dance companies, but when you’re talking about commercial dance, the girl with “the look” gets it over the girl with “the skill.” I know because I lost the jobs to those girls. And it was infuriating to see a dancer with less skill but a prettier face get a job that wasn’t even ABOUT selling a commercial product. It’s even more infuriating to showcase that pretty face alongside a narrative about how much this dancer has supposedly trained.

Okay, you want a gorgeous model. That’s more important to you than skill. Fine. But don’t cue the inspirational music and the close-ups of the dancer NOT executing the most basic of ballet movements and tell us she has trained since she was three. Just don’t.

You know why dancers are so mad? It’s because they trained for 20 years just to miss out on that commercial job over the girl who took an adult ballet class the night before the casting call.