Sunday, September 20, 2009

Legal v. Illegal, Abortion Rate Stats

Following coverage of the abortion battle is something of a roller-coaster ride. It is such a hotly-debated issue and each side generally makes a strong argument for being either pro-life or pro-choice.

The more research I do, the more questions keep popping up in my brain. The pro-lifers argue that legalizing abortion will cause women to be more casual about the decision and the number of abortions will rise. Pro-choice advocates say that making abortion illegal won’t stop women from going through with the procedure, and it will only force them to take unsafe measures, such as having the procedure done in back-alley clinics with untrained doctors. So which side is correct?

Finally, I came across an article in The New York Times that put to rest a lot of my questions. A global study concluded that abortion rates were the same in countries where it is legal compared to those where it is illegal. It concluded that making abortion illegal has no effect on a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy. The only difference is that in countries where abortion is legal, the procedure is considered safe, and where it is illegal, the procedure is dangerous and performed in secret.

There is a lot more conclusive information from the study, so here is the link:

From a critical viewpoint, the article was informative and eye-opening. It did answer my question regarding what the best plan of action to take is to reduce the need for abortions, which the study proved, is the use of contraceptives, and not abstinence education. The one thing that bothered me about the article was the amount of statistics the reporter used. The entire article was jam-packed with numbers and research conclusions. I found myself having to weed-out the less essential information in order to get to the important facts. It was comparable to the effects of compassion fatigue. By the middle of the article I had read so many statistics that they lost their impact.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

My Own Adagios

What is dance? What is movement? What makes a dancer a dancer? And why do dancers dance? In this, my first dance blog in a series of humbly insightful weekly essays on dance in the modern world, I will examine the definition of dance, particularly contemporary dance. Last year, in a series on the meaning of a dancers life, I received quite a bit of dance feedback and got some serious dance controversy going over the truism “to dance is to live,” as I presented my converse thesis that “to live is to dance.” I hope to generate a similar discourse with this dance blog series.
I have been recently privileged to observe a dress rehearsal of three historic masterworks. Well, actually, I didn’t really watch the dress rehearsal itself, but I received an official recording of it. Well, actually, it wasn’t exactly an official recording, but it was a video somebody made from the wings of a pretty good mark through and then put up on Youtube. It has since been taken down, I’m sure for copyright reasons. Like I said, it was a pretty good mark through. At any rate, I feel very strongly that these works entirely embody my ideas about the definition of dance. I have never seen such deeply moving choreography. In all my years of training and all my performance experience, I will say with authority that these dances, themselves, could define dance for all the world.
The glowing effervescence of the first work, which contained a plethora of girls in green and purple chiffon dresses and several men in sherbet-colored spandex, spoke of the love and beauty of movement. The dancers floated and flitted across the stage, weaving in and out with serene, early-morning smiles gracing their faces. Dance is grace and beauty. Movement sings from the soul and lightens the energy in the air around it. As I watched their 6:00 extensions and twitching, fluttering arms, I felt my spirit elevated to the heavens. In my experience in the dance world and as a dancer, this joy surely defines all the time I have spent moving. I remember my most recent performance, as I executed my very last shimmy to the audience before my final pose, glorying in the glitter of the sequins on my costume and the rhinestones in my tights and feeling that lovely thrill that my audience’s lives might have been changed by my performance to “I Hope You Dance.”

The second piece, by contrast, whose long and complex foreign name I refuse to defile by spelling out here on this humble website, was all darkness and struggle. Dance was here presented as a convoluted travail, an epic, endless, painful battle against pounding authority. I wasn’t entirely certain of the plot at times, or really at anytime, but what struck me the most were the twisted, contorted positions of the dancers, and the unnaturally pained expressions on their faces. Their costumes were hideously ugly and plain, except for one glorious green dress worn by the shortest girl. I could go on for hours about my personal interpretation of the dance movement by movement, but I think the most significant opinion of mine is the way in which this dance impressed me as a description of my personal experience of long rehearsals in the studio, as when I was preparing for my aforementioned performance of “I Hope You Dance.” Although I did not have a rehearsal coach and I choreographed the solo myself, I pushed myself to the point of breaking, for the sake of my art. And because I didn’t really have a studio either, but rehearsed only in my living room, the way I used my furniture, doing layouts off of my loveseat and stepping from coffee table to easy chair to finally leap to the floor, closely resembled much of the choreography in this work, which was organized a series of square boxes, often used as chairs. It depicts dance as a struggle, a dancer as her own worst enemy, and the torment of failure which could drive one to the brink of suicide no matter how beautiful one’s dress may be, is as relevant and poignant as the enchantment and beauty of the first piece.
The last work was my favorite, as it emphasized the grittiness and humanity of dance. I hated the costumes, but the music was just so…ethnic. I could hardly get over it. The best part of the dance, in my opinion, was at the end when a whole crowd of people burst onto the stage and shook the life out of the audience. I could hardly contain my joy. The celebration and the ecstasy of the movement contrasted with the drab homeliness of their hideous costumes reminded me of the glorious feeling of dancing in the midst of a run-down, boring world. This reminded me of dance as escape, dance as the path to enlightenment or heaven or someplace better than where I am now. It gave me the strangest sensation that I was somehow on my way somewhere. Just like when I was finally, after so many long nights rehearsing in front of my webcam, invited to perform “I Hope You Dance” at a Senior Center downtown. All those people in the audience…the applause was deafening. At least I’m pretty sure it was applause and not snores or random flatulence or anything. And I’m sure they would have given me a standing ovation if they could have stood at all. At any rate, it was a defining moment for me and my career, and 5 years later, I am still hoping for another opportunity like that. I keep trying to email and network with my contacts but they haven’t responded in a while...I have spent 5 hours a day on and so many other websites, but nothing has turned up. Nevertheless, I keep on hoping. Dance is beauty, dance is torture, and dance is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Amen. *

* [A small note aside: My thesis is essentially a warning of the dangers of allowing the blessed intersection of dance and the internet (which can and does, in fact, prove extremely helpful in forwarding a dancer’s career), to constitute our dance careers. If all the people who spend so much time on the internet composing lengthy blogs about themselves and the dance world and dance as they see it spent even a portion of that time working in the studio, they might be better dancers. Perhaps some might rarely use a studio, might see no reason for real training, and become so wrapped up in their own opinions and the dance world in their computers that the dance world outside their computers begins to become fuzzy and all the good opportunities like getting your name out there, networking, researching, etc., become more damaging than helpful. Just a thought.]


Las Vegas Showgirl. For some, these three words might cause judgment and for others it might mean success. The fact is, no one will ever know what it takes to do this job unless they experience for themselves.
While growing up in a small studio I danced with a very talented dancer that danced all over the world throughout her teenage years. Most thought she would just feed right into the companies she had been dancing with every summer since she was ten. When she told everyone that she was moving to Las Vegas to join a show, everyone in the studio was shocked. Why Las Vegas? Why not just dance for a cruise line and travel the world at the same time? The news was definitely a surprise to all, particularly because her training was mostly all ballet with jazz and competitive dance here and there.
She moved to Las Vegas knowing only the girl she was living with and began the audition process. She auditioned for ten different shows and finally agreed to stay on with Jubilee at the Bally’s Hotel Las Vegas. The beginning was very rough for her. She knew that the rehearsals would be long and wearing on her body, but they were like nothing she believed. For the new comers, rehearsals began at eight in the morning and would last until five at night. The dancers would have an hour and a half break for dinner before returning for night rehearsal and would typically stay until everything was completed or satisfactory to the director. She would always explain how this was a shock to her body. She was prepared for being a professional dancer but of course one can’t really know until experienced.
There are three shows a day, every other day, that she has to dance in. An 11:00AM, matinee, and evening show. The dancers once calculated that per show they have to climb up and down over four hundred steps, that is at least twelve hundred steps a day. To say the least, she quickly got in shape from stair climbing as well as the constant dancing.
She continued with the show for four years making a family-like connection with everyone involved with the show. Her constant energy and focus towards her dancing allowed for great improvement in all aspects of her technique. Overall, her experience in Las Vegas was “overwhelmingly amazing” as quoted by her. The friendships, work ethic, and life long skills she has developed through the show have been incredible. She always says now how she couldn’t believe she was actually dancing in Las Vegas. It was not something she would have chosen first, but looking back she doesn’t regret a thing. She would have it no other way. She moved to New York this past summer and has been auditioning for various Broadway musicals as of late.

Competition Red light?

I began writing this article in order to compare and contrast the differences between competitive and performance dance. It seemed almost ridiculous because although they are both very similar; performance dance has a much more elaborate and a genuine feel that is composed of a mutualistic relationship. Competition dance becomes almost a parasitic relationship because the beauty of the art is taken away by tricks, and movement with no emotional value. Although, it may be entertaining to watch and observe, the idea of dance evolving into material that utilizes the beauty of movement to illustrate one being superior to another, is a slap in the face to those whom view dance as an eccentric art form. Performance quality dancers utilize emotion, along with technique, to convey a statement in which the choreographer wants to declare to their audience. Where as well developed competitive dancers may apply emotion to their movement, the main idea behind their dancing becomes how much vigorousness and agility they convey. Dancers whom comprise the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, all have extremely fit and robust bodies, but that comes as a bonus to them. Their ideas are not to entertain, or show how much better they are; they want to convey a message to the audience. Oscar Ramos, of the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, states in Project 52, " On stage I feel like a chameleon, I put layers, or skins on and take them off. I try to interpret whatever I feel." Also, Matthew Rich explains, "I want to become the best artist I can possibly be, because before I'd be like, oh i want to be the best dancer i can be... it's not just about the dance, it's not just about executing the steps or the technical ability of the dancer, it's about what they can do with the movement."

Along with emotion, performance dancing reveals a statement the choreographer wants to represent. This is why it is called art rather than entertainment. The dancer's parallel the clay in the choreographer's hands in which he or she molds to create a beautiful piece of art. Rather than in competitive dance, the choreographer creates intricate patterns and fancy tricks to catch the judges eye.

As you can see, the dancers from Ohio State University have amazing technique and can do wonderful turns, and leaps; but they lack the emotion and the interesting qualities performance companies, in turn, embody. After seeing an abundant amount of competition videos i have come to realize they all look exactly the same. The group pieces all engulf straight lines, and big leaps. Companies such as Cedar lake Contemporary Ballet, Battleworks Dance Company, Paul Taylor, and Parsons Dance Company execute emotion and choreography that it is developed around. All in all, competitive dance lacks the drive and feeling of performance dance.

Say No To Thunder Thighs!

During the summer, many of my non-dancer friends watched So You Think You Can Dance, and came to me with the same question: “Why do all the dancers have huge thighs?” I couldn’t help but take it rather personally. I think dancers can relate with one another because we are all involved in a brutal business that is hard on body type, and on top of that we work really hard every day to achieve this unattainable perfection. If it’s not the actual size of our body that bothers us, we can usually rely on an injury or perhaps some part of our body that is not working to its “potential,” to let us down. So of course, I lousily attempted to defend the sytycd dancers in any way I could. At first I stressed that they didn’t have big thighs, they just had legs that were extremely toned and developed. Hello! “Dancer legs!” However, my friend’s immediate response was that ballet dancers don’t have big legs, and on top of that, their legs are also toned! Really irked, I found myself feeling a little helpless because I didn’t know what it was that these contemporary dancers did differently from ballet dancers to develop the so called “thunder thighs,” they had developed. Thus, the inspiration for this blog. Good news! Not only did I find the causes of big thighs in dancers, but I also found ways that we can avoid these issues and in turn, develop our legs into lean mean dancing machines!

First of all, any dancer can develop big thighs with poor training and incorrect muscle usage. The two most common things causing overdevelopment is gripping and tucking. In attempt to turnout, dancers tend to over rotate their ankles and in turn, end up gripping with their thighs. Instead, it is important to rotate from the top of the hips, not the gluteus, but the deep rotator muscles, and use the hamstrings to straighten the legs. If you use the hamstrings and push into the floor, than your quadriceps aren’t doing the bulk of the work and won’t overdevelop. Tucking is also a big contributor. A big misconception is that your lower pelvis and spine need to be long in order to achieve a long vertical line, aka. Good posture. Unfortunately, many dancers go against the natural curve of their spine and tuck their pelvis. This means that all their body weight is going straight to their quads, not allowing them to elongate into lean muscles. Also, the tucking it makes it impossible for the rotator muscles to hold the turnout, which unfortunately make your gluteus muscles take over for stabilization. Instead, it is important to keep the pelvis in the natural line of the spine and instead use the lower abdominal muscles to create elongation as well as the feeling of pushing away from the floor. I felt that I needed to say these two things first because contemporary dancers are not the only victims of the dreaded thunder thigh, ballerinas can get them too!

The reason why contemporary dancers develop larger legs then ballerinas is, because of what the technique demands of them. There is not one step in ballet technique that requires a dancer to throw themselves to the floor or hinge themselves into oblivion. Ballet focuses on lightness, elongation, and creating the movement so that it appears to be effortless. Power, strength, assertiveness, and athleticism is required of contemporary dancers. It’s no wonder their legs look the way they do after all that is demanded of them! Contemporary dancers want to move the human soul and make a statement; they are replacing delicacy with power. The attack and physicality of contemporary movement not only requires a lot of strength, but also a different kind of strength than ballet dancers because they are coming from two very different places.

Dancers, there is a solution to achieving leaner thighs! In correspondence with daily classes and proper usage of technique, we need to be stretching our iliotibial band! We tend to forget how hard our supporting leg has to work to maintain all that it does. We assume that the working leg is the one that is doing all the movement, but the real working leg is the leg that does all the supporting. The muscles that prevent you from “sitting in your hip,” or, your abductors, have to work really hard to maintain the support we need. On the outer side of the leg is the iliotibial band, this is the abductor muscle I am referring to. We need to stretch this just as much as we need to stretch our adductors, or I guess you could say, your middle splits. This is a great article that I found that has a lot of valuable information and insight into this idea.

It stresses the importance of using the foam roller to get out all the knots that have been built up from all the over usage. When we overwork muscles they begin to tighten up and inevitably become larger, hence the reason for large thighs. Finally a solution!I think it’s all time for us to go out, and buy ourselves the foam rollers. Not only will your legs become slimmer, but you’ll also feel and dance better. :]

The coalition between dance and television has escalated to new heights over the years. Dance has always been a form of art and entertainment that is expressed through abstraction, literal statements, significance, or just to amuse an audience. What determines the definition of a choreographer’s purpose and what determines whether dance is to be considered commercial versus artistic.

Currently, a person could turn on their television and find shows such as So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Top Dance Crew, and Dancing with the Stars, shows that revolve around dancing to purely entertain. Upbeat and funky dancing would no doubt sell to an outsider of the dance world, than watching Alonzo King Lines Ballet showing their repertoire. It could be because of the involvement that reality shows give their audience, which maybe people would prefer to watch something they got to be a part of. Or it could be that shows like SYTYCD one all about doing dance routines that allows non-dancers to relate and connect to the movement.  Whatever the strategic marketing tactic may be, through latest statistics, dancing on television [examples: music videos, TV shows and commercials] pays a lot more and opens more possibilities for dancing job opportunities.

Video Link:

I was fortunate enough to be able to go onto youtube and find a video of Alonzo King’s repertoire which Drew Jacoby is dancing in. The video initially showcases her amazing body and beautiful dancing ability. In the video, viewers will notice that there are no words in the music. She never once dances towards the audience and breaks character of the piece. Her costume is unique in range of color and shape unlike a TV show costume, which may be used to establish a literal meaning of what the movement could not say.

Video Link:

In the So You Think You Can Dance video, in comparison with Alonzo’s work, it would be equal to some extent, to put Mia Michael’s contemporary choreography that she set on two dancers. The movement in many ways is very alike but at the same time very different. The movement in the video is thrown out of control and very expressive. The music, image portrayed, and costume also help establish the tone the choreographer was intending to set. Firstly look at the music and clothing. Both have a dark and ire feeling which sets the tone of the piece. Lighting is naturally going to play into setting the tone as well but in both dances it is used purely to benefit.

The two worlds do have their differences but it could be that maybe the major difference between commercial dancing and artistic is that one is very in your face and the other is very subtle but having a message that is tried to be said also. If a choreographer choreographers an extreme piece then it would be more than likely considered commercial and meant for entertainment than provoke a thought process, unlike dance companies who perform on stage and use lights, costumes and varied movements to tell a story or just in an artistic way to tell a story. Point blank, they have their differences but to be commercial or not is at the choreographers a decision.  

The Evolution of Dance in Music Videos

For a dancer, music is one of the most important aspects of the art of dance. It moves us and challenges us. It births new ideas and brings forth choreographic expression. In the 1980s, music became more than simply something to listen to and became something to watch. Music videos, made popular by Music Television (MTV), enhanced the music by adding either a story line, symbolism, and/or dancing while making the song itself more well-known to the viewing public. Although today there are music videos that incorporate dance, it is a trend that today’s music videos are straying away from the more technical and original aspects of dance seen in the past.

"Straight Up" -Paula Abdul

Paula Abdul, the winner of the first MTV Video Music Award for Best Dance Video “Straight Up”, is a great example of how to incorporate fun and innovative dance technique and choreography. This video was more or less focused mainly on the dancing itself. It even includes tap dancing as well as jazz! Other past artists are similar to Abdul with their great approach of incorporating a lot of dance in their videos such as Madonna, Prince, Ricky Martin, and one of the best examples of dance in music videos, Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson took music videos to a whole other level with developed story lines and intense dancing in his videos such as “Thriller”, “Scream”, and “Beat It.”

Today’s videos do not involve as much dance as in the 80s and 90s. Rap stars typically sit in a club and throw money at strippers, show off their cars, and pour champagne on the floor. Punk stars are either more into making their videos artistic or more about showcasing the band and the performance. But some pop stars do a great job incorporating dance into their music videos. N*Sync, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson, and the latest winner of the MTV Video Music Award for Best Dance Video the Pussycat Dolls. Danity Kane is one of the newer girl groups that focuses a lot on incorporating dance into their music videos. Their music videos "Bad Girl" and "Damaged" utilize creative forms of hip-hop. All of these are the videos that interest me. Perhaps I am biased because I am a dancer, but from an outsider’s perspective I strongly believe that these dance videos are more intriguing and entertaining than strippers, cars, and instruments.

"Bad Girl" -Danity Kane

Dancers in today’s world already have limited access to dance jobs. Dancing in a music video with a top artist is a huge honor to most dancers in the commercial world, but the amount of dance videos being produced today cannot suffice the want that dancers have to be in them. Thanks to artists such as Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson, and the like, dancers have a chance to perform some of the best and most innovative choreography alongside some of the greatest professionals in the industry. So as we move into the future, it is important for aspiring choreographers to stress the importance of dance in music videos, as well as the dancers’ initiative to keep pushing themselves in their training. The future of music videos holds a lot of promising ideas that are well within reach of aspiring chorographers, dancers, and artists alike.