Monday, May 27, 2013

The Red State Ballet Theater

A friend of mine, a dancer with Atlanta Ballet, posted a status update that left me livid -- blinking and sputtering:

The “gay” Swan Lake is not fare that will attract the traditional Atlanta audience. Some marketing savvy, please???? Atlanta Ballet is one of the oldest companies in Atlanta… but they have always had to struggle and have experienced more valleys than peaks. The inaugural season at Cobb Energy Center was well considered: a complete season of traditionally choreographed, full-length story ballets. That would continue to attract a broad audience and put AB back on track. But after that first season in the Cobb Centre, they ventured back into studio, modern dance, and minimalist costuming and scenery. I dropped my subscription and will never go back. Listen up, folks. You have to give your audience what they want. In order to do that, you have to study them and learn who they are. If this is the kind of stuff you want to present, then get out of the South and go back to NYC or California.

The caustic responses flew under this ballsy missive, authored by a Mr. Stelling in response to a  review of "Love Stories", Atlanta Ballet's final performance of the 2012 -13 season.

We were horrified.

But what if the guy had a point?  

After all, dance companies were struggling, many forced to fold. Maybe it was simply that dance companies were presenting stuff no one -- save the latte-drinkin', foreign-car drivin', sushi-eatin' crowd -- wanted to see.  

Imagine the Red State Ballet Theater, a dance company reflective of our deep-seeded national divide!  One that gives the people what they want, with works such as these: 

Suite Honey Boo-Boo
Disturbing celebrities with P.R. woes know just where to come for an image hosedown.  Alla Haiders last evening length work, Kiss Me Ke$ha, had audiences tweeting that the pop sensation would be an ideal preschool teacher.  Ms. Haiders now pays brilliant tribute to Honey Boo-Boo in a ballet comprised of seven tour de force female solos.  “Vegetables Kill People,”  “Throwin' Sketti on the Cab'nets,” and “Glitzy Piglet” will have audiences crying out for more, and wondering why Miss Boo Boo lacks a seat on the US Senate. 

Barry's Got Your Gun 
In this timely gem about our 44th president, new choreographer Rush Limbaugh shows he never met a literal idea he didn't put a ring on!  Desmond Richardson stars, reaching into homes, hospitals and businesses and starving people, doing a series of frenzied jumps and stomps on a paper reading "THE 2ND AMENDMENT", and dancing a passionate duet with the Koran while enjoying a large vat of hummus.  The thrilling chase and fight scene around the Oval Office with Speaker John Boehner, played by himself, is more than worth the price of admission.

Recently, a dancemaker known simply as “Billy” was enjoying a dance performance when behind him he overheard some men complaining that ballet was “dumber ‘n a dead possum.”  He spoke gently to them at intermission, and left the theater with two black eyes and a broken rib.  Even before he could see straight, Billy rushed into the studio demanding that his dancers, “do y’alls jumps so fast folks can’t even see 'em!”  The result is the long-awaited lovechild of car racing and classical ballet. 

Duckerella Lake
This slap-yo'-momma-good evening length work blends two traditional story ballets, Cinderella and Swan Lake, with Duck Dynasty.  On a hunting trip a young duck hunter meets the woman of his dreams and swears his undying love.  Little does he know after midnight she turns into a duck!  The following week, he thinks he's repeating his promise to the same woman, except she’s got a tan.  He has no idea that he's been tricked by the evil, animal activist owner of a tanning empire, the Organ-A-Tan-N-Save, who kidnaps sets of twins, makes them ducks by night and women by day, fits them with webbed stilettos, and leaves one pale and the other tanner than George Hamilton.  Will the young hunter run off and join PETA?  Or will he figure out how to eat, kill, love?

But seriously, all satire aside, if it’s been a while since your last dance performance, or if you never see live dance, what would it take to get you into the theater? 

And for those in the dance biz, what makes you go see something or decide to skip it?  What do you think keeps people away? 

Is it the expense or is it something more?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Welcome to Mom's New Stage!

Hi, and welcome, welcome, welcome, new readers!  You are probably here because you read my post about teaching, and wanted to build me a shrine, or you think I am the teacher equivalent of the Tiger Mom, and you are plotting to have me put in a van and never seen again.  

Either way, I hope you'll stay, because whether or not I'm severely off my pins, this is a rockin' fun place to hang out.  

My name is Keesha. I used to dance professionally, but now I spend my time teaching college level modern and jazz dance and guest teaching in the Chicago area.  This is a mom blog of course, which means I strive to be the best mom I can be to two small children, eighteen months apart under the age of five while  devoting 99% of my attention to my computer.  Kidding!  Seriously, writing is my new passion, because ballet class at 1 a.m. is weird and impractical.  Mom's New Stage, which I started in July, 2011, shines a spotlight on motherhood, dance, laughter, and the intersections between the three.  

Now, at this point there's a pretty big body of work on this site.  I'm just going to be honest here - going through post by post might make you stick hot pokers in your eyes. I'll give you five of my faves, and you can take it from there.

Improve Your Pirouettes With a Confrontational Letter!

Infertility: Why is Everyone Pregnant But Me

15 Memories of a Girl Who Danced in the 80s

10 Movie Remakes for Moms and Dads  

And, I Just Want to Pee Alone!

I'm not telling you a little secret, I'm telling you about the book I'm in!  I Just Want to Pee Alone is a wonderful anthology of hilarious essays by 37 of the hottest mom bloggers working the Interwebs today.  Put together by Rockstar blogger Jen of People I Want to Punch in the Throat, IJWTPA reached the top of the humor charts within a week of its debut on Amazon, surpassing our wildest dreams, and our idol Tina Fey herself.  The fantastic bloggers in IJWTPA include:

These are some of the bloggers for whom I'd take a virtual bullet for AND stare at Rush Limbaugh naked for three whole seconds.  Obvi, I love these women.  You'd be wise to check them out before you draw your next breath, soon, please.  

Thank you for stopping by and getting to know me and some of my friends a little better.  I can't wait to share the contents of my dusty, sleep-deprived brain with you, as well as hear what you have to say in response.  And please, please, please comment - the only thing that could make me giddier would be a bag of Twizzlers.  I hope you'll remember me on your tours around the Interwebs - I'd love to keep you laughing, thinking, and perhaps, even inspired.  


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Letter from your Dance Teacher

Dear Dance Student circa 2013:

Hi, there!  This is your dance teacher. Your older dance teacher.  Let’s chat.

First, I know you love dance.  You want to be great.  You want to work.  You want people to see all that you have to offer.  You are also coming of age in a dance world that is so different from the one I grew up in, and I’m excited to see what develops.

But I’ve seen a lot that concerns me.

You come from a generation that has been empowered like none before in humanity.  You have been taught to question authority – to do your own thing -- from an early age.  Many of you have been raised where “everyone gets a trophy,” and your teachers, parents and coaches, trying to be encouraging, often praised you just because. Furthermore, in the age of the Internet everything is accessible instantly and effortlessly.  You want to look up a word or person?  Google it.  You hear a song you like?  You don’t even have to remember the words -- just Shazam it.  Hell, you don’t even have to push a button anymore; you merely touch a screen.

When you are asked to work at something because that is simply what one does, many of you ask “Why should I?  So-and-so made this thing and it went mad viral.”  A few people are genuine overnight sensations -- results of our spectacle-hungry, media-addicted culture.  Most sudden phenoms, however, have been toiling quietly for years before their “moment.” 

Success is a process.

Success is also a product of criticism from others and oneself.  In dance class corrections are very public.  The teacher cannot always say everything in the gentlest way.  With a class full of students, she needs to be concise and clear.

Your teacher’s job is not to make you like her, not to make you want go have coffee or drinks, or to be lifelong or even Facebook friends. Personally, I like it when I become friends with students. But this happens because before anything else the student trusted me – my skills and knowledge as a dancer and teacher. 

If you don’t trust your teacher you might find her corrections disrespectful.  I tend to get zealous with corrections, going on campaigns and harangues to fix things.  My humor tends toward the sarcastic, which can rub people the wrong way.  Thus the combination of doggedly wanting to help and a dry wit might offend some students. 

If you are one of these students, you need to come talk to me about it. 

Don’t rip me a new one via your parents or in your course evaluation.

Certainly there is humiliation, even cruelty in the dance studio.  The caricature of the mean teacher or choreographer is based in truth.  But when you find a teacher who is going out of her way to correct you, and perhaps getting a little frustrated – to call this teacher disrespectful is wrong.  You do yourself a disservice.

It is much easier for your teacher to ignore you, and spend time on someone who makes changes quickly. Only a teacher who thinks you have potential would bother to try to help you.  Not disrespectful at all – exactly the opposite.

And that puts the onus on you, to take responsibility for yourself.  If you don’t understand why you are getting a correction five times per class or why your dancing is not getting the compliments you’d like, ASK!

The teachers who gave me the harshest, most brutally honest corrections are the ones I learned the most from.  I didn’t like what they had to say, but in my day, we just went home and cried -- never did we accuse the teacher of disrespect.  Weeks, months or even years later, I realized how right the teacher was. That said, their corrections didn’t mean I was a) a bad dancer b) never going to dance professionally c) meant to be a Taco Bell employee. 

So please, take class mindfully. Work hard.  Bring passion into the studio. Be curious about how to get better.  Ask questions.  And remember, if someone cares enough to work with you day in and day out, if she or he cares enough to get frustrated with you, she’s not being disrespectful, she’s TEACHING. 

You have so much information and technology available to you, and I know you have a lot to say.  But a skilled dancing body still counts.  Let me help. 


Friday, May 10, 2013

Paige Robinson: My Dance Mom

photo: Rich Sofranko

I just signed my first contract with a professional ballet company. I auditioned for companies all over the country these past few months. I've trained at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, Houston Ballet School, Chicago Ballet Arts, Dance Center Evanston, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Boston Ballet, and first of all Giordano Dance Center. Looking back, there is one person who has always been there for me, rain or shine, for better or for worse, and that's my mom.

photo: Matt Glavin

I would simply not be where I am today without her unconditional love and undying support. Being a dancer is so incredibly difficult. You push through blood, sweat, and tears on a daily basis. You rehearse the same steps so many times they show up in your dreams. You sacrifice a lot in order to survive in the dance sacrifice everything in order to move up a rung on the ladder. This constant struggle means that dancers need support, and no one is better for that job than their parents. Especially since dancers often realize their dreams of becoming professionals at a very young age. I don't mean to leave my dad out of this, it's just that it's both Mother's Day and my mother's birthday coming up so...I love you both!

While my mom is awesome, I want to highlight the antithesis as well. There is this TV show: Dance Moms. I can't watch the show without yelling at the screen and rolling my eyes every five minutes. These parents are every dancer's nightmare.

ñ    A good dance mom drives their kid to endless classes and rehearsals, but doesn't drive the kid insane with undue pressure.
ñ    A good dance mom communicates with the teachers but does not harass them when their kid doesn't get the solo.
ñ    A good dance mom asks how class or rehearsal went, but doesn't analyze every movement or every correction on the car ride home.
ñ    A good dance mom lets her kid dictate her path in the dance world and doesn't force them to take at this studio or with that teacher...etc.
ñ    A good dance mom is okay if her kid wants to quit.

Generally speaking, a good dance mom supports instead of suffocates. I've seen beautiful dancers quit to get out from under their mother's thumb, or because they will never be good enough for her. I've seen talented dancers suffer setback after setback due to lack of family support. It's heartbreaking, but sadly not all that uncommon.

My mom is always there for me. When things go well, we celebrate, when they don't, I vent to her and she cheers me up. She's the one person who completely understands why I love to dance. It's so hard to explain that overwhelming force that pushes us to express ourselves by moving to music. All we dancers really want is for someone to understand why we do this. My mom understands that it's not a hobby for me, it's not a sport for me, it's a way of life. And I love her to pieces for that. I want to thank my mom for every big and little thing she's done.

photo: Rich Sofranko

Paige Robinson is nineteen years old, from Wilmette, IL. She will be a trainee with Eugene Ballet Company starting this fall. She is finishing her second year in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Graduate Program. In the Chicago area she studied at Dance Center Evanston, Chicago Ballet Arts, and Giordano Dance Center. She had the pleasure of working with Keesha Beckford in modern classes and credits her for breaking her out of her shell. Paige also graduated from New Trier High School in 2011 and in her spare time is learning how to teach dance. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Win a Free Dress Rental from Borrow Baby Couture!

Maybe you have money to burn.  Maybe you and your mini-me make Beyoncé and Blue Ivy look like Goodwill shoppers.

Or maybe you're a frugal, yet fashionable, mom, who'd chow down on a stick of deep fried butter at a state fair, sooner than she'd spend a small fortune on a dress her little girl will wear for only a few hours.

If you're the second gal I described, you need Borrow Baby Couture, the brilliant new company where you can rent (yes, rent!) totes adorbs dresses for your little girl. They are fully stocked with beautiful dresses in sizes  9 months -  4 years, made by designers like Stella Mc Cartney, Dior and Moschino.  You can borrow a dress for 1 or 2 weeks for up to 80% off the cost of buying.

Rachel Riley pink scalloped dress
retails for $130/ rents for $20.50 per week!

Dresses arrive elegantly wrapped and packaged, making your little one feel like the princess she is.  She will be thrilled to wear her new frock, and you will feel like the savviest fashionista mom in town.  

Because you are.  

The best part is, when you are done, you simply put the dress back in the pre-paid envelope and send it back.  

Boom! Done.

But, wait!  you ask.  My daughter may be cute but she can get messier faster than a baby left with a jar of Vaseline. What then? Will I have to have to perform custodial services for your company to pay you back?

This is where things get amazing.  Simply indicate what the stain is, in order to facilitate removal by the pros, and send it back.  No crying that you now own a $300 chocolate stained dishrag.  No homemade concoctions that may just burn a hole in the fabric.  And no shennanigans trying to make an indignant and flagrantly dishonest return, "I got home to find this new dress covered in ketchup!  What kind of establishment sells decent people filthy things like this?!!!!" 

No worries, just send it back.

And so,as a special Mother's Day offer, Mom's New Stage and Borrow Baby Couture are doing a giveaway of one free dress rental!  Using the Rafflecopter form below, follow Mom's New Stage or Borrow Baby Couture on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.  You can also send a tweet promoting the giveaway, or for extra points you can share how you are a frugal fashionista.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!  If you don't win, and your daughter has a few fancy fetes coming up,  you can visit to take advantage of a special promotion!  If you see a dress that tickles your fancy,  click "I love it!".  It will post to Facebook, and you will receive $20 off your purchase!  

Have a beautiful Mother's Day, and best of luck!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Mom in the Spotlight: Dancer, Teacher, Choreographer, Kate Walker

photo: Rappsnapper Photography

Kate Walker graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington. She is a former member of Dallas Black Dance Theatre II, and artistic director of DekaDance. Kate is also currently working on her Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology.  

Kate has taught master classes around the country and her choreography has been commissioned by Dallas Black Dance Theatre II, The Hockaday School, Brookhaven Community College, and Contemporary Ballet Dallas, to name a few. She has been featured in Dance Studio Life and Dance Teacher magazines for her teaching and continuing studies in sport psychology. 

As a member of the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts faculty, Kate teaches ballet and modern techniques, as well as portfolio, kinesiology, and she co-directs Repertory Dance Company II.

How many children do you have?  Boys?  Girls?

I have one boy, Declan (pronounced “Deck-lan”), who is almost 4. 

Did you always plan to continue dancing and being a mom? 

I’m not a great “planner,” I am a fantastic procrastinator; so I think what happened was I just put off stopping dancing. Seriously though, I was 27 when my son was born and people, mostly other dancers, kept asking me if I was retired. It drove me nuts! What some people see as retired, I see as being picky. I am definitely still performing, creating, and teaching; it’s just that now I choose my projects more carefully because I value my time with my family.

How do you balance teaching, choreographing and motherhood?  When do you create new movement?

Man, I don’t know if we ever really balance everything. My husband has been on my case to be more fully present in each moment. I tend to be connected to my phone: constantly texting with fellow faculty members and dancers, or checking out people’s shenanigans on social media, so I am trying to unplug and really enjoy what I am doing at each moment.

As for where I create, the dance studio has always been a sacred space for me, but I rarely get time by myself in the studio anymore. So like most teachers and choreographers, I create most movement in my car during my commute and hope like crazy it will actually work when I get bodies to try it out on. Luckily, I teach some absolutely incredible students at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) who constantly challenge and inspire me, and most importantly, they will try anything!

Photo: Ken Smith

There are times when I look at my body, even through my harsh dancer eyes and think, wow, you look pretty good lady, and other times when I am plunged into a pit of despair over it.  What are you feelings about your body?  Are your feelings any different post- motherhood?

I usually have the “you look good” moments first thing in the morning when I pick out my outfit for the day (of sweats and t-shirt, I mean let’s be real), and then I spend all day long teaching high school students. That can kill a girl’s confidence pretty quickly. Nothing like standing next to 14-18 year olds in leotards, tights, and perfect make up for hours on end while I’m sweating my butt off and well, not a teenager anymore. 

When I cut myself a break, I know I am a much better dancer and performer now than I ever was before becoming a mother. The body may not respond as quickly as I’d like sometimes, but I’m also not in class consistently like I used to be. I get my butt kicked at the gym on a regular basis, and I’m much stronger than I used to be so I tend to use that to boost my confidence. I take great pride in being able to do more push ups than most high school kids, but ask me to do cardio next to them and I’m screwed. To sum up, I still have the same love/hate relationship I used to have with my body, now I just use my hectic schedule as an excuse when I’m not feeling it.

Has being a parent changed your approach to teaching? If so, how?

I’ve always been pretty no nonsense in my approach to teaching, and, as cliché as it is to say, I think of all my students as my kids and try to treat them that way. So maybe my approach to teaching hasn’t changed so much, but it has definitely changed my approach to interacting with parents. Since I teach in a high school, a portion of my job is interacting with parents and guardians of students. My son may be a decade younger than the kids I teach, but I can talk to parents with common experience and understanding, and a huge amount of respect because I know what’s in store for me!

These days, instead of being purists, dancers must have a number of forms in their technical tool belt.  How does this play into your teaching?

Well, it is my secret desire to be a breakdancer. Ok, maybe not so secret. I teach ballet and modern at many different technique and ability levels, and one of my favorite things is to learn my students’ secret dancer identities. You know, when you have a student and you find out they’re a tapper, irish step dancer, ballet folklorico superstar, or whatever it is. I think it’s awesome to see how all those different skills can be applied to the movement I’m creating. Cookie-cutter dancers have never interested me and I like to think that makes my classes less intimidating to people. (But really, I’ve enlisted some of my high schoolers to teach me how to break dance, it’s going to be epic.)

What’s your favorite dance TV show - past or present?  

While I really appreciate the come back that dance has made through shows like “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” I’m really more of a golden age of musicals kind of girl. I adore anything with Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Donald O’Connor, Ann Miller, and the list goes on. My son loves “On The Town” and “Singin’ in the Rain” which makes me incredibly happy; we watch those a lot! 

What ‘s your "Is this really happening to me?" mommy tale that will give you years of mileage at cocktail parties?

Oh, there are so many to choose from, my son is a budding stand up comedian with impeccable timing! He is master of the one-liner, as so many toddlers are, but I think my favorite Declan-ism was when he was asked what he wants to be when he grows up, he responded “I want to be an artist so I can art everything!” I think every dance mom has her fair share of screaming in the audience and talking during quiet pieces stories, but when Declan came to one of his first concerts after he started talking he tried to talk to our department chair as she gave her welcome speech. The best part was when he yelled “Hi, Lily” she answered him from the stage!

Once you become a parent, treating yourself is rare.  How do you self-indulge these days?

The regular turn off the brain and body indulgence is mindless television and movies, when I can manage to stay awake for them. It usually takes me two or three tries to actually watch an entire episode or movie because I just zonk out. I also have really fun colleagues who are great to hang out and kick back with. We laugh a lot, at work and at home, which does wonders to de-stress.

Your advice to mothers of young children, particularly mothers in dance?

The best advice I got was “make your own normal.” Whatever your child grows up with will be normal for him or her. If going to the studio and being in the theater late is a common occurrence for you, then that’s what your children will understand. Just know where to draw the line. It’s really hard to say “no” to things, but learning that word was a revelation for me. I always thought people would be offended if I told them no, but it really never mattered in the long run, they always understood. You just have to make sure your family time is precious and your loved ones know they are valued. I’m still working on that, every chance I get I make sure my guys know how much I love them.

Photo: Brian Guillaux

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