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 Post subject: character dance
PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2001 9:28 am 
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Joined: Fri Sep 22, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 130
Location: Pa, USA
I'm curious as to how many teachers incorporate character dance as a specific component to their ballet requirements. Is character a class that is "always" offered or something that is given on an introductory basis? (such as a six-eight week program) Is it something you expose your students to in preparation for summer programs where character dancing is part of the education or something you tend to let fall by the wayside? If you do have a weekly character class at your studio; what specific dances do you cover? Do you look at what is generally used in the more famous ballets and base your class work on that or do you follow a set character syllabus?<P>Additionally, when placing young students in character shoes (or even tap shoes with heels) is there specific balance and coordination skills you look for as in pointe readiness assessment or do you ask for bone ossification levels of each student? Are there any studies on long-term damage for students doing character work? i.e. Irish requires much the same strength/discipline as early pointe work--are there studies to document any damage done as a result of training too young or training too hard for Irish dancers?


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 Post subject: Re: character dance
PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2001 9:52 am 
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Location: San Diego, California, USA
All terrific questions, Jan - really !!<P>I have never done character work in a serious manner so I can't answer most of your questions. I have, however, incorporated quite a bit of mime into my classes from a very early age. And by this I mean the kind of mime used in classical ballet - not the kind of mime used that simulates walking up a stairs, for instance.<P>I would teach the mime and then the children would make up stories they would tell using mime. It was not only a lot of fun, but also they loved to watch a tape for instance of Giselle- and recognize and be able to understand the mime. <P>Though I very much enjoy watching Irish dancing I have often wondered how much stress it would put on a dancer, especially a young dancer.


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 Post subject: Re: character dance
PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2001 10:01 am 
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Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2000 12:01 am
Posts: 498
Location: neworleans, louisiana
That's a million questions, whew! I can address a few briefly at this time. <P>1. I consider jazz part of the genre of character dance, since jazz music and dance are a form indigenous to the U.S. In that respect, when addressing the physical readiness (not to mention emotional), it should not be taught before the age of 14. I have, however, due to 'popular demand,' taught workshops to younger children with what I would term "pre jazz," tailoring the movements to their emotional and physical limitations due to their tender age. At the end of the summer, they did the "Dance at the Gym" from "West Side Story" (these were all ballet trained 8-12 year olds) and they loved getting into character for this. An adult ballet class followed this class, and they loved to "show off" the routine for the early arrivals. <P>I also worked privately with two very talented, ballet trained 9-10 year olds, and they did what I would call a hybrid (jazz/ballet) piece for our annual "Celebration in the Oaks" to music from "Charlie Brown Christmas." This was a break in the middle of Nutcracker excerpts. They were dressed in white leotard, white skirt, pink tights and pink ballet slippers with silver wreaths in their hair, so even their physical demeanor was more in keeping with the overall ballet theme. (These same girls performed a very tasteful Tango piece at around the same age). <P>The way we introduced character (other ethnicities) into our ballet school was, rather, to do about 10-15 minutes towards the end of ballet class, giving them a routine to work towards for recital. Because I have performed professionally as a character dancer, having been trained by a number of European and Asian teachers, I incorporated my own knowledge, while also consulting the RAD syllabus for character class. Also, sometimes during jumps in ballet, I mixed in some character movements. I found this introduction brought out their expressiveness in the rest of their dancing. Also showed them the fine art of looking interesting while keeping still when the music called for same. <P>I have not taught or performed Irish dancing. The school where I take class myself teaches it following adult ballet to very (starting at 3 or 4 years old) young children. I do not know what constitutes readiness for this type of dancing, but I do know from training and performing Basque dancing that some counter movement is needed when doing that much work with a constantly raised heel. It seems to not only shorten the achilles, but to make the foot less articulate, so I think the well rounded dancer would need to do other dance (or special stretching) to counter this. <P>


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 Post subject: Re: character dance
PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2001 12:00 pm 
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Joined: Sat Apr 29, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 1689
Location: USA
Christine, it is heartening to know that there are plenty of dancers out there with a good knowledge of other dance forms, and have the foresight to see how enriching it can be. One can choose their primary form of dance (often that is ballet) but still add to the repertoire. I have found ballet really helps one adapt to other forms, even when there are strong differences.<P>I agree that in many of the dance forms, including ballet, one often needs to address the fact that muscles can be unbalanced due to certain kinds of movements. I remember studying spanish dance, and noticing some of the differences from flamenco, to bolero, to jota (a basque form.) Sometimes a pointe or spanish class would be followed with bharata natyam, where there would be a great deal of flat footed stamping. I don't believe that was too much fun for the feet going to those different extremes.<P>I am very grateful to my teachers for having the foresight to include these other forms, if for no other reason than to enrich the ballet experience alone. But it was so much more than that. Christina, did you study japanese dancing?


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 Post subject: Re: character dance
PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2001 1:06 pm 
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Location: Reston,VA
I'm not a teacher. Just butting in.<P>But my daughter trained (other than summers) at one ballet school exclusively from the time she was 7.<P>She has ALWAYS taken character. It was introduced and reintroduced at different levels (her training was Vaganova) at her home school.<P>I remember how PROUD she was (and how SHORT she was at ten Image )when her teacher let her lead the character barre at spring demo. Her claim to fame was that she memorized the entire character barre in a lesson or two Image<P>During Summers:<P>At SAB, she took it with "Kramy". I remember that, 'cause there were lots of letters and phone calls about how much fun the class was.<P>Vasilie Petrutiu (sp?) at Southern Ballet Theatre featured a LOT of it during their summer program the two years she went that he was AD , and end of summer production. Epsecially in the first two levels. He thought it was very important. He's not there anymore though. But she went last summer with Fernando Bujones and it was still being given as a class.<P>I know that they gave character class at Ballet Internationale last summer. She took it there.<P>I honestly can't remember if she took character at Princeton Ballet the summer she went there.<P>She said that she is always suprised when she attends these summer programs at how many kids have NOT taken character before.<P>Her "home teacher" has always said it's a shame that she was born on "the wrong continent". Because she likes it so MUCH! <P>Sorry for all the "edits" but I keep remembering stuff.<P>The LITTLES take character in soft shoes. At age 8 and so. I can't honestly remember when the character shoes came out. But you have NEVER seen anything as cute as a class of littles doing that character barre Image<P>Mr. Petrutiu told me that it was important and that the europeans taught it because that is where these kids learn their "oom pah". He stretched for his English words sometimes Image and he did his shoulders back and forth when he said it. "Especially the boys" he said. <P>[This message has been edited by JaneGrey (edited February 07, 2001).]<p>[This message has been edited by JaneGrey (edited February 07, 2001).]

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'God grant you all your desires and accept my own hearty thanks for all your attention to me. Although indeed, those attentions have tried me more than death can now terrify me.'<P>Lady Jane Grey<BR>Wife of Guildford, Lord Dudley King Consort<BR>Daughter of Henry Grey Marquis of Dorset, Duke of Suffolk


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 Post subject: Re: character dance
PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2001 1:29 pm 
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Posts: 498
Location: neworleans, louisiana
1. I have not studied Japanese dancing. I would love to, however, as well as other dances of the Far East. Our troupe did do a Chinese Ribbon Dance, which debuted about 6-7 years ago. I remember that it brought down the house. People said we chose the wrong dance for our finale, because this was the strongest piece of the entire performance and should have ended it (we typically ended with a North or South American piece). <P>One year, I remember standing in the wings and watching the artistic director start the piece as a solo and I found myself clapping in the wings, I was so excited. That dance has become an integral part of the troupe's repertoire, and takes a great deal of stamina. The dancers are actually jumping throughout the piece, while also manipulating these enormous ribbons attached to long wooden poles. At one point, we alternate flinging the ribbon to the ground and doing jetes over it. I feel like a child doing that dance, because of the jumping up and down, 'playing' with a prop, wearing the beautiful silk pajamas with Chinese "Mary Janes" and moving to the powerful music. <P>Also -- janegrey brought up Princeton Ballet. I became friends with a teacher named Susan Tenney there about 12 years ago and took class from her while visiting. She had some Greek family connections and took some time at the end of ballet class to teach a Greek folk dance. She may still be teaching there. What a sweetheart. <P><BR>


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 Post subject: Re: character dance
PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2001 1:36 pm 
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Joined: Sat Apr 29, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 90
Location: Reston,VA
Christina:<P>These "Euro teachers" seem to make a distinction between "character" and ethnic dance.<P>Character seems to be folk dance with a "balletic" twist.

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'God grant you all your desires and accept my own hearty thanks for all your attention to me. Although indeed, those attentions have tried me more than death can now terrify me.'<P>Lady Jane Grey<BR>Wife of Guildford, Lord Dudley King Consort<BR>Daughter of Henry Grey Marquis of Dorset, Duke of Suffolk


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 Post subject: Re: character dance
PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2001 2:09 pm 
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Joined: Mon Oct 02, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 13071
Location: San Diego, California, USA
Jane - you are not "butting in" - everyone is welcome to these discussions.<P>I make a distinction between character and folk dance. Character for me are roles like Puck in "The Dream" or the step sisters in "Cinderella". Whereas folk, in my opinion, is ethnic dance of different cultures. As you all know there is quite a bit of folk (in balletic terms) as divertissements in so many of the full length story ballets, and so ballet dancers do have to know some of the basics of this type of dance.<P>In Europe, as I understand it, most of the major companies keep on the roster character dancers, and they are given every bit as much "star" treatment as the principals. At least that is how it used to be.<P>And those character dancers can surely add quite a wonderful texture to the ballet. One of the finest I saw was a performance by Frederick Franklin doing Dr. Coppelius. In all the times I have seen that ballet (Coppelia) performed, his performance stands out in my memory though I saw it in 1968. <P>


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 Post subject: Re: character dance
PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2001 2:17 pm 
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Location: Reston,VA
Granted.<P>That "folk dance" in a ballet may LOOK like a folk dance, but it is actually more controlled.<P>The kids at character barre know WHERE there eyes need to "look " under their arm etc. And you see "turn out". Initially it is learned at the barre. I can't remember at which levels it is introduced and reintroduced in the Vaganova training. <P>You see lots of it incorporated in the Euro ballets. Especially Eastern.<P>American productions are usually smaller. And leave "that stuff" out. So "we" think of "character" as Drosselmeyer, etc.<P>There is a famous Russian Character bunch that travels the US yearly. Looks like folk, but it's a "little different". Wish I could remember who they are. I'll try to remember to ask my daughter.

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'God grant you all your desires and accept my own hearty thanks for all your attention to me. Although indeed, those attentions have tried me more than death can now terrify me.'<P>Lady Jane Grey<BR>Wife of Guildford, Lord Dudley King Consort<BR>Daughter of Henry Grey Marquis of Dorset, Duke of Suffolk


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 Post subject: Re: character dance
PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2001 2:23 pm 
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Location: USA
I see I diverged a bit from the original thought. Character classes, as given as part of a balletic training, are specifically that. (And, I think a whole lot of fun, as I remember!)Actually taking the training into specific forms is a bit different, but with pretty much the same kind of results.<P> Wasn't it Priscilla who didn't like the forms of international, or I guess we can say popularly, "world dance" called ethnic? I may agree with her there. One person's ethnic is another person's native dance. I do still call food ethnic, however. (Basheva, I think I would really enjoy going out to eat with you to as many places as possible. Leotards do stretch!)


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 Post subject: Re: character dance
PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2001 2:28 pm 
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Location: Reston,VA
Christina:<P>I don't remember the name Tenney from when she went. Doesn't mean that she WASN'T there. Just that I don't remember it. Most of my memories are from my daughters babbling when she got home, and from the tape we got.<P>Septime Webre was there then (BOY kids LIKE him). Elisabeth Carroll. And Kate Glasner (a Twyla Tharpe teacher that introduced them to Tharpes "composition". Now THERE is an interesting subject.)<P>One of my daughters teachers at college this year (Ting Yu Chen)not only lends her Russian training to the program, but Chinese Opera dance. Some of the Jr's and Sr's presented a piece (my daughter is a freshman) from their studies with her a year before.<P>Now THAT is something. The PRECISION with those hands. My daughter (who likes "Russian" BECAUSE of the hands) can't WAIT to get HER turn at it. Image

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'God grant you all your desires and accept my own hearty thanks for all your attention to me. Although indeed, those attentions have tried me more than death can now terrify me.'<P>Lady Jane Grey<BR>Wife of Guildford, Lord Dudley King Consort<BR>Daughter of Henry Grey Marquis of Dorset, Duke of Suffolk


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 Post subject: Re: character dance
PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2001 2:37 pm 
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Location: Reston,VA
Maggie:<P>Wouldn't the Mazurka (sp?) from Coppelia be a good example of "character".? <P>Kinda sorta folk, but not really? If you DANCE it as folk, it looks kinda sloppy within the context of the ballet.<P>We don't incorporate much of that stuff in US ballets anymore. Part of it is the cost of a large cast I hear.

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'God grant you all your desires and accept my own hearty thanks for all your attention to me. Although indeed, those attentions have tried me more than death can now terrify me.'<P>Lady Jane Grey<BR>Wife of Guildford, Lord Dudley King Consort<BR>Daughter of Henry Grey Marquis of Dorset, Duke of Suffolk


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 Post subject: Re: character dance
PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2001 2:55 pm 
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Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2000 12:01 am
Posts: 498
Location: neworleans, louisiana
I, too, am having a dickens of a time posting today. (Just pretend I'm swearing here -- ahhhhhhggggghhhggghrrrrrgggg!!!)<P>Mazurka -- character dance, yes. I always called it "waltz with an attitude."<P>Also Tarantella and Polonaise, as more examples. Studied Polonaise in Prague with an elderly master, and was so taken with the nuances of a seemingly simple dance. What I love to do with youngsters is impart some of those nuances. <P>As I mentioned before, RAD does have a syllabus for teaching character -- barre, center, epaulement, etc.<P>I don't know about making distinguishments about ethnic v. character -- I think it may be semantics, and it doesn't really matter much, does it? <P>But after I finish moving, I shall take out all my file materials and books on this and see if I can offer any more insights on this.


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 Post subject: Re: character dance
PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2001 3:05 pm 
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Joined: Mon Feb 05, 2001 12:01 am
Posts: 270
Location: Wisconsin
It's so strange, but I first trained (early on) with a RAD-trained teacher...while we did not follow the strict syllabus of RAD, we did learn in that style and fashion. Our "character" was actually balletic stylised folk dancing - such as the mazurka, polonaise, etc.<P>Now, at my new studio, we are doing a piece from the ThreePenny Opera, a really spunky, sharp piece. This has been described to us as "character" - the portrayal of a specific character through a dance which has been stylised accordingly.<P>Which is correct? Don't know - I love both!


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 Post subject: Re: character dance
PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2001 3:07 pm 
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Location: USA
Jane, you're right, the mazurka in Coppelia would be considered a character dance. I have seen it actually performed by a folk group brought in by a company just for that purpose (and interest.) They performed it very well. I guess it would depend on the quality of the folk dance troup.<P>Christina, oops, I was a little sloppy in my last post. I wasn't referring to character as ethnic. I was meaning types of dance like flamenco, or dances of India, etc. I was talking with a Peruvian friend one day who is a dancer of the marinera, a Peruvian dance often performed with a man, a woman, and a horse. It's a charming dance about flirtation. I mentioned ethnic in the conversation we were having, and he laughed and said "Ethnic to you!" Then we drank pisco and forgot about it.


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