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Delectable Discussions on Dance

Choreo Snaps

Happy New Year everyone! Sorry it’s a little late but I’m finally back onto my blog!

This past year has been a very hectic one, and also a very sad one with the loss of so many amazing artists. Let’s hope that 2017 will be a hell of a lot better.

To kick start the year I would like to share some of my choreography videos with you. I’ve had them up on YouTube for a while but have kept them private. So here’s the link to a couple of my videos, I aim to add more throughout the year. Just thought I’d put them out there.

The 7/11 Beyoncé Choreo was for my full-time students at Apollo Theatre College, so I hope they enjoy having access to it again.

Its always a risk putting up clips of Choreo, as it is my intellectual property and I’d be devastated if anyone copied it. But I want to share it in the hope that I can help inspire dancers or teachers, and receive some feedback, and I trust that other artists feel the same way and we all give each other respect in that manner.

So if you have time please take a look and let me know what you think. Hope you are all enjoying a good start to your year, sending you all light and love xx

‘The body has to sing the music’ – Edward Villella

 

Hello my fellow dancers, dance students and dance fans!

I’ve been reminiscing today on how wonderful my tours were performing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 2014 and the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 2013 and 2015. I’ve been missing the energy, excitement, camaraderie and thrill of performing with live musicians.

Dance exists because of music and rhythm. Dance is our human form way of expressing and embodying what we feel when we hear music.

I love the excitement I see on young students faces when you play a song in class that they just LOVE! They can’t wait to bust out their moves and they put so much personality and energy into it when they hear a song they know and love.

Multiply that feeling by a thousand and you’ll never even come close to the amazing, phenomenal joy that is experienced when dancing with a live orchestra! I have been privileged to dance with two of the most famous orchestras of all time, and I trained for my college degree at a school where piano for ballet class and piano and percussion for contemporary class were everyday practice.

Each day at Victorian College of the Arts, I would attend my morning ballet class with the Ballet Mistress (Jann Blanche, or Ballet Master Robert Ray) choreographing an exercise and then kindly telling the pianist – who worked with the Australian Ballet and Royal New Zealand Ballet none the less – what time signature and tempo was required, and off he went, playing  something from memory or perhaps his own creation, with no sheet music, and all the while watching the Ballet Mistress for his tempo and adjusting if need be.

Contemporary class was just as exciting, with amazing musicians who could switch between piano, bongo drums, and a full drum set playing brilliant compositions for hours on end no matter what the tutor asked for.

The inspiration and energy that comes from performing with other live artists is absolutely phenomenal. Everyone is there giving their heart and soul into the performance, and feeding off one another’s excitement.

Today we have brilliant, endless access to music, of all genres from all decades, via iTunes, Youtube, and many other media. It’s wonderful to be able to click on a link and visit the masters, or see your current pop star. What is disconcerting to me is the lack of understanding that dancers have these days, of musicians and what it is like to work with live musicians.

Yes, the tempo is different, yes, this solo on the trombone/trumpet/drums sounds different, yes, the pianist played the music different in your exam, yes, you are going to have to adapt. (how often do you do your improvisation the same? It’s not improv if it’s planned!)

Dance and music are ALIVE!  As a true dancer, you need to be able to adjust your performance because you Are an expression of the music. You are there to be the Visual Representation Of The Sound! Just as any dance performance is not the same, not one musical performance is the same. That’s the beauty of live art, every single time you step out on the stage it is different, no matter what your art form is.

If you find yourself at a rehearsal and things sound different than what you practiced, just go with it.

Be nice, make friends with your fellow artists (who have probably been studying just as long as you, if not longer) and then you will be able to talk and find a middle ground or a tempo that works.  At the end of the day, you are all there on the same team to provide a fantastic experience that inspires the people who come to see you perform.

Yes there are some contemporary pieces where there is no music, only breath, and that initiates the movement. Breath also initiates the music. It is the essence of our lives. When you dance you should be breathing to help enhance your movement whether there is music or none.

As a dancer, please don’t forget you are an artist.

Anyone can be a gymnast/technician,  but it takes true love, commitment, musicality, theatricality, spirit, determination, class and quiet confidence to be an artist. And if you want a successful career as a dancer don’t just look in the mirror. You have to ‘Sing The Music’….with your body and soul.

 

 

 

 

 

Know your worth.

Hello to all my readers out there!

It has been a long time since I’ve written (yet again) and I apologize, this year has been a very busy one, filled with changes and all sorts for me. Anyway, I have just arrived back in Auckland after touring with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, which completes my third National big band tour in N.Z.

It was a great experience, and perhaps I will write more about that later. But for now I want to write on another subject that I think is important for professional dancers out there. I saw this video recently so I have shared it on my blog… ‘Watch What Happens When You Ask Non-Creative Professionals To Work For Free’

Granted this is fairly in the extreme, but it does drive home to me the point that I have come across so many times in my career, why are Dancers, Musicians, Actors, and other artists expected to work for free so often? Or, work for less, or in worse conditions than others?

I can’t stress enough to young dancers how important it is to know your worth. Yes, I totally agree that when you are a young dancer, possibly still a student or just graduating from college, there will be a number of gigs/opportunities that you need to take and work just for the opportunity to get your name and face out there so that people start to know who you are. But there comes a time when you also need to say Hey, I am a trained professional. I’ve spent years and thousands of dollars working on perfecting my craft. I have been hired to do a job, and I am just as important as anyone else working in this show/gig/event etc. If you weren’t, they wouldn’t have hired dancers in the first place.

It is important to act with diplomacy and decorum always, and don’t be a diva! Make an effort to get along with everyone, be easy to work with, be professional. There will be plenty of times you turn up to a show and the stage is small, the dressing rooms have no mirrors, the costume wasn’t what you expected, anything can happen. You will gain respect as a professional dancer and your reputation and therefore future work opportunities will be great if you deal with these challenges without complaining,and get on with the show.

Having said that, it is well within your rights as a professional to voice when something really isn’t right. Don’t be afraid to ask your agent/choreographer or whoever is running your gig, about your pay when it is due. Better than that, you NEED to be asking what is the fee you will be paid for your services BEFORE you agree to perform! Don’t let yourself look unprofessional by not knowing the details.

This is your career, your income, this is how you pay rent, how you eat, how you live! As a dancer you have probably spent more years of your life training for this profession than many others. The years and years that go into your training start when you are a child. So why would you value the art form that you are so passionate about, any lower than someone who has gone to Uni for say 3 years to become a professional in their field?

I like in the video that’s posted, how the word Trust is used. How will I know if I like the coffee if I pay for it first? You just trust the person who is making your coffee knows how to make a good one. We all give our trust to people every day as consumers. The people you audition for already get to see what you are capable of during the audition. Know that if they have hired you, they want you for a reason. So don’t apologize or act awkward when you ask about your pay or your work conditions.

When you buy a piece of clothing at a shop, the retail assistant doesn’t say ‘I’m sorry, that’s $52 is that alright?’

YOU ARE YOUR PRODUCT.

Of course there is give and take with our industry. I am happy to perform for a reduced fee when it’s to help support or promote a fellow artist and get a new project off the ground. It’s up to you to use your discretion and think about if you feel comfortable performing/teaching in that situation. Or perhaps as a favor if there is someone you are trying to help or support by lending your talents and/or name to. But also beware that this is should not be expected of you.

If you are passionate about dance and art, live, eat, and breathe it, don’t de-value it by not knowing how valuable you truly are, and how many lives you inspire with your performance.

Watch What Happens When You Ask Non-Creative Professionals to Work for Free

Source: Watch What Happens When You Ask Non-Creative Professionals to Work for Free

T.D.O, GIFTED, and M.A.C!

A big hello out there to all my readers!!

It has been a long time since I have put fingers to keyboard and written something for my blog, and I apologize for my absence. This year has been a really great one because I have been lucky to be so busy with so many performances and gigs, and I have hardly had a moment to sit down and process it all.

This year I was fortunate enough to be offered a second touring contract with the Apollo Theatre Company, to tour N.Z for 5 weeks with the amazing Tommy Dorsey Orchestra from U.S.A.

It was a fantastic experience, and all four dancers enjoyed being able to show our beautiful country to a new bunch of talented Americans, and we became a part of the T.D.O family. Terry Myers – the band leader – really welcomed us and every show he would give us a beautiful introduction that was very heartfelt, and would bring tears to our eyes.

I intend to write another blog about the tour in detail, but one of the highlights for me was our show in my hometown Tauranga, where my Mum came to see me dance for the first time as a professional dancer. This was very special. I have spent many, many years working as a professional dancer, but most of my performances have been overseas and away from home, and my Mum hasn’t had the opportunity to see me dancing in a show of such caliber before.

Terry and I spoke prior to the show, and he mentioned to me that he was going to say something about my Mum which I thought was really lovely. Little did I know what he had in store…

After our first routine ‘Bugle Call Rag’ Terry asked the dancers to stay on stage, and he announced to the audience that Tauranga is my home town, and that my Mum was there that night. He said she had been instrumental to me becoming a professional dancer, and he dedicated the WHOLE SHOW to my wonderful Mother!!!

It was so amazing and unexpected, and I had tears in my eyes as I could see her smile beaming out from the audience. Thank goodness my amazing dance partner Anton was there to hold me upright on stage as my heart was bursting at the seams.

The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and the Apollo Theatre Company 'Hollywood Jive Dancers'
The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and the Apollo Theatre Company ‘Hollywood Jive Dancers’

We were very fortunate to be asked to tour with these outstanding musicians, we had a fantastic tour and it was definitely a highlight of the year.

Since I have returned to Auckland I have been a part of some great shows. I performed in James Luck’s debut of his show ‘Gifted’ at TAPAC which was a fusion of Contemporary, Hip Hop, Lyrical, Jazz, Acting and Dance. James created a great show and it was fun for me to play so many different characters and also to be challenged to be able to dance alongside brilliant Hip Hop/Break dancers and try to hold my own in that genre.

We can all have a giggle at ourselves trying a style that may not be our forte, but it really is important to push yourself outside your comfort zone while you are training so that you can make sure if you are required to dance in a style that is perhaps not your strong suit, you can still pull it off and still dance with strength and presence, so that you are versatile and hire-able as a dancer.

My whole career has been about pushing myself to learn new dance styles and be adaptable to what choreographers and directors want. And because I have been able to be a dance-chameleon I have had a long and successful career, whereas other dancers have found themselves contained within certain forms, and therefore restricted with their job choices and offers.

2014 - GiftedMAC Rocky Horror

Once GIFTED was finished I continued on with my work at Apollo, and we had our first year of A.J.D.A (American Jazz Dance Affiliation) Tap exams. The students danced very well and I was proud of them, with only beginning tap this year they had very good results and worked very hard.

The next gig came in the form of M.A.C Cosmetics launch of their Rocky Horror Picture Show line, to celebrate the anniversary of the film. I was cast to play Magenta, and had fun working with my fellow tour buddies again, Anton playing Dr Frank n furter and James as Riff Raff. We ran around the stores in Hamilton and Britomart staying in character the whole night, and had fun scaring people and dancing to the Time Warp while they tried the new cosmetics and drank red champagne. It was a lot of fun and having our makeup done by the professionals with amazing costumes prepared was a brilliant experience. Something I would love to do again. They had every detail of the costumes from the film, even down to the shoes Anton wore as Frank n furter, perfectly colored with diamantes on the heel just like Tim Curry!

Now I’m well into my next project, which is choreographing and performing in the Apollo Theatre Company and School end of year show, which is a Pantomime of Aladdin! We are having a blast with rehearsals, so many talented dancers, aerialists, actors, singers, a very interactive show that will be very entertaining. This year I’m performing a number of different characters which I am really enjoying.

So don’t miss out, come along from December 4th- 6th at Apollo Theatre School studios in Wairau Valley for a great night of entertainment!

Aladdin

Quest for the perfect Penché

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Gillian Murphy

After a busy Easter Holiday with Dance Competitions, and the two fashion shows I choreographed for Sylvia Park in Auckland and The Plaza in Palmerston North, Term 2 of the school year has kicked off with lots of dance courses and workshops to attend around the country. 

I found myself jumping around and having a blast at the Phoenix Dance Workshop in Hamilton during the first weekend of the term. It was so much fun and I haven’t been to this course since I was a lot younger, and back then it was called L.A Danceforce. I went to the course with Sarah Boocock and our students from the Apollo Theatre School, and we all had a fantastic time traveling down in the bus, and dancing our little hearts out for hours each day. 

I was honored to be chosen to dance with the tutors in the lyrical performance at the end of the weekend, and some of our students were also chosen to perform in the funk, lyrical, jazz, and musical theatre performances for their age groups. It was so great seeing them get up there and go for it. 

The following weekend I attended the R.A.D Teacher’s workshop for the new Advanced One Ballet syllabus. This was another two days of full-out dancing for me, and I really enjoyed myself. 

The new R.A.D work is beautiful, it’s so much more ‘dancey’ and has room for expression. It’s definitely a performance exam that students will need to train hard on each of the various aspects within the exercises before putting the whole together. 

So to get to the point of this post, it was at these workshops that I found myself executing a number of Penchés, and I must admit I was feeling proud of my old body, being able to still do them at my age, and proud that I had been attending more and more dance classes this year, and doing more practice in order to facilitate my old body creating this rather sought after shape. 

Back in the studio, it also seems this theme is continuing, as Penchés are again popping up in all of the senior adage work – be it for ballet or jazz exams, and it really is a movement that requires a LOT of attention and practice in order to do it well. 

A common misconception I see, is that students tend to think the perfect line is all about the flexibility of the hamstrings. Yes, this is absolutely needed, but in order to sustain a gorgeous, ‘6 o’clock’ penché line, you need total strength in the supporting leg, and you need to be able to hold the hamstring of the supporting leg without locking back into hyper extension of the knee. This requires a tonne of strength which you won’t get by stretching without your weight on your leg. 

For example, sitting in the splits is all very well, but there is no work happening through the front leg in that position, as you are relaxing into it with no weight baring through the front leg. If you are training for a penché the best stretches are ones where you are still holding your body weight through the leg, such as…

Split up the wall  – place your supporting heel into the skirting board of the wall, your hands on the floor in front of you, and extend the back leg up the wall. Use your hands to push your pelvis into the wall and create the stretch down the front leg and keep your supporting knee pulled up tight. 

Downward facing Dog with extended leg to the back – Yoga postures where you are holding your weight are excellent for dancers to train strength and flexibility at the same time – From downward facing dog posture, extend one leg up behind you – first in parallel keeping the hips level to work on core strength. Do this on each leg. Then developpé one leg up as high as you can, hold and work to keep lifting the toes higher and open/extend from the hip. Make sure your shoulders, back, and core are held strong and the supporting leg is held in alignment and the knee pulled up tight. 

Practice Penché at the Barre and in the Centre – the more you do them, the better they will get. Remember the leg always moves first, lifting up to make a lovely elongé arabesque line before it initiates the movement of the upper body. Keep your body weight far forward over the ball of the front foot, you can think of keeping your hip bone over your shin bone, or look in the mirror and make a straight line up the back of your leg from your heel, to your knee, to your hamstring, to your sit bone. Whatever way helps you to think of keeping the weight forward will help you achieve a better line. 

As soon as you pull your weight back off your supporting foot it will lower your working leg!

Remember to recover your Penché you must try to leave your leg where it is and the back and chest lift first, trying to re-create the lovely elongé arabesque line you started with. Leave the leg high for as long as you can, and ‘sandwich’ your back up to the leg. 

One big thing to remember when you are holding your line, is not to drop the arm or the eye line too low. I think of reaching diagonally out to the other side of the room where I can see the skirting board, or the wing meeting the floor, the line your arm and head create are of absolute importance to make the Penché look good. It’s not just all about your legs. 

Hopefully this advice will help some of you working on this tricky movement at the moment. It’s a tough one to master but it feels so good when you start holding that balance strong. This one is something you can always work on, even when you are a professional you never stop working on perfecting your line. 

Let me know if you have any other tips, technique points, stretches etc. that can help get us all to that lovely ‘6 o’clock’!

'Trick Me' Sylvia Park Fashion Show 2014

My dancers busting it out during the fashion show last week. It was a very amazing process to go through, seeing my creations that I pieced together in my tiny living room, coming to life on a big stage and catwalk, with fantastic outfits and performed by such talented people!
Looking forward to taking the show to Palmerston North next week, will be exciting to make it all come alive again.

Setting New Goals

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The start of the New Year seems to be the time people are making resolutions and setting goals for themselves for the year ahead.  Most of us are suckers for this trend, and I think it’s not at all a bad thing to do, but this year in order to achieve my goals, I’m going to set ones that I can measure. Then come December 2014, I can look back and see my progress instead of thinking Oh no, I didn’t achieve last year’s resolutions again!

This year I have decided to set goals that will keep me inspired and help me to continue to grow and develop in my dancing. I think it’s really important as a dancer to never get complacent and think you know it all. It is our job to always be adaptable and to be able to mold ourselves into new styles and try new things.

Dance to me, is a constant strive for perfection.

No-one is perfect. So therefore no-one can ever stop working to improve their dancing or for teachers and choreographers to improve their knowledge.  Be it your performance, your musicality, your technique, there is always more to give, more to discover, more to find and accentuate in the music, more, more, MORE!

Personally, I am trying to come to terms with my body as an experienced dancer, and am trying to accept certain limitations and changes as I get older. I need to learn what things I can keep pushing hard at and where to accept things. This for me is a delicate balance because I do get very frustrated when I find out certain things about my body. For example, my spine has much less range of movement now in my 30’s that it did when I was a teenager, and often I find myself in class feeling very frustrated when I’m working away on my Arabesque line and it feels so much stiffer and more difficult to display that lovely line of the back and leg behind me.

Part of this I need to accept is the fact that my spine has aged along with me, and yes it is getting more difficult as I get older. The other part of this I need to accept is the fact that I need to spend more time outside the class, working on the flexibility of my spine and the strength of my back to get the best line possible out of what is available to my body.

I’m not going to simply give up because I have a challenge presented to me.

I’m going to accept that challenge, be realistic, and still work very hard to squeeze the most out of it.

I’m not going to think that just by going to class I am doing enough. Now I need to put the time in when I am at home, or at the gym, and do some extra strengthening exercises myself. I need to get my butt to Yoga class regularly, I need to stretch, I need to work on it.

This is the kind of attitude that I see in other successful professional dancers, know that if you have a ‘problem’ or a ‘weakness’ that you need to work on it yourself. Don’t wait for your teacher or your choreographer to say something about your dancing. Think about something you know you want to be better and go for it yourself. Do some research, get to a different class, find a new exercise, listen to new music, watch more dancing, do whatever it takes to make yourself a better artist.

What’s your 2014 challenge going to be, and how are you going to measure it?

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Hello my lovely readers, I have some great news…I am very happy to say that I achieved my goals, and after a lot of hard work and determination I performed 5 shows all en pointe!

This was such a big challenge for me, and I’m so glad that I did it, and now I can confidently continue to work on my technique again and know that I can perform in front of full audiences, right back up on my toes where I’m supposed to be! Yay!

I was very nervous for my first shows, which were at the Thames Civic Centre last week. I was performing a 3 minute solo that was a lyrical/ballet style I had choreographed, which was dedicated to my students. I wanted to give them something back for all the inspiring things they have given me over the past years. The solo went really well and my students all said how much they enjoyed watching me dance, and that made me feel very happy.  I could feel my ankle getting tired during the solo, and my instep would be quite cramped and swollen once I came off stage each time. Even though it hurt, I knew it was just the pain of the muscles working through the fatigue and as I continue to do more pointe work that will eventually stop being a problem.

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The following week I had two performances with the Apollo Theatre Company, where I was playing the role of the Fairy Godmother

in 1920’s version of Cinderella. This show was different as it was an English Pantomime with a twist – the Prince falls in love with the Fairy Godmother! It was very funny, and it was my first time playing a lead speaking role. I really enjoyed the challenge of performing in a new way, learning all the lines and working on developing a crazy character.

My Fairy Godmother was not all pretty and nice, she had lots of sarcastic lines and banter – especially with my side-kick cat ‘Scram’ – and I got to really pull out all the stops with my facial expressions, it was a great opportunity to let out my inner clown. It was very nice to receive so many lovely comments about my performance from the audience, lots of people said they really enjoyed it and that I was very funny, so I’m glad my ‘over the top’ style worked.

Within this show along with some jazz and tap routines,  I danced an excerpt from ‘Les Sylphides’ with other Apollo Theatre Company and School dancers. It was all en pointe, and all the traditional choreography from the Royal Ballet version. I was given a hard solo within the piece, with Releves on one foot in Arabesque turning, which I was fairly worried about pulling off.

Luckily the Releves were on my right foot, but it was still a very big challenge as I had only been back on pointe one week before I was taught this choreography. I was nervous each time I did them, but I would just literally grit my teeth and push as hard as I could into that supporting leg and foot. I had about 4 weeks of practice at this before the show, and I felt happy with my performance. No-one in the audience would know the amount of stress that was in my head while I was dancing, and carefully placing each step en pointe. That is the beauty of Ballet, if you can make it look easy while you are busting your guts out, like anyone could do it, then you have succeeded.

So now that most dance schools are breaking for the summer holidays, it’s the time for lots of events and hopefully that means lots of work for dancers like myself. I’m going to continue working on my technique over summer and do lots of practice so that I don’t loose any ground that I have covered in the lead up to these shows. Even when you are a professional dancer, your work on your technique is never finished. Maybe that’s why dancing is so addictive!

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