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Jacques d’Amboise

Arts Days: July 28, 1934: Dancing for Joy
Few have done more to teach children about the joy of dance than this 1995 Kennedy Center Honoree.

D’Amboise was only 16 when he joined George Balanchine’s company, often partnered with Suzanne Farrell. As one of the earliest dancers and interpreters of Balanchine’s style, d’Amboise brought a powerful American energy to ballet.

When he was still a principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, Jacques d’Amboise founded the National Dance Institute, a program that teaches thousands of youngsters to dance and express themselves through ballet, jazz, and other forms of dance.
Europe, Dance, Dance Legends, Ballet, Choreographers

Rudolf Nureyev

Arts Days: March 17, 1938: Ballet's Rebel
Rudolf Nureyev was born on a train, setting the stage for a lifetime of perpetual movement, onstage and off. The premier male ballet dancer of his time, Nureyev began dancing to folk music as a child, attracting the attention of teachers who signed him to a local ballet troupe. He soon moved on to a major Russian ballet company, the Kirov, where he danced lead roles and got permission to leave the Soviet Union to dance in other cities like Vienna and Paris.

His dancing enchanted audiences, but his defection from the USSR in 1961 stunned the dance world. He soon signed with London’s Royal Ballet, the company he remained with until 1970. Nureyev’s creative partnerships with prima ballerinas like Margot Fonteyn are legendary; their pas de deux (“dance for two”) in Giselle and other ballets are exquisite examples of technical prowess and gorgeous artistry.
Ballet, Dance Legends, Dance, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers

Nutcracker

Arts Days: March 19, 1892: A Winter Wonderland
The most popular ballet of all time is quite an international affair. Consider this: The story behind The Nutcracker was by a German writer, E.T.A. Hoffman. The music was written by a Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. And the dance steps of the version you are most likely to enjoy this Christmas were created by Frenchman Marius Petipa.

On this day, Tchaikovsky chose several pieces of his score to perform at an event offered by the St. Petersburg branch of the Musical Society. While the music was incredibly well-received, the version of the ballet we know and love today—filled with delicious dances from the Land of Sweets, performed by the Sugar Plum Fairy and dozens of others—did not emerge for another 60-odd years.

Enjoying the ballet’s fantastic sights—a sparkling Christmas tree shooting up into the rafters, the Nutcracker turning into a prince, and the Mouse King in battle—is a holiday ritual for many families around the world.
Ballet, Dance Legends, Dance, Music, Composers

Arthur Mitchell

Arts Days: March 27, 1934: Breaking Ballet’s Barriers
After learning to tap dance as a child, Arthur Mitchell wowed a teacher with his version of the jitterbug, a dance popular in the 1940s. Mitchell was encouraged to apply at New York’s High School of Performing Arts. After graduation, Mitchell went on to win a scholarship to the famed School of American Ballet, then to join the New York City Ballet. There, he was told he would have to work twice as hard as the white dancers to be accepted.

In 1957, he performed George Balanchine’s Agon to audiences shocked at the sight of a white woman paired with a black male dancer. Mr. Balanchine ignored the attention, and at 21, Mitchell became the first black male principal dancer of a major dance company and a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1993.
Ballet, Dance, Dance Legends, Innovators & Pioneers

Spotlight

Arts Days: March 16, 1912: Electrifying Art
It can be easy to overlook the role that lighting plays during a ballet or theatrical production, but you’d be surprised at how much a performance’s lighting design contributes to our enjoyment of it. From how well we are able to see the action to the emotions we feel as we watch, Jean Rosenthal helped make the position of lighting designer more important than it had been.

In her work lighting dance performances for Martha Graham and plays for Orson Welles, she not only used lights to illuminate the action for the audience, but to set the mood, advance the plot, or underscore the importance of certain characters. Nowadays, lighting designers work closely with the director and actors to figure out how to use light effectively before, during, and after a show. And, if you’ve seen a dancer or singer standing in a diagonal shaft of light during a big solo, you’re seeing a bit of Rosenthal’s influence at work.
Backstage, Dance, Innovators & Pioneers, Jobs in the Arts, Movies & Movie Stars, Theater

Vaslav Nijinsky

Arts Days: March 12, 1889: Lord of the Dance
One of the most talented ballet dancers the world has ever seen, Polish dancer Vaslav Nijinksy is forever associated with Russia and its exceptional heritage of ballet. Without question, Nijinsky could leap higher than anyone else and dance on the tips of his toes, a feat usually performed only by female dancers. Whether portraying a straw puppet in Petrushka or a charming prince in Sleeping Beauty, Nijinsky’s dancing was equally expressive and bold.

But Nijinsky’s career truly turned the corner when he met ballet producer Sergei Diaghilev. Diaghilev made Nijinsky one of the stars of his famous dance company, the Ballets Russes. Over the years, Nijinsky often performed in starring roles in Gisele, Scheherezade, and many other important ballets. Later in his career, he went on to choreograph his own ballets, breaking the rules about how ballet “should” be performed and greatly expanding modern dance as he did so.
Dance, Dance Legends, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers

Saturday Night Fever

Arts Days: February 16, 1979: Disco Fever… Can You Dig It?
Who’d have thought that a movie about a Brooklyn kid in a white suit trying to win dance contests would kick off a disco phenomenon? Well, actor John Travolta boogied down as 19-year-old Tony Manero in this classic movie, whose music—about half of which was performed by the Bee Gees, a trio of brothers from Down Under—swept the nation in 1979, and never really went away.

In songs like “Jive Talkin’” and “You Should Be Dancing,” the Brothers Gibb (get it? B-Gs) exhorted listeners to forget their day-to-day troubles to the flashing lights and thumping tunes of discothèques, which were springing up all over New York City and other urban centers.
Innovators & Pioneers, Popular Culture, Dance, Music, Movies & Movie Stars

King David Kalakaua

Arts Days: February 12, 1874: The King of Aloha
Before Hawaii became America’s 50th state, it was a monarchy ruled by King David Kalakaua I. Kalakaua is credited with helping to revive and support Hawaiian art forms like hula dancing; instruments like the ukelele; and martial arts, like Lua.

You see, some religious missionaries on the Islands thought these activities were improper. They had spent years before Kalakaua was elected to the throne trying to suppress various elements of Hawaiian culture, including its languages and art customs—even surfing!

But Kalakaua believed that these traditions and activities were important for native Hawaiians to learn, enjoy, and share with others to help keep Hawaii’s unique cultural history alive.  For his efforts, he was nicknamed “the Merrie Monarch.”
Dance, America, Geography, History, Musical Instruments, Music, Folklore, World Cultures

Johann Strauss II

Arts Days: February 09, 1867: Step, Slide, Step
Austria’s Johann Strauss, the Younger, would be absolutely amazed to know the extent to which his work “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” has endured as one of the best-known pieces of classical music.

At the time this 19th century successful composer and conductor, and son of Johann Strauss, The Elder, was known for his light dance music and operettas. But it was this waltz in particular, with its distinct melody and dance rhythms, that became the focus of every concert hall’s dance floor first in Vienna, and later in Europe.

In 1872, Strauss brought his Viennese waltz to America’s shores where the music and dance captivated the country. On this particular day, Blue Danube was performed at a concert of the Vienna Men’s Choral Association.

Strauss is credited with composing 500 waltzes, earning him the title of “Waltz King.”
Composers, Dance, Music, Orchestra, Europe

George Balanchine

Arts Days: January 22, 1904: A Ballet Master is Born
George Balanchine was one of the most prolific, and often considered the most influential, ballet choreographers of the 20th century. Born on this day in Saint Petersburg, Russia, he revolutionized classical ballet by eliminating complex plots and emphasizing movements that expressed music.

Balanchine created more than 400 ballets and founded the New York City Ballet. His artistry and fresh approach helped popularize ballet in the United States. Balanchine worked with thousands of dancers and created more than 400 ballets.
Choreographers, Dance Legends, Ballet, Dance

Anna Pavlova

Arts Days: January 31, 1881: Turning Pointe in Ballet
After attending the classic ballet The Sleeping Beauty as a little girl, Anna Pavlova wanted nothing more than to be a ballerina.

At age ten, she was accepted to study at the renowned Imperial Ballet School in Saint Petersburg, Russia. For years, she struggled in training, finding basic ballet techniques difficult due to her arched feet and thin ankles—body parts ballet dancers rely on for balance and grace.

Nevertheless, Pavlova was determined to fulfill her dream, and so she enrolled in extra classes and practiced every day. Her hard work paid off, and when she graduated, she was invited to join the Imperial Ballet Company.

She is also credited for the design of the modern pointe shoe. To ease the stress on her curved feet, Pavlova strengthened her ballet slippers by adding a piece of hard wood on the soles for support and curving the box of the shoes to fit her arches.
Inventions, Dance Legends, Innovators & Pioneers, Ballet, Dance

Mikhail Baryshnikov

Arts Days: January 28, 1948: Ballet’s Leading Man
Mikhail Baryshnikov is often considered one of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century, known for his dynamic stage presence and effortless grasp of classical technique.

In 1974, after professional training and a promising start at the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad, he defected from the Soviet Union to seek artistic and personal freedom in the West. Baryshnikov made his Western debut with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) that same year, dancing in the classic ballet Giselle.

He stayed with ABT for four years before moving to the New York City Ballet, where he worked with choreographers George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. He returned to ABT in 1980 as principal dancer and artistic director, distinguished positions he held for almost a decade.

Since then, Baryshnikov has dabbled in acting in both film and television. In 2000, he was a Kennedy Center honoree.
Dance Legends, Ballet, Dance

Alvin Ailey

Arts Days: January 05, 1931: A Dance Revelation
Alvin Ailey hadn't become serious about dance until he studied under the guidance of renowned choreographer Lester Horton.

By 1954, after years of professional dancing, Ailey's interests turned to choreography. Strongly influenced by "blood memories," or recollections of his childhood in a time of strong racial tensions and conflict, Ailey created 79 ballets in his lifetime that celebrate the southern African American experience in America.

In 1958 he formed his own company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the first racially integrated dance company in the United States. Alvin Ailey was a 1988 Kennedy Center Honoree.
Choreographers, Dance Legends, Innovators & Pioneers, Dance

Igor Stravinsky

Arts Days: June 17, 1882: Blazing Music's Trail
One of the greatest composers and conductors of 20th century music, Igor Stravinsky was urged by his parents to become a lawyer. But he was bitten by the musical bug as a child, attending concerts, learning to play piano, and most importantly, studying orchestration with his influential teacher, composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov.

At just 18, Stravinsky was hired to compose a score for the Ballets Russes. The Firebird, which met with critical and commercial success, was followed by more ballet scores, including Petrushka. His score for another ballet, The Rite of Spring, startled and even outraged listeners at its world premiere with its creative experimentation of chords and rhythms.

Stravinsky drew on Russian folk tunes in his works, but added elements that were completely his own, from new rhythmic patterns to polytonality, sounds that no one had ever heard before in symphonic music. Far ahead of his time, Stravinsky shook up people’s beliefs of what classical music was by reinventing modern music.
Ballet, Composers, Dance, Music, Music Legends, Orchestra

Chicago

Arts Days: June 23, 1927: Razzle Dazzle Man
From the hip roll to the finger snap to the perfectly angled hat—these are just some of the signature moves of the unmistakable “Fosse look.”

Jazz choreographer Bob Fosse invented so many moves that are now essential in modern dance that the casual observer may not even be aware of how widespread his influence continues to be. He broke new ground with dances that were demanding, entertaining, and provocative—often by creating one sharp, simple isolated movement. He honed his style in musicals like The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Sweet Charity, and Pippin and saw his creativity peak in the musical Chicago and the autobiographical film All That Jazz.

The second film Bob Fosse directed, 1972’s Cabaret, won eight Academy Awards® including Best Director.
Broadway, Choreographers, Controversial, Dance, Dance Legends, Innovators & Pioneers, Jazz

Isadora Duncan

Arts Days: May 27, 1877: Something in the Way She Moves
Inspired by everything from ancient Greek art to the power of nature embodied in rushing rivers and rainy weather, Isadora Duncan poured all she had into dancing, which she believed to be the body’s expression of the soul’s innermost desires. She rejected classical ballet as too confining and controlled.

A true free spirit, Duncan brought a new athleticism to dancing; her choreography was full of leaps and jumps and skips. Barefoot, her long hair flying, dressed in Grecian-inspired flowing tunics, she was a captivating sight as she danced. She taught her students that the energy they need for dance originated in the solar plexus, a group of nerves in the body’s abdominal region.
America, Controversial, Dance, Dance Legends, Innovators & Pioneers, Choreographers

Michael Jackson Moonwalks

Arts Days: May 16, 1983: A Marvelous Night for a Moon Dance
The crowd at the Motown 25th Anniversary Special erupted in shrieks. On stage was Michael Jackson, performing his song “Billie Jean.” Jackson spun on his heels, looked both ways, and then seemed to slide backward across the stage as though pulled by an invisible string.

Those who master the move seem to be walking forward and sliding backward at the same time. Others had done the moonwalk, or backslide, but Michael Jackson made the move his very own. Every time he did it, his fans went crazy. As a solo artist, the moonwalk was only one of Jackson's incredible moves; throw in his dance-floor hits like “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” and “Thriller,” his singing, that single, spangled glove, and his mysterious persona, and you had a celebrity of nearly-unparalleled global fame.
Dance Legends, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Dance, Music

Martha Graham Dance Company

Arts Days: April 18, 1926: Mother of Modern Dance
The first dance performance Martha Graham attended at age 16 with the legendary Ruth St. Denis on the program, may have flickered through Graham’s mind when the lights went down at the 48th Street Theater in New York City, just before she made her debut. The movements she and her fellow dancers were performing that night were anything but traditional. What the audience witnessed was an early public display of Graham’s “contract and release” technique, in which muscles were held taut, then let go in accordance with the emotions a dancer sought to convey. The movements were angular, athletic, jagged—in marked contrast to the graceful style of classical ballet.

Within a year, Graham opened a dance school, attracting attention from many in the dance community. One of the most acclaimed dancers in history, Graham’s choreography shook up the world of modern dance.
Choreographers, Dance, Dance Legends, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers

Grey Skies Blue

Cuesheet: Grey Skies Blue: Performed by SHAPESHIFT Theatrical
A young woman is forced to confront her past when her estranged mother suddenly appears at her doorstep. Two lifelong friends face a journey of cultural and self-identity together. A promising relationship is jeopardized by deception. Can any of them trust their friends or companions? And how well do they truly know themselves?
Theater, Accessibility, Dance

Galumpha

Video Series: Galumpha, The Human Jungle Gym
Galumpha, "The Human Jungle Gym," brings to life a world of imagination, beauty, muscle, and merriment
Dance, Physical Activity, Theater, Music, Jobs in the Arts

African Dance

Video Series: African Dance
These five-minute video lessons will help you learn the posture and isolations common in African dance, and about two African drums, the cajon and the djembe
Africa, Dance, World Cultures

Rokafella from Full Circle Productions

Video Series: Hip Hop To Da Head
Members of Full Circle Productions demonstrate different types of hip hop dance and music
Hip-Hop, Popular Culture, Dance, Young Artists

Modern Dancers

Video: Hip-Hop Meets Modern: Dance is not Dance
What happens when Turkish hip-hop dancers travel to the United States on a modern dance exchange program? Hip-hop dancers discover the transition to modern dance is not an easy one, since the two forms are based on very different styles.
Dance, Hip-Hop, World Cultures, Europe, Young Artists, Physical Activity

Indonesian Dance

Video: Indonesian Dance
In appreciation for their three days of intense study and practice at the Hubbard Street Dance Center, the Indonesian visitors are happy to share their country’s traditional Javanese dancing with members of the Chicago dance company.
World Cultures, Asia, Dance, Young Artists

Larry Yazee

Video Series: Larry & Jessup Yazzie: Fancy Dancers
Meskwaki Tribe member Larry Yazzie and his son, Jessup, discuss and perform traditional Native American dances.
Dance, Folklore, Native America

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