Princess Aurora Reimagined as a Wild Child

Matthew Bourne, the creator of the modern interpretation of Swan Lake with male swans, is now working on a version of the Sleeping Beauty. Princess Aurora will go into her 100-year slumber in 1911, which means she awakes to her Prince’s kiss in 2011.

Bourne is working with designer Lez Brotherston to re-imagine this classic tale. Brotherston has the fun challenge of showing the passage of time from the 20th to the 21st century through sets and costumes.

This recent article in the Guardian  goes into detail about the creative relationship between Brotherston and Bourne; it’s a fascinating look at how they work together to arrive at what we see onstage.

Bourne’s Swan Lake

I was blown away by the psychological drama of his Swan Lake when it came to New York City a few years ago. In addition to being gorgeous, the male swans were menacing in a way that female swans never seem to be. Their danger added such depth to the story’s drama.

I also found the embellished details around the story to be just brilliant, like the way the swans came out of the prince’s bed to attack him while he was sleeping. These were not gentle animals. The pathos of the prince’s mental state was made manifest in the violent aggression of the flock.

Updating the Classics

As much as I love classical ballet, the classics can be challenging for today’s audiences. The helplessness of the female protagonist in particular, is something I have a very hard time relating to. I know I am not alone in wishing for new interpretations that give ballerinas something more substantial to express than their longing for a prince or their desire to be free of a monster. This is where Bourne, with his interest in re-imagining the classics, makes his mark. He dares to see the narratives with new eyes and to rewrite them where he feels they no longer work.

For Sleeping Beauty, it sounds like Bourne has some clever tricks up his sleeve, like imagining Aurora as a bit of a wild child, “a force of nature trapped within the formality of the palace.” And her wild nature may come from her mother Carabosse.

Wait, Carabosse as Aurora’s mother? What? Exactly.

Read the article and keep your ears open for the premier of what is sure to be an expectation-defying interpretation of the old classic. I, for one, cannot wait.

Need Inspiration? Go on an Artist Date.

Late fall is the time of year when dancers can start to feel overwhelmed with rehearsals and school work. It is, after all, a short semester, at the end of which is usually a big performance as well as exams. Ack!

Add to that the sense that Thanksgiving  and the holidays are a little too out of reach to feel comforting… If you are feeling a little drained or tired, here is some inspiration.

Schedule an Artist Date

One immediate and easy solution to these blues is to have an Artist Date. Julia Cameron, who may have coined the phrase in her excellent book The Artist’s Way (now an online course), describes this as a block of time set aside and committed to nurturing your inner artist.

It’s a kind of play date with yourself that gives you the opportunity to engage with art in a way that will fill your soul. She says that you should go on this “date” alone – just you and your inner artist. If you go with someone else, you will probably get distracted by the social element and the date will not have the desired effect. (If you need to get to your artist date with someone, that’s okay, just make sure you have some 1-on-1 time with the art, so that you can really observe and reflect.)

Tips for Your Date

  • Visit a museum: What kinds of art inspire you? Classical? Ancient? Modern? Spend some time looking at the art; maybe write down some thoughts or sketch in a journal.
  • See a live performance: In your discipline, outside of your discipline, or even way outside of your discipline. Try theatre, classical music, jazz music, cabaret, blues, or experimental dance. Try something you’ve been curious about or think might be fun.
  • Visit a gallery and see what today’s artists are making
  • Take and architectural walking tour
  • Visit a garden or park- if you’re in NYC, check out the Botanical Gardens or Central Park.

Too Busy! Really?

I can already hear some of you saying that you don’t have time, but I know that isn’t true. If having an artist date were as important as taking technique class every morning, then you would make time. So look at your schedule and find a little window where you can feed your artist’s soul. Think of it as putting savings in the creativity bank.

After you have your artist date, I’d love to hear where you went and what you saw!

Ballet Saved by Fattening Up Ballerinas

I am definitely not a fan of the headline of this Huffington Post article, “How Fattening Up Will Save Ballet,” but the content is worth a read. It’s by author Deirdre Kelly, whose new book bears the equally controversial title: “Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection.”

Oy. Talk about stirring things up.

Big Takeaway

The basic takeaway of the article is that ballerinas are being “allowed” to be at healthier weights than they used to be, and that this will “save” ballet. She points out that medical experts have long stated the dangers of ballet’s required extreme thinness (true). She also notes that companies today place more emphasis on injury prevention and dancer health than they did in the past (also true). However, that emphasis does not rule out their desire for thin dancers, as displayed onstage.

Kelly writes, “Ballerinas today are again embracing the breasts and hips which first made them objects of desire way back in the day. They are turning their backs on the radical cosmetic surgeries and punitive dieting that stripped them of their identities as full-fledged women in the modern era.”

But is it True?

While I admire Kelly’s desire to highlight the female dancers today who break the hyper-thin mold of the classical ballerina, I am not sure I see the broad changes in the field that she sees. Thinness is still a requirement and a pressure that young students and professionals alike experience with shocking regularity.

And I’m not so sure our companies present such a wide variety of body types that aspiring dancers feel there is room for their diversity. When companies make that rare exception, dancers often get singled out for not fitting the mold. (Recall: NYCB principal Jenifer Ringer criticized in the New York Times just two years ago… see here.)

And Her Point?

Kelly goes on to say that she wrote the book to restore dignity to the ballerina- dignity that was lost in the years when dancers had to submit to extreme thinness. “[Ballet] is where the ballerina is in control of her body in determining her own destiny.”

I both agree and disagree with this statement and will share my personal thoughts later. First, what do you think?

An Apple a Day, the Tim Hortons Way

If this is your idea of “an apple a day,” Mr. Tim Hortons or my dear readers, I strongly urge you to reconsider.

For starters, the “apple” is in the bagel somewhere, which means it’s not really an apple. It might be more like apple puree or apple juice, or maybe even, an apple-flavored something. That’s not the same as an apple.

An apple is a fruit. It grows on a tree. It tastes delicious all by itself. It is full of vitamins and nutrients such as 5% of your recommended daily allowance of potassium and 14% of your daily vitamin C. It also gives you 17% of your daily fiber needs.

I’m not so sure we can say the same for your bagel, Mr. Horton. In fact, ‘et’s just take a look at what’s in there.

Tim Horton’s – Carmel Apple Bagel

Calories 340 Sodium 520 mg
Total Fat 4 g Potassium 0 mg
Saturated 1 g Total Carbs 68 g
Polyunsaturated 0 g Dietary Fiber 3 g
Monounsaturated 0 g Sugars 17 g
Trans 0 g Protein 9 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Vitamin A 0% Calcium 6%
Vitamin C 0% Iron 20%

I have bold-faced the two red flags.

  • There is over 20% of your recommended daily allowance of sodium, or salt, in this single bagel. That’s a problem.
  • There are 17 grams of sugar as well. The World Health Organization recommends that teenagers eat no more than 24 grams per day of added sugar. That’s 6 teaspoons. In this bagel, you’re already over halfway there.

The big takeaway here is that this is not a healthy breakfast choice. It’s not even a healthy snack. It’s just a hot mess. I would classify it as dessert, for sure.

It’s always worth remembering that companies are trying to sell you their products. End of discussion. They will make it sound “healthy” if that’s what it takes. They will make it sound “fun” if that’s what it takes. And they will make it “seasonal” to lure you in.

Needless to say, your daily fruits and veggies should be whole foods. They should grow on a tree or out of the earth. Don’t accept fake substitutes for the real thing!

Mindful Breathing Relieves Performance Anxiety

Those of you who have taken a yoga class or meditated know the positive effects of mindful breathing. An article in the Pacific Standard Magazine confirms those effects, reporting on a recent study out of the University of Sydney. The study shows that 30 minutes of mindful breath before performance steadies the heart rate and calms down the nervous system.

The Study

Psychologists Andrew Kemp and Ruth Wells lead a research team that experimented on a group of 46 musicians and singers. After being hooked up to a device that measured changes in their heart rates, the musicians were asked to perform a difficult piece and their heart rates and anxiety levels were measured.

Then, the musicians were divided into three groups.

  • The first group performed a slow, deliberate breathing exercise for 30 minutes
  • The second group did the same and stayed hooked up to the device to see the results of their breathing
  • The third group just relaxed on their own without special breathing instructions.

The musicians then performed a second, equally difficult piece of music.

The Results

The results showed that the musicians who felt anxious during the first performance experienced lower anxiety after doing the breathing exercises- much lower than those who simple relaxed.

The researchers suggest that slow, mindful breathing helped the musicians regulate their physiological stress levels. That is, it helped regulate their shaking hands, sweating palms, and butterflies in the stomach – all physical traits of anxiety.

It seems that emphasizing the exhale during slow breathing also helps. Our heart rate can increase with inhalation, and decrease with exhalation. So focusing on a long, slow exhale helps decrease the heart rate and thus lowers the amount of anxiety that we feel before a performance.

The Takeaway

So, remember those breathing exercises you learned in yoga or wellness class? Start using them! They are an easy, effective way to calm the mind and the body before class, rehearsal, auditions, and of course, performance. Remember that it takes a little time to master, so start practicing now to become a master by the time you really need it.


Recipe: Tasty Little Energy Bites

**I don’t have a good picture of these yet, so if you make them send me a pic and I’ll replace mine!

This recipe is from nutritionist Emily Harrison, a former dancer who works with dancers. The energy bites are easy to make, endlessly customizable, and each one packs an energy punch. Great for grabbing in between classes while you change shoes or combining with a piece of fruit for a complete snack.

Emily Harrison’s Nut-Free Energy Bites


  • pumpkin seed butter or peanut butter
  • raw pumpkin seeds
  • rolled oats
  • chia hemp and flax seeds (any of all three)
  • honey
  • raisins, goji berries, dried blueberries (either or all or what you like)
  • ground up buckwheat cereal
  • cacao nibs
  • grated ginger

Blend up raw pumpkin seeds and rolled oats in the blender; you can use half this mix as a filler in the energy rolls recipe and half as what you will roll them in at the end to prevent sticking.

Now it’s time to get creative by adding ingredients that make you happy and mixing them all up to create a batter that sticks together when you roll it into a little ball.  (These rolls are super flexible and customizable).

In a large bowl combine whole roasted pumpkin seeds with the seed butter. Then added rolled oats, chia, hemp, and flax seeds.  Sweeten with added honey, raisins, and Goji berries. Then added ground up buckwheat cereal and half of the mixture of seeds/ oats that you made at the beginning.  Bonus points if you add cacao nibs.   Extra bonus points if you add grated ginger.

Tip: wet hands with water before rolling to make it easier.

Roll the balls in the dry seed/oat mixture to prevent from sticking to each other and everything else. Refrigerate to firm up.

Energy bites will keep outside the fridge for many hours and can be customized in any way that works for you.


Recipe: Banana Oat Pancakes

These pancakes use no flour or added sugar and are easy peasy to make.


  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 banana
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Blend all ingredients in a blender. Drop small pancakes onto buttered skillet. Cook till small bubbles form on top of pancakes, then flip and cook 1-2 more minutes.


These also keep well for up to a week in the fridge and can be stashed away in your dance bag and eaten cold as a snack. (Spread a nut or seed butter on top of each pancake for protein!)

Grains & Greens Lunch: Meal Plan

Whole grains* are a staple for many dancers: the complex carbs, fiber and protein combine to give you long-lasting energy. They’re also versatile and can be mixed with all kinds of veggies, greens and beans for a healthy meal.

Today, we’ll combine grains with leafy greens, which is the number one missing food in the American diet. This meal travels well in a Tupperware and is good hot or cold, so I’m putting it in the “lunch” category. Of course, it would also make a yummy dinner…

Recipe: Grains

  • Add a cup (or 2) of rice to a pot of boiling water.
  • Wait for water to boil again, then turn it down to a steady simmer on medium heat and cook until grains are tender.
  • Then strain them in a strainer. (Most grains have cooking directions on the bag/box; if they don’t just google it to double check.)

Recipe: Greens

While the grains are cooking, prepare the greens.

  • Wash and chop the greens (or rip with your hands)
  • For kale and collard greens, add them to a large frying pan that has about 2 cups of boiling water in it. Cover and let cook down for 5 minutes. When greens are still bright green, but reduced, remove from heat and strain.
  • For spinach, add to an inch of boiling water or a bit of olive oil; let wilt. Remove and strain.

**Some suggestions for leafy greens:fresh spinach, kale, collard greens, and Swiss chard. These four are full of calcium, fiber, vitamins and minerals your body needs.

Recipe: Mix

Now you are ready to mix the grains and greens. Keep your proportions 1 part grains to 2 parts greens. Depending on oils and spices, you can make the dish taste any way you like. You’ll not need much oil- just a drizzle. Here are some suggestions:

  • Mediterranean: olive oil, pine nuts (optional), salt and pepper
  • Middle-eastern: sesame oil, sesame seeds (optional), salt and pepper
  • Asian: peanut oil, bit of soy sauce or tamari

And voila! A healthy, hearty meal that will sate your appetite and give back in the form of energy and nutrients. If you prefer more complex tastes, stay tuned for ways to jazz up these simple dishes. However you serve it, this is going to make your body a lot happier than that rice cake you usually eat. I promise.

* Whole grains are grains in their original, unaltered form, like brown rice, farro, or quinoa. Not like white rice or “quick cook” anything.

Inside-Out Process-Oriented Attention

An inside-out approach can change the way you think about your distractions.

A common concern among dance students is that they lack focus and concentration. Many students claim they get easily distracted, either when learning a new combination or doing the exercise.

Those distractions can take many forms. Some I’ve heard about are voices coming from outside the studio, having the artistic director suddenly walk into the studio, or letting your mind wander when watching your peers do the steps.

It happens to all of us, and as long as it’s rare, it shouldn’t worry you too much.  But if you find that you are consistently distracted when you would like to be focused, then you might want to consider reframing your approach.


The outside-in approach to focusing means that your attention is directed outwards, away from you. That means that you are highly influenced by what is going on around you.

You might be hyper-attuned to what other people are thinking when they watch you dance. Maybe you want approval from your teachers and peers, so you actively notice whether they are watching you or not while you’re dancing. Your attention is not on what you’re doing, but on what’s happening outside of you.

It can be very easy to get distracted or to lose focus when your attention is directed outwards.


The opposite, recommended approach, is to work inside-out. Inside-out means that your attention is focused on what you are doing in the present- right now. You are focused on the process of learning the combination, taking the correction, or doing the steps. Being process-oriented means being in the moment, rather than outside of it.

When you are process-oriented, it is amazing what can happen around you that you are totally oblivious to. For example, can you recall a performance or audition when you were “in the zone”? Maybe someone told you there was a crying child in the audience, or a problem with the sets, but you never noticed. That’s focusing from the inside out.

As an exercise, try to notice what distracts you and how often. Sometimes just recognizing it is a big eye-opener. Stay tuned for tips on how to be more present and get that inside-out approach.

Lessons from Yoga – Lesson 2.

This is a continued post. Part 1 is here.

Lesson 2: There are no corrections in yoga.

Lots of Corrections

Getting corrected by the teacher is hugely important in ballet: dancers look to the instructor constantly for feedback. Students rarely complain about getting too many corrections, and in fact, they usually correlate being corrected with being a good dancer- isn’t that strange?

One of my students put it perfectly: she said, if you get corrected, then there’s hope that you’re worth correcting!

No Corrections

Well, imagine my surprise when I started taking yoga classes 3 years ago and the yoga teacher didn’t correct me; she didn’t correct anyone really. I was shocked.

Over the next few months, I experienced varying emotions:

  • surprise (How was I supposed to fix things without corrections?)
  • anger (It’s your JOB to help me!)
  • curiosity (Wait, she isn’t correcting anyone, and no one seems to mind…)

I started to notice that the other yoga students were not looking around at each other, or waiting for corrections. Everyone was focused inwards and negotiating the poses mostly on their own. The instructor would intervene if someone was in danger of hurting themselves, but otherwise, she would let us figure it out.

She kept describing the ideal position to be in and how it should feel, and then she gave us all the time and space we needed to negotiate it.


After getting over my initial shock, I had an A-Ha moment one day. I realized that if I had a good or bad practice, the only one affected was me. The motivation to practice, the quality of the experience, and its outcome were all up to me.

The best way to describe this realization is Liberating and Terrifying. Liberating because no one was judging me, which made me feel light and free. Terrifying because I had never worked purely for myself before.

I realized that as a dancer, I always had one eye on the teacher or artistic director, ready to gauge their reaction to my every move. With no one watching, where would the impetus to work hard and improve come from?


It has taken some time to get used to this new arrangement, but I have found motivation to have a good practice every time I go to the yoga studio. Having to work without cheating, even though no one is watching or correcting me, has changed my relationship to my practice and to myself.

The biggest lesson I have learned is to work honestly. Gone are the days of seeing what I want to see in the mirror, and consequently being happy with my work. Now it is all about how it feels: am I doing the pose correctly? Is it coming from an honest place? Am I making my best effort or just going through the motions?

Having only myself to answer to, rather than a teacher or director, has made my yoga practice a lesson in truth. And that is a lesson I could have used many years ago.