As many know, I'm an admirer of figure skating as well as as dancing. Two of my favorite ice dancers are Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. I was listening to some music and thought I'd make a video of them using photos and an old exhibition routine from 1979 which shows just how timeless their elegant beautiful movements are. Music is The Story of My Life, a beautiful song by Neil Diamond.
How many adults remember the first book their mothers or fathers read to them as children? Or, who remembers the one book that, no matter how old you get, remains imprinted on the mind? One of the first books that have stayed with me is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Why was there a locked, overgrown garden at Mistlewaite Manor? What or who was making the noises that Mary hears at night and why wouldn't anyone talk about it? I remember feeling as though I was part of the story, finding my own garden to tend to. Indeed, I've collected and cherished a garden of books that have entertained, inspired and enriched my life.
Reading opens up a world of imagination to children Unlike television, the internet or even video games, where children are passive viewers or can see action unfold, books take actual brain power to decipher the story being read. Even if it is a picture book, children have to imagine the movements of the characters and create mental movies in their minds. Love of books sometimes serves as catalysts for children to create their own stories. Exposing children to books also helps when they start school.
Books give them ideas to feed and work on. Characters become real, are given a birth, a voice and reality by being brought to life in children's imaginations. A child's mind is virgin territory, slowly filled and changed by things they experience both real and imagined. So, characters, what they do, how they treat people, places they live and people who affect them, have an effect on the young reader.
The characters in children's books are often those with a moral to tell, a tale of good overcoming evil, morality, love, support and naivity. They feed the child's imagination - given the great skill of a truly good writer- and begin to take life. they also allow a child to take part in activities or events which are completely outside ther real life situations like wars, battles and plagues miraculous events or historically important times. Books allow a child to start developing empathy and understand the feelings of others.
The writer has the power to create in a child's mind whoever they like. They can also show the child a bigger world than the one they live in. Children's books can tell stories of distant lands,or other religions,customs or even places where people have completely different beliefs to them.
Older children can learn about emotions, responsibilities and relationships by reading. A book , unlike real life ,can be revisited and taken at the child's pace. They can read the same book at different stages or re-read passages so they have time to get the real essence from them and improve their understanding. They realize that their emotional response may be different at different times. Importantly, they realize that characters in books go through all the emotions and changes they do.
For the most part, children who enjoy reading perform better in school and develop critical thinking skills. These skills are necessary for any subject being studied. Children who enjoy books usually remain interested in learning for the rest of their lives. Often, they make better grades and score higher on standardized tests.
These skills not only help in elementary and high school, but they help students do well in college. As a tutor in college, I was confronted with students who not only didn't want to read, but didn't fully know how to comprehend instructions from their professors. Many of them admitted to me that they never read as children; therefore, they never thought it was important. It never ceases to amaze me how they made it that far in life without knowing how to critically think.
On the other hand, students who have developed a love of reading at an early age are easier to instruct, even if they have some sort of learning disability. They know how to work through the information in order to get the full meaning of the texts. Reading is imperative for future success.
In my opinion, books will never go out of style in their effects on children as long as parents and teachers encourage kids to read. There are always secret gardens to be found, characters from past generations to be discovered, feeding the minds of the future.
Mention famous choreographers and names like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse, to name a few. But unless you're old enough to remember Perry Como's television show and Your Hit Parade, you probably don't know about Peter Gennaro(1919-2000). He was, in the late 1950's and early '60s, probably America's favorite dancer-choreographer.
His jaunty, strutting style, whether expressed by the handpicked Peter Gennaro Dancers or by the lithe form of the choreographer himself, was familiar in living rooms across the country, to people who couldn't see a Broadway show or even a bus-and-truck rendition of a Broadway show. For a while, it seemed that if the TV was tuned to a show that featured music, you were going to be seeing the Peter Gennaro Dancers and the jazzy, ebullient choreography of their boss. Between 1957 and 1964 the Peter Gennaro Dancers were regulars on music shows like Judy Garland's and Polly Bergen's, as well as Your Hit Parade, The Kraft Music Hall and The Entertainers, a variety hour that starred Carol Burnett and Bob Newhart.
At the same time that he was animating television's variety shows, Gennaro was imprinting on a generation his own high standards of choreographic invention and crisp performance. Of course, he was himself the coolest of Peter Gennaro Dancers. With his characteristic stance--hips tucked back, shoulders forward--he looked as if he were about to burst into the air, a self-propelled dancing rocket. His light, super-speedy footwork gave his dancing a distinctive snap, and he made it all look easy as pie. What's more, he and his dancers always looked as though they were having fun.
He started, as so many do, very young--winning New Orleans-area Charleston contests as a 4-year-old. He saved his pennies to pay for lessons from local dance teachers and embarked on a serious career after he came home from World War II. He got his first Broadway show in 1948, and in 1954, Fosse pulled him out of the chorus to join Carol Haney and Buzz Miller in the famous "Steam Heat" number in The Pajama Game. He did the "Mu-Cha-Cha" with Judy Holliday in Bells Are Ringing, the 1956 musical that returned to the boards this season in a revival starring Faith Prince. At the same time, he was giving dance lessons and getting his first choreographing jobs; and in 1957, he was made co-choreographer with Jerome Robbins on the epochal dance musical West Side Story, staging the famous “America” and “Mambo” numbers, although he didn't receive credit.
Unlike Robbins, Fosse, and Michael Bennett, Gennaro never moved from choreographing the dances to directing the whole musical, and so despite his good work and the nearly universal esteem in which he was held, he never became a major force in the theater. His credits after West Side Story reflect the up-and-down nature of the business: hits like Fiorello! and The Unsinkable Molly Brown along with less-memorable shows like Bajour and Mr. President. His best-known work, the one for which he won the Tony, was in Annie, and no one who saw it will ever forget the charmingly discombobulated moves Gennaro gave the raga-muffin orphans and scheming villains of that show.
“The whole world knew who Peter Gennaro was,” says Rosemary Novellino-Mearns, his former assistant at Radio City Music Hall. He was the gleeful man on TV, whether it was The Judy Garland Show or Ed Sullivan, and Gennaro’s choreography, Novellino-Mearns says, “was tight and underneath you.” His trademark was quick hips, fast footwork and a jaunty physical sense of humor. As Chita Rivera said, “He had the fastest feet I had ever seen.”
Raised outside of New Orleans, Gennaro’s remarkable disposition toward joy and dancing found fertile ground in the birthplace of jazz. “He always talked about his experiences as a child watching the jazz funerals on the banks of the Mississippi River,” his daughter Liza has said. “He would join them and dance alongside the musicians.” This experience coincided with Gennaro winning prizes at age 5 in local Charleston competitions. Gennaro’s mother encouraged his nascent talent. His father did not. Nonetheless, Gennaro took his earnings from working at his father’s restaurant to study acrobatics and tap at a local studio.
When Gennaro graduated from high school circa 1936, he expressed interest in becoming a graphic artist. Although he occasionally performed in French Quarter clubs, a dance career seemed unrealistic. As America prepared to enter World War II, Gennaro voluntarily enlisted in the Army, where he serendipitously joined actor Melvyn Douglas’ entertainment troupe as a dancer. Gennaro performed for eight months through the India-China-Burma theater of war, entertaining the Allied troupes and honing his skills as a hoofer. With the Armistice, he moved to New York and used the GI bill to study with dance pioneer Katherine Dunham and her chief teacher, Syvilla Fort.
In 1947 Gennaro found full-time work with Chicago’s San Carlo Opera Company. There he met his future wife Jean Kinsella, a former Agnes de Mille dancer. Two years later, he made his Broadway debut in Make Mine Manhattan. Gennaro also taught while working with Hanya Holm and Michael Kidd during his chorus dancing years. Grace Kelly took his Dunham-oriented class, which featured subtle body isolations, quick footwork and polyrhythmic movement phrases.
In 1954 Gennaro got his big break dancing alongside Carol Haney and Buzz Miller in Bob Fosse’s “Steam Heat,” from The Pajama Game. What made “Steam Heat” churn was a skewed, subtle sexuality, and it was so popular that the director threatened to take it out because it didn’t feature any of the lead performers.
After “Steam Heat,” Gennaro’s choreography career flourished. He made work for 11 original Broadway productions and numerous films, including The Unsinkable Molly Brown. In 1977, 20 years after Robbins’ West Side Story Tony, Gennaro won the same award for Annie. He was inducted, posthumously, into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 2002.
His ambition, says his daughter, was not linked to becoming the authoritative choreographer. “It was about getting out there and dancing.”
The School Gym Mambo from the film West Side Story, showing Peter's choreographic talent.
While Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for civil rights, there were dancers who, through movement, also raised awareness of social and racial protest. One of these dancers, Pearl Primus, is the subject of the biography, The Dance Claimed Me, by Peggy and Murray Schwartz.
Pearl Primus(1919-1994) blended two careers during one life. Primarily a dancer, Primus widened her intellectual horizons when she earned her Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University in 1978. Her dance and academic careers frequently intermingled, as her study of African cultures inspired her to create new dances. Primus developed a unique blend of African and Caribbean sources of dance and music with popular American blues, jazz, and jitterbug dance steps to create new and vibrant forms of dance expressions. Her work also has an element of social and political commentary, as she has choreographed dances that deal directly with slavery, and the aftermath of slavery, both in the United States and the West Indies. Confronting stereotypes and prejudice through movement, she advocated dance as a means of uniting people against discrimination. “When I dance, I am dancing as a human being, but a human being who has African roots,” she declared of her work.
Primus, born in Trinidad on November 29, 1919, accompanied her family to New York City when she was two years old. Initially, she had planned on pursuing a medical degree, but she dismissed the idea when she felt that racial barriers would prove too great to overcome. She declared a biology major at Hunter College in New York and then entered graduate school in psychology and health education. She could not find work to support her desire to finish her graduate degree, however, so she applied to the National Youth Administration and was given the understudy position in a dance troupe. Always a top-notch athlete, Primus quickly proved her abilities and won a scholarship to the New Dance Group, a modern dance performing company, in 1941. The faculty, which included Jane Dudley, Sophie Maslow, Nona Schurman and William Bales, greatly influenced Primus with their commitment to using dance as a tool for social reform. Primus also trained with Martha Graham, Charles Weidman, Doris Humphrey and Louis Horst, from whom she gained an eclectic foundation in modern dance. She later studied ballet and was soon dancing with the NDG performance company. She later became a faculty member there.
In April 1943, she began an engagement at the Café Society Downtown, a racially integrated nightclub whose small stage she filled with power, emotion and her famous five-foot-high jumps. During this time, she also performed at Madison Square Garden and Carnegie Hall, and her new dance group, the Primus Company, performed at the Belasco and Roxy Theatres. She danced in the Los Angeles production of Showboat in 1944 and the Broadway revival two years later, followed by the Chicago Civic Opera’s production of The Emperor Jones, which she choreographed, and Broadway’s 1947 Caribbean Carnival.
Primus also felt the need to devote time to performing sociological fieldwork. During the summer of 1944, she toured the South, posing as a migrant worker, “to know my own people where they are suffering the most.” She picked cotton and participated in black church services’ spontaneous dance and song, in which she recognized African roots. In April 1948, she was awarded a $4,000 grant by the Julius Rosenwald Foundation to travel to Africa. She spent a year visiting and living with the natives of Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana, Angola, Cameroon, Senegal and Zaire, observing and recording their traditional dances. In Nigeria, she was renamed “Omowale,” meaning “child returned home.”
Primus married award-winning film and television director Yael Woll in 1950, but the union did not last—they were separated after three years. In 1953 she met dancer/choreographer Percival Borde while traveling through Trinidad, and they married a year later. They welcomed their son, Onwin, in 1955.
In 1959, Primus received an MA in educational sociology from New York University and returned to Liberia, where she was named director of the country’s Performing Arts Center. In 1963, she and Borde opened the Primus-Borde School of Primal Dance in NYC, where she developed methods of teaching cross-culturally. Three years later, she initiated an experimental learning project that was funded by the U.S. Department of Education and placed in NYC schools to further test her methods. It was a soaring success.
In 1974, Primus staged Fanga (1949) and The Wedding (1961), theatrical arrangements of African ritual dances, for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Ted Pollen, an Ailey scholarship student at the time, remembers her as a gracious teacher who, unlike many others, did not use harsh criticisms to motivate dancers. “She showed us how to improve ourselves as dancers and artists by tapping into what dance means to people who are not professional dancers; dance as a way of life as opposed to a way of making a living.”
In 1978, Primus received a Ph.D. in Dance Education from New York University. The following year she created “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore,” about the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, church bombing. From 1984 to 1990 Primus served as a professor of ethnic studies, and artist in residence at the Five Colleges consortium in Massachusetts. In 1990, she became the first chair of the Five Colleges Dance Consortium. Her original dance company eventually grew into the Pearl Primus Dance Language Institute, where her method of blending African-American, Caribbean, and African influences with modern dance and ballet techniques is taught. In 1991, President George Bush honored Primus with the National Medal of Art. She died in New Rochelle, New York, on October 29, 1994.
Primus was a force of unparalleled energy and drive, who challenged societal norms with masterful work that honored her ancestors and enlightened generations to come. “I dance not to entertain, but to help people better understand each other because through dance I have experienced the wordless joy of freedom,” she said of her life’s work. “I see it more fully now for my people and for all people everywhere.”
Local and international ballet competitions draw thousands of participants every year. The Royal Academy of Dance's Adeline Genee Awards in London and the International Ballet Competitions in Varna, Bulgaria, and Jackson, Mississippi, are world famous. Winners often go on to major careers. A few competitions are about more than winning. At the Prix de Lausannne Switzerland, medals are awarded as much for a dancer's potential as for performance. The top prizes are scholarships to major international ballet schools.
Competitions are controversial, however. Many teachers and dancers, even past winners, do not encourage students to compete. Most high=level competitions base their awards mainly on how dancers perform certain preapprove variations from the classical repertory. It's impossible to gauge a dancer's taste or refinement from a single variation or two, and ballet is, after all, an art, not a competitive sport.
For serious dancers in preprofessional schools or well-known dance programs, even the most prestigious competition is likely to be a detour, and it would be far better to concentrate on training. Performance experience can often be gained from a summer intensive or from a school's productions, without the pressure. The preparations involved in competitions - extra rehearsals, costume-sewing and fittings, private instruction, travel to and from the events - require a significant amount of time and money. There is also the issue of self-esteem and the toll it may take on a dancer who enters a competition with high expectations but falls short of winning. Is a dancer mentally prepared to accept that he/she is still good, and to not give up his/her goals?
On the other hand, for serious dancers from smaller schools who have the technique, elite competitions can be a chance to see, be seen and get on a faster track. Competitions offer an opportunity to learn about performing as a soloist through an intense preparation and coaching process that isn't found in class or even a corps de ballet You meet and work with other talented dancers and are exposed to styles of dance you might not see otherwise. It's a way to enjoy dancing, meet new people and see new places.
In the end, it is an individual choice whether to enter competitions or not. Based on skill, level of dedication and financial status, each dancer should carefully weigh his/her individual strengths and goals.
"I see my niece struggling to become a perfect ballet dancer to her detriment. In order to be as thin as her teacher wants, she has become bulimic and has no life outside of ballet practice and working out. I'm afraid she will never have any happiness or peace in her life."
I try to teach parents to encourage balance in their children's lives because it is quite common for kids to get caught up in being a "perfect" dancer, athlete, or student. Perfectionism doesn't mean the person is perfect, only that they think they must be perfect to be accepted by the coach of the football team, or artistic director of the ballet company, or even their own parents.
When in their pre-teens or early teens, children are extremely impressionable and will do almost anything for approval and acknowledgment if they are not well-balanced within themselves. The way parents can instill a good sense of self in a child is to observe what the child's natural tendencies and talents seem to be and then encourage activities that use those strengths and talents.
Often parents will unwittingly channel their child to excel in something that they themselves wanted to succeed in but never got the chance. If the children don't have a good sense of themselves, they will please their parents and coaches to get much needed praise and recognition. This can lead to a distorted life because, first of all, there is no "perfect," so to set out an expectation for perfection will therefore bring "failure." Secondly, to attempt to be perfect in one area of life means ignoring other areas of life. If the emphasis is pleasing someone outside oneself, it often comes at the cost of neglecting to explore what is important to the self.
Because children are so vulnerable to this perfectonistic pleasing of a role model or parent, I caution parents to be careful that they don't instill or allow compulsive effort in a sport or performance.
A good example of this was portrayed in the movie The Black Swan in which Natalie Portman played a ballet dancer in New York who was prompted by her mother's obsession with her own failed career in ballet. Her mother became determined that her daughter would succeed as a ballerina at all costs. What follows is the disastrous conclusion of excesses in training and the dark side of obsessing over perfection.
- Susan Quinn
According to research, it is estimated that over 5 million people in the United States suffer from this mental disorder and the figures go up each year.
A reality of many OCD sufferers is that they have the hardest time doing the simplest of activities in day to day life. In other words, they have to check and recheck and recheck again, the same objects day in and day out. Take for example when someone with OCD leaves a room. They cannot simply leave the room and shut the door, they must look back to make sure everything is exactly the way they envision it. The looking back then turns into re-straightening objects, rechecking door locks, and the list goes on. There is no peace of mind, which is ironically exactly what they seek.
Being a perfectionist can make you exhibit some of the same behaviors as someone with OCD, however when you are strictly a perfectionist, you can control your behavior. Wanting everything the best it can be is one thing, maximizing your potential is a great trait of someone who is defined as a perfectionist. However, people that suffer from OCD tendencies take perfectionism to a whole new level. Breaking down because something has been moved or touched by an outsider, numbering your socks or labeling them left and right is way over the top. These are not uncommon behaviors for people with OCD; it is however, not something a perfectionist would relate to.
What many people may not realize about OCD is that it is extremely tiring, both in body and mind. Because of the constant brain activity throughout the day, people with OCD can find themselves walking zombies half the time. Sometimes people with OCD appear to have other problems rather than just OCD. This is probably because many OCD sufferers appear to be in their own world most of the time or are seen demonstrating irrational behaviors out in public. OCD sufferers have the busiest minds in the world, and to them no matter what they do, their mind won't slow down.
I've seen sites have ecards for other skaters, so I thought it would be nice for fans of Jayne and Chris to be able to email cards to friends at any time. I'm asking you to help me out. If you like the idea, or have pictures you'd like to see, please Contact me or post a comment. Click on Send a card to see selections. An example picture is:
And here is a link to some sample pictures that could be used: Click here
In her new book, "Appollo's Angels," dance critic Jennifer Homans offers a grim glimpse at the future of toe shoes: She says that ballet is dying, and soon it will be an extinct art form. And yet with the success of the film Black Swan and the continued success of shows like Dancing With the Stars, one has to wonder if ballet really is dying, or just needs a boost.
Today, students will take ballet class and work their way through the barre exercises without once stopping to think. They will practice the same movements that have been done for years. Ballet is a classic dance form. It's often perceived as stuffy, strict and structured, with little room for personal interpretation. Traditionally, ballet dancers must look bony, behave modestly and do what they're told. Ballet is always the same, so where does it fit into a world that is continuously changing?
Unfortunately, classical ballet is old news to most dancers, choreographers and enthusiasts. We've all seen The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. We've studied the variations, learned the steps and performed in the shows it certainly gets monotonous. These days, dancers and choreographers on the cutting edge are taking the next step. They're finding ways to bend the rules without completely disregarding the conventions of traditional ballet.
Ballet has provided a strong foundation, but perfect technique just isn't enough anymore. Many dance programs, especially those at colleges and universities, now choose to concentrate on a combination of modern dance and classical ballet. Ballet training is still essential, but the boundaries have been broken the rise of modern dance has allowed ballet dancers to reach another level. In ballet, there are the age-old positions that are established as correct. Straying from the norm is considered wrong. In modern, there is no right and wrong. So, with this new style of modern-ballet fusion, dancers may choose to mix and match their training. Ballet training helps to strengthen modern dance pieces, and knowledge of modern style gives some freedom to traditional ballet. When the styles are combined, the result is much more powerful than either form on its own.
Ballet class will never lose its importance - all dance technique is rooted in these simple exercises. But nowadays, young dancers are more involved in using their technique to help them create something innovative, rather than sticking with the same structured steps. The emerging popularity of contemporary ballet has opened up a world of opportunities for dancers. There is much more creativity involved in coming up with movement rather than simply copying classical pieces from the past. Contemporary ballet can be inspired by absolutely anything.
Traditional pointe work may be performed to an unconventional song. On the other hand, off-beat steps can be done to classical music. The floor is open these days for all kinds of dance to come together. Contemporary ballet allows dancers and choreographers to really tap into their creative side and come up with something the audience will remember something they have never been exposed to before.