Boys Can Do It Too: Interview with Danny Perez and Chris Miller

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        Danny Perez (left), Christopher Miller (right)

These guys can probably jump higher than your favorite basketball player and they can lift you over their head. They’re not afraid to tell you they’re ballet dancers.

Danny and Chris are full-time students at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida. They take technique classes every day (on top of their academic classes), and they perform with the Dance Theatre of Santa Fe.

“There are days when we dance more than we sleep,” says Chris. “When we’re rehearsing for a show, it’s like – wake up, dance, eat, dance, sleep, repeat. It’s hard work, but it’s so rewarding.”

They were both recently accepted to the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance program at Florida State University.

So, what do you guys do with dance?

CM: I’ve done a lot of freelance work with companies in Tampa and Gainesville, and I’m always performing with DTSF [Dance Theatre of Sante Fe]. What I’d really like is to become an equity performer, or to have a contract with a company. Right now I’m working on finishing my degree at SF and then moving to Tallahassee to attend FSU.

DP: I have one more semester with Santa Fe before I start working on my BFA. Eventually, I want to do the same thing: company or equity performer. Really, it doesn’t matter to me where I am or who I’m with as long as I get to keep dancing.

How is ballet different for men vs. women?

DP: Men are like a commodity in ballet because there aren’t a lot of us. Teachers usually want to take advantage of the fact that we can partner so we sometimes wind up doing more than the girls.

CM: Our training is also a little different. There are some steps that are traditionally done only by women and some that are done only by men. Men are expected to jump higher, and we definitely need more upper-body strength because we need to be able to lift. Sometimes we get to take special men’s classes just to focus on those areas.

What about the stigma of ballet being for girls?

DP: Honestly, when kids used to tease me for doing ballet, it motivated me. I used it as ammunition to work harder and get stronger. If you’ve ever taken a ballet class then you know it’s not for wimps. Every single class, guys and girls are walking out drenched in sweat, and you’re sore pretty much all the time. It only looks so easy because we work so hard to make it that way.

CM: And think about it, you’re catching and lifting beautiful women over your head. Name something more manly than that.

What is it like being the minority in your field?

CM: It’s awesome. Strong male dancers are always in demand and there’s always an opportunity to partner someone. I love when there are a lot of guys in my class, though. You can make more interesting choreography when there is a big group of guys and girls.

DP: I think more is expected of us because we’re so few. We have to be able to do what girls can do and we also have to be ready for anything. When someone is depending on you to lift them, they’re trusting you with their career. It’s a lot of focus.

What made you decide to make dance your career and not just a hobby?

CM: For me it was when I got to Santa Fe and saw all the different kinds of opportunities that are out there for dancers. I’ve always loved dancing and I knew I wanted to keep doing it as an adult, but I didn’t really become set on finding a career until I met my teachers at SF.

DP: I’ve just always loved it, I don’t know what flipped the switch. I feel good when I’m doing it and I learn about life from dance. I have a tattoo of this quote my brother made me, and it describes how I feel perfectly: “Dancing is the most exciting form of art. The stage is your canvas, your body is your brush, and your heart is your color.”

Do you have any advice for guys who want to start ballet?

DP: Do it! Just find that thing that motivates you and use it to make yourself better. Focus on what you like about dancing and why you do it instead of what people might think of you. Then when you’re doing awesome ballet stuff that most guys can’t do, you know your passion is what got you there. And hey, girls love that drive.

CM: I say definitely try it if you think you’d enjoy it. I started when I was 10, an age where it was so uncool to be a ballet dancer, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. How I felt when I was dancing made me not care about anything outside the studio. Don’t get intimidated by what people might think and you might find something you really like.

Ballerina Profile: Suzanne Kadinger

Interview PhotoWhen did you start doing ballet as an adult?

I started taking ballet classes when I was 26, and I went en pointe at age 30.

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

I took dance lessons as a child, including ballet, but it wasn’t strong training in classical ballet technique. While a small amount of the movement was familiar to me when I started back up, it was really like starting from scratch. I had some bad habits to discard, and I definitely had some terminology to learn!

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

My daughter had already begun taking a creative dance class at the studio when she was five, so I was familiar with Muncie Ballet and their program. I was looking for a way to unwind after work, and I set out looking for a yoga class with a coworker. We couldn’t find a local yoga class that suited our schedule, but we did happen upon the studio’s adult class. My coworker wasn’t able to keep up classes after she moved away, but I’m still there after more than 12 years.

Where do you take classes?

Muncie Ballet under Lisa Love.

What is your favorite part about ballet?

I love that when I am dancing, I’m not thinking about anything else. The stress of the day melts away during those hours in the studio. Now, as my daughter prepares to graduate from high school and head off to college, we can both say that dancing together and sharing a stage has been one of the best experiences either of us has had. It’s pretty special to experience something so meaningful with your daughter. Every special dancer memory is a shared memory for us.

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Ballerina Profile: Yulia Klim

10931432_10153057791291310_1981081137301356605_nWhen did you start doing ballet as an adult?

9 months ago, I was 26.

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

Nope. I was living in a very small city, more of a village, we had one acrobatic center, which I never was interested in trying. Unfortunately never participated in any sport activity.

 Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

I am not a big fan of weights and gym, as it is so hard to motivate yourself there, I find it boring but music always helped. So I was looking for a way to stay fit and enjoy it at the same time: salsa, pole dancing… Nothing called my name. And then I tried Beginner Ballet.

 Where do you take classes?

Dubai Dance Academy. I live in UAE, where some people would hear Belly Dance instead of Ballet Dance couple of years ago. However, Art forms are growing here and becoming more popular, and I am glad I found great studio with a great teacher, who is very passionate on bringing this form of art into the region.

 What is your favorite part about ballet?

Love barre work overall and its discipline. Quite enjoy any jumping activity.

 What is your least favorite part?

Grand battement. Already tired, hearing: “Ok, and now let’s do some grand battement” is like a punishment for me. It’s a massive reminder on how much core strength I am missing along with flexibility.

 Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

High arch is definitely something I admire, I’ve always appreciated the beauty of strong lean legs. However, watching any sport or dance professionals is always something inspirational, showcasing the beauty and great capabilities our human body has. In fact, wide range of abilities of our body is something that amuse me, from gymnastic to singing and composing music… We all are capable of A LOT.  Yes, starting something as a kid gives you a great advantage, but just because it is more difficult as adult doesn’t mean you should not do it, nothing is easy.  It is all in our hands to shape ourselves spiritually and physically the way we want it, at any age.

What motivates you to keep dancing?

Too many things… First, it’s the challenge. It feels that in ballet there are always new things you learn every day, there is a constant challenge even in the most simple and basic moves. Getting over-confident over something you think you finally got right, and then being told off by your teacher about your hands or chin or shoulders. There is always something more to it, there is always something new you will learn about your body, about ballet and its technique. Constant perfection. And secondly, it is the beauty, posture and elegance that ballet gives your body and its movements. Being quite skinny and light, I still felt like an elephant during my first classes. My moves were so heavy, so terrible. Well, I still feel like an elephant but I notice changes. Your posture slowly is getting better, and you do not want to stop there, you want more and you continue.

Do you take any other dance classes?

Not yet, but always been aiming at trying Jazz or Contemporary classes.

What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

With my office work I barely squeeze time to do ballet, so if collecting turtle toys counts as a hobby, that would be one.

What advice would you like to give to those who want to start ballet or have just started?

Be patient and positive. Everyone started somewhere. No one was born a professional and even prima ballerinas didn’t do well back into their beginner years. You are starting now, and doesn’t matter how old you are, taking even one class already makes you better than you were yesterday. Be proud of yourself, take it slow, learn the technique first. Set realistic goals. Build the core strength and try to get closer to the right execution of the move. Technique is the key, our teacher may spend a long time simply explaining how your arm should be placed and which muscles you shall engage and I find it essential. Get the basics first, the foundation. If that requires lowering your leg, lower your leg. Do not rush, do not expect quick results, it will come to you after months and years of practice. You just have to be very patient. And of course, practise every day, even if it is just 5 minutes, anything is better than nothing.

 Anything else you’d like to add?

I heard that those who dance or sing live longer that could be another motivation haha.

Ballerina Profile: Laura of Surf and Hydrangeas

unnamedWhen did you start doing ballet as an adult?

February 2014, at 34 years old!?!

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

No. My mom tried to sign me up for a session and I hated every second of it. All I wanted to do was jump around and I don’t think I even finished the classes – I was a kid with ants in my pants!

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

I was looking for something to add to my strength training routine to mix it up a bit and I had been curious about ballet for a while. I wanted to see what real ballet training was like – it seemed like it would be a great challenge for me. {Being graceful has not historically been one of my strong suits! :-)}

Where do you take classes?

I take classes at Align Ballet Method in Los Angeles.

What is your favorite part about ballet?

I feel like the answer to this question changes every day! I’ve written a post about some of what I love, but so many times I come out of class and say “I loved that barre or combination today!” In general I think adagios and anything “pique” are my favorite parts of class.

What is your least favorite part?

I’m a pretty Type-A person and I get frustrated when things don’t come easily but I’m not a huge fan of frappes – they get me every time.

Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

I’m obviously in awe of pretty much every professional ballet dancer out there, but I find most of my inspiration closer to home. The Align Ballet Method teachers each bring their own style to class that inspires me to work on different parts of my dancing. I’m also constantly inspired by my classmates as well. They all have their own strengths that I’m in awe of and it pushes me to work harder.

What motivates you to keep dancing?

The constant challenge and my continued progress are what keep me motivated. It is amazing, and so much fun, to realize that I can do things I initially struggled with and to see how my dancing has developed over time. I also love that no matter how much I figure out there is ALWAYS something new to work on.

Do you take any other dance classes?

I only take ballet. But whenever I’m traveling for work or fun, I try to find studio to take a class in that city.  So far I’ve taken classes in New York at a few studios, {Broadway Dance Center was by far my favorite} and Toronto at the National Ballet of Canada.  Toronto was very cool since you are in the same building as the professional company!

What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

Ballet has definitely become #1 on my list in the last year but I also like photography and exploring LA. I try to go somewhere new once a week.

What advice would you like to give to those who want to start ballet or have just started?

Keep at it! It is frustrating, difficult and sometimes a little painful {I STILL get sore!} but don’t let a bad class discourage you. Everyone learns at their own speed and when things start to come together, it is totally worth it.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I was fortunate to be able to share my ballet experience on video not long ago and I hope that if anyone is nervous or not sure about taking ballet as an adult, my story helps them feel like this is something they can take on. It’s also really cool to have a record of my dancing so that next year {and beyond} I’ll be able to see my continued growth.

Do you have a blog?

Yes – Surf and Hydrangeas. It is more of a lifestyle blog, and not all about ballet, but I do write ballet related posts a couple times a month.

Ballerina Profile: Christina Han

image1Meet Christina Han, who returned to ballet after several years. She also is editor-in-chief of Spilt Arts, a nonprofit organization founded to help children from under served locations showcase their talents in literature, art, and photography. Check out the organization’s recent interview with Michaela DePrince on Spilt Arts website!

When did you start doing ballet as an adult?

I started classes the month before my 34th birthday.

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

I danced ballet, tap, and jazz for almost 20 years as a kid, starting from 4 years old but jeez, that seems like a long time ago now!

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

I’d been thinking about coming back to ballet for a couple of years but the idea seemed daunting because I knew my body wouldn’t be able to do what it used to. But when I decided to go back to school, I knew I needed to do something that helped with discipline and mental acuity. Also, I think a lot of people overlook how physically draining things like all nighters can be. So I bit the bullet and signed up for ballet because it’s all encompassing-mentally and emotionally challenging while being physically rigorous.

Where do you take classes?

I dance once a week at a local dance studio with my teacher Monique, who is empathetic and supportive. She’s also got a crackerjack sense of humor, which is much appreciated when you’re the only adult student in a room full of freakishly flexible ten year olds.

What is your favorite part about ballet?

Oh this is a hard one…ballet makes me appreciate everything my body can do. Instead of focusing on my limitations, I choose to celebrate the seemingly small victories, like balancing a little longer than the week before. Ballet also reminds me not to force things and that sometimes we can’t control a lot of aspects in life so just go with it and see what happens.

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