Transcript, Episode 122: Misty Copeland’s Baby News, and Pandemic Lessons in Self-Care

Margaret Fuhrer:

Hi, dance friends, and welcome to The Dance Edit Podcast. I’m Margaret Fuhrer.

Amy Brandt:

And I’m Amy Brandt.

Margaret Fuhrer:

We are editors at Dance Media, and in this episode, we’ll get things started with a huge headline rundown, getting into everything from Misty Copeland’s baby news to Beyonce’s TikTok debut to several different dance world controversies that are all in the process of unfolding. Then we will do a longer section talking about how living through the pandemic has spurred many dancers to develop and prioritize self-care routines, especially now as they return to live performance. It’s yet another realignment of priorities stemming from COVID upheaval.

First, though, we wanted to shout out The Dance Edit Extra, our premium audio interview series. Because the podcast you’re listening to right now, The Dance Edit Podcast, is out every other week, but on the intervening Saturdays, you’ll find new Edit Extra episodes out on Apple Podcasts. Last Saturday, we dropped a fantastic conversation with Vincent Paterson, who’s the artist behind some of Madonna’s and Michael Jackson’s most famous choreography. He’s also a staunch advocate for better treatment of commercial choreographers. Next Saturday, August 6th, we’ll have an interview with the wonderful dancer and choreographer Lauren Lovette, talking about her new role as resident choreographer at the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

I really hope you’ll subscribe so you can give both of those episodes, as well as our full archive of interviews, we have quite an archive now, a listen. And, again, you can find the Dance Edit Extra by searching on Apple Podcasts or by following the direct link in our show notes.

Okay, time for some headlines—many headlines, rather—starting with some very happy news.

Amy Brandt:

Yes. Misty Copeland quietly welcomed her first son, Jackson, three months ago, and hopes to return to the stage in 2023. In a People magazine exclusive, because Misty Copeland is at that level now…

Margaret Fuhrer:

People magazine exclusive level! Yep.

Amy Brandt:

Yes, which is pretty cool for a ballerina, I’m just saying. Anyway, in a People magazine exclusive, she said that, while she’s always been very public about her career, she’s long made it a point to keep her personal life private and plans to keep her son out of the spotlight.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Actually, yeah, let’s talk about this for a second, because Misty’s pregnancy was sort of an open secret among members of the ballet community, but at the same time, while we’re talking about self-care this episode, what a good self-care decision to keep this very personal news private.

Amy Brandt:

Exactly.

Margaret Fuhrer:

It is shocking sometimes to realize just how big a star Misty is, and often people at that level are just expected to be super visible at all times. And a lot of, like, slightly less famous ballerinas have been super open about their pregnancies recently, which, of course, is wonderful, if that’s what you want to do. But I do really admire Misty for not buying into the idea that dancers, because their career centers on their bodies, should therefore be publicly transparent about what’s happening with their bodies at all times.

Amy Brandt:

Yeah. I think it’s a smart move on her part to set some boundaries, because it’s a lot to be that public about your career, especially, and your platform and everything. I do find she’s always been rather private about her marriage and relationships and now with her newborn baby. Dance, it’s a career that needs so much focus and concentration, and when you’re also a celebrity on top of that, I think at some point you have to create very strong boundaries somewhere to protect yourself.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah. Here’s some more happy news. Choreographer and Urban Bush Women founder Jawole Willa Jo Zollar has received the 29th annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish prize, which comes with $250,000. That is an extraordinary dance artist getting some very real money, hooray for that. The Gish prize is given to US artists who, as described by the actress Lillian Gish, have “made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” That’s a pretty good encapsulation of Zollar’s creative and community-building work. So, congratulations.

Amy Brandt:

Yeah. The UK’s Northern School of Contemporary Dance announced that it will drop ballet from its audition requirements, in an effort to cultivate a more diverse student body. The school, which focuses on contemporary and cultural dance forms, still welcomes those with ballet training and will continue to offer ballet class as part of its curriculum. However, that was sort of overshadowed as the story gained international attention over comments made by the conservatory’s head of undergraduate studies about ballet’s being rooted in white European ideas, it’s often elitist, and she also said it was too gender binary. And people really jumped on that. It got actually fairly nasty out there on social media.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah. There were a few different right-leaning news organizations too, like National Review, for example, who picked up on this story as, oh, another example of a woke institution canceling something beautiful, blah, blah, blah. That was sort of either a deliberate misunderstanding of the story, or just a lack of understanding of the story, which is, hey, they actually are still offering ballet classes. It’s just no longer a mandatory audition requirement.

Amy, in our pre-recording emails, you mentioned that there’s also a bit of a rage circle happening here, because people inside the ballet community are so tired of being on the defensive, too, so they’ve also reacted vehemently to this criticism.

Amy Brandt:

Yeah, I think so. Even, I, myself sometimes kind of bristle when I hear, “Ballet is racist, elitist, this and that.” Kind of the laundry list of everything that’s wrong with ballet, and it’s kind of relentless sometimes, especially recently. So I think there are some strong reactions to that, as well. I think that also kind of added to the reactions, for sure.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah, raised the temperature a little. In the show notes, we have a link to Classic FM‘s story about this, which is better balanced than most of the coverage out there.

Okay, there’s another controversy brewing this week in a very different corner of the dance world. As reported by Rolling Stone, 10 former Lady Gaga dancers have accused Richy Jackson, the pop star’s longtime choreographer, of creating an “unsafe” and “unhealthy” workplace. This news started to break earlier this month, as Lady Gaga began her Chromatica Ball Tour, and at that point, some of these dancers revealed on social media that they would not be dancing on the tour, at least in part because of Jackson’s behavior. And it’s all especially striking because many of them have danced with Gaga for years and years. Montana Efaw, who I think was the first to speak out? She’s worked with her since 2009.

Amy Brandt:

Right.

Margaret Fuhrer:

So these are pretty major decisions.

Amy Brandt:

And I also think they’ve been quite clear that they’re not talking about Lady Gaga here, that this is all directed towards Richy Jackson.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah, I believe so. Rolling Stone did a really good job reporting this all out, so we’ve linked that story, too.

Amy Brandt:

Variety reports that, following the abrupt closure of Broadway’s Paradise Square, which is facing a series of lawsuits related to unpaid wages and benefit contributions, several cast members have posted allegations of bullying and poor management on social media. A lot of the anger is pointed towards producer Garth Drabinsky, who in the past has been convicted of fraud and forgery. A lot of the grievances started all the way back when the production was at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, where it first got its legs before its Broadway run.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah. At the risk of sounding flippant about what are ultimately very serious accusations, there has been some hot tea spilling all over social media for the past couple of weeks. Variety did a really thorough story, kind of pulling all the threads together. That’s in the show notes, so I hope you can take a look at that.

Another Broadway show is closing due to softer than expected ticket sales. Mr. Saturday Night, starring Billy Crystal and choreographed by Eleanor Scott, will give its final performance on September 4th. The show began its official run on April 27th.

Amy Brandt:

That surprised me a little bit—a name like Billy Crystal, that it would still close so soon.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah.

Amy Brandt:

Utah’s Odyssey Dance Theatre will close after 28 years. The company will give its final performance in Draper, Utah in October.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Odyssey Dance Theatre is sort of a Utah institution. A former colleague of ours who grew up in Utah said that dancing in their Thriller production at Halloween as a kid, was like a dance rite of passage on par with being in the Nutcracker. In fact, I think a lot of kids would one year be a polichinelle in a Nutcracker production, the next year be a baby zombie in Thriller.

Amy Brandt:

Yeah. That will be their last performance, is Thriller.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Dance/NYC has begun a major census project that aims to count every dance worker in the New York city area, from performers to teachers to scholars to administrators, everybody working in dance. The organization says that gathering that data will help them identify economic gaps in the industry and create tools that will help address those inequities. We have a link to the census page in the show notes. If you are in the New York area, please do take a moment to fill it out. It can make such a difference.

Amy Brandt:

What about dance writers and editors? Can they participate?

Margaret Fuhrer:

I filled it out yesterday! Yup.

Amy Brandt:

Oh, okay! Good to know.

Here’s some fun news. A street on New York City’s upper west side has been named for Ballet Hispánico. The city council designated the block of West 89th Street, between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenue, as Ballet Hispánico Way, on July 14th. Very fun.

Margaret Fuhrer:

There’s a new documentary in the works about Final Bow for Yellowface, the organization led by Phil Chan and Georgina Pazcoguin, friends of the pod, that has been working tirelessly to improve Asian inclusion and representation in ballet and in dance more broadly. The documentary is called Beyond Yellowface, and it has not yet announced a premiere date, but you can follow the project @beyondyellowface on Instagram for updates.

Amy Brandt:

American Ballet Theatre has announced its fall season, which will be October 20th through 30th at New York City’s David H. Koch Theater. The season includes the world premier of Christopher Rudd’s LIFTED, as well as five performances of Alexei Ratmansky’s Whipped Cream. A mixed repertoire program honoring outgoing artistic director Kevin McKenzie will bring back Frederick Ashton’s The Dream, Jiří Kylián’s Sinfonietta, Alexei Ratmansky’s The Seasons, and Jessica Lang’s Children’s Songs Dance.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Here’s another season announcement. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s annual New York City Center Season, running November 30th to December 24th, will include a world premier by Kyle Abraham, who is literally everywhere these days, my goodness; the company premier of Twyla Tharp’s Roy’s Joys; and a new production of Ailey’s Survivors, which is his tribute to Nelson and Winnie Mandela. So, lots to look forward to there.

Amy Brandt:

Yeah. Joshua Bergasse will direct and choreograph Sugar Hill: The Ellington/Strayhorn Nutcracker, a jazzy reimagining of the holiday ballet that celebrates the music of Harlem’s Sugar Hill. The production will premiere at Pittsburgh’s Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, from October 19th through 30th, before moving to New York City Center on November 15th through 27th. Jade Hale-Christofi will also choreograph, with additional choreography by Caleb Teicher and Jon Boogz. Graciela Daniele and Carmen de Lavallade are also attached to the production as dance consultants.

Margaret Fuhrer:

That is a pretty all-star dance team. It’s encouraging that it feels like Josh Bergasse is maybe seeking out artists who have more direct connections to this music and to the jazz culture that shaped it. Curious to see what that will be.

In dance TV news, “Dancing With the Stars” has announced that Alfonso Ribeiro, the winner of its 19th season, will join Tyra Banks as co-host of the show when it moves to Disney+ this fall. And never forget, by the way, that this is actually a reunion, because Tyra Banks played Jackie Ames on the “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” back in 1993. I do love that fun fact. The show also announced that Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Naba, Bruno Tonioli, and Derek Hough will all be returning as judges

Amy Brandt:

Paris Opera Ballet étoile Alice Renavand was in the midst of her retirement performance of Giselle on July 13th—which, by the way, this also happened to be her first time in the role—when she injured herself on-stage and could no longer go on. An understudy stepped in for the 42 year old dancer to finish the ballet, although Renavand was able to hobble out for bows. Thankfully, POB leaders announced that she will have another chance to reschedule her retirement performance next season. But I just can’t even imagine.

Margaret Fuhrer:

I think I’ve had a version of that nightmare—it’s an actual, literal nightmare. But bravo to POB for immediately inviting her back for that do-over for her farewell performance.

Swinging the pendulum back to happy news now: Dexter Mayfield, the dance artist and host of the show “Come Dance With Me,” is Out magazine’s swimsuit issue cover star. Mayfield’s cover is actually a body positive recreation of the magazine’s 2006 swimsuit cover. Congratulations to Dexter. He’s one of our just forever favorites.

Amy Brandt:

Yeah. A pair of Margot Fonteyn pointe shoes and 10 rare prints of Vaslav Nijinsky are going up for auction this month in the UK. The items were collected by Walter Johnson and are being sold by 1818 Auctioneers, so, get your paddle boards ready.

Margaret Fuhrer:

If you were on TikTok, or really just anywhere in the general vicinity of the internet this past week, you probably already know that Beyoncé has made her long-awaited TikTok debut. The star joined TikTok back in December, but only recently posted her first video to the platform, which features clips of fans and celebrities dancing to her new song, “Break My Soul.” And Twitch and Allison Holker are among those celebrities, by the way. She pointedly tagged all of the creators included in the mashup too, which, good form, Beyoncé. For the record, she has since then posted a second TikTok video, which is very cool, although much less dancey.

Amy Brandt:

Go, Beyoncé.

And, finally, Philippe Cohen, who was artistic director of the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève for 19 years, has died of cancer at the age of 69.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Another big loss for the ballet world.

Amy Brandt:

Yeah.

Margaret Fuhrer:

That is the end of our official headline rundown, but if you are looking for even more current news, please do be sure to check out our Dance Media Events Calendar, which has fully updated listings of lots of performances and events, including things that we just don’t have time to get to here on the podcast. So to make sure that you’re not missing out on any upcoming shows or auditions, or to add your own events to the calendar, because you can do that too, head to dancemediacalendar.com.

Okay, so moving now into our longer discussion segment. Today, we wanted to use a recent Dance Magazine article as a jumping off point for a conversation about how dancers think about and approach self-care. Because, historically, dancers have not been taught to prioritize their own wellness. The mentality in a lot of the dance world, and we talk about this often, has traditionally been, sacrifice whatever you need to for the sake of your art, including your own body.

But we have all just experienced the collective trauma of the pandemic. In fact, we are still experiencing it. It is not yet over. And that has shifted many artists’ perspectives on the preciousness of our bodies. The Dance Magazine story talks to four professional dancers about how they created blueprints for self-care during shutdowns, both physical and mental health practices, and how they are continuing those practices as they return now to live performance.

Amy Brandt:

Yeah, I guess you could say that really is one of the gifts of the pandemic, is that it did give dancers this vast amount of time to think about these things and to develop these practices that they could then bring with them, once their dance career started up again. Sometimes when you’re forced to stop and deal with these massive emotions and challenges—rarely do we ever have time. Anyone, even outside of dance, rarely do we ever have time to be able to sit with ourselves and develop these sort of wellness routines, to do trial and error and just see what works and what helps you stay grounded.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah, and there’s a connection here to something that we talked about in the last episode’s segment on dancing with long COVID, and that’s this idea that dancers are thought of, and also taught to think of themselves, as superhuman, which makes it really hard to ever concede vulnerability. But going through this pandemic has made the stakes here much higher and therefore much more apparent. Physical and mental health have to be at the top of our list of priorities, rather than the bottom.

Amy Brandt:

Yeah, because I have to say, when I was dancing, the concept of mental health was not really there. Not like it wasn’t there, but it was sort of like, unless you had an eating disorder …

Margaret Fuhrer:

Which has a physical manifestation.

Amy Brandt:

Right. You were expected to kind of just suck everything up. I didn’t know a lot of dancers who were going to therapy to discuss the heavy emotions that they feel and struggle with because of their dance career, because of the pressures, because of the stress—physical stress, financial stress, the stress of your career only lasting so long, dealing with competition, job scarcity, et cetera. There are all these things that, I don’t know, I just feel like, for the longest time, nobody really asked for help with those things. You just kind of had to internalize it and deal with it.

Margaret Fuhrer:

And now that’s becoming a more widely accepted practice, yeah.

Amy Brandt:

That conversation was starting way before the pandemic, this idea of mental health in dance, but I think the pandemic kind of helped accelerate that conversation more.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah. Several of the dancers featured in this story talked about how important the cultivation of outside interests became during the pandemic, and how continuing to invest in those non-dance interests has made them better artists as they’ve come back to performing, which is like a variation on a theme we come back to a lot—that often, the broader your artistic horizons are, then the deeper your dance artistry can go. And some of them also mentioned how important meditation had become to their daily routine—taking time to slow down and ground yourself, especially now that the world has begun to open up and the pace of life has sped up again.

Amy Brandt:

Yeah. I feel like almost every dancer in that article talked about meditation.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah. Really, the throughline of this story, and in a way, the throughline of many pandemic related stories, is gaining a better sense of perspective. This hard stop of shutdowns allowing artists to see themselves more completely, and in turn, to realize that taking care of yourself is not an act of selfishness. It’s an act of self-compassion. Hopefully, we only see more of that going forward.

Amy Brandt:

Yeah. Was it Amber Ardolino who talked about kind of allowing for those little pleasures? She kind of referenced it in her diet, that she eats for energy and for health and everything, but she also enjoys flaming hot Cheetos at the end of the day. That’s like her little gift to herself to feed her soul a little bit. I know I definitely do that. I have my two frozen peppermint patties I have every night, that I keep in the freezer—

Margaret Fuhrer:

Ooh, frozen.

Amy Brandt:

Yeah!

Margaret Fuhrer:

I’ve got to try that.

Amy Brandt:

It makes it last a little bit longer. It prolongs the experience a little bit. It’s just something I look forward to every single day. It’s like my little reward for getting through the day, every night. My two frozen peppermint patties.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Pleasure is important.

Amy Brandt:

Yeah.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Pleasure for pleasure’s sake is important. Anyway, writer Haley Hilton did a really beautiful job with this piece. Hi, Haley, if you’re listening. We’ve got the whole thing linked in the show notes, of course.

All right, that’s it for this week. Thanks everyone for joining us. We’ll be back in two weeks for more discussion of the news that’s moving the dance world. Keep learning, keep advocating, and keep dancing.

Amy Brandt:

Bye, everyone.