Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ballet Babble Interview with Taylor Gordon a Freelance Dancer in NYC

Taylor Gordon
: 23

: 5'4"

: Massachusetts

Received training at
: Boston Ballet, The Rock School, Ballet Academy East, ABT, Miami City Ballet


Photo Credit Brian Mengini

Where did it all begin? A lot of dancers were hooked at their first Nutcracker viewing, what was it for you? My family owned and ran a local dance studio in my small hometown, so I grew up dancing as soon as I could walk! I took class with "the big girls" by age 3 and loved being onstage. I started getting serious after seeing Boston Ballet's Nutcracker around age 5 and then joined the school the following year.

What age were you put on pointe?
I started pointe class when I was 10 but just at barre. I was a young one in my level and started slow.

Did you have a teacher that inspired you or that you credit for most of your training?
My current teacher Kat Wildish has been an amazing inspiration, coach, and mentor. I started working with her after I completed my full ballet training, but she gave me the confidence and guidance to work professionally. She constantly challenges me, picking at my technique and artistic choices - but it's amazing to work with someone who knows you so well as both a dancer and a person.

I've seen dancers do crazy things to pointe shoes, even pour water all over them. What type of pointe shoes do you wear and do have a routine for them like ripping out the shank and gluing it back in, or....?
I wear Capezios and have my break-in routine down pat: first I rip the inner soles out so I can feel more grounded in the shoe. I cut down the shank a little lower than ¾ of the way down – I’ve always had “bad feet” and that helps me create better lines. After sewing on the ribbons I put the shoe on and wet all around the bunion area so it softens up and molds to my foot.

Do you use toe pads? Have you tried with out? Do you think there is any benefit to not wearing them?
I’ve been wearing these wonderful things called “Happy Toes” made by So Danca since my 2nd year of pointe after being required to use just lambswool (ouch). They are pink and only cover the top and tips of the toes instead of continuing under the ball of the foot like most toe pads, and I love how they let me feel the bottom of my shoe. They’re really hard to find in the US but they last a long time.

How do you handle blisters, I noticed you had one in the middle of your crazy Nutcracker schedule?
Luckily I hardly ever get blisters, but yes, I did have a bad one during my Nutcracker season. Using Orajel to numb the area around it helps as well as Second Skin or a normal blister band-aid. Mine was so bad on the bottom of my arch that I put 2 round corn pads over it so my shoe would rub against that instead of the open skin. Ow!

Do you consider yourself flexible? Do you have a stretching routine?
I’ve always been limber but I’m definitely not one of those gumby dancers, haha. The most important things for me to stretch are my hip flexors and my calves. I run around between dance jobs and desk jobs, so sitting down a lot makes my hips tight. I like to lay down with a yoga block under my pelvis, hug one knee into my chest, and let the other leg fall to the floor to release the front of the hip. I also love using a yoga strap to get deep into my quads and hamstrings (but don’t get to do that nearly as much as I’d like!)

Didn't you used to dance for the Rockettes? Where else have you danced and do you have a dream job? Yep, I danced in the ensemble of The Radio City Christmas Spectacular for two years. It was such a fun show in such a gorgeous, enormous theater! It was also a great experience to break out of the ballet realm and tap into musical theater more. Next up for me is The Metropolitan Opera Ballet this spring, which is definitely one of my dream jobs! That’s one of ballet’s greatest stages and I’m so excited to perform at Lincoln Center! Besides that I’ve danced with a ton of small companies around the city, including Exit 12 Dance Company, Ballet for Young Audiences, Rebecca Kelly Ballet, Albano Ballet, New American Youth Ballet, Untitled|Collective, Push Factor Dance Company, DTW's Studio Series/Oren Barnoy, Felice Lesser Dance Theater, and several independent choreographers. I’ve been in an episode of MTV’s MADE and have done promotional performances for XBOX Kinect, Dancing with the Stars, and others.

How do you manage your crazy schedule, can you tell us what roles you had this season?
It’s not easy! But there’s so much I want to do in life and so much I want to dance…I’m always happiest when I have just a little too much to do, haha. Luckily everyone I work with understands my insanity and is flexible with my schedule (thank goodness!). As for roles this fall season: a contemporary part in Jeremy McQueen’s “Concerto Nuovo,” a robot ballerina in Felice Lesser’s “Funding the Arts,” and 11 different parts in 2 productions of “The Nutcracker,” including Clara, 2 versions of doll, snow soloist, snow corps, Arabian, marzipan, Chinese, party parent, mouse, and waltz of the flowers.

Do you have a day job and how flexible are they with your dance schedule?
I work part-time at a publicity agency as office assistant. I’ve been here 2 years now and am extremely fortunate to have found a day job that will work around my audition and rehearsal schedule. I’ve never had to wait tables or anything like that, which is great because I have a college degree AND a master’s degree. I seem to have found a good balance between “starving artist” and being able to afford rent in NYC comfortably.

Don't you teach pilates? When did you get certified for that? Do you think it is a good "day" job for dancers? Yes! I received my certification from Pilates Academy International/Pilates on Fifth while I was recovering from having surgery on my Achilles. I had taken Pilates a lot while in ballet school but didn’t fully appreciate its benefits until facing an injury. Pilates has made me so much stronger and I love teaching and helping others find that strength. I teach regularly at Sanctuary Pilates, Gold’s Gym, and Synergy Fitness. You can see my full teaching schedule of 8 classes/week for 2012 here (https://www.google.com/calendar/embed?src=r5upuiao5i6i48pna0d2ckls04%40group.calendar.google.com&ctz=America/New_York)

What about college? Doesn't seem to have a place in most dancer's lives?
I believe college is extremely important for dancers to become well-rounded people. My path was non-traditional: I graduated from high school at age 16, received my BA degree in Communication Arts from Marymount Manhattan college by age 19, and completed my master’s degree in publishing by age 20. I guess I’m a dork and have always loved school, haha. I miss it.

Was/is your family supportive of your dancing?
I am so grateful for all the support my family has given me over the years and I honestly would never be where I am now without them. My mom and grandmother ran our hometown dance studio, so it’s definitely a dance family. My whole family would drive me in and out of Boston an hour each way for ballet classes. They come to any performances they can. It’s wonderful.

Who is your favorite ballet dancer?
I don’t have just one! There are so many gorgeous artists out there and I feel like watching each of them gives you something to add to your own dancing.

What advice do you have for other girls wanting to dance in NYC? If they don’t get into a big company what are their options?
Dancing in NYC is difficult not only because the talent pool is rich and large but because living in NYC is hard enough alone. As young dancers we’re often trained to believe that our only goal is to be a prima ballerina in a major company, when in reality there are so many other options if you really want to dance. You have to be willing to put up with a LOT to do what you love. Audition for everything, take class with different people, meet everyone you can, take every opportunity at the beginning. Even if you start off dancing for free, if you stick it out a freelance career will grow.

Do you do other types of dance besides ballet?
Ballet has always been my main focus, but I love jazz and musical theater dance as well. I’ve done some lovely modern work as well, but that’s more challenging for me personally.

Have you had any bad experiences with diva type of dancers or demanding directors/choreographers ? They say you have to have thick skin for this industry, do you agree? You most definitely have to have thick skin in this industry. Unfortunately, because dance is a physical activity, our bodies are our tools. You have to find a way to separate your self-esteem in dance and in life, I think. It’s hard. Directors can be awful sometimes, but once you experience that you learn more about yourself and more about the kind of people you’d rather be working with. The nice ones are out there – you just have to look!

What is your dream role and why? And what is your favorite ballet?
Again, there are so many! I would love to dance Juliet in Romeo & Juliet. I think that’s probably my favorite ballet. Such gorgeous music. When ABT does it at the Met I super with them (ie. stand onstage as an extra) and I get to watch those top notch dancers up close in those roles. Right now I’m really intrigued by telling a story through dance, and developing my acting and artistry in a way that builds character onstage. This year I’ve gotten to dance the lead in 2 full-length ballets and that has given me the opportunity to flesh out ideas that I never had the chance to.

Do you listen to classical music at all outside of ballet? If not what do you like?
Classical music is always beautiful – especially if it’s NOT the music you hear over and over again in ballet class day in and day out, haha. Besides classical I like just general easy listening or pop – I’m not a great one to ask about current music, but whatever Pandora plays is usually good, haha.

What was it like shooting with Brian Mengini, do you enjoy photo shoots?
Brian is awesome! I had seen his photos online for a while and we connected on Twitter and really wanted to work together. I went down for his EmpoweredMe project and it was a great shoot. I NEVER like dance photos of myself – don’t have the pretty feet or hyperextended legs I’ve always wanted – but all of his photos were lovely! I was so impressed and I really hope I get to work with him again.

Photo Credit Brian Mengini

How did you get into writing/blogging?
I’ve done creative writing since about age 5 when I’d make up poems about dogs and ice cream. When I got to college I got more serious about it and I interned at Pointe Magazine. They let me write just small blurbs because I was just getting started, but after that I had so much to say about dance that I started my own blog (www.turnedin.blogspot.com) and contributed to The Winger (www.thewinger.com) when it was still so new. From there I slowly built up a portfolio of print clips in publications like Dance Teacher, Movmnt, and M Life Magazine Las Vegas. Things get so busy so I don’t always have as much time to pitch article ideas as I’d like, but I really enjoy the process of writing.

Would you ever dance anywhere besides NYC? Have you always been a city girl?
Actually I really badly want to dance in Europe! I love NYC and am most definitely a city girl, but I’m starting to feel like I may have more options elsewhere. I don’t really want to move to another city in the US (what’s better than NYC?! Haha) so I love the idea of going abroad. We’ll see!

Do you have time for a social life? If so what do you like to do?
My social life often takes a back seat to work, but when I do have free time I love exploring NYC, sitting in coffee shops, going to yummy Italian dinners, reading (dance autobiographies are a favorite), and going to see other performances. I’m also a big fan of Glee, Friends, and Sex & the City J

Your favorite quote?
‘Follow your dreams.’ But why be a follower when you can be a leader?

Please add anything else you'd like to say that I wouldn't know to ask about ;)
I’m beyond grateful to be doing what I love in the city of my dreams! Thanks for a great interview! :)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nutcracker 2011

I guess I should have been blogging the whole time but there just wasn't time. I was dancing about 25 hours a week and was at the studio 7 days a week, sometimes twice! Of course this year has to be named the best of all because I was cast as Clara. Honestly I was not expecting it because I am new to this studio. I was understudy last year at my old studio then my teacher relocated. So I had little hope of actually getting the part especially since my teacher was not involved in casting and he knows me best . Anyway I got it and it was amazing just like I thought it would be. Here I am with Miss Robin. She was one of the people that selected me for Clara :)

Unfortunately I did not get to dance with a good friend of mine who was cast as prince because I was an inch taller than him. But other than that I cannot complain at all. The dress was really pretty, a little heavy, but so pretty. I guess some Mom's had pitched in on a year prior to get a new dress. Glad they did. Saw the old one. Not pretty! :) Sorry but it wasn't, so I can see why they did that! I loved the nightgown too for Dream Scene, which was my favorite part by the way. I love the fog and the mice and it's so dramatic. I really am so happy I got to play this part and I would totally do it again ! I don't know how my mom would feel about rolling all those ringlets again for dress rehearsal and each show, 5 times this year counting the parade! Luckily they lasted overnight for the student show. She also had to do Kyla's ringlets for gingersnap and candy cane 9 times for every show and dress rehearsal.

Actually at San Diego Ballet they have the backstage volunteers roll hair for "quality" control. I guess not all moms can do it. But I couldn't get over it. I have never been at a studio where they do everyone's hair for curls. Pretty impressive.

As far as rehearsals I was usually there a couple hours on Saturday and all day Sunday mostly. Then of course there is a tech and dress rehearsal for each theater. Except for this Christmas festival we did. Now that was interesting. But I have to say very, very fun. First year they did it and I don't think they advertised too well because it was a smaller crowd but I'd dance in a parking lot for stray cats if I was given the choice to dance or not! So for me it was fun. The airport is right there and the planes were coming in just next to the giant stage . Kind of cool actually. Our dressing room was a tent and it was cold outside! But again... really, really fun.

The funniest things from this year was when this little boy Pearson had to stand in for the sheep that runs out and around a company dancer because the other sheep wasn't ready. So he runs out but not far enough around the dancer and he got kicked and you heard him yell out "hey" it was hilarious. Then one night, again with the sheep, we were rehearsing for the student show and the sheep were gone so 2 teen girls were goofing off and started to come out as the little sheep and Javier yells at the top of his lungs from a seat in the audience "No Messing Around" it was pretty funny :) Javier is the other Artistic director along with Robin. He also plays Drosselmeyer. He does teach one of my classes too. I like his class because he moves quickly. He is the other person that helped select me for Clara. Thank you Javier!

The final show was the best because w got a standing ovation and a lot of the student's parents were there and all my family was there. I got a ton of flowers and got to take photos after the show with some little kids in my costume. I hope they are inspired to stay with ballet like me!

Oh and the absolute best part of all of it was my teacher Mr. Max was Cavalier and I got to curtsey to him and bow with him and Sugar Plum played by Abby Avery. It was the most amazing experience ever! I didn't want it to end. I always feel that way, except the year I got soldier for the 2nd time :), but especially this year. I'd also like to say that Dew Drop played by
Stephanie Maiorano was perfect. You can click on their names or go to this link to see all of the company . The guys are very nice and funny too, especially Matt Carney.

So now we roll from Nutcracker into Summer Intensive Auditions and for some YAGP. I plan to do YAGP next year when I turn 14. I haven't felt totally ready up to this point but I think by this time next year I can do a good job not just an okay job. I'll keep blogging. Sorry it has been slow but we have been super busy and my mom has to help me so there you go. More coming soon! :)