Tag Archives: Dance

Iconic Thriller Re-awakens “The Dancing” Dead

By Guest Blogger, Laura Bond Williams, Butler Center for Dance & Fitness member

In 2008, and Ballet Austin’s Butler Center for Dance & Fitness had re-awakened me to the possibilities of becoming a dancer—at age 38. That fall I took a thrilling step forward as a dancer and performer when I joined 800+ other local dancers to participate in “Thrill the World” at the Long Center, joining tens of thousands of movers worldwide to set a Guinness World Record for simultaneously dancing Thriller. That experience—and several more over the last seven years—are why I appreciate and celebrate Thriller as a way for people to connect with their bodies, channel their creativity and claim dance for themselves.


Image from 2008’s Thrill the World at the Long Center. Photo Credit tibbygirl via Flickr CC.

That day, lying flat and “playing dead” on the warm concrete plaza of our city’s performing arts center, we waited for the opening notes and footsteps that mark the beginning of Michael Jackson’s legendary song. Together—women and men of all ages and races—we slowly rose to life, our bodies play-fighting against gravity. Acting our roles as stumbling, bumbling living dead, rising from our graves and ready to…dance. Thriller’s famous fanfare brings us to our feet, and we stare straight ahead, enlivened by the music. The beat drops, and we walk, slowly. Right. Pause. Left. Pause. Right. Pause. Left. Pause.

One of my favorite Broadway dance teachers often quips “if you can walk, you can dance.” (Please note: walking is not even a prerequisite for dancing, as beautiful dance troupes such as Austin’s Body Shift dancers demonstrate.) As we stumbled right-left-right-left across the Long Center plaza, I realized this truth: when we are moved by music, we are dancing.

If you were alive and young in 1984, then Thriller connects your present body to your past. Perhaps you watched Friday night music videos while sitting next to your VCR, waiting for the Thriller video to air so you could tape it and watch it over and over. Thirty-one years later, Thriller still stirs the same reactions.

But you don’t have to be middle-aged to be excited by Thriller. This year, I taught Thriller to a group of young dancers, and we performed it at as a flash mob at an Alamo Drafthouse movie theatre. I gave them only two pieces of advice on costumes: Find some mud and some blood, and if your costume is too clean or too cute, it’s not a zombie.

People of all ages dressing as zombies for Thriller. Photo Credit

People of all ages at Ballet Austin dressed as zombies for Thriller. Photo Credit Laura Bond Williams

These 9–13-year-olds—and many of their parents—channeled ghastly princess and cheerleader zombies and night-of-the-living-dead zombies in white t-shirts, flannel and jeans, drizzled in dirt, leaves, mud and fake blood.

For adults, learning and performing Thriller is a way for us to claim our identity as dancers. For most of us “flash mobbers,” our identity as dancer may fall behind our roles as spouses, parents, and/or professionals. But the identity is no less dear. Last month I met a successful nonprofit executive whose career is a model and inspiration for many. Our conversation spanned many personal and professional subjects, and when we touched on the topic of dance, we went to a whole new shared space and she shared with me that she was starting Ballet Austin’s Thriller workshop. Her enthusiasm and excitement for tackling this iconic dance was palpable.

Photo Credit Laura Bond Williams

Photo Credit Laura Bond Williams

In less than six minutes—from a creaky door to an evil cackle—Thriller brings us back to life, living in our bodies, channeling our creativity and declaring our love of dance. As Vincent Price reminds us in rap: “For whosoever shall be found without the soul for getting down, may stand and face the hounds of hell and rot inside a corpse’s shell.”

Ballet Austin offers Thriller workshops every year! And with Halloween around the corner… Go ahead dancers. Thrill the world.

Creative Ballet at the Ballet Austin Academy

by Joan Wolfe, Creative Ballet Curriculum Director

Creative Movement

Group of Creative Ballet students ready for the new school year. (Photo Credit Jessica Pino)

Group of Creative Ballet students ready for the new school year. (Photo Credit Jessica Pino)

What is creative movement? I get asked this question often. With 30 years of teaching experience I have many thoughts on the subject and I’ll get to those in a minute. But recently I’ve been asking parents what they think creative movement is, and what it does for their child.

Parents mention the physical benefits—coordination, balance, and strength. Some feel classes help their child get a head start on becoming a dancer. But what I hear most often is that they are unsure what creative movement is. They simply know their child loves to move and they love Creative Ballet. And by the look on their faces during class, they do!

To this list add social and emotional benefits, children learn best in groups. They connect, interact, learn to share, respect others and respond to what they see. They experience the boost in confidence that comes with, “What a fun idea—I’ll try that again!” and, “I did it!”

There’s also cognitive development, the relationship of movement to intellectual growth. Movement can provide the connection between an idea or problem, and the outcome or solution. This is often referred to as kinesthetic learning and is being modeled in educational settings around the country.

There is another area of movement research that’s in its infancy—the study of movement on neural patterning or brain-compatible dance. The BrainDance developed by Anne Green Gilbert is one such approach. I have included the BrainDance in my curriculum since I was introduced to Anne several summers ago. Ballet Austin has supported me in attending her workshops where I continue to receive information about the mind/body connection. I’d like to share with you what brain-compatible dance education is and how we use it in your child’s class.

Creative Ballet Curriculum Director Joan Wolfe with a group of Creative Ballet students.

Creative Ballet Curriculum Director Joan Wolfe with a group of Creative Ballet students.

The 8 BrainDance Patterns

  1. Breath
  2. Tactile
  3. Core-Distal
  4. Head-Tail
  5. Upper-Lower
  6. Body Side
  7. Cross Lateral
  8. Vestibular

The 8 activities in the BrainDance are based on the 8 movement patterns all humans will experience in the first year of life. These movement patterns develop the foundation of all human movement and hardwire the brain for future learning. Moving through these patterns on a daily basis after the first year of life continues to support brain and body development in the areas of:

  • Sensory-Motor Development; eye tracking, balance, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, focus, sensory integration, and memory.
  • Increased flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.
  • Increased core strength, postural strength, and coordination.

At the beginning of each class, we explore each pattern by integrating dance concepts and using a variety of movements, dance games, songs, and props. This allows for a balance of repetition and imagination that keeps children engaged.


How the Patterns Develop

  • Babies do their own BrainDance very naturally in the first twelve months of life, especially if placed on their tummies as much as possible during infancy.
  • Baby’s first breath starts the wires growing from the brain cells.
  • Tactile stimulation begins with the first touch of skin on skin and is essential for promoting appropriate behavior and emotional and social intelligence.
  • In the first two months of life, the baby will reach into space in order to connect with her environment and curl back into the womb position, demonstrating the core-distal.
  • At two months, the baby has better head control and will lift and turn the head in both directions continuing the head-tail pattern begun at birth.
  • Discovering the upper and lower body halves comes next as the baby pushes with the arms and hands and then with feet and knees.
  • Between five and seven months, the baby reaches with one side of the body, moving the left half of the body as one unit and then the right half. As the baby crawls on her belly she will develop horizontal eye tracking.
  • Between seven and nine months, baby pushes herself up onto hands and knees and begins a cross lateral reach from the upper body. Vertical eye tracking is part of the growth triggered by creeping on hands and knees. The convergence of horizontal and vertical eye tracking is essential for reading. From one year onward cross lateral patterns appear in walking, running and eventually skipping.
  • The vestibular system begins developing in utero and continues to be very active through the first fifteen months as baby rolls, crawls, creeps, sits up, and walks. The vestibular system analyzes movements through the whole body, helps us know where we are in space and links up to all forms of sensory information. This very important system is used when we read, hear, speak, touch, balance, and move. Every movement stimulates the vestibular system which stimulates the brain.

I know firsthand the joy children experience when dancing. Now we can explore the fascinating science behind the dance.   If you would like to find out more, please visit:

Amazing Babies Moving
Creative Dance

Parent Watch Week

To see the BrainDance in action, as well as all the other amazing things your children do, mark your calendars for our first observation day during your child’s regular class time the week of October 19 – 24. Families welcome.

Ballet Austin Company Dancer Shares What It’s Like Working With New Choreographers

By Oliver Greene-Cramer, Ballet Austin Company Dancer

Company dancers Christopher Swaim, Jaime Lynn Witts and Oliver Greene-Cramer in the studio learning a new piece by Pam Tanowitz (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Company dancers Christopher Swaim, Jaime Lynn Witts and Oliver Greene-Cramer in the studio learning a new piece by Pam Tanowitz (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Working with a new choreographer is often a very rewarding experience for a dancer. We get pushed and inspired in new ways while working in the familiarity of our own studio. As with many companies, at Ballet Austin we have the pleasure of working with multiple guest choreographers during the season. This season being no exception, Pam Tanowitz and Pontus Lidberg will be setting work on us for the Director’s Choice performance in February.

There are many different ways that choreographers choose to work with the company. From playing games to get to know us all the way, to just setting already choreographed steps. It’s always interesting to work in new ways. Even if you don’t end up being featured in the piece there are still opportunities to discover something new in the audition.

Working With Pam Tanowitz

Choreographer Pam Tanowitz in the Ballet Austin studios (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Choreographer Pam Tanowitz in the Ballet Austin studios (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

One the most interesting processes came to us this week with Pam Tanowitz and her assistant Melissa Toogood. Based in New York, Pam is quite aesthetically similar to Merce Cunningham. Her almost pedestrian intention and love for chance echoes many of Cunningham’s methods. The piece that Pam set on us, Early that Summer, had already been created, but instead of merely giving us steps Pam wanted to work with us on changing and modifying the piece so it felt natural for our bodies. Both Pam and Melissa spoke to us about adhering to technical purity, while also fulfilling the steps in our own way. Any piece becomes far more interesting for the dancers with that kind of collaboration. Pam also spoke about how much she loves to discover new things in an old concept.

Another distinct aspect of this particular piece is that Pam didn’t choreograph to specific counts. Instead of adhering to a strict musicality, she instead encouraged the dancers to find the natural rhythm of the group, as well as our own individual movements. As a ballet company, this is a very foreign concept for many of us because so much of what we do is very defined with unison and formations. While being scary at points, it is very exciting and liberating to find such freedom, as well as making personal choices.

Limited Studio Time

Pam Tanowitz sets choreography for upcoming debut in Director's Choice. Company Dancers Christopher Swaim and Oliver Greene-Cramer pictured. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Pam Tanowitz sets choreography for upcoming debut in Director’s Choice. Company Dancers Christopher Swaim and Oliver Greene-Cramer pictured. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

In the case of Pam we only had one week to put this piece together, and for most guest choreographers we only have a few weeks. Regardless of how brief the process is, it is really wonderful to connect with the new work.

Next up is Pontus Lidberg who we work with for three weeks in October before Ballet Austin travels to Florida to perform Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project and before the fourteen performances of The Nutcracker.

We look forward to sharing all of these with you and hope you enjoy the works from Pam Tanowitz and Pontus Lidberg featured in Director’s Choice as much as we do.

Why Do YOU Dance?

By Vicki Parsons, Butler Center for Dance & Fitness Director

I knew at a very young age that I loved to move my body. Whether it was playing tag with the neighborhood kiddos, hiking, swimming, or one of many sports, I loved it! And while dance lessons were not on the list, I can tell you that when the music played, I could not be still.

I fondly remember the dance craze of the 60’s: The Twist, the Mashed Potato, the Loco-motion. And if you grew up in the 70’s you probably grooved to the Funky Chicken and YMCA. Every generation has their dance – dance has always been, and will always be.

America’s Dance Craze

America’s fascination with dance exploded with the popularity of So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars. Last summer, ballerina Misty Copeland’s breathtaking Under Armour ad brought ballet into our living rooms.

Dance can be seen on billboards, in TV commercials, and sells everything from Mountain Dew to cell phone service. The rising interest in dance as an alternative form of exercise has positively impacted the fitness industry.

Why Do YOU Dance?


People love to dance. But why? I decided to play roving reporter at Ballet Austin’s Butler Dance Education Center this past week and investigate. I didn’t have to rove far since  we bring dance to adults of all ages and ability levels 7 days a week. I walked from studio to studio asking people, “Why do you dance?” I asked professional company dancers, dance instructors, people sitting in the lobby, children in our kid’s camp… I even asked the barista at Starbucks and took to Twitter to hear what people had to say! 

“Dance is one of the things that brings me the most joy!”

 Tara Alperin, Butler Center Instructor

“Dance has always moved me.”  – Company dancer Orlando Canova

A photo posted by Ballet Austin (@balletaustin) on


“I dance to chase the crazies away.”

– John, Starbucks Barista

“I dance to work out. It’s a fun and positive way to exercise. I have lost 18 lbs. dancing!”

– Laura, Butler Center Member

“Nadanam, manidhanaaga pirandha ovvoruvanum alli alli paruga vendiya amurdhamada adhu!”

Prakash Mohandas, Butler Center Bollywood Instructor

“I dance because it’s like physical journaling; a way to speak when I don’t have the words. Sometimes it’s happy, sometimes it’s sad, but I always get that amazing feeling of release once I’ve done it.”

– Boo Ruis, Butler Center Instructor

“Yo bailo, porque el baile es vida, es una expresión de creatividad, es arte en movimiento, es mi libertad”

– Janet Alvarado, Butler Center Customer Relations

“We celebrate Dance, revel in the universality of this art form. Dance crosses all political, cultural and ethnic barriers and brings people together with a common language – Dance.

World Organization for the Performing Arts

“I dance because I don’t really have a choice…when I hear good music, my body just reacts to it with movement. It’s the best feeling.”

– Hannah Brightwell, Butler Center Instructor 

Now tell us why you dance at @BalletAustinCTR !

The Third Day Theory

By Anne Marie Melendez, Ballet Austin Company Dancer

The third day is always the worst. Your alarm goes off in the morning and the simple action of rolling over to shut it off is painful. Your neck is stiff,  your arms are aching, your back spasms, and your abdominal muscles feel torn. And then, you try to stand up.

First day back in the studios (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

First day back in the studios (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

First Day Back

Coming back to work as a professional dancer after a three month layoff (sometimes longer!) can be similar to your “First Day of School.” It’s both exciting and slightly scary. The whole crew is back together, there are lots of hugs and “How was your summer?” inquiries, as well as welcoming the few new faces. You’re a little bit worried about how out of shape you might be and wonder how well your legs are going to hold you up as the day goes on. But on Day 1, there is always a buzz of energy that comes with the beginning of a new season. The excitement of new repertoire to work on, new opportunities, and the new goals we have set for ourselves. And we’re not tired yet.

Company class starts promptly at 9 am and is always taught by Artistic Director Stephen Mills. Day 1 feels familiar, regardless of how much dancing you did over the summer, Day 1 is the time to ease back into the daily grind. This season was no different.

Frank Shott during company class on the first day. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Frank Shott during company class on the first day. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

What Do You Do All Summer?

Every one of us approaches our summer layoff differently, while always trying to stay in shape in some form or another. A handful of the dancers teach at the Ballet Austin Summer Intensive, including Orlando Julius Canova and Christopher Swaim. Some dancers take on other dance projects or opportunities, whether local, or off to some other parts of the world. For instance, this summer Oren Porterfield, Jordan Moser, Jaime Lynn Witts and Ed Carr performed in Asheville, North Carolina with Nick Kepley’s Motion Dance Theatre. Ashley Lynn Sherman just returned from an intense three weeks at the National Choreographers Initiative in Irvine, California, while Preston Patterson co-directed and choreographed for the Southern Illinois Music Festival.

Some of us take on other projects outside of the dance field, such as my husband Paul Michael Bloodgood, who continued finishing up his first feature length documentary film, Trenches of Rock, which is currently undergoing sound editing/mixing as well as color correction. And others, while still trying to stay in shape, incorporate huge life events into our summers, such as Grace Morton and Ian Bethany who were married in a beautiful Seattle ceremony this past July.

The 2015/16 Season

(Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Season Opener, Hamlet, includes several fencing scenes as part of the ballet. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

The 2015/16 season starts us off with Stephen Mills’ Hamlet, one of my personal favorites. For most of the company, rehearsals start off with a bang. Associate Artistic Director, Michelle Martin, usually starts rehearsing the larger group sections right away. For a production like Hamlet, this meant starting with scenes like Ophelia’s Funeral and the opening Wedding scene. We need time with these scenes to get the material out to the dancers, but also to have time to clarify and clean steps. Sometimes Stephen takes the opportunity in these early rehearsals to make small adjustments and changes to choreography. The nuts and bolts of the ballet remain the same, but the nuances evolve and grow with each restaging.

From Day 1, the men cast as Hamlet (Frank Shott & Paul Michael Bloodgood) and Laertes (Christopher Swaim & Jordan Moser) start fencing rehearsals. Since not all of the ballets in our repertoire involve fencing, and since it involves swinging sharp objects, it’s a good idea to start these rehearsals early… And slowly.

Week one is generally about getting a good bulk of the material laid out and to slowly work through it before we start layering our characters on top of the movement. Week one often times also includes our first costume fittings. Though the costumes for Hamlet are already built, wardrobe has a limited amount of time to make repairs and adjustments for specific dancers.

A photo posted by Ballet Austin (@balletaustin) on

The Third Day

My Third Day Theory is basically that the third day of new movement or choreography is the day you are the most sore. This seems to remain true whenever we start a new rep or have a new visiting choreographer. With new material you inevitably are using new muscle groups that you may not have been using the same way a week ago. Or the high probability that there is lots of repetition as we learn a new phrase of choreography. Nothing prepares you for dancing all day, like dancing all day. And this isn’t the type of gym where you might have a “leg day,” and then focus on a different muscle group the next. Everyday is “leg day” in ballet.

The tools are still all there, but what we lack most is stamina. I think general stamina problems like jumping for long periods of time, and calf endurance are pretty common across the studio. For the men, it’s also often lifting/partnering stamina. Lifting weights at the gym isn’t quite the same as lifting a woman all day long. A human body’s weight distribution isn’t as evenly balanced as free weights, and free weights don’t change shape and position when you lift them. 

And for the ladies, it’s the pointe shoes. “Little Pink Coffins,” as I like to call them (thank you Allisyn Paino for that one,) are really brutal that first week back. By Friday afternoon you can usually find the ladies lying on the floor with their swollen feet up in the air and looking forward to their evening ice bucket.

(Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood

Ballet Austin dancers recovering after their first week in their “Little Pink Coffins” (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)


As the week rounds up, we’re still sore, but usually not as bad as Day 3. But I find it a welcome fatigue. A reminder of the muscles I still have and the years of experience and training behind me. There is something gratifying about working your body that hard and feeling like you really earned your weekend rest, or your Friday night pizza, or your glass of wine, or whatever it is you personally look forward to on Friday. The first week back always reminds me that what I do for a living is quite a special and remarkable thing.

So, cheers to surviving Week 1! Get some rest, ice your feet and we’ll see you back at the barre bright and early Monday morning!

Spending My Summer Vacation With Ballet Austin

By Bill Piner, Academy Director  

Ahhh… Summertime in Austin. The time when everything slows to a crawl. The sun is high in the sky and temps top 100. Everyone heads to the lake, or to cooler climes in northern states. You would think it would be nice and quiet at 501 W. 3rd St. But you’d be wrong.

Summertime is actually one of the busiest seasons at Ballet Austin. Classes at the Butler Center for Dance & Fitness are packed 7 days a week for the entire summer and the Academy’s Senior Summer Intensive Program brings students from as far away as Japan and Panama to Austin for six weeks of intensive study and potential job opportunities.

Ballet Austin Summer Intensive Level 8 (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Ballet Austin Summer Intensive Level 8 (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Each summer, after a 27 city audition tour, over 250 students descend on Austin.
They come here to take part in a program that is designed to improve their individual dance skills. For the post-high school crowd, they audition for a coveted position in Ballet Austin II, Ballet Austin’s paid apprentice company, or the Butler Fellowship Program, a nine-month, intensive training program that provides 15 talented students the opportunity to train at Ballet Austin tuition-free.

A Day In The Life

This is a very concentrated and intensive time for the Academy. From 8:45am to 6:15pm the studios are filled to capacity with some of the most focused young adults you will find. From my office I can look into the Armstrong/Connelly Studio. Right now the Level 6 dancers are learning a piece of original choreography from Company Dancer and Academy faculty member, Christopher Swaim, which they will perform at a small performance at the end of the session. Chris’ choreography pushes these young dancers to new limits and challenges them to take risks and find new strengths.

For the highest levels it’s all about learning what’s unique about Ballet Austin and assimilating. Will they be accepted into the year-round program or not? Will this be the next step in their personal and professional lives or not? There is a lot riding on these few weeks and it can be a nerve-wracking experience.

“I chose to spend my summer training at Ballet Austin because I was looking for an opportunity to further my dance career. Having just graduated from high school, I wanted to come to a program where I could possibly stay for the 2015-2016 season, and I knew that Ballet Austin could provide an opportunity for me. Ballet Austin’s summer program has reinforced the technique I know, expanded my artistry and allowed me to think differently about my dancing. Not only have I grown as a dancer in just four weeks, but I have also met new people with whom I have become extremely close. My classmates and I have had different yet relatable experiences. Even though some of us may be competing against each other to get a position as a Fellow or Ballet Austin II member, we all share one similar trait: the love for dance. This similarity allows for friendships to be created which aid the extremely memorable and enriching experience here at Ballet Austin.” –  Kayla Hallman

Kayla will be joining the Butler Fellowship Program in August.


Associate Artistic Director Michelle Martin correcting a student’s position. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

I choreograph on the two youngest levels in the program, where they are still struggling to find the control over their bodies that will enable them to make the prescribed shapes of classical ballet. The pace is slower, but the sense of accomplishment is just as great. When the entire group performs for an audience of their peers (final rehearsal on performance day is performed in front of the other levels in the program) and the cheers of approval erupt, I’m reminded why I chose this profession. This struggle, this mastery, this acceptance is something they all can relate to and it seals a bond that will stay with these young artists well beyond their six weeks in Austin.

Teaching (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Bill Piner, Academy Director, rehearsing with Level 4 student for upcoming Summer Intensive performance. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

These bonds and friendships, challenges and growth, fun and hard work, all combine to make the Summer Intensive experience one that will live with these dancers forever. This is a huge commitment and requires dedication and sacrifice from the entire family. This is another aspect of the program that I find inspiring – the fact that parents will do everything in their power to provide the best for their kids. And the fact that these kids will take that challenge and some of them will become professional dancers. Over 70% of Ballet Austin’s professional company of dancers started right here in the Summer Intensive. For them, and many others, the sweating, struggling, laughing and learning ended with the ultimate goal, a professional contract and the realization of so many dreams and aspirations.

This is how I’ve spent my summer for the past 24 years. It may not be as relaxing as going to the coast, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Mother Ginger voting ends Nov 30

Just 10 days remain in our 2012 Mother Ginger contest. As we draw closer to announcing a winner, we hope you’ll enjoy these backstage moments from a few of last year’s Mother Gingers.

To see the 2012 nominees and vote, visit www.balletaustin.org/motherginger/.