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Dance 101

Facts About Dance - Did you know?

Are dancers athletes?

Yes. Dancers are elite athletes as well as artists. They follow a rigorous training regime and must stay in top condition, just like professional athletes such as basketball or hockey players. Dancers have extraordinary flexibility, muscular strength and both physical and mental endurance. Professional dancers train and practice every day for an average of six hours. Many also cross-train with cardio, weight lifting, yoga and/or Pilates to improve their physical fitness and technique.

Who invented pointe shoes?

Though "toe dancing" was popular in London as early as the 1820s, it is believed that the first ballet dancer to dance en pointe with modified shoes was Marie Taglioni in the ballet La Sylphide in 1832. The first pointe shoes were little more than soft slippers, heavily darned at the toes. Today, pointe shoes are made of multiple layers of burlap, paper and glue. The hardened glue gives pointe shoes their stiffness.

How long can dancers continue performing?

While some dancers continue to perform into their 50s or longer - such as  Peggy Baker, Trisha Brown and Alicia Markova - most dancers stop performing by their mid-30s because of the physical demands on their bodies. Many dancers continue to work in the field as choreographers, dance teachers, coaches or artistic directors. Others move into administrative positions, becoming managing directors and presenters for example. Some former dancers go back to school to train in a second career. Many have gone on to become successful in fields such as medicine, commercial art, computer engineering and education.

Is capoeira a dance form or a martial art?

Both. Capoeira is a martial art that blends dance, music, singing and acrobatics. While some people argue that it originated in Africa, others claim that capoeira developed three to four hundred years ago in Brazil. Slaves were not allowed to practice any form of combat or defense, so they eliminated direct contact between opponents and made their movements look more like dancing. As a result, modern capoeiristas jump, flip, turn and lunge to try to catch their partners off guard.

Why do classical Indian dancers wear bells around their ankles?

In bharata natyam, kathak and odissi - different regional forms of classical Indian dance - dancers wear heavy anklets of multiple bells called gungru or ghungroo . Ghungroo highlight and emphasize the rhythms of the dancer's feet. Dancers can wear up to 200 bells - 100 on each ankle.

When and where did break dancing start?

Break dancing originated in the Bronx area of New York City in the early 1970s. It began in African-American street gangs. Dancers - known as b-boys (short for beat) - competed with each other, inventing new moves and trying to out-perform one another. Break dancing made a comeback in the late 1990s, becoming popular all over the world.

Why do modern dancers dance in bare feet?

Modern dance values a weighted use of the body in relation to the earth - as opposed to ballet, which is more concerned with resisting gravity. Dancing in bare feet enables the dancer to connect directly with the floor. After dancing in bare feet for a long time, generally the soles of a dancer's feet adjust and toughen. Some modern dancers put tape on their toes and the balls of their feet to make it easier to turn and slide.

Can someone dance if he or she has a disability?

Yes. Men and women with a disability around the world actively participate in both amateur and professional dance. Professional modern dance companies, such as Axis Dance Company in California and CandoCo in the United Kingdom, choreograph for mixed-ability ensembles of disabled and non-disabled dancers. More and more dance studios are also offering dance classes for people of all abilities.

How many tap dancers does it take... break a world record? On May 24th, 1998, the greatest ever number of tap dancers gathered for a single routine at the Stuttgart City Square in Germany. Choreographed by Ray Lynch, the 6,952 dancers tapped away for 2 minutes and 15 seconds. The event was organized to commemorate the birthday of American tap-dance legend Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. In second place, as many as 6,000 tap dancers gather in New York City each year for Tap-o-Mania. They hoof their way down Broadway as part of Macy's annual Thanksgiving Day parade.

Dancing 'til you drop

During the Depression, dance marathons were popular as a means to forget about daily troubles and to compete for cash prizes. Marathoners danced for hours and days at a time, usually resting only 15 minutes for every hour of dancing. Americans Mike Ritof and Edith Boudreaux hold the world record. From August 29th, 1930, to April 1st, 1931, they danced for 5,154 hours and 48 minutes - that's 214 days. They won $2,000 at the Merry Garden Ballroom Dance Marathon in Chicago, Illinois. Due to potential health risks, Depression-era dance marathons were eventually banned.

Why do people say "break a leg" before a dancer goes on stage?

The dance world is full of superstitions. By saying "break a leg" before a show, people are saying the exact opposite of what they hope will happen on stage. Some dancers have very precise routines for doing their hair or make-up. Others wear certain clothes before a show or keep lucky charms in their dressing rooms or backstage. Before the curtain goes up, some dancers link pinky fingers or step onto the stage with the wrong foot so that when their cue comes, they start the show on the right foot.

What happens at a Pow Wow?

A Pow Wow is a gathering of aboriginal nations for a celebration of singing, drumming and dancing. Various dances are performed at a Pow Wow and each has its own significance, specific dress and regalia. The most popular dances for women are the Jingle Dress, Fancy Shawl, Traditional and Hoop Dances. The most popular dances for men are the Traditional, Grass and Ribbon or Fancy Dances. The dancing arena is circular and is called an arbor. Pow Wows can also be opportunities for dance competitions. At a competition, Pow Wow dancers are divided into categories based on age, gender and dance style.

Is the Green Room really green?

Sometimes, but not always. The Green Room is a quiet, comfortable room backstage where performers can rest and relax before, after and between shows. It's also the place where the performers receive their families and friends. No one knows exactly why it's called a Green Room, but it has been part of the theatre tradition for centuries. Some people believe it is a reference to the days when theatre was performed outside in the open air "on the green". Another alternative to saying "Good luck" before a show is to say "See you on the green", which is a reference to getting through the show and to the Green Room without incident.

Why aren't there more men and boys in dance?

Many people say that this is because western culture traditionally views dance, and especially ballet, as primarily "feminine" pursuits. Some parents discourage their sons from taking dance classes even when they show potential and aptitude. Yet some of the world's great dancers have been and are men. Male dancers, such as Mikhail Baryshnikov, are admired for their strength, grace, agility and musicality, as well as their masculinity. No one would say that being the only boy in a dance class is easy, but following one's passion, regardless of what other people say or think, is important in developing a rich and satisfying life.

Can performing really be addictive?

Yes and no. In the medical sense, dancing and performing are definitely not addictive, but many dancers report getting a "rush" from being on stage. While dancing, the body releases endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that are responsible for positive moods. Endorphins also act like natural painkillers, so even after hours of gruelling rehearsal, dancers don't necessarily feel their aching muscles and joints when they're on stage. Once they start dancing, many people find it hard to quit because the enjoyment factor is so compelling. It's hard to find something else to take its place since few other activities make them feel so connected and alive.