Sunday Snapshot: Sheer Perfection

About the Photographer: Kimene Slattery-Ching is a Queensland-based, award-winning dance photographer offering on-site, on-location, or in-studio dance portfolios for dancers.

IMAGE A ballet dancer in white chiffon arches her back as sheer blue fabric billows back over her face and arms. IMAGE

©Australian Dancers Dance Photography

Dancing since the age of three, Kimene has danced previously with the Royal Academy of Dance with training as a student by a range of well-renowned teachers. She has since continued her studies in Dance Movement Psychotherapy with the International Dance Therapy Institute of Australia (Cert/IDTIA). Maintaining a keen interest in rehabilitative – expressive dance movement, Kimene has also turned to her camera to combine her two loves – dance and photography. She is a health professional, holds a blue card and loves working with children and young adults.

Photographers, get featured in the Dance Advantage Sunday Snapshot. Click here.

New Continents — From Royal Ballet School To Boston Ballet

Headshot of Duncan Lyle; Royal Ballet School; Boston Ballet; photo: Johan Persson

©Johan Persson

Duncan Lyle, fresh out of the Royal Ballet School has been offered a contract with Boston Ballet. In 2009 the young Australian was awarded a prize for Choreographic Development by the NJL Foundation and has performed Liam Scarlett’s Toccata at the Assemblée Internationale in Toronto, and in the RBS Matinee, an annual Covent Garden presentation that marks the shift of graduating student to performing artist. Before his training in London, he was a young ballet student in Victoria, Australia’s Camberwell District Ballet School (now the Russian Choreographic Academy).

Graciously sharing helpful tips for auditioning and jumps with Dance Advantage readers, Duncan took a moment to talk with me about his transition from student to professional.

Dance Advantage: You were young when you began begging your mom for ballet classes and eight years old when she finally relented. Do you recall what you liked most about training in ballet?

Duncan Lyle: I honestly can’t remember. I think it’s always just felt right. The ballet studio is always a place I have felt comfortable and felt like I belonged.

Duncan Lyle performing Coppelia, Royal Ballet School; photo: Margaret Kokrhelj

Duncan in Coppelia; ©Margaret Kokrhelj

DA: You began with respected instructors in a pretty rigorous program, dancing after school for a couple of hours, four days a week. Was there ever a time you contemplated quitting or pursuing a less demanding track?

DL: Yes. I once took six months off from ballet when I was 14. My school commitments were growing and it was becoming seriously difficult to juggle everything. It reaffirmed for me, however, that ballet was my one love and out of everything what I should have been doing.

DA: Allegro dancing comes naturally to you but I am sure you have had instruction that has helped you develop that talent. Any advice you could pass along to a student hoping to improve their agility in beats or jumps?

DL: I think the best advice I could give is two things: develop the height of your jump by doing very slow static allegro and; always work every movement, no matter how quick, to the fullest. Always fully stretch your legs and feet in the air and think about the movements you are making in the air. Be very precise with your movements in the air and gradually they will become clean and crisp.

DA: At age 17, when most teens here in the U.S. are contemplating the move to college, you traveled continents away from your home in Australia to London to study at the Royal Ballet School. What was most difficult about the transition?

DL: I think the hardest thing about moving away was just the unknown. I had no idea what my new life was going to be like and I think that was the scariest thing. Once I was actually in London, of course I missed my family, friends and Melbourne but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. I made great friends with almost everybody in my year who provided a wonderful support network.

DA: I know it might be hard to imagine, but what what kind of career do you think you’d be interested in if you did not dance?

DL: I would definitely pursue a career in music. I have been composing and arranging music since I was fourteen and it’s something I really love. I would apply for a university course in music and see where it would take me.

DA: Tell us a bit about the audition process that leads graduates of the RBS to employment.

DL: Firstly, we submitted a list to our director of the companies that we wanted to join and audition for. Our director then helped us by suggesting other companies that might suit us and removing companies that wouldn’t. From then on it was up to us to arrange our auditions, whether they be open or private, book our flights and make our way to our auditions. Every audition I participated in was just a ballet class watched by the director with a panel of ballet staff. Candidates get eliminated at certain points throughout the class so that the panel can see the people they are interested in better. I was lucky enough to make it through all of my classes without being cut. You then mostly find out the result of the audition on the day but of course this varies from company to company. If they’re definitely not interested in you then you’ll know that on the day, but if they might be interested in you then you may have to wait to find out.

Liam Scarlett's Toccata; Royal Ballet School; Duncan Lyle with Nicole Cato

In Liam Scarlett's Toccata with Nicole Cato

DA: Do you find auditioning stressful? What is most challenging for you?

DL: I think the only aspect of auditioning I find really stressful is the travelling to the destination! It’s very hard trying to book a flight that will get you to your destination in enough time to get to the studio and warm-up! Plus I hate airports! I’m pretty good under stressful circumstances like auditions or appraisals.

DA: What advice or tips for auditioning you could you give to students or young professionals like yourself?

DL: I think most importantly, stay calm and confident. If you’re overly nervous, you won’t be able to show the people that matter what you’re capable of. Presentation!! Remember that what most directors are looking for are dancers and not just technicians so perform everything in the class! And I believe that a lot of directors are looking for a clean canvas that they can work with and adapt to suit their company so make sure your technique doesn’t get affected.

DA: You’ve been to the U.S. before, and I’m sure you’ve been doing some reading up on Boston. What excites you most about dancing in America?

DL: I think what I’m most looking forward to in the U.S. is the positive atmosphere and the fact that there’s so many exciting things. Everything is happening there and I’m very excited to be a part of that.

We are excited to follow your career, Duncan, and welcome you to a new continent! May you have many thrilling adventures in Boston and beyond.

For more on Duncan, his background and training visit Ballet News and Oberon’s Grove and Blast Magazine.

How do YOU feel about auditioning? Do you get nervous?

What do you enjoy about training in ballet?

Do you like to travel? How far would you go to study dance?

Who Wants To Rock The Vote In These Online Dance Contests?

Viral video, dance contests, flash mobs; dance is everywhere online and there are plenty of places you can get in on the action. Below you’ll find three top spots to get your groove on and maybe win some prizes. These contests are already underway so hurry!

Keep reading for two big contests in their final round. These feature some spectacular videos for your digital viewing pleasure. Make sure you get your say in the outcome! Then, stay tuned because these videos have inspired a follow-up article sure to ignite your imagination and invigorate your classes!

Vie For Video Domination

My Mutation

My Mutation Online Dance CompetitionThe Basics: As part of their Spring Dance festival the Sydney Opera House, in collaboration with YouTube presents this online dance competition. Create your own 40 second dance solo. The first 20 seconds are your interpretation of the starter solo (performed by Josh Mu), choreographed by Kate Champion, Artistic Director of one of Australia’s leading dance companies, Force Majeure and choreographer for the international stage production of Dirty Dancing. The second 20 seconds is a continuation of the solo in your own style. You have until August 10 to upload your video. Finalists will be chosen and will participate in two more rounds of challenges. Once narrowed to only 5 finalists, voters will choose the winner.

What You Win: The winner will score the ultimate prize of rehearsing with Kate Champion to bring his/her unique performance to life at the screening of Footloose on September 26. In addition to the thrill of performing live at Sydney Opera House, the winner will receive $2,000, a SONY HD flash Handycam camcorder, as well as a SONY ‘Bloggie’ HD snap camera.

Who Can Enter: The contest is global and there are no age restrictions!

Find Out More: or visit Spring Dance on the Sydney Opera House website.

Dr. Pepper Cherry YouTube Dance Studio Contest

(that’s a mouthful!)

Dr. Pepper Cherry YouTube Dance Studio ContestThe Basics: Show off your amazingly smooth mooves. Submit a video of yourself dancing to one of the three approved songs, using the provided choreography for the first part and your own freestyle for the rest. Choose between a Jazz Funk, Hip-Hop, or B-Boys and B-Girls routine. Learn the moves, download the song, make your video, and submit, but hurry! Submissions must be in by August 2. Four finalists will be chosen, then it is up to voters to decide on the winner (to be announced August 31).

What You Win: You could win a trip for two to Los Angeles, where you’ll spend a day with Jon M. Chu (director of StepUp 2 and upcoming StepUp 3) at a jam session with some of the best hip-hop dancers around, and the chance to be in an upcoming Ultra Records music video.

Who Can Enter: U.S. residents 18 years and up.

Find Out More:

Dance Your Ph.D. 2010

Dance Your Ph.D. Contest 2010The Basics: I cannot resist including this unique contest which invites entrants to turn their Ph.D. thesis into a dance! Any scientist in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, or the social sciences with some friends, a great idea, and a cheap video camera can win. According to GonzoLabs (a virtual research institution where art, science, and culture intersect), the best dances not only insightfully reveal the scientific content of the PhD thesis, they not only show artistry to create a compelling spectacle, but they also creatively combine these two aspects in a successful execution. Submissions are due by September 1, 2010.

What You Win: A cash prize of $500 goes to a winner in each category, with an additional $500 to the Best Ph.D. Dance of All. Finalists from each category will have their videos screened at Imagine Science Film Festival in NYC.

Who Can Enter: You have to be 18 years or older, have a Ph.D. in a science-related field, or be working on one as a Ph.D. student and you must be part of the dance.

Find Out More:

More, more, more

Vote For Video Favorites

Global Dance Contest

International dance venue, Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London offers a cash prize and a chance to perform live at Sadler’s Wells Sampled, a yearly showcase of the best in dance from around the world. Ten entries are being selected by a judges panel right now. Voting will commence August 9, so keep your eye on

Step Up 3D Dance Dub Contest

Vote now at and help one of four American dance studios win a $7500 Best Buy gift certificate to improve their space. Broadway Dance Center (New York, NY), Focal Point Dance Studio (Miami, FL), Dance 411 Studios (Atlanta, GA), IDA Hollywood (Los Angeles, CA) are battling it out with their own energetic, single-shot dub to Club Can’t Handle Me, a song I actually didn’t mind listening to four times in a row! 😉

And Don’t Forget…!

Okay, this one isn’t a contest but National Dance Day (a grassroots movement, spearheaded by Nigel Lythgoe and Dizzy Feet Foundation) is coming up on July 31. The effort is being recognized with an official act of Congress when Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), a long-time proponent of healthy lifestyles, will introduce a National Dance Day resolution at a press conference on National Dance Day in Washington, D.C., to promote dance education and physical fitness across the U.S. If by chance you haven’t heard of National Dance Day, you can find more info at

Tabitha and Napolean have contributed a little choreography to help you get in the spirit and get up and move. It too is choregoraphed to Club Can’t Handle Me. Check it out below:

Watch this video on YouTube.
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From Page to Screen to Classroom

Mao’s Last Dancer

Watch on YouTube

At age eleven Li Cunxin’s life was changed when a delegation from Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy selected him to be taken from his home, a village near the city of Qingdao in northern China, and brought to Beijing to study ballet. In 1979 at age 18 he was selected to perform with the Houston Ballet as part of a cultural exchange. After falling in love with both America and an American woman, Li defected to the United States, and rose to fame as one of the world’s ballet stars.

Li Cunxin (pronounced Lee Schwin Sing), performed with Houston Ballet for sixteen years and in 1995 became a principal artist with the Australian Ballet. In 1999 he retired from ballet, supporting his wife and their three children as a stockbroker. In 2003 his autobiography, Mao’s Last Dancer, was published and became an instant success, remaining on Australia’s bestseller list for over a year and a half.

In 2004, Houston Dance Critic Molly Glentzer in her review of the book for Dance Magazine stated, “Li’s tenacity is an inspiring lesson to any reader, dancer or not. It’s the stuff of which great movies are made. Expect this one soon, and bring Kleenex. But read the book first.” A handful of years later, Li’s story is now a motion picture. It has already done well in Australia but unfortunately distribution in the U.S. is still speculative. The film is directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy), written by Jan Sardi (Shine, The Notebook), and choreographed by Graeme Murphy and his creative associate and partner, Janet Vernon.

See also the book review at

Stars of the Film

Though the production team is largely Australian, the filmmakers of course had to look worldwide for the right cast. The movie’s plot spans several years, requiring not one but three actors to play Li Cuxnin as a boy, a teen, and as an adult. The Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Chi Cao was selected to play the adult Cuxnin. His shared history of having trained at the Beijing Dance Academy and known for his virtuoso performances, Cao was an natural choice for the role.

Cao appeared last month as a guest artist with the Houston Ballet, playing the Nutcracker Prince for four performances in their annual production. HB blogged about it here and Cao talked with Molly Glentzer for the Houston Chronicle about his film debut.

Other notable actors in the film include Amanda Schull (Center Stage) and Bruce Greenwood as Ben Stevenson (Captain Christopher Pike in last year’s Star Trek). You can see interviews with more of the cast and crew at the film’s website and YouTube channel. Read a review of Mao’s Last Dancer via the Hollywood Reporter [link].

Classroom Applications

The Peasant Prince

Dancing to Freedom (US title)

Li Cuxnin’s story is available in multiple formats. The picture book version “focuses on two stories from Li’s childhood that hold a particular appeal to young children – tying wishes to a kite and a fable told to a young Li by his father of a frog in a well. Both stories illustrate how as a child Li longed for a life away from the hardship of his village.

[Read more at Suite101: The Autobiography of Li Cunxin: Book Review of Mao’s Last Dancer and The Peasant Prince].

Young Reader's Edition

Cuxnin’s autobiography Mao’s Last Dancer is also available in a Young Reader edition for teens. Teachers might use any of this literature to explore movement or develop choreography with students. Below are a few of the major themes presented in these stories about Cuxnin’s life. They might be summed up and explored as follows:

  • Overcoming Hardship
    • Challenge students with a difficult phrase or combination. Reflect on Li’s perseverance despite hardship and ask students to come up with a plan (see this post on goal-setting with dance students) for improving or learning this combination in a way that addresses both the physical and mental (or emotional) battles that must be overcome.
  • Oppression vs. Freedom
    • Improv or create a movement study of bound versus free flow in movement.
  • Chinese Culture and History
    • Research Chinese Dance and the influence of ballet on the art form. View video or read about the Chinese Cultural Revolution. You may find these teacher’s notes from Penguin Books helpful [download the pdf]. Choose movement or music that reflects your findings.
  • Adapting to Change
    • Coming to Texas in the United States from China was a big transition. Have students create two lists of adjectives – one describing Li’s life in China, the other his life in America. Have them improvise or develop movement or actions that build upon these lists.

What are some other ways you might tie-in the books or movie in your classes?

Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

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