One of the coolest things (for me) about writing about dance online has been making connections with other people within the dance community. The long-standing online kinships developed in the early years of site ownership move in and out of radius like in-person friendships and have been just as “real life,” or real in my life.
Nicole LaBonde was an early reader and commenter on Dance Advantage. We connected on a few levels – we were both from the state of Pennsylvania, we had experiences in and a love for theatre and musicals, and of course, dance. I’m visiting with Nicole publicly on the site to introduce you to her and to a program she’s developed called CABARRET, a fitness workout that fuses ballet barre and burlesque dance.
When and where did you start your dance training, Nicole?
I actually started late. I was 12. I attended small studios outside of Pittsburgh and studied ballet and jazz. Later, I attended Eastern University (in Philadelphia), initially as a music major and dance minor. While I was there, they added the major. I auditioned and was accepted. Eastern was a heavily modern and ballet school.
Since we have a shared theatre background, tell me what is the most compelling part for you about working in or on a production?
I love a couple of things about production. One, working as part of a creative team– I love being surrounded by creative, inspiring people, working on the same goal. It feeds my own creativity and motivation. Two, I love being on stage– That moment is something that will never happen again. The people onstage, the people in the audience are sharing a special, intimate moment, that can’t be recreate. The power of live art!
Why did you relocate from Philadelphia to Miami?
I moved to Miami to become the Director of Dance for the Miami Childrens’ Theater. Unfortunately, soon after moving there, they went bankrupt.
For so many reasons, dancers learn to rebound and land on their feet. So, how did burlesque enter the picture?
I became interested in burlesque initially while I was still living in Philly, but never really explored it. When I moved to Miami, I was choreographing “Gypsy”. I did a lot of research about Gypsy Rose Lee, burlesque and vaudeville. I became fascinated again, and this time actually pursued it.
You share the story of CABARRET on your site but when did you begin to think about merging your passions for dance, burlesque, and fitness?
At the time I was pursuing burlesque, barre classes were becoming popular but, when I went to one, I found it had really nothing to do with the ballet barre. This made no sense to me, because ballerinas have been doing these exercises for hundreds of years because they work! So I decided to create my own class. I added the element of burlesque for a few reasons. The barre is not an end in and off itself, it prepares the body to dance. And, I found burlesque to be very empowering for myself. I felt good doing it, exploring new movements in my body, and allowing my body to be seen. Burlesque classes are a safe space for women to explore their relationships with their bodies.
What are the principles of CABARRET and who benefits from classes?
The principles of CABARRET are based in the principles of ballet and Pilates – posture, alignment, core strength as the foundation of movement. Strength and stretch are two sides of the same coin – our muscles need them both. A workout done with the full engagement of the mind AND body is the most effective workout. I also want participants to celebrate their bodies as they work to make changes. I have mainly female students, age 30-50. [Learn more about CABARRET.]
Of what does a typical CABARRET class consist?
Approximately 25 minutes of barre, based on the ballet barre, but with a fitness twist. Approximately 25 minutes of a burlesque inspired cardio dance. Approximately 10 minutes of stretching and gratitude.
You are offering CABARRET teacher training. Explain who is the right fit for this training and how does one participate?
Anyone who teaches dance or a group fitness class would be a good fit! Dance teachers in particular have a good start, as the barre section is based on the traditional ballet barre.
I’ll be holding a live training in Miami in June (dates TBA) and likely in Cleveland in August (dates TBA). But, the training is also available online. It’s about 12 lessons long, including a full class experience and lectures of me. To get their certification, trainees must complete a written and a video test.
In October you were diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma (recently rescinded to Stage 3B). This news, of course, would be a major setback for anyone but tell me how it has affected, in particular, your relationship with your body and your work.
I was really angry with my body. I felt like it betrayed me. I was eating well, getting exercise, doing all the things you are “supposed to do”, and still got cancer. I’m still working through those feelings, as well as accepting that I wasn’t really doing all I could for myself. I definitely pushed way too hard, and did not get enough rest. This is something I’m struggling with even still, as I feel committed to see my classes through to the end of the semester or recital, etc. But it has given me a different vision for my future. One that depends less upon teaching physical classes, and more work online, on short-term productions and in an academic setting.
Yes, you are currently pursuing your masters as well. Tell us a little about that decision.
I found that I need some less physical career options in my life. With the cancer diagnosis, it is difficult to maintain a full teaching schedule so I decided to get my masters to open up academic opportunities.
Where are you in your treatment right now and how has starting the The Dancer With Cancer community on Facebook been helpful in these months since your diagnosis?
If everything goes on schedule, I should be finished with chemo treatments on May 3rd. The Dancer with Cancer has helped me in several ways. It makes my life easier, because I can put up a status, and not have to repeat myself and my story 100 times to all the people who want an update.
But I’ve also seen how very few resources there are for adults with cancer, and for dancers in particular. So, I’m currently working on creating a 501c3 that will support dancers with chronic illness and/or large medical expenses. The foundation will make small grants, that the dancer can use in anyway s/he sees fit. I’ve learned that every little bit helps!
One of your recent blog posts about the concept of giving 100% and particularly how it affects women resonated with me because, like you, I ran head-first into a time in my life that rendered that whole notion of giving 100% to everything glaringly impossible. I think all women have or will experience this awakening at one time or another and its often a harsh one. Now that, I assume, you simply must choose where/how to spend your energy, what have you learned or what advice can you give others about prioritizing?
So true, and earth-shattering when you meet that moment. I’ve gotten really real about what gives energy back to me. If I’m expending energy on it, it needs to give back. Also, what I need to be doing is bringing the future into the present. If what I’m doing isn’t helping my vision of my future get closer, I shouldn’t be doing it.
If there’s one thing you’d like to say/share with women, perhaps creative women in particular, about their body or wellness what would it be?
Listen to yourself. And then speak up for yourself. You have to be your own advocate in this world. Our bodies are smarter than we give them credit for. It took me 8 months to get to the right doctor. I just kept going back to my PCP and saying “something’s not right”, until we figured it out.
Because every little bit does help, please donate to help Nicole with medical expenses. This fundraiser ends very soon!
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world. Read Nichelle’s posts.