October 2017 | Dance History Quiz

DHQ_T
Fun facts for teachers & students

1 Former New York City Ballet principal Wendy Whelan’s first performance in a Balanchine ballet took place April 30, 1983, when, as a School of American Ballet student, she danced a corps role in Western Symphony. What other important event happened on the same day?

a. Balanchine sent her a personal congratulatory note.
b. Balanchine offered her a company contract.
c. Balanchine told her he doubted she had a future in dance.
d. Balanchine died.

Answer
d. Balanchine died.

Wendy Whelan recalled the events of April 30, 1983, in a May 2017 story in the New York Times. She explained that she heard the news of Balanchine’s death at about 11 a.m.; her performance in SAB’s annual spring workshop was set for 2 p.m. (She went on to explain that while she had never performed for Balanchine, he had passed by her once in a hallway.) On that day Whelan was 15, “the newest and youngest in my class,” she said, and after eight months at SAB was facing the matinee performance with “joyful expectation.” Heading toward Lincoln Center, she passed company dancers wearing sunglasses, heads hanging low, sobbing and hugging each other at the news of Balanchine’s passing. “I was so new, only beginning to sprout my roots at his school, much less his company, but I wasn’t about to crumble,” Whelan said in the Times. “All I wanted to do was to slip my body into Balanchine’s choreography that day, to feel his life in his work, to get to know him through his dances.”

For more information:

2 What famous dance-related movie memorabilia sold at auction June 27, 2017, for $1.2 million?

a. Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain umbrella
b. The  Saturday Night Fever  disco floor
c. Moira Shearer’s pointe shoes from The Red Shoes
d. Natalie Portman’s Black Swan bodice and tutu

Answer
b. The Saturday Night Fever disco floor

Somewhere there is a person with $1.2 million less in the bank—but with the most awesome flashing, fluorescent, John Travolta-trod disco dance floor in his or her family room. The famous Saturday Night Fever floor was sold June 27 by the Calabasas, California, auction house Profiles in History, and while the price was reported in the ArthurMurrayLive.com blog, the lucky buyer’s name remains a mystery. (As does the floor’s location—we’re just speculating about the family room.)

Profiles in History has sold lots of spectacular movie stuff, such as Marilyn Monroe’s Seven Year Itch dress, and a camera George Lucas used during the filming of Star Wars. Joe Maddalena, auction site president and CEO, said of the floor: “It’s iconic, like the Maltese falcon or [the Wizard of Oz’s] ruby slippers. It defined a moment in time.” At an original cost of $15,000, the 24-by-16-foot floor was one of the movie’s costliest expenditures. Because Travolta insisted on being filmed in full-length shots—to prove that he, and not a double, was doing the dancing—the pulsing floor with the choreographed lights became an active part of the scene, and remains as iconic as Travolta’s white suit and sexy strut.

For more information:
You Could Own the Saturday Night Fever Dance Floor,” AARP, June 8, 2017, by Randy Lilleston

3 What famous ballerina has a dessert named in her honor?


a. Anna Pavlova
b. Margot Fonteyn
c. Marie Taglioni
d. Yvette Chauviré

Answer
a. Anna Pavlova

The Pavlova is a meringue dessert with a crisp crust and soft insides, usually topped with fruit and whipped cream, but apparently questions abound over its origins. An article on the Good Food website notes that Americans, the English, Australians, and New Zealanders all claim credit for the frothy white dessert. Food historians have discovered any number of variations in recipe books from 1911 onward. But the verdict is now in: the original Pavlova was not a four-layered jelly from New Zealand but the American descendant of a German torte, topped with strawberries, kiwifruit, or passion fruit, and made of marshmallow or glacé. Apparently more than 150 Pavlova-like meringue cakes with cream and fruit appear in cookbooks prior to 1926; more than 50 other dishes named for the dancer—such as “frog legs a la Pavlova”—appear before 1927.

For more information:
 “Pavlova research reveals dessert’s shock origins,” Good Food, October 10, 2015

4 Ruby Keeler was one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the 1930s, brightening movie musicals including 42nd Street and Footlight Parade with her sparkling personality and saucy tapping. At age 60 she was long retired and doting on her grandchildren when she was persuaded to return to performing in which Broadway show?


a. Sugar Babies
b. Follies
c. No, No, Nanette
d. 42nd Street

Answer
c. No, No, Nanette

Ruby Keeler wasn’t looking to resume her career in 1970 when she got a call from Harry Rigby, a fan struggling to mount a revival of the 1925 musical No, No, Nanette, says Ed Harbur, author of Too Marvelous for Words: The Life and Career of Ruby Keeler in a New York Post article. Rigby promised that Keeler’s former choreographer Busby Berkeley would oversee the production, but once rehearsals began it became clear that Berkeley, by then in his 70s, wasn’t up to the task. Although Keeler quickly proved she hadn’t lost any of her tapping prowess—or charismatic personality—problems mounted, the creators bickered, and tickets sales were nonexistent. But when the show opened in Boston, audiences responded to its comfortable, old-fashioned feel, and couldn’t get enough of Keeler, tapping with joy and flipping her hair back from her forehead as she did so many years ago in the movies. No, No, Nanette opened January 19, 1971, on Broadway and was the smash of the season. A whole new generation discovered Keeler, who appeared on the covers of Time and Life, on talk shows, in advertisements, and in two national tours before suffering a brain aneurysm in 1974.

For more information:
How a forgotten film star became at hit at 61,” New York Post, July 8, 2017, by Michael Riedel

5 What do dancers say before a performance?


a. Break a leg
b. Good luck
c. Nostrovia
d. Merde

Answer
d. Merde

According to Reference.com, dancers are the only performers who wish each other well pre-show with “merde.” Actors and musicians use “break a leg”; longstanding theater superstition prevents any stage performer from using the generic “good luck.” It’s believed that the use of “merde” started in 19th century Paris, where numerous horse-drawn carriages meant a full house. Dancers warned each other to watch their step by saying “merde,” French for manure.

For more information:
6 This Grammy-winning dancer, choreographer, and actress had to overcome plenty of obstacles on her way to fame: she was born three months premature (weighing 2.8 pounds), with collapsed lungs and a broken windpipe. At age 7 she began cleaning the bathrooms, floors, and mirrors at a dance studio in exchange for lessons her family couldn’t afford. In high school, she would pass out if she became breathless, and later had more than 15 cervical spinal surgeries to counter chronic pain from car and plane accidents, as well as a cheerleading injury. Who is she?


a. Paula Abdul
b. Gloria Estefan
c. Toni Basil
d. Madonna

Answer
a. Paula Abdul

Paula Abdul is a survivor; a multi-talented performer who is still going strong while most of her fellow 1980s MTV music video colleagues have long faded away. In a 2016 Wall Street Journal article, Abdul detailed some of the challenges she faced on her road to the top, from physical limitations to injuries to her parents’ divorce to lack of opportunities. Even after she finally made it into dance classes, the road wasn’t easy. As she explains in the article: “I quickly advanced to the adult class. One day the teacher had me demonstrate a routine. When I finished I was beaming. She said, ‘Look, Paula has short, squatty legs and arms…’ I ran to the bathroom and cried. What I didn’t hear was what she said next: ‘…but she executed better than all of you with your long, graceful arms and legs.’ In the bathroom, I decided that nothing was going to stop me from doing what I loved to do.”

For more information:
Paula Abdul on Her Secret Childhood Dance Studio,” Wall Street Journal, November 22, 2016

7 What is the literal translation of La Fille mal gardée?


a. The girl in the garden
b. The poorly guarded girl
c. The bad daughter
d. The girl with intentions

Answer
b. The poorly guarded girl

Translations can be tricky business, and that’s certainly the case with La Fille mal gardée. This popular comedic ballet tells the story of Lise, a young girl smitten with the farm boy Colas. Their pastoral romance is interrupted by Lise’s mother, who agitates for Lise’s other suitor, the dim-witted (but wealthy) Alain. Companies performing the ballet generally soften the French title for general audiences by using the subtitle The Wayward Daughter or The Girl Who Needed Watching, although Wikipedia states the literal translation is “The Poorly Guarded Girl” and some Russian productions go with Vain Precautions. No matter what the title is, this story of young love and pushy relatives needs no translation no matter where in the world it’s presented.

8 Frontier, a ballet choreographed by former American Ballet Theatre star Ethan Stiefel, was inspired by President Kennedy’s speeches encouraging Americans to strive for advancements in education, culture, and space; it premiered in May. Stiefel worked out his ideas for this ballet while doing what other activity?


a. Trekking mountain ranges in New Zealand
b. Training NASA astronauts in ballet
c. Filming episodes of Gossip Girl
d. Riding 9,000 miles on his motorcycle

Answer
a. Riding 9,000 miles on his motorcycle

Fans of the movie Center Stage will probably never forget the shock and thrill of the scene in which rule-breaking ballerina Jody (Amanda Schull) hops on the back of a motorcycle driven by Cooper (Ethan Stiefel) and the pair zooms off into New York City traffic. Motorcycles and ballet rarely come together, but Stiefel, who grew up riding dirt bikes, is an avid rider. A story about Frontier in the Washington Post detailed Stiefel’s 9,000-mile Rocky Mountain bike journey. “[T]he miles of open road and solitude helped him sort out his thoughts about his new ballet,” the story says. After the trip was over, he had “spent so much time cooped up inside a helmet, he had some insight into the astronaut experience.”

For more information:
After 9,000 miles on a motorcycle, Ethan Stiefel had his ballet figured out,” Washington Post, December 19, 2016, by Sarah L. Kaufman