A Postcard Featuring Daniel Ulbricht, Educator, Mentor, and New York City Ballet Principal
Captured and Shared by Photojournalist Serena S.Y. Hsu
Dear Dance Enthusiasts,
My name is Serena S.Y. Hsu, and I'm a wire photojournalist. I want to share my coverage of the amazing artist, Daniel Ulbricht, whose gravity-defying aerodynamics, lightning jumps, and expressive warmth inspire audience members' imaginations to take flight — literally. Back in October 2017, I started making preparations to photograph Ulbricht in Kansas City with his Stars of American Ballet tour. But research led me to discover so many incredible aspects of his philanthropic work and his mentorship of young dancers, that I I flew from Kansas City to New York City to photograph him separately with his Manhattan Youth Ballet. I wanted to share this intimate time capsule of Ulbricht teaching with you dance enthusiasts.
In the words of Daniel Ulbricht, “Life is more than 32 fouettes… It is about growing, sharing, inspiring the best in all of us.”
Serena S.Y. Hsu, a fellow dance enthusiast
Daniel Ulbricht knows how to change direction, both onstage and off. As a world-renowned principal dancer at New York City Ballet, director of Stars of American Ballet, and mentor of aspiring dancers at Manhattan Youth Ballet, he commits to each role, whether it’s flying through the air like a peregrine or passing on his knowledge to fledging dancers.
Ulbricht began teaching twelve years ago when he was asked to sub a class in Saratoga Springs where NYCB has their summer residency. “I was a nervous wreck. My voice cracked, I stuttered a lot and was nervous (but then) halfway through barre, it clicked . . . I got my flow! (I knew) I wanted to continue to find places where I could teach. A close mentor of mine offered me a place to teach that summer and lift off. I now have the honor of running two schools: Manhattan Youth Ballet and New York State Summer School for the Arts. They continue to challenge and inspire me to educate the next generation,” says Ulbricht.
He credits martial arts for making a big impact on him when he was young. “For me martial arts taught me how to be a student. The discipline, manners, respect, coordination, and agility were wonderful things to roll over into ballet. I was also not afraid to try anything! Great teachers taught me and inspired me, but martial arts and my parents definitely planted the seed of how to take on anything. That is a life skill that will outlast any dance career.”
Ulbricht understands that, as a teacher, every level of dancers requires different talents from him. “Each age group of students molds the way you want to teach . . . Younger kids, it is all about clarity and repetition . . . That also includes giving them a chance to perform as well. As students progress, especially serious ones, the focus shifts to presentation of their craft. With younger students, it comes down to having them retain information . . . You sometimes have to entertain to help retain.
Not every student is capable of adjusting so I think the teacher has to do some adjusting as well. When students get older, they have a better grasp . . . things change from memorization, to mastery of technique, and in the end, performance . . . I love (seeing) a kid get that ‘ah-ha’ moment where they discover they have the ability to actually do it for themselves . . . Then I get to cheer on the sidelines.”
Serena S.Y. Hsu, a Kansas City photojournalist with a background in 3D animation and ballet, specializes in performance photography. Hsu travels frequently to various cities to photograph NYC ballet companies and other venues, such as Stars of American Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the US Figure Skating Championships, and the Rockettes. She contributed articles as a photographer and journalist to Kansas City's fine & performing arts magazine, KC Studio, and Kansas City's Public Television's Flatland edition. She also works as a wire photojournalist for ZUMA Press.