Thinking Out Loud

October 2016 | Thinking Out Loud | Ballet? Bring It On!

Sometimes, ballet and recitals don’t mix. Except at ballet-only schools, including ballet numbers in a dance recital can be difficult, especially when they’re part of a parade of dances, all tied to a loose theme, in which dancers enter and exit the stage with military precision. And ballet pieces that are excerpted from longer works can be bland and difficult to comprehend, even if they’re danced well. If you offer ballet at your school, or if you teach ballet, the last thing you want to do is give audiences any reason to think ballet is boring.

So what do you do?

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August 2016 | Thinking Out Loud | Dance Class Matters

As a teacher at University at Buffalo [NY], I often rant about how the act of taking class needs to be practiced and developed like any other skill. Recently, a senior taped a piece of poster board that said “Class Matters” to the studio door, to remind her younger classmates that much of their growth occurs in class and that they should take it seriously.

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May-June 2016 | Thinking Out Loud | Dancing to Freedom

It happened so fast: one day, 24 months ago, I began learning basic modern dance techniques like roll-downs and tendus. After that, I performed in several shows for 100-plus audience members. Now I’m paying it forward by teaching others how to dance. And I’m incarcerated!

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March-April 2016 | Thinking Out Loud | The Unseen Student

As a dance educator for 20 years and a dancer for 29, I have experienced a spectrum of teacher-to-student relationships. I know that it’s natural for teachers to scan a classroom and group the students according to their abilities; doing so helps us systemize an approach for teaching each student. It’s also natural to be drawn to those students who excel and are easily engaged.

This is where things get tricky for dance educators. As teachers, we have to use our excitement to steer the class and put all students on a path of discovery through the lessons we prepare. This positive driving force sometimes causes us to overlook the dancers who don’t immediately grasp our concepts.

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February 2016 | Thinking Out Loud | Acing Auditions

Auditioning is a tough skill to master. There are so many unknown factors to deal with, plus nerves and anxiety to overcome. But the reality of show business is that in order to get cast, dancers need to present themselves as confident, prepared performers in auditions. It doesn’t matter how great they are onstage if they don’t prove it when it’s time to get the job.

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January 2016 | Thinking Out Loud | From Good to Great

Making the jump from good teacher to great teacher is a chapter we all endeavor to write in the book of our lives. And though it may seem unattainable at times, striving for greatness is a way of investing in yourself and your students every day: practicing, thinking, and reaching. Constantly. Becoming a better teacher is within everyone’s reach, and it starts with the resolve to be stronger.

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December 2015 | Thinking Out Loud | Hip-Hop at Home on Broadway

In 2015, 35-year-old composer, lyricist, and performer Lin-Manuel Miranda won a $625,000 MacArthur “genius” award for his work in musical theater, which makes liberal use of rap. His remarkable new musical, Hamilton, a sung-through piece set in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, courses with the infectious rhythms of hip-hop. Cast almost entirely with young black and Hispanic actors, it transpires on a double-decker set swirling with rebels who move seamlessly from high-class ballrooms to political back rooms, carving their places in history. They’re aware of their destinies, and they waste no time securing them. They populate one of the highest-grossing shows on Broadway, now the toughest ticket in town.

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November 2015 | Thinking Out Loud | Two for One

Heading into my 19th year of teaching, I have held many titles over the years—dance instructor, movement teacher, dance specialist, and guest artist. But when I started being called a “teaching artist” about 12 years ago, the components of my life came together. “Teaching artist” is the title that best describes me.

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October 2015 | Thinking Out Loud | Encouraging Young Teachers

Like many of my peers, I began teaching dance at a young age. In high school I assisted my tap teacher with her youth classes, and when she was absent I was entrusted to lead the class on my own. Before I knew it, I was teaching my own boys’ tap class and beginning to sub for other local instructors.

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September 2015 | Thinking Out Loud | Theater Etiquette

As a dance educator and former performer, I believe dance teachers have an obligation to teach theater etiquette to their students. I teach it for many reasons: because I want my dancers to take pride in the art they have chosen to study, and to behave in a manner that exemplifies this when attending a performance; because I want them to show respect for the performers onstage and courtesy to the patrons seated around them; and because I want them to understand what it means to immerse themselves in a theater experience. I also want them to realize that their behavior can directly affect the theatergoing experience of others.

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August 2015 | Thinking Out Loud | Teaching Tradition

I love the shared aliveness of the field of dance—the kinetic way we pass down our knowledge from person to person, class by class, articulating through body and voice all that we understand and feel. It is exciting to know that the generation of students I am teaching is absorbing information I gleaned from my own teachers. The dance family tree is rooted in oral tradition and information is passed down through direct interaction—both verbal and physical—between teachers and students.

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July 2015 | Thinking Out Loud | Speaking With Sensitivity

In less than nine months, I have had to notify my studio’s staff that two students’ mothers had died. A second-grader lost her mother to cervical cancer, and a seventh-grader lost hers to leukemia. I was saddened to think how much these two young girls were suffering—but their losses also made me reflect on my own behavior. How many times, as the owner of a studio that is dominated by girls and their mothers, would I use language like “Moms Only” or “Mom Volunteer” without realizing how thoughtless it might seem?

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May-June 2015 | Thinking Out Loud | Celebrating National Tap Dance Day

National Tap Dance Day is a real holiday? That was my incredulous thought 20 years ago after reading the cover story from the previous spring’s International Tap Association (ITA) newsletter (May/June 1994). When I came across the article in 1995, my studio in Lexington, Massachusetts, was in its 13th year, and I had started going to the Leon Collins Dance Studio in Brookline for tap classes.

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March-April 2015 | Thinking Out Loud | Discovering Gaga

I take the stairs at a run, risking my neck by sprinting in socks, gripping my shoes in one hand and my bag in another, a mess of T-shirts dangling from my arm. I’m always running 5 or, let’s face it, 10 minutes behind, sheepishly dropping straight into pliés in fourth position or “accidentally” missing pranayama and chanting. But Batsheva Dance Company has been very clear: class begins at 11:30, and once class begins, no one enters or leaves. Maybe it’s the cultural influence of the Tzahal, Israel’s military, I think. My uncharacteristic punctuality is noted by a friend, who laughs and says, “In Israel, class always starts 10 minutes late.”

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February 2015 | Thinking Out Loud | Hard, Good Work

The film 20 Feet from Stardom, which won the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, focuses primarily on the careers of African American female singers who backed up musicians from Elvis Presley to Madonna to Michael Jackson. Despite their tremendous talents, and the fact that their voices and presence onstage transformed American popular music, most of them never gained the spotlight.

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January 2015 | Thinking Out Loud | Embracing Choreography With HUGS

Twenty-seven years ago, Roswell Dance Theatre (RDT), the in-house company of Tolbert Yilmaz School of Dance in Roswell, Georgia, began a program called HUGS from Young Choreographers. HUGS began as an assignment for older students to choreograph a dance for their parents. Over the years the program expanded as word spread about the work being produced, and HUGS is now a public performance for charity with three sold-out shows. It is one of the highlights of the dance year because of the great support given to these 15- to 18-year-old students by all 100 RDT members, proud parents, and the community.

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November 2014 | Thinking Out Loud | Finding Gratitude

When I called my best friend, Steven, and told him about the dance class I signed up for while residing at Woodbourne Correctional Facility, it amused him. “You?” he asked, after five minutes of laughter. “Since when have you been interested in stuff like that?”

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October 2014 | Thinking Out Loud | Dream Big, Plan Bigger

I made one of the biggest leaps I’d ever taken when I decided to stop renting space for my studio. It took two and a half years, six bank applications, two builders, three funding increase requests, four bank closings, five expensive changes required by the city, several court hearings, and countless sleepless nights—but now I own instead of rent, and I can look back at lessons learned.

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September 2014 | Thinking Out Loud | Emphasis on Artistry

As a co-owner of Plano Dance Theatre and director of our Performance Ensemble, I’ve chosen to encourage the artistry of dance as its own reward. From the time the school opened nine years ago, I knew I did not want competition to be the primary focus. We don’t attend national finals; instead I encourage them to audition for summer intensive programs where they can continue their technical growth and development.

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