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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July 2014 | Thinking Out Loud | Mixed Messages

The following Facebook post got the English National Ballet School into hot water last January: “Fabulous to have students and staff back in school after the Xmas break. Time to work off all that Xmas food.”

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May-June 2014 | Thinking Out Loud | Senioritis, School-Owner Style

It was hard to grasp. I was ordering costumes for my school’s annual production when I realized that this year, of my school’s 450 students, 22 high school seniors would be graduating in the spring. “That’s crazy,” I thought. Last year there were 19; the year before, 17. I checked the numbers, and sure enough, 22 dancers would be moving on to college. Twenty-two young women, many of whom have trained with me since they were 3 or 4 years old, would soon be leaving their hometown dance studio behind.

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February 2014 | February 2014 | Thinking Out Loud | Hats Off to Carolyn

Ten years after selling my studio to two of my former students, I still miss being a dance teacher, with all the fun and heartaches that go with that job. Only now can I discuss, tear-free, not owning a studio. A few years ago I went to a recital at my former school, and it brought home to me all over again how important teachers are. The audience was filled with former dancers who came to acknowledge the 50-year history of a dance studio in a small Georgia town.

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January 2014 | Thinking Out Loud | Heads Held High

Most ballet instructors believe a class dress code is essential. Melissa Roxey is one of them. Not only does uniformity of dress allow for accurate technical corrections due to unobstructed views of the body, but the lack of adornment and personal style ensures that the dancers’ technique, not the latest fashion trends, are the center of attention in class. But for one week Melissa, the owner of Mill Ballet School in Lambertville, New Jersey, the school my daughters attend, abandoned the dress code and encouraged students of all ages to wear their favorite crowns, tiaras, or hats to class.

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October 2013 | Thinking Out Loud | Defining Reality

Today was such a special day. Our annual recital, like most, is so much more than a performance—it’s a chance for all of our students to dance their hearts out in front of their families and friends. From the tiniest preschooler to the teenager with nine dances to remember, they all look forward to their moment onstage where they can share their love for dance.

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October 2013 | Thinking Out Loud | Happy Ending

We have many pictures of us together, my students and I. Hugging at the end of class, posing in arabesque at the beach, screaming our lungs out at Canobie Lake Park. We became the masters of the self-portrait, arms extended as we held the camera before us, blinding ourselves with the flash.

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September 2013 | Thinking Out Loud | Weight Worries

Body size is a controversial topic for dancers and dance teachers. As a dancer for 53 years and a teacher for more than 30 years, I have seen changes in attitude and expectations. Most have been good. Dancers today fly higher and jump farther, with stronger bodies than those of their predecessors. The trend toward larger, more athletic dancers is obvious on So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars.

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August 2013 | Thinking Out Loud | The Love of My Life

Some of us spend a lifetime looking for “our” place. I have known since my first class that dance would always be the love of my life. Ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop, vaudeville, ballroom, square dancing, Irish step dancing, lyrical, modern, interpretive—it doesn’t matter. I love everything about it: the music, the leotards, the smell of new ballet shoes, the pain of the first pointe shoes, the excitement, the applause.

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February 2013 | Thinking Out Loud | Hip-Hop Gold

For 18 years, my studio’s enrollment has remained steady. I have seen students graduate from high school and move on, only to be replaced by little ones now old enough to join Fundamentals of Dance, a class for the youngest dancers. Some students move away while an equal number of dancers change studios and come my way. Yet attracting male students to the school and sustaining their enrollment was like picking apples off a pear tree—until I added hip-hop to the roster.

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January 2013 | Thinking Out Loud | Feedback Frenzy

When my son, Cooper, announced he was quitting his martial arts class, I was stunned. After further questioning, I learned that the instructor had talked with him about attending class more than once a week. Cooper explained he had additional activities to balance. The teacher said he understood; he just wanted to be sure Cooper wasn’t being a “slacker.” Well, “slacker,” was all Cooper heard. I wondered whether he would have responded differently if his teacher had included some positive reinforcement.

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December 2012 | Thinking Out Loud | New School, New Outlook

When I learned that I had been accepted to Walnut Hill School for the Arts for the 2011–2012 year, I could hardly describe my feelings. I had butterflies in my stomach and was literally shaking with excitement. I was proud yet anxious; this decision could change my life entirely. I was moving across the continent and was about to press the restart button on my entire life. Before Walnut Hill, I had danced at Vanleena Dance Academy, the studio that my mum and grandmother own. I felt happy and supported and did well in school, yet I yearned for something deeper.

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November 2012 | Thinking Out Loud | Virtual Rehearsal

I slapped some ice onto my purpling Achilles tendon, but I could tell I was going to have to rest it. So I emailed the director of A Little Night Music, a production for which I was contributing choreography. A string of email brainstorming correspondence followed, and I began to write out instructions, reminders, and notes for the rehearsal in the event that I could not attend. Fortunately, the show was three weeks into rehearsal with staging and choreography already plotted out. But that night was an important run-through of Act 2, which I felt I could not miss. As a joke, I wrote, “Too bad we can’t have a video conference!” To which the assistant director replied that we could—via Skype, so that I could “watch” the run-through.

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October 2012 | Thinking Out Loud | Making Peace With Bodies

Fourteen-year-old ballet dancer and blogger Julia Bluhm twisted some knickers in the fashion media world recently, mobilizing social-media forces to confront Seventeen magazine about its use of Photoshopped models. In a New York Times interview Bluhm explained that it all started because so many girls in her ballet class complained about being fat.

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July 2012 | Thinking Out Loud | Unexpected Inspiration

I teach jazz dance for a living. That’s how I ended up choreographing the annual fifth-grade musical at my daughter’s school. My daughter told the music teacher that I’m a dance teacher, and so he called to ask if I would consider doing the show.

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May-June 2012 | Thinking Out Loud | Why I Walked

Last year I was awarded a scholarship sponsored by Backdrops Fantastic to the DanceLife Teacher Conference, and I wanted to pass on my good fortune by doing something to help others. That’s when I got involved in Relay for Life.

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March-April 2012 | Thinking Out Loud | I Remember Tony

Who was Tony Stevens? Many things, not the least of which were a Broadway and film director/choreographer. But this man, who passed away on July 12, 2011, at age 63 of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was much more than that to me, and to many others.

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