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Victor See Yuen created the music used to accompany all Horton classes at The Ailey School. Photo by Claudia Schreier

Classroom accompanists’ perspective on dance education

By Ross LeClair

Dance accompanists are an integral part of dance education. The job is multifaceted and challenging. Accompanists must use their experience and instincts to know what music best suits a teacher’s needs, and they need to play it well. They play a crucial role in helping dancers understand musicality, all the while seeking to continue developing their own artistry. It’s not an easy job, but it’s a rewarding and satisfying one for those who are successful.

Many accompanists are serious musicians training for or involved in a performing or recording career who turn to accompanying because they need a paycheck. Pianist Joe Cross, who plays for ballet classes at Ballet Academy East, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, was studying piano performance at Texas Christian University in 1971 when he answered an advertisement seeking a musician who could play for dance classes. Cross tried it. Since he had studied dance until he was 13, the studio environment felt familiar to him and he stuck with it.

Cross moved to New York in 1986 to start playing for ballet classes for Dance Theatre of Harlem and David Howard, and within six months had begun to accompany for ballet, tap, and modern classes all over New York, plus cabaret acts and singers.

John Childs, who plays piano for ballet and modern classes at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, began accompanying dance classes in Baltimore and continued in New York as a first-year student at The Juilliard School. Since then, Childs has played at many schools and for many classes, working for, among others, the June Taylor Dancers, Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook at the Katherine Dunham School, and for Rebekah Harkness’ private ballet lessons.

No matter how they get their start, accompanists who stick with the job do it because they find it to be both challenging and rewarding. The challenge lies in possessing—or being able to generate—a wide repertoire of music, and in understanding what music is needed to make an exercise or combination work for both the dancers and the teacher. The reward comes from seeing the dancers hear and embody their music.

“It’s all about the energy in the studio,” says Cross. “You can tell when a dancer is sailing across the floor, and that’s what makes it worthwhile.”

Some accompanists use sheet music, while others play from memory or improvise. Regardless, they must deliver the tempo and rhythm (e.g., a waltz) the teacher asks for, shift tempos immediately as requested, and offer music that helps students feel the movement and achieve varied movement dynamics.

For Childs, this balance of freedom and restriction is what keeps the work challenging and exciting. “I have to listen to the teacher to know the mood or style that he implies,” he says. “I have to come up with something that suits the class in a matter of seconds.”

It’s all about the energy in the studio. You can tell when a dancer is sailing across the floor, and that’s what makes it worthwhile. —Joe Cross

Cross finds that a mix of many different styles and approaches works best for his classes. He uses songs from Broadway musicals, the Great American Songbook, classical music, and his own improvisations. “If I had to play the same music in every class, I would go nuts,” he says.

Victor See Yuen, a percussionist with an active performing career, plays for modern-dance and body-conditioning classes at The Ailey School. He began accompanying classes when friends asked him to substitute for them, but soon began to take his career as an accompanist seriously. He took it upon himself to study the technique of Lester Horton with master teacher Ana Marie Forsythe, learning the phrases, accents, and counts involved in the codified technique in order to create the perfect rhythms for each exercise. “I spent 10 years trying to figure out how to do it,” he says. “Once I really formed the whole concept, I recorded Percussion for the Dance Technique of Lester Horton, Volumes 1 and 2.”

Now when See Yuen plays for classes, he uses music he created. “I play the original pattern from my record, but then I’ll add other tones to make it more interesting for the students,” he says.

Unlike See Yuen, who specializes in modern classes, Childs has played for many different types of classes over the course of his 62-year career. He has observed firsthand changes in the teaching of both ballet and modern dance classes. In the early days of modern-dance training in America, he recalls, most modern-dance teachers preferred distinctly modern rhythms and dynamics to the even rhythms of ballet music. “In the ’50s and ’60s, a modern teacher hated to hear anything that sounded sweet like ballet music,” he says. “And a ballet teacher wouldn’t want to hear anything contemporary.”

This divide has largely disappeared, Childs says. While the requirements of ballet and modern classes are still different, strict musical distinctions or classifications have become less pronounced. “I saw that as the teachers got younger the scope [of musical choice] got wider and there was more acceptance,” he says. “Teachers today have a much different outlook.”

Whatever the musical genre, for most musicians the most important and rewarding aspect of accompanying dance classes is the role they play in helping students understand the relationship between music and dance.

See Yuen occasionally reminds students of the importance of musicality as they pass by his drum set, telling them to pay more attention to the music and how to focus on it as well as the movement. “My philosophy is that music and dance are one,” he says. “I remind them to listen to the drums, because sometimes they concentrate only on the body movements and not on the music.”

See Yuen occasionally invites a student who is observing class due to injury to play rhythms with him. One year he asked Denise Jefferson, The Ailey School director until her death in 2010, if he could teach a percussion class to the graduating seniors of the Ailey/Fordham BFA program. “The students told me they wished they had the class all along,” See Yuen says. “Understanding the music helped them become better dancers because they could have enough control and knowledge to manipulate the music with their movement.”

Cross too is gratified when he sees that students are motivated by and physically understand the music. “It’s great when a student is aware of the music and I can see that it helps them along,” he says.

A good working relationship between accompanist and teacher is essential for the success of any class. Childs, Cross, and See Yuen agree that good communication and lively collaboration with the teacher are vital to honing their own accompanying skills and to giving students what they need to progress in class and develop as dancers.

“Accompanying,” Cross says, “is an art form in itself.”

Sidebar

CDs

John Childs
Ballet Music for Class, supervised by David Howard
(Items # 6010, 6011)
$25
To purchase: roperrecords.com/ballet4.htm

Joe Cross
Original Music for Tap, with Charles Kelley
$19.95
To purchase: danceclassmusic.com/br20.html

Tap Dance Music for Class, supervised by David Howard and Paul Geldston
(Items #7008, 7009)
$15
To purchase: roperrecords.com/tap.htm

To purchase Cross’ ballet music (many choices): roperrecords.com/ballet.htm

Victor See Yuen
Percussion for the Dance Technique of Lester Horton, Volumes 1 and 2, by Victor See Yuen and William Catanzaro
Prices vary
To purchase: amazon.com

 

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EditorSpeak

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Unmastered Classes

So here is a riddle: when is a master class not a master class?

I wish there were a cute or clever answer to that, like, “When it’s ajar.” (Come on, you know that one: “When is a door not a door?”) Unfortunately, the answer that fits best is “when it’s not taught by a master teacher,” which is less a witty puzzler and more a humorless statement about the current state of dance education.

In the age-old definition, master classes differed from regular classes by the in-depth nature of the instruction. Developed in the classical music world but applicable to all the arts, master classes were rare opportunities for upper-intermediate and advanced students to hone particulars of their craft with an instructor who had reached the pinnacle of an artistic field and could share insights that reached beyond the students’ regular lessons. The key, presumably, was that the teacher was a master.

Today in dance, the teacher is more likely a celebrity.

Now don’t get me wrong. This column isn’t a condemnation of the myriad of young dancers with marketable names flooding the faculty lists at workshops and conventions. Making a living at dance is hard enough, and if this generation of up-and-comers has figured out a way to pay the rent, more power to them. But many of the hot names have very thin resumes. Many have barely stepped out of the classroom themselves, but because they have that all-important name recognition from a movie appearance or TV show, they’re in demand.

Media-saturated studio dancers are flocking to take class with their “favorite” dancer—who, believe it or not, can be as young as 9—and heading home happy with four counts of 8 and a meet-and-greet photo they can splash all over Facebook.

It’s all a lot of fun, but I wonder—in this rush to gush, what of the steadfast artists who have dedicated their lives to the study of dance but never appeared in a music video? Will these masters continue to find their way to the front of the class? And once there, will students with stars in their eyes be able to see them clearly? —Karen White, Associate Editor

 

New Dance Therapy

Philosopher and author Alain de Botton and some associates have come up with a program that offers what they call bibliotherapy. It works like this: people who are struggling or who would like to make changes in their lives consult with a bibliotherapist, much as one consults a psychotherapist. One of three bibliotherapists (currently one author, one artist, and a bookstore owner) then puts together a list of books that might help that person lift his spirits, solve a problem, look at things differently, strategize, or become energized. While not trained therapists, all three have an extensive knowledge of books and literature.

I immediately thought about the multitude of dances that might serve a similar function—ballets that inspire, modern dance pieces that enlighten, tap numbers that overjoy, dance theater that helps untangle a knotty philosophical problem.

If a patient on my sofa were feeling fearful or timid, I would recommend Paul Taylor’s Esplanade, the perfect modern dance piece to remind her of the joys of spontaneity and the pleasure of trust—think of the fifth movement, with the women flying through the air, fearless and exuberant, confident that their partners will catch them. For someone who suffers from boredom and cynicism, or is feeling a little underwhelmed by human nature as he observes it, I’d prescribe Pina Bausch. Almost any one of her works can underscore the complexity and fragility—but also the enormous strength and beauty—of the human animal. There is much to be learned about social theory in the works of Anna Sokolow. And for a lesson in the mathematics of rhythm, take two doses of Gregory Hines.

While there is no scientific basis in this form of therapy, most of us have had life-changing experiences with books or dance, or both. Next time you despair that politics, the economy, war, or poverty has rendered the modern world bereft of all that is good, sit down and watch Balanchine’s Serenade. I’m convinced that nothing on earth could better right anything that ails the spirit. —Lisa Okuhn, Associate Editor

 

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Dance Masters Chapter 8 Thrilled with Dance Studio Life Article

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This week Rhee Gold received a personal letter from Marilyn Caccamise, secretary of Dance Masters of Western New York Chapter 8, expressing the excitement that she and her fellow club members felt after seeing their chapter featured in the October issue of Dance Studio Life.

Each month, DSL’s Strength in Numbers feature pays tribute to a dance teacher organization. Through pictures and illustrations, the feature explains why the group was founded and by whom, how it has grown over the years, and what sorts of services and education opportunities it affords members.

Some of the organizations featured recently include Michigan Dance Council, Colorado Dance Alliance, Canadian Dance Masters of America Chapter 38, Massachusetts Dance Educators Organization, and RI Dance Alliance. Any organization that would be like to be featured can contact associate editor Karen White at Karen@rheegold.com for more information.

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Ailey Benefit at the Apollo Raises $1 Million for Education Programs

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A one-night-only event on May 8 at the Apollo Theater in Harlem featuring performances by artists of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, students of The Ailey School, and young AileyCampers, raised a record $1 million.

The Ailey School students (Photo by Christopher Duggan)

Artistic director Robert Battle welcomed honorary chair Toni Braxton and 900 guests to the benefit, which honored board member Leslie Maheras and her husband Thomas Maheras.

Event proceeds will benefit student scholarships to The Ailey School and the Ailey organization’s Arts In Education & Community Programs, including AileyCamp Washington Heights.

Upcoming Ailey performances include The Ailey School Spring Concert on May 22 and 23 at The Ailey Citigroup Theater, New York City; and AAADT tour stops in Charlotte, North Carolina on May 15 to 20; Baltimore, Maryland on May 22 to 23; and Charleston, South Carolina on May 25 to 27.  For details, visit www.alvinailey.org.

Got news? Email Karen@rheegold.com and include your name, email and phone. We like accompanying photos too with photographer’s credit and photo description. 

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Monsters Teams Up with JabbaWockeez for Las Vegas Dance Event

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Monsters On The Move Foundation, Inc. (MOVE), created to provide aspiring, underprivileged dancers financial support to pursue a quality dance education, has teamed up with the hip-hop crew JabbaWockeez for a special fund-raising event.

The JabbaWockeez Experience will take place March 10 and 11 at the Alexis Park Resort in Las Vegas. The event includes two days of dance classes with JabbaWockeez and celebrity guests such as Emmy-Award winning choreographers Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo, and longtime Justin Timberlake choreographer Marty Kudelka. The weekend event also features a freestyle session, question and answer session, photos, and autographs. Each attendee will receive one ticket to MUS.I.C., the JabbaWockeez show at the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas.

In 2011, MOVE awarded more than $20,000 in financial aid scholarships to 14 individuals to continue or pursue a dance education. The group has set a fund-raising goal of $100,000 for 2012.

Space is limited on a first-come, first-served basis. Registration is available at http://www.monstersonthemove.org.

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Poor Kids, Rich Prospects

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Dance is a springboard out of poverty at The Wooden Floor

By Jennifer Kaplan

Many Wooden Floor pieces were created on the students by top-notch choreographers like Donald McKayle and John Heginbotham (Photo courtesy The Wooden Floor)

Melanie Rios Glaser is nothing if not bold. Bold enough, in fact, to say, “Dance can help end poverty in this country.” She points to the successes she’s seen and instigated at The Wooden Floor, an organization where dance remains at the foundation—the floor, so to speak. But it has become far more than a place to learn pliés, tendus, and jetés. The Wooden Floor is an essential community resource and support system for hundreds of low-income residents of Santa Ana, California.

“I don’t think of dance as inherently good or bad,” Rios Glaser explains, “but there’s an approach to how we use dance at The Wooden Floor that makes it particularly valuable in translating into other areas of life. I think it’s dance, but I also think it’s our approach to dance and how we apply dance to learning.”

The organization has come a long way from its founding 29 years ago as Saint Joseph Ballet. Sister Beth Burns, a Catholic nun and former member of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Orange, was a trained dancer. She was supposed to teach English for her order but instead rallied to open a ballet school. While her order didn’t balk, it took some convincing before the Mother Superior OK’d the plan. Even then the classes weren’t offered in a Catholic church, but in the basement of a local Episcopal one.

The program Sister Beth instituted featured low-cost or no-cost ballet classes for the city’s poorest children, many immigrants or children of immigrants from South America, Southeast Asia, and other regions. She believed that dance would help struggling youths gain self-confidence, self-discipline, and a sense of accomplishment.

By 1999 the dance school had opened a 21,000-square-foot educational center with a state-of-the-art theater, a stunning glass wall, and spacious studios with soaring ceilings. The $6.8 million in construction costs was raised largely from private individuals and corporations. (The Wooden Floor’s annual budget of $2.3 million is covered largely by foundation, corporate, and individual contributions. City and state aid amounts to 2 percent of the budget.) Joining the beautifully appointed dance studios are a fully equipped library, meeting rooms, an academic tutoring center, private counseling rooms, a computer center, and a comfortable lobby where students, their families, and visitors feel welcome to relax.

In 2005, Rio Glaser became the organization’s second artistic director and under her leadership Saint Joseph Ballet rebranded itself as The Wooden Floor in 2009. Although the name changed, the founding principles remained. “While faith might have influenced [Sister Beth’s] approach,” Rios Glaser says, “it was never really a faith-based organization. Religion wasn’t something forced. The values on which the organization was founded could be considered religious, but they’re also universal.”

Each fall Rios Glaser holds auditions for a new class of dancers. “The word has spread throughout the community that coming through these doors might just change everything,” Rios Glaser says. About 300 hopeful children and their parents begin lining up around the block as early as 3am for the 70 spots. “We’re looking for extremely low income and that the kids seem to enjoy dance as a medium for growth. That’s about it,” she says.

Once the students are in, though, The Wooden Floor makes a 10-year commitment to its 375 students, ranging in age from 8 to 18. In exchange for attending classes, participating, and good behavior, the students and their families receive a range of services that include academic tutoring, college prep beginning in seventh grade, family counseling, a full-time on-site social worker available for crises, and opportunities to work with the nation’s best contemporary choreographers and perform both at the on-site black box theater and in renowned venues like REDCAT.

If it hadn’t been explained to him, Seattle-based choreographer Mark Haim says, he would never have known that the students at The Wooden Floor all come from extremely low-income backgrounds. (In Orange County, that means a family of five living on less than $32,000 a year.) A majority of the students are Hispanic immigrants or children of Hispanic immigrants, so often English is not their mother tongue.

Rios Glaser, a proud native of Guatemala, points out that since 2005, 100 percent of alumni have enrolled in college, which is three times the average for graduating high school seniors nationwide from that socioeconomic level. Aside from the excellent state and private colleges and universities in Southern California, The Wooden Floor graduates attend schools like Wellesley, New York University, and Boston College and, due to the intensive college prep program, they have few qualms about applying to Stanford, Harvard, and MIT.

Fernando Sosa, 19, first learned about The Wooden Floor when it was still Saint Joseph Ballet. His third-grade teacher told his mother about the program. “At first I didn’t want to go,” says the UCLA freshman, “because of the stereotype that ballet was for girls. But my mom convinced me that it would help me do better in school.” At 10, he auditioned and was accepted. Last June he graduated from Santa Ana’s Middle College High School and received enough credits at the local community college to enter his freshman year with sophomore standing.

“Dance helped me to express myself and helps me with my self-esteem,” says Sosa, who describes himself as “really shy.” By high school he was spending time at The Wooden Floor nearly every day; he relied on the tutors for help with algebra, the counselors for support, and the annual backpack giveaways for basic school supplies. “It’s just my mom, my sister, and me,” he says. “We live off one paycheck, so The Wooden Floor really helped us out.”

Each student has a mentor—either a staff member, faculty member, or counselor—to offer whatever support is necessary to get kids into the studio to dance.

That dance is what makes a difference has become a no-brainer for Rios Glaser. The kids are not simply learning and performing dances, she’ll tell you, they’re making art. The students’ first year is a combination of Anne Green Gilbert’s brain-compatible dance education and improvisation; they might also learn a dance or two from other parts of the world. The year is a preparation for lessons to follow as well as a chance to discover the joy of dance. Ballet continues and modern and improvisation, among other dance styles, are introduced as the students mature. Improvisation and creative problem solving are always emphasized.

The program has seven university-trained dance teachers. Hours of instruction vary depending on students’ age and level of involvement. Younger children attend once or twice a week at the outset, while the most involved older students show up every weekday—and on Saturdays for rehearsals.

Aside from Juilliard-trained Rios Glaser and Haim, the choreographers commissioned by The Wooden Floor to create new works on the students have included Seán Curran, John Heginbotham, Donald McKayle, Susan Rethorst, Sally Silvers, and Scott Wells. Dance companies in residence teaching master classes and repertory have included José Limón Dance Company, Eliot Feld’s Ballet Tech, and Elizabeth Streb’s STREB. Plans are percolating for a major postmodern choreographer to set a site-specific work on the kids in 2012.

The first time Haim was commissioned to create a piece on the student dancers back in 2002 he was intrigued—but wary enough to bring along an assistant, having never worked with teens before. “I wasn’t sure how it would go,” he says. “I just went in with the intention of doing what I normally do. I get a certain allotment of hours to make a piece, so I just treated it like a normal commission.”

What surprised him at first was that he didn’t need to adjust his methods to work with the teens. It took a day or two longer with the kids, he says, to see what he was envisioning, but otherwise, he treated them like professionals. “And I could,” Haim says, a tinge of amazement in his voice. He has made and restaged three original works on The Wooden Floor dancers over the past nine years.

That the students were ready to work, focused, and able to contribute to the choreographic process is due to the intensive behind-the-scenes support. Each student has a mentor—either a staff member, faculty member, or counselor—to offer whatever support is necessary to get kids into the studio to dance. That could mean finding temporary housing for a suddenly homeless family, helping a kid who lost his bus pass get a ride home, or finding lunch and a snack for a hungry dancer at the end of the month when food stamps run out.

“With all the problems these kids have, I never, ever had a kid act out,” Haim says. “And, if I didn’t want to, I never had to know what was going on in their lives outside the studio.” That is important. “For those kids, it’s a safe place. They come there and forget about what’s going on at home, all the problems. The very best thing I could do for them was to say, ‘OK, we’re here in the studio; we’re going to make art, have fun, play, and enjoy what we’re doing.’”

“We have a theory of change,” Rios Glaser says. “And one of the things we have found that needs to be true is that [we encourage] young people to form long-term, healthy relationships with mentors. So they’re making sure kids arrive on time, that they have everything they need, and try to spot any possible problems or crises ahead of time.”

Rios Glaser’s other fundamental belief in her continuum that dance changes lives and eliminates poverty is that even children, or especially children, can be creative artists. “In the same way children are asked to become proficient in math over the years, whether they’re good at it or not,” she says, “here they’re asked to become proficient in dance over 10 years, whether they’re good at it or not.” In the end, if they stick with the program, they become proficient dancers and creative artists.

That means mastering improvisation is as important as mastering ballet or modern technique. “Improvisation is very important to us starting in the first year,” Rios Glaser says, “because we want to make sure that the students understand that all movement is valid.” That includes their own. By not forcing them into a specific style or technique early in their training, they become more open and able to explore with the professional choreographers. “Improvisation stays with them throughout the organization as a philosophy, because they’re going to work with choreographers who are going to be adventuresome and will draw from their own movement language and from movement language that the kids invent themselves.”

In addition to encouraging physically healthy children, creating a sense of well-being and purpose, building community, and supporting self-awareness, Rios Glaser is most interested in process-oriented choreography that includes the children from the early stages of creation through performance. “We commission people whose work is very much based on inquiry, finding multiple answers to the same question, thinking creatively, gaining self-awareness, seeing the world in a broader light,” she says.

These critical-thinking skills are as desirable in 21st-century business schools and science, math, and technology fields as they are in the dance studio. “That,” Rios Glaser says with a note of finality, “is the argument about why dance is such a winner, especially in leveling the playing field for low-income youth. But I can’t emphasize enough that it’s our approach and it’s also our 10-year immersion” that make the difference.

Sosa agrees. “The Wooden Floor really helped me grow into the person I am today. I wouldn’t be here [in college] without their help.”

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Nai-Ni Chen to Develop School Curriculum with NEA Grant

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The Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company of Fort Lee, New Jersey, has received a 2012 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support dance performances, and educational and outreach activities based on the ancient legends and folklore of the Chinese Dragon, accompanied by the Chinese Music Ensemble of New York.

The project will include development of a curriculum guide for students and teachers attending student matinees of the Year of the Dragon Celebration and visual arts exhibits by master paper-cutting artist Hou-Tien Cheng. The grant is the 15th awarded to the company by the NEA.

Year of the Dragon Chinese New Year public performances are set for January 21 at 2 and 7pm and January 22 at 2pm at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), 1 Center Street, Newark. Visit http://www.nainichen.org/ for information.

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Classroom Connection

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Exercise of the Week
For years I have watched students “prepare” for class by sitting in a comfortable second position straddle, usually with an iPod attached or chatting. This stretch does little to prepare the mind or the body for class. In order to meet the ever-changing demands of the discipline, instructors must develop a technique class that challenges the student to push physical boundaries and also instills knowledge, artistry, and respect for the aesthetic tradition of the form.

Within the confines of the typical 90-minute class, teachers must address both the athletic and aesthetic needs of the students with balance and clarity. Without sacrificing one for the other, you can successfully sprinkle Pilates-based movement and sport-specific conditioning exercises into a ballet class. Introduce the “Exercise of the Week” and encourage students to incorporate these stretches or conditioning exercises into their personal fitness regime.

By limiting the exercise to one per week, you allow students to practice, retain, and commit the movement to mind–body memory. An optimal time to teach the exercise is during the transitional time after the barre. By considering the fitness and maturity level of each class, you can introduce age-appropriate conditioning exercises that work in tandem with the dancers’ understanding of technique.

Some interdisciplinary crossovers to consider:

  • Pilates: hundreds to encourage core stabilization and use of breath; single- or double-leg stretch for hamstrings and back; bridging for back of legs, gluteus, and core.
  • Gym: standing parallel with attention to alignment, bring ankle to hand and extend slightly, pushing foot to hand to create the stretch, targeting hip flexors and quadriceps.
  • Yoga: cow face pose for flexion and extension of the hip.
  • Fitness bands: for resistance training, strength building, and injury recovery.

By introducing varied somatic practices into a technique class, you’ll help students develop a personal repertoire of exercises that target individual needs. And you’ll expose them to cross-training methods that they may want to include in their dance training. 

—Jeanne Fornarola

Hints of Dance History
We can help our students have a well-rounded education in dance by including dance history within our schools. You may wonder how you could possibly devote any of your precious class time to the depths of Petipa or Balanchine, but doing so could ignite the imaginations of students of any age. There are easy ways to stimulate interest.

While young students practice ballet walks across the floor, explain how a French king who danced was responsible for ballet terms being French or talk about the grandeur of early ballets done by royalty.

Likewise, discussing the various styles of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Gene Kelly, Eleanor Powell, and Brenda Bufalino in tap classes can not only provide insight into those styles and personalities but also help students understand the evolution of dance.

Exposing students to dance history doesn’t need to be heavy-handed or formal. Just as learning terminology enhances rather than restricts dance education, so does understanding the roots of the art form.

Here are some ideas for integrating dance history into your school:

  • Have age-appropriate handouts for students. These could be as simple as a coloring sheet or word search for young students or brief biographies of notable dancers for older dancers.
  • Have a designated progression of dance history in each of your classes. For example, the youngest ballet students would learn about Louis XIV while each additional level would progress through the Romantic era and end with 21st-century dancers.
  • Post the name of a famous dancer, style, or time period each month and provide age-related activities on that subject for each group.
  • Provide a free lecture on dance history for your students and parents, or open it to the public. This helps to establish you and your school as providers of quality education.
  • Play DVDs of dance performances or musicals in your waiting room.

Explore other ideas with your colleagues to engage and expand your students’ interest in dance.

—Debbie Werbrouck

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Strength in Numbers

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Dance teacher organizations—where to team up, share ideas, and be heard

Profile: Dance Teachers’ Club of Boston
Founded in 1914, the Dance Teachers’ Club of Boston Inc. (DTCB) today has approximately 390 members, many of whom took their first official steps toward becoming teachers through the club’s Dance Education Training Course.

Dance Education Training Course students such as (from left) Meredith Fournier, Courtney Kelly, and Shannon Beaulieu are participating in a 69-year tradition in Boston. (Photo courtesy DTCB)

Next year marks the 70th anniversary of the training course, originally called “Normal School,” established in the early 1940s by Ruth I. Byrne, then president of the organization. Despite its age, the course is always evolving. “We aim to keep things current within our profession and work very hard to make the course beneficial for the students and their dance education,” immediate past president Kelly Hayward says. “The program directors are always updating and changing the course curriculum, while consulting with our faculty, to keep the program current. Many of our members are graduates of the program themselves, so they can truly attest to its value.”

Diane Gudat, a regular faculty member, agrees. “The [club] has managed to keep a wonderful, old-school structure, but has knocked the cobwebs aside to give [the course] an updated, vital feel.”

Each summer, 75 to 125 students of member teachers complete the three-year course and receive certification. To attend, students must be age 15 or older, with a minimum of three years of training in ballet, tap, and jazz. (Non-member teachers ages 18 and over are also welcome to attend, and member teachers can take the program as a refresher course at any age.)

 The training runs for one week each summer, usually in early August. Classes include ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary partnering, music, stretching, teaching principles, and children’s work, as well as music theory, hip-hop, ballroom, injury prevention, musical theater, and improvisation. Among the master teachers this past season were Gudat, leading the tap, music theory, and teaching principles classes, and Tom Ralabate, teaching jazz, contemporary partnering, improv, and ballroom. Ginny Durow led lessons in children’s work, with E. Laura Hausmann teaching ballet and modern, and Heather Southwick handling injury prevention classes.

Ralabate speaks highly of the program. “Each summer the Dance Education Training Course becomes a magical place,” Ralabate says. “My hope in shaping young bodies and minds is that these young teens find professional identity, success, and integrity in their chosen field. Presenting for DETC has become one of the highlights of my summer travels.”

Hausmann agrees, adding that students leave the course with confidence as well as knowledge. “Some students enter the program without the benefit of studying all the disciplines that are taught in the program. By the end of the five days, students experience enormous growth and learning,” she says. “This confidence encourages many students to continue studying those same unfamiliar styles at their home studios.”               

Summer-course students must pass written and performance exams based on the material taught during the week to be eligible to progress to the next level, and only students who receive passing grades for all three years (Levels 1, 2, and 3) are eligible for graduation. Grades are also used to determine recipients of tuition scholarships that can be used for the following summer’s course or, in the case of Level 3 students, for college education.

Each program ends with a graduation ceremony. Graduates parade in a Grand March, then receive awards, scholarships, and certificates of completion. After a formal dinner, the guests—who include faculty, family, and friends—are treated to a performance by the graduates, choreographed by Ralabate based on material learned throughout the week.

The ceremony is a long-standing DTCB tradition. “Tradition and social etiquette are taught and rehearsed for the ceremony, with graduates dressing in traditional white ball gowns or white tuxedos for the men,” Hayward says. “Many parents and guests have remarked at how much they enjoy this ceremony and presentation of awards.”

The club supports dance students in other ways as well. Auditions are held each May for the Lilla Frances Viles Scholarship, awarded to a student entering college in the fall, based on high school grades, an essay, and dance audition. The club also offers the National Dance Council of America Scholarship. In November 2010, DTCB partnered with Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts, in a scholarship program that awarded $15,000 per year for four years to each of two students.

“We are always exploring new ways to support dance and dance education,” Hayward says.

Annually, the club holds four member meetings/workshops that are open to non-member teachers in an effort to educate others about the organization, as well as two student workshops each year open to students of member teachers. To learn more about DTCB, visit danceteachersclub.org.

December Events

Associated Dance Teachers of New Jersey  800.825.0933; associateddanceteachers.com
Event: Junior Scholarship
When: December 15 deadline for scholarship essay submission
What: ADTNJ member teachers can submit five essays of a maximum 100 words each from students at least 7 years old and not exceeding the eighth grade on the topic, “What is your favorite dance subject and why?” Applications must be postmarked by December 15. Scholarships will be awarded to 10 students to attend the Funky February Workshop at the Bridgewater Marriott on February 12, 2012. Contest details are available at associateddanceteachers.com/Junior_Scholarships.html.

National Association for Schools of Dance   703.437.0700; nasd.arts-accredit.org
Event: Call for 2012 annual meeting proposals
When: December 31 submission deadline
What: NASD, founded in 1981, is an organization of schools, conservatories, colleges, and universities that establishes national standards for undergraduate and graduate degrees and other credentials. Proposal ideas for the next annual meeting, to be held the third or fourth week in September 2012, can be submitted to: Executive Director, NASD National Office, 11250 Roger Bacon Drive, Suite 21, Reston, VA 20190-5248.

National Dance Association   703.476.3464; aahperd.org/nda
Event: National Dance Association Choreography Evaluation Project
When: Ongoing
What: A fee-based service offered to dance faculty and students in need of professional evaluation of choreography for retention, promotion, tenure, or other reasons. NDA adjudicators—professional choreographers, educators, and dance critics—will complete formal, written evaluations on categories such as concept elements; clarity, invention, and creativity; consistency of style; impact and accomplishment of objective; and choreographic elements. For more information, visit aahperd.org/nda/profDevelopment/CEP.cfm.

Dance Organization News
Several American dancers took home top prizes from the Cecchetti International Classical Ballet Competition held July 28–30 at The Quays Theatre in Manchester, England.

Forty-four dancers from around the world, ages 14 to 19, took part in the three-day competition. After learning set contemporary and ballet classes, they moved on to higher rounds based on scores from both class work and solo performances. Awards were given in five categories—musicality, contemporary, most promising, audience choice, and the Enrico Cecchetti Award. Six additional students won scholarships.

Cecchetti USA fielded a team of eight dancers, including Chelsea Cambron of Santa Barbara, California, winner of the Contemporary Award. A sophomore dance major at the University of California–Santa Barbara, Cambron trained with Denise Rinaldi at Santa Barbara Festival Ballet for 15 years. Melissa Eguchi, 14, also of Cecchetti USA and a student of Kimberly McEachern in Huntington Beach, California, won a one-year scholarship to the School of Alberta Ballet.

Of the three dancers sent by the Cecchetti Council of America, Hailee Karam, 18, an alumna of the Ann Parsley School of Dance in Clinton Township, Michigan, won the Musicality Award, and Tessa Peterson, 18, of Alwin School of the Dance in Albuquerque, New Mexico, took home a one-year scholarship to KS Dance Ltd.

Send your event listings and news to associate editor Karen White at karen@rheegold.com.

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Jacob’s Pillow Remembers Founder on His 120th Birthday

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Modern dance groundbreaker Ted Shawn is being remembered by the dance educational center he founded, Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts, on October 21—the occasion of his 120th birthday.

To view a video clip of Shaw’s Men Dancers in the piece Kinetic Molpai, recorded at the Pillow in 1937, visit

http://danceinteractive.jacobspillow.org/dance/ted-shawns-men-dancers?ref=era&refcar=/era/1930–1939.

Shawn selected his original core group of dynamic performers from the athletes he taught at Springfield College. His purpose was to forge a new performance style for men, and to prove that dancing could be an honorable profession for the American male. The company performed over a thousand times in more than 750 different cities around the U.S. and Canada, and conducted foreign tours to London and Havana.

The Pillow is gearing up for another special occasion—January 2012 marks the official beginning of its 80th anniversary. Auditions will be held in January through March in New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, and internationally, for The School at Jacob’s Pillow’s 2012 programs. For more information, visit www.jacobspillow.org

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Mindful Marketing | Pinpointing Preschoolers

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By Rhee Gold

A strong preschool program indicates a bright future for a dance school. By offering a quality curriculum and hiring teachers with experience in preschool education, school owners can inspire this age group to make dance a part of their lives for the next 15 years.

In marketing to this population, you are targeting the parents of children who are 6 and under. Many of them know nothing about dance, but they need to know that the dance school they are considering really does care about and have experience in working with this special age group. With that in mind, I recommend separating preschool marketing from that for the general population.

The images presented here are examples of preschool marketing materials that can be utilized as postcards, web pages, ads, and so on. The message these pieces convey is that at ABC School of Dance the preschool program is a passion. The school owners are selling the joy that dance brings to all children. The happy faces of the mom and the children are the selling point. You’ll also notice that a photo of a boy is in one of the pieces. Including boys in marketing materials is important because it shows that dance is for everyone.

These ads are simple and to the point. There are no taglines that say the school is the best or most professional because those aren’t the parents’ priorities. They simply want their children to be happy in their dance classes, and that’s what these ads say ABC School of Dance can do for them.

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Experience of Today’s Black Artists Examined in DNA Opener

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Dance New Amsterdam (DNA), a dance education and performance center in New York City, will open its DNA PRESENTS 2011-2012 season on September 15 and 16 at 8pm with a new work by choreographer Monstah Black and composer/pianist Major Scurlock.

Black Moon (La Lune Noir) Act I, presented by collaborating artists Black and Scurlock, fuses a score of Afrobeat and house music with spoken word from Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, and poems by Langston Hughes and Albert Giraud.

The world premiere of this eclectic seven-scene African American theatrical adventure dives into what it means to be a black artist during this special time of American history with the nation’s first black president.

Three corresponding events provide patrons the opportunity to learn about and discuss the development and history behind the piece. An interactive visual art installation, “The Anatomy of Black Moon,” created by Black, will be on display in DNA’s Gallery starting September 8, with an opening reception at 7pm. A panel discussion, “America’s Black Arts Movement” will follow, featuring Matthew Morrison, PhD, a music educator at Princeton University and Vassar College; Jason King, PhD, artistic director of The Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University; Pamela Sneed, author of Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom Than Slavery; and Michael Dinwiddie, professor of cultural studies at New York University. A post-performance talkback, moderated by Morrison, will take place September 16 in DNA’s 130-seat theater.

DNA is located at 280 Broadway, second floor (entrance on Chambers). Performance tickets may be purchased in person at DNA’s box office at during regular business hours or by visiting www.dnadance.org. Ticket prices for performances are $17 for general audiences, $12 for DNA members, and $14 for students/seniors unless stated otherwise ($12 advance sales are also available). For discounted tickets for groups of six or more, contact mingle@dnadance.org.

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Conquering Conventions

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How to make the most of the workshop experience

By Danie Beck

Dance conventions offer both teachers and students a great way to broaden their dance horizons. You’ll gain knowledge; learn new techniques, teaching methods and styles; make new friends who share your Terpsichorean interest; and expand your personal horizons. And the right convention can recharge your own energy and enthusiasm levels along with your students’.

Making your students comfortable with huge classes can be an important benefit of convention travel. Here, it’s a full house at a Hollywood Vibe class. (Photo by Cory Jones)

Making your students comfortable with huge classes can be an important benefit of convention travel. Here, it’s a full house at a Hollywood Vibe class. (Photo by Cory Jones)

To make the most of the experience, encourage your students to be open to training in various dance genres and to encountering diversity in instructors’ personalities and teaching styles. Every dancer on the floor should be a chameleon, taking on the look of the choreographer. That kind of adaptability serves teachers well, too. If you are flexible in adapting to different styles, you will become a more effective educator and produce versatile dancers.

Choosing a convention
Take some time to consider all the variables—such as location, cost, dates, and class offerings—in determining which conventions will best meet your students’ needs. Get information from websites or directly from the convention organizers, ask fellow teachers to share their experiences and recommendations, and understand that every workshop might not be appropriate for all levels of dancers.

Some conventions present only one genre, while others offer a variety. Ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop, and contemporary are typical offerings, but some conventions include modern dance, acrobatics, musical theater, or character. A varied curriculum exposes the dancers to classes they might not yet have had the opportunity to take. Dance conventions are like academic advanced-placement classes, gifted-students programs, and professional extension courses all rolled up into one event. And they’re facilitated by master teachers who might face your career-oriented students across an audition table one day.

Who should go?
Choose students who are mature and advanced enough to adapt to workshop instructors’ teaching methods as well as various styles of choreography. Most conventions cater to students ages 9 and up; however, a few do offer classes for younger dancers (but not beginners).

For intermediate to advanced dancers, conventions are both educational and social get-togethers, and they’ll need your guidance to balance these aspects of the experience. Show your trust in them, but let them know that they are expected to attend, be on time to, and pay attention in all required classes—and that socializing and using their cell phones are permitted only during breaks and after classes. Let them know that a lot of great information will be presented and they will need plenty of rest to do their best.

In addition, they’ll be exposed to numerous master teachers and choreographers or even agents, all of whom could be helpful in your students’ dance futures. If handled properly, conventions can become stepping stones for students—to the next level of their training or even to an audition or a job.

Don’t overdo it
Just like anything we do in life, we benefit from conventions when we contribute our best. Encourage your students to give it their all without overdoing it and risking injury or exhaustion. Convention schedules are designed to maximize the day. Classes, time for visiting exhibitors, and lunch breaks are usually well spaced to provide adequate downtime in typically long days. 

Class options
Meet with your students every morning at least 15 minutes before the first class to brief them on the day’s activities. Make your expectations clear: if you want your dancers to be on the floor on time and participate in all of their daily classes, they need to know that. If multiple classes at the same level are offered simultaneously, you’ll need to advise your students about which one to choose. Place them by ability, not simply their age.

Encourage the dancers to venture out of their comfort zone and try something new, thus enlarging their dance scope. Relay your confidence in them and acknowledge that you want them to be challenged and not just go into their favorite class where they can shine.

Behavior
Guide your students as much as possible, but let them know that you will not be by their side at all times and that you expect them to make sound decisions, based on your studio’s standards. Remind them that you expect them to be friendly, cooperative, focused in all classes, and on their best behavior at all times.

Supervision
If the convention permits, assign a parent monitor to be responsible for each class and check on the dancers throughout the day. You’ll want to make certain that the students get adequate nutrition, drink plenty of water (but never during classes), and are participating in class with a pleasant attitude. Assign your parent chaperones to arrange a nighttime curfew for those staying at the same hotel and make a room check for “lights out.” If anyone gets the homesick blues, offer a hug, smile, and some compassionate chat.

Preparation
Conventions are held year-round starting in the fall. Dancers who are convention veterans need minimal class preparation, usually only some technique review and drill. For those new to the experience, start in-studio preparation for convention-style classes about two weeks ahead of time. If your studio space permits, combine a few classes of students who will attend the workshop and are similar in age and ability to allow them to experience working in a larger-than-normal group.

Explain the format of convention classes and what protocol the students will be expected to follow. Make sure they know that the “classroom” is often a hotel ballroom with no mirrors, with a small section of dance flooring surrounded by carpet that they will be expected to dance on, and that there will more distractions than they are used to.

Conduct your classes in the method they will have to follow. Students often struggle with the pace of workshop classes. Convention dancers are expected to pick up steps quickly, so review the material you’re teaching less than you normally would. Teach the combination, go over it no more than twice, change the lines in the room, and move on. Explain that with as many as 200 students in one class, they’ll need to line up for across-the-floor combinations quickly and in an orderly fashion. Warn them that they will be expected to reverse to the other side on their own. Then demonstrate the combo and keep the flow moving.

What to bring
Find out if the convention requires a dress code for any of the classes. If your studio does not require a dress code or if you plan to allow students to wear whatever they want to, make sure they understand that their personal choices of clothing, hairstyle, and makeup should reflect their sense of self-discipline and their respect for the art form and themselves.

Prepare a checklist (handed out to students and emailed to parents) of what to bring for your students. Include the following: personal toiletries; clips and accessories to secure hair; medical wraps or elastic supports if needed; sleepwear; a leotard or dancewear outfit for each day of the convention plus two spares for changes; a plain, long-sleeved T-shirt for layering; all dance shoes (except pointe shoes, unless they’re required), labeled with the student’s full name; team uniforms or cover-ups like sweatshirts and jeans; outfits for evening or other non-dance social activities; and sneakers and street shoes.

Explain that hotel policy states that cover-ups must be worn anytime dancers are outside the classroom and that even if students are used to dancing barefoot at the studio, they could be required to wear shoes in class and elsewhere in the hotel. Remind the students that hotel rooms are always crowded, so they should only pack a small suitcase and their dance bag (labeled with their name).

Remembering what you learn
Find out if taking videos in the classes is allowed. For teachers, video recording is definitely the best way to remember everything presented, but permission will be based on individual convention policies. Teachers are always allowed to take notes and a few workshops still give teachers handouts of choreography notes. Since so much material is offered in a few days, you can’t retain it all, so take good notes. A small voice recorder can be a great help.

Once back at home, in the first class for students who attended the workshop, review the combinations they learned and video them if you were not allowed to do so at the event. Ask them which classes or combinations they liked the best and why. Be positive and encouraging about how much they learned and retained.

Wrapping it up
Schedule a wrap-up session with students and parents to be held immediately after the last class when the experience is fresh in everyone’s mind. Limit it to 15 minutes and include your praise (and/or a mention of how to improve) for students, staff, and parents. Ask them to respond (by raising their hands) to simple yes-or-no questions about the overall experience.

Within three weeks, follow up with an email survey asking for more detailed comments from students and parents about the teachers, classes, disciplines, accommodations, and overall event. Include a deadline date to turn in the completed printed form to the studio. This anonymous evaluation allows attendees to speak freely and relate all their experiences, both positive and negative.

Tips for Class

  • Advise your students not to dance together as an obvious studio group, especially if they’re dressed in the same attire; that is not always beneficial for them. Dancers should stand out (in a positive way) at conventions. If they are one of the “burgundy leotard studio” group, they will get lost in the crowd. And an interaction, either positive or negative, with one of the “burgundy girls” could influence how instructors deal with others in that group if they’re clumped together.
  • Tell students that convention teachers tend to notice those with the best technique and pass over those with the busiest mouth.
  • Remind students not to jam up in front of the stage where the teacher can’t see them.
  • Let them know they will receive no individual attention and that their success in getting the most out of the class depends on paying attention to the instructor at all times.
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On My Mind

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In this column last February, I wrote about my vision to create a retreat center for dance educators. It had been a dream for me since I launched Project Motivate in 1998, but each time I discovered a property that might work, my attempt to purchase it fell through. But my instinct always told me that if I continued to daydream, eventually the right place would come my way. And it would be at the right time.

So I am beyond thrilled to announce that my dream will finally become a reality. The DanceLife Retreat Center will open its doors to the dance community in the summer of 2012. The location is in my hometown of Norton, Massachusetts, which is approximately 45 minutes from both the Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, airports.

Construction has just begun on a 10,000-square-foot log-and-stone lodge, nestled among enormous New England pines on five acres of land. The center will feature 10 beautiful double/double sleeping rooms to accommodate 20 to 40 teachers for intimate Project Motivate seminars. There will be a 30-by-60-foot meeting and studio space, along with a great room featuring two enormous stone fireplaces. The vast kitchen area, along with several indoor and outdoor gathering places, will make the center an ultimate location for dance teachers to hang out and share the dance life.

Other than in May and June, when dance teachers are in their busiest part of the dance season, the center will host seminars year round. Attendees can enjoy the warm days and cool nights of the New England summer, the blazing foliage of the fall months, and of course the soft, downy snows of winter.

Although I am humbled and honored to host hundreds of teachers and school owners at the DanceLife Teacher Conference, I am very much looking forward to the retreat center atmosphere. Having the chance to work with smaller groups in an intimate setting will mean more one-on-one attention and the likelihood for greater personal interaction and dialogue among the attendees.

In the beginning I will offer two Project Motivate seminars, one for both teachers and school owners and one open only to school owners and managers.

It has become obvious to me that holding tight to what you want to accomplish in life is half the battle when it comes to feeling fulfilled and successful. There may be times when outside influences will discourage us or when it seems that we’ve been dancing down the wrong path, but allowing instinct to be your guide can make a dream become a reality.

I look forward to sharing the progress of the DanceLife Retreat Center over the next several months, and I hope to welcome many of our readers to my hometown for rejuvenation and inspiration.

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Still Time to Register for DTCB Student Teacher Training

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The Dance Teachers Club of Boston is still accepting registrations for its August 1 to 8 Dance Education Training Course for students.

Course highlights include Tom Ralabate leading lessons in improvisation, Diane Gudat’s “Teaching Principals” classes for Level I and II, as well as classes in contemporary partnering and music theory. Friday’s session includes a special lunch with DETC faculty where college representatives will offer information about area college dance programs.

Club member teachers can observe the training school as a refresher course. The cost is $200 for the full week, including a full binder of notes and pictures from Levels I, II, and III, or $40 a day.

Visit www.danceteachersclubofboston.com to download the DETC brochure, including faculty bios, course information, and registration forms.

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Summer Dance Education Programs on Tap in San Francisco

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The San Francisco Ballet School’s five-week intensive summer session, designed to give students a taste of the demands of a professional career, begins June 27 and runs through July 29.

With more than 200 participants from the United States and abroad, the summer session offers training by the school’s faculty, as well as guest teachers including SF Ballet company members. For more information, visit www.sfballet.org/balletschool/summersesson.asp.

Also, the San Francisco Ballet Center for Dance Education (CDE) is now accepting applications for its week-long youth dance camp, to be held June 13 to 17 from 10am to 4pm. The camp is for children ages 7 to 14, and no previous dance experience is necessary.

Each day, campers will participate in two dance classes, one music class, one visual art class, and yoga. Children will also be treated to a special mid-week field trip to the city’s arts district around Civic Center. The week will culminate in a community celebration where students demonstrate to friends and family their learning and experience in the arts. For more information visit www.sfballet.org/educationcommunity/dancecamp.asp.

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Investing in Dancers

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NYCDA competitors such as Anthony Tiedeman have impressed dance educators with their talent and training. (All photos courtesy New York City Dance Alliance)

NYCDA’s new mission helps send competition kids to college

By Joshua Bartlett

Last year, Cindy Reid was a high school junior from Oak Creek, Wisconsin, who didn’t know where she was going to college or how she was going to pay for it. Thanks to the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation college scholarship program, now she does.

A student at the Young Dance Academy, Reid had attended the NYCDA workshops since she was 8 and had gone to their national competitions three times. Last July, she auditioned for a scholarship to Marymount Manhattan College as part of NYCDA’s New York City summer workshop and won $48,000 in scholarship money, disbursed over four years.

“My dream was always to go to New York,” says Reid. “It didn’t seem possible. I walked into this audition and did what I needed to do. Getting this scholarship really decided where I was going to school next year.”

Linking competition and education
Very seldom are the terms “dance competition” and “higher education” paired. But Joe Lanteri, the executive director of NYCDA, has created the link as a natural outgrowth of his organization. “The way I like to put it is we have been nurturing some of the best talent in the country for the last 17 years and now is the time to literally start investing in them,” he says. “A lot of the universities noticed that a common denominator among many of their better dancers is the NYCDA.”

Competing against some of the best talent in the country, scholarship recipients must display potential, technical ability, and artistic quality.

Colleges now come to recruit dancers every summer at NYCDA workshops and have a fixed amount of money to award in scholarships. “The college sets the parameters and decides what the criteria are for application,” says Lanteri. “NYCDA is the conduit in that we provide the audition opportunities, but the colleges make the selection.”

This year’s four-day summer workshop will take place at the Sheraton New York July 4 through 7. The scholarship hopefuls (who must attend the workshop) will audition the day before, on July 3, and the awardees will be announced on the final day. In addition to the scholarships awarded directly by colleges, the NYCDAF plans to award four scholarships of $10,000 with an additional $50,000 to $150,000 in scholarship monies to be granted in increments of $25,000. These NYCDAF scholarships can be used for a performance major at any college of the recipient’s choice.

Applications for the workshop are due on May 13, for a discounted rate, and applications for the scholarship audition are due by June 25. The audition is open to those who have completed their sophomore, junior, or senior years in high school. Priority consideration will be given to those heading into their senior year.

Colleges attend NYCDA summer workshops to recruit students such as Laura Ksobiech, a 2010 scholarship winner.

The Roots
It all began in July 2009, when Lanteri teamed up with Scott Jovovich, an adjunct professor at University of the Arts in Philadelphia and NYCDA faculty member. Lanteri had been discussing a college scholarship program for years, and Jovovich’s desire to recruit dancers for University of the Arts formed what Lanteri calls “the perfect step to create something much bigger.

Jovovich knows that there is a limited amount of scholarship money, and the university audition process makes the monetary dissemination a bit of a gamble. “Sometimes you invest in a student who is not as focused as you thought they were going to be,” he says. “If a student doesn’t deliver or drops out, the scholarship money goes back into a general fund, and the department can’t re-award that money. I kept thinking there was a better way to do this. It finally occurred to me that I work for an organization that sees thousands of dancers each year, and I watch these kids grow up in Dance Alliance. It’s a much better way to aim and invest. Much to my surprise, I was able to convince the university’s powers that be to give this a shot.”

In 2009, University of the Arts awarded more than a quarter of a million dollars in full scholarship tuition to two NYCDA students at the July competition. (The value of each scholarship begins with full four-year tuition; depending on financial need, the potential exists for extra money for housing and food. The value is approximately $127,600, according to Jovovich.)

Joe Lanteri (hugging student) sees the scholarship awards as a natural outgrowth of his 17-year competition program.

One of the students, Richard Villaverde, competed as one of the six finalists with his group, Dance Town Chaos, on Paula Abdul’s Live to Dance. In July 2010 two other students, Anthony Tiedeman and Laura Ksobiech, each received $127,600 in scholarship awards. About 100 students have auditioned for the scholarships in the last two years.

Patrick Gerstle, completing his freshman year in May 2011 at University of the Arts, was one of the 2009 winners of a scholarship that pays his full tuition for four years. A native of Rockledge, Florida, he participated in NYCDA competitions for two years while in high school and credits his proficiency in several styles, like jazz, contemporary, and ballet, which are stressed in NYCDA workshops, in helping him to win a scholarship. “If I didn’t get this scholarship, I probably would never have gone to college,” says Gerstle.

Versatility counts
Jovovich says that when choosing scholarship recipients for University of the Arts, he looks for students—like Gerstle—who show versatility. “To compete in the dance world today, you need to do everything,” he says. “What I look for is a student who has it all, and is looking for it all. I look for a respectable academic history, involvement in extracurricular activities in school and in the community, and a strong dance background. The truth is that because we train performers at Arts, and because it’s a scholarship for a dance program, the kids who audition lean toward performing careers. That does not at all mean that if a student auditioned who was an exceptional dancer and was looking toward a career in the arts with a more academic focus, that student would be ineligible. It’s simply not happened as of yet.

“If I didn’t get this scholarship, I probably would never have gone to college.” —Patrick Gerstle, University of the Arts student

“I look for people who are not strictly into one discipline but who treat each one as if that’s what they are intent on doing,” Jovovich continues. “They should be intense about modern, ballet, jazz, contemporary, tap, and singing/musical theater. A school that puts out only a contemporary style won’t necessarily produce the dancers I will look at. They need to have a well-rounded syllabus.”

Silencing the skeptics
Lanteri realizes that there are skeptics when it comes to the partnership of college and dance competitions. “As with most college organizations, there tends to be a little bit of hesitancy,” he says. “They think what we do is all about trophies and rhinestones. And I have to try and say, ‘Yes, much of our industry is about that, but you have to realize that’s not all we do. That’s never been our emphasis, that’s not the type of people we attract.’ And I will publicly say all the time that those people who are looking for a trophy should probably go someplace else. NYCDA gets the dancers who are looking to invest in their future in a different way.

The dedication of students Anthony Tiedeman (left) and Corey Snide helped them win college scholarships at the NYCDA 2010 finals.

One of the initial doubters was Katie Langan, the chair of Marymount Manhattan College’s Dance Department. “I was totally a skeptic,” says Langan. “I am not a competition baby. My feelings about that are not always very positive. But when I saw how well the dancers were trained, I was very impressed. The talent level was very different. Joe seems to be attracting schools that are really doing some training.”

Last July was Langan’s first experience as part of the NYCDA college scholarship audition process. She taught some of the master classes, conducted the audition class in ballet (for 28 of those who wished to attend Marymount Manhattan College), and watched the students in other classes and rehearsals during the workshop week. Five people, including Reid, received a total of $236,000 in scholarship money for tuition over four years beginning with the 2011–12 academic year (four students received $48,000 and one received $44,000, which will cover roughly half their total tuition). Langan says she was looking for “potential, technical ability, artistic quality, and how well they presented themselves.”

Nurturing talent
NYCDA has been touring the country as a commercial dance convention for 17 years; currently it visits 23 cities throughout the year. The organization has alumni in many dance companies, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, New York City Ballet, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, as well as in numerous Broadway shows and Radio City Music Hall. Participants in NYCDA have also attended many of the dance departments in colleges and universities in the country.

“We have been nurturing some of the best talent in the U.S. and watching them filter into every aspect of the professional dance world,” says Lanteri. “It just felt like the time was right to take the next dance step. Everyone knows that we have been pro-education, pro-college, pro-continuing to invest in yourself and your future. None of this has been about winning a prize, but about working the best you can to your full potential and earning everything that will come to you in your life.”

Over the years, Lanteri had written numerous letters of recommendation for students applying to college, answered questions about where to get funding, and listened to the difficulties students experienced in obtaining funding for higher education. “I think more kids would choose college if they could realistically fund it,” says Lanteri. “I have [encountered] parents who have said to their kids, ‘We’d love to send you to college, but you’re going to have to accept the responsibility for saving for student loans.’ I have reached out to places to help people get money. And it was clear it was time for something else.”

NYCDA executive director Joe Lanteri created the scholarship program after hearing how students struggle to pay for a college education.

More scholarships
In an expansion of the NYCDA college scholarship program, Lanteri announced the initiation of the NYCDA Foundation in December 2010. A 501(c) (3) public charity, the organization plans to raise further funds for student scholarships. “I was floored at how quickly the approval came through from the IRS,” says Lanteri. “I applied for it in May 2010, and people told me it might take years. I looked at that as a sign.”

Gold ($25,000) sponsorships have been donated by Capezio, Steps on Broadway, Radio City Christmas Spectacular, and Dance Magazine, giving the foundation a base of $100,000 moving forward. “We are seeing donations trickle in. We see dance studios raising money within their own community for the foundation,” says Lanteri.

In celebration of the launching of the NYCDA Foundation, last December Lanteri produced Prelude, a fund-raiser, at The Joyce Theater in Manhattan. Dancers from The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Parsons Dance Company, and Complexions and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballets participated. “We put out the challenge that we were hoping to raise $1 million in scholarships for July 2011,” says Lanteri. “That’s a combination of what the attending colleges will contribute plus what we’ll be able to raise ourselves.” In the future, Lanteri plans to do at least two fund-raising events annually for the foundation.

Is this the first time a competition has teamed up with higher education? Maybe not, but Lanteri points out that “there is no other independent organization looking to award this kind of money. Plenty of places might offer a stipend of $5,000 to $10,000 to college. We are looking to be in that $25,000 to $50,000 bracket.”

Thinking ahead
Lanteri also claims that the plans for July 2011 are “just a thumbnail, just a fraction of what we hope to do eventually.” Point Park University in Pittsburgh will be recruiting this year, along with Marymount Manhattan and University of the Arts, and Lanteri says other colleges have tentatively agreed as well. (Even if students don’t win a scholarship, they can start the application process for admission to the schools). In addition, he has planned an audition for July 31 in connection with a NYCDAF fund-raising gala in New York City on August 1. It will be exclusive to dancers from studios that have facilitated in raising money for the foundation. “The message is if you are willing to do the work, then you might benefit from the work you’ve done,” says Lanteri.

Ultimately what he wants to see are tangible results from alumni of NYCDA. Gerstle is already building on his experience with NYCDA as he progresses at University of the Arts. “I never want to stop growing as a dancer,” he says. “I keep finding myself getting better and changing. This school will never let you become complacent with yourself. There is always something that needs to be worked on.”

Reid, who will start her studies at Marymount Manhattan in fall 2011, is champing at the bit to get those results. “I think about getting my academics and professional training while being involved in and surrounded by New York City,” she says. “I’ll be branching out with what I have learned to help me get a job.”

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Monsters of Hip Hop Shares the Wealth with Aspiring Dancers

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Monsters of Hip Hop has created a non-profit group, Monsters On The Move Foundation, Inc. (MOVE), to provide aspiring, underprivileged dancers the financial support necessary to pursue a quality dance education.

Scholarship funds will be used to assist in paying for dance education at accredited schools, organizations, or institutions. The creators of MOVE mandate that scholarship recipients “pay it forward” by giving back to their school, church, or community.

While in the past the Monsters organization has made contributions to many charities, MOVE’s founders and staff decided to focus their philanthropic efforts on the industry that has supported them for so long. “We have seen the tremendous positive impact that dance has had on so many individuals, and we wanted to provide the same opportunities to those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience it,” said founder Andy Funk.

This year, a maximum of 35 scholarships of up to $2,000 each will be awarded. Applications are being accepted now through May 31. To apply, visit www.monstersonthemove.org.

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Three-Day Bollywood Festival Brings Color and Dance to San Diego

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Bollywood America, a non-for-profit organization with the mission of education, fine arts awareness, and community outreach, is sponsoring a three-day South Asian Festival in San Diego.

The festival, which begins April 21, features a Bollywood fashion shop, dance workshops, a South Asian comedy show, and a National Dance Team Competition, to be held at Copley Symphony Hall and featuring teams from 10 U.S. and Canadian cities. For more information, visit www.bollywoodamerica.org.

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Dance New Amsterdam’s Fundraising Efforts a Success

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Dance New Amsterdam, a New York City dance education center, creative laboratory, and performance space, has announced that individual giving to the organization has seen an increase of nearly 80 percent since its first major individual giving program was initiated amidst economic turmoil in 2009.

Recent donations include $13,000 from the Dorsay Foundation, a private family foundation based in Michigan, and numerous donations of $5,000 including gifts from Deutsche Bank and other employee corporate matches. Since fiscal year 2009, DNA has also increased corporate sponsorship with grants from American Express in support of DNA’s international and contemporary heritage programming, along with educational programming support through Capezio Corporation and Red Bull. Additionally, grants from foreign government embassies and consulates including Japan, Israel, France, Switzerland, Poland, and the Netherlands have increased 100 percent since fiscal year 2009 and continue to grow.

In related news, DNA is one of 250 organizations invited by Bloomberg Philanthropies to submit a proposal for funding under the Bloomberg Arts Advancement Initiative. If awarded, the unrestricted support will further the organization’s artistic vision. The foundation expects tangible capacity building and stabilization milestones to be reached during the two-year grant.

“This grant not only signifies the importance of DNA’s mission to provide dance resources to the arts community, it also honors American dance,” said Catherine Peila, DNA executive/artistic director. “Grants, sponsorships and DNA’s essential individual giving campaigns have an unparalleled effect on the educational and artist opportunities our organization offers to more than 9,000 emerging and professional dancers, commissioned artists, and our expanding global community.”

More details can be found at www.dnadance.org.

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Kids Get Close-up Look at World Dance at JOMDC Concert

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Joy of Motion Dance Center will present its Motion Expressions Concert, an interactive performance showcase designed for young children, March 15 at 10am at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC.

This family-friendly event, part of JOMDC’s Motion Express outreach dance education program and held twice a year, is designed for students from kindergarten to third grade and is offered free to the public. RSVP by contacting outreach@joyofmotion.org.

The Motion Expressions Concert is an interactive performance showcasing multiple dance styles with JOMDC’s professional teachers and dance companies. The theme of this spring’s concert, displaying dance styles from various cultures, is “Dance Around the World.” The concert will feature DCypher Dance (JOMDC’s adult dance company) and DC choreographer and educator Nazanin Baygani, along with JOMDC faculty members Caroline Besley, Laurel Victoria Gray, Lesina Martin, Shannon Dunne, and Mesi Walton. Students will explore and experience dance styles including hip-hop, belly dance, Bollywood, Afro-Venezuelan, Sean Nos (Irish dance), and West African. Call 202.399.6764 or visit www.joyofmotion.org for details.

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Fan Voting Helps Alvin Ailey Win $200,000 For Education

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Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation was chosen through a public voting campaign as one of the charities to receive $200,000 from American Express through the company’s Members Project program.

The funds will help the Ailey organization further its mission of using dance to inspire, unite and educate, extending the scope of Ailey’s performances, arts education activities, and world-class training programs. In the coming year, The Ailey School will award more than 300 scholarships to young dancers. Funds will also be put toward AileyCamps in 10 cities and other inner city programs that will impact more than 100,000 students nationally.

Anyone can get involved in Members Project by volunteering or donating. For more information visit www.takepart.com/membersproject.

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Ask Rhee Gold

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Dear Rhee,
I am a school owner who just hit the two-and-a-half-year mark. From the start, my school has had very few students with any previous dance experience. Now a few of them are beginning to achieve what I would call an intermediate technical level, and for me that is huge. I have taught them everything they know and I am feeling and seeing the rewards of teaching that you talk about at your seminars.

One group of about five kids is ready to try something new, so I have been contemplating putting them into a dance competition. I know they have a long way to go before they could compare to the talent that I have seen at competitions, but the exposure could spark their enthusiasm to excel. When are students ready for dance competition? Do you have advice for a teacher who wants to do competition the right way? —Meryl

Dear Meryl,
Thanks for writing. You sound like a very levelheaded teacher who is appreciating the rewards of teaching, and that should always be your priority. If you maintain the enthusiasm to do it “the right way,” I predict that you will achieve all the success you desire.

I do have strong opinions on when is the right time to introduce students to dance competitions. My number-one advice to you is to take your time. Look for a competition that is coming to your area and plan to attend with your five dancers and their parents. Call the competition ahead of time to find out when the competitors in your students’ age group will be performing.

In the auditorium, sit in the middle of your group to see and hear the reaction of your students and their parents. Do they seem enthusiastic about trying it or a bit intimidated by it all? Later, ask them what they thought of the competition and pay attention to their thoughts and questions. Open the discussion of whether participating is something they would like to do. Know that some parents and students don’t want to get involved because of the time commitment or cost.

If they choose to participate, look for a competition that offers various levels for beginner, intermediate, and advanced dancers. That way you can enter your students in a category that will compare them to students with roughly the same level of experience.

Do only one entry to start with so that you and your students can focus on making that one performance the best that it can be. That will help minimize everyone’s stress level. Create choreography that has no tricks or technical feats that your dancers can’t do well. Make a dance that allows your students to feel completely confident when they hit that stage. Also do your best to come up with a unique theme or concept or music that will help your entry stand out from the crowd.

Before you head to the competition, tell your students that you are proud of them for what they have accomplished to that point and that you will be proud of them whether or not they win an award. I think it’s very important to lower students’ expectations so that they don’t make the award their priority.

Afterward, talk about the experience and your students’ feelings. Always ask them who was their favorite dancer or group because that will help them appreciate the other dancers right from the start. Also, it is important to convey that although competition will be a part of what you do, it will never be the only thing. Incorporate competing into your educational offerings, but never let it be the main focus. Wishing you all the best. —Rhee

Dear Rhee,
I have owned a school with more than 400 students for 21 years. Until last summer there was a dancewear store about 10 miles away, where my students and those from many area schools purchased their dancewear. For the last few months I have been ordering my students’ shoes and dancewear from various wholesalers, and I have been making a nice profit from these sales.

Last week the space next door to my school became available for rent and the landlord offered me a very reasonable rate. The location would be perfect for a dancewear store. I figure that my students alone are a good start for the business and I hope that the other schools in the area would send their students there.

My parents have years of experience in retail and my dad is out of work, so I think he could manage the store. What advice can you offer me as I contemplate this decision? —Helene

Dear Helene,
If you decide to move forward with this venture, I advise you to completely separate the dancewear business from your school. Come up with a name that is not similar to your school, let the store have its own entrance, and be sure that the employees of the store do not try to solicit students from other schools to take classes at your school.

I suggest this for a couple of reasons. One, you want to gain the trust of the studio owners in your area that they can send their students to your store and not worry that you will try to recruit them. Two, several of the biggest names in the dancewear business will not sell their products to dance schools. By creating a separate entity, I believe you will have a better shot at carrying many of the brands that your clients would want to purchase.

I do think a base of 400 students is a good start to launch a dancewear business, but to offer your father a full-time job, cover the rent, and possibly have additional employees, you would need business from other students and dancers in your area to make it work financially. I would get on the phone to talk with the school owners to determine whether they would send their students to your store. Just like you, they might have found wholesale dancewear to fill the gap for their students. If they are making a profit on these sales, they may be less apt to send that business your way.

As a dancewear store owner in 2011, you must also understand that several reputable online dancewear retailers often sell their products at discounted rates, and some of them are offering school owners rewards for sending students to their sites. You must consider these online options as your competition.

Another point: What is your father’s experience with dancewear and fitting shoes? One of the most important aspects of owning a dancewear store is being able to properly fit a dancer for pointe shoes, which requires experience or training. You might need to hire someone qualified for this role.

Finally, it is important to investigate what the investment in inventory for your store would be. Many wholesalers have minimum-order policies that could run into thousands of dollars. In some cases you might be able to order a product for a customer, but overall it is better for customers to walk out of the store with their purchases. That is what will set you apart from the online stores.

It is not my objective to discourage you from jumping into this venture, but I have known dance teachers who have had tremendous success selling dancewear and I have also met some who have lost their shirts. This decision is one that you must investigate thoroughly to be sure it is the right move for you.

One final question to ask yourself: Will you make as much profit, if not more, by keeping your dancewear situation the way it is now, or will you clear more with all the expenses associated with owning a full-fledged store? You might discover that you are better off financially with what you have already. Good luck to you. —Rhee

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On My Mind

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Imagine a room full of enthusiastic people representing teacher organizations from the private and higher-ed sectors of the dance world, along with dance teachers who work in academic schools. Add to the crowd members of the dance media, dance merchant representatives, and master teachers, all coming together in cooperation and dialogue to speak with a unified voice on dance education and dance-related issues.

It would be really cool if the group believed that all educational sectors are created equal and that dance should be available to all. Together they could determine that best practices and professional responsibility improve our field, and their mission could be to help to raise the bar for all students of dance, regardless of where they take class.

This group could brainstorm about ideas to improve the standards of dance education. It could break down barriers or misconceptions and create concepts to unify dance educators and all the entities that support the art of dance. Based on their experience and expertise, the members could create committees to research and discuss the topics that influence the entire dance education field. Together they could speak with one voice through published statements and white papers made available to educators, dancers and their parents, and dance enthusiasts.

This unified bunch could also offer scholarships to deserving dance educators in an effort to help them continue their own education, which ultimately benefits the students in their care.

Fortunately, such an organization does exist, and it’s called UNITY. In 1995, dance teacher organizations nationwide, which previously had tended to view each other as competitors rather than allies, met to discuss mutual concerns. When they learned that they had similar goals, they realized that working together would benefit the dance community.

In August 1995 the first UNITY meeting was initiated and hosted by Dance Masters of America’s National Executive Committee in New York City. Subsequent meetings took place in Memphis, Boston, and Raleigh, North Carolina, and since 1997 a meeting has been held in New York City each January. Today, in addition, UNITY meets each August via conference call. Total membership in the organizations that have participated in the meetings numbers in the tens of thousands.

At the last meeting I was elected co-chair of the organization, a position I held in 1996 and ’97, and I am so excited to be working once again with a group whose mission is to unite the dance community; it’s right up my alley.

If you are a member of a dance teacher organization, encourage its leaders to check out what UNITY is up to at unitydance.org. We welcome new members who want to be part of a unified voice for dance education. If you’re a dance merchant, master teacher, or otherwise involved in dance, we encourage you to join us in support of solid dance education and to offer you exposure to the leaders of the dance world.

Over the next few months Dance Studio Life will keep you updated on UNITY’s activities and its plans for the January 2012 meeting. I hope to see you there.

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Music Legend Prince Shares Wealth with ABT

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Pop music legend Prince has awarded $250,000 to American Ballet Theatre to benefit ABT’s arts education programs.

ABT soloist Misty Copeland, who performed with Prince during his most recent “Welcome 2 America” tour, presented the check to ABT Executive Director Rachel S. Moore at a ceremony at Madison Square Garden. Gifts were also awarded to the Harlem Children’s Zone and the Uptown Dance Academy. Scholarship students from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School joined other young students to meet the seven-time Grammy winner following the press conference.

“This is an incredible gift for American Ballet Theatre,” Moore said. “To have Prince champion the cause of furthering the education of aspiring artists shows a commitment to the next generation and their future success. This significant donation will go a long way toward achieving our goals of cultivating and nurturing young dancers through ABT’s training and outreach programs.”

“A function of our love for the next generation is instilling in them our own hard-fought knowledge,” said Prince. “We can’t wait and see—or only hope for—the future of those coming after us. We must actively take responsibility for ensuring their success.”

For more information on American Ballet Theatre, visit www.abt.org.

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Auditions in NYC for Jacob’s Pillow Summer Education Programs

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Auditions will be held this weekend in New York City for the School at Jacob’s Pillow 2011 professional advancement programs in jazz/musical theater dance and contemporary.

The jazz/musical theater dance audition will be held February 19 at Pearl Studios, 500 Eighth Avenue, 4th floor. Registration is at 10:00 a.m., with audition class from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The contemporary audition will be held February 20 in Studio 4 at New York City Center Studios, 130 West 56th Street, with registration at 2:00 p.m. and audition class from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.

Auditions are structured as a master class—no cuts are made—and provide an opportunity to take a professional class, gain audition experience, and learn more about The School at Jacob’s Pillow. The jazz/musical theater dance audition will cover multiple jazz dance styles, including tap, and will be led by Brad Musgrove, a Broadway performer known for his roles in Fosse and The Producers. The vocal portion of the audition will be with an accompanist and requires two songs from published musical theater works.

The contemporary audition will be led by program director Milton Myers, resident choreographer/instructor for Philadanco, who serves on the faculties of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Fordham University’s Ailey Program, and The Juilliard School.

Auditions are open to advanced dancers, ages 15 and up. No pre-registration required.

There is a $15 cash-only audition fee. For more information, visit www.jacobspillow.org/education/school.

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Urban Bush Women Goes ‘Soul Deep’ in February

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Being Bushified!—Urban Bush Women’s monthly culture and community series—introduces participants to the UBW community through dance, workshops, conversations, and films that demonstrate the impact of dance on health and wellness, education, communities, individuals, and innovation.

The next session, “Soul Deep—Using Movement to Build a Movement,” will be held February 9 at 7:00 p.m. at The Great Room, A.R.T. NY building, 138 S. Oxford Street, 2nd floor (between Hanson Place and Atlantic Avenue), Brooklyn, New York. Cost is $15 (or $12 for students with a valid ID).

The evening will feature a movement workshop led by an Urban Bush woman. Also, discussion will center around on UBW’s 2011 Summer Leadership Institute, a 10-day intensive in New Orleans scheduled for July 22 to 31 that connects dancers and community-based artists in a learning experience to leverage the use of the arts as a vehicle for social change.

For information call 718.398.4537 or visit www.UrbanBushWomen.org.

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Ailey School Plans Auditions for Professional Division Programs

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The Ailey School has announced the following audition dates for acceptance to its full-time professional division programs for the 2011-2012 academic school year. Online registration for auditions is available.

The audition will consist of a ballet class and a modern class. Resumes, photographs, and solo performances are not required. Applicants will be notified of acceptance via email within three weeks of the audition. Applicants must comply with the school dress code (visit link for school dress code on web page listed below). For more information on how to audition, visit www.theaileyschool.edu/ailey-school/professional-division/admissions/applying-audition.

The following auditions are for the certificate program, independent study program, and summer intensive program:

  • Houston, TX, January 15 at noon, Houston High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, 4001 Stanford Street
  • Tallahassee, FL, January 17 at noon, Florida State University, 215 Montgomery Hall 130, Collegiate Loop
  • Boston, MA, January 23 at noon, Jeanette Neill Dance Studio, 261 Friend St., fifth floor.
  • Washington, DC, January 29 at 2:00 p.m., Dance Institute of Washington, 3400 14th Street NW
  • Los Angeles, CA, February 4, noon (ages 18 and older), 4:00 p.m. (ages 12-17);
    Performing Arts Center, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 North Grand Avenue
  • San Francisco, CA, February 7 at 3:00 p.m., San Francisco Ballet, 455 Franklin Street
  • Atlanta, GA, February 12 at noon, Atlanta Ballet, 1400 West Peachtree St. NW
  • Baltimore, MD, February 18 at 4:30 p.m., Baltimore School for the Arts, 712 Cathedral Street
  • St. Petersburg, FL, February 25 at 1:00 p.m., Gibbs High School, 850 34th Street South
  • Miami, FL, February 26 at noon, New World School of the Arts, 25 N.E. 2nd Street
  • Toronto, Canada, March 6 at noon, National Ballet School, 400 Jarvis Street
  • Detroit, MI, March 7 at 4:30 p.m., Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway
  • New York, NY, March 13 at 11:00 a.m., The Ailey School, 405 West 55th Street (summer intensive program junior division only, ages 12-15)
  • New York, NY, April 3, 10:00 a.m. (women), 3:00 p.m. (men); The Ailey School (fellowship program only, summer 2011 term, pre-registration not required)
  • New York, NY, April 10 at noon, The Ailey School
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McBride, Bonnefoux Honored with First NYIBC Ilona Copen Award

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New York International Ballet Competition (NYIBC), which provides promising young dancers with scholarships, training, and educational and employment opportunities, will award the first Ilona Copen Award to Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux at the NYIBC Gala on March 22, 2011.

Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux (Photo by Roger Ball)

Performers at the gala include artists from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Joffrey Ballet, Limón Dance Company, New Jersey Ballet, and North Carolina Dance Theatre.

The Ilona Copen Award, named after the late founder and executive director emeritus of NYIBC, is an annual, honorary award that celebrates significant contributions to the ballet field. The award honors recipients who work to further ballet as an art form by:

  • discovering, nurturing and developing underexposed dance/ballet talent;
  • promoting international understanding and goodwill through collaborative efforts across different artistic disciplines;
  • upholding the traditions and history of this classical art form;
  • securing its future through fostering the advancement of ballet.

For more information on the gala performance and dinner dance, visit www.nyibc.org.

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From Fad to Foundation

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What hip-hop does for all dancers

By Debbie Werbrouck

I often hear master teachers preaching to students to be well rounded. Once students are old enough and show enough interest, it’s common practice for studio owners to encourage them to broaden their dance studies. Everyone has heard the familiar mantra that all dancers need to take ballet because it provides a foundation for all dance forms. On the flip side, nowadays many teachers consider studying modern dance essential for ballet dancers.

But who would think that well-rounded students should also include hip-hop in their dance studies? Some 20-something with an attitude, right? Wrong.

It’s me. I’m the one advocating for hip-hop. I’m in my 43rd year of teaching and I don’t teach hip-hop. In fact, when I first saw it, I thought it would be just another fad that would soon pass. But not only has it stayed, it has grown into a whole lifestyle. I have educators at my schools who teach hip-hop, and I enjoy watching the creativity in their classes and in their students’ performances.

While I’m a firm believer that all kinds of dance improve self-confidence in students, hip-hop really speaks to young students in their own language—unlike ballet, for example, which is foreign to their everyday experiences. Hip-hop crosses the line between social and performance dance.

One day I was observing some of my advanced dancers (who take several ballet and jazz classes per week) in a hip-hop class, admiring their precision in fast, percussive movements. That’s when it struck me: taking hip-hop was making them more articulate in their ballet, jazz, and modern dances.

With this idea in mind, I did some research, seeking out the opinions and impressions of some young dancers as well as several educators in both the private sector and higher education.

Here’s what I discovered.

Lauren Bodle, a high school freshman from Osceola, Indiana, who has been dancing at my school for 12 years, feels that hip-hop has built her self-confidence by letting her work though any feelings of awkwardness when attempting new and unfamiliar movements.

Another student at my school, Lizzy Coulston, from Niles, Michigan, has studied for 13 years. She thinks that hip-hop has helped her overcome the inhibitions she felt affected her performance in ballet. She’s convinced that dancing more freely helped her be accepted to Ohio Northern University’s dance program as a scholarship student.

Lyn Cramer, an endowed professor at the University of Oklahoma, notes distinct advantages to studying hip-hop. “It helps their attack in every other style,” she says. “The dancers’ dynamic improves exponentially due to the precision required to perform hip-hop.”

I found this to be true as well. When young dancers learn to perform hip-hop well, I see stronger, cleaner, and quicker petit allegro in ballet and stronger movements in general compared to those who do not study hip-hop.

And Cramer argues that hip-hop “greatly improves a dancer’s ability to assimilate every form faster.” Because the movements of hip-hop can be so intricate and involve multiple body isolations, dancers need to develop acute observation skills, which can then be used in any dance form. That reminds me of being in a class with the late great tap master Tommy Sutton, when he reminded us to stop thinking. He wanted everyone to absorb the movements and let the kinesthetic sense take over the learning process.

Hip-hop develops a dancer’s observation skills. Instead of analyzing or translating a verbal command such as “glissade, jeté,” the students see the movement and translate it into an almost instantaneous replication. It’s like the difference between someone’s first, self-conscious efforts in a foreign language and getting to the point of actually thinking in that language.

“The study of hip-hop movement is very valuable for today’s dancers, giving them an edge on many levels: technical, historical, philosophical, and aesthetic.” —Tom Ralabate

While most people wouldn’t consider hip-hop an academic area of study, Tom Ralabate, professor and chair of the Department of Theatre & Dance at the University at Buffalo, looks at the benefits of hip-hop study from many levels. “Hip-hop, no longer just a dance trend, is today a mind-set and an established part of our world culture,” he says. “It is part of the rich history of American jazz dance. The study of hip-hop movement is very valuable for today’s dancers, giving them an edge on many levels: technical, historical, philosophical, and aesthetic.”

From a technical perspective, Ralabate says, “hip-hop’s improvisational and freestyle nature allows dancers to explore and sense the many isolated body movements used in this dance style and combine [them] with other dance idioms, from traditional to contemporary settings.” He adds that the resulting neuromuscular coordination helps to create skilled, versatile dancers who can “meet the demands of contemporary performances and choreography.”

And from a historical perspective, there are strong connections between hip-hop and “the sophisticated identifiable characteristics of African traditional dance,” Ralabate says. Those include “propulsive rhythm, centrifugal use of the hips, intricate footwork, an improvisational nature, the imitation of animal-type movements, and crouched body positions.”

I didn’t expect to get any ringing endorsements of my theory from the ballet community, but I didn’t find as much resistance as I thought. When I presented my theory to Lisa Wolfsberger, ballet master of the junior ensemble at St. Louis Ballet School, she laughed and said she didn’t think she could picture ballerinas doing hip-hop. But she conceded that the quick, precise movements in hip-hop could indeed help students develop speed and precision in petit allegro.

Judy Rice, a master teacher and an associate professor of dance at the University of Michigan, had a positive take on the idea. “I think that the more well-rounded a ballet dancer can be these days, the better. Yes, hip-hop would add strength to weighted, grounded movement, not to mention precision and attack.”

Not surprisingly, those involved in hip-hop agree that it offers benefits. Gregg Russell, a master tap and hip-hop teacher, says he believes that “all styles help each other. With regard to hip-hop and ballet, I think the main benefit is the thought process. I remember training in both when I was younger, and I learned that I had to think differently in each class.

“In a nutshell, I believe that ballet is a technique from the outside in and hip-hop is from the inside out,” he continues. “With the technique and pictures made in ballet, we rely on our eyes to assure us that we are on the right path: ‘I look good; I feel good.’ With hip-hop, it is more of getting the feeling in your body, then cleaning: ‘This feels good right now. I bet I look hot!’ Hip-hop also creates an individual style, while ballet works more toward accomplishing the goal of executing a difficult step.”

The comments I heard about personal expression and individual style made me consider the mental versus physical benefits of studying hip-hop. We want our students to adopt a persona or attitude for individual dance styles and we encourage them to make their portrayals authentic by incorporating their own personalities. By individualizing their performance in hip-hop, a form that feels familiar to them, they will learn to do so in other styles as well.

As Cramer points out, hip-hop “helps dancers find more personal expression and individual style, what is unique about the way they move. It enhances every other genre.”

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Ailey Fans Can Vote to Help Win Funding for Educational Programs

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Starting now, supporters and fans of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater can go online and vote to help the organization become one of five charities that will share a total of $1 million in funding from American Express.

Voting for Ailey—selected as a charity candidate in Members Project, a partnership between American Express and TakePart—runs through February 20, 2011. If chosen as one of the five winners, Ailey has committed to use the funds to expand education programs and world class training for young dancers.

Currently, The Ailey School trains approximately 3,500 students and offers more than 300 scholarships annually, and has pioneered a bachelor of fine arts degree program with Fordham University. Each year, Ailey Arts in Education and community programs around the country reach more than 100,000 young people through programs like AileyCamp, a summer day camp in 10 cities for at-risk youth.

To participate, visit www.takepart.com/membersproject and vote for Ailey in the arts category once a week until February 20. Voting opens at midnight every Monday, and closes at 11:59 p.m. every Sunday. Fans can also sign up for a weekly voting email reminder at www.VoteAiley.org.

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New Master’s of Fine Arts Degree Designed for Dance Professionals

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George Washington University’s Department of Theatre and Dance (TRDA) will offer a new master’s of fine arts degree for mid-career dancers, performers, choreographers, and other dance professionals beginning the summer of 2011.

The program will promote exploration and integration of the latest developments in the dance field while developing professional relationships with the larger international dance community.

“As dancers and choreographers, we have limited time to build a career. Receiving more education should not slow the process, it should enhance it,” says Dana Tai Soon Burgess, chair of GW’s theatre and dance department. Burgess also is the choreographer and director of DTSB & Co., a Washington, DC, Asian American dance company. “Dance is a fundamental form of communication which bridges cultural differences, and we look to this new program as a way to enhance global dialogue between artists.”

The program is designed for highly skilled, practicing professionals with extensive dance experience and will incorporate individualized distance and on-site learning. The 18-month program will include an initial eight-week residency at GW, two semesters of supervised distance learning for artists working full-time domestically or internationally, and completion of a performance portfolio submitted electronically. Each student will work one-on-one with a GW TRDA faculty member to develop the portfolio.

Additionally, students will have the opportunity to work with specialists in the areas of dance curating, management, and advocacy from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the U.S. State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Geographic Society, and the National Endowment.

For additional information, visit www.theatredance.gwu.edu.

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On My Mind

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by Rhee Gold

At a recent Project Motivate seminar I ran into a school owner who had not been to any kind of continuing education event for more than 20 years. She told me that as a kid she had gone to workshops and conventions with her teacher, but since then she hadn’t drummed up the confidence to attend because it had been so long since she had taken a dance class. She came to Project Motivate, she said, because she didn’t have to take class.

I had an hour-long conversation with her after the seminar. Since she hadn’t been exposed to any dance outside of her own school for so long, she was like a sponge soaking up information. I discovered that she is passionate about teaching dance but has been in the dark ages about education and business practices. One of her first questions was, “How long have dance schools been on computer?” She still uses a paper system and has no computer. She knows what the Internet is but had never considered setting up a website for her school. Her students pay for lessons on a weekly basis; if they don’t show up, they don’t pay for the class. And although her school offers a Cecchetti-based curriculum, she hadn’t attended a Cecchetti workshop since she was a teenager. She said she was embarrassed because she felt that her peers would look down on her for not continuing her own education.

One interesting aspect of our conversation was the discovery that in her 20 years away from the dance education world, she has kept her old-school values intact. Her objective has always been to inspire kids to love dance, and she thinks that the discipline learned in the classroom is just as important as the dance steps. Maybe she doesn’t realize that some studio owners struggle to achieve what she’s maintained. They face parents who only want their kids to have fun and students who don’t show the kind of respect for teachers that school owners think is needed. What a good resource this school owner would be for other teachers, if only she would put aside her fears about continuing education.

Maybe that will happen. By the end of our conversation, she seemed to have gained enough confidence to seek out the education she needs. She especially liked the fact that many of the teachers who attend workshops observe and take notes rather than take every class.

It’s been hard for me to get this teacher off my mind because I wonder how many others are like her. If you want to seek out continuing-education opportunities but feel intimidated, try not to let your fears about what others will think of you override your desire to learn. As this teacher discovered, there are various ways to expose yourself to the knowledge you need in order to give your students the best dance education possible. Don’t let your fears of personal discomfort distract you from that admirable goal of being the best teacher you can be. Once you get out into the dance world, you’ll discover that you are not alone. You’ll find that other teachers share your fears, ideas, and dreams and that you have much to offer one another.

Life is nothing but a learning process, and at certain times we come to realize that learning is more important than anything else. It allows us to fulfill our potential.

To help you remember that, here’s a quote to tack on your wall (attributed to John Cotton Dana): “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.”

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Weekend Workshops Helps Dance Teachers with Classroom Management

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The 92nd Street Y, New York City, will kick off “Classroom Management: A Dance Teacher’s Essential Bag of Tricks,” a series of weekend workshops, in December.

The Dance Education Lab will present this series of five weekend workshops on specific issues in dance education. In a December workshop, Ana Nery Fragoso and Catherine Gallant will discuss how to keep dance classes focused and happy, even as teachers cope with students with varying ability and maturity.

For more information, visit www.92Y.org.

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The Importance of Dance Discussed at Chicago Cultural Center Forum

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The Chicago Cultural Center presents another discussion in its Creatives at Work Forum series, “What Does Dance ‘Do’ For the World?” on November 22 at 6:00 p.m. at the Randolph Café, Chicago.

A panel of artists will address today’s interest in defining the value of dance in contemporary American society, and how they apply these broad issues in art and art-related educational programming to their own creative work and practice.

For more information on the Chicago Cultural Center, 73 East Washington Street, visit www.chicagoculturalcenter.org.

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Danspirations: Dance is Your Guiding Light with Rhee Gold

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Are you sometimes filled with self-doubt, afraid of failing or never reaching your dreams? Stop right there and take a look at how far you’ve come. This episode of “Danspirations” will help you set aside your fears and understand the importance of knowing your own strengths. It will remind you that you had the confidence to get where you are—which means you’ve got what it takes to keep going—and that your passion for dance is your guiding light, helping you do everything in your power to give kids the best dance education possible. Watch this, and get inspired all over again!

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Not for the Faint of Heart

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Youth is fleeting, but artistry is forever

By Catherine Samardza

Those of us who spend our lives in dance understand its many evolutions: from student to professional, performer to teacher, choreographer to administrator. Yet we remain students of dance, attending conferences and seminars to continue our dance education. Sometimes I find what I learn has nothing to do with pliés and tendus. At other times, what I learn is a reminder of something I knew all along.

Mental and physical flexibility are crucial to dancers as they age, Catherine Samardza says. (Photo by Tagg Le Duc)

I thought of these lessons, new and old, after performing at a concert in May 2009 where most of the dancers were over 50 and one woman proudly claimed to be 86. (It was so much fun that we did it again in May of this year.) Here’s what I’ve learned: dance is not just for the young. It’s not just pink tights, tutus, and Nutcrackers. Dance is not for the faint of heart. You can dance as long as you want to, but if you decide to dance into old age, don’t take yourself too seriously.

No age limits here
I am director and choreographer of Itinerant Dance Theater, made up of adult dancers with full-time jobs, families, and bills to pay. Some are in their 30s, but most company members are over 50, including myself. I am 55. Before forming Itinerant Dance in 1993, I was ballet mistress for the Delaware Dance Company after spending 15 years in New York, where I directed Indigent DanceWorks and was associate director for Maureen Gelchion/Astoria Dance Theater.

With Itinerant Dance, I sometimes will choreograph lyrical modern dances using the Horton vocabulary, but mostly what we perform is “family-friendly comedy dance.” We use lots of props—hats, giant crayons, parasols, drums, even kitchen utensils. Our repertoire includes tributes to Stomp and Isadora Duncan, as well as spoofs of mimes or the Sugar Plum Fairy variation. One song, a Broadway-type spoof of “Old Man River,” announces that we are “older dancers, much older dancers.”

We are often paid for our performances—not enough for each individual dancer, but enough to cover the cost of rehearsal space, costumes, and travel. Our rehearsal includes company warm-up, which includes a mix of yoga, Pilates, and Horton exercises; the rest of our time is spent working on new material or rehearsing an upcoming show.

All of that makes us very different from other Delaware dance companies, even the other adult companies. But because we make use of comedy and we’re “old,” we don’t get much respect from the local dance community. It hasn’t stopped us, but it can be a little depressing.

So when we heard about “Ageless Grace,” a concert sponsored by Dance Baltimore and the Baltimore Theatre Project that was to feature dancers over 40, we applied to take part. After years of being dismissed by our own dance community as “not really dancers,” here was a community that wanted to celebrate us—and pay us, as well!   

Mature bodies, brave hearts
The “Ageless Grace” audience was sophisticated but not classically oriented, and the performers were diverse: flamenco, storytelling dance, precision line, liturgical dance, tap, and us—comedy dance. It was a great show, and we had a great time.

We were one of the most athletic groups, despite our history of surgeries and rehabs. I may be classically trained, but I also continue to dance after three knee surgeries (including a partial knee replacement), foot surgery, a partially torn Achilles tendon, and two shoulder injuries. One of my dancers, a musical theater performer, underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. A woman who danced as a child, then had careers as a costumer and actress, has undergone surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. Another found dance as an adult, performed with Urban 15 in Texas, and dances today despite nerve problems in her shoulder.

Dance is not just for the young. You can dance as long as you want to, but if you decide to dance into old age, don’t take yourself too seriously.

So we don’t do multiple pirouettes, or saut de chats, or high extensions. Our dances use nonstop walking and running, or falling and rolling on the floor. In one dance, we make a chain by holding onto one leg of the person behind, hopping on the other, and singing. (The singing comes after all that running, rolling, and hopping.)

If you dance as you get older, you must change not just what you do but how you do it. Technique helps, but performance carries the day. And dancers intent on dancing through their middle and senior years must be adaptable—mentally and physically.

Comedic inspiration
Because my company is small and adaptable, we do many performances in libraries. While some libraries have good-sized multipurpose rooms, others have nothing to offer but a 10-foot-square carpeted corner. The library audience can range from toddlers to seniors.

Our show might be the first live dance performance that some of these children have ever seen. While I take that seriously, I also know the dances must be entertaining—and brief, for those short attention spans. So we reach into our own “inner child” for inspiration. We steal props from one another and squabble over them, pretend to dance on a high wire, and bang on kitchen utensils.

In building these library programs, I discovered something. And that realization (which came to me when I realized I had a show to do when I was four months post-op from knee replacement surgery) provided the name for our 30-minute show: “Sometimes You Just Need to Be Silly.”

Technique gets harder as the body ages; however, performing artistry improves and gets easier. We learn to use what we have and adapt what we must to continue dancing. Our comedy dance may appear technically easy, but it demands a high level of performance—musicality, timing, energy, prop handling. The company members and I collaborate on new works; that allows us to keep a wide point of view and includes room for all members to work to their strengths. At this stage of our careers, it’s not always about challenging ourselves physically. Been there, done that. Humor helps us spread the message that everyone can dance.

 “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles Schulz, via his character of Snoopy, understood dance. There are two Snoopy quotes I have taken to heart ever since my first knee surgery at age 19: “To those of us with real understanding, dancing is the only true art form.”

I realize that is debatable. The second, however (taken from a sticker that dates back to my 1973 knee surgery) is not: “If you can’t dance, at least do a happy hop.”

Forever.

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Hubbard Street tells the tale of Harold and the Purple Crayon

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The classic children’s book, Harold and the Purple Crayon, has been re-created in an educational dance adventure for children and their families by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

HS2 dancer David Schultz in Harold and the Purple Crayon. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Presented by Hubbard Street 2, a company of six young professional dancers, Harold and the Purple Crayon: A Dance Adventure is an hour-long, interactive dance adaptation where children ages 4 and up can help Harold through his latest adventure as they explore movement. The show is choreographed by Terence Marling, HSDC artistic associate, and Robyn Mineko Williams, HSDC dancer, with music by Chicago-based Indie-rock composer Andrew Bird.

The new work will be presented Dec. 4 at 3 p.m. at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 East Randolph Dr., in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Tickets are $5 and available through the HSDC ticket office, 312.850.9744. For information, visit www.hubbardstreetdance.com.

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Kinderdance franchise awarded to Dubai educators

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Kinderdance International Inc. has expanded into the United Arab Emirates with the award of its first franchise in Dubai made to Kumal and Reena Dhamecha.

Kinderdance president, CEO and founder, Carol Kay Harsell, applauded the franchise’s move into the United Arab Emirates. “The country is now poised to embrace educational programs which focus on movement and dance while developing physically and mentally fit children of tomorrow,” she says.

The company, which emphasizes self-confidence and self-esteem in children through the arts, movement, education, music, fitness, and fun of learning, was founded in 1979. It offers its educational movement program at child care centers, recreational centers, churches, fitness centers, and other locations.

For more information, visit www.kinderdance.com.

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Nov. 1 Deadline for Costume Gallery Scholarships

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The deadline is November 1 for dance students to submit applications for the third annual Beverly Miller Dance Scholarships offered by Costume Gallery.

Costume Gallery will award $10,000 in scholarships to 19 students between the ages of 12 and 21 who are pursuing their dance education. Applicants are asked to submit a paragraph detailing how they would use the award.

An official application, release form, and the scholarship rules are available by visiting www.costumegallery.net and clicking on Scholarships. Winners will be notified by November 24.

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Rhee’s Quick Thoughts | Your Students Know

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Our dancers can feel if we are into it or not . . . teach them all with the same energy and passion, whether they can do five pirouettes or beginning to learn a first position. Have a great day–Rhee

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Rhee’s Quick Thoughts | Endless Possibilities

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Dance and the business of dance are evolving faster in the 21st century than ever before. Don’t ever believe that there isn’t more to learn or that there are not new paths to dance down . . . the possibilities are vast. Have a great day–Rhee

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Rhee’s Quick Thoughts | Say Thanks

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Today (or any day) is a good time to thank that teacher who instilled the passion for the art of dance in your soul. None of us would be where we are today if it weren’t for their ability to inspire us. Have a great day–Rhee

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DNA Wards Off Eviction Proceedings

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Dance New Amsterdam has received its fourth stay—until September 27—on its scheduled eviction proceedings, the New York City-based dance education and presentation group has announced.

DNA and its landlord, Fram Realty, have been working to agree on rental terms. Meanwhile, the organization says it is also working with elected officials and the Department of Cultural Affairs as it cuts expenses and seeks resource-sharing and business partnerships and foundation grants.

DNA is also gearing up for its fall, season, which kicks off September 9 to 12 with Art/Family/Our Lives: I Ka Nye with Nora Chipaumire, Souleymane Badolo, and Obo Addy. The work is part of DNA’s International Program highlighting contemporary African dance. For details, visit www.dnadance.org.

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Free Classes All Day at North Carolina School

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Artistic Motion School of Dance in Greensboro, North Carolina, is joining the push to launch National Dance Day on July 31 by offering free classes all that day.

The one-hour offerings start with yoga at 9 a.m., followed by ballet at 10 a.m., modern at 11 a.m., and Nia Technique at noon. After an hour-long lunch break, classes resume with musical theater dance at 2 p.m., jazz at 3 p.m., Zumba at 4 p.m., and ballroom at 5 p.m.

TV’s hit show So You Think You Can Dance and the Dizzy Feet Foundation are promoting the idea of National Dance Day as part of their commitment to support dance education and physical fitness in the United States.

Artistic Motion will also accept donations of money or used dance shoes to the Dizzy Feet Foundation. To learn more, call 336.286.2911 or visit www.artisticmotiondance.com.

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Rhee’s Blog | Advice on Burnout

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Dear Rhee
I am pooped and feel like quitting this business. I first started 17 years ago because my two girls needed a ballet studio to go to and there were none in the area. My youngest daughter graduated four years ago and now is graduating college. She shows no interest in taking over the studio and I guess I have lost my love for it because I think she wants to move on and get a job out in the world for the first time.I have been through a lot this past year: a lawsuit with a studio neighbor (which we won); starting a company for the dedicated students; taking a trip to Jamaica with 125 people; presenting the May show in a theater instead of in a high school; and hiring two grads and offering benefits for the first time. I am still teaching 36 classes a week and putting in around 75 hours a week.

It seems the studio is growing faster than I can keep up with, and I am exhausted with trying to keep it organized like my customers are used to. I am seriously considering selling it all and walking away. I am 52 and have been in business for 17 years, and not one year has been calm. This is a really tough job and I am growing weary of it all. Am I getting too old or what? I feel so overwhelmed and down. Help, please, Rhee.—Bonnie

 Hi Bonnie,
I’m sorry you feel the way you do. You mentioned that you started the school because you wanted your daughters to have classical ballet training. It sounds like you expected one or both of your daughters to take over the school or become part of the business someday; perhaps part of your frustration is due to the fact that they don’t want to do that. It’s not unusual. I’ve seen many dance teachers lose their steam when their children grow up and move on to find their own niche in the world. I think my mom was frustrated with the same thing at times. My brother, Rennie, and I had our own aspirations, and my mother found herself running a large school alone. I think she always expected that we would take over or become her partners. What’s funny is that Rennie did end up with the school many years later, but first he needed to do what he wanted to with his life.

If you think that this is part of your frustration, then it may be time for a change. You need to do what’s going to make you happy. With all the changes you’ve made and the hours you work, you have a right to be exhausted, frustrated, and insecure about how you’re going to continue to manage it all. You have no choice but to get through this season. Then it may be time to reevaluate. Could it be time to take in a business partner to take on some of the responsibility? Could it be time to cut out some of the activities or put a halt to any new projects? Or, as you said, could it be time to sell the business? You need a clear head to make the right decision. Although I don’t regret selling my business and changing my life, I do wish that I hadn’t been so emotional and I regret that I wasn’t more business minded in my decision. Think it out, and then think it out again before you do anything drastic.

You are not too old—you’re overwhelmed! But the good thing is that your business is growing, which is a sign of a successful leader. Obviously you’ve been doing something right. Now you have to look for the good things in your school and your life while you figure out how to use your success to make your future more enjoyable. Make a list of all the school-related things you love to do, and then make a list of what you don’t like or want to do. Once you know what those things are, you may have a better idea of how to head into the future. Remember, change is a part of life. Sometimes it feels hard (to say the least), but once it happens we often find ourselves wondering why we didn’t do it long ago.

I hope this helps, and I wish you all the best.

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Mail | October 2008

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Words from our readers

I just received the August Dance Studio Life. Congratulations on always seeking to broaden the field. Your editorial on parents (“On My Mind,”) was amusing—and horrifying at the same time. Yes, ignorance is rife in the public conception of dance education.

I particularly liked your article on the NEA’s study on artists in the workforce (“FYI,”). I think this is important information for teachers and parents to absorb. The material is dry reading but essential to our understanding of dance in the private sector.

Gregg Russell’s article (“Psyching Out the Guys,”) is an extension of [Rhee Gold’s] own important interest in boys in dance. The article was practical and engaging.

Thank you for “stretching” into improvisation and partnering (“Winging It,” “Art of the Pas de Deux,”).

Debbie Werbrouck’s articles (“Front Runners and Guardian Angels,” “Dance at Any Age,”) are great, a significant contribution. I hope all studio owners read them.
Patricia Cohen
Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
New York University
New York, NY

I have to respond to “Frustrated in Kansas,” who asked whether she should give technique training to students from another school (see “Ask Rhee Gold,” DSL, August 2008). A similar situation happened to me, and I regret taking on the other school’s students.

I was shocked at these students’ lack of training, and I soon realized that I was training them for the other school. I decided to stop taking any more students from there but kept training the few I had been teaching. I did this for six years, to the point where they were taking several classes a week with me and only going to the other studio to work on their competition pieces.

I never felt quite right about this, but I thought that when the students left for college I could finally separate my studio from the other one. Not so—one student who became pretty good under my instruction became the other school’s ballet teacher. I feel like this student and the studio owner used me. “Frustrated” hit the mark when she said, “I feel like this student is getting everything from my school and using it to the other school’s benefit.” I think she should tell the student to choose a loyalty, and not allow students to train with her and then use that training to dance across town. She is only helping her competition improve while giving away what helps her stand out in the community.
Name and address withheld by request

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Higher-Ed Voice | Teacher’s Road Map for Class

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Why you need a syllabus and how to make one

By Jeanne Fornarola

Colleges across the country have distributed course syllabuses to their students at the beginning of each semester probably since Harvard opened its doors in 1636. A syllabus, whether on paper or online, serves as a road map for students, a blueprint for faculty members, and a guide for individual teachers to achieve the common goal of understanding and learning.

With the aid of a course syllabus, students will clearly understand the goals, expectations of the teacher, and most important, how both parties will achieve the desired outcome. A syllabus enables all members of the faculty team to understand the curriculum design of each class and define what needs to be taught at each level of learning in order to maintain a cohesive program. Finally, as a guide for the individual teacher, it serves several functions: It promotes pre-planning and the identification of benchmarks in a logical order that produce results.

Though commonplace in colleges and universities, a syllabus is used less frequently in the private dance studio setting. But an argument can be made that the reasons for using one are equally valid in a community school as on a college campus. Here’s why.

By definition a syllabus is simply an outline of a course of study. That means that the distribution of a course outline can establish the first connecting point between parents and the dance classroom. In addition, it provides another learning tool for older students. Just as a newsletter communicates important times, dates, and studio information, a syllabus can inform students and parents of your goals, expectations, and procedures inside the dance studio.

By defining a few key words of “syllabus jargon,” we can begin to develop a suitable document for use in the dance studio.

Learning outcomes or achievement targets describe what you want the students to be able to know and do after the instruction that they couldn’t do before. Learning outcomes define content, procedure, and evaluation. They target exactly what is to be accomplished. They are the broadest goals. 

Objectives are smaller in scale and focus on a particular skill. There might be more than one objective, but all of them must relate to the learning outcomes, which are the long-term goals. These objectives help guide the development of the content materials and the teaching methods used. You can use objectives to make sure you reach your goals and insure that students understand what is expected of them in the studio classroom. 

Assessment is the process of documenting progress,  knowledge, and skills, often in measurable terms. In designing methods of assessment the teacher should keep in mind the desired learning outcomes of the individual and the student group.

Course information can include the days and times of classes and any specific directions such as sign-in or warm-up information. It should include any specific procedures that the students should be aware of.

The course description summarizes the content that will be taught at this level.

Instructor information gives details on how to get in touch with you. This can include instructions to call the studio and leave a message, how to contact you via email, or your available office times.

Requirements may include attendance policies and should be in conjunction with studio policy. Your dress code should be included, listing any specific requirements such as the types of tap or pointe shoes you want students at various levels to wear, as well as guidelines for which dancewear, jewelry, and hairstyles the studio permits.

The course calendar outlines the planned content. If you are ambitious, you can outline the general course flow week by week, including pertinent information such as music used or class time focus, to prepare both students and parents for a successful learning experience in your class.

The following is a sample studio syllabus for an intermediate ballet class.

Course title: Intermediate Ballet

Course description: A continuation of ballet technique and theory as taught in the Vaganova system. Class time focus is on the barre and center floor.

Instructor: Jeanne Fornarola
Phone: 555-DANCE
Email: Jeanne@dancewell.studio
Day: M/W: 6–7:30 p.m.

Learning Outcomes
Through the course of the year, students will gain knowledge in ballet technique as performed at the intermediate student level. Students should be able to correctly execute exercises at the barre and center floor and be able to know and perform the eight body positions as taught in the Vaganova system of ballet. Additional class time emphasis will promote an awareness of ballet history, musicality, and artistry.

Objective #1
Class time emphasis will focus on the concepts of adagio and petit allegro. In adagio the concepts of line, core strength, and port de bras will be addressed in each class. Petit allegro will introduce beats focusing on height, stretched feet in the air, and articulate footwork.

Objective #2
A ballet dance will be choreographed utilizing all of the concepts identified above. This dance will be performed in the annual spring recital. Preparation and choreography will begin after the winter break.

Requirements:
Attendance policy: Students are expected to attend all classes. In the event that you are unable to attend a class, please call the studio office. The dress code for Intermediate Ballet for girls is pink tights, a black leotard, pink ballet slippers, and hair worn securely away from the face in a bun. Demi skirts may be worn. Boys must wear black tights, a white T-shirt, black ballet shoes, and a dance belt.

Assessment
A written evaluation of student progress will be distributed in December.

Parents may view class during observation week [give dates].

The final performance will assess the progress of both the class and the individual.

Course Schedule

September–December 2008 (subject to change at the discretion of the instructor)

Class Dates Topics Practice
9/7, 9 Review course syllabus; discuss goals for the year. Introduction of gentle stretching, barre and center exercise to ease the class back into technique. Stretch gently at home.
9/14, 16 Full barre: focus on fondu and développé. Introduce Pilates hundreds after barre to build core strength. Center adagio includes développé and fondu. Practice doing Pilates hundreds each day.
9/21, 23 Full barre: focus on changement & royale facing the barre. Continue hundreds after the barre in each class. Center: introduce the 8 body positions with tendu; use changement and royale in petit allegro. Go over body positions.Written quiz: 10/5Practical test: 10/7
9/28, 30 Full barre. Introduce entrechat quatre facing the barre. Center: go over spelling of body positions on dry-erase board; drill body positions; use entrechat quatre in petit allegro. Handout on Vaganova. Read handout on Vaganova.Practice spelling body positions.Practice beating thighs in entrechat quatre.
10/5, 7 Written quiz on Mon.Practical on Wed.Shorter barre and center. Stretch!
10/12, 14 Full barre: focus on line; work on penché. Center: incorporate body positions into adagio, include penché. Practice for lecture-demonstration/parents week. Practice saying and demonstrating your part for Parents Week.Remind your parents about Parents Week.
10/19, 21 Parents WeekLecture-demonstration with full barre and center. Each student will introduce an exercise and explain its purpose. Discuss the class with those who came to see you. What improvements did they notice?
10/28, 30              Focus: “scary” Halloween music for class. Discussion about  composers (Bach, Brahms, and Mozart to start). Center: let students improvise and choreograph to Carmina Burana. Use pairs or trios if that suits the class. Present on Wed. after the barre.Recommended music:Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D minor Grieg: In the Hall of the Mountain King Brahms: Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 25Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (movement 3, adagio)Mozart: Requiem, “Dies Irae”Orff: Carmina Burana, “O Fortuna”

Ives: Robert Browning overture

Brahms: Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G minor

Webern: Variations Op. 27, “Ruhig fliessend”

Mussorgsky: A Night on Bald Mountain

Work on your improvised dance so that you don’t forget it for Wed.
11/2, 4 Introduction of the  arabesque positions.Full barre: combine royale, entrechat quatre, and changement facing the barre. Center: allegro includes barre work. Drill arabesque positions. Read and study handout on arabesque positions.Practice arabesque positions.
11/9, 11 Full barre: introduction of assemblé battu. Center: arabesque practical in groups facing away from the mirror. Practice the arabesque positions for practical exam.Practice assemblé battu.
11/16, 18 Full barre and center: review all material as incorporated into barre and center combinations. Glissade assemblé battu down the room. Wed.: practical exam in groups facing away from the mirror. Stretch.
11/23 off for Thanks-giving on 11/25 Dance Dice! (www.dancedice.com/index.html)Roll the dice (each die has a ballet term), then put them together in the order they fall and see what happens!Discuss: Chance Dance and Merce Cunningham. Happy Thanksgiving!
11/30, 12/3 Full barre: introduce entrechat trois facing the barre. Center: adagio—focus on port de bras; allegro—combining beats.Begin to learn Sugar Plum variation. Discuss the history of The Nutcracker. Find the story of The Nutcracker online or in a book. Read it and try to remember details. 
12/7, 9 Short barre using holiday music , e.g., Christmas Music for Ballet Class (Vol. 2) by Lynn Stanford.Center: “add on the story.” Instructor starts the story of The Nutcracker and each subsequent student adds the next part. (Did they read?)Watch selected variations, including Sugar Plum.Work on Sugar Plum variation.Wed. full barre; perform variation in the center. Parents invited to the end of class. Listen to the entire score of The Nutcracker. Note your favorite musical moments.
12/21 Stretch class. Teach various stretch exercises that students can do over winter break to stay in shape. Work in partners; explain uses of various muscles and why certain exercises are important and helpful.Use relaxing holiday music. Go to a production of The Nutcracker if possible. Or rent the video and watch the story come to life.Keep stretching! Happy holidays!

A note about quizzes and practical exams: Formal grading for the written quiz is not necessary. Corrections and words of encouragement work better in this situation. Re-test the students later.

For the practical, allow the students to perform in groups of three facing away from the mirror. There is safety in numbers! Written comments are always helpful.

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Techno Dance

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Choreographer Wayne McGregor connects kids with dance through technology

By Cheryl Ossola

Wayne McGregor is as passionate a man as you’ll hope to find among choreographers. Cerebral and articulate, he is as much an intellectual as an artist. Although making dances is his lifeblood, McGregor desperately wants young people to learn, and he’s using dance in a unique way to make that happen in England’s public schools. With his company, Random Dance, he has established technologically based dance outreach education programs that get young people thinking and lead them to self-discovery. The students learn about dance, but more important in McGregor’s mind, they learn about themselves and how to function in the world.

More than 80 students participated in the workshops that culminated in a performance of Castlescape. (Photo by Pau Ross)

British-born McGregor, a tall, 37-year-old whip of a fellow, founded his modern-dance company in 1992, after obtaining a degree in choreography from England’s University College, Bretton Hall, and training at the Merce Cunningham and José Limón schools. Random Dance has been the resident company at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London since 2001, and last December McGregor was named choreographer in residence at The Royal Ballet (the first non-ballet–trained choreographer to hold that post). Despite holding such high-profile positions, he devotes a huge amount of energy to developing programs that bring dance to hundreds of British schoolchildren.

McGregor prefers to take his programs into schools where kids haven’t had a lot of exposure to dance. His goal is to “explore artistic excellence. The projects might have some social repercussions, but that’s not our focus,” he says. Instead, he says he’s more interested in “developing nonverbal literacy” in young people. To do that, you have to approach kids on their level. “Say some 7-year-olds see a ballet of mine, which is quite difficult and abstract,” McGregor explains. “A teacher might ask them what it means, and the kids have no idea. So they think, ‘I don’t get dance. Dance isn’t for me.’ So when we work with these little kids, we say, ‘What do you see? What color is it? How does it make you feel?’ And all of a sudden meaning emerges, and it’s so liberating for them. And that applies to lots of situations, not just dance—situations in real life. It’s not just for dance; it’s a way of looking at things.”

To make dance appealing to a broad range of personalities means presenting it as more than technique. “The joy you get in the freedom of moving, that physical exhilaration—that’s the hook,” says McGregor. “And once you’ve got [students] hooked, you can invest in the techniques.” He finds that the black sheep of the classroom often yield the most potential. “You want to work with people who are curious and a bit restless and bored. We’ve found that they really engage,” he says. “Even if they don’t engage with the fact that they’re dancing, they like that they’re doing something well and they’re valued for it. And that then helps them to do other things well.”

Technology is a large factor in helping students engage. McGregor utilizes a software program called Poser, which is used to animate bodies for videogames. What interests the choreographer most is that the animated bodies can do things that real ones can’t: Heads can swivel 360 degrees; arms can be dislocated. “We took 10 or 11 computers into the studio and I taught the students the basics of animation,” McGregor says. “They learned about how a time line works, how a key frame of action works over a period of time, and how the transitions between movements work—all choreographic principles. So I was looking from a choreographic eye but teaching through animation.”

But for McGregor the most rewarding result of working with Poser was that the students wanted to try to do what they had made. “As soon as you get them trying those physically impossible things, you’re dealing with choreography. ‘OK, your head can’t go 360 degrees—how could you work with two people to make it look as though it can? OK, your arm doesn’t dislocate that far off your shoulder—how can you work with a group of five people to get that same kind of effect?’ It works so well,” he says. And once he’s gotten the students’ attention, he says, “you can do anything with them. Then you can look at how composition and choreography really work. We’ve invented strategies that approach dance in a different way, because choreography is not just about what the body does; it’s about understanding how you look at things.”

‘Choreography is not just about what the body does; it’s about understanding how you look at things.’ —Wayne McGregor

One of McGregor’s biggest educational ventures is the 10-week Sentient Net project, which reaches 30 schools at a time through live video feeds of McGregor teaching at Sadler’s Wells and is linked to the company’s piece for children, Alpha. (His goal is to put the program into every public school in England.) His dancers go into the schools to work with teachers and students as they follow McGregor through a warm-up and a series of choreographic tasks. Then they work on their own to develop the material they’ve learned into a dance. “Some of the teachers were worried that [working remotely] would make young people less attentive, but actually it was the opposite. They understand what ‘live’ is. And the power of live is very important; it’s not like sticking on a video,” says McGregor. Once the remote teaching is done, company members go into the participating schools, where they put together a dance from the material the students have created. To complete the project, the students perform their dance onstage before a Random Dance performance of Alpha.

The company developed a website (www.randomdance.org/project_alpha) where teachers can see the lesson plans, replay the classes, and get more information. The lessons are tied into the national curriculum so that teachers can use dance to teach concepts in any subject—geography, math, history—you name it. “Teachers don’t normally think about how dance can help math or geography,” says McGregor. “But [dance is] not taking time out from geography; it’s actually advancing their geographic knowledge”—for example, about contours of space, proximity, or distance—“through choreography. It gives teachers a way to be engaged with art.”

According to Random’s co-director of education, Jasmine Wilson, programs like Sentient Net have “a tangible impact on participants and their teachers, whether through offering cross-curricular resources, access to innovative technology, or simply the highest quality artistic experience.” She says that teachers report results like a greater interest in dance and the performing arts, increased self-esteem, and behavioral improvements among their students.

One of the schoolteachers, Caroline Hayward of Lethbridge Primary School, Swindon, Wiltshire, whose students ranged in age from 9 to 11, describes the experience as “inspirational. The high standards and focus were remarkable. It’s one of the rare companies that can technically stretch quite young students and not give a one-size-fits-all workshop. We did have times when my colleagues and I were desperately trying to connect to our live Web access while the dancers were warming up in one corner. There were, predictably, a few light-bulb jokes!”

Thirteen-year-old Evangeline Asio-Okwalinga, who had taken some dance classes outside of school, says that McGregor’s style of movement took her by surprise.

But, she says, “as the weeks passed it became more interesting, and I got more used to it. We used different techniques, developing ideas and using things like changing direction or levels, adding a movement, using dynamics.” She credits those elements with making the students’ dances more “interesting and flowing” and found that using a computer program helped the students develop choreographic ideas. “By the end of the project, my view of contemporary dance had widened,” she says. “I was surprised at the amount of choreography that had been produced from a few ideas.”

McGregor stayed true to his preference for working with untrained youngsters when he choreographed the dances for the Hogwarts holiday ball in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He asked the producers if he could recruit students from a low-income area of East London for the movie—he wanted the professional actors to be extras and the East London kids to do the dancing. “And they went for it!” McGregor exclaims. “We did a series of workshops and I took the most committed kids, even if they weren’t very good. And it was just wonderful.”

Though producing professional dancers is not his primary goal, some of the kids who have experienced McGregor’s programs have become dancers. One of them, Thomasin Gülgec, worked with the choreographer as a young teenager, then went to the Ballet Rambert school and later joined that company. In what McGregor calls “a fantastic kind of full circle,” Gülgec made his professional debut, taking over a role at the last minute, in a production of McGregor’s Presentient at Rambert. “He’s having such an amazing career now,” says the choreographer. “That [kind of] journey is so inspiring and empowering. If you can catch young people at the right time, and give them a feel for how wonderful dance is and how exceptional it is to be involved in it, they can realize their dreams. That’s why we do this work.”

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Send in the Crowds

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Life on the road with three convention teachers

By Nancy Wozny

Conventions make an exciting complement to dance-studio education. More and more studios are opting for competitions that come with a learning component or forgo the gold and silver of competitions altogether in favor of the convention experience. Teachers who work the convention circuit are a special breed, one that can handle the challenge of teaching large groups that they may never see again. The ratio of one teacher to crowds of 500-plus has to be a daunting prospect for even the most polished among them. Unlike studio teachers, they have only a short time period to make their mark. Here to tell us about life on the road—and in front of the crowds—are three convention teachers.

Dennis Caspary understands well the differences between convention teaching and owning a studio, because he co-owned Studio C in Downey, CA, with his siblings for 10 years before he taught at his first convention. He also has a string of impressive TV credits, including work on Coach and Head of the Class. Currently he teaches regularly at Shock the Intensive (the convention arm of Star Systems) and his own convention, 2 Days in the O.C. Caspary is the first to admit that the convention teacher is a completely different animal. “Because you don’t see the kids day after day, you have one day to make an impression,” he says. He travels 35 to 40 weekends a year for conventions and to teach master classes at private studios.

Teaching conditions at conventions can be challenging: You trade in your sprung wood floor for a hotel ballroom that can accommodate 200 to 1,500 people. With those large numbers comes a good deal of excitement. Convention teachers have to know how to work the crowd. With hoards of eager eyes looking to them for inspiration, it’s not a job for the faint of nerve. Being energetic and outgoing also goes with the territory. “You have to break the ice,” says Caspary. “There is an art to controlling the room and demanding attention; it takes time to develop. Our job is not to yell at the kids.”

Caspary finds that the convention experience is a great confidence builder for students. “If you can dance in front of 1,000 kids, that has to help you in life,” he says. “You can’t put a price tag on that.” He also likes the exposure to a variety of styles that’s typical at conventions. “At Shock we do a group warm-up where each teacher throws in their own style,” he says. “The warm-up is designed to get the blood flowing and feel the power of the room.” He says it’s amazing to see 700 dancers moving together. “It’s a ‘you have to see it to believe it’ kind of experience.”

The students get the feeling that they are part of something big, something larger than their own studio community, and they gain a different perspective from what their day-in, day-out teachers offer. In addition, they get to dance with a larger group of peers, which can be a tremendous learning experience.

Technical levels vary from city to city and convention teachers need to think on their feet when it comes to altering the material. “I never tone it down too much,” says Caspary. “We learn more from a struggle than from an easy class. The students need something to strive for.”

A pep talk is part of his act. “You are training your minds right now, and dance is the best stepping-stone for any career you choose,” he tells the kids. He acknowledges that few of them will end up working as professional dancers, “but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try their best at every moment. That drive will transfer to anything they decide to do with their lives.”

Convention teaching comes with some obvious perks. “Marcy Tuttle [of Star Systems] makes sure we are well taken care of in terms of hotels and other amenities,” says Caspary. Convention teachers never have to deal with parents, costumes, tuition, and other day-to-day details of studio life. “It’s fun to leave [the students] wanting more and then go off to the next city.” Plus, the financial remuneration can be impressive.  

Caspary chose to stop working in the commercial dance industry because he finds working on the convention circuit “much more inspiring. Also, commercial work is sporadic and inconsistent.” However, he admits that the convention life, in which dancing full-out is a must, has taken a toll on his 38-year-old body, even though he warms up thoroughly before teaching to reduce strain. “My body has taken severe punishment,” he says. “[Still,] I know I have more energy than people half my age.”

Convention teacher Ray Leeper describes his job as equal parts dance evangelist and dance teacher.

The convention life also poses some challenges to family life. A newlywed with two children ages 12 and 18, Caspary does his best to spend his downtime with his kids. “The life has its pros and cons,” he admits. “You have to leave the woman you love at home during many weekends. But then again, I can work very hard and take a whole month off.” When Caspary is home he is totally involved with his family, helping out with homework and other dad jobs. Right now he’s enjoying the lifestyle’s flexibility.

Another teacher, Ray Leeper, has 16 years of convention teaching behind him and is going strong as he begins his fifth year at JUMP (Break the Floor) events. He cut his convention-teaching teeth with Joe Tremaine, a pioneer in the industry. “It’s all about motivating the kids—check your ego at the door,” Leeper jokes. “After all these years I still get a bit anxious.” As well he should; he has taught crowds of up to 1,200 kids at a time.

Leeper’s professional credits include work with Elton John and Cher as well as several TV commercials. His choreography has been presented at the Jazz Dance World Congress in Germany and in the off-Broadway hit Inappropriate. He received the Gold Leo Award for excellence in jazz choreography, awarded by Leo’s Dancewear, in 1996.

Leeper describes the convention-teacher job as equal parts dance evangelist and dance teacher. “You have just a short time with the kids to make a lasting impression,” he says. “Still, I learn something every weekend I teach.” Leeper gives an inspirational talk as part of his mission. His favorite advice: “Be the best in the room; keep trying; learn from the people around you; watch what others are doing. If you see someone dancing well, figure it out.” He also likes to encourage the kids to take a risk. “If not now, then when?”

Leeper is still a working choreographer, which he is able to do because he gets weekends off. “It’s important to stay in the game and keep working professionally. Then I have something to bring to the table.” He spends what downtime he has guest choreographing for competitions and teaching master classes.

The competition circuit is a small world: another convention teacher, Mark Meismer, studied at Studio C with Caspary and Leeper. “We are all friends,” Meismer says. “The convention world is like a family.” He studied jazz, tap, and ballet and began working professionally after high school. His TV and film credits include Scrubs, Will and Grace, The MTV Video Music Awards, The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Austin Powers, Starsky and Hutch, Gigli, and A Time For Dancing, and he danced with Mia Michaels R.A.W. and assisted Michaels on A New Day and So You Think You Can Dance.

These days Meismer teaches master classes and choreographs for private studios around the United States while directing his own modern jazz troupe, Orange County-based Evolution Dance Company. Though he’s no longer traveling on the convention circuit, he still teaches for his friend Caspary at 2 Days in the OC. 

Meismer earned his teaching chops entirely through the convention circuit. He started as a demonstrator for Jackie Sleight of L.A. Dance Magic, then moved up to teaching junior classes, and finally became a full-fledged faculty member. “I grew as a teacher with each year,” he says. “Jackie was a brilliant convention teacher. She gave me a chance and I took it all the way.” For nine years he toured the United States, also working as a judge for competitions.

Like Leeper, Meismer combined his convention teaching with commercial work. “I tried my best to have it not conflict,” he says. “I wanted to follow through on my commitment, even though sometimes it meant taking a red-eye to teach at 8:00 the next morning.”

His first time in front of the crowd, Meismer recalls, “I wasn’t too much older than the dancers in the room, and I was petrified. It’s scary and warm and loving all at the same time. It certainly helped that most of the dancers knew me as Jackie’s assistant. They knew what I was all about.”

At many conventions, the teachers perform in a faculty show, which is another great way for the students to get to know them. “Looking out and seeing 600 kids doing your choreography was amazing,” says Meismer about those early years. “You have their undivided attention, and once you reel them in the learning can really take place.” He also likes the fact that hotel ballrooms have no mirrors. “You need that freedom,” he says. “We are always too critical of ourselves, and the mirror can hold people back.”

Meismer prefers to work with one combination all year, scaling it up or down appropriately for the level of the students. Sometimes he doesn’t teach the entire combination to lower levels. “You find great dancers wherever you go, so I would alter the combination based on what was happening in the room.” He chooses his music carefully. “You have to love the combination because you are going to be working with it all year,” he says.

Although he can’t build the same kind of relationships with students that a studio teacher can, Meismer does recognize students from year to year and enjoys watching them grow up. With upward of 500 kids in a class, he might not remember their names, but he does remember their dancing. And getting to know the teachers who take class at conventions, many of whom find it rejuvenating, has been a life-changing experience for Meismer. He deeply connected with the teachers, who told him how charged up their students became after working with him. “A convention can relight their fire so that when they return to the studio they want to work their butts off,” he says. He began to build on those connections by teaching at studios across the country.

Meismer enjoys being more detail-oriented and spending more time with the students at the schools where he teaches. “I like the personal part of teaching this way; I get to make a deeper connection.” But he looks back fondly on his years as a full-time convention teacher. “It was an amazing blessing,” he says. “We were like a family; we laughed, cried, and grew together.”

Caspary, Leeper, and Meismer have inspired a legion of dancers and they in turn have been inspired by the process of teaching. If you’re tempted to walk in their footsteps, here’s what it takes: Leave your ego at home; be willing to give back to the kids (because it’s not about you); create challenging combinations that diverse groups can do; be positive and inspiring; work on your communication skills; work the room; and be outgoing and approachable. If you can do all that, convention teaching may be the life for you.


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