Dance in Time: October
Quotable: About Dance
Dance in Time: October
After months of attending conferences and giving speeches across the United States and Canada, I’ve discovered that there is always more to appreciate about our dance education community.
We are witnessing a time in dance history when many school owners have become smart small business owners who offer quality dance education to every child—and they are being rewarded with financial success. For dance teachers, there have never been more opportunities to teach, not only at these schools but also in a new field that has evolved, in which master teachers travel throughout North America to teach and choreograph at small-town studios. And everywhere they go, they inspire young people to pursue their dance dreams.
“They don’t make tights for ugly people.”
That’s what Robin Gamble-Maddrey’s daughter, a student at Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH), said to her mother. And Gamble-Maddrey, who is African American, was brokenhearted to hear those words. “I saw the pain and the hurt,” she says. “She didn’t like to look at her body, and she would tell people, ‘I’m too dark.’ As a woman and a mother, that’s something you never want to hear from a young girl.”
The reason for the girl’s self-criticism? She couldn’t find tights and shoes that matched her skin tone. “I told her, ‘It’s not you; it’s not your fault,’ ” Gamble-Maddrey says. The incident led her to start a tights manufacturing company, Shades of Dance. “The first color I created was for [my daughter],” she says.
Books of note (new and not)
1. The Night Before My Dance Recital
2.Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet From the Rule of the Tsars to Today
3.Changing the Conversation: The 17 Principles of Conflict Resolution
4.The Ballet Lover’s Companion
For most ballet fans, the name George Balanchine is synonymous with American neoclassicism. It’s true that this great ballet icon is famous for revitalizing classical ballet in the 20th century—think Serenade, Agon, and Stravinsky Violin Concerto—but Balanchine also found inspiration in other dance styles, including popular entertainment.
After immigrating to the United States in 1933, Balanchine continued working in revues, variety shows, and the like for the next two decades, while founding the School of American Ballet and forming short-term companies that would evolve, in 1948, into New York City Ballet. His choreography for the popular stage and screen in the United States included 2 revues, 14 musicals, 4 operettas, 5 films, and a circus spectacle for 50 elephants.
There are two major streams of tap dance from which all other styles have evolved. One is rhythm tap (or jazz tap), which derives from the musical qualities of jazz music and includes core elements of rhythm, call-and-response, and improvisation.
The other is a more theater-derived style that can be called musical theater tap, a full-bodied style of percussive dance that incorporates elements of soft shoe (an early form of stage dancing derived from the jig and clog, performed in slow 4/4 time without tapping), ballet, and ballroom, and often relies on set choreographies for large choruses, with relatively simple step patterns that allow the dancers’ meticulous steps to be seen and heard.
It’s been one of those days. The energy in the studio is off, and your students look more bored with each brush of the foot in a tendu exercise. You saw an eye roll, maybe two. And in a ballet/tap combo class, the little ones were more interested in playing with each other’s hair than working on their shuffles. You love teaching, but days like these make you feel tired. You’re repeating the fundamentals over—and over, and over—again. If this scenario sounds familiar, you’ve faced one challenge inherent in dance training—repetition.
Competitions can be high-octane extravaganzas or simple, single-day events. Yet no matter the size or scope, at some competition somewhere a dance studio owner is bound to say, “Can you believe what’s going on? Maybe I should start my own competition. After all, how hard can it be?”
Three studio owners know exactly how hard. “We work on the competition year round,” says Teresa Mackereth of the BC Annual Dance Competition, which she founded in British Columbia, Canada, in 1988. Its organizers take only one week to decompress after each May’s weeklong event before beginning work on the following year’s. “It’s an ongoing commitment,” says Mackereth, who is also artistic director of Dance Academy of Prince Rupert. “And we have never had a paid staffer. It’s all volunteers, always.”
What’s up in the dance community
Dancer Featured in DSL Dies in Bombing
Modern Master Lubovitch Honored by ADF
Live and Print Arts Intersect in Dance Ink
Computer Careers Calling BA Dancers
“Starting With Why”: I’ve just returned from three jam-packed days at the inaugural International Dance Entrepreneurs Association (I.D.E.A.) conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, where I, alongside several hundred dance studio owners and administrators, listened to speakers representing a range of school types, sizes, longevity, and business approaches. I learned a great deal from these mainstage sessions.
“Farewell to My Arabesque”: Recently I realized something: my arabesque has gone the way of the dodo. Extensions to the front and side? I’ve still got ’em, sort of. To the back? Eighteen inches off the floor—maybe.
Today school owners want to learn to lead with confidence, both in their schools and as mentors, leaders, and teachers in their communities. They want to be part of a unified voice in dance education that stands for everything that is good for their students and the field. By working together, teachers and school owners can preserve the integrity of dance education—and, on a personal level, evolve in this exciting, ever-changing world of dance and dance studios.
I am proud to lead this call to unified action by founding the International Dance Entrepreneurs Association (I.D.E.A.), the first business association for dance school owners who are ready to stand up for a business model based on a code of ethics. In addition, I.D.E.A. focuses on cultivating new knowledge—the members’ website is loaded with management tools, e-learning courses, and webinars, along with such tools as customizable forms, correspondence, policies, coloring pages, and marketing materials. Regional professional development seminars will be held around the United States and, eventually, internationally.
Dance in Time: September
Quotable: Dancers on Dance
Young dancers often become self-conscious and timid when asked simply to walk; make sure to teach students this necessary skill.
Are your students stuck in the mirror? They may be addicted to looking at their own images, or they may be using the mirror as a tool to mask sequencing problems. In my own teaching, I became weary of repeating, “Don’t get stuck in the mirror.” One day, instead of repeating myself once again, I pointed at the mirror and shouted, “She lies!” This broke the students out of their mirror stupor with a laugh; for the rest of class, they used the mirror less. I now use this idea almost daily. When I notice students focusing on the mirror, I point to it and say, “What does she do?” The students respond with a resounding “She lies!” As a result of this practice, my students now depend less on the mirror.
Dance studio owners open additional locations for numerous reasons—to increase profits or to house a growing student population, for example. Or maybe a nearby area needs a dance studio, or an opportunity arises to take over an existing one. Whatever the reasons for branching out, those who have done so find that managing multiple locations has its own set of benefits and challenges. Here are some tips on how to run more than one school location efficiently and effectively.
The start of a new dance season is a perfect opportunity to spice up your tap program with new ideas that will reinforce your lessons and inspire students to practice.
Flash cards with one-bar rhythm phrases can provide a wealth of teaching moments. Whether dancers are novices or experienced tappers, the clarity of their sounds depends on their ability to reproduce specific rhythms, and seeing a phrase in addition to hearing and doing it will help bring success. In particular, when dancers see the rests, or silent notes, in a rhythm, they are more likely to respect them and produce accurate footwork.
Sometimes we learn lessons from the most unusual situations or, in an incident involving my students, even objects. This year, my school’s competition team learned the value of teamwork as the result of a Frisbee.
At dance competitions, it’s easy to be critical of the judging panel. Teachers and parents spend hours staring at the back of the judges’ heads trying to gain clues from their posture about what they’re thinking, and they study the judges’ biographies. Who are these people who will critique and rank their students or children?
But how many people know what goes into judging a competition? Not that many. I have been a dance adjudicator for more than 30 years, and it’s always an honor and a privilege to do this job. But it’s not always what people expect! Here’s a glimpse into the on-the-road life of people like me.
From a young age, dance students idolize professional dancers—and that’s a good thing. They need someone to look up to and goals to aspire to that go beyond their home studio’s doors. That’s why creating opportunities for students to engage with professional dancers is important—it allows them to see that with enough work and dedication, dance training can have long-term payoffs. Even if they have no interest in or potential for a career in dance, students who enjoy the thrill of sharing a studio or stage with the pros may find that the experience deepens their appreciation of dance, motivates them to push past personal limits, and creates long-lasting memories.
How can studio owners create such opportunities for their students? Some ballet companies open their annual Nutcracker to local dancers, particularly children’s roles; school owners can inform students about upcoming auditions. But some schools do more than that, partnering with dance companies on productions that blend professionals and students and giving the students a performance experience they otherwise wouldn’t get.
It’s September, and all around the United States kids are returning to school and dance studios are beginning their fall sessions. This is also the time of year when competition directors begin hiring adjudicators for the upcoming season. If you aim to book your first gig as a competition judge this year, it’s time to make your move. Put your best foot forward with these tips from three competition directors and three seasoned adjudicators.
At the University at Buffalo, where I teach, the dance and athletic departments stand side by side. I often cite this architectural relationship as a metaphor for the two sides of a dancer—one part artist and one part athlete.
The benefits to dancers of aerobic exercise, weight training, and cross-training are common knowledge. Less widely understood is what dance teachers can learn and integrate into their work from the field of athletics, specifically the concept of periodization, which I learned about at an International Association for Dance Medicine and Science conference. Let’s look at how we can apply this idea to dance education in order to support students’ growth, health, and safety.
With 2016’s nationals in the rearview mirror, competition directors across the nation are prepping for the season to come. Directors of 11 competitions took time out of their busy schedules to share their thoughts on a few topics we threw their way. Their responses (some directors did not answer every question) appear in alphabetical order by company name (sometimes abbreviated). As always, we thank them all for their participation.
The University of Michigan (U-M) offers a world-class dance education within a leading public research university. First offered in 1909 as a course in aesthetic dancing, dance is a vibrant and celebrated part of the U-M School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. The current faculty includes active performers, choreographers, scholars, screendance artists, and former members of such companies as Urban Bush Women, Martha Graham Dance Company, and Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians. Alumni have distinguished themselves as performers, choreographers, scholars, and leaders in higher education.
Words from our readers
Ludwig Minkus (1826–1917), a Vienna-born Czech who worked in both France and Russia, composed melodic, rhythmically clear, and uncomplicated ballet music, mostly in waltz rhythm. He excelled at giving each ballet an underlying mood, for example the passionate Spanish flavor of Don Quixote (1869) or the tragic atmosphere of La Bayadère (1877).
Both Don Quixote and La Bayadère—landmark achievements in Minkus’ long association with Marius Petipa—contain music that’s perfect for ballet class.
Advice for dance teachers
These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t do research online, whether it’s for nuggets of dance history, video clips of famous dances or dancers, photos, reviews, or even song lyrics. The riches that can be found keep expanding as more and more established dance institutions digitize their collections and wet-behind-the-ears organizations take steps into archival territory. We’ve collected many of these archives here. Some are searchable sites where you’re likely to tumble into a deep “research rabbit hole,” some are aggregates of archives, and some list holdings that are viewable only in physical locations. We hope you’ll find something that sparks your curiosity, increases your knowledge, and reignites your creative spirit.
Anyone can have a good idea, but it takes determination, guts, and know-how to turn that raw idea into reality. From Rhee Gold’s many good ideas in the past 20-plus years have sprung a successful dance competition, a series of practical and motivational seminars for dance educators, a dance education–focused magazine, and more.
When it comes to teacher evaluations, dance studio owners could benefit from adopting some common practices in the business world. Teacher evaluations benefit employees and studios alike, providing a system for reflection, assessment, goal setting, and decisions about compensation.
In the business world, where many people work full time for one employer, typically there is a formal process for evaluations, reviews, and pay increases, usually on a yearly basis. But in dance studios, many owners hire part-time teachers (either as employees or independent contractors) and have no formal system of evaluation or raises. Formal evaluations and systematic pay increases can be difficult to implement in schools where staff turnover is frequent.
In exploring the topic of evaluations and pay increases, we surveyed 100 dance teachers at studios in 22 states. Their feedback is synthesized here to offer suggestions for best practices when hiring and evaluating teachers.
Books of note (new and not)
1. The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life
2. Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
3. Safe Dance Practice: An Applied Dance Science PerspectiveBody, Mind & Spirit in Action: A Teacher’s Guide to Creative Dance (2nd ed.)
Advice for dance teachers.
“The Teachers in My Village”: It takes a village to raise a child, the proverb says. As I type these words, it’s the last week of school—recitals over, summer stretching ahead—but when they appear in print, it will be August and time to gear up for the fall. At both times in the year, my mind dwells on my village, and especially on the teachers.
“New Season’s Greetings”: This is the time of year when we welcome students back into the dance studio. The new school season is also an apt time to reflect, as Tamsin does above, on the value of teachers—and, I would add, support staff.
To that end, among the stories in this issue designed to help you make the most of the new season, you’ll find one about best practices for teacher evaluation, compensation, and pay increases, and another about studio owners who delegate tasks and programs—social media and marketing, children’s birthday parties, preschool programs, staff recognition, and more—to paid support staff positions.
Not too long ago, marketing at most dance schools meant investing big bucks in printing, postage, and newspaper ads. Many school owners couldn’t pay for that kind of marketing, but nowadays, social media puts all schools on a level playing field. My motto is “Give it the time, and it will give you the return.” Where many school owners make mistakes, however—and squelch their social media success—is in moving beyond dance into hot-topic issues in their posts.
What’s up in the dance community
The Smithsonian Embraces Dance
Children Connect Through Dance
Lend an Ear to New Ballet Podcasts
UDMA: Showtime in New England
Many school owners, when they think of hiring non-teaching support staff, want someone to run the front desk. However, in the 21st century, operating a dance studio requires not only a website but also a social media presence, marketing skills, and, often, offerings beyond dance classes, such as birthday parties and competition teams. Studio owners who limit their employee roster to teachers and receptionists may be missing out on creative ways to boost revenue. Read on to explore how some studio owners are delegating important roles, freeing themselves to focus on teaching and their school’s overall health.
Thousands of dancers, choreographers, and dance intellectuals dream of teaching at the college level, and why not? A job in higher ed means working in their chosen field, often with inspiring young artists and creative colleagues. To sweeten the pot, a full-time position can translate into a month off during the school year, summers free, a workweek seemingly shaped by a handful of classes, grants for travel to conferences, additional funds for research and/or choreography, and a living wage with real benefits. At a time when most people are lucky to get two weeks of paid vacation, medical coverage, and a consistent salary, what could be rosier?
That depends. Like the pretty settings of British TV mysteries, where lilacs bloom and hedgerows are always tidy, the allures of college teaching can be deceiving. For example, teachers who lack career security (adjunct faculty) now represent the majority of higher-ed instructors, and they can earn as little as $20 an hour despite advanced degrees and a lifetime of dance training. These at-will dance instructors typically get no benefits of any kind, teach at an hourly rate regardless of how many courses they have, and can find their classes cancelled in a flash if enrollments don’t meet the increasingly high quotas set by college administrations. Some are excluded from the workings of their departments and rarely know what changes are coming until they arrive. As a result, adjuncts can be written out of the curriculum as easily as characters are killed off in Midsomer Murders.
The University of Minnesota–Twin Cities campus covers more than a thousand acres in Minneapolis and St. Paul; the campus’ East and West Banks, straddling the Mississippi River, are conveniently close to Minneapolis’s downtown, government, and cultural districts. The Twin Cities is home to a thriving and diverse dance community, and the location of the campus expressly facilitates collaboration with local arts organizations.
The dance program focuses on contemporary dance in a global context through four curricular areas: technique, performance, composition, and dance studies. Faculty members encourage students to examine dance beyond its physical characteristics. The program’s motto is “Thought and Motion,” highlighting the idea of thinking dancers and dancing thinkers.
Before The Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky and Petipa first collaborated on The Sleeping Beauty (1889), with Petipa providing detailed descriptions of his musical requirements. Listen to the overture for the two leitmotifs that, throughout the ballet, represent the conflict between good and evil: strident, disjointed chords for the fairy Carabosse; and lush, lyrical music, like a barcarolle (a lilting piece that imitates gondolier songs) for the Lilac Fairy.
The story’s 100-year time span gave Tchaikovsky the opportunity to explore various historical dance forms. Act 1’s waltz (no. 6) is a wonderful piece for introducing waltz steps. Try Act 2’s gavotte (no. 12c) with tendus in center, or Act 3’s polonaise (no. 22) with grands battements or polonaise walks.
Attracting boys to dance has never been easy. It doesn’t matter that football players like Hall of Famer Lynn Swann or the New York Jets’ Steve McLendon took ballet and it improved their game, or that Lionel Messi looks like a ballet dancer when he shows how to control the soccer ball. With some exceptions—hip-hop is the most obvious—there are deep-rooted obstacles to getting boys into the studio.
. . . As Nikolai Kabaniaev at City Ballet School in San Francisco notes, “It’s not lucrative to have boys-only [classes] in this country.” He’s fortunate that his directors have made the commitment to “do whatever it takes.”
Along with City Ballet’s introductory dance classes for boys, there are other success stories that offer insight for studio owners who are trying, or hoping, to bring in the boys.
There’s nothing like a flag-waving, rhythmically precise tap dance to lift spirits and boost interest in tap. In 1904, George M. Cohan danced the buck and wing to his song “Yankee Doodle Boy” to embody his proud American heritage. During World War I, Broadway chorus girls danced “soldier” numbers that integrated tap and stepping sounds. Later, movie musicals like Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936), featuring Busby Berkeley’s amazing formations, and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), with James Cagney’s patriotic strutting, helped introduce military-style tap to a larger population. With their precision and fast footwork, traditional military routines are still a hit. For music, try a version of “Yankee Doodle,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” fife and drum tunes, military anthems, and armed forces medleys.
Though military tap can be challenging, beginners can combine marching steps with single sounds, hops, ball changes, and shuffles in straight quarter- and eighth-note time. Add simple but precise formations with quarter- and half-turns; use an upbeat tune like “MacNamara’s Band” to inspire students to dance like they’re in a parade, lifting knees high and moving with pride and joy.
As a teacher at University at Buffalo [NY], I often rant about how the act of taking class needs to be practiced and developed like any other skill. Recently, a senior taped a piece of poster board that said “Class Matters” to the studio door, to remind her younger classmates that much of their growth occurs in class and that they should take it seriously.
Dance in Time: August
Dancers on Dance
When students’ ribs are splayed, it probably means they are not engaging the abdominal muscles correctly. Throughout my early training, instructors would often tell me to engage the abdominals by puffing out my chest and sucking in my stomach, using words like “hold,” “grip,” “tighten,” and “squeeze.” Unfortunately, this created tension in my torso and was a terrible waste of energy. I was well into my 20s and taking class with the great Susan McGuire (a longtime Paul Taylor dancer) when I heard her say, “Relinquish your ribs.”
Multiple turns are not the province of ballet only; modern and contemporary choreographers do sometimes ask for them. Yet this skill can be enigmatic. Turns come and go, and sometimes we wonder if we ever understood them. At times in my performing career, turns came easily; at others, they eluded me. Then, during one period of excellent turning, it dawned on me that when I was “on,” my turns flowed with the music. The rhythms of my head spotting and my body turning were harmonious.
Dance in Time: July
Quotable: Dancers on Dance
Videos of note (new and not)
1. Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary
2. Ze’eva Cohen: Creating a Life in Dance
3. Nutcracker Sweeties/The Judas Tree
4. Paul Taylor Dance Company in Paris
Books of note (new and not)
1. The Artist’s Compass: The Complete Guide to Building a Life and a Living in the Performing Arts
2. Dance Production: Design & Technology
3. Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova
4. Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, and My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker
The Valley of the Sun, a prosperous swath of south-central Arizona that includes the greater Phoenix area, cradles Dance Connection 2, in suburban Chandler. DC2, as it’s known locally, was spun off 28 years ago from Scottsdale’s Dance Connection studio by MaryAnna Gooch, now 72. Several years ago Gooch decided to dedicate the school’s Christmastime show to charity, choosing HopeKids Arizona, a nonprofit organization that serves children with life-threatening illnesses, as beneficiary.