Dance may not just be athletic or aesthetic, it can also be psychotherapeutic. That’s the premise behind The Evolving Center on West Street in Litchfield, Connecticut, which was started in January by Judith Ehrman-Shapiro, a board-certified dance movement therapist and dance educator.
Ehrman-Shapiro told the Register Citizen that any kind of movements can be used, not only dance. The individual can use whatever movement, gesture, or posture they feel comfortable with, and which expresses how they feel inside. For example, Ehrman-Shapiro said, if they feel angry, she will guide them to find out where that anger comes from in the body, to locate the first place they feel it.
It’s great for people who can’t express themselves through words, Ehrman-Shapiro said, noting that she often works with autistic children. The idea of dance therapy is actually very old, she added, as it emerged, along with other forms of creative arts therapy, in the U.S. as early as World War I.
Creative arts therapy, also known as expressive therapy, includes dance, drama, art, and music, according to Ehrman-Shapiro. She said not just any artist can be a therapist; it requires a master’s degree and more than 3,000 hours of supervision from a dance therapist. Then there are tests, registration, and licensing to become certified.
She is interested in working with groups affected by depression, anxiety, and trauma, as well as people with physical challenges and addictions. The bright side for her is to see how many more people have become receptive to dance movement therapy today compared to 25 years ago.
“The most important [thing] for people to know is the process of therapy happens at their pace,” Ehrman-Shapiro said. “It’s important to take care of yourself. When you do, other things in life will fall into line.”
To read the full story, visit http://www.registercitizen.com/general-news/20140303/litchfields-evolving-center-uses-dance-to-heal-minds.
George Mason University will host the American College Dance Association Mid-Atlantic Conference this weekend at its Fairfax, Virginia, campus.
Northern Virginia Magazine reported that more than 560 dancers and dance faculty representing 20 different universities will attend the March 8 to 11 conference. Participating dancers will be taking classes in a variety of dance forms such as world dances, ballet, and contemporary, and present dance pieces in a series of adjudicated and informal concerts.
Public events will include a panel titled “Imagine . . . a Life in Dance” featuring Ashley Wheater, artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet, 2013 MacArthur Fellow Kyle Abraham, and other dance industry professionals on March 9; a performance by the Joffrey Ballet of Body and Soul on March 8; and a gala performance on March 11.
For more information, visit https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/tab1.aspx?EventID=1259417.
To see the original story, visit http://www.northernvirginiamag.com/buzz-bin/2014/02/27/gmu-to-host-american-college-dance-association-mid-atlantic-conference/.
An updated report by IBISWorld announced that the dance studio industry is expected to grow by 2.4 percent in 2014, an estimate that would result in the generation of $2.2 billion in revenue.
This represents average annual revenue growth of 2.3 percent over the past five years. “The popularization of dance-inspired television shows and rising interest in dance as an alternative form of exercise have positively impacted the industry over the past five years,” says IBISWorld industry analyst Stephen Morea in a PRWeb release.
In particular, dance studios offering Latin-inspired, fusion, and ballroom dance classes have benefited from rising consumer demand. For instance, there was a 30 percent spike in the number of people taking ballroom lessons and attending ballroom events during the first decade of this century, according to USA Dance Inc.
The industry has not been without its challenges: during the recession, enrollment in dance classes declined and clients shifted away from private classes to more inexpensive group classes. The dance studio industry, however, was quick to rebound. Shifting consumer preferences towards niche and fitness-inspired dance classes mitigated industry revenue declines. As the economy improved and employment and discretionary income expanded, consumers shuffled back into dance studies, and industry revenue gradually improved.
“Fueled by rising consumer interest in dance over the past five years, the number of dance studios is expected to increase at an average annual rate of 2.1 percent, to total an estimated 8,455 studios in 2014,” says Morea.
To see the full release, visit http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/03/prweb11634866.htm.
Advice for dance teachers
A few years ago I became the director of a dance studio where I had taught for years. The first year our enrollment flourished, and the second year it held steady. This year has been very difficult and enrollment has dropped. However, the students who no longer dance here did not leave on a bad note; they graduated or wanted to try new activities. Those families said they loved our classes and teachers but did not want to overextend their children with activities.
In the past, we dealt with the stigma of negativity regarding the former director and the studio’s name, which was changed immediately after I took over. I think we are still proving ourselves to the community.
I am trying everything to bring up our enrollment—advertisements, direct mailers, parades, community events, contacting past students (even from years ago), YouTube, Facebook. I am wracking my brain about how to improve the enrollment, especially of young children. I have even tried contacting local daycare centers offering programs and free classes to get the word out, but no one seems interested. I would be so thankful if you could give me tips on how to grow. —Frustrated
Sometimes it takes a while to eliminate the negativity surrounding a previous owner. I would continue the marketing you are doing. I would also add that it should be the goal of every faculty and staff person, and you, to ensure that every child (and parent) at your school can only rave about the experience. Give them excellent customer service, mature teachers who care for every child, and the most professionally run school in the area. To help attract parents of young children, go overboard with the little ones who are already enrolled by giving them great choreography for the annual recital. If you make them (and their parents) feel special, word will get around.
You say some students have dropped dance because they are overwhelmed with activities, but I have encountered many students who gave up other activities because they loved their dance teachers and classes. If you offer the best customer service possible and show dedication to every child, the negativity will diminish. Then you will be on your own to develop the best reputation possible. Good luck! —Rhee
I would love your thoughts on a situation. Two dancers (siblings) have missed two and a half months of rehearsals for our studio production number. Their mother felt that six hours with a video of the dance was adequate rehearsal, but I disagreed and removed them from one part (of three) of the production dance. I explained to these dancers that they could continue to work on the choreography for part one, and if it was up to the level of the rest of the group, I would gladly add them into it at a later date. I have 15 dancers who did come for those two and a half months and busted their butts to work on the choreography and staging.
This family also has decided to opt out of mandatory company events, workshops, and trainings.
The studio owner is not backing me up, which hurts, but I know I did the right thing for the 15 dedicated dancers and my colleague. The whole time, I was thinking, “teacher, leader, mentor,” and how the situation is unfair to the dancers who have worked hard. It’s also unfair to give these two girls false expectations and let them slide by with a poor work ethic. The owner has disappointed me by not supporting my choice as a professional. It’s been a very disheartening experience. —Raquel
I agree that these dancers should not be included in the choreography taught during the rehearsals they missed. Unless a dancer has a family emergency, a mandatory rehearsal must be exactly that, without exception. Too many kids and parents believe it’s OK to disappoint the dancers who do make the required commitment. For whatever reason, the families of dancers who miss classes and rehearsals believe they are different from the others.
When teachers or school owners go against their own policies, their credibility is diminished. Eventually everyone starts to miss rehearsals and take advantage of the fact that people at the school don’t stand up for what they think is right for the students, including instilling discipline, commitment, and respect for classmates.
You don’t mention why these kids missed so many rehearsals, or if there was any prior discussion regarding how the situation would be handled if they were absent. My best advice is to have a friendly talk with the studio owner to discuss why she isn’t backing you up and find out if there is more to the story than you know. I wish you the best. —Rhee
I have two questions I hope you can answer. I teach at the studio where my two daughters take class and are on the competition team. What is a reasonable discount on tuition for employees?
Also, my oldest decided to drop tap for the competition team and take it as a rec class. I teach that class. The owner gave me an adjusted statement showing the change in class, and now it costs more than when she did tap with the team. Should I be charged more for my child to be in my class versus another teacher’s class? The enrollment period was over, so she was not taking a spot another child could have occupied. —Teacher-Mom
There is a lot of diversity among school owners regarding discount policies for employees’ children, from 10 percent to a full scholarship. The variables might include the number of hours worked by the parent or the number of classes the child takes. In most cases, the expense of costumes, entry fees, or other non-classroom-related fees are not covered by the scholarships or included in any discounts.
Your second question is hard to answer because the school owner has the right to charge whatever she thinks is appropriate. I am not convinced that the fact that it is your daughter who is taking your class is relevant. And although initial enrollment is over, many schools accept new students on an ongoing basis. If another child with no relationship to the school registered for the class, she would pay tuition.
That said, I have no idea how much of a discount you receive already. In most cases, competition team classes are less expensive because of the number of classes required by the program policies. We also need to factor in the cost to the studio to run your class, including wages for you and office employees, utilities, and so on.
It might be better to think less about the cost of the tuition and focus on making yourself invaluable to the school owner. Then you can have a conversation about the amount of the discount she offers. I wish you the best. —Rhee
By Nina Pinzarrone
As a teacher, the more you know about music, the easier it is to develop musicality in your students. Some students are always “on the music” while others tend to rush ahead or drag behind. You can help the less-than-musical students by developing their listening skills. (Remember that while musicians learn by listening, dancers are visually and physically oriented and learn by watching and doing.) To be on the music, the dancers must slightly anticipate the pulse. When doing classroom exercises, use the musical introduction to set this process of anticipation in motion; it establishes the tempo and indicates the quality, which helps the students prepare to move at the right speed.
If you have an accompanist, have her vary the length of the introduction for each exercise; the students will have to listen in order to know when to begin. If the intro is always the same, the students tend to tune it out. But in performance, an intro might be only one note of music, or there might be no musical introduction at all. Learning to listen is critical.
If you are using CDs with intros that are the same length, try starting the dancers’ preparatory arm movement on a different count of the introduction—the first beat of the second, third, or fourth bar instead of the first bar, for example, to force the students to hear each individual bar of the introduction. If they have trouble hearing it, count out the intro and have your students count or clap along with you.
It is important to understand the pathways or processes through which body forms (sometimes called shapes or designs) are created. We do not simply move from one static shape to another when we dance; we engage in a continuous process of change. A change in one part of the body is accommodated by changes throughout the whole organism. It is in sensing and/or witnessing the process through which the body changes form that we find the deepest kinesthetic satisfaction.
The Laban system has four terms to describe this process of shape change. Reaching to a point in the kinesphere (one’s personal movement space) with a straight line that goes away from or toward the body along a linear pathway is a “spoke-like” directional reach. Staying on the edge of the kinesphere to go from one point to another in space (rather than moving through the center of the kinesphere) is an “arc-like” directional reach. Defining the contours of voluminous space, as we do when hugging another person or sculpting space, is “carving.”
In newer modern-dance techniques like release or contact improvisation, our movement does not relate to the space of the kinesphere; instead, the body is moving (growing and shrinking) in relationship to itself. For example, when we squirm in an easy chair to get comfortable, we are moving only in relationship to our own bodies, rather than to the space around us. We call this “shape flow.” It is about sensing the flow, weight, and breath of the movement, rather than focusing on the form, shape, or design being created.
In this new department, we’ll help you direct your college-bound students to the dance program that’s right for them. Whether you keep these profiles for reference or post them on your school’s bulletin board, this is information you’ll want to share with your students and their families.
Opportunities abound within Jacksonville University’s dance department, from freshman performance options to a Masters of Fine Arts in Choreography program for professionals in transition.
The department, included in the College of Fine Arts, is more than four decades old. A big shift occurred in 2002 when associate professor of dance Brian Palmer pushed to expand the program by offering a wider range of classes for undergraduate students, including ballet, modern, jazz, and choreography.
We experience all genres of dance, as well as get our name out there with professional choreographers. —student Taylor Habershaw
The variety is a plus for senior Kris Danley. “I am not the strongest ballet dancer, but because there is a very strong modern-type curriculum at the school, it’s better for me” than a program with less variety, he says.
The diverse opportunities are designed to help graduates in professional careers as teachers, performers, or both. Cari Coble, JU associate professor of dance and MFA coordinator, speaks of one way this is evident in the undergrad program: “Some schools do not let the freshmen onstage until later, but here we are different: if they come in and get the part, they can perform.”
Undergraduates also learn from observing and interacting with many guest performers and choreographers, Coble adds. Senior Taylor Habershaw agrees: “We experience all genres of dance, as well as get our name out there with professional choreographers.”
In May 2012, the dance program made JU history when the first class of MFA in choreography candidates graduated. One of only a handful of such programs in the U.S., JU’s two-year low-residency program is designed to allow working artists to continue their professional lives while advancing their knowledge in performance and choreography. The program’s master’s candidates generate new works grounded in classical and contemporary dance genres.
With the mantra “Where Professionals Are Reborn,” the program features an immersive 10-day residency at the White Oak Plantation in North Florida, a conservatory with residence and rehearsal facilities; two non-resident semesters that combine distance study with JU faculty and one-on-one mentoring; and a one-week mini-residency on campus spent tutoring and setting choreography on undergraduate students.
David Parsons, founder and artistic director of Parsons Dance, who received an MFA from JU, praises the value of the university’s approach. “Being at JU gave me a chance to be sequestered from my usual responsibilities and try new things choreographically,” he says.
College of Fine Arts dean William Hill says the low-residency aspect of the MFA presents “an opportunity for people who already have careers to not turn their life upside-down, move somewhere else, and take two years off from making money to get a graduate degree.”
Palmer sums up the JU dance program: “Our undergraduate degrees train our dancers to be versatile, which in turn means employable.”
JU’s 200-acre campus is located on the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida. For more information, visit ju.edu/cfa/Pages/Dance.aspx.
Name of program: Jacksonville University Department of Dance
Year founded: 1968
Department philosophy: Our mission is to develop well-rounded, versatile, and independent artists who excel in careers of teaching, choreography, and performance of dance.
Entrance auditions: undergraduates: live audition; graduate program: choreography reel submission
Degrees available: BA, BFA, MFA in Choreography
Number of students in department, 2013–14: undergraduate students: 10 men, 41 women; graduate students: 8 men, 12 women
Ratio of students to faculty: 10:1
Technique classes offered: undergraduate students: ballet, modern, jazz, and choreography; graduate students: focus on choreography
Additional classes offered: both undergrad and grad students: theory, research and development, writing, history, music study, performance, rehearsal production
Faculty includes: Cari Coble, Brian Palmer, Lana Heylock, Michael Lomeka, Christina Mann, Kristi Johnson
Performance opportunities: undergraduate students: two mainstage performances per year with guest artists and faculty; graduate students: one informal group performance per year, and a solo performance element of their thesis every year; also community work with The First Coast Nutcracker Ballet Inc.
Additional opportunities: performance opportunities in the Caribbean during spring break and in Europe during summers; work/study program for undergrads; grad students can opt to teach in the program and/or locally
Notable alumni: Olivia Jordan, professional dancer in New York City; Carlos Garland, So You Think You Can Dance top 20 contestant; David Parsons, artistic director/founder, Parsons Dance; Tiffany Fish, teacher, choreographer, performer, and experimental filmmaker.
Dance departments are welcome to submit profiles to College Close-Ups. Please contact Karen at Karen@rheegold.com for more information.
Three Words, x 2
Dance teachers say it all the time: ballet is the foundation for all dance. Yet students who see only hip-hop and contemporary dance in their future don’t think they need ballet. Those students should be taken immediately to a performance by Nederlands Dans Theater and placed somewhere in the first 12 rows. From there they will have an excellent vantage point from which to see absolute proof that ballet is essential to every dancer.
I saw Nederlands Dans Theater perform last October in Berkeley, California, in two pieces by the artistic team Paul Lightfoot and Sol León. The movement could only be called contemporary, but the dancers’ ballet training was obvious. Contemporary dance, these dancers proved, does not have to be (as so much of what passes for good dancing seems to be these days) something you slide, fling, flail, and hurtle through. The NDT dancers had finesse, such control that you’d think each muscle fiber moved individually. Smooth grace interrupted by the flash of a smile, the counterpoint of a sudden, fleeting freeze. Isolations? Precise. Pops and rolls? Nuanced and articulate. Falls to the floor, bounding leaps, pelvic thrusts (primal, not nasty), snippets of ballet vocabulary? All done with perfect timing and individualized expression.
Watching them, I thought of what writer Italo Calvino described as the essential qualities of literature: lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, and multiplicity. I’ve grown used to looking for these qualities on the page, but there they were before me, made physical by the NDT dancers. Lightness: bodies that flew, outstretched, or effortlessly reoriented to the changing gravity in a rotating cube. Quickness: the fast-twitch switch from the pop of a shoulder, knee to the chest, to an elastic attitude in plié, arms reaching stage right. Exactitude: perfect placement, set on repeat. Visibility: each step shaped to show emotion, intent. Multiplicity: the rolling together of turnout and parallel, sharp and smooth, lizard-quick and luxurious, sometimes almost simultaneously.
Your next advice to that reluctant ballet student? Three words: Nederlands Dans Theater.
And now three more words: Happy New Year! Because we are always saying how important it is to experience dance beyond the studio doors, we’ve created two new departments that will help you and your students do that. Starting this month, College Close-Ups will help you guide students who are interested in studying dance in college to programs best suited for them. Each issue will profile a college or university dance program and include at-a-glance information for easy perusal.
Starting next month we’ll bring you Performance Corner. After scouring the myriad performances happening across the U.S., we’ll bring you our recommendations for concert dance that will broaden your students’ thinking (and teachers’ too) about what dance can offer, and hopefully inspire them in the process. Whether they set off on a lifetime of dance class or performance or simply support and enjoy the art form as audience members, they have so much to choose from. And so do you.
—Cheryl A. Ossola, Editor in Chief
For the Love of Dance and Photography
Jack Mitchell photographed artists and icons from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Alfred Hitchcock for top publications such as the New York Times, Newsweek, and Vogue. But a visit to Jacob’s Pillow in 1949 convinced Mitchell that dancers, with their molded bodies and willing minds, made stellar subjects. During his five-decade career he took thousands of shots of dancers, more than 160 of which became Dance Magazine covers.
Mitchell, for many years the official photographer for American Ballet Theatre, died November 7 at age 88 in his home in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, said the New York Times. Particularly knowledgeable and creative about lighting, he was also known for his ability to capture his subject’s personality, and do it artistically. Craig B. Highberger, writer/director/producer of the documentary Jack Mitchell: My Life Is Black and White, told Dance Studio Life that ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie said Mitchell would direct the dancer, the lighting, and the background to achieve the right effect—in effect, “choreographing for the camera.”
Mitchell’s love of dance was so strong, Highberger said, that in 1983 he created Sea Duet: A Ballet for Still Photography, a portfolio of 30 photos of two dancers designed to evoke sea life. That project led to a dance performance in 2007 at Surfscape Contemporary Dance Theatre in New Smyrna Beach, which Mitchell choreographed himself. “It was one of his proudest moments,” Highberger said. “Merce Cunningham told me Jack Mitchell’s photography of dance was so good because he understood it was about capturing a moment in both time and space.”
Schools Study Educational Benefits of Dance
Six Pennsylvania higher-ed institutions are exploring how dance can enhance a liberal arts education, thanks to a $450,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Easton’s Lafayette College, the grant recipient, will partner with the five other Dance Consortium members of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges (Cedar Crest, Moravian, and Muhlenberg Colleges, and Lehigh and DeSales Universities) in an initiative running now through October 2016. It will include short- and long-term residencies with guest choreographers, classes, workshops, performances, and commissions of new work.
In addition, faculty and staff members will be working together to uncover how dance and performance can connect with other disciplines within the liberal arts curriculum and help to advance learning in the humanities, engineering, and the sciences. “We don’t just want dancers, but students interested in how dance works in our culture,” says Suzanne Westfall, director of the arts and professor of English and theater at Lafayette.
Applause Continues for Tharp and Baryshnikov
Twyla Tharp and Mikhail Baryshnikov have met many times at the intersection of classical tradition and contemporary imagination, and both continue to receive honors from a dance community that’s grateful for their influence.
In 2013, choreographer and creative visionary Tharp was awarded the 62nd annual Capezio Dance Award from Capezio Ballet Makers Dance Foundation. And on May 19, ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov will accept the 2014 Spotlight Award from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. By both respecting and reimagining their art, exemplified while working together on concert pieces such as Push Comes to Shove or the film White Nights, Tharp and Baryshnikov have challenged expectations about what ballet or modern dancers can or should do.
Contemporary Tour of China
Bowen McCauley Dance’s nine-day China tour last fall was an “exhilarating” experience for the Arlington, Virginia–based company. The company’s performances as part of the 10th annual Guangdong Dance Festival in Guangzhou, China, made it the first American dance company to perform at this highly regarded celebration of contemporary dance.
BMD engagement and operations manager Joanna Estes Janascius told Dance Studio Life the company’s four festival performances included three outdoor performances on Shamian Island in Guangzhou for as many as 800 people.
During the November 4 to 13 tour, BMD also performed for 1,200 middle-schoolers at Nanhai Experimental High School in Foshan, China, and for 300 students at Tianjin University of Sport. Company founder Lucy Bowen McCauley—one of the first teachers in the Washington, DC, area to offer free weekly dance classes for people with Parkinson’s disease (see “Pas de Deux with Parkinson’s,” DSL, May/June 2011)—taught a Dance for PD class at Southern Hospital in Guangzhou.
Teaching the Tiniest
As an instructor of 2- to 3-year-olds, I use music, movement, and routine to draw these very young students in and share the beauty of dance with them. But there is more to teach than dance steps. I add basic educational concepts and everyday values to my dance curriculum; each complements the other.
When passing out props like scarves, beanbags, and rhythm sticks, I emphasize numbers, colors, size, and shape. I count the items as I pass them out and have the class tell me the number and name of the prop we’re using once they’re distributed. We look at size and shape and identify colors. We also compare what is similar and what is different.
I also stress good “dance manners.” We talk about our “listening ears,” and I gently remind the children that they must keep their hands to themselves. The words please and thank you are considered essential in my classroom. Children are praised when they exhibit good manners.
Routine and consistency are very important for very young children. I make a different music playlist each month but keep the order of class the same. I begin with an intro to class, followed by ballet, then tumbling. I end with tap and group goodbyes.
The beginning and end of class are particularly important. I start my baby classes in a circle, with the children sitting on foam mats singing a song. This draws their attention away from parents and gets them focused on the class. We end each class back in our circle. I pass out a simple reward like stickers or coloring sheets as we sing our school’s special “goodbye song.” Finally, we use sign language to say thank you and dance.
Games for the Preschool Set
When it comes to teaching preschoolers, you can never have too many tricks up your sleeve. Here are three games to help refocus little ones’ attention.
1. The Fairies and the Sleeping Dolls
Split the class in two. Give half the students “magic” wands (you can use substitutes like pencils)—these are the fairies. Place the other half randomly around the room, standing in first position with arms in first, head tilted and eyes closed. These are the sleeping dolls. To the sounds of a lullaby or gentle ballet music, have the fairies tiptoe randomly from one doll to another, tapping each with her wand. When tapped, each doll opens her eyes, raises her arms to fifth, does a single bourrée turn, then falls asleep again. After a minute or two, have the two groups switch places.
2. Easter Bunnies
Give everyone small Easter baskets. Have the children line up, then place six plastic eggs in the basket of every other student. Spread six carpet squares (or stickers) around the room. The first child hops from square to square, leaving an egg on each, followed by one of the students with an empty basket, who hops to each square, picks up each egg, and places it in her basket. Reverse roles.
3. At the Ball
Place a half-dozen or so empty boxes around the room. Explain that we are all dancing princesses preparing for a ball, and that each box contains something very special that we need. Ask, “What do we need?” and choose one of the answers they shout out—gloves, jewelry, shoes, makeup, tiaras, etc. Students do a ballet walk to each box and mime taking out the specified item, placing it where it belongs (for example, they mime putting shoes on their feet). Everyone “shows off” the item (port de bras to show off gloves, tendus to show off shoes, etc.). Once all the items are collected, everyone dances at the ball.
NOMINATED BY: Lee Hunt, dance teacher: “I have known Jessica Starr for more than 13 years. She has always been a trailblazer in dance. When she was 21, Jessica started Muse Dance Company, an in-house convention and choreography company. She holds workshops across the U.S. to give young people access to prominent dancers and teachers, and has expanded this access by offering scholarships. The program has grown to include workshops abroad, with the aim of sowing a positive image of American dance and culture.”
YEARS TEACHING DANCE: 16
AGES TAUGHT: 3 to adult
GENRES TAUGHT: Jazz, jazz funk, contemporary, lyrical, and hip-hop
WHY SHE CHOSE TEACHING AS A CAREER: Since I started dancing at the age of 4, dance was all I wanted to do. It was my “divine direction.” No matter which path I tried to take, it always led me back to dance. I even tried softball once, and my coach told me I “ran like a ballerina.”
HER GREATEST INSPIRATION: Lee Hunt. I met her when I was 18 and in my first year of college. She was the first dance influence in my life who looked at me and said, “You have something so unique to give; don’t limit yourself—go!” Lee understood movement unlike anyone I had ever met. She did not teach me physical steps or exercises; instead she helped me to develop my movement from an intellectual and spiritual perspective. Lee asked questions: “Why did you choose to do that? What if you approached it from this angle? What is expected from the audience? Can you do the opposite of that?”
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY: To empower each and every dancer who enters my room. It’s about being a better you: knowing who you are as a dancer, what you are fantastic at, and what you fear, then conquering that fear with enthusiasm and confidence.
WHAT MAKES HER A GOOD TEACHER: I don’t discount a strong heart. Too often students get overlooked early on because they don’t have obvious natural ability. When I teach or judge, I often look beyond the front row to see what diamonds may be hiding in the back. I was the diamond in the back row, so I have a soft spot for the enthusiastic dancer with no natural turnout but an incredible spirit.
HER FONDEST TEACHING MEMORY: When I watch some of my students who I have trained for years step up and become teachers and choreographers. Seeing them soar as choreographers and instructors makes my heart sing. Each is an individual with a distinct style and a high level of artistic integrity.
ADVICE TO DANCERS: Know your voice and stay true to it. As dancers, as creators, we too often compare ourselves to others. While I occasionally go to YouTube to admire some of the beautiful dancers in this world, I think it’s important not to obsess over what others are doing.
IF SHE COULDN’T BE A DANCE TEACHER: I am dedicated to encouraging young artists to follow their personal voice. I would do that no matter what the medium.
ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS: One of the most unique aspects of my path as a master-class teacher is the fact that I can now offer a touring contract with my newly formed not-for-profit branch of Muse to dancers who have studied with me for years. It’s a wonderful opportunity to invite the hungriest and most talented Muse students into a professional working environment.
DO YOU KNOW A DANCE TEACHER WHO DESERVES TO BE IN THE SPOTLIGHT? Email your nominations to Arisa@rheegold.com or mail them to Arisa White, Dance Studio Life, P.O. Box 2150, Norton, MA 02766. Please include why you think this teacher should be featured, along with his or her contact information.
What a turn-of-the-20th-century principle of economics means to you
By Misty Lown
True or false? The work of an Italian economist from more than 100 years ago is having a large impact on your dance studio business today. True!
In 1906, Vilfredo Pareto made a simple observation that changed the course of business management forever—he noticed that 80 percent of the peas in his garden came from 20 percent of the plants. He then observed that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the people. Years later, in 1941, Joseph Juran expanded the Pareto principle from economics to quality issues. Have you ever heard the saying, “Twenty percent of the people cause 80 percent of the problems”? You can thank Juran for making that observation common knowledge.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Twenty percent of the people cause 80 percent of the problems”? From marketing to customers to choreography, you can count on approximately 80 percent of your results coming from approximately 20 percent of the causes.
Fast forward to 2014. Pareto’s principle is still being proved true in businesses today, and dance studios are no exception. From marketing to revenue, from customers to teachers, from exercises to choreography, you can count on approximately 80 percent of your results coming from approximately 20 percent of the causes. Let’s do some digging into your business and see what can be mined from “the law of the vital few,” as Pareto’s principle is also called.
Marketing and revenue
I’m starting in the same place Pareto did—economics. Six years ago, after learning about Pareto’s principle, I decided to give it a road test. I’ve always been a numbers gal. I like to know where my school’s enrollment is, how high payroll is running, which accounts are past due. Even so, I had never looked beyond the stats to see what was driving the numbers I liked to track. I began to dig deeper, tearing through every layer of my business in search of the vital few things that were making the biggest impact on its financial performance.
The biggest shock was discovering that my children’s classes (ages 2 to 8) were outperforming my advanced classes (ages 14 to 18). And not by a small amount—by 400 percent. That’s right. Those little once-a-week, 30-minute classes for kids were generating four times the revenue my senior-level classes were. I had found my vital few.
It seemed counterintuitive at first. The advanced students are the largest accounts; they take the most classes and buy the most costumes. However, the senior-level students also take class at the most deeply discounted multi-class rates; study with the most experienced and highest paid teachers; and require the greatest amount of administrative time.
This led me to two important conclusions. One, I needed to put even more time and energy into developing, marketing, growing, and staffing our children’s program. Second, the pricing for the senior-level dancers needed to be adjusted to more closely reflect the value of the training and support they received. Both decisions have had a positive impact on the business health of my studio, allowing me to expand it twice and update the lobby to serve families better.
Customers and teachers
After I tackled the economic side of Pareto’s equation, it was time to follow Juran’s lead and apply the concept to quality issues. I wasn’t sure how I would measure this factor and stumbled across the answer by accident, going through my emails one day. As I stared at a complaint from a parent, the third one that week, I was reminded of that person’s complaint from the week before and the week before that. You get the idea. With an excitement that can only be fueled by discovery, I looked at her thread of complaints with new eyes.
This lady and her daughter were not only proving Pareto true, they were beating the odds. The duo represented 10 percent of this particular class by enrollment, but caused 90 percent of the problems within that group. Complaints about placement, multiple exchanges of costumes, disruptions in class, disrespect shown to teachers, issues in the dressing room, and negative online behavior—you name it, it was a problem.
I called a conference with the woman and her daughter, which resulted in their withdrawing from the studio. Although I was sad to see the student go, I did breathe a sigh of relief when my inbox was no longer barking at me.
Perhaps you’ve been there, or are there right now. A quick survey of your messages and to-do list could reveal a handful of people who are causing you the greatest grief in your job.
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for listening to people’s concerns. Listening gives me a chance to course-correct if the school or I have missed the mark somehow, or to explain why, after 16 years in business, we do things the way we do. Listening is always a win. But I cannot allow a handful of people to hijack my time and energy with complaints on a regular basis. I am too busy serving the families who value our mission.
The same qualitative question could be applied to your teaching staff. Start tracking the comments you hear about teachers from parents and students. It won’t be too long before you notice a pattern. There will be one or two teachers who get a steady stream of complaints, and a few “rock stars” who get raves.
Put your time, attention, and resources into building on the success of your most capable teachers. They may be available for additional classes or responsibilities. Arrange for them to mentor younger teachers. Offer space for private lessons or have them lead an all-staff workshop in their area of expertise. Certainly, offer the struggling teachers as much support as possible to get through the season, but seriously consider whether to rehire them for the next season. In my experience, people who are not meeting standards during the school year do not magically turn around over the summer.
Exercises and choreography
This third, and perhaps most subjective category—exercises and choreography—is also governed by the 80/20 principle. Nowhere in your business is the impact of a few great (or awful) things more visibly felt than in your final product.
Consider recital and competition. There is always one piece that stands out. It’s the routine everyone talks about and buys a video of. On the other hand, there can also be that one number that doesn’t live up to your expectations. The choreography isn’t up to par, the kids aren’t well rehearsed, or the costumes don’t quite work. As many times as I’ve walked away from a performance ecstatic about the one piece that was amazing, I’ve also walked away haunted by one that missed the mark.
Classroom exercises and training don’t play out as publicly as recitals and competitions, but they are no exception to the law of the vital few. For all the hours spent in the classroom, it can be one correction, singular insight, or observation that will transform a student’s turns, placement, or alignment, affecting their long-term development as a dancer. Conversely, poor instruction in a few foundational concepts, such as spotting, alignment, or turnout, can put a student behind the curve for years to come.
In the case of classroom exercises and choreography, the importance of teacher training and ongoing mentorship cannot be overstated. Equip your teachers with instructional priorities, curriculums, and resources on the front side, but be prepared to observe, assess, and provide timely feedback once things get going. This is where most studio owners fall short. Preparing teachers to enter the classroom by giving them handbooks, lessons plans, attendance sheets, and music is only the beginning. A great finish is made through ongoing feedback, course correction, and mentorship.
Finding the “big rocks”
You’re probably familiar with the story of the college professor who showed his class the importance of the “big rocks” in life—another way of naming the few things in your work or life that are vital to you. To demonstrate his point, he filled a mason jar with big rocks. Although the jar looked full, he proved it wasn’t by adding pebbles, then sand to the jar, shaking the jar to make room for each addition. In a second demonstration, he put the items into the jar in reverse order—the sand and pebbles took up so much space that there was no room for the big rocks.
Consider the big rocks the 20 percent and the sand and pebbles the 80 percent. His point? If you prioritize the “big rock” issues—those vital few—there will be room in the crevices and corners for the non-essentials. However, if you allow your day to be filled with non-essential issues, low-priority projects, or drama (i.e., sand and pebbles), there will be no room left for what matters to you.
It sounds like a lesson Pareto would have liked, and it’s a great example of why prioritizing—paying attention to the “big rocks” first—anchors your work and personal life with what you value most.
What are the big rocks in your business, the vital few things that only you can do to move your business forward? Mine are creating programs, marketing, coaching teachers, and building strategic relationships in the community. I have the ability to do other things, such as bookkeeping, checking messages, cleaning, and ordering costumes, but so does my staff. And, for the most part, they do a better job. My time is better spent working in the areas that have the greatest positive impact on my business and that are things only I can do.
Finally, then there is the matter of you. Pareto discovered the 80/20 principle and related it to economics; Juran applied the concept to management. And now I am challenging you to apply it to your life as an entrepreneur. What are the vital few things in your life that, when you get them “right,” make you feel like all is well with the world? Name them. Write them down today and tape them to your computer screen. And then every time you open an email or look at your to-do list, filter those smaller concerns through your “big rocks” first.
Kid-driven Mudd Butt Mystery Theatre Troupe gets inventive with dance
By Rita Felciano
Enrolling in a summer performing arts camp does not usually entail sliding on your bottom down a mountain stream whose red earth imprints itself on you. At Colorado’s Telluride Academy, nobody tests your turnout, the range of your voice, or your ability to remember lines. However, you do have to undergo an age-old—well, let’s say 27-year-old—initiation ceremony.
At the beginning of the month-long session, you join other campers and hike up to the top of Cornet Falls. From there you are invited to slide down Cornet Creek on your behind, screaming at the top of your voice—should you be so inclined—“Mudd Butts!”
The term refers to a remarkably inventive, child-oriented theater-arts program, Mudd Butt Mystery Theatre Troupe, which grew out of a summer camp that founder Wendy Brooks, a single mother of three boys, created in 1980. One of her sons wanted to go to camp. So she started one in her backyard, with half a dozen kids. It eventually outgrew its home base and was taken over by the Telluride School District.
Colorado arts camp
Six years later, the idea of a theater-arts camp became reality, when, at the invitation of Brooks, a group of imaginative and innovative artists committed to creating a multifaceted and inventive approach that would develop artistic and life skills for kids.
A Tibetan thangka painting became part of the set. It had been brought by the Dalai Lama from Tibet, and hadn’t seen the light of day since that journey across the Himalayas.
Two Telluride residents, Sally Davis, a musician, director, and video artist with, as she says, “a special love for children’s theater,” and photographer/writer John Fago, invited choreographer/vocalist Kim Epifano to partner with them in the venture. Epifano, a longtime member of San Francisco’s boundary-breaking Contraband ensemble, has created more than 20 evening-length multidisciplinary dance-theater works for her own Epiphany Productions Sonic Dance Theater.
Joining them from New Hampshire was multimedia sculptor/prop master Michael Stasiuk, who signed on with the team in 1991 and has yet to encounter a creature, vehicle, or puppet that he cannot create. Fago worked with the team for a few years until he went on to pursue other interests. Writer/painter Pamela Lifton-Zoline, in addition to encouraging and supporting the establishment of kids’ arts programs like Mudd Butt in the Telluride community, also writes scripts for its productions.
In 1990 Mudd Butt became part of the newly established, independent Telluride Academy, with Brooks serving as executive director until 2003. In addition to Mudd Butt, Telluride offers several dozen programs of daytime (often outdoor) activities for children.
Twenty-seven years later, this trio of magic-makers has seen hundreds of kids, roughly ages 10 to 13, who discover artistic skills they never knew they had. Of equal importance, the youngsters who participate each year learn to collaborate, trust themselves and each other, and develop self-confidence.
The 20 or so campers are at an age, Brooks observes, “where they have not yet decided who they are, and they don’t yet have a clear picture of what the rest of the world is like. Most people may find them difficult to deal with, but we love them.” Some students are local; others are summer residents there with their families. Increasingly, they come from all over the country.
Driven by kids
A Mudd Butt production is an original creation in which the kids suggest ideas, choreograph, create the songs, write the lines, and act the parts. “What we do,” says Epifano, “is totally outside the box. The kids work together, and they are respected for what they contribute, and for who they are.”
Movement games access the imagination and open doors to the child’s inner artist. While the program is multi-disciplinary, “dance is at the core of it; it is in everything we do,” Brooks says. Children may become characters in the story, but they also become a stormy sea, wafting trees, crumbling mountains, and masked animals.
“Always,” says Epifano, “behind the storytelling, you see dance onstage that creates the atmosphere and expands on the tale.”
Epifano starts every day with warm-ups, modern dance movements but also pulling and pushing, partnering actions, and perhaps some tumbling and aerial work. Even though some children may have more experience than others in movement, everybody takes the same class. It’s a way to create an ensemble but also to see who might be appropriate for certain roles.
During improvisational games the kids are divided into groups and are given physical tasks, such as “You are a bulldozer; you are a house; and the rest of you are the children in the house. What happens?” Or, “You are fisherman about to catch a very big fish; the rest of you are fishes. What do you do?”
Students may also divide into groups and, starting in one of the studio’s corners, develop a dance in which they individually cross the space. Epifano might use parts of these choreographies for the show—a tremendously satisfying outcome for the young artists whose movement is used.
Mudd Butt’s 2012 production of Don Quixote made use of Spanish stick dances and flamenco, although, Epifano admits, Don Quixote does not hail from the region of Spain where flamenco originated. In 2008, for Ishi Flying, the story of the last Yahi Indian, a former chairman of the Northern Ute Tribe, Roland McCook, taught the young campers a traditional round dance, which was incorporated into the production.
Emma Anderson, now enrolled at Macalester College and in her junior year abroad in Denmark, grew up in Telluride. She remembers the awe when she first stepped onstage. “I got hooked. It was so much fun, particularly because you only find out in the second half [of the session] what you are going to be, a bird or a tree. Everyone, except the leads, is encouraged to take on multiple parts.”
Mudd Butt productions have also included 1001 Arabian Nights—with kids’ versions of belly dances—in which Scheherazade, played by Victoria Groner from Westchester County, New York, converts a tyrannical ruler into a benign one through the power of storytelling and dance.
Mudd Butt International
Mudd Butt does more than bring foreign worlds to the Telluride stage. For the last 20 years, a spinoff, Mudd Butt International (MBI), has taken to traveling. Every spring, some twenty 14- to 18-year-old former Mudd Butt students go abroad for two or three weeks. They live with a host family and work with local students to create a show that the international group then performs, sometimes in several locations.
Brooks tries to find MBI workshop locations that will give the American students—many of whom are multi-year participants—as broad an exposure as possible to different religions, cultures, and continents. She has found collaborating institutions from Guatemala to New Zealand, Nicaragua to Ireland, Mexico to the Bahamas. She visits all of them and checks them out ahead of time. “My son is a pilot, and I travel for free,” she says.
Groner, now a junior in high school, has been to Vietnam, Chile, and Turkey. “I knew what the program was going to be, but the most incredible part was connecting with the local children. They were the same age, and in some ways very much like us. Working together, definitely, was a unifying factor.”
Sometimes finding the right partner is challenging. In Bali, the prospective school was located at a busy traffic intersection and the children were bused in. Brooks knew that would not work. She located a tiny village school recommended by her driver’s cousin, who was a teacher there. Twenty children dancing in full formal costumes and makeup welcomed the American visitors; at the end of the sojourn, the children—and the village’s mayor—cried.
Ethiopia, so far the only African country MBI has visited, presented different challenges. Because of social and economic challenges, many children have to acquire their education piecemeal; it’s not unusual to have a 14-year-old in second grade. One of the Mudd Butt participants was 20. Also, Ethiopia has a strong fundamentalist Christian tradition. “After the first show we were told that some of the dances were against Jesus, and the children would not be allowed to perform again,” Brooks says. “So we made some changes, and they satisfied the local people.”
It’s on the international level that dance assumes a particularly important role in finding a common ground for these teenagers. Whenever possible Mudd Butt tries to connect with local dance and music teachers, and they build their programs around a local myth or folktale.
The Mudd Butt International team also allows the dances of different cultures to cross-pollinate. Siddhartha in India, for instance, incorporated some Tibetan dances into more Western-style movement. In Ethiopia, the Americans were welcomed by dancers performing a local dance, some of which found its way into the production. “These kids have the most incredible ways of using their shoulders. I still don’t know how they did it,” Epifano says.
Sometimes impediments remain. For The Ramayana, in Indonesia, the hosts tried teaching Balinese dance to the Americans, but the Balinese teacher gave up because the American kids couldn’t bend their fingers back far enough.
Simple movement games, such as mirroring or contact improvisation open channels to dance expressions that can then be incorporated into the final product. Props are also put to good use. Yards and yards of flowing fabric are put into service to create waterfalls, stormy seas, and billowing clouds. A much-traveled parachute is a tool that releases the kids’ choreographic imagination, but hung on a long pole and with a group of kids moving in a churning mass beneath it, it found new life as a volcano in Ethiopia’s Fire on the Mountain.
Children who grow up in very strictly controlled environments that emphasize adherence to rules more than self-expression take more time to become at ease with Mudd Butt’s open approach to physicality. But, says Epifano, “It’s amazing how quickly they become comfortable, and the results are so beautiful.”
Anderson participated in MBI three times. Her first trip, to Ireland, meant being out of the country for the first time and traveling without her family. Epifano calls this “diving in. You have to totally surrender yourself to this intense situation,” she says. “You might be uncomfortable, but you are here to work with 20 students whom you don’t know [and often] where you don’t even know the language.”
The second trip took Anderson to Turkey, where the students performed a bilingual version of Persephone—the Greek myth that explains the rhythm of the seasons. “It was fun to see how the children from the host country embraced the ‘Mudd Butt style,’ ” Anderson says, “because it is admittedly very different from other, more traditional theater camps, and some of the kids had never interacted with theater or been in a play before. What I remember is everyone diving in and really getting into it regardless of how weird it may have initially seemed.”
Anderson had the opportunity to dance the shared role of Persephone, appearing onstage alongside her Turkish colleague. They took turns speaking dialogue, each in her own language, while performing unison movement. Having a Turkish counterpart “was very cool,“ she says.
But India may have left the deepest impression on Anderson. In Dharamsala the Americans shared housing with Tibetan children, all of them “orphans” whose parents had arranged to have them smuggled out of Tibet in order to ensure a safer life for them in India.
Anderson recalls that this “was a very, very special place to stay during the Beijing Olympics.” The week before the Mudd Butts’ arrival, three monks had been killed in Lhasa in connection with the Olympics in Beijing. In Dharamsala, the American students joined the local community in a funeral procession, at the end of which effigies of the murdered monks were ceremonially burned.
“One of the teachers at the school was so moved by what was happening,” Davis says, “that he pulled those incredible, ancient costumes out of a closet and created an opening to the show with his Tibetan children. He also brought out a thangka painting of the life of the Buddha. It was very long, probably 25 feet, and we all held it, and it became part of the set. It had been brought by the Dalai Lama from Tibet, and hadn’t seen the light of day since that journey across the Himalayas.”
It was one of those experiences that confirm what this international program tries to do. Says Davis: “These trips are transformational for adults and kids. Dance and music open doors and show that the world is full of lovely people.”
One dance teacher’s transformative trip to Haiti
By Karen White
It was June 28, one day before a crowd of eager young Haitian dancers would vie for 50 coveted spots in the 2013 Jean Appolon Summer Dance Institute, and the floor inside the storied Hotel Oloffson’s open-air gazebo was an unusable mess. The new floor had looked nice enough in photos sent to Boston, but once the teachers arrived in Port-au-Prince they noticed weaknesses and buckles, uneven spots, and clumps of dried glue.
“We were panicking a bit,” says Boston resident Jenny Oliver. “You couldn’t turn on the floor or it would tear your foot. We flew down with one piece of marley, and we needed about four to cover this floor. So we duct-taped the marley down across the middle where the floor was the weakest and sanded the rougher parts. Surprisingly, it worked well.”
Teaching dance in an underdeveloped country like Haiti (and one that’s still recovering from a natural disaster) could be an adventure.
Oliver, 30, a Jean Appolon Expressions company member who teaches at the Franklin [MA] School for the Performing Arts and Dance and with Boston Ballet’s Taking Steps outreach program, was quickly learning that teaching dance in an underdeveloped country like Haiti (and one that’s still recovering from a natural disaster) could be an adventure.
Each summer since 2006, Jean Appolon, who trained at The Ailey School and Joffrey Ballet School and is now choreographer and director of Jean Appolon Expressions in Boston, had returned to his homeland of Haiti to teach modern and Haitian folkloric dance. (The Institute was on hiatus in 2010 and 2011 due to the January 2010 earthquake.)
Appolon’s mission is to bring high-quality training to young dancers in Haiti, most of whom cannot pay to attend classes, and supplement the few opportunities that exist to study Haitian folkloric dance. Struggles with crippling poverty and a desire for a more modernized life have forced Haitian traditional arts, including dance, into a steady decline. “They are losing their drumming, their painting, their dance and music. It is a sad thing to see a country so vibrant and filled with beautiful culture, and yet this culture is not being passed on or preserved,” Oliver says.
Appolon’s goal is to establish a year-round, after-school program called DANCE HAITI! that would provide dance, academic tutoring, and health education. It would include touring student ensembles and, eventually, a professional company.
This summer’s participants, ages 12 to teens, most likely heard about the program from a Haitian friend of Appolon who serves as a “media liaison” there, Oliver says. A few interested adults were also welcomed as guests and allowed to take classes with Appolon and Oliver. JAE co-founder and executive director Stephanie Scherpf made the trip as support staff.
Heading into her first time visiting—and teaching—in a third-world country, Oliver agreed to stay for only two and a half of the institute’s four weeks. It was a decision she would regret when it was time to say good-bye. “I said, ‘I’m leaving tomorrow,’ and the kids came up [to me],” she says. They spoke only Creole, so she didn’t know what they were saying, “but you could tell the thoughts were heartfelt. I was already going through my own little depression, contemplating what I had experienced. I felt like my work wasn’t done.
“As teachers we all want to give back,” Oliver continues. “I’m very lucky to have had this opportunity to give back to people who could never give me anything in my hand, but who gave me so much as a person and as the person who I would like to become—a citizen of our global community through the arts.”
None of that was evident on Saturday, June 29, when Oliver stood on the makeshift floor, watching Appolon run auditions in Creole. “That’s when it hit me—I was going to be lost,” says Oliver. The Creole phrases she had learned in Boston had in no way prepared her to communicate with native Creole speakers. “I decided to go hands-on. I was running around, physically moving them, getting them where they needed to go.”
Most of the dancers had little training, but they also had no fear, Oliver says. They paid attention to every detail, every head roll, and responded with their best effort. By noon the cuts had been made, leaving a couple of hours of class time before the students were dismissed for the day.
Regular dance days began with yoga—the fastest way to teach someone how to breathe is to give them yoga, Oliver says—and then launched into a Horton-based modern class. With no mirrors in the gazebo, dancers had to remember corrections and how body positions like flat backs or laterals felt. Perhaps more challenging, though, was learning how to function as a class by respecting others’ space and moving as a unit.
“Haiti as a country is very chaotic: ‘I’m pushing you out of the way because I have to get over there.’ They don’t drive on the right side of the road—they drive on the road,” Oliver says. “So now you come into the studio and you have to coordinate, you have to move the same and stay equidistant, stay with the music,” she says. “They also don’t count, and I didn’t even think of that—as dancers, we’ve all been counting since we were 3. They don’t count—they just go. So that was very much a mess, and a huge thing.”
After lunch came lessons in Haitian folkloric dances like yanvalou (a Vodou ceremonial dance), petro (a “fire dance”), congo (depicting courting rituals), and ibo (a dance of freedom). The Haitian Vodou religion is based on the merging of beliefs and practices of the West Indies (which grew out of traditions carried to the area by African slaves) and Catholicism. In the early 20th century, the removal of the Haitian practices of music, dance, and song from their religious context allowed them to be presented onstage as representation of Haitian culture.
During folkloric class, the excitement in the room was “like kids at Christmas,” Oliver says. “These dances all mean something,” but educational limitations have left many of the students ignorant of their own culture. “Not only were they learning the movement,” she says, “but they were learning what the dance means, hearing how the drums sound, and seeing how it all comes together as part of their culture.”
By the end of the first week Oliver had “figured out right from left” in Creole, learned how to teach choreography despite a language barrier, and adjusted to the incredible heat. She saw how the dancers and drummers could work for hours without complaint. “I’d go to give a drummer a cup of water, and he did not want to stop playing,” she says. “If the dancers were hurting, if they had a headache, they didn’t want to let anything stop them. They were always so focused on what was happening now—so in the moment.”
Oliver also let go of her “expectations of perfection” that came from teaching in U.S. studios. She learned to allow the untrained students to simply dance, and to be gentle when some of them appeared to be slacking. Despite the program’s demands—tardy students had to sit out; lessons involved authentic, challenging technique—Oliver could never forget that the students live in a place where cholera and poor health care, undrinkable water, and rampant poverty are facts of life.
For some, home is a rusted piece of aluminum and a tarp, she says. One boy traveled five hours to get to Monday’s class at 9am. (He stayed with a Port-au-Prince family during the week.) Given juice and a sandwich at lunch, many students would save half the sandwich for later, despite the morning’s physical demands.
By the second week the kids were exhausted, but they’d gotten better at following directions and applying corrections. Art teacher Sabine Levros helped them paint a backdrop for the institute’s finale performance. As Levros spoke about how color related to dance, how red and yellow lighting or costumes could infuse a petro fire dance, the students’ hands flew up. “They said, ‘What about this?’ or ‘If I wanted an audience to feel this way, could I use this color?’ ” Oliver says. “They were already thinking in a very intellectual way about dance.” (Levros, who had worked with the institute for many summers, died in October.)
It became evident that everyone involved in the institute—from the drummers to the dancers to the art teacher to the man who swept the floor—understood that each had a vital role to play. “I felt happy to see that, but at the same time, sad because we don’t seem to have that camaraderie as artists [in the U.S.],” Oliver says. “In many studios, there isn’t that extra educational aspect. The teacher picks out costumes, perhaps in a thoughtful way, but we don’t talk to the students about costuming and lighting and how it all relates to dance, and how all the different artists come together to create a story. It cannot always be just about the technique and just about the dance and just about you.”
After Oliver left, her place was taken by another JAE dancer who cleaned the choreography of the petro dance she had set on a small group of advanced dancers. Oliver says she was “glued to Facebook,” eager for updates of the students’ progress and photos of the finale performance.
Now, teaching in Boston, Oliver found herself constantly thinking about her time in Haiti. “These kids [in Boston] have a leg up over the kids in Haiti, but they still deserve the best from me. I feel much more focused, purposeful. I’m more prepared. It’s not about my choreography or my ego,” she says. “I definitely changed for the better, and I want to continue to improve the quality of the classes I’m giving. These kids deserve it from me.”
Next year, if asked, she will gladly go back to Haiti. There is no ignoring the country’s destitute state, she says—she recalls scenes of people washing in dirty ditches, malnourished dogs roaming through trash-laden streets, and once-glorious fountains now crumbling and dry. Power outages are a part of everyday life, and finding clean water to brush your teeth can be a huge challenge. Yet Oliver felt she “fit in” with Haiti’s energy and adjusted quickly to waking at 5am to a chaotic world noisy with roosters, vehicle traffic, and vendors. If Appolon ever accomplishes his goal of founding a year-round dance institute in Haiti, she wants to be a part of it.
“We did get more marley,” Oliver says about that floor disaster. “Two more pieces were donated to us by Nicole [Lumarque of the Ballet Folklorique D’Haiti]. We stored the floor and have it for next year. Every year we’ll get another little piece of something, and maybe in 10 years we’ll have a school.”
How South African dance landed at Laney College
By Toba Singer
How does a Johannesburg-born auto-assembly-line worker end up directing a dance production that aspires to meet the standards of a Broadway show? Ask Thamsanqa Hlatywayo, who has been teaching South African dance for the past two years at Laney College in Oakland, California. A volunteer, Hlatywayo formed Jikelele Dance Theater as a student-based company, much in the way that the well-known Bay Area dance company ODC emerged from the cocoon of the Oberlin College dance department in the early 1970s.
Johannesburg to Transkei and back
At 10, Hlatywayo moved from cosmopolitan Johannesburg to the rural Eastern Cape province of South Africa’s Transkei region. Other kids there had no shoes; since he didn’t want to stand out as a city kid, Hlatywayo didn’t wear his. “You’d walk five miles to find the nearest store, and turn around and walk back the same day,” he says. Along with adapting to life with cows, goats, sheep, and chickens, the city kid learned lessons from countryside performers that would change his life.
Unlike the popular songs Hlatywayo and his city friends sang in the early 1960s, those he learned in the village were chant-like, with distinctive, complicated rhythms that Hlatywayo found intriguing, part of a culture that was unfamiliar but irresistible. “If you didn’t learn stick fighting, other boys would come after you.” And yet, says Hlatywayo, “Culture, though different, thrived: people danced and sang as part of everyday life, not separate from other activities as in the city. My interest in dance theater took root there, and when I returned to the city, it deepened.”
Hlatywayo’s students’ enthusiasm and burgeoning skills inspired him to form Jikelele Dance Theater as a vehicle for creating Life in a South African Shanty Town.
Hlatywayo moved back to Johannesburg in 1967 and gravitated to a migrant worker hostel where residents did traditional dances. On Sundays, he joined traditional group dances at a center whose day-laborer performers sang and danced in the streets; he learned the dances by imitating their steps. “In Soweto, there are many ethnic groups, so I learned Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Isizulu, and Shangaan songs and dances.”
In the late ‘60s, Hlatywayo studied with Gibson Kente, considered the father of township theater, an art form distinctive for its premise that you “make do with whatever is available where scarcity, not abundance, is the rule,” says Hlatywayo.
Unlike in the United States, where classification tends to be more peevish, township theater was the overall focus, and dance represented a spoke in that performance umbrella. The starting point is the telling of stories in the oral tradition, with township theater bearing responsibility for bringing to life the social and political issues that township dwellers face. Performances occurred on a regular basis, but because township theater activities had to remain somewhat underground, the shows were publicized mostly through word of mouth.
“What couldn’t be said in print or publicly could be expressed with the body,” Hlatywayo says, smiling. “By the time the bwanas [bosses] realized what we were doing, communication was already complete. Whites were absorbed in their own world, unaware of anything outside of it.”
To gain admittance to the political and cultural community hall, Hlatywayo set up the chairs. “I was an outsider. The others approached me with a ‘What do you think you’re doing here?’ attitude,” he says. “We were all political, and [those who participated in township theater] were a cultural grouping within the overall effort to end apartheid and win civil and human rights. It was the late 1960s, during a leadership vacuum after Mandela’s incarceration at Robben Island, but before the big demonstrations that eventually ended apartheid.”
In most cultures, it is hard to convince men to participate in dance performances or training. Here, the problem was the opposite: finding girls and women to dance, because, according to Hlatywayo, their socialization discouraged them from showing off. So while Hlatywayo faced no cultural prejudice against men dancing, he had to find a way into a group that was rather insular. A man in the group (with whom he bonded because they shared the same last name) finessed his acceptance by the others.
Although he never performed with Kente’s group, training with him afforded Hlatywayo the opportunity to benefit from the breadth of experience Kente and his troupe gained on tours to Swaziland and other locales throughout southern Africa.
Landing in the SF Bay Area
Hlatywayo arrived in the U.S. in 1980 as a performer with the musical Ipi-Tombi, a 1974 show that toured Africa, Europe, and North America; it was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for best musical in 1976. When the tour folded, friends advised the dancers to go to San Francisco. “We heard that there was a lot of political activity here,” Hlatywayo says. “Some were looking for political asylum because our activities in South Africa made it unwise to return.”
Hlatywayo was one of seven cast members who came to the Bay Area in 1983 and formed Uzulu Dance Theater. He became its director. “We toured California; Beaumont and Corpus Christi, Texas; Washington State, and Canada, dancing at colleges and festivals. Eventually, I joined the Broadway show Sarafina! which was nominated for five Tony awards. When the Broadway show shut down, we went on tour with it,” Hlatywayo says, and Uzulu Dance Theater disbanded.
Young South African actors joined the cast. Hlatywayo was buoyed by their energy as they acclimated themselves to U.S. theater culture. He made a similar adaptation to the new demands and challenges of working in musical theater. Returning to Oakland after the tour, Hlatywayo says, “I took classes to learn other styles—jazz with Leon Jackson, and at Everybody’s Creative Art Center with Halifu Osumare, and Malonga Casquelourd.”
When the Sarafina! tour ended, Hlatywayo had time to expand his range of dance styles. He was also unemployed. “I heard they were hiring at NUMMI [an auto plant in nearby Hayward, California], and ended up working there,” he says. “Since I had been pretty much shut down in show business, I went for the money. It was good, but I was hungry for the music.” He says that if NUMMI hadn’t closed he’d probably still be working there. But he says his coworkers teased him, “Go dance! This is not the place for you!”
A return to dance and theater
In the mid-’90s, Hlatywayo began teaching in East Bay schools with Andrea Vonny Lee, who now co-chairs Oakland’s Laney College Dance Department with Jacqueline Burgess. He also taught in Dimensions Dance Theater’s Rites of Passage program, at the HAWK Federation (a development and training program for young black men), and at San Francisco State University.
During the 2011–12 academic year, Hlatywayo became the Laney dance department’s township theater guest artist. He was struck by the students’ willingness to learn. Their enthusiasm and burgeoning skills sparked the notion that Hlatywayo might produce a show. “They inspired me to form Jikelele Dance Theater as a vehicle for doing Life in a South African Shanty Town,” he says. Funded by the Laney College Dance Department, work on the production began in January 2012.
Hlatywayo directed the production and Lee served as assistant director. The students “worked hard all day,” Hlatywayo says, “to rehearse technique, even if it was nothing except crossing the floor.” Technique could include shoulder, head, and arm isolations or more traditional dancing, in which the feet are wide apart, the knees bent, and the torso is low to the floor. In a class Hlatywayo and Lee offer on Sundays, students follow a modern-dance floor warm-up that builds to more complex standing combinations.
Scrupulous production values issue from professional habits Hlatywayo acquired under Kente’s tutelage, as well as his experience working with writer, composer, choreographer, and director Mbongeni Ngema and assistant choreographer Ndaba Mhlongo on Sarafina! Hlatywayo designed the company’s costumes, ensuring authenticity.
Hlatywayo was impressed with the dancers’ ensemble work. “The performance quality is teamwork. I saw their singing and dancing talent; I brought something to and out of students who would say, ‘I can dance but cannot sing.’ ‘If you can walk you can dance; if you can talk you can sing’—this is a Zimbabwean saying,” he says. “I would hear New York actors say, ‘I have to learn to sing and dance because auditions require everything,’ or ‘I cannot act.’ I’d say, ‘The world is a stage. Just be yourself and tell a story. Make the audience believe you.’ ”
The students’ enthusiasm pushed Hlatywayo to develop a script. “Gibson Kente never had a script. When Jikelele started we had no script,” he says. “We did improvisations where, for example, I would say, ‘I’ll give you the situation: somebody’s stealing from you. Say something!’ The students improvised in this way, scene by scene, and we came away with half a page of lines at a time as Andrea [Lee] took notes. I told them, ‘I am just the vehicle; you are the ones doing this. This is our show.’ ”
Some students dropped out of the show due to family obligations, while others were unable to participate in late night rehearsals due to the lack of public transportation. But senior Anya McLenton stayed, and ended up with the lead role of Dudu, an earnest student. A consummate “triple threat” performer, McLenton was a perfect canvas for Hlatywayo’s concept and process.
McLenton had studied at Dimensions Dance Theater’s Rites of Passage youth training program and danced in its performance ensemble. She also trained at Sylvia Townsend’s Art of Ballet School of Dance and performed at Great America and Disneyland. She says Townsend, and Latanya D. Tigner at Dimensions Dance Theater, taught her discipline. “Always wear black to class, no earrings, no talking, and drop everything at the door,” she says.
With a strong sense of studio etiquette and discipline, McLenton focused on creating her character, and using the steps and music to convey Dudu’s shifting moods. A natural choice for dance captain, she set an example for others in the troupe. Working with Hlatywayo made her learn to think of herself as a dancer “first and foremost,” she says. “He opened up my point of view and idea of myself, and for the first time made me think about Broadway and film,” she says.
Life in a South African Shanty Town took its inspiration from what Hlatywayo views as a desperate need to advance education among youth in the South African townships. Pursuing higher education is also a theme Hlatywayo has emphasized in raising his own children. Seeing McLenton graduate from Laney and pursue a masters degree at the University of Hawaii, Hlatywayo says, is proof that the vision that inspired the show is at work in the real world.
In Native American dance, what’s old is eternal—and always relevant
By Mary Ellen Hunt
It’s a hot day in Derrick Suwaima Davis’ cornfield, but this is where the Arizona native and director of Living Traditions Dance Troupe finds his inspiration for dance—under the sun and connected to the rhythm of the land and the creatures that share space with the plants.
Davis is the charismatic World Champion in the Native American dance known as the hoop dance, a title he has won an unprecedented six times since 1992.
The origins of hoop dancing go back to a healing dance, in which a patient or shaman would pass through a hoop and whatever ailment was disturbing the patient would be left behind. . . . I try to retain some of that original purpose. —Derrick Suwaima Davis
Davis’ intricate hoop dance is remarkable for its artistry, the expertise with which he weaves his body in and out of five hoops, and his stamina. It is also a story of creation and of an interdependent worldview that the 46-year-old artist hopes will resonate with audiences no matter what their cultural background.
Bolstered by a beating heart of drum rhythms, Davis dances into and out of a myriad of patterns he makes with the rattan hoops, deftly intertwining and meshing them to depict a butterfly, a small bird, a snake, an eagle. Smoothly, without missing a beat, he forms a globe with the hoops, and the metaphor is clear: the circle of life is encapsulated in one delicate planetary orb.
Powwows to performance
Born in Arizona to parents of Hopi and Choctaw heritage, Davis says music and dance were always a part of his upbringing. “I often say that when I was in the womb, I was already learning to dance,” he says during a break from working in his cornfield. “It is a huge part of our native culture. It captures a lot of history and the time or the moment we’re dancing; we are encouraging a healthy future and healthy life. Dance is one way to celebrate life.”
By age 3, Davis says, he was already mimicking the dances he saw around him. Since his parents are of two different tribes, he attended intertribal powwows, where he saw his entire family singing and dancing together. The style he knew best then was what is known as Native American fancy dance, a colorful and expressive, high-energy version of war dances that evolved in the “Wild West” shows of the late 19th and early 20th century. The attention the young Davis received when he danced encouraged him to develop his talent.
For a time his family lived in New Mexico, not far from Taos, and it was there that he first encountered hoop dancing, traditional to the Pueblo peoples.
“I used to try to turn metal hangers into hoops or play with circular sofa cushions,” Davis says with a chuckle, “Finally my father made my brother and me some hoops, and we practiced with those.”
When he graduated from high school, Davis moved to Phoenix Valley, where he was invited to join Melvin Deer’s Eagle Spirit Dance Group as a fancy dancer, performing the horsetail dance and the eagle dance. There he began to remember the hoop dances of his childhood.
“Hoop dance wasn’t that popular then,” he says. “Then the Heard Museum [in Phoenix] began holding the World Championship Hoop Dance Contest, and it was a chance for dancers to gather and exchange stories. Older people who had known the dance as they grew up performed as well, inspiring all of us.”
While other hoop dancers may use more hoops—some up to 30 at a time—Davis dances with five, which he says is typical of the Southwestern tribes. To him, using fewer reflects a Hopi philosophy of doing the best with the least amount possible.
Hoops: meaning and symbolism
“The origins of hoop dancing,” Davis explains, “go back to a healing dance, in which a patient or shaman would pass through a hoop and whatever ailment was disturbing the patient would be left behind. As time has gone along, individuals started modifying dances to convey their culture in an appropriate way, but I try to retain some of that original purpose. For example, when I perform, I am wishing for everyone to be well and to be balanced.”
And by everyone, he means not only the human audience but all creatures—indeed, all of nature in a circle of life. The stewardship and care of the environment and the world we live in represents a large part of the story Davis tells with his hoop dance.
“All these formations that you see in the dance are acknowledging the gift of the insects, of the birds, of the plants and water creatures,” he says. “This world belonged first to the plants and insects, and we are all connected. For me, to make all those different designs is to tell the story of all life, not just humans, but plant people, animal people, and insect people. All human people around the world are stewards, and as native people our part is to encourage all life to be healthy.”
He watches those cycles from his home in Arizona, the rhythms of the land inextricably intertwined with the music and dance that he brings to audiences. “In years when there is plenty of moisture, I can see what happens in my cornfield,” he says. “And of course when there is not enough rain, I see how it affects everything. In some years, we see very few dragonflies, and in other years more dragonflies. If there is enough water the toads might come out for a few days and then when it dries up, they go back down and they’re not singing all night anymore. All of these things in nature are things that I share in this dance. There’s a common thread no matter where I travel around the world—we’re looking for how to maintain balance and take care of ourselves physically, psychologically, and spiritually.”
In his hoop dance, Davis creates a ladder formation, which he holds by the bottom rung. In his mind, the ladder represents his wish for every individual to complete the steps that will take them through the stages of life.
“During life, we are preparing ourselves for when the body is returned to the earth and the spirit journeys on,” he says. “So my hope is that all of us will be able to go through whatever ladder steps, whatever cultural rites of passage we need to complete our lives, so that when it’s time to journey on we will be satisfied with what we have done here.”
And the globe he holds up at the end is a reminder that all things on the planet are only borrowed for a time.
Like so many Native American cultural traditions, intertribal exchanges have meant that dances, songs, and philosophies have been borrowed over the years by various tribes in what Davis calls the “First Nations’ way.” Just like Hopi textiles or Navajo jewelry can be given to a person, family, or community, so too can a song or dance.
The troupe Davis founded in 2007, Living Traditions, brings together Native American dancers from tribes as varied as the Hopi, Navajo, San Carlos Apache, Tohono O’odham, Hualapai, and Maricopa in performances that showcase the diversity of the artists’ cultural backgrounds at private events, theatrical shows, and cultural festivals, like Scottsdale’s Native Trails event. Some 20 dancers have worked with Living Traditions through the years, ranging in age from 4 to 60 years old.
In dances like the horse dance, which they perform as a group, they present lessons of unity and cooperation. Every appearance is an opportunity to educate audiences about the ceremonial songs, dances, stories, and costumes that define the identity of each nation, as well as to affirm the fellowship among tribes.
“It’s a way to convey to audiences the idea that this universe doesn’t stay the same, individuals don’t stay the same, even our cultures don’t necessarily stay the same,” Davis says. “But what does remain is the idea of maintaining balance and showing appreciation for life.”
It’s a message that he finds modern audiences not only recognize but embrace. It seems that even with the advances of science and technology, he says, we have come full circle, back to the concepts that guided his Hopi ancestors.
“I know that most people learn of native cultures when they learn about the building of the United States of America,” Davis says, “but what I hope is that we can all look at what it means to be better stewards of what we are given. By doing the best I can with my cultural songs and dances, I hope that will be an inspiration for audience members to reflect on their core cultural values and, for those who desire a healthy future, to help them take steps to hand down a healthy world to the next generation.”
To watch Davis perform his hoop dance, search “Davis” + “Heard Museum” on YouTube.
World dances, lindy hop, and Denishawn—Vanaver Caravan does it all
By Joseph Carman
Where can you find lindy hop, flamenco, Appalachian clog dancing, the Senegalese “Mama” Spirit Dance, New England contra dances, urban stomp dancing, Romanian stick dances, and Woody Guthrie’s folk tunes, plus reconstructions of Ruth St. Denis’ and Ted Shawn’s classics? Only at Vanaver Caravan, a touring ensemble that combines global indigenous dance with live music in a singular fashion.
Started in 1972 by Livia Drapkin Vanaver and her husband, Bill Vanaver, Vanaver Caravan has been touring domestically and internationally ever since. And through its educational branch, Caravan delivers world dance and music to kids and teens in classrooms and workshops.
Genesis and evolution
Vanaver Caravan generally features 20 to 25 performers, including dancers, singers, and musicians, ages 9 to 70. Based in New Paltz, New York, the troupe performs or teaches throughout the year. The performers, from Brazil, Guatemala, the United States, Senegal, Turkey, Canada, and India, bring individual talents and expertise to the company’s authentic style.
“Vanaver Caravan is always evolving,” Livia Vanaver says. “We’re always adding new things and carrying forward styles we love. We have people in our company from all over the world who bring their indigenous styles into the company. They have solos, but they all dance in the ensemble pieces.”
My passion was modern and world dance from an early age. I didn’t see any company I wanted to be in that would satisfy both. —Livia Vanaver
Vanaver’s interest in world dance started at a tender age, beginning with her studies of Jewish dance forms in Queens. At Hillcrest Jewish Center summer camp, she studied with Joyce Mollov, who specialized in interpretive dance and Israeli folk dance and invited instructors to teach all types of world dance.
Hooked, Vanaver regularly studied 25 styles of indigenous dance. “My passion was modern and world dance from an early age,” she says. “I didn’t see any company I wanted to be in that would satisfy both.” In 1971, she met her future husband, Bill, a composer who played banjo and Balkan music, and discovered they had similar interests.
In 1972, Bill Vanaver was playing on the folk music circuit and was invited by famed producer Izzy Young to do a concert at Washington Square Methodist Church in the West Village. After that, a producer asked the Vanavers to perform a series of concerts on the deck of the Wavertree, a historic sailing vessel docked at the South Street Seaport. They subsequently obtained a grant from the Creative Artists Public Service Program that helped pay for dancers, teachers, and choreographers.
“That’s how Vanaver Caravan got started,” says Livia Vanaver. “By forming a company, we could have a vehicle for our work together. I don’t know of any company that has had this long a commitment to world dance, contemporary dance, and live music.”
Traversing continents, exploring eras
The troupe currently presents three programs. Pastures of Plenty pays tribute to the late Woody Guthrie, the great American folksong artist. A collection of danced vignettes, the show moves across the American musical landscape, capturing Virginia reels, clog dancing, lindy hop, and urban street dances, as well as moving portraits of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
Using material and ideas from the dancers and choreographers who work with the company, Vanaver directs and choreographs the pieces, weaving them into full scenarios. The performers usually learn the styles from artists who have expertise in those styles, and that artist often is featured as a soloist. Vanaver says the dancers learn the styles the way a chorus learns a music selection and she “arranges” the material the way a composer or conductor would orchestrate a score.
Earthbeat! A Journey comprises a program of traditional and original dances from around the globe. The dynamic evening begins with Japanese drumming and includes the English “Rapper Sword” dance, French Canadian and Cape Breton step dancing, South African gumboot dancing, the Philippine Igorot Sun Dance, Indian kuchipudi, as well as indigenous dances from Bulgaria, Brazil, and Spain, body percussion, and stick dances. In their contrasting ways, all the dances express people’s need to harmonize with the earth. “Earthbeat! A Journey is almost like an invocation,” Vanaver says.
First performed in 1982, Streets of Gold uses traditional and contemporary dance and music to depict the immigrant experience of arriving in New York City. “It was based on stories about the immigration of the performers in our company at the time,” Vanaver says. “We’ve retained a few pieces from then, but we’ve created others based on experiences of people who are now in the company. It’s like a mini-musical. There are some funny parts, some poignant parts. It takes you from being on boats to Ellis Island and ends up in a crowded subway car in New York City.” The uplifting compilation includes Irish dancing, flamenco, and Armenian folk dancing, among many others.
Keeping history alive
Another aspect of the performing, related to indigenous styles in terms of its source material, is the preservation of dances from the Denishawn school. (St. Denis and Shawn derived much of their material from ethnic sources, such as Indian or Native American dance.) In 1979 Vanaver met Jane Sherman, a dancer who had toured with the Denishawn Company in 1925. With her help, Vanaver reconstructed 11 pieces by St. Denis and Shawn, several of which the company first danced at a benefit performance in 1979.
Five American Sketches includes a group of works choreographed by Shawn in the 1920s: Around the Hall in Texas, A Gringo Tango, Danse Americaine, and Pasquinade, all of which present a comedic and historical take on American life. Also included is Boston Fancy: 1854, a beautifully costumed period piece that uses pantomime and New England contra dances and satirizes Boston’s Beacon Hill society.
Sherman, who died in 2010, also re-created other pieces for Vanaver Caravan: Tillers of the Soil, a duet depicting two Egyptian peasants by St. Denis and Shawn; and Sinhalese Devil Dance and Mevlevi Dervish by Shawn.
The Caravan performances always use live music, arranged by Bill Vanaver, for the entirety of the programs. Some of the musicians have performed with the company for more than 30 years. The world dance shows utilize instrumentation from all over the world, including stringed and wind instruments, and a drummer from West Africa.
Classes for kids
One of the most vital branches of Vanaver Caravan is its educational program. Caravan Kids Project offers classes to students in New Paltz and Stone Ridge, New York. Classes begin at age 4 with creative movement; older students can choose world dance, modern technique, choreography classes, Appalachian clogging, and other percussive movement.
“We bring in guest teachers to do workshops in West African dance, flamenco, and Afro-Brazilian,” Vanaver says. “Everybody gets a background in modern technique and improvisation, choreography, and world dance.”
Miranda ten Broeke, who trained with Vanaver Caravan from early childhood, developed and currently directs the Caravan Kids Project. “I don’t think anyone merges live music and the authenticity of choreography for this extensive repertoire the way Livia does,” ten Broeke says. “Maybe the coolest part of what we do is the educational aspect. We believe in approaching our teaching with a deep sense of respect and authenticity. It’s all about the celebration of world dance and music. We give that to everyone, whether in the audience or classroom. It provides a visceral, grounded understanding of the art forms.”
Summer intensives are offered for young kids and teens. SummerDance on Tour! is a 15-day intensive for ages 9 to late teens held at Stone Mountain Farm in Tillson, New York; it features training in diverse dance styles from ballet to flamenco. The Caravan Kids Summer Workshop, a five-day intensive for children ages 4 to 8, also at Stone Mountain Farm, gives children an introduction to world dance and creative movement.
Another significant aspect of Caravan Kids Project is its outreach program for K–12 kids in local public and private schools. “We work closely with teachers and principals to integrate dance into the social studies and language arts programs,” says Vanaver. “They choose the countries they want to delve into based on mandated curriculum; or there might be a child from that ethnic group, or maybe they want to honor a student or teacher from another country.”
When working with the school curriculum, Vanaver and ten Broeke have found third grade to be an especially effective time to work with kids, because that’s when young students first focus on the world outside their own community. “We’ll help the third-graders learn about a country, like Brazil,” ten Broeke says. “Then Gustavo [Brasil], one of our brilliant dancers, comes in and teaches capoeira. If they’re learning about China, we might teach them a Chinese ribbon dance I learned. I like to tell kids, ‘You name a country, and I bet I’ll know a dance from that country.’ ”
“China, Brazil, and Kenya were on the hit parade this year,” Vanaver says. “Japanese dances, the tarantella from Italy, and Mexican dances are also favorites.”
Talli Jackson, a longtime Vanaver Caravan student who now dances with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, is impressed by the efficacy of the outreach. “Generally the students are excited by something new,” Jackson says. “They get to move their bodies and interact with their peers in ways that are unusual in a school environment.”
And teachers, pay heed: “It’s often the boys or the kids who are the most destructive who are the stars of the program,” Vanaver says. “The children also bond as a class. They perform together in a show for the whole school. People learn in so many different ways.”
Vanaver has devised a program called Dance Kinections, which has been funded by the New York State Council for the Arts and the NEA; it creates global dance festivals in which the kids perform the dances they have learned for children from other schools.
In addition, Vanaver initiated the India Project by partnering with Big Medicine Charitable Trust, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization based in Udaipur, India, that develops communities committed to peace and nonviolence. The partnership, Vanaver says, is “an opening up and creation of a common sense of unity. You have to begin building peace one class at a time, one group at a time, one school at a time.”
During the pilot project in January 2012, Vanaver Caravan sent four teaching artists (including ten Broeke) to Udaipur to teach world dance styles and bring students of different castes together (a rarity in India because of the social restrictions of the caste system) to learn. The project will be repeated this month.
Strength and flexibility
In her dancers, Vanaver says, she looks for a strong ballet and modern background. “They also need to be flexible—not strictly married to any one style,” she says. “They need a keen sense of rhythm and a generous sense of performing, and they have to be able to work with others.”
Maintaining the stylistic integrity of the dances can be challenging, but it’s a priority. “We work with the dancers to do the movement in the traditional style,” Vanaver says. “Often we’ll call in people whom we respect to help. To be able to perform these dances back to the cultures from where they came—that’s the criteria.”
Ultimately, promoting peace through experiencing other cultures remains the goal of Vanaver Caravan. “In every aspect of our work, peace comes into play,” Vanaver says. “In schools, children learn a dance that at first seems strange or funny. Then all of a sudden it becomes beautiful, something they can appreciate. Whether it’s through performing or teaching, when you can embrace other cultures and differences, the process of learning about peace naturally begins.”
World Dance at a Glance
A fascinating resource on the Vanaver Caravan website, vanavercaravan.org, is the DanceEncylopedia, an alphabetical compilation of world dances ranging from Spanish alegrías to the Zulu Shield Dance. Teachers can easily see the source country, region, difficulty level, categorization as a solo or group dance, and whether it tells a story or is intended as a game. Click on “Arts Education,” then “DanceEncyclopedia.”
Where to See Vanaver Caravan
• February 14–16: Danceflurry, a festival of traditional music and dance, Saratoga Springs, New York
• June 21 and 22: Clearwater Festival, Croton Point Park, Croton-On-Hudson, New York
• June 27–29: Streets of Gold at the Old Songs Festival, Altamont, New York
• SummerDance! On Tour will take place July 28–August 17.
Sheffield School of the Dance’s three generations of dance lovers
By Lea Marshall
In 1943, young dancer Mary Lou Sheffield brought together a dozen neighborhood children in Mobile, Alabama, for dance classes in her living room. She was 12 years old. Seventy years later, Sheffield School of the Dance, with three locations and more than 500 students, still credits “Ms. Mary Lou’s” love of dance and devotion with helping students grow “strong in body, mind, and spirit,” says her grandson, Colby Shinn.
The school, which has three locations, is now staffed and directed by three generations—including 83-year-old Ms. Mary Lou (now Sheffield-Noletto), her two daughters, Theresa Noletto-Hutchins and Celi Noletto-Shinn, and Noletto-Shinn’s son, Colby Shinn.
When I got back to New York [after the vaudeville tour], my mother called and told me I had 100 students who were waiting for me back in Mobile. . . . I guess it was meant for me to come back home and start a school. —Mary Lou Sheffield-Noletto
The primary studio location for many years, says Shinn, was in the back of Sheffield-Noletto’s home. “That’s still considered our main office location,” he says. “We still have one day of classes down there, three baby classes, though for the most part Ms. Mary Lou is retired. She still works on the business aspect of the studio, but she doesn’t teach on a regular basis anymore. Our main studio location in West Mobile has been our powerhouse since the early 1980s.”
Meant to be
Sheffield-Noletto studied dance as a child in Mobile; once she reached age 16, during the summers her mother took her to New York to deepen her studies. She taught all through high school, and after a brief stint touring and performing with a vaudeville company (for which she turned down the chance to be a Radio City Rockette), she returned to Mobile and opened a studio in 1950.
Of her decision to return home, she says, “When I got back to New York [after the vaudeville tour], my mother called and told me I had 100 students who were waiting for me back in Mobile. She had already found a facility that was going to be adequate and a good start, and so I guess it was meant for me to come back home and start a school.” After her marriage, she and her husband built the studio additions to their house, and since then, she says, “we’ve been able to grow by leaps and bounds.”
Sheffield School of the Dance began by offering ballet, jazz, and tap; over the years the curriculum has expanded to include hip-hop, lyrical, contemporary, and other styles, based on teacher interest and student demand. Colby Shinn began teaching a hip-hop class in 2006, with 50 students enrolled; now more than 200 students take hip-hop in multiple class offerings per week.
“We’ve been very lucky,” says Shinn of the studio’s consistent growth and success. “The Sheffield name has been around so many years.” You can almost draw a direct line, he says, from most people involved in dance in the area back to his grandmother, “because she was a real pioneer of dance in Mobile.”
From studio to stage and back again
All three generations at Sheffield School have followed Sheffield-Noletto’s pattern of engaging in a professional career, however brief, before returning to Mobile to focus on teaching. Celi Noletto-Shinn moved to Saratoga Springs, New York, after high school and danced with a small company there before returning to Mobile a year later. “When I came back,” she says, “I was very enthused to bring my experiences back to my students.”
Her sister, Theresa Noletto-Hutchins, danced professionally with Susan Quinn and Michael Williams. For a time Quinn and Williams were based in Pensacola, so Noletto-Hutchins taught at Sheffield and commuted an hour each way, three days a week, to work with their company, First City Dance Theatre. Says Noletto-Shinn, “For both of us, having professional careers and still being involved [in the studio] made us excited to share” new knowledge and experience with their students.
Similarly, Shinn now splits his time between working on the road with Tremaine Dance Conventions and teaching at the school three days per week. “I home-port out of Mobile,” he says. “It’s cool that I get the best of both worlds. I stay very involved with the studio where I grew up, yet I still get to get out and see the world and do a lot of other projects.”
Three generations collaborate
Sheffield-Noletto remained the school’s principal teacher and director well into her 50s, but she nurtured her daughters’ early interest in teaching. “Once my sister and I got out of high school,” Noletto-Shinn says, “and my mom saw that we were so interested in wanting to carry on, she gave us a lot of opportunities to teach.” By the time her mother reached age 55, she was able, says Noletto-Shinn, “to step back and let my sister and me go full throttle.”
“They have been the backbone of the studio,” Shinn says. He grew interested in dance by being immersed in the studio life rather than from any pressure from his family. He took to jazz at around age 5, and from then he was hooked, taking classes and attending competitions.
As he grew older, his family noticed his interest in choreography, production, and direction. Just like his grandmother saw leadership potential in her daughters, so did Shinn’s mother see the same in him. By the time he was 14, his mother was asking him to help choreograph.
Now Shinn works alongside his mother, aunt, and grandmother as a teacher and co-director of the school. He says he appreciates the inspiration they find in one another, especially in the partnership between himself, his mother, and his aunt. “The three of us have collaborated on choreography projects throughout the years,” he says. “It’s been rewarding to see what we could create.”
He values the wisdom that his family shares and credits his mother and aunt, in large part, with “turning me into the dancer and artist I am today. Watching their work, growing up, and then starting to develop who I am as a choreographer—it’s been a full circle.”
Above all else
Last June, for the studio’s 70th-anniversary celebration, the Sheffield School recital took the form of a multi-generational extravaganza, including a reunion of studio alumni. Shinn says the excitement of that performance persisted through the start of this new school year. “It’s exciting to see everybody coming in, their energy and their drive and their excitement, because everything finished on an unbelievable high from the reunion,” he says. “There’s definitely a fresh, exciting energy in the studio right now.”
Above all else, Sheffield-Noletto’s love for the art form and her goal of inspiring a similar love of dance in students of all ages have carried into her daughters’ and grandson’s approach to teaching. That, she says, accounts for the school’s success.
“The love of dance my grandmother has had for so many years has been our anchor,” Shinn says. “Her love of dance has translated through every teacher, every student who has walked through the doors of our studio. And I think the fact that we’ve always had such a strong family bond, sharing the same passion, has translated to our students. When you walk into our studio, there’s an immediate family feeling.”
When kids call the shots in class, chaos reigns
By Elizabeth McLain
Over the past year I taught jazz classes in which several of my students exhibited strong-willed behavior. The children were socially intelligent, strong leaders who didn’t necessarily want to follow my rules, easily pulled others in, and were interested to know how I would react. After reading Setting Limits With Your Strong-Willed Child by Dr. Robert J. Mackenzie and 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child by Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, I came to understand the children better and I learned some techniques for managing this type of behavior.
I first recognized the problem when I allowed the dancers in my 8- to 10-year-olds’ jazz class to perform a step of their choice across the floor. Most of the students responded with a joyful outpouring of leaps, turns, and floor work. But one student, Cynthia (not her real name), looked at me wide-eyed and said dramatically, “We can’t do gymnastics?” I was surprised by the question, since I enforced a “no gymnastics” rule in every class. I reminded Cynthia that it wasn’t safe for dancers to try gymnastic tricks unsupervised and without a mat. And since this was a jazz class, I wanted to see her favorite jazz steps.
Mackenzie recommends guiding a child’s behavior with specific directions, a calm tone of voice, and a fitting consequence followed by a clean slate.
“Then I have nothing,” Cynthia replied.
“Really?” I said. “Nothing? No step ball changes? No chaîné turns? No leaps?”
In response, Cynthia walked in slow motion across the floor, her head hanging in pretend devastation. I looked across the room at my class who stood motionless and wide-eyed, clearly worried. When it became clear that Cynthia was inordinately interested in seeing what I would do next, I knew my usual methods wouldn’t work. And I realized that several students were behaving in similar ways in other classes. I had to find a different approach to managing this type of personality.
I gave Cynthia a choice, and she picked the one thing that was against the rules. It was clear she was testing me and trying to elicit a reaction. According to Mackenzie, defiant children see boundaries as question marks rather than absolute rules. They learn by testing the limits. In his book he states, “Strong-willed children need to experience your boundaries repeatedly before they accept them as mandatory, not optional.”
Mackenzie also describes three types of parents: punitive (authoritative), democratic (firm and respectful), and permissive. He warns that defiant children rebel most against approaches that are too harsh or too lenient.
In a similar vein, Bernstein recommends correcting children in a non-dominating way. “. . . [A]s long as you think about teaching and not overpowering while disciplining, you will come across as non-controlling. Trust me—the more emotion you take out of discipline, the more effective it is,” he writes.
I thought of myself as a “firm and respectful” teacher. However, Cynthia seemed to sense permissiveness when I offered her options. She also didn’t react well when I asked her, in front of the class, to stop talking. In this case she might have perceived the reprimand as overly authoritative. I responded by becoming more authoritative (because I hadn’t read the previously mentioned books at that time). At first that response worked; however, she ultimately rebelled, just like the books said. What I should have done (and will do next time) was talk with Cynthia’s mom.
Mackenzie warns against getting pulled into an argument with children who are probably hoping to provoke a reaction. “If you take the bait and engage your child in an argument or debate over your rules, what you’re really saying is that your rules are negotiable,” he writes.
I shouldn’t have explained the gymnastics rule to Cynthia since she already knew my reasoning. Over-explaining contributes to an overly permissive environment by suggesting that my plan is up for discussion. After I learned that, I limited myself to one-sentence explanations and stuck to my class plan. This approach was effective.
Bernstein advises teachers not to respond with emotion when children are defiant. He writes, “Your student(s) will become less defiant because you are taking away the satisfaction they received by watching you react in anger.”
He believes teachers should ignore some bad behavior. “Pick your battles wisely,” he writes. “If a student comment is merely mildly annoying, ignore it.” I had been letting nothing slide, which could have come across as authoritative and stifling to Cynthia.
As a teacher, I have always wanted each dancer to feel important. I work from a place of supporting ideas, creativity, and enthusiasm. I try to give each child space within my class for creative expression and exploration with improvisation, the chance to do a favorite step across the floor, and the freedom to create choreography for four counts of eight within a combination.
However, in this particular class, I decided I could avoid creating more opportunities for conflict by eliminating free choice. Since I didn’t give the kids those choices in every class, they didn’t notice when I stopped. I also sped up the pace of the class, keeping the kids moving with as few pauses as possible. This seemed to hold any defiant behavior at bay because the kids were busy and having fun. And everyone enjoyed the nonstop movement.
The students’ behavior continued to improve until a few months later, when I had to slow down the pace of the class to clean the recital routine. Not enjoying the process, the strong-willed kids began testing me more aggressively than before.
Mackenzie recommends guiding a child’s behavior with specific directions, a calm tone of voice, and a fitting consequence followed by a clean slate. “Our primary goal in guidance situations is to reject unacceptable behavior, not the child performing the behavior,” he writes. He also states that it is very important to praise and recognize good behavior.
During recital cleaning, some of my students began exhibiting behavior disruptive enough that I realized I needed an effective consequence. I told one child she was to bring her mother in at the end of class so I could tell her about the behavior that had occurred—talking, rule breaking, and rallying the other kids to participate in defiant behavior. The child behaved for the rest of the class; in subsequent classes, I could see her struggling to control her behavior. No doubt she wanted to avoid having me talk to her parent a second time.
When I spoke to the parent, I was careful to describe the behavior in detail, but with no judgment. The parent was very supportive, and this approach proved effective going forward.
At first, whenever I realized I was dealing with a strong-willed child in my class, I expected to find a solution that would fix the behavior completely. When I saw that I was not going to solve the problem completely, I felt like a failure—until I realized my expectations were unrealistic. Mackenzie states in his book, “If you tend to personalize your child’s testing, try to hold on to the bigger picture. Aggressive research is a normal learning process for strong-willed children.”
My research helped me realize that these kids’ initial testing behavior is part of their personality structure; I didn’t need to regard it as failure on my part, only a sign that I needed to do things differently. However, I was naïve to think I could solve the behavior problem quickly. These children have a strong need to continue to test boundaries. I can manage the behavior, but I can’t change the way they are wired. What I can, and did, change was my own approach to managing the class. By doing that I’m giving these students every opportunity to succeed in a group situation.
Nearly 20 dance and choral students from Los Angeles’ Academy of Music at Hamilton High School joined 20 professional dancers onstage when singer/songwriter Pharrell Williams presented his Oscar-nominated song “Happy” at the Academy Award ceremony Sunday night.
NRP reported that this was the fourth time Academy of Music students have teamed up with the superstar musician in recent months. “It was a dream. It was awesome,” Alexa Baruch, 15, told member station KPCC. “Leonardo DiCaprio was right in front of us.”
The students were chosen to help Williams perform his song “Happy,” from the soundtrack for the animated film Despicable Me 2. “It was such a unique opportunity and these kids will forever have something really special to remember,” says Kelci Hahn, the school’s choral director.
The students took their chance to dance so seriously they kept it a secret, agreeing not to use social media such as Instagram or Facebook to discuss their upcoming gig at the Dolby Theatre with one of the hottest stars in music. Only in recent days were they allowed to spread the news.
The Academy of Music is a magnet program and relies heavily on donations, school officials told KPCC. To see the original story, visit http://capeandislands.org/post/teens-live-dream-dancing-pharrell-oscars.
Some businesses in the Fox Cities, Wisconsin, have found joining forces or sharing space can help reduce costs associated with overhead and other expenses, reports the Post Crescent.
Valley Academy for the Arts, a dance school in Neenah, houses multiple arts-related businesses under its roof. Anne Marie Abderholden, founder and artistic director, began collaborating with others as far back as 2001 in two previously leased locations. She continued the practice when she purchased her current building at 139 North Lake Street, but it wasn’t just to cover the mortgage.
“Dance alone isn’t going to sustain my vision of what I want to do,” she said. “It’s vital for the arts to partner with other groups. If organizations collaborate, visibility gets higher. You bring in more people this way.” Besides her nonprofit dance school, the building houses Badger State Girl Choir, karate classes, City of Neenah’s dance classes, and now Rooster Dreams, a new art studio.
“There is no other arts community like it in the Fox Valley,” said Freedom resident Laura Rice, who has three generations of her family in art classes here plus a daughter in ballet and choir. “This original, one-of-a-kind business has made our family’s life so much richer.”
Another new venture in Appleton is a collaboration of four women. Two personal trainers, Jeanne St. Pierre Amstadt and Heather Alix, leased the building under the name Personal Fitness Trainers. They then sublet space to two first-time entrepreneurs, Erin Bembeneck, an Iraq war veteran who does massage, and Wanda Schnetzer, a former city of Appleton employee who teaches yoga.
Fitness veteran Amstadt knew how to get a business going and saw this as a way to help incubate three newcomers. “Their start-up costs are thousands of dollars less,” she said.
To see the original story, visit http://www.postcrescent.com/article/20140228/APC0301/302280310/?nclick_check=1.
Bob Mangold, a 68-year-old resident of Portsmouth, Maine, has been tap dancing his way through chemotherapy with the help of teacher Drika Overton, director at The Dance Hall in Kittery, reports Seacoast Online.
Mangold is raising his own spirits and showing many people a positive way to fight a disease that is working well for him. “I think people way underestimate attitude. It makes a huge difference,” he said. “This is pretty depressing stuff. You know, you say, ‘This is not what I wanted to be doing this year.’ ”
Mangold said he feels better when he’s dancing. He learned he has cancerous lesions in his colon in 2011 and a CT scan later found it had metastasized to his liver. It was not operable, his doctors told him, and he has been undergoing chemotherapy since.
“Tap dancing makes you think. The subtleties are unique. If you miss, it sounds terrible. If you get it, it sounds good,” he said with a laugh. “And it’s a very happy thing to do. Generally, everyone is smiling. And so am I.”
To see the original article, visit http://www.seacoastonline.com/articles/20140301-OPINION-403010308.
The Now & Next Dance Mentoring Project is a nonprofit organization that develops leaders in dance and movement education and illuminates the cultural relevance of dance through workshops, teacher training programs, support for the creation of new dance works, and online mentoring for college dance majors and minors, adolescent girls, and professional dance artists.
Each project includes a one-week, intensive program designed for students who demonstrate leadership and artistic potential. College dancers and recent graduates study somatics, contemporary dance technique, improvisation, and new works repertory each morning; teach dance classes and mentor middle-school girls each afternoon; and participate in professional development workshops with the professional dance artists in the evenings.
This summer, Now & Next Dance Mentoring programs will be offered at five locations: Appalachian State University (NC), Sam Houston State University (TX), College of Charleston (SC), Lindenwood University with Leverage Dance Theater (MO), and the University of Utah (UT).
This summer’s faculty will include Natosha Washington, Meghan Durham Wall, Ashley Thorndike-Youssef, Kristen Osborne, Adriana Durant, Ama Codjoe, Annie Arnoult Beserra, and Laurie Atkins.
A number of partial tuition scholarships are available, and students seeking scholarship support must apply by March 15 (www.nownextdance.org/apply) and indicate financial need. For more information, visit http://www.nownextdance.org/.
Whenever he gets a few minutes away from class or activities at Tonganoxie [KS] High School, you can usually find sophomore Paul Thompson dancing, reported FOX 4 during a Reaching 4 Excellence report.
He specifically loves to dance animation, a mix of hip-hop freestyle moves that he presents when performing in his dance crew, Krowd Control. Dance has helped Thompson deal with family struggles and challenges that confronted him when his parents split up, and has so thoroughly changed Thompson’s attitude and outlook that he has become a whole new student at Tonganoxie High. Once a kid in trouble from time to time, and not particularly motivated to do well academically, he’s now working hard to get good grades and to be a positive student leader.
Tonganoxie High School assistant principal Brent Smith spoke of Thompson’s strong new commitment, fueled by dance. “I don’t think it’s a stretch saying that dance might be something that has saved his life and that will continue to help him be successful,” said Smith.
“When I started dancing, I realized that I need to do something with my life,” said Thompson. “I need to change. I need to give me something that I can do in the future that will get me somewhere. So really, I started dancing so people would look at me different. Not as, ‘Oh, that kid that’s going nowhere in life.’ And really giving me something so people would see me as a leader and not just as another kid.”
To see the Fox 4 video report, visit http://fox4kc.com/2014/02/26/dance-is-a-big-motivator-for-young-achiever-paul-thompson/.
The first and only full-length biography of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was published in 1988. After receiving stellar reviews, it eventually fell out of print and became a prized find on eBay. That’s about to change. Mr. Bojangles: The Biography of Bill Robinson by Jim Haskins and N.R. Mitgang has just been re-released, reported PR Web.
With access to much primary source material—people who knew Bojangles, his scrapbooks and his personal papers—Haskins and Mitgang create a vivid portrait of the man behind the myth, from his birth in Richmond, Virginia, to his death and the star-studded funeral where he was eulogized by Adam Clayton Powell Jr., and Ed Sullivan.
They also address the myth that portrays Robinson as an Uncle Tom figure. As Mitgang notes, “Robinson was called the Mayor of Harlem. He fought for respect with every weapon he had—his charming smile, his humor, his dancing feet, his fists, and his gold-plated pearl-handled gun given to him by the New York City Police Department. During a time when too few African American voices shouted for justice, Bill Robinson’s whispers were heard by presidents, governors, kings, queens, and countless others.”
The paperback is available for $14.99 at http://www.amazon.com/Mr-Bojangles-Biography-Bill-Robinson/dp/0615909248 with a Kindle edition for $6.99.
To read more, visit http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/02/prweb11548760.htm.
Before Patrick Swayze hit the Catskill Mountains as Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing, he learned to dance right here in Houston. And it was the good fortune of Jennifer Wood, Heights resident and Suchu Dance founder and artistic director, to end up in the studio where the magic began.
According to the Leader, Wood owned and managed a large studio and theater but, seeking to simplify things, moved her nonprofit company into a space at Ella Plaza, 3480 Ella Boulevard. It was only when Wood and managing director Vipul Divecha were doing paperwork that they saw that Patsy Swayze’s Houston JazzBallet Company was registered to their address. “It was intriguing,” said Wood. “Then we read in Patrick Swayze’s biography that he would walk across the street to Ella Plaza to take dance classes after school.”
The definitive proof came from a choreographer who had danced with Patsy Swayze and from other former students who sent her pictures of the building. Suchu Dance was in the exact same spot as the Swayze School of Dance—a fantastic marketing tool.
While Suchu is gaining momentum in its new home—the company just finished its first show, Nothing, in February—it was slow going at first. The building, for which Wood signed a three-year lease in October, had been abandoned for some time and needed a lot of sweat equity. “The floor wasn’t level and the walls were very purple,” said Wood.
To read the full story, visit http://www.theleadernews.com/?p=16247.
The Peters Township [PA] School District is gauging student support for dance classes as a way to avoid “twerking” and other risqué moves at school dances, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The issue was first broached last week by school board member William Merrell, who chaperoned a February 8 dance at the high school dance where three students were cited for underage drinking and hundreds more left early after being admonished for “twerking” on the dance floor.
“I’m trying to provide an outlet for these kids to learn how to dance,” said Merrell, who has spoken with the owner of the local Arthur Murray Dance Studio about providing dance lessons to students. Students told Merrell they didn’t know how to dance and learned their moves from MTV.
Owner David Geidel said he can easily develop a dance curriculum that could serve as an elective course or as part of physical education requirements. And, the dance lessons don’t have to focus on ballroom-style dancing, he said. “People get to see a lot of [dancing] these days; it’s not your grandma’s ballroom dancing,” Geidel said. “There are very progressive dances like the salsa or club-style with modern dance. It’s very versatile and it’s a great skill to learn.”
The school board did not discuss during its meeting how the lessons would be paid for, though Merrell he envisions five-week classes with a student contribution of about $25. He is hoping to have the classes wrap up by early May, before the prom.
Stars of Tomorrow, a dance invitational for studios from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut held at Purchase College, will be holding two events this season due to increased interest from local studios.
Stars of Tomorrow, produced by Dancers Responding to AIDS as a benefit for that organization, has planned “evenings of dance” for March 2 and April 13 at The Concert Hall Performing Arts Center, 735 Anderson Hill Road, Purchase, New York. Last year, more than $47,000 was raised to assist men, women, and children across the country affected by HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses.
Twenty-six studios will be participating in this year’s event. Dancers perform and take master classes with world-renowned teachers. All participating schools commit to selling tickets based on the number of dances they perform.
Dancers Responding to AIDS, founded in 1991 by former Paul Taylor Dance Company members Denise Roberts Hurlin and Hernando Cortez, is a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, one of the nation’s leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations.
To see a list of participating studios, visit https://www.dradance.org/Stars_Of_Tomorrow.
DanceSational, a new competitive dance competition company based in Hammonton, New Jersey, will showcase dance groups from around the country in venues along the East Coast.
The Daily Journal said DanceSational will feature three competitive levels that will allow dancers to compete according to their level of expertise, a professional backstage crew and top-notch judges, 10 percent cash back to teachers, and giveaways to dancers, plus choreography and special judges awards.
The competition, co-founded by Paul Morris, owner/creative director of Paul Morris Dancexplosion, and Patrick Azzara, director of the Performing Arts Theatre of Hammonton, kicked off its inaugural season on February 15 in Fairfax, Virginia. Proceeds from that competition will benefit Reaching 4 Autism Miracles.
The remainder of the DanceSational 2014 schedule is as follows:
• March 22 in Voorhees
• April 19 in Manahawkin
• May 24 in Mays Landing
DanceSational offers discounts for dance groups and studios. For more information on how to register for competitions, call 609.704.1988 or visit www.DanceSational.com.
To see the original story, visit http://www.thedailyjournal.com/article/20140226/HAMMONTON03/302260018?nclick_check=1.
The dancer Jenifer Ringer, who retired this month from New York City Ballet, has been appointed head of the Colburn Dance Academy, a new division of the Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles, The Los Angeles Times has reported.
The New York Times ArtsBeat blog said the Colburn School, where music, dance, and drama are currently taught, is starting the new, more specialized program in the fall, in partnership with the L.A. Dance Project and its director, Benjamin Millepied. The program is for students between 14 and 19 who hope to become professional dancers, and admission will be through audition.
Millepied, who will take up his new role as director of the Paris Opera Ballet in the fall, will serve as an artistic adviser to the program. James Fayette, also a former City Ballet principal and Ringer’s husband, will be the associate director of the Colburn Dance Academy in addition to his current job as managing director of the L.A. Dance Project.
“L.A. Dance Project’s presence is really being felt in L.A. now,” Millepied wrote in an email. “We are building a new audience, we are bringing art, dance, and music to an exciting community. And we are now creating a school to nurture and encourage the next generation of artists.”
To see the original article, visit http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/25/former-city-ballet-dancer-to-lead-academy-in-los-angeles/?_php=true&_type=blogs&module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog%20Main&contentCollection=Arts&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs®ion=Body&_r=0.
Live Love Dance of Broomfield, Colorado will hold a dance-a-thon to benefit the Andréa Rizzo Foundation’s nationwide fundraising effort, Dance Across America, on March 8 from 1 to 6pm at the studio, 290 Nickel Street, Unit 300.
The dance-a-thon is not open to the public. However, the public is invited to a short performance that will take place at 6pm at the event’s conclusion.
Live Love Dance owner and director Valerie Gunnels will oversee approximately 40 dancers ages 3 to 16 as they take classes throughout the day in musical theatre, hip-hop, jazz, poms, creative dance, and body awareness exercises. The event includes classes taught by Naropa student Mary Martin, who will be graduating in May with her master’s in dance movement therapy.
Local businesses including Jump City, Madcap Theater, ABC Kids Climbing, and The Original New York Pizza have made donations to the studio, which will be used as prizes for the dancers that raise the most money.
The Andréa Rizzo Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing dance therapy to children with cancer and special needs at public schools and pediatric hospitals across the country. For more information on The Andréa Rizzo Foundation, visit www.DreasDream.org.
The Dance Council of North Texas and the Town of Addison will celebrate dance styles from contemporary ballet to traditional Aztec dance to Russian folk dance during a free Mother’s Day event to be held May 11 from 2 to 4pm at the Addison Theatre Center, 15650 Addison Road.
This year’s Taste Dance Addison Style interactive performance schedule includes:
• Mitotiliztli Yaoyollohtli: Aztec Dance Company
• Hathaway Academy of Ballet: The Project Contemporary Dance Ensemble
• Marina Almayeva School of Classical Ballet: Russian Folk Dance
• Booker T. Washington HS of the Performing and Visual Arts’ Rep II Dance Company
Presenting groups will also give instruction in their style. Visit www.thedancecouncil.org for more information.
The American Dance Festival (ADF) will present the 2014 Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for lifetime achievement to choreographer and director Angelin Preljocaj.
Preljocaj is one of France’s preeminent choreographers, known for work that is daring, intensely physical, and complex. Established in 1981 by Samuel H. Scripps, the annual award honors choreographers who have dedicated their lives and talent to the creation of modern dance.
The Scripps/ADF Award presentation will take place on July 11 at 8pm, prior to Ballet Preljocaj’s performance at the Durham [NC] Performing Arts Center.
“Mr. Preljocaj creates visually arresting, beautifully physical work that never fails to amaze. We are pleased to honor his significant contributions to the dance world this summer at ADF,” said ADF director Jodee Nimerichter.
Preljocaj began his career in classical ballet before turning to contemporary dance. In 1980 he studied in New York with Zena Rommett and Merce Cunningham, after which he returned to France, joining the Quentin Rouillier Company in Caen. Preljocaj formed his own company in December 1984 in Champigny-sur-Marne and since that time has produced 47 choreographic works.
His productions have been restaged by numerous repertory companies, many of which also commission works, including the Saatsoper of Berlin, The New York City Ballet, and the Paris Opera Ballet. For more information, visit www.americandancefestival.org.
For seven years, the Dancing in the Street festival in Grand Center, St. Louis, not only opened the entertainment district’s fall season, but also served as a showcase for local companies. The family-friendly outdoor setting was invaluable in introducing dance to new audiences while raising the profiles of the companies onstage.
But Grand Center recently announced that the festival will not be returning for an eighth edition a decision that the dance community views as a step backward, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“Dancing in the Street was a great opportunity for a variety of dance groups of all levels to come together and bring awareness of dance to the people of St. Louis,” said Stacy West, executive and artistic director of MADCO, the resident dance company at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “I think it will be missed by many people.”
Last year’s festival featured more than 60 local and regional dance companies on three stages.
In a recent interview with the Post-Dispatch, Vincent C. Schoemehl Jr., president and chief executive of Grand Center Inc., cited inadequate funding and difficulties in booking big-name headliners as reasons for bringing Dancing in the Street to an end.
But Grand Center said in a statement released in January that the district was “willing to provide logistical support to a dance organization interested in assuming sponsorship of the event and would love to see the event continue in the district.”
The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance announced last week that it has received a $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that will allow it to build on, digitize, and organize its archive of materials on Graham dances.
The New York Times ArtsBeat blog said the grant will allow the center to create what it calls “toolkits” that can be used to help mount individual Graham dances—which can include videos of generations of Graham dancers in rehearsal and performance; stage drawings; musical recordings and scores; Graham’s choreographic notes; drawings and photographs of sets; costume sketches, reviews, and other materials. The kits will incorporate the center’s recently restored and digitized films and videos, and some materials that had to be restored after they were damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Over the next two years the center will create 35 new toolkits, which can be used by the Martha Graham Dance Company when it revives a work, as well as by other companies and schools that license them. They will also be made available to scholars, critics, and artists interested in Martha Graham, the modern dance pioneer who created 181 dances.
A toolkit of Graham’s modern dance classic Appalachian Spring takes up three 3-inch binders in its hard copy, said LaRue Allen, the company’s executive director. She said that the next set of toolkits would be about 34 dances, and the Martha Graham technique.
“They are the critical ballets,’’ she said. “The ballets that we have information on, and that are important for the company, and that critics and scholars are often interested in.”
To see the original story, visit http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/20/graham-center-gets-1-million-for-dance-archive/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0.
Jersey Moves! Festival of Dance will feature New Jersey’s top dance companies, as well as emerging dance troupes from around the state, during two nights of dance at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark.
This will mark the third year for the festival, reported Broadway World. Nine dance companies featuring styles from Irish to modern, ballet to tap, will be presented in two installments.
The opening night’s program, March 8, will feature world premieres and other pieces from Randy James’ all-male dance company, 10 Hairy Legs, as well as from The Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company. Prior to the 8pm curtain, ticket holders are welcome to attend a free workshop where 10 Hairy Legs company members and guest musicians will demonstrate the nuances of the relationship of live music to dance.
The second part, May 3, will feature performances by American Repertory Ballet, Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, Cleo Mack Dance Project, tap dancer Maurice Chestnut, dancer Timothy Kochka, and dance artist Claire Porter.
Tickets are $24 to $39. For more information, visit http://www.njpac.org/events/detail/jersey-moves-festival-of-dance-1.
To see the original story, visit http://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwdance/article/NJPAC-to-Present-JERSEY-MOVES-Festival-of-Dance-38-20140220#xhAd8RUr8q0Ie1OE.99http://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwdance/article/NJPAC-to-Present-JERSEY-MOVES-Festival-of-Dance-38-20140220#.UwdnuM-YaUk.
Dancer and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater artistic director emerita, Judith Jamison, will be the visiting guest lecturer at Lesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on March 5.
“A Conversation with Judith Jamison” will run from 7 to 9pm in the Washburn Auditorium on Lesley’s Brattle Campus, 10 Philips Place, Cambridge.
“Judith Jamison’s dancing is the pure embodiment of life in all of the dimensions of the human experience,” Dr. Nancy Beardall, coordinator of Lesley University’s Dance/Movement Therapy program, says. “Her dedication and passion will inspire our Lesley community to celebrate and affirm the revitalizing nature and power of dance and the arts.”
A native of Philadelphia trained in classical ballet, Jamison studied with Marion Cuyjet, was discovered by Agnes de Mille, and made her New York debut with American Ballet Theatre in 1964. She became a member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1965 and danced with the company for 15 years to great acclaim.
The event, sponsored by the Lesley University Strauch-Mosse Visiting Artist Lecture Series, is free and open to the public; however, seating is limited and registration is required at www.lesley.edu/alvin-ailey.
The Bill Evans Dance Company will hold a concert to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary on April 13 at 4 and 7pm at Hochstein Performance Hall, 50 Plymouth Avenue North, Rochester, New York.
The Bill Evans Dance Company, founded by master educator and Dance Studio Life columnist Bill Evans, gave its first performances at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC in the summer of 1975. The company has appeared in all 50 states, throughout Canada and Mexico, and in 20 other countries. For the past two years, BEDCO has performed at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.
Company members now include Falon Baltzell, Kathy Diehl, William Evans, Don Halquist, Leanne Rinelli, Adrian Safar, and Vanessa Van Wormer. Guest artists joining them for the anniversary concert include Mariah Maloney, Corina Ferro, Hilary Denison, Jen Dayton, Morgan Hassan, Natlie Swan, Haley Zdebski, as well as FuturPointe Dance members N’Jelle Gage, Guy Thorne, Heather Roffe, Melinda Phillips, Liam J. Knighten, and Kathryn Bowering.
To purchase tickets, visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/584347. Tickets will also be available at the door.
The National Museum of Dance’s third annual Black History Month Celebration welcomes members of the Saratoga Springs, New York, community as they honor their ancestors and their heritage.
The event, set for February 23 from 2 to 5pm, is part of the museum’s mission “to continue to acknowledge the struggle to achieve human rights, equality, and dignity through the works of literature, music, dance, and the visual arts. This program is part of the journey and grows out of the need to preserve and celebrate life and culture.”
Professional artist and photographer Clifford Oliver Mealy will re-enact the story of Solomon Northup of Saratoga Springs, a free man who was kidnapped in 1841, sold into slavery, and held captive for 12 years, and whose story is told in the Academy Award-nominated Best Picture 12 Years a Slave.
Other groups participating in the event include the Figures in Flight Released Dance Company from New York City; Johnnie Roberts, program coordinator at Saratoga Springs Heritage Area Visitor Center; and the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church Choir.
Admission to this event is free. The National Museum of Dance is located at 99 South Broadway in Saratoga Springs, New York. For more information, visit www.dancemuseum.org.
Choreography videos for the third annual National Dance Week Flash Mob are now available online.
Groups are encouraged to participate in National Dance Week, April 25 to May 4, by learning either the choreography provided by NDW or a dance routine of their own creation, to perform the routine in a public location, and post a video of the performance on the NDW website.
Choreography includes an intermediate-level, funky routine by master teacher Gregg Russell, along with a routine for beginners taught by Christy Lane. Visitors to the NDW website can find information on a poster and essay contest, along with details for purchasing NDW Flash Mob T-shirts.
For the Gregg Russell video, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFOPMbzEuNo&feature=youtu.be. For the Christy Lane video, visit http://www.nationaldanceweek.org/flash-mob/2014/.
Advice for dance teachers
What would you do about a student’s monthly tuition if she was injured (in athletics, not dance, and it required surgery) and out for a couple of months to recover? She is part of a team and her mom wants me to hold her place in the choreography. I’m on the fence about this since she cannot dance; the problem is that she was supposed to be in eight dances, and all of the teachers will need to remember to factor her in. I’m not opposed to waiving her tuition while she is out, but I want to make sure I don’t start something that snowballs with all the other “ouchies” in the studio. Thanks for your help! —Shelly
This is an opportunity for this child, her mom, and the rest of your dancers to learn more than movement. It’s where you teach respect, dedication, teamwork, and more. When young dancers and their parents are truly committed, an injury doesn’t prevent them from going to the studio. I believe injured students should observe all the classes they can’t physically take, and it is imperative that they attend all choreography rehearsals. Injury does not prevent a dancer from using his/her brain; observation can be as educational as taking a class.
As for the choreography, the dancer must know that it is her obligation to be prepared to step back into the piece as soon as she is ready. And she should be able to do this without the choreographer having to spend hours re-teaching the movement. Learning her part while injured is an example of having respect for her classmates and her teachers.
In this case, no refund is applicable. It is the dancer’s and parent’s choice whether to take advantage of the opportunity to be part of what they are paying for. Good luck! —Rhee
You helped me through a very bad time years ago when two of my students who grew up in my school took almost my entire dance troupe and opened a school down the street. I was heartbroken. Now once again I am getting calls from people dropping out right and left. I have tried having a meeting and no one will share what is going on. But we now have only six kids left in one troupe and eight in another. If we keep this number of students, we will lose money paying a teacher, but if we get rid of the dance troupes altogether, then we will lose the students who want to compete. What do we do? —Cathy
I am sorry you are dealing with this situation, but in all honesty I find it hard to understand why your instinct isn’t helping you figure out why these dancers are leaving. How was the previous season? Did the dancers and their parents have any issues? Were you on top of your game when it came to customer service, organization, faculty, choreography, and so on? There must be something you know in your gut that would explain this exodus.
I would like you to think about this: if these departing students or their parents are not offering you any clues about why they made the decisions they did, or if they are not giving you what I might call the typical reasons (“My daughter has decided to do another activity,” or “My child doesn’t have the time to commit,” etc.), then my guess is there is something wrong and they believe you should know what it is. Apparently they are uncomfortable being truthful with you. Work harder to get honest feedback, and if you get it, don’t take offense; instead think about what you could do to avoid doing whatever it is in the future.
With the two groups of students who remain, give them and their parents the best dance year possible, both educationally and in terms of customer service. Though I know situations like this are hard, you’ve been through something similar and you survived quite well. Make it your goal to figure out the reality of the situation, and then get to work making yourself better by learning from of all of these lessons you’re experiencing. —Rhee
I have been teaching for two decades at the same school. I feel like I am at home, and everyone there is an important part of my extended family. The owner and I have had a wonderful working and personal relationship, but it has been more than 10 years since she has offered me a raise. Almost 10 years had passed before I received the only raise I have ever gotten. That happened because I was getting married and I told my boss that I had to cut back my teaching hours in order to get a real job so that my new husband and I could afford our mortgage. She was very generous at that time, increasing my hourly wage from $12 to $22. I appreciated it very much, but the school and the number of students that I teach has doubled since then. Not more classes, but more students in the classes.
My dance family means so much to me and I don’t want to lose it or my relationship with my boss, but my own family thinks that I am being taken advantage of. We are struggling financially. How do I ask for a raise, and if I do will I lose the career I love? I am so scared and I don’t know what to do. Thanks. —Valerie
You should be commended for your appreciation for your dance family and your loyalty to your boss. I would love to have you as an employee. You need to speak up just like you did 10 years ago. If your boss is your “family,” and your relationship is strong, she can’t take offense at your asking for a raise. And if she does, then you must realize that the relationship may not be the same for her as it is for you.
A hint: this time when you speak to her, you should also ask her to agree to discuss wages on an every-other-year basis. You need to establish some sort of boundaries in the relationship. She may know how much your dance family means to you, so it’s possible she doesn’t bring up money because she’s confident that you would never quit. I am not saying it’s right, but it might be how it is in your situation. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
Note to our readers: In this column you often read my responses to studio owners who say their former students or employees open a competing school nearby. Often, when teachers leave, they take their students along with them, and the war begins. Sometimes the circumstances that create the problem in the first place are similar to Valerie’s. She wants to be loyal, and she wants to be part of the “family,” but she can no longer deal with the financial price of her loyalty to her boss.
Getting young dancers to understand popping is a big challenge. Here is a way to get the movement into their bodies.
Start with a wrist pop. The heel of the hand makes a sharp downward pressing hit on the beat. Keep the arms straight and bend the wrists with the fingers going up. Mimic the revving of a motorcycle and, for fun, let the dancers make a “vroom vroom” sound.
Next, have them keep the hands relaxed instead of in fists. Get them to focus on popping only the wrist, not the whole arm, making the pop sharp and quick.
Popping looks most impressive when multiple body parts are used. Leg pops can be difficult to learn, but they make upper-body pops look more impressive.
Start by leaning side to side on the beat. When leaning left, push the right knee back as if hyperextending it, then reverse. Do it gently until comfortable, then snap the opposite knee back on the lean. Add wrist pops and eventually neck and chest pops to create a full-body pop.
Teachers ask if they should mix styles of technique (Graham, Limón, Cunningham, etc.). Of course, but students do need a grounding in the base modern-dance style you have evolved (which has most likely drawn from several sources). If you teach your “home” style through concepts and principles—rather than only steps or exercises—those same core ideas can serve as inroads to different styles. You can investigate movement patterns in a new style or technique on your own until you feel ready to share them, or you can say, “This interests me. Please help me explore it,” and let your students participate in how to unpack it and integrate it with your other work.
We empower our students when we cite our sources. If we let them know the name of the teacher/artist from whom we learned a movement phrase or concept, and something about that person, we can teach them history as well as technique. If we don’t give them a context for new material, students are less likely to integrate it into the larger picture of the work they are learning.
Many trick steps stem from a basic tap step learned early in a student’s training. One reason students should master the basics is that they can learn harder variations or trick steps quicker. As teachers, it is our responsibility to show students the connection between basic steps and more advanced trick steps. Often, I see students stress out when they see a trick step in choreography, but once I show them the basic step it is based on, they calm down and achieve their goal faster.
For example, take a simple paradiddle (scuff the heel front, brush back the toe, step, heel drop). Next, have the students add an extra heel dig after the scuff heel, then a toe stand dig, before the step, heel drop. If they struggle with basic paradiddles (not separating sounds or keeping their weight in the middle), then this step will be extremely difficult for them. What makes this a trick step? It is done all on one foot, with the other lifted off the ground!
Here’s an observation that’s been getting a lot of press lately: providing people with information doesn’t make them change their behavior. It’s easy to think of examples of this: we all know smoking cigarettes can cause lung cancer, yet many of us won’t quit; a sign says dogs must be on leash, but people let their pups run free. In the world of dance education, a common rule, or piece of information, is that students can’t miss rehearsals and still be on the competition team or in the recital.
But when that rule is put to the test, often it fails. There are good reasons, it’s thought: the girl who’s going to miss the dress rehearsal has a key role that would require rechoreographing the piece if she weren’t in it; the only tall boy’s absence would mean that a lovely dancer who works so hard would be denied her chance to dance a pas de deux. In such cases, when the rule is bent or broken, it becomes merely information, and as such it doesn’t change behavior. The information, despite its logic, is for others, not those who ignore it.
Enter Matt Labrum, a high school football coach in Utah. He was frustrated by his players’ behavior—skipping classes, getting poor grades—and distressed by allegations of cyber-bullying. What did he do, lecture them? Post new rules in the locker room? Threaten, “If this happens again . . .”? No. He suspended the boys, every last one of them, one week before the big homecoming game. The season was over, he said, unless their behavior changed.
Labrum laid out a list of requirements each player would have to fulfill before he could play again. The details don’t matter. What does matter is that Labrum did the one thing that affects behavior—he changed the norm.
What does that mean? It means that if a situation doesn’t result in the behaviors we desire, we have to change the situation. I’m not suggesting that you cancel a performance if one dancer misses a rehearsal. But what a message that would send. —Cheryl A. Ossola, Editor in Chief
Real Life, Not Reel Life
There they were again, those oft-seen, iconic images: the ballerina sewing ribbons, naked toes swathed in Band-Aids and gauze, a smile on her lips. An upcoming New York City Ballet AOL On web series was promoted as a “behind the scenes docudrama,” but is a chat about the one-ballet shelf life of pointe shoes the “docu” or the “drama”? Thanks for the bourrées in slow motion, guys. I’ll pass.
This reminded me of a recent family dinner when I shocked my non-dancing relatives by announcing I didn’t always watch So You Think You Can Dance. “I thought you’d be glued,” one sputtered. “Why not?”
Truthfully, I couldn’t say. Last winter I braved ice-cold hours in line so I could sit in the back row of a Boston theater while the good, the bad, and the ridiculous strutted their stuff before Nigel, Mary, and Adam. I could have sat there until daffodils bloomed on the Common, yet when that audition episode aired I turned it off before it was over.
I adore dance. I think about dance for 40 hours a week, and spend another 20 choreographing, teaching, taking class, or talking about dance. I’m 51 and have dance posters on my walls. I know funny anecdotes about Jerome Robbins. I own tights. But the other day my “must-dance-till-my-feet-bleed” daughter and I admitted that we can’t stand Breaking Pointe. The world stopped for a teeny-weeny second.
I enjoyed Bunheads, but I think I was mind-numbed into submission by the rapid-fire dialogue. Cancellation was like a hypnotist snapping his fingers. Poof! Haven’t thought of it since.
If I could remember which night it aired I would watch Dancing With the Stars. That show has a hokey charm, like those rec kids who make you smile as they blissfully ignore rhythm, technique, and your carefully taught choreography.
(And don’t forget the dance-show-that-must-not-be-named.)
I guess I don’t watch TV dance shows for the same reasons I don’t watch TV cooking shows. Where’s the fun when there’s a flat screen between you and the blue-ribbon four-layer chocolate cheesecake? Somebody get me to a studio, fast. —Karen White, Associate Editor
DSL Cover Photographer Honored With Exhibit
Last month’s Dance Studio Life readers were treated to a stunning cover shot of a Cirque de la Symphonie performer, soaring high alongside a billowing red sail of fabric—only one of the many times DSL has featured the work of Atlanta-based dance photographer Richard Calmes.
Visitors to the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, New York, will be introduced to Calmes’ artistic vision beginning next April when the exhibit “Dance Magic: The Photography of Richard Calmes,” opens for a yearlong run.
Calmes first took up a camera as a combat photographer in Vietnam in 1968, he told Gramilano. He subsequently worked as an architect, sporting-goods franchise manager, and software company division president, dabbling infrequently in photography. He didn’t even snap a single shot of his daughter during all her years studying ballet. Then, in 2005, his wife was assisting with the marketing of a local ballet company and asked him to take some photos of dancers for a brochure. Calmes’ “retirement project”—photography—was born.
Since then, he’s photographed students and professionals around the world, published two books on dance photography, and seen his images published in the New York Times, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and other publications.
Researchers Spin New Idea on Spotting
Feeling dizzy after class? It’s mostly likely students’ questions that have set your head spinning, not the pirouettes you just ripped off.
Scientists have found that years of training can enable ballet dancers to suppress signals from the balance organs in the inner ear, which may help them avoid feeling dizzy when they perform pirouettes. Medical Xpress, reporting on findings published in the medical journal Cerebral Cortex, said researchers put a few dozen ballet dancers and rowers in a darkened room, spun them around in chairs, and studied their eye reflexes. Both the eye reflexes and the perception of spinning lasted a shorter time for the dancers than the rowers.
The findings—which scientifically prove there is more to dizziness-free turns than merely spotting—could help to improve treatments for patients suffering from chronic dizziness.
Abraham, Ratmansky, Win MacArthur Fellowships
It’s not often artists are given ample funds to “go and create,” with no expectations of repayment or even achievement. But that’s exactly what MacArthur Foundation fellowships do—they give awards of $625,000, paid out over five years with no strings attached, to artists, scientists, doers, and thinkers who “show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future,” according to the Foundation’s website.
This fall, awards were granted to two choreographers from opposite ends of the dance spectrum. Kyle Abraham of Abraham.in.Motion melds hip-hop and urban dance with modern technique into a “postmodern gumbo,” drawing on inspirations from W.E.B. Du Bois to Boyz in the Hood, as well as his own childhood in gritty Pittsburgh, to create dance works of emotional depth and social commentary. The award, he said in a video, will allow him to “make art—which is what I wanted to spend my life doing.”
Alexei Ratmansky, American Ballet Theatre’s artist in residence, along with creating original classically based works, reworks classical ballets such as Cinderella and Firebird to fit ballet dancers and audiences of today. “I’m overwhelmed with gratitude,” Ratmansky said of the fellowship. “At the same time, I am pleased and proud that the work that I do—staging new classical ballets—is appreciated on such a level.”
Many movies tell of a grim future world. Our computers will someday outthink us, they say, but will never share our humanity. But SID, a short film conceived and now being directed by Ben Estabrook, an accomplished San Francisco–area screendance filmmaker, asks: what if robots could be made to feel, to create art, to dance?
Long a science fiction fan, Estabrook told Dance Studio Life he is also captivated by the way dance on film can convey emotion and tell a story without dialogue. “It’s a pure form of cinema, just images and sound,” he says.
An episode of TV’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles that took place in a ballet studio got him thinking: “What would happen if a robot got a creative impulse?” SID considers a future world stripped of all gratuitous activities, such as the arts. An android is inspired by the soulful movements of a rogue ballet dancer, but finds her own steps cut short by a human mob angered that a machine could make art.
Estabrook enticed San Francisco Ballet dancers Sarah Van Patten and Carlos Quenedit, along with SFB’s choreographer in residence Yuri Possokhov, to sign on for the film—his University of Utah screendance certificate thesis project. “I think ballet fans will find nuggets in there they appreciate,” he says. “Ballet can be criticized by those not familiar with it, and because of the emphasis on technique and precision and uniformity, think the dancers might as well be machines. But for me, there is an incredible amount of room for expression within the rigid technique.
“There is a moment in the film when the android goes through this transformation: her performing is not about technique, but about expressing herself though the dance,” he says. “That’s where it becomes an art, and where it becomes interesting.” Visit: sidthefilm.com.
Words from the publisher
Recently on Facebook, someone with a college degree referred to me as a high school dropout. They claimed to be “outing me” and insinuated that I should not be allowed to run my seminars because of my lack of formal education.
This person was, in fact, right that I don’t have a high school diploma. After my junior year (and enduring bullying nearly every day of high school), I decided dance was my thing. I was ready to live in a world where being a guy who danced was OK and where dance could be my priority.
Today, I preach the importance of continuing education. However, I’m not ashamed of the education I’ve had. It might not be conventional, but it’s extensive and varied.
At 15, I taught dance classes at a low-income housing project, where I learned one of my core beliefs: that dance is a gift every child (and adult) needs to experience.
At 16, I began teaching master classes for dance organizations, conventions, and conferences around the country. Today, at 52, I don’t teach movement classes anymore, but I travel the world doing speaking gigs and dance-teacher seminars. The education I’ve gotten from the thousands of teachers and dancers I work with is priceless.
At 17, I launched American Dance Awards, which became one of the largest and most respected competitions in the world. That was 24 years of education, education, and more education.
At 21, I opened Dance Theatre of Boston with my brother Rennie. After three years and many nights sleeping at the studio because we couldn’t afford to get our car out of the parking garage, that school boomed. Talk about an education!
At 24, I was elected president of Dance Masters of New England. I had no idea what I was doing, but the chapter had started to thrive by the time I handed the gavel to the next president. I learned how to be a good leader.
At 25, I was elected to the board of Dance Masters of America. Again, I was in deep, but I learned so much that I was elected as DMA’s national president—its youngest ever.
At 27, I started writing for Dancer and Dance Magazine. Each time an editor sent my work back to me, I studied it. I was learning how to edit myself, and that made me a better writer. I still appreciate having an editor because there is more to learn.
At 30, I apparently had enough education for the publisher and editors of Dance Magazine because I began writing an education column for them. I gained confidence and continued to learn about writing.
At 33, I took on my mom’s dance school after she died. For two years I worked 15 to 18 hours a day teaching classes, running two businesses, and bringing the school back to financial stability. This was one of my most “educational” experiences to date.
At 36, I launched Project Motivate, a business and motivational seminar, with Gloria Jean Cuming. Instinct told me to take this track. The first seminar had 20 attendees and the next year had fewer, but I learned how to make it work. Last August, the DanceLife Teacher Conference (formerly Project Motivate), with more than 30 faculty members, attracted 750 dance teachers and school owners. I learned how to run an organized, honest, and successful event that has never stopped growing.
At 41, I sold American Dance Awards and launched Dance Studio Life. Again, I went with my instinct. Today Dance Studio Life is the largest single magazine in the dance field. And what an education becoming a publisher has been.
At 49, I built my dream, the DanceLife Retreat Center. If I tried to explain everything I learned during this adventure, I would need 20 pages.
For me, my education has been, and continues to be, living my dream. I am not ashamed of that. By the way, college professors come to my conferences and seminars, and they are learning from me. Imagine that!
I love education and I will continue to learn every day. And I will always be thankful for the opportunity.
Pacific Northwest Ballet School will hold a Teachers’ Seminar April 9 to 12 featuring presentations in dance training, philosophies, and practical practices, along with tickets to PNB’s production of George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Participants experience an insider’s view of PNBS’ programs for students ages 2 to professional as they exchange ideas and make new connections within the dance education field. The program will be held at PNB’s dance training facility, the Phelps Center, Seattle.
Topics include: Engaging Young Dancers (ages 4 to 7); Costuming on a Limited Budget; Fostering Emerging Choreographic Talent; Marketing Strategies for Ballet Schools; Injury Screening and Prevention; How to Get Boys to Your School and How to Keep Them; and others.
Cost for the full four-day seminar is $700, with individual days priced at $200.
More information, visit http://www.pnb.org/Community/Teacher/
To register, visit http://www.pnb.org/Community/Teacher/2014RegistrationForm.pdf.
The Vancouver International Dance Festival (VIDF) will feature a globe-spanning roster of artists and creators who will take to the city’s stages from March 7 to 29.
This vibrant festival features a diverse array of international icons, including China’s Guangdong Modern Dance Company and Spain’s flamenco innovator Israel Galván, coupled with local favorites Dancers Dancing, the 605 Collective, among many others.
“VIDF exists to celebrate and explore dance in its enriching and endlessly fascinating incarnations,” says artistic director Barbara Bourget. “This season’s programming realizes this purpose in the most brilliant manner—perhaps more so than any other season—by drawing master practitioners who represent a vast range of geographic place and distinguished artistic form.”
A standout early event features Guangdong Modern Dance Company, China’s first professional modern dance company, appearing with Vancouver’s award-winning Goh Ballet in “Select Works/Mustard Seed” at the Vancouver Playhouse on March 7 and 8 at 8pm.
The Vail International Dance Festival’s 2014 edition will be held July 27 through August 9, marking its 26th season with world premieres, debuts, and collaborations, according to the Vail Daily.
Under the direction of former New York City Ballet standout Damian Woetzel, the festival has established itself as one of the premiere dance events in the world. This year, the festival announces Argentina’s Herman Cornejo as artist in residence and Pennsylvania Ballet and BalletX as companies in residence.
The festival also welcomes back ballerina Wendy Whelan in the Vail debut of her new project, Restless Creature, along with New York City Ballet’s Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild, Carla Körbes from Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Martha Graham Dance Company, tango artists Gabriel Missé and Analia Centurión, and the Memphis dancer Lil’ Buck.
“The Vail International Dance Festival is more and more about collaboration—combining contrasting styles of dance or dancers who have never worked together before,” Woetzel said. “These explorations are what make the festival a unique experience for the dancers and the audience. Pushing the limits and experimenting with what is possible has really become the goal.”
Performances take place at Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail and the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek. Fan Club presale tickets are available March 19 to 21; public sale begins March 25 and “Dance for $20.14” tickets go on sale in June. A full schedule of performances and other festival events are available at www.vaildance.org.
To see the original story, visit http://www.vaildaily.com/news/10168013-113/dance-ballet-aug-festival.