A California couple’s plans to replace their longtime studio garage space with a larger stand-alone facility cost three years and an unexpected additional $250,000, but on November 1, The Dance Gallery 2 owners will celebrate a grand opening at their new Roseville studio.
“The idea was to move the studio so Doug and I would have a house proper,” Lucy McLemore told the Sacramento Bee. Over their 23 years of operation, Lucy McLemore would find dance instructors sharing a meal and the sofa with her husband as he watched television in the living room. And people would sometimes open their front door—which leads to the kitchen—as if it were a traditional business entrance.
The couple began the project in 2011, with the understanding from the county that as an existing business, they wouldn’t be subject to new zoning rules. But they soon discovered otherwise. The McLemores found themselves stymied by local, state, and federal rules that demanded they fund and build a turn lane, secure a zoning waiver, and improve the water and plumbing system.
The new facility has been more or less complete for three years, but went unused while the couple jumped though one hoop and then the next. The new facility’s original price tag of $235,000 was eclipsed by unexpected, new charges—the turn lane alone cost an additional $200,000.
Despite the obstacles, loss time, and extra cost, the McLemores have no ill will toward the county. “The county has been real good at helping us achieve our goal,” Lucy McLemore said. “We never really had any opposition. My take is nobody knew what to do with us.”
To see the original story, visit http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article3216807.html.
On Monday night, two titans in the field were honored at the annual Bessie Awards ceremony: Arthur Mitchell, the founder of Dance Theater of Harlem, with a lifetime achievement award; and Chuck Davis, the founder of DanceAfrica, for service to the field of dance.
The New York Times ArtsBeat blog reports that Stuart Singer and Linda Celeste Sims were anointed outstanding performers, he for his dancing in John Jasperse’s Within Between, she for her work with a much larger enterprise, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Hosted by actress and playwright Lisa Kron, the ceremony featured remarks from New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, and performances by Jennifer Miller and Circus Amok, Megan Williams (in Mark Morris’s “Bijoux,” a 1984 Bessie winner), Michelle Dorrance, Urban Bush Women, and, more informally, Mr. Davis, who danced at the center of an onstage drum circle.
The awards for outstanding production—presented by, among others, Wendy Whelan, just 48 hours after her last dance at City Ballet—went to Okwui Okpokwasili’s Bronx Gothic, Akram Khan’s Desh, Mr. Jasperse’s Within Between and Camille A. Brown’s Mr. TOL E. RAncE. The other outstanding performer awards went to Aakash Odedra of James Brown: Get on the Good Foot and Rebecca Serrell Cyr for her performance in Donna Uchizono’s Fire Underground. The duo Brennan Gerard and Ryan Kelly received the juried Bessie—an award decided by a jury committee that this year comprised Tere O’Connor, Annie-B Parson, and Eduardo Vilaro.
The previously announced winners in the emerging choreographer category, Jen Rosenblit and Jessica Lang, were also honored.
To see the original story, visit http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/21/bessie-awards-honor-a-wide-world-of-dance/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0.
Flags of green, white and orange will wave in the wind at Villanova University on Saturday, November 1 during the Intercollegiate Irish Dance Festival, according to the [Montgomery County, PA] Times Herald.
Beginning at 9am in Villanova’s Jake Nevin Fieldhouse, Irish dancers from across the region will compete to win a slot in the Grand Irish Show, which begins at 6pm.
Dance teams from Penn State University, George Mason University, Temple University, Catholic University of America, Johns Hopkins University, University of Rochester, DeSales University, and Villanova University will be featured during the festival.
McDade School of Irish Dance, Divine Providence Rainbow Dancers, Coyle School of Irish Dance, and The Villanova Haveners will also appear.
Tickets for Villanova students with Wildcard, preorders at www.villanovatix.com, and children are $5. Adult tickets are $10.
To see the original story, visit http://www.timesherald.com/general-news/20141019/villanova-university-to-host-intercollegiate-irish-dance-festival-nov-1.
One of the great ballet pairings of recent years—David Hallberg and Natalia Osipova—will be reunited in New York City this spring during American Ballet Theatre’s season at the Metropolitan Opera House, reports the New York Times ArtsBeat.
Mr. Hallberg, a principal dancer at ABT and the Bolshoi, and Ms. Osipova, now a principal dancer with The Royal Ballet in London, have caused sensations dancing together in earlier seasons. They are scheduled to appear together in performances of La Bayadère, Romeo and Juliet, and Alexei Ratmansky’s new production of The Sleeping Beauty.
The company announced that it has lined up a number of prominent guests for the season, which celebrates its 75th anniversary, including Evgenia Obraztsova, a principal dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet; Olga Smirnova, a leading soloist with the Bolshoi; and Maria Kochetkova, a principal with San Francisco Ballet.
Misty Copeland, an ABT soloist with a rising public profile, is scheduled to dance the dual role of Odette and Odile in Swan Lake for the first time in New York and to dance her first Romeo and Juliet.
And three of the company’s principal dancers—Paloma Herrera, Julie Kent, and Xiomara Reyes—will be giving their final performances before retiring.
To see the original story, visit http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/16/hallberg-and-osipova-to-dance-together-in-american-ballet-theaters-spring-season/?ref=dance.
Proposals are now being accepted for the Second International Conference on Somatics-Based Dance Education, to be directed by Bill Evans and Cynthia Williams, July 15 to 19, 2015, at the Palladino School of Dance, Dean College, Franklin, Massachusetts.
The conference will feature a rich exchange of ideas and practices that celebrate embodied learning through diverse modalities and approaches. Dance artists and educators who have developed somatics-based approaches to dance and movement education and creative work are invited to submit applications by December 10.
Proposals can consider hour-long lectures, round-tables, or movement sessions on research, pedagogy, and creative practices, including collaborative presentations by two or more artists/educators.
To submit a proposal, send an email to Williams@hws.edu with the following information: title of proposed presentation; format (lecture, movement-based); 250-word abstract describing focus and content; your name, institutional affiliation if appropriate, address, contact email, and telephone number(s).
The conference will include both informal and formal concerts. Submissions of proposed performances will also be accepted, and should include links to DVDs of dance works evolving from somatics-based processes; the work’s title; a 100-word description of somatics process through which the work evolved; and your name, institutional affiliation if appropriate, address, contact email and telephone number(s).
For more information, visit http://www.dean.edu/Bill_Evans_Intensives.aspx.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is marking this year’s 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act with Matthew Rushing’s ODETTA, a new piece honoring folksinger and civil rights activist Odetta Holmes, reported the Kansas City Star.
The piece will make its official premiere in New York in December, but ODETTA will preview Friday in Kansas City at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts on a program that also includes Four Corners by Ronald K. Brown and the troupe’s signature masterwork, Revelations.
The idea to make a ballet about Holmes, who died in 2008, came to artistic director Robert Battle when he attended her memorial service with a friend who had produced a Christmas album for her.
“I was struck when one of my heroes, Maya Angelou, came out and spoke about Odetta, about her courage, her strength,” Battle said. “I thought more people need to know her story, how she used her voice as a weapon for change.”
Rushing’s choreography for the piece melds West African, Afro-Cuban, samba, jazz, contemporary ballet, and modern dance vocabulary.
“She was a folksinger, but she also sang musical theater, jazz, blues, and even prison songs,” Rushing said. “So I felt I couldn’t use just one dance discipline to interpret such a versatile voice.”
Not too long ago, Rushing attended a memorial service for actress and activist Ruby Dee.
“They had a quote of hers printed in the program,” he recalled, “and I decided to adopt it as my personal ‘why’ for creating ballets. It goes like this: ‘Those who know enough about their past, know enough to hope.’ ”
Ailey will appear at the Kauffman Center October 22 to 25. For more information, visit https://tickets.kauffmancenter.org/
To see the original story, visit http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/music-news-reviews/classical-music-dance/article
A grant from the Oklahoma City Community Foundation will allow city children to receive dance lessons at low cost—and allow college students to put lessons learned in pedagogy classes into action, reported News OK.
The Oklahoma City University’s Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Arts Management received an $18,000 iFund Opportunities for Children grant that will significantly enhance the Community Dance Center’s scholarship program and allow the program to offer more scholarships to new students.
Since 2008 the Community Dance Center has provided quality dance education to students unable to afford or access traditional dance classes. About 70 percent of the CDC’s students receive scholarship support and the center has a waiting list of students hoping to enroll but in need of additional financial assistance. CDC students on scholarships pay about $60 annually for lessons.
Dance classes in ballet, tap, jazz, and hip-hop are taught to students ages 3 to 18 primarily by students enrolled in the dance pedagogy program at Oklahoma City University, such as senior Gwynn Loud, who recently began her second year as an instructor for the CDC.
“The Community Dance Center has given me the chance to give back to the community by taking the knowledge I have gained in my courses and applying it to the dance classroom,” she said.
For more information on the program, visit www.okcu.edu/community-dance-center. To see the original story, visit http://newsok.com/oklahoma-city-universitys-dance-program-wins-grant/article/5357556.
West Coast Movement Project of Laguna Hills will hold an Afternoon Tea and Trunk Show to benefit the Andréa Rizzo Foundation’s Dance Across America initiative on October 26 from 2 to 5pm at the Wiebe Residence, 26531 Elmcrest Way, Lake Forest, California.
Studio director and owner Mia Alicia will oversee a group of dancers ages 8 to 13 as they serve as hostesses for the event, which will include a traditional English tea, finger sandwiches, scones, and desserts, along with a showing of Stella and Dot jewelry. The event is open to the public. Tickets are $20 and reservations must be made by October 22 at www.squareup.com/market/west-coast-movement-project.
Dance Across America is a fundraising effort that supports the Dréa’s Dream program that brings dance therapy to children with cancer and special needs in pediatric hospitals, public schools, and Ronald McDonald houses across the country. For more information, visit www.dreasdream.org.
Dr. Peter Lovatt, the 48-year-old head and founder of the Dance Psychology Lab at the University of Hertfordshire in England, rarely has difficulty convincing people to dance. An article in Men’s Health says his lectures on dance psychology often end with the audience bursting into dance.
That wasn’t the case when Lovatt taught a dance workshop to bankers at Deutsche Bank in London as part of an exercise to eliminate insider cliques within the organization. “I told them, ‘I think you can dance.’ And they were like, ‘No, no, we seriously can’t.’ They honestly thought it was hopeless.”
He eventually lured them into marching in unison to the beat of a song. “Anyone can dance if you don’t think you’re dancing,” he says. “When you walk, you walk in a rhythm. Your heart beats in a rhythm. And you swing your arms in a rhythm. We’re all naturally rhythmic when we’re just being human beings.”
One of the biggest benefits for corporate professionals who embrace dancing, Lovatt says, is the shift not just in how they’re perceived by their peers, but by the outside world. “People in the financial industry dress and act and move in a different way than the rest of us,” he says. “Bankers, hedge fund managers, Wall Street people: they hold themselves differently. But when we dance, it releases something primal. Over hundreds of years, we’ve learned to control the way we move so that it shows something false to the outside world. But with dance, you see the real person coming through.”
When a banker or hedge fund manager dances, he says, they reveal some part of themselves that’s more intimate and vulnerable than a ravenous, remorseless profiteer. “Dance makes you human again,” he says. “It’s a very leveling thing.”
Unless, of course, that banker or hedge fund manager really doesn’t have a relatable human side. “Dance can only do so much,” Lovatt admits. “I can’t do miracles.”
To read the full story, visit http://www.menshealth.com/best-life/bankers-learn-to-dance.
Mary Ramirez Cook teaches a variety of classes each week at her A-Marika Dance Studio in Sharonville, Ohio, including one for students with Down syndrome she created for her son, Matthew.
So when Matthew and another student with Down syndrome wanted to participate in a national dance competition, she asked the organization to create a special category for them, but was turned down. So, she told Cincinnati.com, “I decided to just hold my own.”
With the help of professional dancer Doreen Beatrice, she created the inaugural Special Ballroom Festival, which took place October 11 in the Northern Lights Ballroom of the Sharonville Convention Center.
Cook said 31 dancers with special needs were registered for multiple competitions, totaling 145 entries, and competed in waltz, foxtrot, tango, rumba, cha-cha, and swing dances. The competition was officiated by certified dance judges, and included the presentation of awards and medallions. “I want every one of them to walk out of there feeling amazing,” she said, “and knowing that it’s all about them.”
Cook is hoping to make the festival an annual event that grows bigger each year.
“This is a social outlet, and there isn’t anything like this,” she said, adding that the competition helped to teach more than dance steps. “They have to learn social skills, appropriate behavior, and courtesy.”
To see the original story, visit http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/local/community-news/2014/10/15/dance-competition-shines-spotlight-abilities-disabled/17303939/.
Joann Tabeek always encouraged her daughter, Krystal, to follow her dreams, but didn’t live to see Krystal through her 15 years of competitive dance. Working as a vice president and partner at Cantor Fitzgerald on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center, she was one of the nearly 3,000 people who perished in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
“My mother never made it out [of the World Trade Center] on that horrific day,” Tabeek, who was 12 when her mother died, told Staten Island Live. “She always pushed me to follow my dreams, so this is the year I made it happen.”
Krystal combined her love for dance with a desire to own her own business this September when she opened Studio 11 Dance Company in the Grant City neighborhood of Staten Island. Her father, Al, helped her launch the dance school named in memory of her mother.
“I’m following in my father’s footsteps. He owns and operates the James and Joann Tabeek Memorial Softball League in both my mother’s and brother’s honor. My brother, James, died at the age of 3 from meningitis two years before I was born,” she added.
Krystal, now 24, hopes she can pass on the inspiration she received from her parents. “My father has given to numerous charities across the Island throughout the past 28 years. My plan is to do just the same, and to make a positive impact on all those who are in need of our love and support,” she said.
To see the original story, visit http://www.silive.com/eastshore/index.ssf/2014/10/competitive_dancer_realizes_he.html.
Cynthia Gregory, whom Rudolf Nureyev called “America’s prima ballerina assoluta” and who was celebrated as one of the world’s greatest ballerinas during a career that spanned more than a quarter of a century, will receive the 63nd annual Capezio Dance Award.
Awarded annually since 1952 by Capezio Ballet Makers Dance Foundation, the Capezio Dance Award recognizes significant contributions to American dance by an individual, company, or institution. It is awarded to those who bring respect, stature, and distinction to dance and who exhibit qualities such as innovation, creativity, and imagination.
This year’s award will be presented on November 17 at the Smith Center in Las Vegas, Gregory’s city of residence.
Gregory trained in her native Los Angeles with Carmelita Maracci before being awarded a Ford Foundation scholarship at age 14 that allowed her to study with Lew Christensen’s San Francisco Ballet. After joining the company, she quickly rose to principal.
She joined American Ballet Theatre in 1965, and over the years, danced in more than 80 works with that company, also performing as a guest artist with top companies all over the world, including National Ballet of Canada, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and Stuttgart Ballet. Along with Nureyev, her favorite partners were Erik Bruhn, Fernando Bujones, and Big Bird (on a PBS special fundraiser).
She has won numerous awards and is the author of two books, Ballet is the Best Exercise and Cynthia Gregory Dances Swan Lake, a children’s book. In 1991 she became board chairman of Career Transition for Dancers, and continues her involvement with the organization as chairman emeritus. A visual artist in pen-and-ink and watercolors, Gregory also coaches, stages ballets, and gives master classes for dance companies and schools in the U.S. and internationally.
A story from KLS.com reports that while Michael Jackson was known for his talented voice and for his impressive dance moves, an LDS missionary might have bested a Michael Jackson impersonator in the battle of the moonwalk.
In a video posted to YouTube last week, missionary elder Gus Garcia from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is seen having a dance-off against the Michael Jackson impersonator on the streets of Barcelona, according to the posted video.
Garcia’s fluid moves impress onlookers as they watch the dancing battle. Even the MJ impersonator is amazed by Garcia’s popping and locking talent.
To see the original story and video, visit: http://bit.ly/11jzF4W.
6ABC.com reports that Bucks County Dance Center in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, was badly damaged in a fire early Monday morning. Investigators say it was arson.
The brother and sister owners of the studio were too upset to comment on camera. Relative Michael Licata said, “They are pretty devastated, and they just have to collect themselves and figure out what to do next,” he said.
Bensalem Police say a patrol officer spotted the building on fire at around 4am. Firefighters got the blaze under control and no one was injured, but the building appears to be a total loss. The building housed two vacant apartments in the back and investigators say an arson dog detected accelerants there.
According to Licata, the center was established in 1958 by his wife’s parents, two performers who decided to settle their family in Bensalem. Thousands learned to dance at the center over the years, and roughly 200 students were currently enrolled in classes.
The owners will try to find a new space in which to operate until they can rebuild. Licata said, “I can’t imagine that there would be anyone who would have malicious intent against the studio.” The investigation is continuing at this time.
To read the original story, visit http://6abc.cm/1wAf7yu.
Brothers Young Productions recently held a video casting call for dancers around the world to appear in the movie Untapped. After evaluating thousands of submissions, the list has been narrowed down to 200 semifinalists.
Brothers Young will spend the next month narrowing the list down. Those selected will earn a spot in the inspirational feature film, which will begin production in early 2015.
Something else also resulted from the auditions: the inspiring and moving responses to the question, “Why do you love dance?” From those responses Brothers Young created a stirring video, and plans to share more of these touching responses in the coming months. To see the video, visit http://youtu.be/rvc3DD-QdhQ.
As creator of The Maria Project, a theatrical investigation into the 1931 murder of Maria Salazar by her husband, playwright Marcella Goheen took note when the National Domestic Violence Hotline experienced an 84 percent increase in calls after a video leaked in September of football player Ray Rice hitting his then-fiancée in an Atlantic City elevator.
But overall, Goheen told The Indy Star, she sees society in “cultural denial” about physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Yet in her quest to educate, Goheen has a high-profile ally in Savion Glover, who stars in Maria’s Voice, a musical offshoot of The Maria Project.
A national tour of Maria’s Voice launches today (October 10) at the Madame Walker Theatre Center, 617 Indiana Avenue, Indianapolis. Other stops include a public performance at The Englert Theatre in Iowa City, Iowa, October 12, and a private VIP performance in San Francisco November 1.
Goheen said it’s important to have Glover’s male perspective in the show, which uses tap, song, and poetry to tell the story of Salazar, who was Goheen’s grandmother.
“I don’t choose to be a character vs. an overall voice through my instrumentation, which is a dance,” he said. “I’ll also lend my own interpretation of the vibe, speaking through all of the Marias of the world.”
Glover and Goheen previously collaborated on 2004 production If Trane Wuz Here and 2009’s Bleecker Thingz. “He speaks through his rhythm,” Goheen said. “His dance and his message have always been about light and truth, and finding your voice.”
To see the original story, visit http://www.indystar.com/story/entertainment/arts/2014/10/08/savion-glover-walker-domestic-violence-maria-goheen-indianapolis/16916399/. For more information on The Maria Project’s theatrical production and awareness events, visit http://juliet-griego.squarespace.com/marias-voice-featuring-savion-glover/.
Registrations are still being accepted for the first annual Dréa’s Dream Dance Convention, a day of dance classes for student ages 6 and older that will benefit a program that provides dance therapy programs for children with cancer and special needs in pediatric hospitals and public schools nationwide.
The event, set for November 2 from 8am to 4pm at the Holiday Inn & Suites in Peabody, Massachusetts, will raise funds in support of the Andréa Rizzo Foundation, a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization created in memory of a young dance therapy graduate student and survivor of childhood cancer who was killed at the age of 24 by a drunk driver.
Master teachers donating their time to the cause include Albert Blaise Cattafi (contemporary), Rhonda Miller (jazz), Lauren Gaul (jazz, ballet), Rachel White-Ball (ballet), Angie Sellers (jazz, musical theater), and Tony Mansker (musical theater, tap).
Sponsors include Rachel White Ballet, On Your Toes Dancewear, So Danca, and Holiday Inn & Suites of Peabody.
Registration deadline is October 15. Cost is $100 per dancer. More information and forms can be found at http://rachelwhiteballet.com/dreas-dream-dance-convention/. To learn more about the Andréa Rizzo Foundation or the “Dance Across America” program, call 401.952.2423 or email DreasDream@aol.com.
Lorna Badon Knaus, a longtime Orange dance instructor who showcased Southeast Texas’ special brand of dance from the Soviet Union to Disney World, died Monday at Houston’s Methodist Hospital from diverticulitis, a common colon disease. She was 54.
The Beaumont Enterprise reported that Badon Knaus touched the lives of thousands who came through the doors of The Lorna Badon School of Fine Arts. According to Facebook, she was president of Southeast Texas Association of Dance Teachers Chapter 3 of Dance Masters of America for 34 years, owner and 37-year director of Lorna Badon School of Fine Arts, and founder and 31-year director of Orange Jazz Company. In 1990 she led a group of students to the then Soviet Union to showcase American dances and music.
“She was an unbelievable force of light, love, and compassion,” said Janel Campbell, a former student and instructor at the Badon school for 29 years.
Badon Knaus’ mother, June Badon, owned both the Port Neches and Orange studios until her daughter turned 18 and took over the Orange studio. June told 12NewsNow that her daughter was diagnosed three years ago, and complications with the illness arose this year.
“She waited until April to take care of it when another flare-up came,” said June Badon. “One thing just led to the other and I guess God thought he needed her more than we did.”
As recently as last week Badon Knaus sat in the studio and watched her students perform under the guidance of one of her instructors. “Her life was dance and the children,” Campbell said. “She was an inspiration to all.”
To see the original stories, visit http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/news/article/Longtime-Orange-dance-instructor-dies-at-54-5807482.php and http://www.12newsnow.com/story/26730015/dance-community-grieves-loss-of-popular-instructor.
Twyla Tharp’s new position as Joyce Theater Foundation’s 2014–16 artist-in-residence comes with something she’s never had during her esteemed 50-year choreography career: her own school.
“I’ve always been interested in how people learn,” Tharp told the New York Times.
The position provides Tharp with a free rehearsal studio, administrative space, office services, and an annual salary with benefits. As part of the residency, she is now offering company classes to the public at the Joyce’s Dance Art New York Studios.
The opportunity gives Tharp the chance to develop a technique-based curriculum useful to dancers of wide-ranging backgrounds and experience. The classes, which began last week and are taught by Tharp ballet masters and dancers, focus on improving strength, speed, and coordination, or as Tharp described it, “driving the nail—we’re not building the building, but we’re working on driving the nail.”
Company members also attend the classes, something that Tharp said was vital in her own education as a young dancer studying under Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham.
“In both instances company members were in the classes, and it was critical to see people who did the performing also executing the techniques,” she said.
The Mark Morris Dance Group is simultaneously going west and east from mid-October through November, as for the first time in the company’s 34-year history, it splits into two groups.
The New York Times ArtsBeat said half the troupe’s dancers will tour the United States, Scotland, Italy, and Switzerland, while the remainder head for Cambodia, East Timor, and Taiwan. On November 11, the company will reunite in Shenzhen, China.
The Asian part of the tour is part of the U.S. State Department’s DanceMotion USA, a cultural diplomacy program in partnership with the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Numerous activities are planned outside of the performances, including choreography workshops given by Morris, work with a number of professional dance companies, and with female victims of domestic violence and female factory workers in Taiwan.
On both sectors of the tour, the Mark Morris Dance Group members will begin what the company is calling “the Polka Project,” taking the last section of Morris’s 1993 Grand Duo, and teaching it to the professional, amateur, and student groups they encounter. On each tour, the company will perform Morris’s newest work, Words, set to Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words.” Words will be performed by eight dancers from each group while they are on the separate tours; in China it will be given with the full 16-member cast.
Morris added that he is tremendously gratified that his company, which spends nearly half of each year touring, is invited to perform “anywhere and everywhere.” He continued: “Our touring continues to edify and surprise everyone involved. It is an exciting life.”
To see the original story, visit http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/06/mark-morris-dance-group-to-split-up-for-a-global-tour/?_php=true&_type=blogs&src=twr&_r=0.
As the future Catwoman on Gotham, the new Batman-inspired TV series from Fox, Camren Bicondova has to be agile and graceful—traits the 15-year-old actress feels are heightened by dancing.
She wouldn’t be where she is now without dance, especially the training she received from Marcelo Pacleb, founder of the 24-7 Danceforce Studios in Kaneohe, Hawaii, who connected the two disciplines for Bicondova. He told her he wasn’t feeling any emotion from her and suggested she close her eyes and feel the music.
“With dancing you are showing the music,” Bicondova said. “With acting you do the same thing. You have the lines, but you have to become the character. That’s where I think the dancing and the acting merge.”
The Washington Times reported that this is the first major acting role for Bicondova, a former Hawaii resident who made it to the championship round of MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew with the Hawaii-based dance group 8 Flavahz.
After moving to Los Angeles she started taking acting lessons, but didn’t think it was much different than her study of dance. Bicondova started dancing when she was 5. She suffered from seizures back then and her parents believed—correctly, as it turned out—that dance would end them.
Dance might have also helped her develop perseverance—before being cast in Gotham, Bicondova struggled through 94 failed auditions. To see the original story, visit http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/oct/4/gotham-actress-credits-dance-training-in-kaneohe/.
Ruben Graciani is Point Park University’s new dance department chair, a position Susan Stowe held for a decade, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“This is really everything I’ve ever wanted,” said Graciani, previously on faculty at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. “Point Park’s name has just grown and grown and grown over the past 10 years. Seeing the progression it’s made, it’s really exciting and I’m getting the sense that maybe they’re willing to move in a new direction.”
The work ethic of the Point Park Conservatory of Performing Arts’ student dancers and the caliber of choreographers featured in their performances, such as the annual Byham Theater showcase earlier this year, helped “seal the deal,” he said. So far, he’s been impressed by what he’s seen off campus, too.
“What I didn’t realize was the depth of the dance community here and how much independent and avant-garde things are happening,” he said. “People are doing things in galleries and warehouses and garages. I find that really exciting.”
Graciani studied at the North Carolina School of the Arts, The Juilliard School, State University of New York-Purchase College, and the University of Maryland–College Park, as well as with several New York-based companies, including the Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham dance companies. He performed with the Mark Morris Dance Group, Joe Goode Performance Group, Brian Brooks Moving Company, and Company Stefanie Batten Bland.
In 2005, he joined Ohio University in Athens as an assistant professor. A few years ago, Graciani formed his own pickup dance company, RG Dance Projects, which he would like to resurrect here.
People are quitting their jobs at a faster clip and that’s pushing small-business owners to work harder to hold onto top talent, reports the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.
Dance studio owner Andrea Bisconti has experienced the challenge firsthand. When Kellie Love, an instructor there, said she was planning to leave to start a business of her own, Bisconti decided to act. Love inspires students to keep coming back for more lessons and brings in more than a quarter of the studio’s revenue, says Bisconti, owner of a Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Willoughby, Ohio.
“My most terrible fantasy was I would see students walk out the door in droves and I would be scrambling,” says Bisconti, who has started negotiations to make Love a business partner.
As the economy and job market improve, keeping the best employees is becoming vital for small businesses. Forty-three percent of owners are working to keep top staffers, according to a recent survey by Principal Financial Group. The reason: a growing number of employees are giving notice. The Labor Department reported more than 2.5 million people quit their jobs in July, up from 2.3 million a year earlier.
The trend is expected to continue. Thirty-eight percent of workers plan to change employers in the next five years, according to a 2014 survey by the management consultancy Hay Group. That’s up from 30 percent since 2010.
Other strategies being used by company owners include communicating and mentoring, setting realistic goals, promoting a healthy balance between employees’ work and personal lives, giving constructive criticism, and paying attention to workers’ quality of life.
To see the full story, visit http://www.jsonline.com/business/small-firms-struggle-to-hang-on-to-top-employees-b99363153z1-278177001.html.
Most arts organizations these days are seeking ways to fill seats and to expand their audiences. Last week, the Wallace Foundation announced a $40 million effort to help performing arts organizations around the country do so.
The New York Times ArtsBeat blog said the six-year initiative will provide funding for up to 24 nonprofit organizations—multidisciplinary presenters or those in other nonvisual arts forms, such as opera, theater, music, and dance. Over four years, the chosen organizations will design projects to build audiences through a variety of ways, including new programs as well as nontraditional venues. The organizations will be named in February.
The Wallace Foundation is a New York City–based organization with a goal of helping disadvantaged children through education and other means.
“We see helping arts organizations find ways to thrive, not simply survive, as an important part of our mission,” William I. Miller, president of the foundation, said in a statement. “This new effort will not only support the plans of up to 24 great arts organizations to expand and diversify their audiences, it will also provide new insights and knowledge that we hope will be useful to the entire field.”
The foundation plans to fund an independent $3.5-million study to assess the effectiveness of the Building Audiences program, which it will share with other arts organizations. To see the original story, visit http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/01/40-million-to-help-build-audiences-in-the-arts/?_php=true&_type=blogs&ref=dance&_r=0.
Joan H. Weill, chairman of Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, Inc., who is widely acknowledged as a driving force in the growth of the entire Ailey organization over the past two decades, will retire at the end of this year.
Weill, who joined the Ailey Board in 1994 and was named chairman in 2000, played a central role in the creation of a permanent home for the company and school, The Joan Weill Center for Dance, which opened in 2005 at the corner of 55th Street and Ninth Avenue and remains New York’s largest facility dedicated to dance. The center made possible The Ailey Extension, a program of dance and fitness classes for the general public.
To recognize Weill’s years of service to Ailey and the entire cultural community, she has been named honoree and will be celebrated at the company’s December 3 Opening Night Gala Benefit.
Robert Battle, artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, stated, “Joan Weill was a bigger-than-life figure to me before I joined Ailey, because I knew what she had done for this company, and I was awed by it . . . we hope our Gala will express even a tenth of the gratitude we feel for her.”
In 2002, Weill received the National Medal of Arts on behalf of the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, alongside Judith Jamison, artistic director at the time. The foundation was the first dance organization in history to be given this prestigious award, as well as the first time ever that an arts organization and its artistic director have been recognized independently for this honor.
Weill said the Ailey organization has been a huge part of her life but “this is a good time for fresh leadership. I look forward to seeing Ailey continue to do great things. I will still be the one applauding loudest.” For more information, visit www.alvinailey.org.
Ninety-year-old Pamela Leonard says just because she’s older that isn’t an excuse not to exercise. Dancing—which she still does every day—has become a healthy habit and essential to her optimum health.
“I want people to know that no matter how old they are, they can still do things,” said Leonard, a Palm Coast resident and former St. Augustine ballet studio owner, told the St. Augustine Record. “If they start younger, working out some way or another, they’ll still be in good shape when they’re 90.”
Leonard started dancing when she was 3 and growing up in Hollywood, a neighbor of Ginger Rogers and Errol Flynn. Her father owned a studio where he recorded radio shows for personalities such as Bob Hope; her mother was a dance teacher.
Leonard met her husband, Larry, while performing with the Ballet Musical Company, and the couple toured the world dancing before founding a studio and ballet company, the Floridian Ballet Guild, in Miami.
When they moved to St. Augustine in 1971, their ballet school—Leonards’ Ballet Theatre—was the first in the city. The couple also taught classes at Flagler College and the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. One of her students, Lori Ladwig, eventually took over the Leonards’ school (now known as St. Augustine Dance Conservatory.)
After retiring, Leonard began exercising with three other women. For more than 30 years, they’ve worked out weekly. Because of her activity level, she said, she hasn’t had a cold in more than 20 years and takes no prescription medication.
“She just continues to be an inspiration to me,” Ladwig said. “I certainly hope to be dancing just like her when I’m at the age of 90.”
To see the full story, visit http://staugustine.com/living/sunday-life/2014-09-27/born-dance#.VCltW890yUl.
For years, the adult tap dancers of Off Broadway Dance Company in Toledo, Ohio, provided emotional and financial support to a local nonprofit that arranged for veterans to visit war memorials in Washington, DC, at no charge.
But with Honor Flight Northwest Ohio running its final flight this fall, the tappers sought another nonprofit to support—and found it after watching the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team in action.
“We did a big presentation for the Wounded Warrior Amputee ballplayers in the summer, and we were overwhelmed by the veterans,” said tap dancer Bonnie Spencer, who spoke of how two players with lower-extremity amputations “would fall down, roll over, and grab that ball. They just would not let their injuries beat them or defeat them.”
The Toledo Blade said the softball team is a nonprofit organized to raise awareness and inspire the public about America’s injured soldiers’ strength and resiliency, and to show how positive attitudes, commitment, dedication, and perseverance allow them to overcome obstacles. The team has played competitive, celebrity, and exhibition softball games in 40 states and in 90 cities. Because of the team’s popularity, there’s a two-year waiting list for cities to get on its schedule.
Off Broadway Dance Company, which entertains at local, state, and national events, donated a portion of last weekend’s annual showcase to the softball team. (Over the years, the company had donated $20,000 to Honors Flight.)
David Van Sleet, the founder, general manager, and chief executive officer of the ball team formed three and a half years ago, said team expenses are “astronomical,” and he’s pleased the dancers want to help the athletes.
To see the original story, visit http://www.toledoblade.com/local/2014/09/29/Tap-dancers-step-up-to-assist-veterans.html.
Recognizing that a lack of dance-specific medical care often prevents dancers from seeking medical care for an injury, the American Dance Festival will hold a Dancer Health & Injury Prevention workshop this November in Durham, North Carolina.
The workshop will be held November 1 from 1:30 to 3pm at ADF’s Samuel H. Scripps Studios, 721 Broad Street, Durham.
Carolyn Keeler, DO and Rosie Canizares, DPT, who have extensive experience treating dancers and recently started the Duke [University] Dancer Wellness Clinic, will lead discussions on prevention and treatment of dance injuries, as well as medical issues such as nutrition, female athlete triad, and heat-related illness.
Canizares is a dance medicine physical therapist on faculty at Duke DPT and the advisor of the Duke Pre-Physical Therapy Association. A longtime member of the Fredericksburg City Ballet Company, she received her dance training at the Academy of Ballet in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Keeler is a board-certified physical medicine and rehabilitation physician on faculty at Duke University Medical Center who majored in dance at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and toured with the UCSB Dance Company.
The workshop is free, but registration is suggested. Visit http://www.americandancefestival.org/events/dancer-health-injury-prevention/ for more info.
The Canadian government’s Temporary Foreign Workers program, which allows citizens of other countries to work in Canada for specified periods of time in certain industries, is tripping up Alberta Ballet.
While company officials agree in general with the idea behind the Temporary Foreign Workers guidelines—that Canadians should get first crack at available jobs—the provisions also clash with the international culture of classical ballet.
“There’s a long-standing history of free movement between dance companies,” Alberta Ballet executive director Martin Bragg told the Calgary Herald. “American dancers come here. Canadian dancers and artists go to the U.S (to dance and choreograph). It’s all quality based.”
When Alberta Ballet tried to apply for a temporary foreign worker visa for the master carpenter of its season-opening production of Don Quixote, who would have come from Houston to teach the Calgary crew how to build the show’s sets, they ran afoul of the paperwork required. The carpenter balked at the amount of personal disclosures (such as bank balances and personal relationships) required, and declined to travel to Canada for the two-to-three day job.
Also, the company enlisted the services of Christina Giannelli, the original Don Quixote lighting designer from Houston, but thanks to paperwork snafus, she still hasn’t been able to come into the country.
Alberta Ballet conducts auditions worldwide, in an effort to identify the best dancers available. About a dozen of the company’s 34 dancers are non-Canadians, from places such as Cuba, Australia, Japan, and the United States.
“It’s not that we don’t want to hire Canadians,” he says. “Of course we want to hire Canadians—but being an arts organization, you really want to hire the best person for the job.”
To see the full story, visit http://www.calgaryherald.com/entertainment/Alberta+Ballet+foreign+worker+rules/10226350/story.html.
By Bill Evans
Moving through space is more about the pelvis than the feet. To prepare students to move freely and efficiently through space, I devote time early in each class session to an exploration of pelvic shifts—transferring the weight from one foot to the other with an initiation in the pelvic floor. I call these actions “undercurves” because the lowest part of the pelvis inscribes a U-shaped curve in each transfer of weight.
I instruct students to yield into the earth through one foot, push against the earth, sense the energy of that push radiating from the center of gravity (floor of the pelvis), and then reach through the other foot and pull themselves to a new point in space. This sequence of yield and push to reach and pull creates the undercurve. The sequence allows the students to be grounded and fluid as they move in all directions.
Undercurves, in Laban terms, have an affinity for strength and acceleration. When a person swings, there is an acceleration on the way down and a deceleration on the way up. Strength and acceleration are qualities of efficient, unrestrained undercurves.
Laban identified two weight centers: strength (or power, or groundedness), which is the pelvic floor; and lightness (or delicacy or buoyancy), which is the upper thorax/lungs, the space behind the sternum.
Sometimes undercurves transition into overcurves. This happens when the momentum of the grounded weight shift is transformed into lightness emanating from behind the sternum for the next weight shift. The student will then create a full undercurve/overcurve pelvic circle in the diagonal, vertical, or sagittal (wheel, or forward/back and up/down) plane.
The momentum of the undercurve is allowed to morph into an overcurve as the energy rises from the pelvis through the core to the center of lightness, from which it radiates outward to help the student become buoyant and linger in time. Each under/overcurve involves the sequence of plié through relevé on the first leg, weight transfer at the top, and then piqué through plié on the second leg.
Grand Valley State University
In Michigan, where several universities boast sizable dance departments, Grand Valley State University’s dance program is the small but intense alternative, says dance coordinator Shawn T. Bible.
The GVSU Department of Music and Dance’s dance program was founded in 2000, modeled on a ballet conservatory model, under director Jefferson Baum, a former dancer (with Pennsylvania Ballet, Ballet Arizona, and others) who is today on the faculty of The School of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. The program still features the hallmarks of conservatory training: intermediate and advanced levels of technique, small class sizes, and motivated students.
During the past six years, the department has changed its ballet-centric focus to embrace modern dance and other technique styles, along with cross-disciplinary studies in production, theory, and technology, and related activities such as a Dance On Camera festival.
It’s become the program Bible says he would have wanted for himself as a student. “It all goes back to my background as an MFA student. I wanted to be part of a program where I could tap into all the offerings in the world of dance,” he says. “The bulk of our graduates go into dance companies, but we have alumni out there who are reviewing dance concerts or getting master’s degrees to become educators. The word ‘professional’ encompasses a lot in the world of dance.”
The GVSU audition process is competitive: of several hundred candidates who typically audition each year, Bible says, only about 20 are accepted, for an enrollment of about 50 to 60 dance majors at any given time.
Dance majors hit the ground running. A freshman company performs in local schools, dancing works created by three alumni choreographers as well as freshman-produced pieces. Along with offering immediate performing opportunities, the company encourages a sense of community among the first-years.
Performance opportunities abound for all GVSU dancers: annual fall and spring concerts, plus performances with the Grand Rapids opera, ballet, and symphony and at venues such as Grand Rapids Arts Museum and Berman Center for the Performing Arts. Site-specific dance performances are held in on-campus spaces, and graduating seniors are responsible for producing their own concerts. In addition, a student-run dance organization, Momentum, produces concerts to raise money for charity.
Each year, six guest artists from companies like Trey McIntyre Project, Giordano Dance Chicago, and New York City Ballet set both original dances and masterworks on GVSU students.
“It’s intense,” Bible says. “I tell students before they audition, ‘You may say you want to dance a lot, but here you really will.’ ”
Courses include several levels of dance history, pedagogy, improvisation, and choreography, plus writing, stagecraft, and costuming for dance. There’s classical partnering, Bible says, but also a less commonly offered class in contemporary partnering for modern-dance students. In their senior capstone class, dancers master software programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator while also learning the skills needed to produce and promote their work.
“We try to engage dancers in who they are as dance people. We can’t tell them who they should be—we can only guide them toward knowledge and experience,” Bible says. “I love being at Grand Valley because once the program started to evolve into the new model, the more individual lives we could create for our dancers. You can get technique anywhere. What you need in a dance program is somewhere you can grow as a human being, feel safe to take risks, and learn about yourself.”
Name of program: Grand Valley State University Dance Program
Year founded: 2000
Department philosophy: To develop students’ technical dance skills through rigorous technique courses and performing opportunities, and to encourage collaboration across disciplines, providing opportunities to explore dance history, theory, dance and technology, choreography, pedagogy, anatomy and physiology, and production.
Entrance audition required: Yes (in-person preferred; videos accepted)
Degrees available: BA in dance; dance minor
Number of students in department, 2013-2014: 50 majors (12 men, 38 women); 30 minors (2 men, 28 women)
Ratio of students to faculty: 7 to 1
Technique classes offered: Modern dance, ballet, jazz, pointe, men’s technique, ballet partnering, modern partnering, contact improvisation
Additional classes offered: Choreography, production, pedagogy, dance history, writing/theory and criticism, anatomy and physiology, music for dance, dance costuming; senior capstone (dance marketing, production, resume building, web design, poster/program production, technical theater, and press-release writing in fulfillment of a student-produced dance concert); Dance On Camera; site-specific dance; dance conditioning
Faculty: Shawn T. Bible, Carrie Brueck Morris, Calin Radulescu, Mary Lohman, Sarah Magoon, Amy Wilson, Stephen Sanford
Performance opportunities: Resident dance company, Momentum student organization, fall and spring concerts, Fall Arts Celebration, Dance Chicago, ArtPrize, Oakland Dance Festival, Berman Center for the Performing Arts, American College Dance Festival
Additional opportunities: GVSU dance students can design study-abroad opportunities.
Notable alumni: Lauren Blane, Giordano Dance Chicago; Caitlin Younker, Missouri Contemporary Ballet; Brandon Harneck, Thodos Dance Chicago; Kelly Kerastas, Movement Talent Agency (L.A.) working in film, video, and onstage
As the cover makes obvious, with this issue Dance Studio Life celebrates 10 years of publication. I’ve been on board for seven years as editor in chief, but I had a hand in some of the earlier issues as a freelance editor—which means I’ve seen how much the magazine has grown and changed since its inception. The anniversary is Rhee’s topic this month in “On My Mind,” so I won’t say more than this: the most gratifying part of my job is seeing you, our readers, respond with enthusiasm to the magazine’s evolution. Our goal is to make a difference, helping you develop as business owners and teaching artists, and offering you new paths to creativity. Like you, we take our work seriously, and that’s as it should be.
Work, however, isn’t everything. As I write this, I’m freshly back from southern Italy, where I did my best to share in la dolce vita (“the sweet life”). And there’s another phrase that describes the Italian mind-set, perhaps even better: la dolce far niente, or the sweetness of doing nothing.
Nothing could be farther from the American way. But in Italy, life is to be savored. Take the traditional passeggiata, a time-honored evening stroll when sidewalks and streets are packed with people socializing, flirting, or celebrating soccer scores—or lamenting them. Mothers and daughters hold hands; lovers lean against seawalls and kiss; neighbors greet each other as if they were long-lost friends. Spirits are high, and so is the volume of voices and laughter.
Travelers to Italy get another taste of this relaxed approach to life when they arrive at a shop that opens at 9:30am (so a sign claims), only to find its doors still locked at 10, or 11, if it opens at all—and we Americans sputter and protest and wonder why that shop owner doesn’t worry more about his bottom line.
The truth is, that shop owner—who perhaps decided to go fishing, or see a friend, or run an errand for his mother—arguably has a better sense of priorities than we do. I’m not saying bottom lines aren’t important or that Italians don’t work hard; they are, and they do. True, unemployment is rampant in Italy, especially among the young, but those who don’t have jobs are not the only ones who gather in piazzas to share stories or a gelato. Business owners, fishermen, farmers, and service-industry workers find time for friends and family too. They understand that life is about more than work.
Here in the States, overwork is the new status symbol; we all complain about having no time, about being “crazy busy”—and while we claim to wish things were otherwise, many of us, if we’re honest enough to admit it, say the words with hidden pride. We are working longer, but we are not necessarily working better. Welcome to burnout.
I know this because I’m quite good at managing two jobs (plus, for two years, grad school), but relaxation? Not so much. Yet in Italy, despite my typical “overachiever” nonstop pace, I felt my mind grow languid. I let beauty—in the form of volcanoes and green seas, paintings and stained glass, eggplant and gelato—consume me.
Yes, it took going to Italy to remind me I need to slow down at times. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By the time you leaf through this issue of the magazine, it will be July, the dead heat of summer. For a morning, an afternoon, a day, even a week, squash that urge to be über-productive. Instead, do nothing. La dolce far niente. Perhaps a better translation would be “the sweetness of a healthy life.” —Cheryl A. Ossola, Editor in Chief
Sign Language and Dr. Seuss
When David Palmer was a little boy growing up in a remote, TV-free area of Fiji, books like Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham engaged his imagination and taught him to love language. So when Palmer, associate artistic director of The Washington Ballet, transformed this beloved classic into a ballet, he didn’t leave language behind.
Palmer meshed American Sign Language with classical ballet movement to create a narrative that could be followed by both hearing and hearing-impaired audiences. An ASL consultant worked with TWB’s Studio Company dancers during rehearsals that were fun, but also frustrating, “especially when you marry having to learn specific signs to the meter of music and movements of the other parts of the body,” Palmer told Dance Studio Life. “Partnering poses a challenge when you are trying to sign at the same time.”
Guests at the May production included students from hearing-impaired communities and schools, including Gallaudet University. Their appreciation was “truly rewarding,” Palmer says. Dancers agreed. “It melted my heart when we saw the deaf audience members signing their applause instead of clapping,” says Studio Company dancer Daniel Savetta. “It was such an amazing sight from the stage.”
17 Studios, 14 States, 12 Days
Studio owner Louie Perez was looking for a way to celebrate both the 10th anniversary of his VP Dance Academy in Fishkill, New York, and National Dance Week when a student’s father had an idea. “You could dance across America,” he said. So Perez did, teaching a free one-hour jazz class in 17 studios in 14 states over 12 days.
Coast 2 Coast: Dance Across America kicked off March 28 at VP, followed by two classes at nearby New York studios. But the cross-country driving tour got underway in earnest on April 23 when Perez and two friends began a trek that would take them through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Nevada. The tour ended May 5 at the Debbie Reynolds Studio in North Hollywood, where, many years before, Perez had cleaned the studio in exchange for lessons.
Along the way, Perez told Dance Studio Life, he made “hundreds of friends” and was inspired by many, such as a young amputee in Wichita and another severely impaired dancer in Las Vegas. The tour was “life-changing,” he said, and he is planning a repeat next year, with the ultimate goal of teaching in 50 states in five years.
“You have a choice,” says Perez. “You can either sit on the couch and let life go by, or you can be proactive and dance!” For a video diary of the tour, check out DJJSIZZLE.com/coast2coast.
IADMS Names Bill Evans Honorary Member
Bill Evans, a Dance Studio Life columnist and DanceLife Teacher Conference faculty member, has been named an honorary member of the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science for his contributions to dancers’ health through his integration of somatic education and dance technique.
“My long life as a healthy dancer is no coincidence,” Evans says in the IADMS announcement. “I was guided by generous and engaged dance kinesiologists at crucial points in my career over five decades. IADMS has created an international community in which dance scientists interact with dance teachers to share investigations and findings that improve the health, well-being, training, and performance longevity of dancers throughout the world.”
Evans joins IADMS honorary members Darcey Bussell and Christopher Wheeldon.
Forsythe Joins USC Kaufman School of Dance
It has been a very good couple of years for dance at the University of Southern California.
Two years ago, USC founded its own School of Dance thanks to a generous gift from philanthropist Glorya Kaufman. In April construction began on a 55,000-square-foot state-of-the-art dance complex. And in May, USC News announced that one of the school’s professors will be esteemed choreographer William Forsythe.
Forsythe, who has been based in Europe for years, began his career with the Joffrey Ballet. He has created works for ballet companies in the U.S. and Europe; virtually every major ballet company in the world has one or more of his pieces in its repertoire.
“Dance training needs to be choreographic,” says Forsythe, describing his teaching philosophy, “because I can’t imagine any choreographer today not working in some collaborative sense. Dancers are asked to be part of the creative process. They need to learn how to think choreographically about their dancing.”
It comes as no surprise, then, that he is working with USC on plans for a Choreographic Institute that will collaborate with other USC schools, such as the Thornton School of Music and the School of Cinematic Arts.
Forsythe will begin at USC Kaufman in the fall of 2015, along with the first cohort of BFA dance majors.
Words from the publisher
Ten years. It’s quite a milestone to be celebrating, especially for a supposedly doomed publication.
When I launched Dance Studio Life in July 2004, many of my well-intentioned friends and colleagues warned me that print was dead, and that digital was the way to go. It was not very encouraging advice, considering that I was investing my heart and soul, not to mention a lifetime of savings, in a print publication. Then I became so busy building a staff and learning about publishing that I had no time to contemplate the fact that my magazine was supposedly facing an imminent demise.
Despite that dire prognosis, what started as an every-other-month publication soon increased to seven issues per year, then eight, then nine; for the last five years, we have published 10 issues annually. It’s not easy; print is pricey. The cost of paper has doubled since 2004, and postage fees have risen dramatically in the last decade. During the hard times following the financial crisis of 2008, I did wonder if I had made a mistake in not listening to those who thought digital publishing was the future. But that period was the exception in our 10 years of growth. Defying the odds, Dance Studio Life is alive and well, with new subscribers and advertisers coming on board with every issue. Today the magazine is the largest single publication in the dance field.
What is the secret to our success? A combination of factors: a humble passion for education and the art of dance, the commitment of editors and writers who understand the soul of the dance community, and a constant desire to be on top of an evolving dance education field.
We pull it off with a dedicated team. The West Coast is home to editor in chief Cheryl Ossola, whose efforts are responsible for a huge part of the magazine’s success; her West Coast team includes associate editor Lisa Okuhn and editorial manager Arisa White. On the East Coast, associate editor Karen White, production manager Scott Oxhorn, and advertising manager Rob Adams, plus support staff, keep the publication rolling. Boston-based art director Mim Adkins gives the magazine its distinctive look—which, as you’ll see in this issue, she has redesigned for our move into the next decade of publication.
What the digital world makes possible is impressive: news faster than anyone could have imagined 20 years ago, and an online community that gives voice to more ideas than ever. Digital publishing has its downside too; speed isn’t everything. But I’m not interested in voicing negativity about a process I embrace; Dance Studio Life has an online presence, and the Rhee Gold Company has multiple websites. However, I will say this: to me, there’s nothing like feeling that glossy cover stock and the heft of our information-packed issues. There’s nothing like sitting down with a cup of coffee and perusing the table of contents to decide what to read first. There’s nothing like turning the pages, feeling the substance, the permanence.
Dance Studio Life is there for you, on your kitchen table, or in your studio’s conference room, waiting to be shared and revisited.
Ten years and counting. It’s there for you.
Change It Up
“My dad always asks me one thing about my dances,” announced Angela. “Am I in the front row?” This set off an impassioned discussion among dancers in my 9-to 12-year-old jazz class, and it became clear that where they are placed onstage determines how they value themselves as dancers.
Typically, I placed the beginner dancers behind someone they can follow; now I changed my plan. “Everyone in this class is important,” I said, “and everyone will be in the front row for part of this dance.” Twelve radiant faces smiled at me.
Giving every child the opportunity to dance in the front row produced positive results. The weaker dancers became stronger when they didn’t have someone to follow; they realized they were responsible for the choreography. All of the dancers grew in confidence in an atmosphere that didn’t emphasize hierarchy based on skill level. They all felt significant.
Once I saw how powerful this practice could be, I decided to incorporate it into my classes. I began switching the lines with every warm-up song. In big classes, I sometimes ask them to rotate their position within each line. I even began having the across-the-floor lines shift their positions in relation to the front of the room and the mirror.
The benefits for the students are tangible. Changing lines forces the shyer kids to the front for part of every class. The students no longer get attached to a certain spot in the studio. The classroom hierarchy has also become less pronounced. In addition, the kids have learned to project from all parts of the room. When a child pulls my focus from the very back of the room, I point it out to the class as an example of how they should be learning to project onstage.
I benefit too: because I tend to watch the people in the front center more, I have a chance to carefully observe every dancer. A great strategy onstage has proved to be a great teaching tool as well.
HARPing on Students
In class, when we talk specifics about a technical approach to a step, many students nod in agreement, some because they see how a small adjustment might help them do the step or sequence better, and others, who are physically present but not focused on trying to understand and absorb the correction, out of habit.
Either way, I often seize that moment to tell them that simply acknowledging a correction—even if they do understand its importance—will not help them improve. There is a way to help students progress from receiving a correction to physicalizing it. I articulate the learning process for them by using the acronym HARP, as taught to me in my yoga teacher training: Hear, Act, Repeat, Practice.
The first step—to hear—means a student must be present in class (which requires consistent attendance) and actively listening. Standing in an alert and attentive posture, making eye contact, and leaning toward me are signs of active listening. I encourage better listening skills by keeping my comments concise, giving personal stories as examples, and asking questions of the students.
Once active listening is achieved, the teacher must move quickly to the next step—act. Give students time to work on this new correction outside of the structure of the entire movement sequence, and without music. This is their chance to put the new information into action.
They will need to do it more than once. Repeating the learning material is an important part of the process. Students need multiple opportunities to apply the new information, and they should do so in various ways. Teachers can give shorter, focused exercises or jump back into the original combination in order to provide students with different ways to work on the new concept.
Next is practice. When the dancers can consistently practice the skill in multiple and varied combinations, the HARP process has been completed.
My students know that when they find themselves nodding, they are at the beginning of a breakthrough but need to take additional steps to progress. HARPing on students can be a positive method of teaching.
The article [“Viva Villella!” March/April 2014] was a great tribute to Edward Villella. Yes, viva Villella! I had the pleasure of meeting him at a Dance Masters of America National Convention.
Beaumont Ballet Theatre
I’ve been struggling with discouragement about my studio lately. It seems I can never make anyone happy, despite my greatest efforts to do so. I love dance and teaching with all of my heart but have been asking myself “Why?” Tonight I opened my copy of Dance Studio Life [March/April 2014] and your words of encouragement and love jumped off the page to me. Thank you for encouraging people like me. During this crazy time of year when stress and emotions are high, thank you for being a grounding force. You are truly inspirational.
Studio 1 Dance Center
What a combination of both intrinsic inspiration and business innovation this issue was [May/June 2014]. I always read each issue from cover to cover; and either my heart is encouraged or my business practices enhanced. But this issue, for me personally, covered both of those elements. It was so informative I almost wished it had come with a study guide! I would love to explore some of these topics more in depth. Great issue!
Arts Academy Charter School
By Lisa Okuhn
Who needs a bio? If you’re a dance teacher or school owner, you do. And it belongs on your school’s website.
A bio (short for “biography”) is a synopsis of a person’s relevant experience in a given field. Well-written biographies tell readers who your faculty is, what dance-related experience they possess, and about any other strengths they bring to the classroom. Website faculty bios make it easy for clients or potential clients to know who is providing what to a school’s students.
If you’re a school owner, you and your faculty members should draft your own bios using the guidelines below. Have someone with writing skills edit them before they’re made public on a website or anywhere else. Bios—or any other written materials—that are poorly constructed, grammatically unsound, and full of misspellings make you seem unprofessional and inspire zero confidence.
Website faculty bios make it easy for clients or potential clients to know who is providing what to a school’s students.
Bios should be informative yet concise. While exceptions might be made for those with unusually distinguished careers, assume that no one wants to read more than one or two paragraphs about you or your teachers. Ensure relative uniformity of length by setting a word count; 150 to 200 words should be plenty.
Bios should be written in the third person, and should include five main sets of facts in whatever order reads most gracefully and best emphasizes your strengths: performing and choreographic experience, teaching experience, training, awards or other important acknowledgments, and any other experience that adds to the resources you can offer; for example, extensive volunteer work with special-needs children, four seasons as a competition judge, etc. A brief mention of where you’re from can also give readers a more concrete sense of who you are.
Professional experience as a performer or choreographer typically makes a strong impression on readers. But even if your resume doesn’t sparkle with professional performing or choreographic credentials, do list the experiences that have most influenced you as a dancer, teacher, or artist. This shows readers where you’ve gained your experience, what you’ve been exposed to, and where your interests lie. Include only those jobs that best reflect your experience and interests and offer a balanced view of your strengths.
In describing your training, don’t list every teacher you’ve ever had; in general, stick to recognizable names or institutions.
If your teaching experience is vast, you don’t have to list every class you’ve ever taught. Include the important teaching jobs and those that demonstrate the range of your experience; for example, 12 years of teaching kindergarten tap, a summer Vaganova workshop for teachers, or a college kinesiology course. Where applicable, note specific job titles, such as preschool curriculum director.
A mention of important awards, fellowships, grants, and other recognition will catch readers’ eyes, but use discretion. And unless a major documentary has been made about you, press coverage should be listed and linked on a separate media page.
Including personal details (a supportive spouse, a favorite hobby) is an option but keep them to a minimum.
A few don’ts: don’t lie or exaggerate, and don’t use hyperbole. Readers will be put off by flagrant self-promotion. “Miss Tyra danced with Sparrowfoot Dance Company from 1999 to 2006,” is more credible than “The talented Miss Tyra danced with the incomparable Sparrowfoot Dance Company . . .”
Post the bios (with photos) on your website in a way that makes them easy to find and easy to read. If they’re well written and informative, they’ll capture attention and elicit respect.
Diversifying helps profits flow
By Jennifer Kaplan
Dance studio owners face the ever-present challenge of managing cash flow and turning a profit—to pay rent, pay teacher and staff salaries, and, hopefully, to pay themselves. Nick Waynelovich and his daughter Kimberly Williams have not only found a way to build a profitable dance and performing-arts organization, they have developed two additional income streams that keep the organization on top of its bills.
Waynelovich, a retired public school music director in the Western Massachusetts town of Turners Falls, in the foothills of the Berkshires, realized early in his career that he couldn’t afford to put his four kids through college on a teacher’s salary. A pianist who managed the music department (including budgets, student tours, and producing the high school’s musical), he decided to use his talents off-campus as well. So, nearly two decades ago, he created Ja’Duke (the name is a play on John Wayne’s nickname, “the Duke”), initially a swing and Dixieland band that played at parties, nightclubs, and the like.
The preschool is another way to build clientele for the performing-arts academy. “The preschoolers have weekly dance and choral classes as part of the curriculum, so it sparks interest,” Kimberly Williams says.
Ja’Duke took on a new identity when Waynelovich and Williams joined forces. At age 2, Williams followed her older sisters to dance class—and never left. Later, as a college student studying business, she decided she wanted to open a dance and performing-arts studio. She had trained in a competition-based studio and wanted to create something that offered more performing opportunities with a less competitive approach.
In 2004, Williams and her father opened the doors of Ja’Duke Center for the Performing Arts and welcomed their first 100 students.
“We quickly outgrew the space we started in,” Williams says. “So three years after that, in 2007, we built a space in an industrial park with 8,500 square feet on the bottom floor and 4,500 square feet of storage on the top floor.”
Today Ja’Duke offers classes in tap, jazz, ballet, hip-hop, pointe, acrobatics, contemporary, musical theater, chorus, and acting. It produces 8 to 10 shows each year—musicals, showcases, and a winter holiday spectacular. Williams is the primary dance instructor, teaching 28 classes a week; a part-time teaching staff handles the rest of the classes.
Preschool fills daytime hours
When the performing-arts center opened, Williams also opened a preschool, which uses the same studio space as the afternoon and evening dance classes. It serves infants as young as 8 months old through children aged 5, and is open from 7:30am through 5:30pm to accommodate working parents.
The preschool enables the dance studio’s little-used daytime blocks to become an income stream for Ja’Duke. The rooms convert from one use to the other in less than an hour; each afternoon, staff members transform the classrooms into dance studios.
“Two of the rooms are completely collapsible,” Williams explains. “At 2:30 every day all of the cubbies collapse; everything folds away behind cabinets. Everything comes off the walls. We do that every day for the studio kids who are there from 3pm through about 9pm. You wouldn’t know there’s a preschool in there during the day.”
The Ja’Duke preschool accommodates about 100 children in the equivalent of approximately 45 full-time slots. Fully licensed and regulated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it has a certified director, and each preschool room must have a trained and licensed lead teacher and a co-lead teacher; some rooms have an additional assistant. Williams recently became a certified teacher (though not a lead teacher), enabling her to fill in on short notice. The licensing and certification processes require a good deal of work and attention, but these are demands Williams is happy to meet.
Waynelovich views the preschool as another way to build clientele for the performing-arts academy. When those children outgrow preschool, they’ll be ready for dance and performing classes, and their parents will already be familiar with Ja’Duke and its staff. “The preschoolers have weekly dance and choral classes as part of the curriculum, so it sparks interest,” Williams says.
Setting the stage for success
The preschool is only one of Ja’Duke’s non-studio income-producing programs. With Waynelovich at the helm, Ja’Duke has made a name for itself as a full-package (sets and drops) rental company for musical-theater productions. Its catalogue comprises nearly 50 shows, ranging from Aladdin, Blue’s Clues, and Little Shop of Horrors to Rent, Urinetown, and The Wizard of Oz.
When Ja’Duke builds a set for a school show, Waynelovich says, it isn’t thrown out after the run, a common practice. “We upsell it and rent it out for years to come. We make many dollars off of each dollar we put into building it.”
Each year when planning the school’s musicals, Waynelovich ensures that the sets will be portable and adjustable to various stage sizes. After the show, the set is stored and entered into the catalogue. He also offers printed drops made with a 64-inch aqueous printer from client-submitted designs.
These drops and sets are in demand from high schools, performing-arts studios, community theaters, and union houses. The trick to generating business, according to Waynelovich, is to rent them to school theaters, most of which operate on restricted budgets, at very reasonable rates. For example, renting two drops for a week costs $600. He will rent out an entire set for $1,200 to $1,800 for up to two weeks.
“As a retired music director, I feel that one of my strengths is knowing what people in the business can afford and why. I design my sets so they can go into the smallest high school and meet their production needs at a reasonable rate.” He usually delivers the sets himself to venues along the East Coast corridor, and ships them via truck for longer distances. He has sent sets abroad as well, from Canada to the Cayman Islands.
Waynelovich is willing to undercut his costs for the initial rentals, because he knows that his customers typically do repeat business and that the sets will be rented to a number of clients over the years. “Our products go out all the time,” he says. If a potential client wants a set that’s not in Ja’Duke’s inventory, Waynelovich will build it for the cost of the materials, because he knows he will earn a profit on future rentals.
A proud moment, he says, was receiving a call from the president of Theatrical Rights Worldwide, an important holder of musical-theater rights. Waynelovich says, “About a month after I retired from teaching, I was walking down Broadway on my way to meet with the president of Theatrical Rights Worldwide and talk about my business.”
These days, when theaters and schools purchase rights, Theatrical Rights passes along a recommendation to use Ja’Duke for drops and sets. “It’s funny,” Waynelovich says, “how these things work out.”
How they do it
Things work out, yes, but father and daughter “work hard and put in long hours,” Williams says. Those hours might not all be at the studio; both Williams and her dad take work home with them. Williams has two young children, one an infant, and Waynelovich has spent many hours on the road delivering sets. He’s hoping to transition away from that task soon, with a new hire. In the scenic shop, he has one near-full-time employee and hires others as needed.
The multifaceted nature of Ja’Duke grew from Waynelovich and Williams’ understanding of the performing-arts and dance studio businesses. As Waynelovich says, “My general philosophy is that if I’m going to do this, it’s about being my own company [and not a nonprofit]. Being your own company, you have the freedom to do what you want. We own property; if you’re a nonprofit, the building is not yours.”
Either way, he says, an organization has to earn enough to pay bills and salaries. Today his guiding business principle is this: “I want to get $3 for every $1 we spend. It’s basically about upselling: if you enroll someone in the preschool and then sell them dance lessons, you’re upselling them. If we build a set for our own show, and after that we rent it out for years to come, that’s upselling. So we’re making many dollars off of one dollar; that’s what we try to do.”
“My dad is a true entrepreneur,” Williams says. “He’s always looking for the next thing we can do. We’re going to keep doing what we love doing, but we also have to keep our heads above water.”
For Williams and her dad, a sustainable business is the result of creative thinking and diversification of income streams. “People can sustain themselves with a career in the arts,” Williams says. Pointing out that no one complains when private corporations earn a profit, she adds, “Why should it be any different with the arts?”
Tens of thousands of children got a taste of the limelight in Atlantic City with Tony Grant Stars of Tomorrow
By Elizabeth Zimmer
If you still view Facebook as primarily a pastime for young people, you have another think coming. Chris Collins, who runs a studio in Alexandria, Virginia (see “Teacher in the Spotlight,” September 2013), and admits to “approaching 60,” has used the social media site since 2009 to rally alumni of Tony Grant Stars of Tomorrow, a children’s revue that played in the 1,700-seat Midway Theater on Atlantic City’s Steel Pier every summer from 1947 through 1978.
Collins’ Facebook group has 743 members who have posted hundreds of photographs. It’s an astonishing tribute to the life and work of Tony Grant, a man whose dance roots reach all the way back to Ned Wayburn, a choreographer with the Ziegfeld Follies.
Grant auditioned about 5,000 young performers annually, with hundreds showing up each summer for their moments of glory in the seaside paradise.
When, in 1977, Grant was honored by Dance Masters of America, he estimated that he’d given “more than 50,000 young entertainers a chance to perform before live audiences,” according to scholar David Schwartz.
Grant was born Antonio Grande in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1907. He dropped out of high school in his sophomore year, after winning a statewide dancing contest, and spent years touring on the vaudeville circuit. When vaudeville faltered he opened a dance studio in Wilkes-Barre with his wife, Topsy, and in 1945 moved the studio to Ventnor City, New Jersey, a suburb of Atlantic City. In 1947 he took over Daddy Dave’s Juvenile Revue, renamed it after himself, and kept it going for more than 30 years; he died in 1979, beloved by generations of performers.
Showmanship “was in [Grant’s] blood,” says Collins. “It was so much more than just dancing. He was from a different era. He would try to pass on some of his experiences to the next generation.”
The girls (and a handful of boys, including Collins) who appeared in the shows are nearly all over 50 now, with some in their 80s. Grant auditioned about 5,000 young performers annually, with hundreds showing up each summer for their moments of glory in the seaside paradise. Nobody got paid. One alumna, Amy Smith Baker, observed on the Facebook page that one family had five kids dancing in the show.
“They did it for the exposure and fun and experience,” says Collins. “It was not a competitive atmosphere, but it was a great learning experience to be onstage in front of live audiences. You might have 1,000 people watching your show.”
Tony Grant Stars of Tomorrow was the America’s Got Talent of its era, involving participants from dance studios all over the Northeast. “But it had all kinds of acts,” says Collins. “Unicyclists, contortionists, baton twirlers, singers of all types, drummers, bands. The youngest were 4 years old, up to about 19.”
Alumni of Grant’s shows include Broadway star Andrea McArdle and singers Connie Francis and Frankie Avalon, as well as hundreds of dancers, many of whom became Rockettes or opened dance studios around the country. Tony Award–winning choreographer Ron Field (1934–1989) was a Stars of Tomorrow performer as a child.
Grant’s show ran from Memorial Day through Labor Day, seven days a week. Performers who survived the auditions arrived on Saturday, checked into the Hotel Clarendon with their chaperones, rehearsed, and then performed Sunday through the following Saturday. “In later years [the show] was double cast,” Collins says. “Some performed afternoons, some performed evenings. In the old days, if it rained and [vacationers] weren’t going to the beach, [the children would] do seven or eight shows a day.”
Collins thought it was heaven. His annual sojourns in Atlantic City involved working in the theater for hours every day, but he didn’t mind. “I only saw the beach from looking over the fence. I wanted nothing more than to be where I was. I started out making backstage announcements and pulling curtains,” he says. “I learned from dance teachers who were there at the time. It was an experience that can’t be matched.”
No formal lessons were offered to the young participants, but “Tony Grant taught them how to enter and exit the stage,” Collins says. “He’d select kids to do solos and bring them out and talk to them on the microphone. They learned how to introduce other acts and ad-lib onstage. Kids who might have been shy gained a lot of confidence.”
Alumni who post on the Facebook page have affectionate memories of Grant’s patter. If a young performer tripped onstage, the genial master of ceremonies would call her out afterward, give her a hug, and say, “I know you love me—but you don’t have to fall for me!”
Early on, spectators paid a quarter to get onto the pier; the price slowly rose over the years. Once you gained admittance, all the shows were free. Grant’s kids got to meet celebrities at the music hall next door to the theater where the kids performed. Sometimes they were chosen to be opening acts for the stars, and sometimes the stars came by to watch the children.
Many dance teachers performed in the show in their youth, and some later brought students to the piers. Some have retired; some are in their 50th year of teaching. Collins, who’s had a studio for 38 years, has trained such accomplished dancers as tapper Andrew J. Nemr.
Collins started out tap dancing in Grant’s show beginning in 1964, along with his brothers; one now works for ABC in New York and the other, an advertising man in Charlotte, North Carolina, directs shows at a local theater.
“I consider Grant my mentor,” says Collins. “I learned everything from him: the old show-biz tradition. Dance studios nowadays are very different. There’s a lot more to performing than learning dance steps; [Grant] gave kids the confidence to perform before a live audience.”
Students from his Alexandria studio have performed five times at Disney World, Collins says. “I emceed our show in the old Tony Grant style. He always dressed sharp, in a different fancy suit every day.”
In the ’80s, nostalgic for the Steel Pier era, Collins took a group of students to perform in the March of Dimes Telethon in Atlantic City, to raise money for charity and to honor the memory of Tony Grant. “It is so hard to explain to students how it used to be to have the great opportunity to perform without competing. The whole atmosphere of those days cannot be re-created,” he says.
“Our students do compete; we went to a Beyond the Stars national competition in Atlantic City in 2013. It was the first time I’d been back to Atlantic City in many a year,” says Collins. “Dance has evolved so much since the ’60s. Now [the rebuilt Steel Pier] is just an amusement pier, nothing like it was in the old days.”
Stars of Tomorrow alumni overflow with fond memories. Many have gone on to other careers, Collins says, “but have been greatly influenced by their years performing on the Steel Pier. Some of them performed on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour” in New York City.
Betsy Daily, a dear friend of Collins’ who studied at Grant’s Ventnor City studio from the age of 4, says she danced in the show from 1966 through 1971. Now 60, she runs Betsy Daily School of Performing Arts in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.
“I’d attend the auditions; there was a big camaraderie,” Daily says. She and fellow alums who opened studios “owe a large debt to Tony: we based everything on the way he ran his studio. We learned a lot from him. He had me perform when I was 11 or 12.” She continued performing for Grant on the pier until she graduated from high school, and got her first booking agent through Grant; she opened for performers at Palumbo’s in Philadelphia.
Because she lived in the neighborhood, Daily had a special vantage point on the entire operation. “Tony booked two casts; you’d [perform either at] 11am and 1:30pm, [or] 4:30 and 7:30,” she says. “If it rained we did two extra shows. If I wasn’t doing a show, I’d be working backstage. We became friends with amazing performers: television, movies, Broadway hopefuls, opera singers, pageant winners.
“Once Tony took a liking to you,” Daily says, “he’d give you a two-hour private lesson. He taught me the Mistake Dance, from vaudeville, a soft shoe: you’d do it correctly, make a mistake, then do it correctly, all in time; it was a comedy. He’d say, ‘You need to write these things down!’ He was passing on the old-time vaudevillian steps to me. That’s what tap is all about—sharing, adding your own twists to it.”
Grant was strict, says Daily. “On Saturday mornings on the pier, he’d run through the rules with performers and their parents or teachers: behavior, [and the fact that] numbers were not allowed to be longer than three minutes, with rare exceptions. He always felt you should leave the audience wanting more.”
There were 12 acts per show, running less than an hour altogether. “He’d tell the parents they had to sit at least 10 rows back, because otherwise a lot of them would coach the kids,” Daily says.
She attended the first alumni reunion last year. “I brought my students, 16 dancers who can work anywhere, to show what I’ve accomplished in my years of teaching. I tell my kids what it was like. Back then we were not competing; we learned to perform, to idolize the other performers.”
In 1975 the Midway Theater was destroyed in a hurricane; Stars of Tomorrow finished its 30-year run in the new Little Theater, also on the pier, and renamed the Tony Grant Theater after the remodel. Grant emceed the first show of the day; Collins handled the later ones. The enterprise closed for good in 1978.
At press time, Collins was hoping for a larger Stars of Tomorrow–centered reunion in Atlantic City in July 2014; for information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or check the Facebook group Tony Grant Stars of Tomorrow.
Youth dance teams modeled on the Aggie Wranglers lasso audiences with country-and-western dance
By Joseph Carman
In the Lone Star State, Texas A&M University’s Aggie Wranglers have achieved legendary status. Whenever this exhibition country-and-western dance team, established and run by Texas A&M students, performs at half-time shows or Disney World, on cruise ships, or even in Qatar, their routines—blending swing, polka, and hoedown moves, with complex partnering—bring down the house. Since 1999, a former Aggie Wranglers dancer, Sharon Toups, has passed along that couples-dance style to kids ages 5 to 18, who have achieved celebrity status in their own right.
Toups’ choreography demands exact timing, deft partnering skills, overhead lifts, high spirits, and even higher kicks. It also features more intertwined arms than George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco. The highly skilled kids who perform it, trouping around the state of Texas, comprise the Junior Wranglers (ages 5 to 10), Lil’ Wranglers (ages 6 to 14), and Elite Wranglers (ages 12 to 18). The young team, which has a friendly association with the Aggie Wranglers, performs at festivals, basketball games, and fundraisers, and participates in dance competitions. The Wranglers’ swing style includes a mixture of East and West Coast swing moves, tailored to Texas tastes. The girls wear skirts and boots; the guys wear jeans and boots and sport cowboy hats.
The choreography demands exact timing, deft partnering skills, overhead lifts, high spirits, and even higher kicks. It also features more intertwined arms than George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco.
Toups studied dance from age 5 with Sharon Stevens, director of Sharon’s Studio of Dance in North Houston, and began assistant teaching at age 13. When Toups enrolled at Texas A&M in 1985, at age 17, she became friends with Kimberlee Norris, a fellow student who had formed the Aggie Wranglers the year before. Toups joined the team, dancing and touring with the Aggie Wranglers for three years.
Eventually Toups became the student organization’s vice president. “I coordinated and taught lessons to college students while raising money for the team to travel to Disneyland and Cancun to perform and share our love for country-and-western swing,” she says.
After she graduated from Texas A&M in 1989 with a degree in marketing, Toups married, moved to Hawaii with her husband, and started a family. She taught private dance lessons to children of military families; when she and her family moved back to Texas, she continued to teach privately. Eight years later, after her father died, she opened a dance studio in one room at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Bryan, Texas, which she says, “saved me from a deep, dark depression.” The Bryan studio changed its location (several times) and its name, to Center Stage Productions.
One day when her two children, Seth and Sarah, then ages 7 and 4 respectively, were playing, Toups experienced an “aha” moment. “I was watching him lift and play with her, and I said, ‘Let’s try to do this correctly, technically,’ ” she says. “It was the old dance teacher in me. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing—he could lift her and she could hold her body tight. They could polka and two-step with ease, and they could hear the beat. That’s how the Lil’ Wranglers started.”
Toups called some other parents and started the group with four kiddie couples, all students in her school. She made costumes, assembled the music, and scheduled performances in Brazos Valley, in and around College Station (home of Texas A&M). After two years, the team started competing. At a meeting of the Aggie Wranglers, she asked what they thought about her teaching Wrangler swing to other Brazos Valley youth.
Given the green light, she trademarked the names Lil’ Wranglers® and Elite Wranglers® and is in the process of doing the same for the Junior Wranglers and Wrangler Certified Instructors. Toups says she trademarked the names because she felt the program was unique.
“Building a program from scratch takes money, time, dedication, and hard work,” Toups says. “Being trademarked is beneficial because no one can use our name without my permission, which protects the program’s integrity. Protecting the choreography has been difficult, a fight all choreographers have to deal with. But with the trademark, I have footing to fight against copying if I need to use it. I now have the time to build new franchises.”
Since 1999, the dance troupe has grown from eight Lil’ Wranglers to a total of 71 Wranglers: 15 Juniors, 29 Lil’s, and 27 Elites. Auditions are held each July. “We’re getting contacts from Houston, Dallas, and other studios who are interested in [the franchising of] our program,” Toups says.
In 2011, Toups closed Center Stage Productions to help her daughter pursue a career as a pop singer in L.A. (Toups flies to California regularly to be with her.) The next year, she asked Lynsey and Paul Dorsett of Expressions Dance and Music, in College Park, if they could accommodate the Lil’ Wranglers program. The partnership worked perfectly.
“Expressions Dance and Music is our first Lil’ Wrangler franchise, but it also serves as our home base; therefore I direct the entire program,” says Toups. “Lynsey was thrilled, and I was thrilled. We work really well together. Now all Wranglers train and hang their hats at Expressions Dance and Music.” The Dorsetts leased an 1,800-square-foot space next to Expressions specifically for the Wranglers.
In recruiting boys and young men, the intrinsic style of the program is key: it allows the guys to be guys. “The way to do it is to give them something where they can shine, be themselves, and can compete in something they do well,” Toups says. “This is country-and-western swing for guys.”
Her son, Seth, who has been with the program as an original member since childhood, is the first from the youth program to make the Aggie Wrangler team at Texas A&M. The style, he says, “is very masculine, and every girl down South loves a man who can country-dance. So it’s very helpful for the boys’ confidence.”
Now 22 and six-foot-two, a senior majoring in sports management at Texas A&M, Seth
praises the lifelong benefits of the program: “It taught me how to work with girls, both on and off the floor,” says the former jock, who played high school football, baseball, and basketball while dancing with the Elite Wranglers. “It taught me how to lift and spin girls of any size, and they were completely safe in my arms. This program gave me the confidence to do that.”
Each year, the Aggie Wranglers teach around 3,000 students, faculty, staff, and community members how to polka, two-step, waltz, and jitterbug. Seth teaches weekly lessons for the Aggie Wranglers, as well as for the Lil’ and Elite Wranglers.
“The Wranglers teach more than just dance,” says Paul Dorsett, whose two sons, Bradley, 15, and Blake, 17, dance with the Elite Wranglers. “Sharon hammers home that they are representatives of a program, that they need to conduct themselves in a certain way, especially at a performance venue. The boys open doors for ladies, let them go first. The program teaches them how to better communicate with a partner.”
And there are other benefits. “When we go places to perform,” Dorsett says, “they’re treated like little celebrities. The Lil’ Wranglers are bombarded by people who want pictures with them. We don’t always see that with our dancers in other styles like ballet, contemporary, or hip-hop.”
The team’s young women learn plenty of life skills as well. “The Wranglers gave me more structure and discipline, the ability to see the difference between playtime and being serious, and knowing how to get ready for competitions and performances,” says Jacklynn Espinoza, who joined the first group of Lil’ Wranglers at age 5 and now teaches at Expressions Music and Dance. She serves as Toups’ right-hand gal. “As an adult, I’m able to instill these things I’ve learned into our current group of Wranglers. They understand it’s a rare organization, and a family.”
Starting in the fall, Toups will teach a ballet class at Expressions for those Wranglers who aren’t already studying other dance styles. The studio also offers recreational Wrangler 101 classes for beginners and those who are curious about it.
Nine certified teachers instruct the Wrangler program, all of whom were in the LW/EW program or with the Aggie Wranglers. Toups is working out the details of the franchising plan; initially, with Seth helping to develop the programs, she would like to bring the Lil’ Wranglers to Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio.
For each franchise, Toups will make a custom plan that still adheres to the program she created. Assisted by Seth, she creates all the choreography. “If changes need to be made to a routine for any reason, I can do so,” she says. “I can also create new routines for each studio.”
To minimize competition among franchise studios, they will be 30 to 50 miles apart. “There is never a reason for two Wrangler studios to cross paths or cities to compete, as long as I am directing the situation,” Toups says. “That way it’s beneficial for everybody.”
This summer Toups is taking the Lil’ and Elite Wranglers to Disney World to perform, a trip that includes the kids’ families and is paid for by an annual November fundraiser called the Lil’ Wrangler Barn Dance, which drew 1,000 guests last year. There is no admission charge to any Wranglers performances.
Expressions hosts a weeklong Summer Boot Camp, open to anyone ages 5 to 18, that teaches Wrangler basics. Toups also teaches Boot Camps at other host studios—a great way, she says, for a school to start a Lil’ Wrangler program.
In 2006, Texas A&M created a new position for Toups: technical advisor for safety for the Aggie Wranglers team. “Safety is our number-one priority,” she says. “As a part of risk management, I’ve developed a plan for testing each couple on the safety holds needed for the Aggie Wrangler team’s moves.”
One potentially perilous move called the “cliffhanger” involves the woman dropping from an overhead lift and rolling down her partner’s body. “If they don’t start with the correct grip, the girl could hit the floor,” Toups says. “We usually teach moves in parts so that the boys understand how to protect the girl from falling. We ask the dancers, ‘What do you do if this happens?’ so that the kids are prepared for situations that may arise.” When teaching difficult Wrangler moves, Toups uses mats with qualified spotters.
Toups holds twice-yearly teacher workshops for the Aggie Wranglers, who teach Wranglers-style dance to A&M students and community members. Each semester’s new Aggie Wranglers need teacher training; the seasoned Wranglers hone their teaching techniques.
Each of Toups’ staff of studio teachers (in contrast to most of the Aggie Wranglers teachers Toups instructs) was an Aggie Wrangler, an Elite Wrangler, or a Lil’ Wrangler. “They are already experienced in the style and know the terminology,” Toups says. “I hold a teacher workshop at the beginning of each dance season, as a continuing education [requirement] to remain a Wrangler Certified Instructor.”
Toups says she’s been delighted with the results of the Wranglers program. But would this program fly in other regions of America? Toups thinks so, because “it offers guys an opportunity to dance while not pressuring them to do styles that may not be interesting or comfortable to them. The dancers are taught from day one that the guy is the frame and the girl is the beautiful picture.
“It’s beyond inspiring to watch these young dancers grow in partnering skills, communication skills,” she adds, “to see them work through awkward teen issues, and become victorious in performance abilities.”
They love the applause, Toups says, “but who doesn’t? I teach them to work to entertain the audience; the audience will respond. I teach Wrangler dance as a life skill, a social skill, that they can take with them for the rest of their lives.”
Dance Studio Life’s 10th anniversary brings memories of 50 years in dance
By Karen White
Ten-year-old Rhee Gold’s mother, Sherry, looked at him. “Go sit under a tree and write something.” Rhee thought that sounded like the stupidest thing he’d ever heard. But he did it, and he discovered that he liked to write.
In a life defined by the language of movement, he kept coming back to the written word. He wrote about his high school for the town newspaper, the Randolph [MA] Herald, before dance lured him out of school and into the working world. As a teen, he found himself in the office of William Como, Dance Magazine’s editor in chief at the time, transfixed by stacks of old issues, some dating back to the 1920s and ’30s. Years later, he wrote for that same magazine, and when his columns came back slashed with an editor’s red pen, he studied those corrections in order to become a better writer.
He did more than that. This year, Rhee Gold—dancer, teacher, competition director, studio owner, motivational speaker—celebrates the 10th anniversary of the magazine he founded, Dance Studio Life.
1963–1970: The family business
As a kid, Rhee thought every family had a dance studio in its basement. Each day, soon after he and his twin brother, Rennie, and older brother Tony came home from school, some of their classmates—plus other neighborhood kids—showed up and trouped downstairs for lessons from Sherry. One or two days a week, Rhee followed them. Reluctantly.
For Rennie and him, life was often a “roller coaster,” Rhee says—dance masters like Gus Giordano building them up with encouragement, school bullies trying to tear them down.
“I really didn’t want to dance,” he says. “I didn’t want to put in the effort, and I found it hard to stay focused.” Often he’d say he’d had enough and go upstairs, where his father had cooked dinner.
That was life growing up in a showbiz family in the suburbs. Sherry was a professional dancer; her husband, Al, was a theatrical agent. Other than dance classes in the basement, the household was very Leave It to Beaver, Rhee says—mom in a stylish dress, dad in a suit and tie, the twins riding bikes, playing in the woods, or tormenting Tony (as only kid twin brothers can).
Yet showbiz always peeked through that suburban façade. When the twins visited their father’s Boston office, his friends would provide entertainment—the comedian Lou “Uncle Lou” Bernard would tell jokes; magician Sammy Lyman would pull rabbits out of the boys’ ears. If they ventured across the hall to a former burlesque stripper’s costume shop, they could keep busy all afternoon making buckram bases for pasties.
These people were, Rhee recalls, “diehard showbiz folk from an era that had gone by,” but he and Rennie found them fascinating. And while Sherry stressed the importance of proper dance technique in her classes, “the entertainment thing” was a part of life. “The bottom line was that you had to entertain an audience,” Rhee says.
1971–1980: The spark is lit
The Park Plaza Hotel, Boston: something was wrong with the stage. Rennie and Rhee started their duet, but found themselves smiling at the back wall instead of the audience. They stopped and stated their concerns to the Dance Masters of America competition officials. The officials conferred, then agreed to let the 10-year-old twins—who, after all, had entered from the wrong side—start again.
They did. They won. And attention rained down.
“That was the exact moment when the switch flicked on,” Rhee says. “In the next class, I knew what my mother meant when she said, ‘Dance full out.’ ”
From that day on, he saw himself in showbiz. By age 12, he was taking class five or six days a week, working hard to excel, eager for any opportunity to jump onstage. For Rennie and him, life was often a “roller coaster,” Rhee says—dance masters like Gus Giordano building them up with encouragement, school bullies trying to tear them down.
The bullying “was tough,” Rhee says, “but the more I dealt with it, the more I wanted to be good at dance. It was something to prove—very emotional, but also a huge motivation.”
He found his passion for dance, but for his parents—their marriage stymied by a 26-year age difference—passion was a thing of the past. After the divorce, Rhee’s mom threw herself into teaching and choreographing, attracting pupils from as far away as Maine. She found new friends, an “interesting ’70s showbiz party crowd,” that was in and out of the Gold house. The studio’s performance team, The Sherry Gold Dancers, was a hot act, booking TV appearances and live shows all over the Northeast.
Despite his mother’s success—or perhaps because of it—“the dance thing that was so cool from a child’s perspective” began to show a darker side. City officials worked to shut the studio down. Neighborhood kids stopped coming to class. And, perhaps worse, other dance teachers let their jealousy show.
“I started to realize that some teachers didn’t like other teachers,” Rhee says. “There were times when someone would say something about my mom, and it was powerful. It hurt me. The Sherry Gold Dancers were winning everything, but instead of being excited, we’d leave competitions hurt because others were so unhappy.”
He remembers how his mother’s classroom confidence often faded in social situations, making her appear snobby or intimidating. “I’m like that myself,” he says. “I can get up and talk to a room of 200 teachers, no problem, but if you said, ‘Want to go to dinner with me afterward?’ that would be an issue.”
When the twins were 12, Sherry showed them how to separate whites and darks, measure detergent, run a washing machine. She wanted them to be independent, to know how to take care of themselves. Three years later, Rhee decided the time had come to step out on his own. He opened his first studio.
Most of his students at the Chatham West low-income apartments in Brockton were poor; some had chaotic home lives or were being raised by grandparents. The room where he held class had no mirrors, but after dark, students could follow their reflections in the sliding glass door. Students paid $12 a month, and every night Rhee hid the record player in a cupboard for safekeeping. He put on recitals, learned to choreograph, convinced the Carwoods costume company to let him pay his bills in increments. At age 15 he was teaching three days and supporting himself on $150 a week.
Looking back, he believes many seeds that would shape his future were sown in those days. His desire to see dance teachers support each other in their art became Project Motivate. His mother’s doggedness to keep her studio open fed his own stubborn business sense. And the Chatham West experience taught him that every child, regardless of income or talent, was important—a lesson he often shares at the DanceLife Teacher Conference.
1981–1990: Mr. Dance
Of the twins, Rennie was the stronger dancer, Rhee says. In Dance Masters of America’s 1979 Mr. Dance title competition, Rennie came in first runner-up; Rhee attended convention classes but wasn’t entered for the title. The following year, neither boy entered the title competition. But in 1981 Rhee entered himself, unbeknownst to his mother. “We were not necessarily going to go again, but I was determined to win this,” he says.
After the Randolph studio zoning battles, Sherry had found a fresh start in Brockton, Massachusetts, buying a home, plus a studio building on North Montello Street. Each night, after 10pm when the new studio was quiet, Rhee would work there alone, running his choreography to Queen’s We Are the Champions five times in a row. He found a costume—headband and all—and secured a purple jacket and white pants as formalwear. He went to DMA, and he won. He was Mr. Dance.
“That gave me total confidence in my ability,” Rhee says. “I gained a positive outlook on life. I was also teaching a lot and getting a great response. I look at that period as a really cool time.”
When he gave up his title a year later, Dance Magazine editor William Como was in the audience. The “twin dancers/teacher mom/basement dance studio” story captured Como’s attention, and the subsequent Gold family cover story in Dance Magazine threw a national spotlight on the twins and their mother.
There were weekends when the three of them would be booked to teach at the same event, and weekends when they taught at different events in three separate cities. Como took the twins to Brazil to teach alongside Russian and American master teachers at the Second Annual Congress of Dance; another time, he took them backstage to meet the director of Béjart’s Ballet of the 20th Century. He “pushed us, it seemed,” Rhee says, “a little beyond where we thought we could get ourselves.”
The twins decided if they could teach on the road, they could teach at home, so they opened a dance studio on Boylston Street in Boston. It was the start of three rough years. Days when they didn’t have enough money to get the car out of the parking garage were balanced by days when their adult-centric jazz classes were jammed with students.
When they lost that lease, they moved to Massachusetts Avenue to share a rental space with ballet director José Mateo. The landlord threatened to kick out the dancers because of the noisy jazz and tap, and Rhee withdrew rather than cause trouble for the ballet company. He closed the studio for what he thought would be two weeks. “But I left and never went back,” he says. “It seemed too hard to do it again, like it would be a step back from where we had been.”
Rennie had already left, pursuing a career as a stager and choreographer at Disney World. Back home in Brockton, twin-less for the first time, Rhee taught master classes, sold 10 dance routines for $99, and, in his mother’s garage, ran American Dance Spectrum, a dance competition the Golds had started years before (as Gold Family Presents) to raise money to purchase costumes for a Sherry Gold Dancers engagement in Las Vegas.
1991–2000: The national stage
Rhee was encouraged to expand American Dance Spectrum from one city to three by Carol Fox of Portland, Oregon, whose daughter had traveled cross-country to take lessons from the Golds. Fox provided both financial and emotional support for the expansion, and within a few years the competition was held in 10 cities. Seeing that several other competitions had grown large enough to “go national,” he and Tony took out a home equity loan for $30,000 so they could follow suit.
“I was so scared,” Rhee says. “Mom was scared for us, too—she thought Tony and I would lose our house.”
That fear propelled him to make the expansion a success. For three years, the competition made enough to pay back the loan, but not enough to finance the next year’s events, and another loan was taken out. Finally, in the fourth year, the competition turned enough profit to continue without further loans.
For 14 years, the competition, with the new name American Dance Awards, grew rapidly, until the regional schedule included 50 cities. On some weekends, up to seven events happened simultaneously in cities as far-flung as Montreal, Dallas, and Los Angeles. In 1999, when the competition grew to 25 cities, Rhee brought in Gloria Jean Cuming as a partner to help with the workload. “Then ADA exploded in size, and I was in the same place I had been before,” he says.
No longer serving as an onstage host, Rhee worked as the competition’s troubleshooter. From his office far away from competition events, he’d field a call from Montreal about a delayed judge; while trying to find a replacement, he’d get a call from Dallas, where the venue was locked and the ADA crew couldn’t get in to set up. By the 20th year, he was beginning to feel burned out.
The end came in the form of a phone call from a St. Louis dance teacher claiming that her students had been “psychologically devastated” by receiving a high bronze medal. Rhee wanted out. The competition was 24 years old, but Rhee couldn’t even consider trying to make it to the 25th anniversary.
“After 9/11, with finals in New York City, again it was a struggle to fill a room block,” Rhee says, a headache he hadn’t dealt with since the competition’s infancy. “I turned the reins over to Gloria.”
But only for the competition. Gloria and Rhee were still partners in Project Motivate, launched in 1998.
In ADA’s early days, when dance competitions were new and few, everyone participated fully: parents and students sat through all the numbers (not only their studio’s), and teachers enjoyed the experience. But Rhee noticed that as time went on, teachers became less and less happy. “I’d see how they reacted to each other’s success and think, ‘These dance teachers need to talk,’ ” he says. That thought became Project Motivate: weekend events, half business workshop/half motivational seminar, where teachers and studio owners would be encouraged to talk to one another.
2001–2010: A leap of faith
“What had I done, and what was I going to do now?” ADA was gone, and Rhee needed a new business and a new source of income besides Project Motivate. He had a life’s worth of dance knowledge and dance studio experience—could he do something with that?
He could. With only one employee, he began to create and sell faculty, staff, and student handbooks for studio owners. In 2004 he wrote a book, The Complete Guide to Teaching Dance. After collecting advice and articles from friends, he spent $10,000 to print and post Goldrush, a newsletter for dance teachers and studio owners.
Teachers loved the newsletter, but it was expensive to produce; after several issues, Rhee printed an announcement about the newsletter’s demise. Then a phone call from costume company owner Larry Cicci set Rhee’s mind spinning: he suggested that Rhee sell ads to dance industry–related companies. “Larry hadn’t read the article,” Rhee says, “or he would have known that was the last issue. It was a fluke how the magazine got started.”
He took Cicci’s advice. He studied other magazines’ media kits, made one for Goldrush, and drummed up enough interest to sell 14 full-page ads. Master teacher Finis Jhung gave him permission to reprint one of his articles on education. Rhee now had a full-fledged magazine—though it didn’t make money for four years. But he kept at it. “Advertisers were willing to try it,” he says.
In 2007, Goldrush became Dance Studio Life. “We printed an issue every other month, then seven issues a year, then eight,” Rhee says. “Then 10, which is where it is now, and where it should be.”
As it celebrates its 10th anniversary, Dance Studio Life attracts new subscribers every day. And while well-known, established magazines have gone digital or disappeared altogether, Rhee sees Dance Studio Life as the successful exception.
“The secret is that the magazine has a unique focus. I feel that I and my editors know what the dance teacher—our readership—wants,” he says. “People count on it. They save the issues, use them later as a reference for classroom and business advice. We have found an identity.”
Along the way, there were other jobs, other adventures. After Sherry died, Rhee ran The Gold School for two years, sustaining its momentum and reputation for quality dance instruction until Rennie returned home from Disney and took over the school. And while the Sherry Gold Dancers are long gone, Rennie’s Project Moves Dance Company presents concerts laced with a message of self-affirmation, respect for others and the environment, and the joy of dance. Under Rennie’s guidance, The Gold School celebrated its 50th anniversary in June.
“The school has definitely changed; Mom would not recognize it,” Rhee says. “People say, ‘You guys are so lucky—look what you have.’ But there are two generations behind that school. It’s taken a long, long time—but as we go, we only get better at what we do.”
Rhee’s conviction that dance teachers could work together for the good of all was a solid one, and the intimate Project Motivate spawned the massive DanceLife Teacher Conference—four days of technique classes, business seminars, and motivational sessions that attract hundreds of dance teachers and school owners from the U.S., Canada, and overseas.
At the DanceLife Retreat Center, a teacher/studio-owner oasis in Norton, Massachusetts, Rhee is steadily growing a spring/summer/fall schedule of small-group seminars in a log cabin center where he works and lives.
“Things are settling in,” he says. “I look at life, and at age 53, I want to enjoy the rewards of all this effort. I see myself publishing, writing—and not traveling. If people are interested in hearing what I have to say, they can come to this place.”
He has to struggle, though, to slow himself down. He’s used to having multiple irons in the fire—teaching, directing a competition, running a studio. (“If I had 100 people working for me, we’d be doing 100 things,” he says.) He’s learned to fight against his “reactive” personality, to stop and take a deep breath before speaking. On the other hand, his term as DMA’s president taught him to stand firm for what he believes is right and to handle disagreements with diplomacy.
Even when projects flopped, they yielded valuable lessons. “DanceLife TV—I wanted that so bad. I thought it would be the coolest thing. But it was three very hard years, and I had to give it up,” Rhee says. “But now I know a lot about video production, and I can make better presentations because of what I learned.”
A willingness to learn is part of the reason for Rhee’s successful business ventures, but so is “a constant going for what you want,” he says. “Each one of these things led me to where I am now.”
6 who innovate, influence, inform, and inspire
A 10th anniversary deserves a nod. We’ve given ourselves one in several ways: by devoting this issue, in part, to marking Dance Studio Life’s launch date with a retrospective by publisher Rhee Gold and by giving the magazine a fresh look with a major redesign. But we’ve done something else that we hope will have even more lasting effect: we’ve established a new annual tradition: the Dance Studio Life “Generous Heart” Awards.
Over the years, the magazine has made a mission of shining a spotlight on people and organizations that do important, innovative work in dance education and provide much-needed services to the dance community. So how to choose the first candidates? How would we narrow down the potential choices from the vast array of those who deserve recognition? We scanned 10 years’ worth of magazines and made a long list of candidates; then we asked ourselves what they had in common.
The answer? They are risk takers and generous hearts. They are community-minded and relentless in their pursuit of what they believe in. They are sources of inspiration to the dance world, and to the staff here at Dance Studio Life. In the next 12 pages, you’ll see how and why they deserve to be honored. You’ll see that they take action that exemplifies how dance, when used to its full potential, exerts a vital and transformative force on students, families, the dance community as a whole, and the world.
We are delighted to honor this year’s recipients of the annual Dance Studio Life “Generous Heart” Awards, and we thank them for the good work they do.
Gina Gibney, founder of New York City–based Gibney Dance, assumes many roles while heading up the organization’s three distinct but interconnected branches: the Center, the Company, and Community Action. Some roles require deft administrative skills, others fearlessness in implementing large-scale programs, still others a longstanding and profound commitment to bringing dance to what Gibney calls “corners of the city where people are often overlooked and isolated.”
Gibney Dance’s Community Action program brings 500 free workshops every year to domestic violence shelters throughout the city. As the program’s founder and one of its facilitators, Gibney often encounters skepticism and resistance from women who find themselves in an unfamiliar, alienating environment. “When we say we’re coming to do a movement workshop,” she says, “the reaction can be, ‘You must be kidding. I have all this going on in my life and you want me to dance?’ ”
Gibney and her company dancers are trained to work through those barriers. “Always, at the end, is this overwhelming sigh of relief,” Gibney says. “You hear, ‘When are you coming back? I feel like I’m whole again. I feel like I can breathe.’ It’s because they’ve taken that time and they’ve focused inward; they’ve remembered things about themselves that they like, or people who have inspired them.”
Functioning alongside Community Action and serving the same end—“to create contemporary choreography that expresses the humanity of the moving body, and to reach communities in need”—are Gibney Dance Company and Gibney Dance Center, housed at 890 Broadway.
From one studio Gibney rented for her company in 1991, the center has expanded to eight studios and 15,000 square feet. (See “Doing Well by Doing Good,” August 2012.) The facility provides teaching and rehearsal spaces, plus numerous programs for choreographers, teachers, and other dance artists.
Dance in Process (DiP), gives mid-career choreographers 24/7 access to a studio space for three weeks. They’re also allotted a production office, accessible only to them. “They can put up a projector, hang up costumes in a corner,” Gibney says. “You see how at home they feel, how productive they seem, how easy it is. That’s never the way it is, but that’s the way it should be.”
Gibney’s hopes and ambitions for the dance community don’t stop there. Having been named the successor tenant, in January, to the lower Manhattan space vacated by storied but struggling Dance New Amsterdam, Gibney has big ideas. “We’re building on what was there,” Gibney says, “but also creating a focused, eclectic, and diverse training program” in partnership with organizations like Movement Research and the Martha Graham Dance Company. “These partners will give our programming variety, but we are going to impose a clear conceptual framework on all the programming, so that it feels cohesive, organized, and systematic. It’s a framework meant to provide balance and create context, both for students and for teachers.”
None of this would have happened if Gibney weren’t first and foremost an artist. “It’s the process of creating work and working with my company that feeds everything else,” she says. The three intertwined branches of the Gibney Dance tree are indeed fed by the singularity of Gibney’s commitment to creating and supporting art and artists, both through the center’s educational and choreographer-support programs, and through Community Action.
“Part of what gives [Community Action] its power,” Gibney says, “is that it’s a real living, breathing artist—one who is working in a company, rehearsing, performing, taking class, growing—[who is] bringing work to another setting. There’s a vitality, a forward motion to that. The artists walk into that shelter and they are a breath of fresh air; they are hope, they are insight. They are a different way of living. I don’t think the dancers could do that if they weren’t doing it elsewhere. It’s really about being an artist.”
Being honored with the Dance Studio Life “Generous Heart” Award, Gibney says, is “extremely meaningful to me. So much of the work that’s done in the dance world, certainly in the part that intersects with social justice, is a little unsung. It’s wonderful to be recognized.”
What drives the woman who has done so much to improve the lives of both dance artists and those in need? “I seem to have this need to create,” Gibney says, “whether it’s in the studio or in creating opportunities.”
And how does she do it? “Sometimes you feel like you’re sailing into the wind and not moving, but you persist in the belief that someday the wind will be at your back. I’ve learned that persistence is how you achieve your dream.” And, Gibney adds, “If you love what you do, you can’t lose.”
Mark Wong, Aaron Troisi, Steve Lunger
Hip Hop Fundamentals
See a need; take action. That’s what people with generous hearts do, and that’s what Steve “Believe” Lunger, Mark “Metal” Wong, and Aaron “Professor Peabody” Troisi did. And that’s why their names popped up immediately as shoo-ins for the Dance Studio Life “Generous Heart” Awards.
In 2013, appalled by the financially floundering Philadelphia public school system’s cuts in arts education, these men, the brains and dancing bodies behind Hip Hop Fundamentals, made a proposal: they would present assemblies that use hip-hop to help teach kids standards-based curriculum, expand their understanding of physics, and raise their awareness of civil rights and social justice. (See “Fundamentally Hip-Hop,” December 2013.)
To get started, in October 2013 the trio ran a successful Kickstarter campaign that allowed them to offer schools an irresistible proposal: in-school assemblies at no cost to them. Attention in the form of an invitation to a TEDx conference in Bermuda helped—the positive feedback and press, says Wong, made it “easier to convince schools this is a worthwhile thing.”
Today HHF presents hundreds of assemblies along the Eastern seaboard, runs afterschool workshops in the Philadelphia area, and partners with local nonprofits. Their shows include “Principles of Hip Hop,” “Breaking the Law of Physics,” and “Civil Rights Movements: The Power of Youth Engagement Through the Eyes of Dr. King.” Race is an unacknowledged constant in classrooms, Troisi believes; consequently, this workshop teaches kids facts about the Civil Rights Movement but also reveals how arbitrary and irrational prejudice can be.
Wong and Lunger met as members of a hip-hop crew at Haverford College; their first arts-education job was teaching dance in an afterschool youth program. Troisi, a K–8 teacher with an MA in education, says he “was sold immediately on the idea that young people connect with what Mark and Steve do in an incredibly transformative way.” For these students, hip-hop “is a culture they can identify with and continue to help create—it is an incredibly powerful way to engage them in academic learning,” Troisi says. “That really is what’s happening.” State-required core skills—what Troisi refers to as “generalizable skills, transferable skills”—are taught in the HHF assemblies but also, he says, in Wong and Lunger’s dance classes. “With dance, there’s an attention to detail and an ability to process and apply what you have learned in new ways and to new problems.”
The three men don’t do it alone. HHF employs roughly 10 young male breakdancers, training them in “public speaking, basic performance, educational theory,” Wong says. “That’s an ongoing mission of ours. It’s amazing to see the impact they have on young people.”
The goal is to make independent teachers of these young men, leaving them to carry the current workshop and assembly load and freeing Lunger, Wong, and Troisi to expand HHF nationwide. “We’re working toward creating new programs,” Lunger says, “and it really depends on everyone in the company, which I think is quite beautiful. These young guys come up with some brilliant ideas”—anti-bullying, conflict resolution, a field-day dance/theater program—“which they wouldn’t have the space to do if they didn’t have a platform.”
Mark “Metal” Wong, Aaron “Professor Peabody” Troisi, and Steve “Believe” Lunger (right to left in above photo; repped Hip Hop Fundamentals philosophy and practices at a TEDx conference in Bermuda.
What that means is that HHF isn’t only seeking ways to benefit schoolchildren; it’s “empowering the people in our company to learn new skills,” Lunger says, “and how their voices can be used to affect society at large.”
Not to be ignored is the fact that Lunger, Wong, and Troisi are learning too—about their goals for their students, what’s important to them, and what is possible in a society that de-emphasizes the arts in education.
Lunger says HHF has revealed “how I feel about race, about sexuality, about the criminal justice system in America.” Most important, he says, is “to be honest. You will be a happier person if you’re truthful with yourself and with others. It will open doors of understanding.”
As a teacher, Troisi discovered that working with HHF has “helped me connect with my students,” he says. “It empowers me as an educator to make the content I’m teaching relevant to them as individuals. I think that’s where a lot of the power of what we do as a company comes from—we are connecting with learners in a very personal, meaningful way.”
For Wong, what’s most important is recognizing self-potential. “If the students are going to learn anything, I want them to learn, ‘You can do this,’ whether it’s physics, whatever. We’ve learned that we can do this. As a company, as a community—we can accomplish these things. We might not be changing the entire educational spectrum of Philadelphia, but every single person can start pushing toward more effective education.”
In “Fundamentally Hip-Hop,” Troisi said HHF “isn’t going to revolutionize education in the field.” Here at Dance Studio Life, we think he might be wrong.
—Cheryl A. Ossola
New York City Dance Alliance Foundation
If someone gave you $8.5 million, what would you do with it? Joe Lanteri couldn’t wait to give it away.
“You talk about people trying to find a trophy. Well, here you go—here’s a $120,000 full ride to Point Park University,” says Lanteri, the founder of New York City Dance Alliance competition and convention. “Now, that’s a trophy. That’s truly an award.”
For 20 years, NYCDA has crisscrossed the country, bringing a taste of the NYC dance world to thousands of hardworking dancers. Many of them became Lanteri’s friends, sharing their stories and dreams with him. And for some, he discovered, pursuing dance in college was just that—a dream.
So in 2010 Lanteri quietly established the NYCDA Foundation. (See “Investing in Dancers,” May/June 2011.) “The scholarship program was a natural evolution for me, and it was personal. When I filed the paperwork, I didn’t tell anyone—not my staff, not my managing director,” he says. “It had been in my mind for several years, and I wasn’t going to drag my feet anymore.”
With the nonprofit’s approval in hand, Lanteri turned his attention to his toughest customers—the colleges. As a member of the Juilliard dance faculty, Lanteri knew it wouldn’t be easy to convince dance departments to climb on board a “dance competition” bandwagon; even Lawrence Rhodes, the department director at Juilliard, had once asked him, “Joe, what is it you do on weekends?”
But Lanteri persisted. He created audition events and invited department heads and ballet masters—with no obligation!—to check out the NYCDA dancers in class. He convinced them to attend the foundation’s annual fundraising gala to see the dancers onstage. Intrigued college teachers began to look anew at their own student bodies, and suddenly the number of NYCDA title-winner jackets worn by those students made sense.
Top colleges and universities climbed aboard, scholarships in hand—University of the Arts, Marymount Manhattan, Mercyhurst, Dean, Chapman, University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Pace, and Point Park.
But what about the NYCDA dancers who wanted to pursue dance at other schools? Lanteri began funneling fees generated by his company—such as the convention “observation fee” charged to parents—into a scholarship fund. He started fundraising raffles and contests that member studios could participate in. And he printed “You Are Inspiring” on hundreds of red plastic bracelets and sold them for $2 each, encouraging his dancers to make new friends by sharing them with strangers. These grassroots efforts allowed the Foundation to write “no school attached” scholarship checks.
In only four years, NYCDA has awarded $8.5 million to more than 150 dancers. “That’s the most humbling statement I will ever make,” Lanteri says.
And, he stresses, the scholarships aren’t automatically given to top scorers. “Those are not always for the title winners, not always the stars of the convention,” he says. “The colleges are recruiting kids because they recognize their potential. They are excited about molding their futures. That’s the part that excites me the most.”
Lanteri’s passion for helping dancers he has come to know, whom he has watched grow up and stays in touch with long after they leave high school, is something he shares with many of the teachers who bring students to NYCDA. “For any teacher, you do it with the goal that you are going to make a difference—you can touch the life of one child. You get back incredible satisfaction from that,” he says. “I’m in the position where I can change the lives of hundreds of dancers.
“There is not a day I doubt, for one second, that I am doing what I am supposed to do. I never question why I get on a plane or give up another weekend. I will continue to do what I love to do, and it doesn’t wear me down. My entire team works for that—that feeling of satisfaction that uplifts us.”
The Dance Studio Life “Generous Heart” Award recognizes Lanteri for his teaching soul, and for his ability to elevate the image of an often-misunderstood element of the dance studio industry. “The dance convention and competition world is in its own insulated bubble,” he says. “When I speak to people, I try to make them realize you can’t generalize dance competitions. I quickly, and as politely as possible, correct them that I don’t run a ‘dance competition.’ I say, ‘Let me explain what it is I do.’ ”
Patricia Reedy and Nancy Ng
Luna Dance Institute
For 22 years, Patricia Reedy and Nancy Ng of Luna Dance Institute have pursued the goal of broadening access to dance to all children. Through multiple programs, Luna serves 20,000 children and 300 dance artists, teachers, and social service providers yearly.
Ng and Reedy have invested years in developing Luna’s Professional Learning Component, whose courses, workshops, and coaching provide high-level teacher training to dance educators from studio instructors to college professors to social workers. For Ng, coaching and mentoring teaching artists is one of the most rewarding aspects of the work Luna does. This feels, Ng says, “like it has the most magnitude for changing the way dance and dance education are viewed in our society.”
Ng and Reedy believe that providing a viable living for dance artists is an important step in ensuring that dance and dance teaching gain respect over the long haul. Each of Luna’s salaried, year-round staff members is a working dance artist, teaches in one or more of Luna’s programs, and plays an administrative role in the organization. “I’m not going to retire,” says Reedy, “until the day I see that a dance teacher can make a living without having a spouse with a quote ‘real job.’ ”
Luna’s work in three Oakland, California, public schools—all of which serve the lowest-income families in the city—is also designed for the long haul. The goal, says Reedy, is to have dance “become embedded in the school’s culture.” A full year in a school allows Luna to build the program; the hope is that the school will then hire a dance teacher whom Luna coaches for a year. And it’s working: at New Highland Academy, “every K–5 student gets standards-based dance. Students perform for their fifth-grade graduation, the kids create original works, and there’s a parent/family dance component,” Reedy says.
Luna’s Moving Parents and Children Together (MPACT) program brings family dance classes to rehab facilities, homeless shelters, and other locations to help repair and strengthen bonds between parents and children who have been separated because of substance abuse, domestic violence, or other issues. (See “MPACT on Families,” August 2013.)
“MPACT is near and dear to me,” says Ng, who helped launch the program 14 years ago. “During the last class of every session, we reflect to those families the growth we’ve seen. To see the expression on those mother’s faces, when we tell them the progress we’ve seen in their relationship with their child—it’s priceless.”
In Luna’s Embodied Parent Education, an offshoot of MPACT, Ng and Reedy used Bartenieff movement principles to help participants in a court-mandated parent education program understand child development. One mother told Reedy that her initial goal involved getting her child to walk. After the second week, the mother said, “No, I want her to crawl first. No, no, she needs to slither.” And then the mother said, “You guys had us do these upper-body lifts, and I realized how hard my little baby’s working, and how important it is. And now I just want her to be right where she is.”
“That quote, for me, was significant,” Reedy says. “All of us, we’re always pushing these kids. For me, the universality of that learning was so powerful—because yes, there’s a social justice component to what we do, but at the end of the day, we’re all human beings, trying to figure this out.”
Luna’s Studio Lab—an afterschool program for kids 4 to 17—embodies the philosophy that expression and creativity are fundamental human needs, and that these should be nurtured in a developmentally sound way. The composition-based curriculum allows children to discover, invent, and express themselves at their own pace.
Luna’s founders understand the long-term and interconnected nature of child development, of developing a professional learning program, of creating a life as a dance artist, of nurturing programs in the schools and the community. Asked what receiving the DSL “Generous Heart” Award means to them, Reedy says, “I feel honored to be one of the first recipients of an award that’s all about heart.”
And, she says, she’s moved to receive the award from a magazine that focuses on private studios. Reedy recalls a National Dance Education Organization event speaker who discussed the “sustained impact” of the private dance studio. “We’re the only group here that often sees families all the way from a very young age through high school,” the speaker said.
“That stuck with me,” Reedy says. “I feel a responsibility, a stewardship. We’re transporting those children through many arcs of their lives.”
Susan McCutcheon Coutts
As one of this year’s DSL Generous Hearts, Susan McCutcheon Coutts will get a commemorative plaque. What she needs, though, is a bumper sticker that says “Let Me Tell You About My (Dance) Kids.”
Call her for an interview about herself and her studio, Dance Innovations, in Chatham, New Jersey, and you’ll hear about the benefit show some of her 1,000-plus students will be presenting, and the 30 orphans coming as guests. Ask for her thoughts as an award winner, and she’ll tell you about underprivileged kids, kids with autism, and young survivors of abuse who can take dance, poetry, or art classes because of her school’s scholarship foundation.
Ask about the 10 percent of her students who have special needs—all of whom are mainstreamed into regular classes, with a few on performance teams—and she’ll rave about hugs from her three “special friends” with Down syndrome enrolled in her “favorite” class.
Trying to get a word in edgewise, you say, “What keeps you going with this nonstop schedule of shows, of raising money and giving it away, of collecting Christmas presents for families at the YMCA, of handling 85 students in performance companies, of serving on the Dance New Jersey board, plus running a studio for 27 years?”
“I love what we do,” says Coutts, gracefully deflecting full credit.
Coutts double majored in dance and dance movement therapy at the University of Maryland. (See “Smooth Sailing in the Mainstream,” August 2011.) When she opened her studio in 1986, special-needs students were present from day one. Today, no one thinks twice when they see these kids in class, recitals, or performances.
“Other studio owners say, ‘I want to start a special-needs class,’ and I say, ‘Why?’ ” Coutts says. “Just mainstream them. The students who don’t have a special situation can benefit as much as the kids who do.”
The Dance Innovations Performance Foundation has distributed almost $77,000 in scholarships, donations, or free performance tickets since 2000. Benefit shows raise money for child-centric organizations such as the Healing Heart Foundation (services for children with cancer and chronic pain), Children’s Specialized Hospital, or the Imus Ranch (a working cattle ranch for children with cancer).
Every year, more children benefit. Five individual arts-based scholarships (totaling $1,732) were awarded in 2005. In 2013, almost $7,000 was distributed to 14 individuals at a public gala. Five children from abusive households chosen through the local YMCA also received scholarships anonymously.
A foundation sponsorship program allows residents of two orphanages and other children with special circumstances to attend studio shows free of charge. And three special-needs dancers have received half-tuition scholarships for 13 years.
Coutts’ studio year, particularly from December to June, is hectic. Many of the performances are philanthropically based, like the seven or eight large shows that benefit specific organizations—this May’s show for the Valerie Fund (which supports children with cancer and blood disorders), for example—and the 10 to 15 smaller shows at retirement homes, veteran hospitals, or facilities for disabled children and adults such as the Matheny Medical and Educational Center.
Even when her performance team goes to Florida to perform at Disney, Universal, and Sea World, they squeeze in a visit to Give Kids the World Village, a nonprofit “storybook” resort for children with life-threatening illnesses, and their families.
This belief in dance as a force for good comes from Coutts, but is universally shared at her studio. “The philosophy of our teachers and our foundation is to give the gift of dance or the arts to anyone who is interested,” she says. “It’s really important, and it doesn’t matter who the population is.”
All that outreach is in addition to five June recitals, one or two competitions, a Nutcracker, and top-notch performing opportunities for her advanced dancers, such as January’s World Voices in Motion concert at Carnegie Hall, where her dancers shared the stage with another dance studio, an adult vocal ensemble, and a university choir in a finale choreographed by Coutts. “It was such an amazing experience,” she says.
For Coutts, dance is about sharing, healing, helping others. She talks about dancers who help special-needs students in class, about former students who work for charities or as physical therapists, or the many college essays written about the joy of being onstage and seeing a sick child in the audience smile.
“It’s contagious, the belief that you can make a difference,” she says. “Seeing my students with a direction and feeling good about themselves—that’s what makes me happy.”
Figures in Flight
“Every moment there are opportunities to heal the world in some way,” Susan Slotnick says. (See “Dancing Inside,” November 2013). As a teacher and choreographer, informed by the Jewish principle of tikkun olam—to repair the world—Slotnick is motivated by the belief that dance is life-altering and transformative. For 18 years, she has volunteered to teach modern dance (primarily Horton technique) in prisons.
“Get a group of people who are unhappy, feel trapped, and don’t feel free, and have them lift their arms to beautiful music,” Slotnick says, “and you’ve made a difference—a difference in that moment.”
Slotnick started working with this population 15 years ago, teaching dance to adolescent boys in the Highland [NY] Residential Center. Later, under the auspices of Rehabilitation Through the Arts, she began teaching at Woodbourne, a medium-security correctional facility in upstate New York; there, every Sunday for the last eight years, she has taught classes for 10 to 20 men.
She also works with some of the four Figures in Flight (FIF) companies for young dancers in New Paltz, New York. She directs 11-year-old FIF4, a group of dancers she’s trained since most were 5 years old; and 10-year-old FIF5, a group of incarcerated dancers currently serving long-term sentences. She also serves as a creative consultant for Figures in Flight Released, directed by former inmate and FIF5 member Andre Noel. Founded by Noel four years ago, the company comprises six former inmates.
Slotnick says it took decades for her “to realize that you don’t save anybody, that you don’t provide rehabilitation or reconciliation or redemption to anybody. When you go in to help a population of people who are incarcerated, ill, or wounded in any way, you need to understand that they are the ones with the power to use what you’ve given them for their own benefit.” She adds, “When you deal with a population of people in need, they will very willingly put you in the position of the person who gave them something. They are full of gratitude and thank-yous, and it’s a little bit of a minefield if you listen to that over and over again—you think you’re the one doing it.” She’s learned how important it is, she says, to be humble and “to constantly give the successes to the people who’ve earned them.”
Being recognized for her work has had an effect on the dancers she works with, Slotnick says. When the men at Woodbourne read “Dancing Inside,” she says, “it reinforced their inspiration to do something positive.” As David Montalvo, a member of Figures in Flight Released, says in The Game Changer, a documentary by Indrani Kopal about Slotnick and her work, “being involved in [FIF5 and FIF Released] for so long, it’s [become] a statement from the soul. We are allowing you to see us for who we really are.”
And the work continues. At the end of the next school year, Slotnick will retire her “outside” dance company, FIF4, since the majority of the dancers will graduate from high school. Although this thought causes her some trepidation, she looks forward to experiencing the personal growth that comes with change. In the meantime, along with writing a memoir about her prison work, Slotnick is reviving Welcome to the World, a 20-minute dance for FIF4 and FIF Released. Created in 2001 in response to the war in Afghanistan, the choreography, in which students and former inmates work together, is in Slotnick’s opinion “the best . . . I’ve done,” she says. “It’s about the constantly changing world, about people waking up to the reality of what life is about: to loving each other, to helping each other, supporting each other.”
Receiving the Dance Studio Life “Generous Heart” Award is an unexpected gift, says Slotnick, who has spent her life doing work she believes is important without concern for recognition. After years of witnessing the personal tragedies experienced by all of her dancers, she says she believes that “a generous heart is a broken heart; when it breaks, the contents spill out. The contents of a heart are generous and loving.”
At a dance and circus arts school, students spin, stretch, and fly
By Mary Ellen Hunt
Flying through the air with the greatest of ease, flipping across the floor, folding into impossible pretzels—how many dancers have watched a Cirque du Soleil show and thought, “Maybe I could try that”? At Dance & Circus Arts of Tampa Bay, a 15-year-old school located in Clearwater, Florida, the serious approach to dance training offered by many studios applies in equal measure to circus arts training.
Its owner, the energetic and pragmatic Beth Brier, studied ballet at The School of Pennsylvania Ballet and later jazz with Luigi and Lynn Simonson in New York City. Initially, she founded a studio called BB’s Dance Factory, which offered a fairly typical combination of ballet, tap, and jazz, along with other dance classes. Among the scores of youngsters who studied with her was her own daughter Catie, who began dancing at 10. And Catie was entranced by videos she had seen of Cirque du Soleil.
There aren’t many places where you can get flexibility training. . . . What I try to teach is how to work on alignment, good positions—how to enhance your flexibility and learn how to use it. —Catie Brier
“One day Catie said she wanted to be a contortionist,” Brier says. “At that time, there was nowhere around here to take her for classes in contortion.”
When Catie was 14, the Briers visited Montreal, where she could try some circus classes. Though her daughter loved the classes she took with Laurence Racine, one of the first Cirque du Soleil contortionists, Brier didn’t feel comfortable sending her so far away. Teachers in Montreal recommended that she seek out a Chinese acrobatics coach in San Francisco named Master Lu Yi. The next summer, the family spent a week in California, and at last Brier agreed that her daughter could move to San Francisco to study.
From the age of 16, Catie trained with Lu Yi and with Mongolian contortionist Serchmaa Byamba. She now teaches at the Circus Center of San Francisco and performs professionally with Circus Bella, Trapeze World, and New Pickle Circus.
It wasn’t only the daughter who was fascinated by the circus arts, though.
“When I was in San Francisco, sitting there like a typical mother, I watched them and I thought, ‘You know what? I can do this,’ ” says Brier. “So I took my first private lesson at the age of 50 in San Francisco.”
Few circus-training programs
Though the famed Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College once made its home in Florida, back then, in the 1980s and ’90s, there were relatively few schools in the country that offered circus arts training. As an enthusiastic and increasingly flexible Catie got her dancer friends interested in the techniques she was learning as a contortionist, Brier recognized an opportunity.
“Over time, I kept traveling and taking classes, workshops, and seminars; eventually I got trained enough to start teaching,” she says. She started the circus arts program in 2003, when she changed the name of the school from BB’s Dance Factory to BB’s Dance & Circus Arts of Tampa Bay. Today the studio boasts a program that encompasses 26 classes for ages 5 through adult, taught by eight regular faculty members.
Brier laughingly says that as she built her faculty and developed the curriculum, she “collected” circus arts professionals—like aerialist and stilt-walker Kurt Krynski, who has performed with New York’s Fly By Night Dance Theater, and Brazilian aerialist Tieli Rasmussen, an alum of Ringling Bros. Brier also worked with artists like Debra Brown, who choreographed for Cirque du Soleil, to learn how their acts are constructed, and she has brought in special guests for workshops like Catie’s master classes in flexibility and contortion.
Catie has been teaching summer workshops at her mom’s school for six years. Typically, the 20 to 30 students in her classes range in age from 8 to adult. “Flexibility is such a big thing now,” she says. “My classes tend to be a mixed group, some young, really flexible girls; other people just want to learn to stretch more effectively.
“There aren’t many places where you can get flexibility training,” Catie continues. “And a lot of people who have had stretching coaches come to me, and they turn out to have really bad habits. What I try to teach is how to work on alignment, good positions—how to enhance your flexibility and learn how to use it.”
Giving students a base of solid fundamentals to work from is very much a part of the educational philosophy for both mother and daughter.
“I teach circus arts like I teach classical ballet,” says Brier. “You have to have your basics.” All students start on trapeze, she says, “because it’s the easiest. That way we can teach the proper safety protocols, and get them used to concepts like ‘always hold onto your equipment.’ Then we teach Spanish web [spinning on a braided rope], which gives them upper-body strength. Everybody wants to do fabric [spinning, wrapping, and unwrapping while suspended from a length of cloth], but we tell them they have to build their skills.”
Safety, conditioning, and strength training come up frequently when Brier talks about the range of classes on offer at Dance & Circus Arts. Beyond trapeze and Spanish web, other aerial classes include hoop work known as lyra, as well as work with silk fabric and hammocks, in which the silks are looped like a swing.
Classes in acrobatics and contortion are based on both Chinese and Mongolian techniques and include not only flexibility and hand balancing, but also tumbling; they’re popular with figure skaters and cheerleaders as well as dancers and gymnasts. Of the school’s roughly 150 to 170 students, Brier says some gymnasts and cheerleaders come only to take flexibility classes.
“We have adult students starting all the time,” says Brier, “and a large proportion of them are people in their 20s who want to do circus for fitness. They take aerial fitness, some take flexibility, and some also take our hybrid dance class of ballet barre and modern center. We also have older people, though—one of our students is a 52-year-old guy who just loves it.”
Every circus arts class ends with 15 minutes of basic conditioning exercises to help build core strength. And Brier also makes sure that serious students in the circus arts program also takes dance. The studio offers a hybrid class, popular with circus arts students, that starts with a ballet barre for placement and includes more free-form modern work in center.
Circus skills add to the resume
Ballet undergirds the studio’s dance curriculum, which offers what Brier considers the essential basics of classical technique, along with modern, jazz, musical theater, tap, hip-hop, and Highland dance.
“Dancers, with their lines and ballet background, make beautiful circus performers,” says Brier. And, she adds, “nowadays what’s important is that all dancers be trained in many things—Luigi, Fosse, African, Graham, Horton—you need all these styles in your backpack. Of course, we say that everything is so important in your training, and there aren’t enough hours in the day. But it can only help to add these other skills, including circus work, to your resume.”
In 2012 the studio, which had been holding dance and circus classes in two separate locations, moved to a new 8,000-square-foot location. An airy 2,500-square-foot circus center that’s ideal for aerial and tumbling work shares the space with three dance studios.
Over the past 11 years, the circus arts program has grown along with the school. Brier notes that she has added a preprofessional level for students who are serious about a career in the business. It’s like the dance industry, Brier says: “Some students become physical therapists; some go into choreography and teaching. One of our students is in Chicago working with The Second City, a feeder company for Saturday Night Live. They love her because she is so physical with her comedy, and that’s from her dance and circus training.
“In order to progress, you need to be at a certain level, so we have check sheets,” Brier continues. “For instance, in Level 2 you have enough skills and experience to start thinking about how to put all your skills together on each piece of equipment.” During an open gym time on Fridays, she says, students work on self-designed acts tailored to their skills; teachers are there to help them with their transitions and arm and head placement, for example. “Entrances and exits are key to developing a well-sculpted act, so a lot of attention is given to them,” Brier says. “Open gym is the time to become ‘one’ with your equipment, so that the performance will be seamless.”
At Dance & Circus Arts, once students have gotten general basic training, they often choose a favorite apparatus or area to hone as their specialty. Along with their training, the faculty helps them with everything from tips on costuming, hair, and makeup to how to present themselves professionally at a gig.
Brier’s most dedicated students can join her invitation-only performing troupe, Moving Arts of Tampa Bay, which performs for events and parties and has had a standing weekend gig at a local Mexican restaurant, Casa Tina, for six years. “We perform on static trapeze, lyra, and fabric,” Brier says. “We do three sets of 15 minutes each. Three aerialists/dancers rotate on the equipment so the audience sees something different each time.”
Besides producing school recitals, Brier also puts together an annual show called Fairies, Inc.—an extravaganza of acrobatics, aerial acts, contortion, and dance, all wrapped in a frolicsome story about fairies hunting for a misplaced magical star. Typically the company donates a portion of the proceeds to a good cause; last year it was the Make-A-Wish Foundation—“because fairies also make wishes come true,” says Brier. Although Fairies, Inc. won’t be performed this year, the show will return in March 2015.
“Fairies is a joyous show of insanity. It’s my toy,” Brier says. “The whole reason I started the circus school was so I could do more with my choreography in our shows. The dance studio was running fine as a traditional studio, but I wanted more. When I added circus arts, I had so much more fun creating shows. Fairies, Inc. is a combination of musical theater, ballet, and character work.”
What she wanted to do with Fairies, she says, was “create a show that brings the little kids in and gives them something they can grow in and gain experience with, so that by the time they turn 12 they are formidable performers. I want them to watch the older kids and get inspired by that. Plus, fairies are mischievous, silly, and crazy, so there are amazing dancing moments as well as beautiful aerial acts.”
What better way to cap off a year of intensive circus training than with a bit of joyous insanity?
Dance Metro DC, the regional service organization for dance in the DC area, has announced two new grant programs designed to put resources directly into the hands of artists: the 2015 Choreographers Commission Grant, and the Rehearsal Space Subsidy Program.
The Choreographer’s Commission Grant program will support the creation and development of new dance works through three grants of $2,000 each made to DC–area choreographers.
The program will also include a series of monthly professional development sessions open to the public ($15; or $5 for Dance Metro DC members). Topics will include fundraising, budgeting and finance, writing about your work, and marketing. Participants can also receive feedback/mentoring.
The Rehearsal Space Subsidy program will award four grants of $500 each to be applied to the costs of rehearsal/studio space. Grantees will be selected by random lottery from the pool of eligible applicants.
Applicants must be dancemakers, current members of Dance Metro DC (at any level), and reside within the Dance Metro DC service area (the District of Columbia; Montgomery County and Prince George’s County in Maryland; Fairfax County, Arlington County, and the city of Alexandria in Virginia). Applications will be available at www.dancemetrodc.org beginning October 1 and must be submitted by November 15 at 5pm.
The choreographer Paul Taylor startled the dance world earlier this year by reinventing his company as Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance, which he said would perform his works along with those of other modern dance pioneers and contemporary choreographers.
Now the new enterprise is coming into somewhat clearer focus: the company announced Sunday that its inaugural season, running March 11 through March 29 at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, New York City, would feature old and new works by Taylor; Doris Humphrey’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor performed by the José Limón Dance Company; and Shen Wei Dance Arts performing Shen’s Rite of Spring.
The New York Times said the season will include plenty of Taylor works, including two new ones: Sea Lark, with sets and costumes by Alex Katz, and an as-yet-untitled piece that will be Taylor’s 141st creation. The company, which has drawn the ire of musicians in the past by using recordings, plans to bring back live music played by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and conducted by Donald York.
To see the original story, visit http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/21/paul-taylors-american-modern-dance-sets-new-season/.
The ranks of professional dancers are still dominated by females, and both ballet and modern choreographers still face challenges finding a sufficient number of males when casting. But things are changing, according to the Seattle Times, and this year’s biannual Men in Dance Festival is proof.
The festival received more artist submissions than ever before in its 20-year history—double what the festival can present over its two weekends. The variety of dance works will be more varied, with more pieces by big names like Mark Morris, dance pioneer Ted Shawn, Cirque du Soleil’s Darren Bersuk, and former Seattle icon Bill Evans.
According to festival co-producer Gérard Théorêt, as word about the festival has spread—and as dance has become more “acrobatic” and has gained exposure on televised reality shows—it’s been easier to attract submissions, including ones from outside Seattle. Almost half of this year’s choreographers and companies come from elsewhere: New York, Ohio, Oregon, New Jersey, California, and Canada.
And unlike previous years, when the festival had to repeat some works to flesh out its two different programs, of the 17 dances being presented this time around, only one (a solo choreographed by the pioneering choreographer and supporter of men in dance, Ted Shawn) appears twice. That’s a major feat considering that only male dancers are allowed as performers.
The festival, running September 26 to 28 and October 3 to 5 at Broadway Performance Hall in Seattle, includes an opening-night tribute to Kaleidoscope director Anne Green Gilbert, who is retiring this year, and a workshop geared toward teachers, led by Evans.
Tickets are $20 to $35, with some pay-what-you can tickets available on Saturdays, and are available at 800.838.3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com. To see the original story, visit http://seattletimes.com/html/thearts/2024579785_menindancexml.html. For more information, visit http://www.menindance.org/.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will contribute $750,000 to New York City’s Gibney Dance to support its Dance in Process residency program, bolstering an impressive fundraising year for the organization, which operates a dance company, two dance centers and a community action program for victims of domestic abuse, the New York Times reported.
The residency will focus specifically on midcareer artists, a demographic often left out of major funding support in favor of so-called established or emerging artists.
This is the second large gift received this year by Gibney Dance, the organization run by Gina Gibney, one of Dance Studio Life’s inaugural “Generous Heart” award recipients. In January, the Agnes Varis Trust announced a $3 million gift that allowed Gibney Dance to take over and renovate a 36,000-square-foot space at 280 Broadway that Dance New Amsterdam relinquished when it declared bankruptcy a year ago.
Over three years, the Mellon gift will provide 30 artists with a three-week residency and establish a choreographic center at Gibney’s other Manhattan space, 890 Broadway, where the company has been based since its founding in 1991.
The Dance in Process program has been in pilot mode for the past two years with virtually no financial backing. “The Mellon support will give it real depth and will really ground it,” Gibney told the Times. “We will be able to support these dance artists at a whole new level.”
To see the original story, visit http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/22/arts/dance/750000-grant-for-gibney-dance.html?_r=0.
Proposal submissions are due November 15 for the 2015 Isadora Duncan International Symposium, “Discovering Duncan,” set for June 11 to 13 at the Joffrey Tower, Chicago.
Isadora Duncan is often credited with many “discoveries” foundational to the development of modern dance: the relationship between breath and gesture, the use of weight and gravity, individual expression as valid dance content, and dance as a vehicle for social and political platforms. She is also credited with “rediscovering” the Greek dance aesthetic, and some credit her success to “being discovered” by producers and other artists from Augustine Daly to Loie Fuller.
The symposium is an opportunity for Duncan dance practitioners to demonstrate their methods and techniques, share important experience and knowledge, and present research and scholarship to a wider international Duncan community. It is also an opportunity for both presenters and participants to learn from each other in practical, theoretical, physical, and artistic realms.
Presentations can take many formats, including workshops or master classes, readings or lectures, panel discussions, roundtables, informal showing of choreography, video showings, or others.
For more information, visit http://duncansymposium.com/proposal-submissions/.
Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, Massachusetts, and Ballet Austin in Texas announced last week they are partnering to provide students and teachers of dance at both organizations expanded teaching, learning, and performance opportunities.
The organizations will share resources, facilities, and professional expertise, according to Metro West Daily News.
“We are thrilled to partner with Ballet Austin to provide our students and faculty of dance with access to the talent and resources of one of the nation’s premier ballet companies,” Michael Owen, Walnut Hill director of dance, said. “The nature of this collaboration is incredibly unique and opens up a dynamic set of possibilities for our student dancers.”
The two organizations will work to identify Walnut Hill seniors who are ideal candidates to enter Ballet Austin’s Butler Fellowship Program, a year-long, post-high school training initiative. Fellows rehearse and perform with Ballet Austin’s companies. Up to 15 fellowships are awarded annually.
Ballet Austin associate artistic director Michelle Martin will visit Walnut Hill in October to teach a series of master classes, and the organizations are pursuing other potential opportunities to collaborate.
Walnut Hill recently announced an academic partnership program with Boston Conservatory that allows select graduates to earn a BFA in Dance in three years at the conservatory.
To see the original story, visit http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/article/20140918/NEWS/140915990. For more information, visit http://walnuthillarts.org/admission/arts/dance/ballet-austin-partnership/.
A full house was on hand for last Saturday’s 60th anniversary concert of Terpsichord, the longest running high school modern dance company in the country, according to director Cathie Kasch, chair of the Girls Preparatory School Fine Arts Department in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Kasch says it was an “emotional homecoming” for the 36 alumnae who contributed choreography, attended rehearsals, and performed once again as a GPS dancer.
The Chattanoogian reported that Terpsichord began in 1954 under the direction of Peggy Evans Thomas. One dance on the anniversary concert program involved Thomas leading the Terpsichord alumnae in an improvisation once again, this time on stage with the audience watching. “They got to see the process of dance,” says Laurel Zahrobsky, assistant director and one of the participating alumnae.
Thirteen dances, including one by alumna Risa Callaway Miller, Class of ’90, and her two daughters currently in Terpsichord, were interspersed with video reflections from four alumnae in California, Philadelphia, and New York who could not attend: Mary Ann Casavant ’00, Lindsay Meek Edwards ’99, Jessica Robinson Love ’00, and Sarah Anne Patz ’72. All are still involved in dance education, outreach, or therapy.
A post-concert reception for the returning alumnae and their families seemed to prove Kasch’s belief that Terpsichord is “a place where different generations can come together and share a common bond.”
To see the original story, visit http://www.chattanoogan.com/2014/9/17/284537/GPS-Reunion-Dance-Concert-Plays-To-Full.aspx.