2 Tips for Modern Teachers: Challenge the core and liquid breath.
Challenge the core. To build students’ core strength in each class, have them do the yoga “plank” with weight on the forearms. Tell them to hollow the abdomen (exhaling to bring the navel closer to the spine) and maintain this form for at least 30 seconds. As they become stronger, encourage them to place one hand at a time behind the back and then to lengthen one leg at a time until the foot leaves the floor. Incorporating these into longer movement phrases with music allows students to experience them as dancing rather than exercises.
Muscular strength is not the same thing as stability; flexibility is not the same as mobility. Clarity of form without resilience leads to rigidity; flexibility without grounding creates formlessness . . .
By changing “front” regularly, you will facilitate the kinesthetic learning that is so important in modern dance, in which each artist is expected to find her/his uniqueness rather than look a certain way.
Good teaching is often more about asking appropriate questions than about giving answers. By learning how to investigate movement concepts, students become empowered to participate in generating knowledge.
When dancers compete with others, their focus is often outside their bodies. But they learn more efficiently and deeply when they are aware of internal sensations and feelings.
When Natta Haotzima arrived in the United States from Mexico City seven years ago, she felt both the sting and the promise of her new home.
To help students find dynamic variation and movement efficiency, I guide them into moving from the three different weight centers.
When I ask teenage dancers what a plié is, often they answer, “Bending the knees.”
As you enter the studio, notice your own breath to help you become centered. Draw your students’ attention to their breath to help them become present in body, mind, and spirit.
Legendary modern-dance pioneer Isadora Duncan (1877–1927) believed in nature as the primary source of inspiration for a dancer. While classes in Duncan technique are not as common as classes in the techniques of other modern dance greats such as Martha Graham or José Limón, Duncan’s legacy is thriving at The Meadow Dance Studio in New York’s scenic Hudson Valley.
Last November I saw a performance by butoh troupe Sankai Juku that got me thinking about something we rarely do in our speeded-up world: slow down.
For two women in Austin, Texas, modern dance is the center of the universe. This universe is kept spinning by three separate but interconnected entities—a physical dance space, a dance school offering classes for serious adults, and a dance company. Both the women and their businesses are devoted to the teaching, making, and performing of modern dance.
“What exactly is modern dance?” It’s a question the teachers at studios that offer modern are likely used to hearing. And it can be a notoriously hard one to answer. In fact, it could be argued that there are as many definitions of modern dance as there are modern-dance makers, because at the heart of the form’s identity is self-expression.
I started teaching in 1953 and began developing my own method in 1968, drawing from many influences, including various styles of modern dance, rhythm tap, ballet, Laban Movement Analysis, Bartenieff Fundamentals, anatomy, kinesiology, and learning theories. In sharing my work with teachers, I’ve discovered an exponential impact; they pass on to their students what they find meaningful in my work. I am thrilled to know that dancers whom I will never meet are experiencing the ideas and practices to which I have devoted much of my life.
Some people collect spoons, others, first-edition literary classics, or even Pez dispensers. Nancy Newell collects dance—of all genres—for her eclectic three-studio space in Northwest Washington, DC. With offerings that range from belly dance to Zumba, the three-story walkup is hopping and popping from 9:00 a.m. to midnight, or even later. Newell calls the 11-year-old operation DC Dance Collective (DCDC) because to her, an expert rhythm tapper, “that collective spirit is something I really like. I didn’t want [this place] to be ‘Miss Nancy’s School of Dance’; I’m a team player.”
You’re in the middle of a performance or a long combination in class when suddenly you can’t remember which step comes next. What do you do? You can stand there and look befuddled, or you can make up the next step. Improvisation—the art of making up a step on the spur of the moment—has a place in the classroom, on the stage, and in the creative process. All across the dance landscape, teachers use improvisation to help dancers learn to think on their feet, be inventive, and investigate their own movement qualities.
Recent whispers I’ve overheard in theaters as grand as Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center and as populist as a park amphitheater suggest that modern dance, at least of a certain bent, is not all that accessible or popular. For example, as I watched Daniel Burkholder’s DC-based company, The PlayGround, I noticed the couple sitting in front of me. The piece was cerebral, addressing environmental issues in a structured but open-ended manner. Yet that couple wasn’t having any of it. At first salt-and-pepper hair/khaki pants snickered at the improvisational, perpetual motion of the dancers. Prim polo shirt giggled. I could see the red flag of pretension rising in her mind’s eye as she listened to a voice-over recounting environmental disaster. Before the lights came up, they walked. Sure, it was a free performance —nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? But evidently modern dance—or at least modern dance of a certain sort—wasn’t enough to keep this seemingly well-educated couple in their seats.
Technique, as any good teacher will tell you, is a means to an end, not an end in itself. In the 20th century, when modern dance was born, it seemed nearly every choreographer wanted to distinguish herself with a specific style and technique. Numerous camps developed as dancers, students and professionals, aligned themselves in balkanized fashion with a specific choreographer or technique. You could tell a Graham dancer by the way she held her chin and wound her hair in a high, full bun. A Dunham dancer? The walk, like coursing through a sandy beach, gave it away. But today, choreographers and artistic directors demand versatility, not allegiance. The ability to remain flexible enough to tackle any number of stylistic or technical demands is what divides good dancers from great ones. The techniques below may be built on differing foundations but the end result remains constant: well-trained and adaptable dancers.
Modern dance began in the United States and Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, but it has taken its own sweet time to make it onto the “ballet, tap, jazz” list in neighborhood studios. It’s still not a commonplace class offering, but some school owners, like Lisa Simko Schumann and Diane Giattino, have dared to be different.
My school, New Hampshire School of Ballet, had had a long tradition of a primarily ballet curriculum when I purchased it from my aunt in 1990. But after three years, I realized that today’s students need to be well-rounded dancers.
Mention the name Mark Morris and most of us will think of the multitalented choreographer who has lit the dance world on fire with his profound musicality and intensely visual dances. But did you know that this modern dance legend also heads up a neighborhood studio?