Jeanine Mason, So You Think You Can Dance season five winner, has booked a recurring role on the ABC Family ballet drama Bunheads, starring Broadway diva Sutton Foster, The Hollywood Reporter has learned exclusively.
Bunheads returns January 7 at 9pm, and Mason’s first episode will air January 14. Mason and newcomer Niko Pepaj will play close-knit siblings—a well-traveled, educated, and artistic duo new to the town of Paradise.
Mason was 18 when she became the youngest winner of SYTYCD. She next appears in Default, a film scheduled to be released next year that tells the story of “the hijacking of an American news crew’s plane on an African runway by Somali pirates who were the subjects of their reportage,” says Screen Daily. Her credits include CSI, Big Time Rush, and The Secret Life of the American Teenager.
Pepaj has appeared in MTV’s TV movie My Super Psycho Sweet Sixteen: Part 3. To see the original story, visit http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/bunheads-jeanine-mason-recur-390123.
So You Think You Can Dance Game
Observing students with a critical eye and responding with thoughtful feedback is something dance educators do in every class. You can let your students practice these skills as well by using So You Think You Can Dance as a format for a role-playing exercise for 10- to 13-year-olds.
Hostess: Responsible for introductions and keeping the show moving. Learning outcome: develops public-speaking skills and poise.
Contestants: Each chooses a genre from a hat—ballet, jazz, tap, or lyrical—and must improvise to music chosen by the sound designer (probably you). Learning outcome: helps students overcome the fear of being “wrong” and become comfortable with improvisation.
Judges: Each has a card labeled with one dance concept to discuss when “judging.” Learning outcome: introduces various elements of dance.
Judges must use dance vocabulary and talk about how the contestants expressed the element being judged. Discourage default comments such as “That was cool!”
Assign an older student to design fun, colorful cards that illustrate a concept or term. The designer will benefit from reviewing the material as she creates the cards. Review cards at the beginning of the exercise so that everyone understands each concept. Concepts may include:
• Shape: how the body forms lines (straight, curved, angular)
• Levels: high, medium, low; vertical, horizontal, oblique
• Floor patterns: patterns and pathways a dancer covers onstage
• Time: slow, fast, varied (encourage description)
• Rhythm: organization of beats; use of accents
• Dynamics: quality of movement
• Weight: strong/light, sense of groundedness
There are many ways to customize this exercise to suit your teaching agenda, but one of the most valuable aspects of this lesson is discussing why judges on TV, in an audition, or at a competition may not agree. Students can begin to understand that dance is an art that leaves interpretation up to each individual.
Keeping Tappers on Their Toes
Keeping your students interested and motivated in tap class can be a challenge. Here are five suggestions to keep you, the students, and your class moving.
Rhythm games: Two students stand back to back. One student creates and taps out a 4-bar phrase. The other student, using only her listening skills, tries to tap out the same rhythm. Each student takes a turn listening to and creating a rhythm.
Tap trains: Teach a 4-bar phrase to your students without music. Once they have learned the rhythm, have them stand side by side. The students tap the phrase one at a time, keeping time as they pass the combination down the line from dancer to dancer. Depending on your philosophy, you can make it a contest. Students who don’t hold the time have to step off the train. The remaining students stay on the train and do the combination again, increasing the tempo until only one dancer remains.
Call and response: Have students watch and listen as you tap out a 2-bar rhythm to music. The students should then echo the rhythm back, staying on time. Repeat the cycle but change the rhythm pattern. It is an effective warm-up that keeps both students and teacher on their toes.
Exercises: Choreograph an 8-bar tap exercise. It should focus on one step—such as shuffles, heels and toes, paddle and rolls, or pullbacks—and be a familiar pattern. Teach a new tap exercise every month. By the end of the year, you will have a repertoire of warm-ups. They are excellent learning tools and the students can enjoy doing something they know each week that will help them with clarity of sound and memorization.
Nursery rhyme tap: For young students, create a tap combination to nursery rhymes. Have fun with your students singing and tapping out the songs. “This Old Man” is a great example.
—Mary Beth Marino
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will perform an excerpt of artistic director Robert Battle’s The Hunt on Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance on July 25. The performance of this powerful piece for six men marks the fourth time the company has been invited to guest star on the show.
AAADT will perform internationally this fall, followed by an annual holiday season at New York City Center from November 28 through December 30 and a 21-city US tour in 2013.
For more information, visit: http://www.alvinailey.org.
Producer Nigel Lythgoe dropped a bomb on So You Think You Can Dance fans in this New Year by announcing via Twitter that Fox has canceled the dance competition’s results show, reports EW.com.
“#FOX have [sic] cancelled the results show so I will have to change the format of #SYTYCD. At least we have another season at the end of MAY,” he said via Twitter, adding later, “I’m certainly not mad at FOX they have supported #SYTYCD FOR 9 seasons. With the help of [Fox president of alternative entertainment] Mike Darnell I think we have some great new ideas.”
The show has slipped steadily in ratings during its most recent season, with most of last season averaging a bit over five million viewers. The cancelation of the results show is likely a response to collective displeasure with an aging format.
Lythgoe and his team reportedly are working out a new format for SYTYCD that will accommodate their anticipated new schedule and format, details of which have yet to be made available.
To read the full story, visit http://popwatch.ew.com/2012/01/02/so-you-think-you-can-dance-results/.
Former So You Think You Can Dance contestant Melinda Sullivan and Imagiland Productions have teamed up with producer George Wang to present Shakin’ The Blues Away, a song and dance tribute to late performer Ann Miller.
According to Playbill.com, Shakin’ The Blues Away is a musical short film that pays homage to Miller and features original choreography by Sullivan and a brand-new arrangement of Irving Berlin’s classic tune by Adam Bravo. It is directed by Dante Russo.
“Ann Miller has always inspired me out of all the MGM women because of her audacious personality and fiery footwork,” said Sullivan in a statement. Tap dancer Sullivan is best known for participating in the Fox reality show So You Think You Can Dance and has also been seen on Dancing With the Stars and Glee.
Miller was seen on Broadway in George White’s Scandals, Mame, and Sugar Babies. She was also known for her film and television credits, which include Dames at Sea, Kiss Me Kate, On the Town, You Can’t Take It With You, and Easter Parade, in which she performed “Shakin’ The Blues Away.”
Prospective contestants for “America’s Favorite Dancer” are expected to line up around the block at the FOX Theatre in Atlanta on January 5 when auditions begin for the ninth season of So You Think You Can Dance.
According to BroadwayWorld.com, the audition tour will also hit McFarlin Memorial Auditorium, Dallas, on January 13, Manhattan Center, New York City, on January 23; Capitol Theatre, Salt Lake City, on February 23, and the Orpheum Theatre, Los Angeles, on March 2.
Dancers making it through the first round will travel to Las Vegas for callbacks, where they will work with top choreographers to learn and then be judged on multiple styles of dance.
Registration will begin at 8am at each venue. Dancers traveling to cities for the open calls should make arrangements to stay for at least two days following their initial audition in the event of a callback.
Dancers must be either a U.S. citizen, legal permanent U.S. resident or possess a current legal Employment Authorization Card enabling them to seek employment freely in the U.S. (i.e., without restrictions as to employer) by the date specified in the eligibility rules. Dancers must be no younger than 18 or older than 30 on the first day they register for auditions. Dancers who are minors in their state of residence must also have a parent or legal guardian sign all required documents. Dancers must provide legal, valid proof of age when they register for auditions.
For more details on auditions and full eligibility requirements, go to www.fox.com/dance.
After its Season 4 finale this past weekend, the Canadian edition of the TV hit So You Think You Can Dance has been canceled.
“I can confirm that So You Think You Can Dance Canada has not been renewed for a fifth season,” said Scott Henderson, vice-president of communications at Bell Media.
The company released the following statement: “After four seasons and 92 episodes, CTV has decided to pursue other program strategies. This decision was made after careful consideration, including viewership and economic factors. We remain extremely proud of the legacy of So You Think You Can Dance Canada, including raising the profile of dance in this country.”
The show averaged just over a million viewers a week over the summer, making it one of the highest-rated Canadian-made programs. However sources told The Star that the numbers for Sunday’s finale were almost 30 percent lower than last year.
The series provided a showcase for Canada’s young dance community, making stars out of winners and non-winners alike, including Nico Archambault, Tara-Jean Popowich, and Denys Drozdyuk. On Sunday, Jordan Clark, a 19-year-old contemporary dancer from Tottenham, Ontario, was declared Canada’s favorite dancer and given $100,000 and a car.
“I’m really upset because this was a passion of mine, this was my life,” Tre Armstong, a judge on the series, told The Star. “Canada really deserves this show still; we really want it. We still need it.”
To read the full story, visit http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1053064.
So You Think You Can Dance’s eighth-season Top 10 finalists will dance across North America this fall during the show’s 2011 tour, beginning September 17 in Orlando, Florida, and finishing up November 2 in San Diego, California.
The fall tour will feature this season’s most popular routines as well as original pieces created specifically for the nationwide tour. The tour line-up includes the following top 10 finalists: Caitlynn Lawson, Clarice Ordaz, Jess LeProtto, Jordan Casanova, Marko Germar, Melanie Moore, Mitchell Kelly, Ricky Jaime, Sasha Mallory, and Tadd Gadduang.
Tickets to most shows are available at Ticketmaster locations, online at www.AEGLive.com or www.ticketmaster.com, or by checking your local venue information. Log on to www.fox.com/dance for a full list of dates and links.
Ryan Ramirez, a Top 12 So You Think You Can Dance contestant from this year, will lead a master class July 21 from 7:30 to 9pm at Nor Cal Dance Arts, 418 N. Capitol Avenue, San Jose, California.
Nor Cal Dance Arts staff and families were supporting Ramirez long before she competed on the show, and they are excited to have her back for an evening of dance and fun. The class is part of NCDA’s Master Series, where advanced and professional dancers take class from some of the industry’s top professionals.
To thank Ramirez’ fans and supporters, NCDA will host a meet-and-greet after the class. For more information, visit www.norcaldance.com.
Hip-hop choreographer and So You Think You Can Dance favorite Stephen “tWitch” Boss will guest teacher at an intensive workshop August 20 and 21 at Dance Rogue, 2060 Mitchell Drive, Oswego, Illinois.
Boss will teach four intensive classes, as well as a mini-class for ages 8 and under, at the workshop hosted by Storm Dance Alliance. Kathy King, Morgan Williams, and Dance Rogue’s CEO and founder, Charles Lawrence, will be teaching the intensive lyrical, jazz, and contemporary classes.
Boss’ breakout appearance on SYTYCD led to appearances in the movies Step Up 3D and Stomp the Yard 2: Homecoming. “My excitement is beyond words about this particular event,” Lawrence says. “My goal in having a presence like tWitch at the workshop is to really inspire dancers to think bigger and reach higher.”
The cost for nine classes over two days in Level 1 or Level 2 lyrical, jazz, hip-hop, and contemporary, as well as an audition class where students can earn awards and scholarships, is $200. The mini-class is $35 in advance or at the door. A special All-tWitch Package that includes Boss’ four intensive classes is $135.
Calling all dancers—the final open audition for Season 8 of So You Think You Can Dance will be held March 12 and 13 at the Orpheum Theatre, 842 S. Broadway, Los Angeles.
Registration begins March 12 at 8am, with callbacks set for March 13 at 1:30pm before judges Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and Tyce Diorio. Top dancers will be given a ticket to Las Vegas for callbacks, where they work with top choreographers to learn and then be judged on multiple styles of dance.
Dancers must be either U.S. citizens, permanent legal U.S. residents, or possess a current legal Employment Authorization Card enabling them to seek employment freely in the United States (i.e., without restrictions as to employer) by the date specified in the eligibility rules. Dancers must be no younger than 18 and no older than 30 on the first day they register for auditions. Any dancer who is a minor in his/her state of residence must also have a parent or legal guardian sign all required documents. Dancers must provide legal, valid proof of age when they register for auditions. Check www.fox.com/dance for full eligibility rules.
Monsters of Hip Hop presents an open master class for intermediate and advanced-level dancers with Luther Brown on March 4 in Maryland.
Brown, a judge for So You Think You Can Dance Canada, has choreographed for artists like Brandy, Diddy, Mario, Danity Kane, and Trish. To learn more, visit www.lutherbrownonline.com/bio.
Class will be held March 4 from 6:30 to 9:15pm at the B. Funk Dance Company, 10291 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, Maryland. Cost is $45. Space is limited. Advanced registration is available at www.monstersdance.wufoo.com/forms/monsters-dance-presentsluther-brown/.
By Karen White
There’s a grand tradition of dance on television. Some shows were funky (Soul Train), some were mostly fluff (Solid Gold), but few have made a splash like So You Think You Can Dance. This summertime filler for Fox not only became a ratings bonanza but has introduced thousands of dance students to the brave new world of contemporary dance—as well as a mature, concert-style hip-hop. And in the process, it’s made a hefty impact on the styles of dance being taught in studios or performed in competitions.
What started out as a popularity contest to crown one dancer has become a showcase for cutting-edge dance. It’s not dance that forges completely new paths the way Pilobolus or Merce Cunningham did; instead, it takes styles familiar to dance school students, such as jazz, lyrical, and hip-hop, and cuts through them with imaginative movements and deep meaning.
On SYTYCD, there seem to be no rules to contemporary—except those that govern good technique—and no boundaries except what a body is physically capable of. Hip-hop, too, has benefited, as SYTYCD’s choreographers have rolled out variations such as dances with story lines or ones presented with a slow, lyrical smoothness. The show has also provided dance students a real education in the possibilities of movement—for comedy, for tragedy, to make a statement, to elicit tears, or to just have fun.
This combination of physical flash and emotional depth has proven well suited to the small screen, and the show’s 90-second snippets of dance perfect for young people living in a 140-character world.
As we encountered the Season 7 All-Stars on tour in Atlanta last year, it was clear that dance has turned a corner and there is no going back. Will contemporary dance sound a death knell for jazz or end up a victim of its own popularity? Will hip-hop groove itself into the respected dance lexicon? Just as they say on TV—“Stay tuned for the answers to these and other exciting questions.”
Meanwhile, enjoy a glimpse of the tour as captured by the creative eye of photographer Richard Calmes.
Want to learn your favorite dance or improve on your fancy footwork? Sign up for the Superstars of Ballroom Dance Camp, with lessons and dance parties hosted by world and U.S. champion professional dancers, to be held at the Burbank Marriott and Convention Center, 2500 Hollywood Way, Burbank, California, from February 4 to 6.
Ballroom professionals from Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance will be on hand, including Tony Dovolani, Chelsie Hightower, Corky Ballas, Dmitry Chaplin, Heidi Groskruetz, Cheryl Burke, Elena Grinenko, Nick Kosovich, Yesenia Adame, Hilary Fleming, and Paul Barris.
The weekend begins on Friday, February 4, with Latin lessons (salsa, rumba, cha cha), followed by an evening salsa party with the sounds of the salsa band Angel Lebron y Su Sabor Latino. Saturday offers group ballroom lessons for all levels in Viennese waltz, fox trot, paso doble, and rumba. Rest those weary feet at a poolside luncheon. The day ends with dining and a show put on by the professional dancers. Sunday features lessons in West Coast swing and tango, a farewell party, and swing dance.
Prices start at $119 for a Friday All-Day Pass including the salsa party. Group and private lessons available. Visit the official Superstars of Ballroom Dance Camp website, www.superstarsofballroom.com, for details on a variety of packages, including group discounts.
What TV dance is doing to classroom practices
By Diane Gudat
So You Think You Can Dance, along with other dance-related reality TV shows, has escorted a new excitement for dance into the American living room. We love to see dance in prime time, with male dancers accepted by a public that’s also getting an education on different styles of dance. Our young dancers have new heroes. Teachers are exposed to exciting new choreography. But still, the dance educator in me sees a problem.
These shows crown the “favorite” dancer—instead of the one with the best technique—as the winner. Then how do we, as teachers, inspire our students to work hard when popularity seems to trump technique?
Certainly, most of the winners are by no means substandard or lacking in talent. But some judges’ critiques hint that if a dancer doesn’t improve his overall crowd appeal, he will likely go home.
Understandably, the two work hand-in-hand in producing a well-rounded professional dancer. No audience member wants to watch a technician suffer through an uninspired performance. But if some reality-show “dancers” gain fame by being pretty and popular and not for mastering their craft, where is the balance? How do we explain what’s important to our students?
Over the past two decades, studios have been greatly influenced by the growth in competitive dancing. Phenomenal dancing can be seen in theaters across the country on any given weekend. Teachers are under tremendous pressure to keep up. Judges are bombarded with elaborate costuming and routine after routine filled with nearly impossible turns and leaps. But what happens to the young student who quietly struggles to develop technique? What if she lacks pizzazz onstage and gets lost in the competition shuffle? Is there a way to keep the still-growing, still-learning students from becoming discouraged? How do we reward them for their diligence and keep them in our studios until they mature into true artists?
Let’s take an honest look at how we relate to our students and teach them on a daily basis—as well as how we handle competition and its pervasive influence:
- Do we consistently favor one child?
- Are outgoing children allowed to control the classroom’s social structure?
- Are the cute or pretty children always in the front line?
- Do the loudest parents (or the ones who spend the most money) have more of a say than the parents of devoted children who attend class only once a week?
- Does the same child always lead the class across the floor?
- Do boys follow the same rules as girls?
- Are small accomplishments in technique noticed and rewarded?
- Are routines choreographed so that students progress in their training or to win or score higher than last year?
- Are all students being used to their maximum capacity, or are select students featured in flashy steps while others do lesser or background choreography?
- Does a student’s love of dance receive as much attention and praise as the ability to correctly perform a skill?
- Do costumes reflect the age and maturity of students or are they chosen for the “wow” factor?
- Is development of good technique taking a backseat to choreographing or rehearsing competition routines?
- Do we talk about winning or show disappointment when we do not come out on top?
- Do we question the judges’ opinions in front of students, or bend rules?
- Are students allowed to compete against each other, or are they taught to compete as a “family” unit that celebrates the accomplishments of all its members?
- Are winners put on a pedestal?
The true beauty of dance is found in quiet moments of classroom study, watching as a child learns a disciplined art form and finds the artist hidden inside. The sacred trust and special bond between student and teacher should be extended to every child placed in our care. Our utmost goal is to help all children achieve their dance potential.
Some students will naturally excel. Others, like the tortoise in Aesop’s fable, will find the way slowly but surely. Are we offering enough encouragement to keep those “tortoises” trudging down the path? Shows like SYTYCD will continue to crown the hero of the day, but true inspiration comes from a less likely hero—the supportive dance teacher.
Faculty for the New England Dance Workshop will feature Lauren Gottlieb and Allison Holker of So You Think You Can Dance, and Issac Spencer, who has danced with Cullbert Ballet in Sweden.
The one-day workshop will run December 5 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Burncoat Arts Magnet School, 135 Burncoat Street, Worcester, MA. Dancers ages 9 and up are welcome, and teachers can take class or observe. For more information, visit the New England Dance Workshop Facebook page, email email@example.com or call 774.696.7770.
White gloves and waltzing thrive in classes for youngsters in NYC suburbs
By Christina H. Davis
Ballroom dance may be undergoing a resurgence, thanks to the popularity of hit TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars. But it’s still a challenge to find many men under the age of 40 who know that a fox-trot is even a dance, never mind what the steps are.
That is, of course, unless you’ve met one of Walter Schalk’s students. And given that he’s taught an estimated 140,000 children over his more than 50-year career, that’s a possibility.
Mainstream dance culture has evolved greatly over the last five decades since the 77-year-old Schalk first opened his studio, but he’s maintained a loyal following of students, parents, and teachers. From its Wilton, Connecticut, headquarters, the Walter Schalk School of Dance operates in several well-heeled New York City suburbs, including Bedford, New York, and New Canaan, Wilton, and Darien, Connecticut. And while the school offers traditional dance training in jazz, musical theater, ballet, and creative movement, it also features a vibrant ballroom dance program that brings preteen boys and girls together to learn the standards of partner dancing.
An early start
Schalk, a native of Stamford, Connecticut, started ballroom dancing at the age of 9 and stuck with it through grammar and high school. He eventually moved into musical theater and danced professionally, including as a backup dancer for Frank Sinatra and on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Despite his early success, Schalk says he wasn’t sold on a dancing career. After serving in the military during the Korean War, he returned home to a job in advertising but started teaching ballroom on the side. “People at work kept saying, ‘Teach me how to dance,’ ” he recalls. “They had so much fun, they said, ‘Teach my kid.’ ”
Schalk took a leap and began offering classes to the children of his adult students. His first class had five boys and eight girls. He was running late and contemplated canceling, but when he found the kids waiting, he had to go through with it. And it was then that he found a real passion for teaching. “I had more fun that first night than probably the kids did,” he says.
Schalk still teaches part-time, but his former one-man venture now includes 10 instructors (at least six of whom are former students), an office manager, and a graphic artist. Unlike a more traditional dance studio, Schalk does not have his own teaching space. He operates out of a small office and runs classes out of local schools or community venues. That helps keep his operating costs low, he says.
In addition to the ballroom program and other dance curriculum, the school also offers musical theater classes to students through high school. Their talent is on display during two large performances each year—one in the spring and one at Christmastime—that are run under a nonprofit umbrella, the Walker Schalk Scholarship Fund for the Performing Arts, Inc. A portion of the profits from the shows, which include jazz as well as musical comedy, goes toward college scholarships for some of the students.
Crossing the gender gap
The spring and winter revues are a huge hit, but Schalk’s unique ballroom program is what gets children hooked on dance for life. The program, which runs October through March, is open to children in grades four through six and includes 13 lessons and four themed “parties” with snacks and games.
While ballroom dance is the focus of Schalk’s curriculum, there’s also a fair amount of etiquette. The girls wear white gloves and party dresses and the boys are required to wear ties. Before the formal dance program begins, the boys escort the young ladies into the room and introduce their partners to greeters.
“I always tell [boys] that in 10 or 15 years they are going to thank their parents for sending them.” —teacher Jim Lewicki
Although it might sound like an uptight way to spend an evening, there’s also plenty of cutting loose between dances. The children take a break for cookies and soda, and Schalk leads a raffle for five crisp, new dollar bills.
Even with a sugar rush and money in their pockets, many of the boys in Schalk’s classes sport serious and slightly petrified looks on their faces when they face their female partners. The girls, on the other hand, are generally beaming. There are always more girls than boys in the classes, so girls often dance together and take turns dancing with a male partner.
One of those girls is Casey Gertsen, a 12-year-old sixth-grader who has participated in Schalk’s New Canaan, Connecticut, program. Her parents encouraged her to pick an after-school activity, so she chose dancing. And while many of her friends shrink at the idea of dancing with a boy, she’s been unfazed. “I really don’t mind it,” she says.
Of course, not all the students are such eager participants. Warren Hurlock, a 13-year-old seventh-grader who was in the same dance class as Gertsen last year, admits that his mother made him sign up for the classes. But now that he’s joined, he says he feels “really good about it. It helps me stay in shape and it helps fill in the time,” he says.
From a parent’s perspective, however, Schalk’s programs are about more than just filling time. Lia DeNey’s 12-year-old daughter, Julia, is in the ballroom program, following in her older sister Nathalie’s footsteps. DeNey says that in addition to fantastic teachers, the program offers so much beyond basic instruction. “It’s good for their self-confidence,” she says.
The students in the ballroom program are taught dances ranging from swing to the cha-cha and waltz. There’s even a “hip-hop” dance that’s more akin to a line dance than ballroom, as well as country line dance, complete with a chance for the dancers to belt out a joyful “Yee haw!”
During the ballroom parties, Schalk takes up his post behind the sound system, armed with a microphone. He calls out the dances to the children, playing big-band hits like “In the Mood” as well as the 1994 version of “Cotton-Eyed Joe.”
Schalk’s teaching style is direct, but in a good-natured way. As he puts it, he’s “a disciplinarian. I don’t take any guff.” But he also wants the kids to enjoy themselves. “The thing is, the kids have a good time doing it,” he says. “My idea is that it’s got to be fun. It was fun for me when I was a kid.”
Generation to generation
Among those 140,000 former students are many who have gone on to teach for Schalk, including Jim Lewicki, who started in the ballroom program in 1969. More than 40 years later, Lewicki is now on the other side, reassuring nervous little boys when they first walk into the rehearsal space. “I always tell them that in 10 or 15 years they are going to thank their parents for sending them,” he says. He adds that he’s always a hit at weddings because he’s often the only man in the room who knows how to lead.
Lewicki teaches three days per week on top of his full-time job in a local parks and recreation department. The time commitment is a big one, but he says he wouldn’t have it any other way. “To me, it’s part of my life.” Laughing, he adds, “It’s like a cult. We can’t get away.”
It’s not just former students who have stuck by Schalk and his dance school. It’s also a family affair. His cousin Charles Micha, now the school’s assistant director and office manager, began dancing alongside Schalk as a child.
The school does traditional advertising, mostly in the yellow pages, but the most effective marketing is still old-fashioned word of mouth, according to Micha. As of summer 2010, he says, enrollment stood at about 1,200 students. That’s down from a peak during the mid-’70s when the school had 1,500 students in just one town. The challenge for a program like Schalk’s today, according to Micha, is not that ballroom dance is seen as old-fashioned. It’s that kids are simply overscheduled. In well-to-do suburbs like the ones the Schalk school operates in, the pressure is on at an early age to start building the resume with extracurricular activities.
Despite such challenges, Schalk is still optimistic. “We’ve been pretty fortunate,” he says. “We’ve had a big school for all these years.”
And he takes great pride in what he’s passed on to generations of students. “Their lives have been wonderful because they know how to dance,” he says.
Mark Kanemura, a finalist on So You Think You Can Dance and a tour dancer for Lady Gaga, has joined the Tremaine Dance Convention tour as a guest teacher. A native of Oahu, Hawaii, Kanemura will be guest teacher when Tremaine visits New Orleans, Louisiana, on December 4 and Austin, Texas, on December 11.
Kanemura danced at Toyko DisneySea and choreographed shows for Norwegian Cruise Lines. He trained in Hawaii with 24-7 Danceforce, Mid Pacific School of the Arts, and Hawaii Ballet Theater. Since moving to Los Angeles he’s made appearances on Ellen, worked with Disney and Nickelodeon, and danced for choreographers Kenny Ortega, Travis Payne, Gil Duldalao, Brian Friedman, Tyce Diorio, Laurie Ann Gibson, Tony Testa, Chuck Maldonado, and Michael Rooney.
For other dates and cities on the Tremaine tour, visit www.tremainedance.com or call 800.832.2050.
New Orleans fans of So You Think You Can Dance caught the first date of the TV show’s fall tour this week, as America’s favorite dancer and company headed out on a 40-city travel itinerary.
The highly anticipated production features this season’s most popular routines, as well as original pieces created specifically for the nationwide tour. The dynamic dancer line-up includes a mix of Season 7 contestants: Adéchiké, Ashley, Billy, Jose, Kent, Lauren, and Robert; as well as All Stars including, Ade, Allison, Courtney, Dominic and Kathryn. Also joining is Season 6 winner Russell. The tour will end in Glendale, Arizona, on Nov. 17.
“Now in its 7th season, we continue to marvel at the raw talent discovered on this unique show. We are so pleased to share this talent with thousands of fans across the country,” Nigel Lythgoe, judge and co-creator of the Fox show, says.
Caitlin Cellini of Pennsylvania is the winner of a raffle for orchestra tickets to the So You Think You Can Dance stage show at New York’s Radio City Music Hall on October 7.
The drawing was held September 15. Contestants paid $5 per raffle ticket or $20 for five tickets. Proceeds went to the Andréa Rizzo Foundation, which supports dance therapy for hospitalized children with cancer or special needs.
The foundation is named for the daughter of its founder, Susan Rizzo Vincent. Andréa Rizzo, a cancer survivor and aspiring dance therapist, was struck and killed by a drunk driver in 2002.
An iPod Nano is the prize in the foundation’s latest raffle. Tickets again are $5 apiece, five for $20; the drawing will be held September 23. To enter—or just to make a donation—visit http://dreasdream.org/donate.
Bellissimo, born in Buffalo, New York, was one of the 20 finalists on the fifth season of So You Think You Can Dance.
Tremaine Dance has outlined the stops of its 30th-anniversary 2010-2011 tour schedule. The winter tour begins October 30 at the Westin Galleria in Houston, Texas, and ends April 16, 2011, at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel. Details on this tour and next summer’s stops are available at www.tremainedance.com.
Dréa’s Dream, a charity that supports dance therapy for children with cancer and special needs, invites dance lovers to enter a fund-raising raffle. The prize: tickets to the So You Think You Can Dance Tour 2010 on October 7 at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.
Tickets cost $5 each, or five for $20. The drawing will be held Wednesday, September 15, and the winner will be notified by email the same day. To purchase, visit http://dreasdream.org/donate/.
Dréa’s Dream is a project of the Andréa Rizzo Foundation, which was created in memory of an aspiring dance therapy major killed at the age of 24 by a drunk driver.
Tyce DiOrio has become an internationally acclaimed, Emmy Award-winning choreographer for his work on So You Think You Can Dance. While in Los Angeles, DanceLifeTV.com sat down with Tyce to reflect on his roots as a young dancer from Brooklyn, New York, and his successful career as a pro dancer and choreographer. We got the inside scoop on what it’s like to be a choreographer on SYTYCD, and Tyce shared his thoughts on competition and what dance means to him.
Contemporary dance might get boys through the door, but to keep them dancing you’ve got to let guys be guys
By Brian McCormick
The world of contemporary dance is luring boys like never before, glamorized by movies and TV shows like High School Musical, So You Think You Can Dance, and Glee. Guys who are taking modern classes are doing it because studios are making it part of their overall package, and they’re making it attractive—sending graduates on to conservatory dance programs and professional careers in which well-rounded dancers have the best options.
But getting boys into your studio is only half the battle—you’ve got to keep them. The three studio directors in this story have developed effective ways of doing both.
The holistic approach
Dori Matkowski, artistic director of Dance Dynamics in the Detroit suburb of Walled Lake, Michigan, has been training boys for 27 years. About 100 guys take classes at her studio, and out of the 80 dancers in the performing company, 16 are men.
Matkowski attributes the success of her program to her own training. “I was trained by a strong masculine teacher and have always had a personal knack for teaching guys,” she says, adding that she picked up additional tips about teaching boys at Tremaine Dance Conventions.
Her 24-year-old son has always danced, and Matkowski found that he could help bring other boys into the studio. “When he was in sports when he was young,” she says, “I’d pay him $5 for every boy that he could get to come to the studio. It kept him in dance and the business exploded. We’ve had 60 to 100 guys at a time every year since.” Matkowski encourages all boys who come to Dance Dynamics to take an all-male class at first. “Once they are comfortable,” she explains, “we encourage them to take both all-guys and co-ed intermediate classes.” Although 3- to 6-year-olds are all in classes with girls, Matkowski says, “we make sure all the boys are in the same class together. We don’t want them to feel isolated.”
She makes sure that the studio holds appeal for males of all ages. “We don’t teach only one class for boys. We have male teachers,” including the vice president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Matkowski says. “He’s a great role model, and it’s absolutely important to have those. We try to get a male demonstrator in the classes.”
Matkowski’s attention to the boys goes beyond classes, so that they are as comfortable onstage as in the studio. “We make sure the choreography is appropriate for the guys—that they don’t do the same things as girls and are not just props,” she says. “Some guys come in dancing like a girl because they’ve been in classes that have them doing the same things as the girls. We put them in workshop classes where there can be more male influence.”
And then there’s the masculine culture outside of the classroom and the stigma of dance as a feminine activity. Matkowski understands that boys often have a hard time socially because of their dancing. At her studio, “all the guys have mentors,” she says. She pairs them with older male dancers who have experienced the peer pressures and can help the younger boys navigate some of the social and emotional stuff associated with the stereotypes.
“To be honest, more time is spent in therapy about being a male in the entertainment world than on technique,” says Matkowski. “Dancing through middle school can be a dreadful experience in a Detroit-area suburb like this one. A lot of the boys can’t tell their friends at school [that they dance]. What they go through is horrible. When they get to the studio, we have to train them to let it go, to come in and be what they want to be. There’s a lot of nurturing.”
One way Matkowski tends to the boys is by working with their fathers. “They are dealing with some of the worst stereotypes,” she says. “We let them know there are other things their sons can do, that dancing can lead to careers in entertainment, improve coordination, and even improve abilities in sports.”
As a way to get the fathers more involved, the studio has a group called “Dancing Dads,” which provides comic relief and helps with technical support. An average of 24 dads and grandfathers participate each year. “It’s a very tight group,” says Matkowski, “and some of the men have developed lifelong friendships through their involvement.”
Matkowski says having the men present and actively involved sends a strong and positive message for her boys. They can also offer constructive criticism when it comes to moves some might consider too “girly,” and that helps reinforce the school’s overall masculine image.
The comprehensive program at Dance Dynamics includes requirements for choreography and teaching proficiencies that have to be fulfilled by high school—what Matkowski calls “survival skills.” Each class at Dance Dynamics includes some modeling, acting, improvisation, and public speaking. These exercises are designed to help build self-confidence and prepare dancers for real-life situations. Some classes also include an introduction to commercial theater and film and auditions, plus other tips about how to get into show business. “Advanced boys,” Matkowski says, “need overall training so they can get jobs in everything.” She holds her son up as an example of what the studio can produce: “He’s booked out for master classes, has worked at Disney, is currently working with the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, and he has also worked in film.” Recent male studio graduates have gone on to study at Juilliard and New York University and dance in West Side Story on Broadway.
“In the beginning, we only had a few guys,” Matkowski says. (The studio opened in 1982.) “Now, guys move here to train [at my school], and guys who are already out there working come in to take intensives and to be exposed to our really strong, really masculine program.” But, she adds, “our boys are not treated like they are special or king of the studio. Most of the time, boys transfer here because they want to go into show biz, and they like to be treated normally. When my son started working as a dance captain and swing assistant, he told me, ‘It’s a good thing we don’t treat our guys as special.’ They are more ready for the real world.”
Start them young
The Gold School in Brockton, Massachusetts, founded in 1964 by the late Sherry Gold, has been under the leadership of her son Rennie (twin brother of Dance Studio Life publisher Rhee Gold) since 1996. The studio offers classes in ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop, and “a lot of modern. We have lots of kids who want to go into college programs,” Rennie Gold says.
“In our lobby you won’t see a lot of pink and pointe shoes. For classes, in the beginning, the boys wear soccer shorts and T-shirts, so they can be comfortable as boys.” —Rennie Gold
Arguably the studio’s most famous male progeny is Juilliard graduate Kyle Robinson, who was named “Mr. Dance of America” in 2005 by Dance Masters of America. He dances with Aszure Barton & Artists and has performed with Mikhail Baryshnikov as part of White Oak Dance Project. “It doesn’t get any better as a teacher,” Gold says, beaming with pride.
“Right now in the intensive program, we have 18 boys, from age 9 through seniors in high school,” says Gold. “We do what everyone in the Dolly Dinkle world says you shouldn’t do. We sell combo classes—ballet, modern, jazz, tap. There’s no ‘I don’t take this or that.’ And by the time they’re 10, they all wear tights in ballet class.”
According to Gold, schools can build their enrollment of boys “if [they] can get a few in the door, start them young, and keep them.” Keeping them means making them feel comfortable, he emphasizes. “In our lobby you won’t see a lot of pink and pointe shoes. For classes, in the beginning, the boys wear soccer shorts and T-shirts, so they can be comfortable as boys.”
Gold doesn’t offer separate boys classes. “That environment isn’t so great for learning,” he says. “But we also try to avoid having only one boy in any class; having just one other boy in the class can make a big difference.”
Like Matkowski, Gold recognizes how important it is to please the fathers. “There’s no Lycra or sequins; that would be too much for the fathers,” he says. “We do a lot of performances in street clothes. One day a mother complained, ‘I want my son to have a real costume!’ Even in my mother’s time—and there were less boys than we have now—she would deal with the fathers. Mothers would come in and say that the dads didn’t want their boys taking dance classes. One mother, a few years back, didn’t want us to call the house. Those experiences have made me very conscious of the father factor.”
Break the rules
Amber Perkins opened Amber Perkins School of the Arts in her hometown of Norwich, New York, “right out of undergrad” and has been going strong for 12 years. She has a second studio in nearby Vestal.
When the studio where Perkins got her teaching certification closed, she took over the space and about 85 percent of the students, almost all girls. Around the same time, she took over the choreography for the high school play—West Side Story—as part of her internship. To bring boys into the world of dance, Perkins got her brother, “a jock type with artist friends who also played a musical instrument,” to get his friends to try out for the show. She also brought them into the studio to take classes.
“Partnering class was horrible. The boys would march from one end of stage and pick up the girls. We had to work with what we had. In the beginning, we broke all the rules. These were guys who played football and basketball. We were either going to do it the way they could do it, or we weren’t going to have them. So in class they don’t have to wear proper attire, and they don’t have to take ballet.” This tradition continues to work.
Perkins’ brother Mikey and his friends started taking classes at 16 and 17 years old. “One of his best friends, who used to play football for Empire State College, is now in Pilobolus,” Perkins says. The school also has graduates in Garth Fagan’s company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and others who have performed at Radio City.
Perkins’ studio has more than 20 boys now, “including a quarterback and guys who are strict dancers. They all take technique, and we’re a heavy modern [dance] school,” she says. Male teachers and choreographers, including Perkins’ brother and his friends, strengthen the masculine image of the studio. “Our men are modern choreographers, so the work is more athletic, and the guys grab onto that,” Perkins says.
Despite the number of boys at the studio, Perkins still allows the jocks to break the rules. “They’re great partners, they move well, and we get them once a week. If a girl has an opportunity to dance with a boy, especially if it’s a duet, we do whatever we have to,” she says. “Meet them where they’re at, break the rules, and put them in a costume that makes them feel comfortable. They don’t want to wear a dance belt, so put them in dress pants; do whatever you need to do to make them feel comfortable.”
With the fathers, Perkins says, emphasize the athleticism of dance. “If you can make them feel like [dance will] make their boy a better basketball player, that can be huge.”
Artistic Motion School of Dance in Greensboro, North Carolina, is joining the push to launch National Dance Day on July 31 by offering free classes all that day.
The one-hour offerings start with yoga at 9 a.m., followed by ballet at 10 a.m., modern at 11 a.m., and Nia Technique at noon. After an hour-long lunch break, classes resume with musical theater dance at 2 p.m., jazz at 3 p.m., Zumba at 4 p.m., and ballroom at 5 p.m.
TV’s hit show So You Think You Can Dance and the Dizzy Feet Foundation are promoting the idea of National Dance Day as part of their commitment to support dance education and physical fitness in the United States.
Artistic Motion will also accept donations of money or used dance shoes to the Dizzy Feet Foundation. To learn more, call 336.286.2911 or visit www.artisticmotiondance.com.
To The Pointe Performing Arts Academy in Wisconsin will host a family dance event on July 31 in celebration of National Dance Day.
The event will take place from 10:00 a.m. to noon at the studio’s Hartland location at 1115 Cottonwood Avenue and from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. at the Johnson Creek location, 540 Village Walk Lane.
Choreography from Nappytabs—So You Think You Can Dance choreographers Napoleon and Tabitha D’umo—will be taught at no charge, and prizes will be awarded for a free dance-off. Participants will be featured in a video that may be shown on YouTube. Other fun activities, food, and a bounce house will be available (a small charge may apply for these features).
To learn more, call 262.367.7177 or 866.813.6519 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
American Ballet Theatre soloists Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews are scheduled to perform on Fox TV’s “So You Think You Can Dance” on Thursday, July 22.
In a special guest appearance, Kajiya and Matthews will perform the Grand Pas de Deux from Act III of Don Quixote. The program will be broadcast live.
Kajiya was born in Nagoya, Japan, and joined ABT as a corps member in June 2002. She was promoted to soloist in August 2007. Matthews, born in Houston, joined the ABT corps in April 2003 and was appointed a soloist in August 2007.
For more information about “So You Think You Can Dance,” visit www.fox.com/dance.
Jamar Roberts and Rachael McLaren of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will perform an excerpt from Ulysses Dove’s Bad Blood on Fox TV’s So You Think You Can Dance on July 15.
Roberts graduated from the New World School of the Arts and trained at the Joffrey Ballet School and The Ailey School. He was a member of Ailey II before joining the main company in 2002.
McLaren began her formal dance training at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. Like Roberts, she studied at The Ailey School before joining Ailey II. McLaren joined the main company in 2008.
Bad Blood, which Dove created for Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal in 1984, is set to three recordings by Laurie Anderson.
Russell Ferguson, “America’s Favorite Dancer” from the sixth season of TV’s So You Think You Can Dance, will be one of the master class teachers at the Nationals Competition of Turn It Up Dance Challenge on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
He’ll join fellow SYTYCD participants Peter Sabasino and Noelle Marsh, along with Adriana Falcon of Step It Up and Dance, in teaching classes July 11. (The competition runs from July 9 to 11.) To learn more, visit http://www.turnitupdance.com/nationals.html.
Also, Turn It Up Dance Challenge is holding two Fall Dance Conventions: at the Sheraton Hotel in Springfield, Massachusetts, on October 24, and at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick, Rhode Island, on November 21.
Both offer daylong intensives, teacher from Broadway Connection in a variety of dance styles, and the chance to work one-on-one with dance professionals. For more information, visit http://www.turnitupdance.com/conventions.html.
Five performers from TV’s So You Think You Can Dance will be official faculty of “The Summer Dance Series 2010,” hosted by Cliché Cosmetics in three cities: Los Angeles, July 31 and August 1; Fort Lauderdale, Florida, August 7 and 8; and New York City, August 21 and 22.
The five faculty members are Katee Shean, Melissa Sandvig, Victor Smalley, Randi Evans, and Noelle Marsh.
This event is designed for intermediate and advanced dancers. Each dancer will have the opportunity to take three classes with three of the celebrity faculty members. Dancers will also have the chance to meet each celebrity, win prizes, and more.
For more information, including prices and registration, visit THEsummerDanceSeries.com.
Meet Nakul Dev Mahajan, director of Los Angeles’ NDM Studios, where Bollywood dance is thriving and being passed on to the next generation. Learn what Bollywood really is and how its culture is being preserved here in the United States. Mahajan’s dancers have been seen on So You Think You Can Dance and at performances throughout the country. Their passion for the art is contagious!
Nigel Lythgoe, the co-creator, producer, and judge of So You Think You Can Dance and former executive producer of American Idol, will receive the Tremaine Entertainer of the Year Award at the Tremaine Dance Conventions & Competitions National Finals Gala in Orlando, Florida, on July 10.
Lythgoe teamed up last year with director Adam Shankman, Dancing with the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba and actress Katie Holmes to form the Dizzy Feet Foundation, which provides scholarships to aspiring professional dancers (see “ ‘Dizzy’ Over Dance Education” in the December 2009 “FYI” section of Dance Studio Life).
Also at the gala, the top nine National Final numbers will be performed and one will be chosen as the $5,000 Tremaine Performance of the Year.
The finals will be held July 7-11 at the Renaissance Orlando Hotel at SeaWorld. For more information, visit www.TremaineDance.com.
A Los Angeles landmark for dancers, the Edge is home to some of the most recognizable choreographers and teachers in the industry. Not only will you enjoy a tour of the school, but you’ll hear insights from Bill Prudich, founder and executive director of the Edge, as well as Sonya Tayeh, a faculty member and choreographer for So You Think You Can Dance.
He grew up at his family school, the Hackworth School of Performing Arts in Easthampton, Massachusetts, where DLTV caught up with him at its 75th anniversary performance. Teddy spent 2008 touring the world with Janet Jackson and has been the assistant to So You Think You Can Dance choreographer Mia Michaels. In this DLTV interview Teddy describes what dance means to him and how it has become his life’s passion. You’ll be amazed at his insights.
‘So You Think You Can Dance’ crosses the cultural divide
By Nancy Wozny
Just over a year ago, in the December 2007 issue of Dance Studio Life, I wrote about the phenomenal popular success of TV’s So You Think You Can Dance. I commented on what the show was doing well but also made some observations about how to make a good thing better—specifically, to drop the fill-in appearances by music artists in favor of showcasing concert dance performances that would appeal to (and maybe broaden the horizons of) the show’s viewers.
Well, guess what? So You Think You Can Dance tried something new this year: It gave viewers a sampling of dancers and choreographers from the big leagues—not enough to scare off the culture-shy, but enough to make the open-minded sit up in their Barcaloungers and say, “Whoa! Those guys got skills!”
Performances by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Los Angeles Ballet and choreography by Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson of Complexions Dance Company raised the barre for the show. It may have taken four seasons to reach a loving hand out to the concert world, but it was worth the wait.
Jeff Thacker, senior producer of So You Think You Can Dance, felt the time was right to branch out. “[Concert dance] has always been something the show has wanted to include as part of the dance culture. Nigel Lythgoe [the series’ co-creator and executive producer] was instrumental in promoting all forms of dance. This year we were able to have dance companies participate, which we were delighted with,” Thacker said. “It was a question of choosing the right balance of styles with the different companies that would complement our musical guests and fit well within our show. Nigel wanted to include L.A. Ballet and Ailey, and it worked perfectly with their schedules. By showcasing these wonderful dancers, it gave them the opportunity to reach 10 million viewers.”
So why is this move so welcome to viewers like me? Until this season, the show has proceeded as if the concert world did not exist. When we heard statements like the “greatest choreographers working in the business,” we were thinking, “And what about the greatest choreographers whose works are perennials in concert dance, like Martha Graham, Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham, George Balanchine, and John Cranko (and the list goes on)?” And what about other brilliant choreographers, like Christopher Wheeldon, Mark Morris, Jiří Kylián, Glen Tetley, and Hans van Manen?
So You Think You Can Dance gave viewers a sampling from the big leagues—not enough to scare off the culture-shy, but enough to make the open-minded sit up in their Barcaloungers and say, “Whoa! Those guys got skills!”
So You Think You Can Dance’s breakthrough began on July 10, 2008, when Kirven J. Boyd, Clifton Brown, and Jamar Roberts gave a riveting performance of “Sinner Man” from Ailey’s 1960 Revelations. After reviewing several selections from the company’s repertory, Thacker discussed his choice with Ailey’s artistic director, Judith Jamison. “I thought ‘Sinner Man’ would work well because of the three solos within a trio,” he says. “They didn’t just rock the house; they gave it a bloody great shaking.” The audience’s wildly approving response proved that a 48-year-old “contemporary” dance piece can still bring an audience to its feet. (To be fair, ABC’s Dancing With the Stars showed an excerpt from Revelations last season. Nice, but the Ailey troupe was a better fit on So You Think You Can Dance.)
Next up, on July 16, and repeated on the finale, were Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, co-directors of Complexions Dance Company, in the choreographer’s seat. “We had been wanting to include Complexions for some time, but scheduling had prevented us from working together until this year,” Thacker says. “We can see why Danny [Tidwell, the runner-up on So You Think’s third season] was very proud to have worked with them and they with him.” Lythgoe even made a special announcement raving about Richardson’s and Rhoden’s special talents. Dancing to John Lennon’s Imagine (sung by American Idol runner-up David Archuleta), contestants William B. Wingfield and Katee Taira Shean did a fine job, without a speck of the over-dancing that’s so common in the hyper-energetic world of competition dance.
The piece, repeated on the show’s August 7 finale, was singled out by Mia Michaels, a judge and choreographer on the show, as her favorite choreography of the season. Michaels said that Complexions’ participation added an “intellectual” element and “gave our show a different heartbeat.”
Finally, on July 24 Aubrey Morgan of Los Angeles Ballet and L.A. Ballet guest artist Eddy Tovar of Orlando Ballet performed “The Man I Love” pas de deux from Balanchine’s Who Cares? Thacker says, “Who Cares? melds Balanchine’s choreography with Gershwin’s music using traditional classical ballet, and that was exactly what we wanted to include in that week’s show. It was beautifully danced, I might add.”
The choice of Los Angeles Ballet was auspicious, too. It’s a young company in a city that has not been able to sustain a professional ballet dance company for decades; perhaps its national television breakthrough will help it grow its audiences.
While mass-market exposure for concert dance of this caliber is welcome news, it’s also a bittersweet reminder for some viewers of the days when dance was a regular part of television fare. I remember curling up with my Grannie to watch the June Taylor Dancers on The Jackie Gleason Show. During the variety-show–era, dance was all the rage on TV.
Then there was a major dry spell (unless you count American Bandstand) until 1976, when PBS launched Great Performances: Dance in America, the crowning achievement of television dance. The Joffrey Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company, American Ballet Theatre, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and the dance companies of Twyla Tharp, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, and Mark Morris were just some of the show’s offerings. The three-part documentary Dance in America: Free to Dance, co-produced by American Dance Festival and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, chronicled the African American contribution to dance. Meanwhile, Alive From Off Center, a short-lived but exciting PBS show, highlighted experimental work.
More recently it’s been a danceless TV universe, broken by the success of So You Think You Can Dance, the top-rated show for its time slot, winner of a slew of Emmys, with an army of fans for the show and the live tour. The program’s embrace of concert dance gives hope to every lover of the form. The Ailey troupe, for example, is about the best gateway dance company on earth. There’s nothing not to like about this company, and there’s no big gap between the style the TV dance world mistakenly likes to call “contemporary” and the work that comes out of the Ailey dance shop. (It’s modern dance, people!) The challenge lies in getting its work seen. With So You Think You Can Dance, millions are getting that chance.
So You Think You Can Dance is not Dance in America, nor does it attempt to be. It’s an entertainment show. And while hip, sexy, popular dance can be entertaining, so can the kind of dance we call art. Nearly 60 million people voted for America’s favorite dancer, and many of them probably saw the work of Balanchine, Rhoden and Richardson, and Ailey for the first time. Imagine if even a small percentage of those voters were moved to attend a dance concert because of something they saw on this show.
I hope this welcome direction in So You Think’s programming continues with even more daring choices in the future. Why not get the artistic director of a ballet or modern dance company to serve as a judge next season? Why not sing loud and clear, “Dance is one happening art form, with plenty of talent in every genre”?
As I stated in “Two Worlds, One Dance Planet” (DSL, November 2007), the concert and commercial worlds are moving closer together. A door is opening on the airwaves, and it has the potential to open even wider and expose audiences to the vast, wonderful, and diverse art of dance. America’s favorite dancer of 2008, Joshua Allen, was right on when he said that there’s nothing that can’t be done when we put our minds to it. We can be part of an inclusive dance culture that would make June Taylor’s head spin.
The power of So You Think You Can Dance
By Nancy Wozny
I’ll never forget the day I landed in “the big chair.” It was shortly after the end of the second season of the hit Fox Broadcasting Company show So You Think You Can Dance. I was at a meeting of artists, wearing my usual hat as the “dance person.” There were a few empty chairs in the room, one of which was large and comfortable looking. One of the artists piped up, “Nancy, you take the big chair; your art form is hot right now.”
Who knew that the trickle-down effect of So You Think would land a Houston dance critic in the coveted big chair? It’s curious enough that the show was on the radar of poets and visual artists, but that’s not why the experience stayed with me. It was the idea of dance being in front of so many people—that “big chair” moment—and what that means in terms of visibility for the art form itself.
What is it about So You Think that puts dance in the global “big chair,” and what are people learning about dance from the show? This season, with the best-trained group of dancers thus far in the show’s three-year history, was an ideal time for viewers to get exposed to the results of top-notch training. The final four were hardly newbies. Danny Tidwell, a former corps de ballet member with American Ballet Theatre who has also danced with Complexions Dance Company, was named one of “25 to Watch” in 2006 by Dance Magazine. Neil Haskell danced on Broadway in Twyla Tharp’s Times They Are a-Changin’. America’s favorite dancer, Sabra Johnson, appeared in the mega-hit Disney film High School Musical. Lacey-Mae Schwimmer is just about West Coast swing royalty. Her father is a legend, and her brother, Benji, was last year’s winner. Amateurs they are not.
America’s top two dancers
Who best to answer the question “What does So You Think teach the American public about dance?” than America’s current favorite dancer, Sabra Johnson, who started dancing only four years ago. It has been an intense few years of training, in ballet, jazz, and hip-hop in Bountiful, UT, for this young dancer. “Once I got serious, dancing was all I wanted to do. I was in ballet class every single day. The show really shows the kind of dedication it takes to be a dancer, what’s really involved,” Johnson says. “The audience gets an idea of how hard dancing is and how tricky it is to switch from genre to genre. They also get to see so many different kinds of dance, from ballroom to hip-hop to lyrical, and it shows the opportunities dancers can have if they really put their minds to it.”
Runner-up Tidwell found that his strong ballet foundation gave him what he needed to compete fully. He started dancing at Denise Wall’s Dance Energy, where Travis Wall, last year’s runner-up, and this year’s top-ten ranker Jamie Goodwin also trained. That’s quite a record—Wall’s dancers show a clean, versatile technique and a good deal of performance polish. Tidwell credits Wall, his adoptive mother, for her strong support throughout his dance career. “My mom’s studio is like a family,” says Tidwell. “I studied the usual ballet, hip-hop, and jazz. When I arrived at the Kirov Academy [of Ballet of Washington, DC], they put me together technically.”
Johnson and Tidwell both say that their experiences on the show were life changing, including the pressure of having to “dance for their lives” when they landed in the bottom three a few weeks in a row. There were perks, too, like working with “tremendous choreographers—people like Mia Michaels and Wade Robson,” says Tidwell.
As for the future, Tidwell has some teaching gigs lined up, and Johnson hopes to teach as well. Tidwell will join the faculty of JUMP (Break the Floor) this season and is looking forward to commanding a roomful of 600 to 700 kids. He says he enjoyed teaching the warm-up while the So You Think dancers were rehearsing for the show tour. “I taught some jazz and ballet and even threw some Pilates in,” he says. “It was really fun because we have such different backgrounds as dancers.” But the two dancers are by no means done with performing. Both hope to be onstage as much as possible. “The TV show is great, of course, but there’s nothing like the power of a live performance,” says Tidwell. He hasn’t ruled out starting his own company, and Johnson hopes to land a great dance job.
Questions and kudos
The show has done a marvelous job of making distinctions between various ballroom forms, but it raised a few questions in my mind, like how ballroom dancers are trained these days (they seem like an enormously versatile bunch) and why those Russians are so good. And how many actual rumba steps need to be in a rumba routine? When is a dance not a routine? How do ballroom purists feel about the artistic license the show’s choreographers take with classic ballroom forms?
Johnson and Tidwell both say that their experiences on the show were life changing, including the pressure of having to ‘dance for their lives’ when they landed in the bottom three a few weeks in a row.
And then there’s the prevalence of hip-hop. I love the new directions this art form is taking, which were nicely demonstrated by Cedric’s fluid style and Hok’s uncanny ability to catapult himself into the airspace with minimal touchdowns, as if the floor were on fire. Why are some hip-hop dancers able to transfer their skills to other forms of dance while others look like rank beginners in contemporary pieces? Do some of them sneak in ballet training on the side?
All questions aside, one of So You Think’s greatest accomplishments is putting dance front and center, on primetime TV, for months at a time. How wonderful and empowering it must be for dance students to be able to turn on the television and see dance week after week, not only when Dance in America is airing one of its terrific shows. After all, sports aficionados can watch top-level contenders hit the field anytime. And putting fabulous young male dancers and choreographers on camera each week places a much-needed emphasis on men in dance. I imagine the show also has had a loyal following among those already dancing. Week after week they were treated to polished performances (all done with five hours of rehearsal per piece). And the sense of camaraderie among the participants did not seem at all like an act.
Audiences also gained insight into the role of the choreographer and the choreography. How to tell the dancer from the dance often proved a tricky issue on the show, but it became more clarified as season three progressed. Early on, if the judges did not like the choreography, they appeared to blame the dancers. Later more distinction was made between the success of the choreography and that of the performers. In the end, viewers learned how choreography can either elevate or sink a performance. They may also have a better idea of what the life and work of a choreographer is like. That rehearsal footage did a great job of answering the question of what exactly a choreographer does. And Mia Michaels is now recognized on the street as a choreographer. That’s progress.
What does the show’s success say about the future of dance? Tidwell and Johnson feel that it has put dance in the public eye in a big way and does a terrific job of informing the public about who’s hot in the commercial dance world. Dance teachers certainly should feel more empowered in their professions. Did enrollment rise at studios across the United States this fall? Will more and more people sign up for ballroom lessons? Are teens getting the idea—from Johnson, who started dancing at the late age of 16—that it’s not too late to start taking dance classes, whether for fun or a possible career? Johnson reminds late starters that they need to stay focused. “Every class has a purpose,” she says.
Perhaps changes will happen on the local level. Will friends and parents be more willing to go to dance recitals or watch the dance team during halftime? Will more seats for concert dance have warm bodies in them? Are the people who watched the show more comfortable around dance, or with the idea of letting their sons dance? I hope that the answer to all or at least some of these questions is a big yes. One tends to get a bit dreamy sitting in the big chair.
How to Make a Good Thing Better
Now that So You Think You Can Dance has brought dance to mainstream America’s attention, what else could it do to expand what dance means to people? We’ve gotten the idea that dance is an economically viable profession, and that’s good, but there are other aspects of dance that could use more visibility.
Just because So You Think is entertainment doesn’t mean there can’t be some representation from the concert world. Modern dance would be perfect—after all, it’s a homegrown art form. I would like to see some ballet presented on that stage as well. If hip-hop and krumping can share the stage with ballroom, is ballet such a stretch? And how about including world dance forms down the road?
And as for choreographers, there’s no reason why concert-dance people can’t be included in the mix. I can think of several whose work has broad general appeal: David Parsons, Seán Curran, and Aszure Barton (the young Canadian whose work has been championed by Baryshnikov), for example. An ideal time to bring in some choreographic savvy would be for the opening group pieces and those “dance for your life” solos, which all end up looking the same. Since the participants are being judged as dancers, they should not be downgraded if their own choreographic chops are less than stellar. Putting more emphasis on ensemble work (to get out of the rut of duets that always seem to tell similar stories) also sounds like a good idea.
While we’re at it, why not use some of the filler time that’s usually given to recording artists to spotlight dance companies, especially those that have diverse repertoires? I could see Ailey II, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Momix, and Philadanco fitting in nicely. Why, even the Academy Awards spiced up its show with Pilobolus’ clever rendition of nominees for best picture. This is a dance show—why not show viewers some professional dance? And what about including a professional critic on the panel of judges?
Now that the show has a steady audience, expanding the range seems like a natural progression. Shows like this one can play an important role in emphasizing that dance is a big place with room for many styles and tastes. —NW