Books of note (new and not)
1. A Time to Dance
2. Tallulah’s Solo
3. Ballet Spectacular: A Young Ballet Lover’s Guide and an Insight Into a Magical World
4. Creative Dance for All Ages (2nd ed.)
Books of note (new and not)
“Reality Check: Teacher Transitions”: Q: I’m three years in, and it’s happening: I just put out our schedule for next year, and some of the young students I’ve taught will have different teachers. Enrollment has gone from 25 to 150 in three years, so naturally I can’t teach them all anymore. I’m starting to hear parents say, “We come here for her.” Most of these parents don’t know the other teachers, so I will be introducing them, making bios available, and holding meet-and-greets. What more can I do to convince them to trust my judgment in selecting a faculty? They will have me as a teacher again in a year or two. (I teach all levels, but there are multiple classes in each level.) I would appreciate advice on how to navigate the next month during early enrollment. I cannot continue spreading myself too thin. —Chrystie Kenny Greco
“Classroom Connection: Ballet Obstacle Course”: I came up with this activity because our focus of the month was “pathways.” I thought this was an opportunity to hone my ballet students’ focus and to offer a fun alternative to the usual ways in which they travel across the floor. It works best with dancers ages 6 years and older. Younger students may have a difficult time understanding and doing the activity unless you choose easier steps and paths.
I’m writing this two days after the 2015 DanceLife Teacher Conference, our biggest and best yet. Each time we produce this event I’m overwhelmed by the amount of work that goes into it—and each time, as it concludes, I forget about the work because I’m overwhelmed by the enthusiasm, spirit, and generosity of the hundreds of dance teachers and studio owners who spend those four or five days with us, immersed in dance.
From the 1850s to early 1900s, the nationalist movement arose in music, a reaction both to the abstract style in vogue among Germanic composers, and to the wars and revolutions then restructuring much of Europe. Musicians of conquered nations composed music intended to express national pride, often drawing upon popular songs, folk music, and folk dance rhythms (for example Chopin’s mazurkas and polonaises).
The major composers of impressionism, a predominantly French movement (approximately 1870 to 1920), were Debussy and Ravel. They sought to break away from Romanticism’s restrictive tonal structures and create musical pictures, or impressions, analogous to the impressionist paintings of Monet, Degas, and Renoir.
We typically think about dancing for exercise, but what about exercising for dance? Hip-hop requires strength and stamina, but dancers who start off in the street (like me) may have no prior physical training. Some students struggle to keep up in class because they lack conditioning, not rhythm or ability to pick up steps.
The knee drop is a common but impressive transition to the floor. (Jerkers call it a pin drop.) Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Place the right foot’s shoelace area against the back of the left knee. Keep the foot glued there during the drop; it shouldn’t slide around or pull away. As the left leg starts to bend, the body angles toward the protruding right toe. The left knee keeps bending and the body eases toward the floor, until the right foot lands. Balance on the balls of both feet, weight on the right, left leg crossed in front, hands off the floor. Repeat on the other side.
Sometimes students lean too heavily on asking questions. Encourage them to understand that part of class is figuring out answers for themselves. Students become more engaged in learning if they’re empowered to use various methods for absorbing material or concepts, such as observing another dancer or trying an exercise a few times.
Working with hyperextension can be challenging in all dance forms. First, students struggling with hyperextension need to understand which muscles to engage for support; I often focus on the adductors and hip flexors. Students can find their adductors by standing in parallel while squeezing a yoga block or medium-sized therapy ball between the thighs. Have them repeat this in first position, encouraging them to feel the thigh bones spiraling outward, taking pressure off the knees.
Advice for dance teachers
NOMINATED BY: Elaina DiBenedetto, student: “I am so lucky that more than 10 years ago Wendy Stein walked into my dance studio and my life. She introduced me to modern dance and encouraged me to dance my first solo; her unwavering confidence has pushed me to do things I might otherwise have let pass by. She is the epitome of what a dance teacher should be.”
Sitting in a judge’s seat at countless competitions, I have witnessed hundreds of onstage mishaps. I’ve seen dancers trip, collide, slip, and fall down. I’ve seen costumes split, drop, or fall off altogether. Wigs will shift, shoes will slip off, shorts will climb, and straps will break. Some dancers bounce back from these mini-disasters like Tigger in Winnie-the-Pooh, while others crumble and cry. I’ve seen plenty, and learned plenty of lessons for both students and teachers.
Let’s focus on the basics. Which fundamental skills and techniques form the core of a tap curriculum?
A common mistake with inside pirouettes is turning in the passé leg during the turn. To correct this, have your students start in a straight-leg lunge preparation.
The straight leg in the lunge preparation for an inside pirouette harnesses a great deal of the energy and force needed to get a dancer on balance and turning. Yet students often rely too heavily on their upper bodies during the preparation, swinging their arms to acquire momentum.
Help your dancers remember the material, even when facings change or more complex spatial patterns are introduced, by encouraging them to find a focal point in the room for each direction.
Helping your students identify their weight shifts aids them in defining the quality of their movement.
Hands play a major role in hip-hop dance and can say a lot about a dancer, displaying personality and performance style, showing confidence, and telling a story.
To teach the backslide, have students start with their weight on the left leg. The right knee is bent with the heel raised and the ball of the foot planted.
The musical style of the Romantic period was inspired by the literary romanticism of the great poets, novelists, and philosophers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Works of this period (approximately 1820 to 1900) focused on the lives of common people instead of royalty.
“Conquering Stage Fright”: In October, I watched my daughter suffer intense stage fright in her first show.
Deafening cheers. Phones flashing in the dark auditorium like crazed fireflies. Other kindergarteners smiled—mine looked stricken with terror. Would she faint or throw up? Afterward, she sobbed with disappointment. It wasn’t fun, her stomach hurt, she didn’t expect the noisy dark and blinding lights. Then I remembered that she’d frozen before: as a wedding flower girl, walking the gauntlet of a semi-dark hall thronged with cheering strangers.
“Hold the Flash”: Enough with the pirouettes and the pyrotechnics.
Yes, we’re all impressed with double-digit pirouette counts. Triple sauts de basque, hummingbird-fast entrechats, reverse-twisting, leg-splitting steps you can’t even begin to name—all of those make us gasp. But every time I go online I’m bombarded with videos of dancers performing superhuman physical feats. And it’s becoming tiresome.
For most dance teachers, this time of year—the beginning of a new dance season—marks a fresh start. You’ll welcome back students who are growing up before your eyes, and you’ll see many new faces, students who will experience the excitement of dance for the first time.
NOMINATED BY: Soozie Zeakes, daughter: “She is 75 and celebrating 60 years of teaching dance this year. She still goes to her studio every day, and she’s never stopped loving what she does. She’s touched too many young lives to count and now even has third-generation students at her studio. I’m proud of her accomplishments and marvel at her endurance.”
The waltz clog is a classic tap step rooted in two dances that met in the American minstrel shows of the mid-1800s.
A “flash” step frequently done in waltz time is the bell.
Back in the day, I clerked in a big Manhattan department store. Because I was young and quick and flexible, I was assigned to the “flying squad,” a group of clerks who could cover any counter if a regular called in sick, and immediately grasp what was necessary to assist customers.
The situation is more complex, and more tender, when the business at hand is teaching dance, especially to children. Finding a last-minute substitute can be tricky, especially in small studios with skeleton staffs. And kids don’t always react well to the sudden appearance of an unfamiliar face. Here to give some insights into smart strategies for handling absences are instructors from various parts of the country, at various levels, and on both sides of the “temp” equation.
A universal truth in any dance form, and especially in ballet, is that a dancer’s arms must be expressive and show generosity to the audience.
NOMINATED BY: Gail Skinner and Amelia Kinsolving, Leo’s lifelong friends and fellow teachers: “At the 2013 DanceLife Teacher Conference, we were amazed by the number of people who approached Miss Anna Marie to tell her what a great influence she had on them. At the age of 84—and as her studio enters its 64th year—Anna Marie continues to teach, always willing to share her talents with students and fellow studio owners alike.”
In this issue’s “Ask Rhee Gold” column, I advise a school owner on how to approach a delicate situation. You’ve all encountered complex issues among your students’ families—divorces, deaths, substance abuse, and so on. But as our world changes, so do its complexities. The question this woman asked isn’t one that any of us would have heard even five years ago, but it’s likely to become more common.
The advice sought was about how to respond to—and how to explain to other students and their parents—a young transgender student’s request to be recognized as Jessica rather than as Josh.
The polka was the second most important couple dance (after the waltz) in classical-period ballrooms. In 2/4 meter, the polka originated in Bohemia as a peasant dance.
Also in 2/4 meter, the galop, named after the running gait of a horse, is a lively country dance introduced in Paris at the Carnival of 1829 by the Duchesse de Berry.
Freezes (also called pauses or poses) are the moments in breaking when the dancer stops all movement—as if frozen in time. Freezes can happen at any point and must be held with confidence.
The use of levels—high, middle, and low—is one of the fundamental elements of dance.
In less than nine months, I have had to notify my studio’s staff that two students’ mothers had died. A second-grader lost her mother to cervical cancer, and a seventh-grader lost hers to leukemia. I was saddened to think how much these two young girls were suffering—but their losses also made me reflect on my own behavior. How many times, as the owner of a studio that is dominated by girls and their mothers, would I use language like “Moms Only” or “Mom Volunteer” without realizing how thoughtless it might seem?
Most dance teachers have to talk—a lot. You communicate regularly with children, parents, business associates, and adult learners, to name a few, and among them are the young, the old, the polite, the funny, the argumentative, and the easygoing. Some of that communication happens by email, texting, or social media, but when you’re in a dance studio your voice is all you’ve got. It has to be clear and it has to be heard.
I frequently end barre combinations with a pirouette into attitude derrière. It’s good for students to feel the passé-to-attitude transition and practice balancing out of it. Left unchecked, however, students may contort their torsos and lean toward the barre trying to get the attitude leg up high.
Teaching musicality is vital to help your students grow from dancers into artists. Whether music is live or recorded, encourage them to listen to it, and to understand that music and movement are partners and support each other.
What’s up in the dance community
Luigi: A Life of Influence and Inspiration
Renowned Teacher Maggie Black Dies
Teaching students to respond to and connect with music is as important in tap as it is in other forms of dance. As tappers, our students are “joining the band,” and each sound they make adds to the overall musical arrangement.
Honest. Trustworthy. We all label ourselves with those words, and that’s a good start. Next up: having the integrity to prove them true.
“Learning to Let Go”: Letting go is difficult. It takes time and wisdom (often someone else’s at first) to understand that we’re better off without those habits, that person, these ideas. Usually only after a period of doubt and mourning do we realize that leaving something has made room for something else.
“Then It Happens”: What happens when one of them is suddenly gone? Growing up is a dangerous activity. The kids come to class, joyous, new licenses in hand, and you make sure to camouflage the worry in your congratulations. Weeks and lessons pass, and you’re consumed with corrections they forgot or how to address fizzling energy levels.
When a student’s upper body is not active in a pirouette, the turn itself begins to suffer. It’s not only important to maintain a turned-out passé, high relevé, and strong spot; a dancer’s torso (the back and core muscles) must also be engaged throughout the turn.
The shuffle—a brush and spank, done in all directions and in varied rhythms—is one of the most important movements in a tap dancer’s repertoire.
I love watching a dancer move with such fluidity that it looks effortless. Fluidity gives watchers the sense that the dancer can do anything.
Building physical strength in students’ bodies is essential both for conveying power and supporting fluidity.
In ballet class, waltz music is excellent for almost any exercise, from tendus, pliés, and ronds de jambe to grand allegros.
NOMINATED BY: Patricia Leigh Dwyer, former student: “At 82, Ms. Puffy continues to make her mark on the dance world by touching young dancers’ lives. Her creativity is endless, her energy is electric, and she has a warm, loving way of drawing you into her world of music, wonder, and movement. I am proud, not only to have studied under her tutelage, but to have carried on her legacy—as thousands of teachers across the country continue to do.”
When American Ballet Theatre initiated its outreach program Project Plié in 2013, the company’s CEO, Rachel Moore, was clear about the lack of diversity in ballet schools and companies and the need to mitigate the problem. “My observation is that currently in the U.S. none of the major ballet companies have a female principal dancer of color,” says Moore. “I think it’s a real problem because American ballet companies should look like America. As the demographics of this country change, in order for ballet companies to remain relevant, we need to change with them.”
Shuffles are a type of footwork in breaking.
The funky four corners is a toprock step pattern in breaking.
When using a piece of music for class or choreography, it’s helpful to understand its form. Two important musical forms created by 18th-century composers are the sonata and rondo forms.
The drop-freeze to the back is an important basic ground move…
The dolphin dive is a ground move seen mainly in house/loft movement…
Training an awareness of focus is a vital part of developing students into dancers and artists.
I sometimes see students emphasizing either shape, form, and line, or momentum, energy, and dynamics, instead of integrating them. To address this, I use the idea of “shaping momentum.”
Soft shoe should be integral to all tap curriculums. Appropriate for all levels and ages, studying soft shoe increases awareness of tempo, tone, and placement. Originally done in soft shoes, sometimes on sand, this style is known for a slow, dignified, and graceful approach, made popular in the vaudeville years by George Primrose and in the 1930s and 1940s by the artists known as “class acts.” A famous routine is Honi Coles and Cholly Atkins’ slow soft shoe, known for its beautiful precision and incredibly slow tempo.
For successful finger turns, it’s important for the female partner to ronde de jambe her working leg a full 90 degrees, from devant to à la seconde, before pulling it back into a turned-out passé.
As pairs practice, have them work together to find equal opposing force between the female dancer’s supporting arm and the male dancer’s push-off arm.
NOMINATED BY: Sara Carbo, owner, River Oaks Dance: “I own a dance program that caters to children ages 3 to 8, and Ellen has been an integral part from day one. She performs in many theater productions in the Houston area, and brings that energy and animation into class. I know my program wouldn’t be as successful without her dedication.”
As a dance teacher, I have come across teens struggling with serious issues. I have also encountered parents reluctant to seek treatment for their child. In dealing with each situation, I used several rules to guide my actions. I also consulted Deborah Lynn, MD, an adult and child psychoanalyst with a private practice in Los Angeles who serves on the Volunteer Clinical Faculty at UCLA. Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to handle these difficult situations.