Maggie Black, who for decades earned renown for teaching famous ballet and modern dancers how to leap and turn in ways, as she put it, that “humans weren’t really made to do,” configuring their bodies to avoid injuries and even to heal them, died on May 11 at her home in East Hampton, New York. She was 85.
Tresa Randall, an associate professor of dance in the School of Dance, Film, and Theater has won Ohio University’s Presidential Teacher Award.
Reporting on Misty Copeland for 60 Minutes this week, CBS correspondent Bill Whitaker heard the story of the star ballerina’s childhood: how a dance teacher took a teenage Misty under her wing, took her into her home, and changed her life.
What Whitaker didn’t expect to hear was that Copeland, now a soloist at American Ballet Theatre (ABT), is doing something similar for two teenage boys from Brooklyn—identical twins Shaakir and Naazir Muhammad. “She’s a coach, she’s a mentor, she’s a big sister,” Whitaker told 60 Minutes Overtime. “Her face lights up when she talks about them.”
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” and “Then It Happens”
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.
“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.
Glissades are common connecting steps for jumps and therefore important for students to master. There are two major types: 1) glissades in petit allegro, which close in fifth position, and 2) glissades in medium or grand allegro, which failli through fifth to end in or continue through fourth position.
“It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing,” go the words of Duke Ellington’s popular tune. So how do we teach our tap students to swing?
Arms are often students’ last concern. They’re concentrating on legs and core, so their arm movements seem unfinished or like afterthoughts.
1) To teach basic top rock, start with the two-step. A two-step can happen on either foot and move in any direction. 2) Use the mental images conjured up by dance and step names, such as popping and locking, to help your students feel the hip-hop aesthetic in their bodies.
Classical music is art music based on the traditions of Western music, from the 11th century to the present day. Often more complex than folk or popular music, it requires technical mastery and a sophistication of form.
NOMINATED BY: Joy Sheffield, friend: “Chauniece opened Ballet on Wheels in 2002 to help build a better Memphis community through dance. Chauniece ensures her students are well-prepared for every dance opportunity. She gives her dance staff full discretion in their classrooms and encourages them to come up with innovative ideas to engage students in the classroom and through community-based dance programs. She’s making a positive impact on her students, staff, and community.”
This month we focus on wellness, of both mind and body. Gone are the days of harsh teaching methods that promoted unhealthy mindsets; today there are widespread efforts to make dance training good for body and soul. You’ll discover how one school tends to both, how a team of dancers delivers Mindful Practice to private studios, and how to help teens in trouble.
Plus, month-by-month business goals, paving the way for freshman dance majors, post-performance feedback at USA IBC, our annual roundup of teacher training options, and more.
NOMINATED BY: Maria Graziano: “Lisa is not only a role model for dancers, but for our entire community. Her studio has strict rules and her classes are full year round. She runs three dance companies, and the studio is home to children with autism and those with handicaps and learning disabilities. I am a stage crew mom, and I have seen and heard Lisa working with students, demanding their best behavior, and encouraging all of them regardless of ability.”
One block from the Empire State Building, in a building that houses the Korean Performing Arts Center, Korean dance teacher and performer Rebecca Lee is rehearsing two teenage dancers in the ipchum (translated variously as “standing dance,” “basic dance,” or “improvisational folk dance”), a simple traditional Korean dance.
Dance teacher Marisa Rotter’s weekly schedule reads like a tour of the Minneapolis suburbs. If it’s Monday it’s time to go to Farmington. If it’s Tuesday she’s shuttling between Burnsville, Apple Valley, and Northfield. On Thursday it’s back to Farmington.
A World of Dance Volume 20 | Issue 1 | Buy a print copy It’s time for our New Year’s tradition—sharing stories about dance from a global perspective. This month we’re taking you to France for ballet, to Korea for traditional and contemporary dance, and to the Middle East to . . .
Most teachers of musical theater classes have had students who are hesitant to commit to new acting challenges. Maybe they’re shy or intimidated; maybe they question their ability to do improvisational exercises. It’s not easy to get all of your students invested in something new—but if you want your dancers to take a risk, you’ve got to be willing to put yourself on the line.
We teach beginning dancers to face the corners of the room squarely when in effacé and croisé. As dancers become more advanced, they will need to adjust to facing along a flatter diagonal.
We may try to keep our classrooms homogeneous in skill level, but we’re still likely to end up welcoming new students into classes for which they don’t have all the prerequisite skills. In tap classes, this is especially challenging. Emphasizing all teaching modalities to reinforce new vocabulary and skills will help all your dancers succeed.
I sometimes sense my students moving hesitantly in class, doubting themselves and shying away from risk-taking. To address this, I tell them to ask themselves these questions in class when they feel unsure: “What is there to lose? What could go wrong? Do I trust myself enough to figure it out if I, say, turn the wrong way?” Their bodies are smarter than they realize: they don’t need to sabotage themselves by worrying about major catastrophes.
An important concept in hip-hop is “keeping the groove.” The groove is the constant pulsing movement of the body, which corresponds to the feel of the music.
In a baroque suite, optional movements were often inserted between the third (sarabande) and fourth (gigue) movements. The lively minuet, in 3/4 or 3/8 meter, was the most popular. Introduced at court in the reign of Louis XIV, this French dance derived from the branle of Poitou, a rustic dance. With short, delicate steps, turned-out leg positions, broken-wrist affectations, and elegant bows, and the dancers in heeled shoes and powdered wigs, the minuet epitomized the artificial behavior of court life. Each melodic phrase was six counts long to accommodate the pas de menuet step pattern (three steps of two beats each).
All dance studio owners strive to find excellent teachers to fill their faculty rosters. Yet it is not uncommon for owners to crave more variety for students—to provide a roster of instructors similar to those of professional studios in large markets such as Los Angeles or New York City. At Wildwood Dance & Arts, located in America’s heartland near St. Louis, Missouri, owner Leah Cordiano-Siemens has found a solution to the need to broaden her hip-hop offerings: she typically brings in at least one guest teacher each month. In so doing, she exposes developing dancers to current dance steps and choreography and gives them a taste of the world of professional dance.
The Marta sisters, by their own description “joined at the hip,” came to the United States from Colón, Panama, as teenagers in 1965. Both became dancers, and then teachers. Many years later they’re still at work, Elvia Marta in San Francisco and Cecilia Marta in New York City.
Many baroque composers wrote multi-movement instrumental pieces known as suites, inspired by national folk dances of the period. The movements were generally in the same key (tonality) and were relatively short, yet they differed in tempo, meter, and style. The phrases were symmetrical and balanced harmonically to accommodate dance patterns.
For a right shoulder sit, start with the female standing in fifth position in front of the male, whose hands are low on her waist; the female assemblés as a preparation.
More and more people are hip-hop dancing today, so be in the know and teach your students the history behind the movement and its terminology.
I like to invite, not tell, my students to participate. “I invite you to form a circle,” for instance, has a very different tone from “Form a circle.” Words like “invite,” “encourage,” or “ask” indicate to students that they have agency, and that they and I are equally engaged in investigating new possibilities.
Time steps are a pattern, usually reversed every 4 counts, used by vaudevillians to help set tempo for musicians. In Over the Top to Bebop, a filmed discussion of tap with Jazz Dance author Marshall Stearns, Honi Coles talks about time steps being the “ABCs” of tap dance, and he and Cholly Atkins vocalize a ditty about a buggy ride to demonstrate simple to more complex rhythms. (Portions are on YouTube.)
Running a business requires many skills. It also requires good instincts and a willingness to act on them. Take the case of Maura, a successful school owner. Her weaknesses are a fear of confrontation and a tendency to be too trusting—and too willing to squelch her intuition.
Hip-Hop & Jazz Volume 19 | Issue 10 | Buy a print copy It’s time for our favorite funky duo, hip-hop and jazz! Read about master hip-hop teachers, birthday party fun, and dancers ages 50 and up getting their groove on. Then meet the Marta sisters, with jazz styles as . . .
NOMINATED BY: Cindy Pattison-Rivard, daughter: “My mom, Nancy Pattison, owner and operator of our family-oriented dance school, is celebrating 60 years in dance education. Nancy’s was one of the first studios in the area and continues to offer dance lessons and life lessons, and to inspire dancers of all ages. Many alumni have gone on to pursue dance careers all over the world.”
5, 6, 7, 8! Kids! Volume 19 | Issue 9 | Buy a print copy Our kids-centric issue will help you get everybody dancing. We’ve got stories on parent participation classes, approaches for reaching students with special needs, boosting community interest through free coffee hours, and dance teachers’ favorite music . . .