Mary Ramirez Cook teaches a variety of classes each week at her A-Marika Dance Studio in Sharonville, Ohio, including one for students with Down syndrome she created for her son, Matthew.
So when Matthew and another student with Down syndrome wanted to participate in a national dance competition, she asked the organization to create a special category for them, but was turned down. So, she told Cincinnati.com, “I decided to just hold my own.”
With the help of professional dancer Doreen Beatrice, she created the inaugural Special Ballroom Festival, which took place October 11 in the Northern Lights Ballroom of the Sharonville Convention Center.
Cook said 31 dancers with special needs were registered for multiple competitions, totaling 145 entries, and competed in waltz, foxtrot, tango, rumba, cha-cha, and swing dances. The competition was officiated by certified dance judges, and included the presentation of awards and medallions. “I want every one of them to walk out of there feeling amazing,” she said, “and knowing that it’s all about them.”
Cook is hoping to make the festival an annual event that grows bigger each year.
“This is a social outlet, and there isn’t anything like this,” she said, adding that the competition helped to teach more than dance steps. “They have to learn social skills, appropriate behavior, and courtesy.”
To see the original story, visit http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/local/community-news/2014/10/15/dance-competition-shines-spotlight-abilities-disabled/17303939/.
By Nina Pinzarrone
The two basic musical qualities are legato, meaning smooth and connected (indicated by a curved line or phrase marking above the notes to be connected) and staccato, meaning detached and disconnected (indicated by a dot above each note to be shortened). When you explain legato to your students, mention the quality of fondu or developpé movements, and for staccato, mention the frappé movement and jumps.
Here are some additional terms that describe quality.
• cantabile: in a singing style
• leggiero: lightly
• pesante: heavily
• maestoso: majestic
• sostenuto: sustained
• pizzicato: plucked or pinched
Pizzicato is a playing technique that involves plucking the strings of the instrument. Listen to Leroy Anderson’s “Jazz Pizzicato” or “Plink, Plank, Plunk!” for excellent examples.
“Dynamics” refers to how loud or soft the music can be played. The range of dynamics extends from “ppp,” which is extremely soft, and “fff,” which is extremely loud, although they are rarely used. The most common indications of dynamics are:
• pp: pianissimo (very soft)
• p: piano (soft)
• mp: mezzo piano (medium soft)
• mf: mezzo forte (medium loud)
• f: forte (loud)
• ff: fortissimo (very loud)
These designations are relative rather than absolute; they depend on the overall dynamic level of the piece of music. For example, in music that is generally quiet and peaceful, a forte marking indicates a much softer dynamic than one in a bombastic Sousa march.
By David Arce
To achieve grand allegro jumps such as grand jeté, tour jeté, assemblé devant, fouetté, and cabriole fouetté, students must be able to do a strong, square, and properly placed 90-degree sauté in grand battement devant with arms in high fifth position.
To help students feel the power of this building block for more difficult jumps, I give the following combination. It is also a good “tune-up” exercise. Have students perform this exercise one by one or two by two to make sure they properly feel the sauté. Use the longest diagonal of your studio for this exercise.
Start with the students in the farthest upstage corner of the studio, in croisé tendu devant. They tombé, brush the supporting leg through first into a 90-degree battement, and sauté with the arms in high fifth. After landing the sauté in a 90-degree soutenu, they take three steps (on the same diagonal) and repeat the sauté step three more times.
The fourth time, have them do one of the following: one more simple sauté in effacé with the leg still extended at 90 degrees, or one of the jumps listed in the first paragraph.
One key element of jumps is maintaining proper focus throughout the preparation and jump and after the landing. Students most often forget to do this during assemblé; instead, they look down at their legs assembling in fifth in the air. This makes it difficult to achieve the proper body and head positions, gives the illusion of a smaller jump, and creates a heavy landing.
I remind my students that the eyes must lead any step (especially jumps) in ballet; then the head follows, then the torso, and finally the arms and legs. I also tell them to place their focus where they want it to be when they land.
Looking up before and during jumps prepares the body to remain lifted even after the landing. This also allows the dancer to remain in the air a split second longer.
By Geo Hubela
For the last week of classes before holiday break, I recommend letting the kids come to class in hip-hop holiday-themed clothing. We have three rooms of classes running per hour, and each class learns a short holiday hip-hop routine. Make the steps easy and repetitive—for example, slides and freestyle poses—so the students don’t stress about remembering. Most of all, make the steps funky and fun.
During the last 15 minutes of class, the kids collect in one room and each class performs its routine. It’s like a holiday show all week long!
After all three classes have performed, we have a big freestyle circle together. When it comes to creating the impromptu dance routines, have a playlist of holiday hip-hop music ready to go, and change it up for each class.
To find hip-hop holiday music, search for holiday and Christmas remixes on YouTube; you will be surprised at how many options there are. Use keywords such as “funky holiday,” “hip-hop holiday,” “Christmas remix,” “holiday dubstep,” etc.
Look up albums like Merry Mixmas: Christmas Classics Remixed and Christmas Remixed: Holiday Classics Re-Grooved on iTunes, Spotify, or Google Play Music. A classic is “Christmas in Hollis” by Run-DMC and a cool remix of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” by Busta Rhymes and Jim Carrey from the soundtrack of the 2000 remake of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
By Bill Evans
Moving through space is more about the pelvis than the feet. To prepare students to move freely and efficiently through space, I devote time early in each class session to an exploration of pelvic shifts—transferring the weight from one foot to the other with an initiation in the pelvic floor. I call these actions “undercurves” because the lowest part of the pelvis inscribes a U-shaped curve in each transfer of weight.
I instruct students to yield into the earth through one foot, push against the earth, sense the energy of that push radiating from the center of gravity (floor of the pelvis), and then reach through the other foot and pull themselves to a new point in space. This sequence of yield and push to reach and pull creates the undercurve. The sequence allows the students to be grounded and fluid as they move in all directions.
Undercurves, in Laban terms, have an affinity for strength and acceleration. When a person swings, there is an acceleration on the way down and a deceleration on the way up. Strength and acceleration are qualities of efficient, unrestrained undercurves.
Laban identified two weight centers: strength (or power, or groundedness), which is the pelvic floor; and lightness (or delicacy or buoyancy), which is the upper thorax/lungs, the space behind the sternum.
Sometimes undercurves transition into overcurves. This happens when the momentum of the grounded weight shift is transformed into lightness emanating from behind the sternum for the next weight shift. The student will then create a full undercurve/overcurve pelvic circle in the diagonal, vertical, or sagittal (wheel, or forward/back and up/down) plane.
The momentum of the undercurve is allowed to morph into an overcurve as the energy rises from the pelvis through the core to the center of lightness, from which it radiates outward to help the student become buoyant and linger in time. Each under/overcurve involves the sequence of plié through relevé on the first leg, weight transfer at the top, and then piqué through plié on the second leg.
By Thelma Goldberg
One important component of any tap warm-up is a walk-around. The walk-around serves many purposes and can be easily modified for all ability levels.
• Select an upbeat tune that will inspire your dancers to quickly transition from school, home, or another class.
• Encourage dancers to walk like a “real” person.
• Walk on the quarter note, eighth note, eighth note triplet, and sixteenth notes.
• Introduce counterpoint by having the two halves of the class walk on different notes.
• Provide an opportunity for improvising by walking for 8 counts and improvising for 8 counts.
• Vary the walking pattern to try fun staging ideas (diagonals, figure eights, circles).
• Teach the Cole Stroll walk-around created by Honi Coles.
Explore a variety of tap styles with these tips and tunes.
• waltz clog: dancing in 3/4, or waltz time, always adds challenges in musical awareness, timing, and precision. Try “Bicycle Built for Two,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” or “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
• soft shoe: includes important traditional steps such as front and back essence, soft shoe time step and break, and paddle turns and grapevine. Try “Jolly Holiday” or “Side by Side.”
• clogging: think hoedown, scuffles, and cowboy boots. Try “Old Virginia Reel” or “It’s a Good Day.”
• musical theater: are your dancers ready for character shoes? Try “42nd Street,” “Anything Goes,” or “I Got Rhythm.”
• stepping/body percussion/gum boot dancing: have your students clap, slap, and stomp their rhythms, and plan for an a cappella routine. Get a metronome app to set tempos.
• military: military time steps and more! Try “You’re a Grand Old Flag” or “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
By Lisa Okuhn
Who needs a bio? If you’re a dance teacher or school owner, you do. And it belongs on your school’s website.
A bio (short for “biography”) is a synopsis of a person’s relevant experience in a given field. Well-written biographies tell readers who your faculty is, what dance-related experience they possess, and about any other strengths they bring to the classroom. Website faculty bios make it easy for clients or potential clients to know who is providing what to a school’s students.
If you’re a school owner, you and your faculty members should draft your own bios using the guidelines below. Have someone with writing skills edit them before they’re made public on a website or anywhere else. Bios—or any other written materials—that are poorly constructed, grammatically unsound, and full of misspellings make you seem unprofessional and inspire zero confidence.
Website faculty bios make it easy for clients or potential clients to know who is providing what to a school’s students.
Bios should be informative yet concise. While exceptions might be made for those with unusually distinguished careers, assume that no one wants to read more than one or two paragraphs about you or your teachers. Ensure relative uniformity of length by setting a word count; 150 to 200 words should be plenty.
Bios should be written in the third person, and should include five main sets of facts in whatever order reads most gracefully and best emphasizes your strengths: performing and choreographic experience, teaching experience, training, awards or other important acknowledgments, and any other experience that adds to the resources you can offer; for example, extensive volunteer work with special-needs children, four seasons as a competition judge, etc. A brief mention of where you’re from can also give readers a more concrete sense of who you are.
Professional experience as a performer or choreographer typically makes a strong impression on readers. But even if your resume doesn’t sparkle with professional performing or choreographic credentials, do list the experiences that have most influenced you as a dancer, teacher, or artist. This shows readers where you’ve gained your experience, what you’ve been exposed to, and where your interests lie. Include only those jobs that best reflect your experience and interests and offer a balanced view of your strengths.
In describing your training, don’t list every teacher you’ve ever had; in general, stick to recognizable names or institutions.
If your teaching experience is vast, you don’t have to list every class you’ve ever taught. Include the important teaching jobs and those that demonstrate the range of your experience; for example, 12 years of teaching kindergarten tap, a summer Vaganova workshop for teachers, or a college kinesiology course. Where applicable, note specific job titles, such as preschool curriculum director.
A mention of important awards, fellowships, grants, and other recognition will catch readers’ eyes, but use discretion. And unless a major documentary has been made about you, press coverage should be listed and linked on a separate media page.
Including personal details (a supportive spouse, a favorite hobby) is an option but keep them to a minimum.
A few don’ts: don’t lie or exaggerate, and don’t use hyperbole. Readers will be put off by flagrant self-promotion. “Miss Tyra danced with Sparrowfoot Dance Company from 1999 to 2006,” is more credible than “The talented Miss Tyra danced with the incomparable Sparrowfoot Dance Company . . .”
Post the bios (with photos) on your website in a way that makes them easy to find and easy to read. If they’re well written and informative, they’ll capture attention and elicit respect.
Ballet director, Tutterow Dance Academy, Largo, Florida
NOMINATED BY: Nicole Zivkovic, daughter and dance teacher: “I am always impressed and motivated by the knowledge, talent, experience, and loving care my mother uses to develop beautiful, technically strong dancers. She has been teaching dance for more than 40 years and she continues to seek new information to improve her teaching. She takes a personal interest in all of her students and cares about them as if they were her own children. Perhaps most important, she expects much of her students while remaining calm, positive, and sweet.”
YEARS TEACHING: 43
AGES TAUGHT: 6 to adult
GENRES TAUGHT: Ballet and pointe
WHY SHE CHOSE TEACHING AS A CAREER: I enjoyed teaching dance much more than my day job as a secretary. So early on, when an opportunity to buy a well-established dance studio in Edison, New Jersey, presented itself, it became my career. I worked briefly as a summer replacement for the Radio City Rockettes, and during my college years was a member of a folk dance and music ensemble called the Duquesne University Tamburitzans, which traveled extensively throughout the United States and abroad.
HER GREATEST INSPIRATIONS: I started my dance training with a very positive teacher, Patsy Kelleher, in Duquesne, Pennsylvania. Her enthusiasm and loving demeanor made a great impression on me. Gertrude Weinberg was the owner of the New Jersey studio I purchased, and she became my mentor. Her fun-loving and engaging personality influenced my teaching, as well as my approach to the business of running a studio. Knowing these wonderful women has been a blessing.
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY: I encourage students to reach for their potential, and I love working with all students, regardless of their inherent talent. I feel that dance should be a joyful activity where you can leave your worries or unhappy mood at the door.
WHAT MAKES HER A GOOD TEACHER: I have an abundance of patience, because some students learn quickly, while others are slow to apply corrections. I never give up on anyone. I am always prepared for each day of classwork, with the intention of moving students forward in their technique.
FONDEST TEACHING MEMORY: Once, early in my teaching career, I was working with 6- and 7-year-olds, and one student in particular was in a very bad mood. Whether I complimented her or tried to correct her movement, she wanted no part of it. Miss Gertrude asked me how the class was doing. I privately mentioned the name of the child and how difficult her behavior had been. Quietly, Miss Gertrude asked her if she had had a bad day at school, and the child admitted that others had been picking on her all day. Miss Gertrude embraced her and shared her love.
This incident, such a long time ago, taught me that each child comes to class with a whole different life experience than the next one. I am always sensitive to this fact and try to disarm an unhappy mood or be more attentive to those who need an extra dose of encouragement and love.
ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS: It’s been a joy to share dance with my daughters, Nicole and Renee. When we moved to Florida, we were lucky to find a welcoming studio and a new set of wonderful friendships. I am so grateful to Debbie Kennedy, Tutterow Dance Academy’s director; Mandy Beamer, the assistant director; and the rest of the staff for the great partnership we enjoy as teachers, and for the opportunity to devote ourselves to providing a solid dance education in a loving, positive environment.
DO YOU KNOW A DANCE TEACHER WHO DESERVES TO BE IN THE SPOTLIGHT? Email your nominations to Arisa@rheegold.com or mail them to Arisa White, Dance Studio Life, P.O. Box 2150, Norton, MA 02766. Please include why you think this teacher should be featured, along with his or her contact information.
This month, ABT has awarded Project Plié scholarships to seven teachers from around the country who have shown enthusiasm and dedication to teaching children from underserved communities.
The teachers participated in American Ballet Theatre’s National Training Curriculum summer session and have all been certified in Pre-Primary Level through Level 3. The 2014 NTC Teacher Training Scholarship recipients are:
• Fabian Barnes, a former soloist with Dance Theatre of Harlem and founder and artistic director of the Dance Institute of Washington in Washington, DC. His outreach program, Positive Directions Through Dance, was awarded in 2011 with a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities—the most prestigious award this country gives for working with at-risk youth.
• Lawrence Lemon, founder of the Nomel Inspirational Dance Theater, and also founder and director of the Ohio Black Dance Festival in Columbus, Ohio. As the director of dance at Ohio Avenue After School Youth Program, he currently directs an arts integration program for several charter schools.
• Adam McKinney, a former dancer with Béjart Ballet Lausanne, Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. As chair of the dance department at New Mexico School for the Arts, he works to provide a diverse group of young people high quality academic and artistic education as he shows them what might be possible through ballet education.
• Kimberley Stewart, owner and artistic director of the Arabesque Dance Academy in Cincinnati, Ohio, is also a licensed social worker who works with children who have been the victims of abuse and neglect. In 2013, she was presented with a Community Leadership Award from President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition for her work to build and diversify the dance program in Toledo, Ohio, area YMCAs.
• Sarah Williams, core teacher of ballet at Keshet Dance Company in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The company is a non-profit whose professional dancers work within the community as teachers and mentors in Albuquerque, following its mission to “provide a strong base of positive mentorship for homeless and incarcerated youth and demolish misconceptions about individuals with physical disabilities.”
• Joseph Malbrough, a former principal dancer with Chicago City Ballet, Ballet Chicago, and L’Opera de Lausanne, who currently teaches at Ballet Academy East and is a lecturer/faculty in the Conservatory of Dance School of the Arts at Purchase College.
• Khilea Douglass, a former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Broadway dancer who currently dances for the Lula Washington Dance Theatre and also teaches ballet and modern at the school, which is comprised of a community of underrepresented children ages 8 to 15.
For more information, visit http://www.abt.org/education/projectplie/teachertraining/NTCrecipients.asp.
For the past four years, Sylvie Minot, 50, and her Syzygy Dance Project have been bringing meditative dance to incarcerated women, to ex-soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder at veterans’ hospitals, to addicts inside recovery centers, and to young people at camps for at-risk youth, helping them use physical energy and movement to overcome anger, stress, and self-doubt.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Minot, with the help of her wife, Wendy Heffner, works with 20 volunteers and leads six different Syzygy movement classes a week.
“When I dance with the inmates, it just opens my heart,” said Minot, who came to dance two decades ago as a way to overcome her own struggles with alcohol and to help her release an anger she carried since childhood. Her father, a general in the Lao Army, died in a concentration camp in North Vietnam, and she was she was forced to flee a posh home two blocks from the presidential palace in Saigon with her mother and older sister. Minot grew up in overcrowded apartments in Singapore, the Philippines, France, and finally Sunnyvale.
In her classes, Minot incorporates 5Rhythms spiritual dance practice, which puts the body in motion to still the mind. There are no steps to follow, but Minot inserts exercises into the hour-long class, always connected to a life skill. This evening, during class at San Francisco County Jail, the theme is support.
“What do you need support for?” Minot asked the group.
“Finding my freedom!” dancer Tasha Anderson answered.
“What does freedom look like as a movement?” Minot asked.
Just to give people an idea that there’s another way to face their demons—and release them without being self-destructive—is offering a bit of hope. “After Tuesday dance class, it sets me up for the week. I feel like I am better able to let things go that are bothering me,” said inmate Marisabela Sarria.
A music teacher was caught on surveillance video in June damaging equipment left by a dance studio that had rented the auditorium of Lake Shore High School, according to Evans [NY] police.
WIVB News reported this week that 4Dance Connection of Derby, New York, rented the auditorium between June 18 and 20. The dance studio owner set up her equipment on June 18, held a dress rehearsal, and then left the building. When she returned on Friday for the recital, she found three racks of costumes thrown around, six broken props, and a vinyl banner that had been ripped down.
The owner of the dance studio reported the incident and police investigated. Footage from the school cameras led police to arrest Glenn Molik, the music teacher at Lake Shore High School.
The 46-year-old Derby man is charged with third degree criminal tampering and criminal mischief.
To see the original story, visit http://wivb.com/2014/08/05/teacher-accused-of-damaging-dance-studios-property/.
Advice for dance teachers
After 16 years in business I am purchasing a building to make a new home for my studio. The new space is close to downtown, where there are a couple of schools that are very competitive. I have always done my best to stay on the good side of both owners.
About two weeks ago, I put up a sign at the new location to let everyone know the school will be opening there in the fall. Immediately I received an email from one of the other school owners, who threatened “war” if I followed through with my intent “to move into her territory.” She used words that are extremely hateful about me, my students, and the way I teach. She questioned whether my new building was zoned for a business, which it is, and then she wrote that she would immediately head to the town hall to put in a complaint.
During this past season, my school’s enrollment was more than 300 students, which is the perfect number to allow me to afford the new space. It is not my intention to take students from other studios. My school is non-competitive and has a family atmosphere, while both of these other studios do many competitions each year. I thought, and still do believe, that my student base is different than theirs and that my school is not a threat to anyone.
Since the day I opened my school it has been my intention to work hard to save the money to purchase a building, and I am finally there. But now my dream looks like it is going to be a nightmare, and that is a hard thing for me to accept. What should I do? How should I respond? I feel shattered right now. —Shattered
This situation will be a nightmare only if you allow it to turn out that way. Take a deep breath and realize that you are dealing with an insecure person who feels threatened by your presence. It takes two sides to engage in a war. Choose not to participate. If she persists, the only battle wounds will be hers—and her business will suffer.
Think about it this way. It would take her a lot of time and effort to go after you. If she chooses to spend her energy on you instead of on growing her school, building a loyal clientele, and being the best school owner she can be, then she will realize her biggest fear: losing students.
On the other hand, you are excited to own a building and confident that you can make this work. You’re putting all your energy into making your business thrive: providing excellent customer service and quality dance education in order to ensure a happy clientele. This will make you the victor in this woman’s so-called war. And that will happen without you firing a single shot.
As for a response, I don’t think one is necessary. Do save the email, in case you need it down the road, but my guess is that this woman is hoping for a negative reaction from you—such behavior would justify her first attack. Forget about her. Now is the time to pat yourself on the back for making your dream come true and get to work. Good luck! —Rhee
For most of my career I have taught in a college classroom while others have created the performance choreography. Essentially it was my belief that teaching and choreography are two different specialties.
During the last couple of terms I was required to choreograph on our students, but the experience was uncomfortable for me and I was disappointed in my work. It seems blah compared to the choreography done by my colleagues or guest choreographers. I think it is because I am obsessed with having everything be technically correct, which it is—but the audience always seems less than thrilled.
I am now preoccupied with rising to the challenge. This experience has made me realize that I have missed out on the artistic side of educating my students and myself. Where do I go to learn choreography? Do you know of programs or workshops that focus on choreography? Any input is appreciated. —Carolyn
Good for you for not running from the challenge—I like your style! This question is interesting to me because I think of teaching and choreography as being one and the same; however, I can understand how someone could teach and not choreograph if that was the only responsibility required of them.
There are many choreography workshops, especially at the university or college level. Check out the trade publications and do an internet search for choreography intensives or workshops.
For most choreographers, art is the number-one priority. The inspiration comes from your soul, from the dancers you’re working with, and from the emotions you want your audience to experience. The music is a huge part of the inspiration; if you listen closely, it will guide you in choosing what your dancers should do. At first, allow yourself the freedom to create without regard to the technical aspects. The dancers will apply what they’ve learned in the classroom as they become proficient with the movement; you can work on the technique as the piece progresses.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with the bodies you have in front of you; think about using levels, and what happens to the mood of the piece when the dancers are upstage or downstage. Also, be open to the movement concepts that arise when you collaborate with your dancers.
As “homework,” see every performance you can, and look for diversity in the kinds of shows you go to—modern dance and Broadway, tap and ballet, hip-hop and jazz and contemporary. Ignore the dancers’ technical proficiency (or lack thereof) and concentrate on the design of the movement and why you like or don’t like what you see. What emotions do you feel, and why? What would you like your audience to experience?
Always remember that the audience must be entertained or engaged; even if they have no idea what good technique is (I know that’s hard to hear), they will know if they were moved in some way.
I’ve got a feeling you’ll be just fine. Immerse yourself, and enjoy the experience. And let me know how it turns out. —Rhee
My husband and I have been performing professionally for many years. In the fall we are expecting our first child, a fact that has made us think about the future. My mother has had a school in the Midwest for years and has always wanted my husband and me to take it over. Now we are thinking about it.
I am apprehensive because I’m not sure my mother is really willing to pass the torch, both artistically and financially. She is a good teacher who is set in her ways. I think we would bring something fresh to the studio, but I know we would be frustrated if we couldn’t make some changes and be sure that we could make a good living to raise our family. Got any tips? —Nervous Dancer
It sounds like you need to have a talk with your mom to let her know that you are considering her offer—but then you need to clarify what taking over the school means to her. My guess is that she is probably not expecting the question, so be prepared to give her time to think about her answer. But let her talk to see if you get an inkling of what her thoughts might be.
If it seems like what she’s thinking is also what you have in mind, then find a neutral party (an accountant or lawyer) who will help you draw up a legal agreement that works for both your mother and your family. Don’t go with oral agreements or anything that’s unclear. It’s better for you and your mom to be in agreement about this transition than to create tensions that will hurt your family. Good luck! —Rhee
Dance Studio Life, a magazine with a back-to-basics approach, is a division of the Rhee Gold Company, whose mission is to be at the forefront of dance and education by promoting the highest possible standards in teaching. Dance Studio Life understands the soul of the teaching field.
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Advice for dance teachers
2 Music Tips for Dance Teachers | Quality and Dynamics By Nina Pinzarrone
2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Preparing for Big Jumps By David Arce
2 Tips for Hip-Hop Teachers | Holiday Helpers By Geo Hubela
2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Undercurves, Overcurves By Bill Evans
2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Walk-Arounds and New Styles By Thelma Goldberg
College Close-Ups |Grand Valley State University
What students need to know about college and university dance programs.
EditorSpeak By Cheryl A. Ossola
What’s Up In the dance community
On My Mind | Words from the Publisher By Rhee Gold
Classroom Connection By Holly Derville-Teer and Kerry Ring
Ideas to incorporate into your curriculum
Words from our readers
Mindful Marketing | Focus on Faculty With Standout Bios By Lisa Okuhn
Teacher in the Spotlight | Mary Frangione
Teachers who make a difference
Thinking Out Loud | Mixed Messages By Melanie Gibbs
Ballet Scene | A Sensory-Sensitive Show By Rita Felciano
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s autism-friendly Nutcracker.
Bright Biz Idea | Three Sources, One (Income) Stream By Jennifer Kaplan
Diversifying helps profits flow.
Dancing on the Pier By Elizabeth Zimmer
Tens of thousands of children got a taste of the limelight in Atlantic City with Tony Grant Stars of Tomorrow.
From Swing to Hoedown By Joseph Carman
Youth dance teams modeled on the Aggie Wranglers lasso audiences with country-and-western dance.Holiday
Classics Retold With a Kick By Holly Derville-Teer, Larry Sousa, and Karen White
Rhee in Retrospect By Karen White
Dance Studio Life’s 10th anniversary brings memories of 50 years in dance.
The Dance Studio Life “Generous Heart” Awards By Cheryl A. Ossola, Lisa Okuhn, Arisa White, and Karen White
6 who innovate, influence, inform, and inspire.
With the Greatest of Ease By Mary Ellen Hunt
At a dance and circus arts school, students spin, stretch, and fly.
“Night Blizzard,” a poem written by Joan Kunsch, associate director at Connecticut’s Nutmeg Ballet, has won an International Publication Prize from the Atlanta Review, and will be featured in the fall 2014 issue, reports the Register Citizen.
Kunsch, who celebrates 50 years of teaching this summer, has had her writing published in the U.S., Norway, England, and India. She translates contemporary Norwegian poets, presents readings in Norwegian as well as English, and performs “Flute Meets Poem” in a duo with her sister, Kathi Byam.
This is the second time Kunsch’s work has received the award. The first was in 2006, with “Ballet Teacher’s Brief Bio.”
As a guest teacher and choreographer, Kunsch has worked in North America and abroad, particularly Scandinavia, England, and the Netherlands. She has choreographed more than 60 works for concert stage, television, sacred space, and outdoor sites.
To see the original story, visit http://www.registercitizen.com/arts-and-entertainment/20140723/nutmeg-ballets-associate-director-celebrates-50-years-of-teaching.
Jillian Ricks, a Soddy-Daisy [TN] native teaches belly dancing at the studio she opened three years ago. Jillian’s Studio is unique—she uses a hands-on approach to teach her students by feel, reports the Chattanooga Times Free Press. It’s a necessity, as she began losing her sight at age 6 and is now legally blind.
“I don’t have central vision at all so I can only see from the corners of my eyes,” the 27-year-old explained.
Not being able to see has never been a handicap for Ricks. As a child she danced, played soccer and softball. She also performed in the color guard, throwing and catching flags, throughout high school and college while studying philosophy at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. It just took dedication and a little extra practice.
“My parents did not baby me, I was not coddled. If I wanted to do something I did it.” Ricks said. “That’s how I am here today with the studio, because I never said I can’t do that or shouldn’t do that.”
Ricks’ work as a massage therapist and yoga teacher helps her when touching her students, feeling what they might be doing right or wrong in a particular move and helping her correct them.
Ricks has practiced a number of dance forms, from ballet to clogging, but fell in love with belly dancing. “It’s my true dance form versus all the other stuff I’ve done. Belly dance fits my personality and my body better than any of the others. I love it,” Ricks said.
To read the full story, visit http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2014/jun/23/hands-on-approach-blindness-no-handicap-for-belly/.
Advice for dance teachers
I attended the DanceLife Teacher Conference in Phoenix last summer. I have made the exciting move of opening a studio, and I thank you for giving me knowledge about this process. Now I am creating a philosophy, goals, and a business plan, and I wondered if you could provide me with a few key elements that I should or shouldn’t include. Thank you! —Sophia
I would defer to professionals when it comes to your business plan. But I’ll give you some tips on strategy. As you launch, go for the preschool and once-a-week students market. Focus on their needs—learn everything you can about what they want and develop the best curriculums to make the parents feel that their children are receiving a solid dance education from teachers who care.
Some people open a school in hopes of attracting advanced dancers from other schools; I do not recommend that you go that route. Advanced dancers usually pay discounted tuition, require more of your time, and can be a financial burden on a new school. As you and your school grow, you will build strong dancers—which means when you’re ready to invest the time and effort (and finances) into working with the advanced dancers, they’ll be equally as prepared and committed.
Here are some specific questions to ask yourself, to help you analyze what’s working well right from the beginning. One, which age groups does your school attract? Two, which classes are the most successful? Three, which class days and times do your clients want?
Remember, the goal is to be different. Don’t put yourself into the same mold as the other schools in your area. Experiment with adult programs, and design some fun six- and eight-week programs as samplers or summer sessions. Make sure your preschool programs are top-quality and creative. And don’t forget to appreciate your staff, clients, and your own hard work. Have confidence in yourself and what you want to accomplish. Good luck! —Rhee
I have no idea how to handle this situation. I bought my studio in 2012; one of the former owners moved away, and the other one remained in the area. She and I were on good terms, and I continued to support her work after she left. I haven’t heard from her since I took over the school.
She has begun her own business as a master teacher and choreographer for local studios. She is sending resumes to these studios; however, she hasn’t approached me. The students at my studio who remember her do respect her, and I don’t want to change that. Many of them follow her new business on Facebook and Twitter. They would love to have her teach a class with us.
Her buyout agreement has a four-year non-compete, non-solicitation clause. I contacted the attorney who wrote the agreement, and he agrees that she has broken it. I am not threatened by her current business; in fact, I wouldn’t mind having her teach a class at my studio. But I have read comments on social media that indicate she is planning to offer regular classes. That does concern me.
Also, she has used video footage from my studio (her choreography, but done in my studio and at shows while she was still a co-owner). The agreement included her surrendering all files. I am not comfortable with her posting images of my studio’s clients and facility on her website.
The easiest thing to do is have the attorney send a letter to her asking her to stop, but I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do. I could call her (or write) to see if we can discuss the situation. I do want to approach the situation delicately. There is room in the city for both of us, and I want her to know that. But at the same time I want to protect my business. What do I do? —Nora
I too am not sure what to do in this situation. My first instinct is to call her, but you would have to be calm and professional. Don’t say anything about talking to a lawyer or anything else that might make her feel threatened. Let her know that you are aware that she is doing a lot of teaching and wants to expand to more classes. Listen to her and go with your instinct. If it seems as though her goal is to open a school or something like that, don’t say too much more. But if she wants to teach, perhaps you could ask her to come to your school.
If your instinct tells you that this might become a mess, let the lawyer take over.
One thing to think about: no matter what this teacher does, it will only be for a few more years that your current students will remember her. As time goes by, you will be the face of the school, and the students’ loyalty will be to you. Be sure that you go above and beyond for your clientele so that no one would think of leaving.
This is a kick in the butt for you, which could be a good thing in the long run. I wish you the best. —Rhee
Recently, one of my teachers quit because of how I handled a situation in which a parent took issue with her teaching style; her daughter wanted to quit dance because of it. This is not the first instance of this.
Last year we had a child in the studio who has ADHD and is on medication. This teacher would nag her for not paying attention and not remembering what was taught. She should have addressed it differently and approached me or the parent about what was going on. When the parent told me her child didn’t want to dance anymore because of how she felt in class, I met with her and the child.
After the meeting, I told the teacher about the parent’s concerns: her tone with the kids, lack of enthusiasm, and the fact that she greets nobody and never smiles. At first, the teacher tried to make those improvements. But the changes were short-lived.
Then I got a call from a different parent, whose child wants to quit because of the same issues with the same teacher. I contacted the teacher and she explained the difficulties and frustrations she had with the kids. When she complained that the kids weren’t getting the choreography, I suggested that she change it so the kids would shine and not struggle. She was adamantly against this and quite defensive at this point. She said nothing that addressed the well-being of any child or what she could do to remedy the issues. This concerned me.
I suggested that I take over her next class to see if I could formulate a plan to remedy any of the problems or frustrations she was experiencing. She didn’t want me in the class without her present, and told me she felt that excluding her from any discussions regarding her class was disrespecting her.
After she quit, I had a discussion with the class. The impression I got was that several children were seriously intimidated by this teacher. She’d threatened to “rip out” choreography and give them “baby steps” if they didn’t get it right or make them stand onstage with nothing to do if they didn’t practice. All of the kids were afraid, anxious, and fearful in her class. They were relieved when I told them their teacher was gone.
I’ve always prided myself on building confidence. This teacher came to me from another studio in a terribly timid state of mind, ready to give up dance. She had zero confidence and I changed that for her. But when she quit, she said that I was disrespecting her as a teacher.
Do I reach out to her and try to talk about how she was perceived, so she has the opportunity to reflect and work on bettering herself? Or do I let her go, knowing she might make the same mistakes somewhere else? Thanks! —Emily
I think you should do yourself a favor and not contact this teacher. You have explained to her several times over what you wanted her to improve, and she chose not to follow your suggestions. Let her move on; you’ve done as much as you can.
I suggest focusing on doing everything you can to make the rest of the year as positive, fun, and rewarding an experience as possible for this teacher’s former students. Good luck. —Rhee
By Nina Pinzarrone
There are important terms relating to changes in tempo that teachers need to know:
• accelerando: to get faster gradually.
• rallentando and ritardando: to slow down gradually.
• ritenuto: to slow down immediately.
• stringendo: to get faster and faster, compressing and squeezing the music so that it sounds rushed, like a pas de bourrée couru.
• allargando: gradually slowing and broadening, making the music sound more majestic and stately, like a polonaise.
• a tempo: a return to the original tempo after a tempo change.
• rubato (or “robbed time”): the expressive shaping of the music within a musical phrase. Rubato was commonly associated with the Romantic period of music and the work of composer Frédéric Chopin. Some notes in the phrase are hurried or lingered over for musical effect and later compensated for so that overall the phrase does not deviate from the basic tempo.
Many dance teachers demonstrate an exercise in a faster tempo than they want it to be danced. Theoretically this saves time, but when working with a pianist, time can be wasted. Since musicians are aurally wired, the tempo you set first becomes what the accompanist hears first. Show the exercise in the tempo you want it to be danced for a few bars, then speed up to save time. With accompanists who are new to dance, explain that in class they need to keep a steady tempo throughout a piece and ignore the ritardandos and accelerandos written in the score.
By David Arce
When broken down to its simplest form, a pirouette is a quick passé with a relevé and a spot—period. It doesn’t matter how many spots are done. Doing fewer pirouettes with a proper classical ballet finish is always preferable to multiple pirouettes with a sloppy finish.
Students who can’t finish multiple pirouettes cleanly in a center combination most likely cannot end in the same lunge they can when doing a passé relevé or single pirouette. Also, some tend to end their pirouettes in only one position (usually a derrière lunge).
To address these problems, I have students perform a single pirouette with a controlled balance and finish in a predetermined, specific way (e.g., a lunge on any axis away from the supporting leg: forward, à la seconde (in both directions), derrière, and all quadrants in between. I stand in the quadrant the dancer is prone to fall in or prefers to end in and tell him or her not to hit me.
With repetition of this exercise, students will finish a single pirouette in the quadrant you choose, regaining balance and a proper finishing position.
During a turn, the dancer must not only hold the position (coupe, passé, etc.) but find more length through the body. Often students achieve the correct position at the beginning of the turn (from preparation to turning position) but then “sit” while rotating. Remind them that they must continue to strive for a lifted, lengthened, and stronger position as they turn.
If I notice “sitting” in a pirouette, during relevé exercises at the barre I have the dancers visualize growing taller—this is the base for the energy they must maintain during turns. By finding more turnout, a higher relevé, more length in the spine, and a squarer and higher working leg position, the students will produce better balances and improve their position in pirouettes.
By Geo Hubela
Here’s how to teach a cross-touch with a two-point turn: starting on the right foot, have students cross the right foot over the left on 1 and step out on the left on 2. The left foot crosses over on 3, stepping out on the right on 4; repeat the right foot crossover on 5, stepping out on the left on 6.
Now add the two-point turn on 7-8. Keeping the weight on the center (right) foot, turn to the inside (to the right) 180 degrees, tapping the left foot on 7 (students should now be facing back); continue the inside turn, finishing front on 8. The arms follow the legs, crossing on the cross step and opening on the step out. On the turn, arms cross on 7 and open on 8.
Repeat the entire exercise beginning with a left foot crossover on 1 and with an inside two-point turn to the left. Then try the exercise backwards, where the two-point turn becomes an outside turn.
“Walking on the moon” requires great stability and control; core strength is essential in perfecting this move. The body will appear to move in slow motion and every muscle will be engaged and working. The movement of the arms is similar to jogging: bent elbows, in opposition to the legs but in a slow, controlled motion.
The first move, stepping out on the right foot, is the most powerful. The left foot kicks back and circles forward in a running motion. When the left foot reaches the right knee, step onto the left foot while the right leg circles.
I do this exercise in 8- and 4-count intervals across the floor. The longer the intervals are, the more difficult the exercise is. Focus on getting dancers to engage the core and squeeze their muscles for control.
By Bill Evans
Balance is the key to healthy functioning, in dance as in all aspects of our lives. Activating internal (inward) as well as external (outward) rotation in the hip joint is crucial to our students’ well-being. Turning out more than turning in creates unhealthy imbalances. Because muscles that are not continually engaged become weak and muscles that are overworked become disproportionately strong or hypertonic (inelastic), it’s important to give students opportunities to work in outward rotation, neutral rotation (parallel), and inward rotation in every class. I enjoy sharing phrases that move through inward and outward rotation and linger for crystallizing moments in positions that allow students to experience being turned in, parallel, and turned out in both the supporting and gesturing legs.
It is important to remember that rotation of the leg and the arm takes place around an axis from the head of the femur or humerus all the way through the tips of the toes or fingers. By sensing these axes, students develop a synergistic muscle balance throughout the body, rather than overloading the proximal (closer to the trunk) muscles responsible for humeral rotation. I like to sense the axis in the arm and hand as extending from the humeral head through the third (middle) finger. I like to sense the axis in the leg and foot as extending from the femoral head through the second toe. Sometimes students hold so much shoulder tension that they immobilize the scapulohumeral joint and rely solely on the rotary action at the elbow (twisting of the radius and ulna) rather than sensing the mobility of both the proximal and mid-limb joints.
By Thelma Goldberg
The traditional cramproll combination of step, step, heel drop, heel drop in the basic RLRL or LRLR pattern is an important staple in many dance routines. Consider the following ideas to add variety and new challenges for your students.
• Introduce the “around the world” cramproll of RLLR and LRRL.
• Swing the second step to the right or left for a “pendulum” cramproll.
• Turn the cramproll by starting with a stamp R into either a LRLR or a LRRL.
• Add a flap or a shuffle before or an extra heel drop or toe drop after the cramproll.
• Reverse the cramproll by starting with a heel stand and dropping the toes.
• Use a “press cramproll,” which is three sounds instead of the typical four-sound pattern.
• Explore different rhythms and use words or sentences to reinforce the phrase. One of my favorites is “Go to your room!” for 1&a2. Or “spectacular” for a1a2. Invite your students to name the cramprolls in their dance. Vocalizing the rhythm will bring clarity, strength, and fun to cramproll work.
Turns add variety and interest to all choreography. Besides the cramproll turn mentioned above, consider turning those traveling step heels and flap ball changes. Use a combination of steps and tips for an inside turn or steps and spanks for an outside turn. The traditional paddle turn of step brush step step brush step step brush step step is always an audience pleaser and can be varied by changing the rhythm from 1&a2&a3&a4 to 1 2& (3) &4&5&6&.
Other classic tap turns include the five-point turn (step, heel drop, heel drop, toe drop, toe drop) and the Maxie Ford turn (step shuffle leap tip). Inserting turns is a good way to challenge the stronger dancers in your group. In choreography, having some dancers turn a step while others do it straight adds interest.
Most of you know the routine: three days in an auditorium at a dance competition. That’s what Jocelyn, a school owner, is doing on this particular weekend, along with her students and their parents. By the second day, she knows her dancers aren’t scoring as well as she had predicted they would. Her confidence is shot, and her first thought is to strategize a defense plan to explain to everyone why the dancers are not up to par. In politics, it’s called spin mode.
In the back of the auditorium, Jocelyn runs into a couple of moms from her school and blurts out, “It seems that the judges don’t like our stuff!” adding a big sigh and a sad face. The moms aren’t sure how to react; they smile and keep walking. Back in their seats, they talk about Jocelyn’s comment with other parents from the school. Soon all the parents are flipping out because they believe the judges don’t like their kids.
Meanwhile, backstage, Jocelyn and her teachers are in a huddle; she is ranting about how she thinks the dance competition is fixed. When she leaves the group, she says—loudly, and within earshot of the competition’s director—“It seems to me that the people who spend the most money on entry fees are the winners here.”
Jocelyn has one more stop before she goes back to her seat in the auditorium: the dressing room, where 30 excited dancers who can’t wait to perform their big production number greet her. She tries to force a smile and fails. “I’m sorry the judges don’t like you,” she says. “This whole competition is a sham!” The dancers fall silent, their excitement gone.
Back in the auditorium, Jocelyn finds herself sitting alone. Everyone—her students and their parents, her faculty, and even the competition director—knows she is not happy. Everyone wants to stay clear of her.
By Sunday morning, Jocelyn’s team is deflated, the excitement and energy the dancers brought with them completely gone. Instead, an aura of anger hangs over everyone from the school, and it’s apparent to every participant, parent, teacher, and staffer at the event. That morning at breakfast the competition director told the judges and staff that Jocelyn was furious. By this point, the spin she created has spread a black cloud over the entire event.
Driving home that night, Jocelyn plans a “nuclear” email that she will fire off to the director of the most horrible competition in the world. That will make her feel better. Or so she thinks.
I can only wonder what might have happened if, at the moment Jocelyn realized her dancers were not scoring as well as everyone had hoped, she decided to spend the rest of the weekend figuring out how to be a better teacher. What if she had said, “Boy, the students here are excellent—but I’m so proud of our kids, no matter what they score!” to anyone who would listen?
Ready, Set . . .
Covering classes when teachers call in sick can be a challenge. Substitutes are not necessarily familiar with the class level, the music for the choreography, or current class structure. I have found that doing a little extra work up front pays off.
I have a lesson plan book that never leaves our studio. The basic lesson plans for all classes and levels include a breakdown of the class, how much time is spent on each section, and what moves might be included. A plan for an 8- to 10-year-old jazz class might include: across-the-floor (15 minutes): step battements, grapevine, three-step turns, piqué turns, châiné turns, leaps.
While substitute teachers are free to adapt the lesson plan, having the plans available allows any teacher to walk in and understand a typical class for a particular age group and level. Level 2 at one studio may be completely different than level 2 at another, and subs often teach for multiple studios. Providing a few tips on what type of steps are being worked on is usually enough to give an experienced teacher insight into the level of that class.
I have also invested in an iPod that “lives” at the studio. It’s loaded with music playlists, labeled accordingly, for a basic class for each level and style. There is also a performance playlist of the songs being used for choreography. This iPod has saved us countless times when music has been left at home or a scratched CD won’t play. And it makes it easy for any instructor to walk in and cover a class without scrambling to find appropriate music.
We all know that every dance teacher deserves a day off. This system has made it easier to give my staff those days—guilt free!
—Sarah Beth Byrum
Beyond the Physical
At every age, what is taught in the dance classroom extends past the mirrored walls. Beyond movements and steps, personal, physical, emotional, and social lessons are presented.
In addition to teaching elementary ballet movement, we work with young ballet students on etiquette, good posture, and self-confidence. After learning about the origins of ballet in the royal court, young students are invited to make a “royal entrance” to an imaginary ball. They put on a real or imaginary crown and, after being announced as “Princess Brittany” or “Prince Matthew,” walk across the floor with toe-ball-heel steps, practicing foot articulation, control, and good posture. When they reach center, they curtsy or bow to the queen or king (teacher) and everyone applauds.
To enhance older students’ focus and cooperation, I partner one performer and one observer. While the class does a center combination in two groups, the observer watches the performer, on the lookout for a well-performed movement. If she sees one, she describes it to the class. During the next combination, the dancers switch roles. This activity gives dancers an incentive to perform movements as well as they can, and the observer can pay close attention to the technical aspects of a step or combination. This exercise also encourages students to offer positive reinforcement.
In another exercise that fosters cooperation, dancers choose a movement or attribute they want to improve; for example, maintaining stretched legs and feet while jumping. Their partners observe them performing a combination and assess whether improvement has been made. This exercise helps dancers learn to work together.
To develop self-discipline and problem solving, students list in a notebook one specific, measurable goal they want to achieve along with what steps they will take to accomplish it. The teacher writes comments throughout the semester to assess the students’ progress and offer encouragement. As goals are met, new ones are chosen and addressed. At the end of the year, the dancers have a tangible record of their accomplishments.
Thank you so much for the article [“J.U.i.C.E.-d Up in L.A.: Hip-hop collective offers support and encourages creativity,” February 2014]. The magazine is beautiful and the article is fantastic—what a wonderful piece for J.U.i.C.E.!
Thank you for the great work and for reaching out to us on this piece [“J.U.i.C.E.-d Up in L.A.,” February 2014]. It looks fantastic.
Board President, J.U.i.C.E.
Los Angeles, CA
I’ve always enjoyed your magazine and appreciate the article on my family in this issue [“Schools With Staying Power: Earthbound and Airborne,” February 2014]. From the first postcards and newsletters to the full-blown magazine, what you have done has inspired us all. Thank you!
Lee Ann Long
Dance Director, Long’s School of Dance
As a parent of a dancer, it’s gratifying to see teachers, including Ellen Robbins––who is unique in New York––recognizing the value of each dancer’s intuitive style [“From Earthworms to Elephants and Beyond: Using improvisation to help students grow as artists,” March/April 2014].
New York, NY
Thank you for featuring photos of CMDE students and quoting me in “Modern Dance, Step By Step: How to fine-tune a modern/contemporary curriculum for all ages” [March/April 2014]. It was a thoughtful piece in an outstanding issue. Your magazine continues to impress me. Bravo.
Artistic Director, Center for Modern Dance Education
Studio owner/teacher, Charlotte’s School of Dance and Performing Arts, Winder and Loganville, Georgia
NOMINATED BY: Marie Barron-Plymail, co-director and daughter: “Miss Charlotte celebrated her 50th year of teaching dance last year. She has taught hundreds of students, some of whom have studied with her for more than 20 years. Her love for her students has no end. She focuses on teaching them self-confidence and self-esteem along with their dance steps.”
YEARS TEACHING: 51
AGES TAUGHT: 3 to adult
GENRES TAUGHT: Ballet/pointe, tap, jazz, clogging, contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and musical theater
WHY SHE CHOSE TEACHING AS A CAREER: I have been in the entertainment field all my life, having started as a singer at a very young age. Being from a very small town in Texas, I was not able to start dance classes until a dance teacher opened a studio in my hometown. When I was 16, she asked me to assist with some classes. Two years later, upon her retirement and with her help, I opened my first studio. Ten years after that, I moved to Georgia and opened two more studios. My love of dance and children made the dance profession a natural fit.
HER GREATEST INSPIRATIONS: Early on, my parents, because of their guidance and support. Later, my dance teacher, whom I adored. She was always there to give me advice, which I readily took. Professional dance teachers/educators along the way have also been wonderful. I have had the opportunity to study with Al Gilbert, Kit Andre, and Janice Barringer, to name a few. I continue to learn by attending dance workshops and conventions.
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY: A good teacher knows her subject matter and knows how to teach. A good teacher should have a lot of patience and love children. I instill in my students an appreciation for dance and a work ethic to last a lifetime. Dancing is a by-product of what we teach. What we really teach is discipline, self-esteem, pride, confidence, respect, and compassion—qualities that carry through adulthood.
WHAT MAKES HER A GOOD TEACHER: When I started in the dance profession, things were simple. Dancing has gotten much more difficult; I’m always searching for new teaching ideas that will let me present the techniques of dance in a way that’s simpler and easier for students to understand. When I’m teaching, I always try to make the children feel important and good about themselves.
FONDEST TEACHING MEMORY: When I was 16 and assisting, my dance teacher gave me one private student. She came back after her first lesson as excited to see me as I was to see her. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a dance teacher.
ADVICE TO STUDENTS AND TEACHERS: For students: continue to work hard. You will never “conquer” dance, and no one is ever a perfect dancer. Be the best you can be, have confidence, and be proud of yourself and your accomplishments. For teachers: attend dance workshops and conventions regularly, and continue to learn. Understand that there is more to teaching dance than being a dancer. Know everything you can about the dance profession and teaching.
ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS: Dance teachers need to understand business. Majoring in business in college gave me the knowledge I needed to maintain my studio. I am honored to say that for the past several years, our studios have been voted Best Dance Studio by readers of the Walton Tribune. Word of mouth is the best advertising and a good reputation is essential for a successful business.
DO YOU KNOW A DANCE TEACHER WHO DESERVES TO BE IN THE SPOTLIGHT? Email your nominations to Arisa@rheegold.com or mail them to Arisa White, Dance Studio Life, P.O. Box 2150, Norton, MA 02766. Please include why you think this teacher should be featured, along with his or her contact information.
Strategies to engage and keep students who say they aren’t jazzed about dance
By Roxanne Claire
It happens several times a year: a mom calls my office to say her child “just doesn’t want to come any more.” At such times, I feel like I have failed as a teacher, failed to engage the child, failed to bring her the joy of movement I experience in dance. But recently I have become frustrated. While I don’t expect every child to spend years studying dance, I suspect something more significant is going on than a child discovering that dance “isn’t her thing.”
These children are 4, 5, and 6 years old. Their classes are a series of games—granted, games that have an educational purpose, but still not as rigorous as an intermediate-level ballet class. My frustration stems from feeling that these children are walking away from something they haven’t really tried, and that they left without learning the single most important thing I think a dance education has to offer: how to pay attention.
There are many reasons a child might say she has lost interest. Loss of interest can be ‘I don’t have any friends,’ or ‘I don’t think I’m very good,’ or ‘I’m not getting any attention from the teacher,’ . . . —Shelly Power
Doing 32 tendus, for example, is boring only if you aren’t paying attention. If you are paying attention, you will find that those 32 stretch-and-slides of foot, ankle, and toe muscles are not identical. Paying attention is based on something else: self-discipline. It takes self-discipline to focus on the movement of your foot instead of, say, clowning around with the person next to you.
What’s going on?
For an experienced perspective, I called Shelly Power, director of Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy and a former longtime studio owner. “There are many reasons a child might say she has lost interest,” Power says. “Loss of interest can be ‘I don’t have any friends,’ or ‘I don’t think I’m very good,’ or ‘I’m not getting any attention from the teacher,’ or ‘I’m arriving late and it doesn’t feel good when I walk into class.’ Children can’t determine why they feel the way they do. They only know what they feel.”
Sometimes it’s not the child’s feelings that are at issue. “We all project,” says Power. “Sometimes when a parent says the child has lost interest, they really mean, ‘It’s too hard for me to get her there on time.’ ” She suggests that parents’ needs be considered too. “It’s got to be OK for parents to say it’s too much for them.”
On the other hand, we want children to be successful in life, and that means learning commitment. It means learning to work through difficulty and to be patient. Power suggests a proactive approach. “If a child misses two classes, call the mom. If the mother says the child is resisting coming, now you’ve opened communication with the parent.”
Communication with parents allows dance teachers to gain more understanding of what is going on in the child’s life. Often there are other factors that affect a parent’s decision about whether a child should continue with class.
Power also recommends talking to the student, which can “improve the chances of the child completing at least the semester,” she says. You can’t argue with a parent’s decision, but you can discuss a child’s feelings and encourage her to work through difficulties.
Working through difficulties, it turns out, is a key predictor of success in life. Angela Duckworth is a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and a 2013 MacArthur Fellow whose interest is in identifying the personal characteristics of those who go on to “remarkable achievement.” Duckworth studied the 1926 work of Catherine Morris Cox, which examined the lives of “historical geniuses,” and identified what she believed to be the primary predictor of significant accomplishment, a combination of perseverance and passion she calls “grit.”
Duckworth then designed a test to measure grit, which, although it relied entirely on self-reported information, proved a reliable predictor of outcome. She administered her test to cadets at West Point prior to a punishing basic training program, commonly known as “Beast Barracks.” West Point had its own evaluation process, which looked at physical fitness, grades, and leadership potential. But it was Duckworth’s “grit” score that more accurately predicted which cadets would stay the course and which would drop out.
The value of failure
Character strength is similar to physical strength in the sense that both are developed through repeated effort. The crucial element here is the child’s ability to confront his or her own shortcomings and work to overcome them.
Unfortunately, sometimes parents seek to protect their children from the discomfort of doing something hard and the attendant risk of “failing”; when they do, they inadvertently deprive their children of the opportunity to develop inner strength, or willpower.
Todd Heatherton, a researcher in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College, considers willpower so important that he has gone so far as to state that the real value of having children participate in soccer or music lessons is that they learn to regulate their impulses. As he is quoted in Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit, “A 5-year-old who can follow the ball for 10 minutes becomes a sixth-grader who can start his homework on time.”
Some traits that we regard as character are in fact a matter of habit. Paying attention, sticking with a task, and overcoming obstacles can become ingrained behavior, whose rewards spill into other parts of our lives.
In The Power of Habit, Duhigg identifies what he calls “keystone habits” that transform other patterns in our lives. Exercising willpower in one area carries over to other areas of life. People who exercise, for example, are more likely to eat better and use credit cards less; children whose families eat dinner together tend to get better grades.
Sticking with an activity can bring other rewards. Lisa Endlich Heffernan wrote a post about devising her own child-rearing philosophy regarding commitment, “Why I Never Let My Kids Quit . . . Anything,” on the Huffington Post blog Grown and Flown. She allowed her children to take one or two trial classes, after which they could withdraw from the activity. Once they had made a commitment, however, they were obliged to stay until the end of the session or season.
Heffernan writes, “Learning to endure something even when it became boring or unpleasant, when the coach or teacher didn’t like my kid, or vice versa, seemed a lesson truly worth teaching.” She also recognizes that allowing a child to quit when an activity becomes frustrating means that the child never learns the thrill of accomplishment or the joy that comes from learning to do something well. “I made them stick things out because mastery, even at a child’s level, takes time and repetition.”
In her post, Heffernan acknowledges that there were times when “tears and screaming” were involved and she doubted that she was doing the right thing. However, when she looks back, she sees that her kids’ passions “are the result of endless hours spent learning a subject or mastering a skill. In each case,” she writes, “it is something that in childhood they begged and pleaded with me to quit and in late adolescence told me how much they enjoy.”
No one answer
There is no one way to respond to a child’s desire to quit taking class. Sometimes it signals the need for change in the classroom or in family life. But some children simply enjoy other activities more, and teachers don’t need to take their choices personally. However, there is one thing schools can do that is useful to all students, no matter what they choose to do: they can convey the belief that hard work and commitment are the cornerstones of achievement.
What Teachers Can Do
Establish clear expectations. Power suggests having these in writing on your website and in your student handbook. Stress that coming to class on time, complying with dress codes, and committing to the class for the term help the students succeed. Some schools require a yearlong commitment. Power recommends having an orientation session for parents to discuss expectations with them.
Establish direct communication with parents. Contact the parent as soon as a child misses two classes. Power suggests having a checklist of questions to get at the root issue. Is the class too early for the child to have a snack beforehand? Does the parent have difficulty getting the child there on time, or at all? Find out if the problem is logistical or whether it has to do with the child’s attitude. If it is the latter, a conversation with the parent offers a chance to discuss the school’s commitment to the child as well as to develop a strategy for addressing the child’s feelings. Sometimes parents who habitually bring their children to class late don’t connect this pattern to the child’s resistance. Sometimes the child is frustrated or embarrassed by her lack of progress. Conversations with parents allow school owners to express the value of working through inevitable plateaus.
Talk about commitment in class. I have a sign in my studio that reads: “Three Things a Dancer Brings to Class: Patience, Perseverance, and Courage.” On the first day of class I point out this sign and discuss what it means. “We need patience because learning to dance takes a long time. We need perseverance because we have to try many times before we get it right. And we need courage because sometimes we will feel silly or even embarrassed by our attempts.”
Feature language about commitment as a key to student success prominently on your website and elsewhere. Although dance and music are valuable for their own sake, make sure parents know that study of the arts offers additional benefits to children.
Be proactive. A child’s attitude in class can reveal warning signs that she might want to stop taking dance. Talking to her privately can help differentiate between a child who is frustrated or embarrassed and one who never wanted to dance in the first place.
Examine your own reactions. Mark Muraven, a professor of psychology at the University at Albany whose work is cited in The Power of Habit, found that people who are treated kindly have more willpower than those who are not. A difficult child can create frustration in teachers, who may unknowingly make the situation worse.
Give the child (or parent) a sense of control. “When people are asked to do something that takes self-control,” says Muraven, again in The Power of Habit, “if they think they are doing it for personal reasons—if they feel like it’s a choice or something they enjoy because it helps someone else—it’s much less taxing. If they feel like they have no autonomy, if they’re just following orders, their willpower muscles get tired much faster.”
Address the child’s expectations of herself. Children often start dance class with unrealistic ideas about their ability and potential to progress. Setting goals may help them shift their focus to their own real progress.
Address the parent’s expectations. Specify the material to be covered at each level and the time normally required to master it. Parents may need help to see the relationship between time spent in class and development of technique.
Make team-building part of class. People are more likely to remain active if they feel a connection to a group. Many children (and adults) come to class in order to feel a social connection. Activities can create bonds among students and among parents that result in a sense of loyalty, community, and belonging. Moreover, a child may value attendance more when others in the class expect her to be there.
Give students a daily assignment. Since what you are trying to establish is a habit, small daily assignments can help students feel more engaged in and connected to their class. Assignments can be short, but they need to be consistent and linked to daily activities in order to become a habit. For example, ask students to do five relevés while brushing their teeth. The task is less important than establishing the habit of doing it.
Building Resilience in Children and Teens by Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD
“If,” a poem by Rudyard Kipling (poetryfoundation.org)
Never Give In, a speech by Winston Churchill (winstonchurchill.org)
How to make staff meetings pay off
By Megan Donahue
A dance studio isn’t like an office. Without a conference room and water cooler, your teaching staff may not even meet one another until recital time. Working alone, they may miss out on the expertise of their peers and feel disconnected from the studio. That’s why it’s important to hold regular staff meetings. Done right, these meetings can be a highlight of working for your studio.
Along with an opportunity to connect on a regular basis and exchange valuable information, meetings can create a unified focus, eliminate confusion, and solve minor problems before they turn into big issues. Staff members get to know one another and exchange ideas, music, and teaching tips.
Getting them there
As useful as meetings are, getting your staff together may be a challenge. They may teach at multiple studios or have day jobs and family commitments. “You need to schedule the meeting at a time that’s good for them,” says Lynda Zugec of The Workforce Consultants, a New York- and Toronto-based human resources consulting firm. She recommends using technology to streamline the scheduling process.
Applications like WhenIsGood or Google’s Doodle allow you to see which dates and times work best for the largest number of people and do so with minimal discussion. The details vary, but each site allows your staff to choose the dates that work for them; at a glance, you can choose the optimal meeting date without having to send and receive dozens of emails.
Staff meetings can create a unified focus, eliminate confusion, and solve minor problems before they turn into big issues.
If a lower-tech solution is more your style, try what works well for studio owner Lauri Gregoire of Bellevue Dance Center in Nashville, Tennessee: she sets all of the meetings for the year before the dance season starts. She pays her staff a flat rate for meeting attendance, and her meetings are mandatory as a condition of employment. The best date for her is the first Friday of the month, when most of her staff teaches classes at the studio. By letting them know about the dates well ahead of time, Gregoire hasn’t had any difficulty with attendance. “No one has missed any meetings, and they have brought us closer as a staff,” she says.
Technology—conference calls and video chatting options like Skype and Google’s Hangouts—also allows staffers who can’t attend a meeting in person to be included. “Using technology does save time and promotes efficiency, especially when you’re not paying people” to attend, says Zugec.
If staff members routinely miss meetings, it may be time for a conversation. Ask about the barriers to their attendance—is the meeting at a bad time? Is the meeting too short and too far away to justify a commute? Do they need additional reminders of the date and time? Work together to find a way for them to participate. Sometimes explaining why you’re calling a meeting and want everyone to attend is enough to make your staff prioritize being there.
Keeping them there
Meetings go smoothly when everyone is prepared. Emailing an agenda beforehand allows everyone “to put their thoughts together and express them more clearly,” Zugec says. Asking for additions to the agenda ahead of time gives people a chance to bring up issues you might not be aware of and prevents the meeting from going off on tangents.
Once you’ve gotten everyone together, use this opportunity to engage with your staff and create an environment of positivity and teamwork. “Everybody wants to have their voice heard,” Zugec says. “If the environment is not collaborative, people are not likely to want to attend.”
She recommends soliciting feedback and solutions from attendees, rather than simply giving them information. “In a collaborative meeting, all are engaged; all are working together,” says Zugec. People pay attention when they learn that their participation makes a difference, so use your staff’s suggestions whenever you can.
It’s even more important to bring staff members who aren’t physically present into the conversation. “If you can do video, that’s helpful,” Zugec says; phone calls make it easy for listeners to zone out, especially in a discussion that involves several people. People tend to feel more accountable to people who see them in a video chat. Ask specifically for telecommuting staff members’ thoughts. A quick, “Sara, do you have a thought on this?” can make a video chatter feel more included.
Lindsay Roberts of Southern Dance Connection in Greer, South Carolina, has found that collaborative meetings benefit her as a studio owner by giving her a direct line of communication. “We ask, ‘How can we improve as a studio?’ ” she says. Holding regular meetings has made her staffers “more comfortable and more likely to tell me if there’s a problem.” Soliciting her staff’s feedback and taking it into account creates a greater connection among the staff and the studio. “I want them to feel ownership of the studio,” Roberts says. “I try to make it so it’s not a hierarchy—everyone’s view is valued.”
Gregoire too has found the increased communication to be an asset. Her teachers “feel confident that they can come to me with new ideas; it gives them more of a voice,” she says. “They feel I value them rather than dictate to them.” When she sent out mid-year evaluations asking her staff how the year was going, she says, “Every person said they appreciated the monthly staff meetings.”
A meeting your staff looks forward to
Some school owners pay their staff to attend meetings, while others do not. Roberts includes quarterly meetings as a standard part of a teaching contract, without pay. Gregoire pays a flat fee of $15 per person per meeting.
“If you don’t have the money, there are other ways to reward them,” says Zugec. Small things like holding a meeting outside on a nice day or at a coffee shop can go a long way toward making your staff feel happy—and that their time is valued. “Anything you can do to make it interesting for them is going to help,” Zugec says.
“I like to have some element of fun,” Roberts says. “I try, if at all possible, not to have the meeting at the studio.” She held one meeting at an indoor trampoline facility. Everyone spent the first hour bouncing and the second hour discussing studio issues.
Roberts pays all costs associated with the meetings. Even though Gregoire pays her staff to attend, she occasionally surprises them with lunch. She recommends “making a little extra effort to make it enjoyable.”
Gregoire and her staff are discovering the real reward of better communication—a more relaxed work environment. They’re not as stressed, she says, and “we’re better at time management.”
Before she implemented regular staff meetings, Gregoire gave her staffers information haphazardly, when she saw them; often, she would miss people, who then felt out of the loop or less important. Now everyone gets all of the information at the same time, and deadlines don’t sneak up on anyone. The entire staff starts each month together. “I don’t know how I did it before!” she says.
The benefits of staff meetings can stretch beyond communication—a happy, well-organized staff brings real value to a studio. Your employees “can go a long way in promoting your business,” says Zugec.
Southington [CT] High School teacher, army veteran, football coach, and science fiction author are just a few ways one could define Brian Durbin. This fall, competitive dancer can be added to the list.
Durbin, or the Colonel as some know him, will dance for charity in Dancing with Our Heroes, a fundraising gala, on September 13 at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, reported the Southington Observer.
Along with teaching and coaching, Durbin has written two science fiction books: Paine – Time of Anarchy, and UN Real Paine. While looking for a new Connecticut charity to donate his book sale proceeds to, Durbin stumbled across Dancing with Our Heroes, a charity that pairs military veterans with professional dancers to raise money for Fisher Houses—where families of in-patient veterans can stay free of charge.
The Fred Astaire Dance Studios New England helped launch the campaign last year, because they wanted to give back to veterans and their families. The studios provide free lessons and dancing shoes for the participating heroes.
Last year’s gala was held in November and raised $125,000 to donate to Fisher Houses. The goal for the 2014 competition is to raise $500,000. This year, 42 veterans from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island are being sponsored by 22 Fred Astaire Dance Studios. Karen Green, assistant area director of Fred Astaire Dance Studios New England, said Durbin is currently the leading hero and will soon make a $10,000 goal.
For more information, visit http://dancingwithourheroes.com/category/heroes2014/ To see the original story, visit http://southingtonobserver.com/2014/06/20/shs-teacher-to-dance-for-wounded-veterans/.
The Chicago Public Schools is seeking applicants for its teacher candidate pool in the areas of dance, music, drama/theater, and visual arts to work in Chicago-area schools.
According to a LinkedIn post, successful candidates will work as arts teachers under the supervision of school principals, and assume “professional responsibility for providing sequential and comprehensive arts learning experiences and supervision of students in a supportive and positive climate that develops creative and critical thinking in the areas of arts-making, arts literacy, interpretation and evaluation, making connections, and meeting and exceeding content specific Illinois State Goals.”
This includes (among other functions) planning and delivering arts-education instruction, exposing students to multicultural activities, planning and administering student assessments, and establishing and maintaining standards for student behavior.
In addition, dance teachers are responsible for: understanding, explaining, and utilizing dance vocabulary correctly in demonstration of various dance techniques such as ballet, modern/contemporary, jazz, tap, ballroom, and cultural/folk dance; directing dance recitals and performances to include managing rehearsals, parent/guardian volunteers, and communications with the community; incorporating warm-ups, across the floor, conditioning, and combinations into lessons; choreographing and composing dances; encouraging student creativity; and increasing student learning across the curriculum through collaboration and integration of dance concepts into academic subjects.
Summer hiring for teachers and school-based staff opens June 24. For more information and application instructions, visit http://www.linkedin.com/jobs2/view/15995806?trk=jobs_search_public_seo_page.
Mary Anthony, a choreographer and teacher who was one of the leaders of the modern dance movement, died in her studio home in the East Village in New York City on May 31. She was 97.
According to press agent Audrey Ross, Anthony was born in Kentucky on November 11, 1916. In the early days of her dance career she danced with and assisted Hanya Holm, was an original member of the radical modern dance organization the New Dance Group, and danced in concerts with Joseph Gifford (a member of the dance company of Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman) and on Broadway.
She founded the Mary Anthony Dance Theatre in 1956. The company toured throughout the U.S. for 40 years, appearing at Jacob’s Pillow, American Dance Festival, and the Berkshire Music Center, among others, and also held a home season in New York City for 30 years.
Anthony received numerous awards and accolades over her long career, including a Bessie Award in 2004 and the Martha Hill Award in 2006. In 2004 she was entered into the Dance Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Her choreography has been performed by the Pennsylvania Ballet, Bat-Dor Dance Company of Israel, the Dublin City Ballet, Dancefusion in Philadelphia, and the National Institute for the Arts of Taiwan. Anthony taught at the Herbert Berghof Studio for actors in New York City as well as at her own studio at 736 Broadway, from which she retired last year after 50 years.
In November 2013, a 92nd Street Y Fridays at Noon program, “Tribute to Mary Anthony,” honored her legacy in modern dance and her 97th birthday. A memorial service will be scheduled in July. For more information, call 212.674.8191.
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Advice for dance teachers
2 Music Tips for Dance Teachers | Tempo By Nina Pinzarrone
2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Polished Pirouettes By David Arce
2 Tips for Hip-Hop Teachers | Cross-Touch and Moon Walk By Geo Hubela
2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Balanced Rotation By Bill Evans
2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Spiced-Up Choreography By Thelma Goldberg
College Close-Ups | Cornish College of the Arts
What students need to know about college and university dance programs.
EditorSpeak By Karen White and Lisa Okuhn
FYI What’s Up In the dance community
On My Mind | Words from the Publisher By Rhee Gold
Classroom Connection By Sarah Beth Byrum and Debbie Werbrouck
Ideas to incorporate into your curriculum
Words from our readers
Mindful Marketing | Target Audiences
By Misty Lown
Teacher in the Spotlight | Charlotte Barron-Jones
Teachers who make a difference
Thinking Out Loud | Senioritis, School-Owner Style By Hedy Perna
Ballet Scene | Shuffles and Chasses By Ryan P. Casey
Tap meets ballet at Thomas Armour Youth Ballet, and the results are anything but mixed.
Before the Goodbye By Roxanne Claire
Strategies to engage and keep students who say they aren’t jazzed about dance.
Bright Biz Idea | Time vs Money By Karen White
How school owners can manage their time to yield the most value.
Come Together By Megan Donahue
How to make staff meetings pay off.
Higher-Ed Voice | “C” Is for Choice By Bonner Odell
College, conservatory, or a hybrid? How to parse the options in post-secondary dance education.
In With the New By Lea Marshall
How to take over a school without the trauma of transition.
Pay-What-You-Can in Paradise By Jennifer Kaplan
On the island of Maui, a donation-based school emphasizes community and opportunity.
So Long, Nest Egg, Hello Dance By Lois Burch O’Brian
How two dance lovers tapped into their retirement time and money and bought a school.
10 competition judges offer wisdom and wish lists.
Teaching Top Talent By Marybeth Kemp
More is better when it comes to training exceptional students.
Stagestep Flooring Solutions has an exclusive offer for Dance Studio Life readers and DanceLife Retreat Center attendees.
Studio owners can use the promo code GOLD2014 to receive a free Floorcare System mop with the purchase of the Proclean System Replacement Pack: six cleaning cartridges preloaded with Proclean concentrate, plus two reusable and washable microfiber mop heads. Price is $50.
Also, DanceLife supporters who sign up for the Stagestep E-Club—which provides Stagestep news, promotions, and special offers—will receive a free flooring installation and maintenance guide. Join at http://www.stagestep.com/webform/signup.php.
DanceLife founder Rhee Gold said: “We are proud to have Stagestep as the official provider of flooring to the DanceLife Retreat Center, as well as the DanceLife Teacher Conference. Our friends at Stagestep have always been there when we need a flooring solution, and our attendees truly appreciate the quality of their products.”
Offer is valid through July 31. For more information, call 800.523.0960 or visit www.Stagestep.com.
A dance program in one Denver public school wouldn’t be possible without a very dedicated teacher and generous Denver voters.
Fox 31 Denver reported that Hamilton Middle School began building its first elective dance program after voters approved a 2012 Denver Public School mill levy that provided $6 million in arts funding. Hamilton science teacher Joseph DeMers, a professional dancer and instructor who owns a studio in Littleton, applied for the dance teacher position, and today teaches a full schedule of classes at the school, focusing on many styles including ballet, modern dance, and hip-hop.
DeMers says he’s thrilled to combine his love for dance—which he never shared with his science students—with his love for teaching. “Science is my career,” DeMers says he told the school principal upon applying for the new job, “but dance is my life.”
In addition to making dance cool, DeMers says he’s seeing how dance has helped some students find a new path.
“I see some of the most struggling students—academically—excel in dance,” DeMers says. More than 440 students have already taken the dance courses at Hamilton. In a classroom poll, 95 percent of students said they would have normally never taken a dance class.
To see the video report, visit http://kdvr.com/2014/05/27/middle-school-kids-get-professional-dance-lessons-thanks-to-special-arts-funding/.
Gertrude Tyler Hyjek, owner and operator of the Gertrude G. Tyler School of Dance in Manchester, Connecticut, for 39 years, died April 17, leaving behind generations of students called “Tylerettes.” She was 91, reported the Hartford Courant.
Known better to her students as Miss Trudy, Hyjek was born and raised in Manchester and lived in the town her entire life. She operated the dance studio from 1948 until her retirement in 1987.
Hyjek’s former students use the words “elegance,” “grace,” “old school,” “perfection,” and “inspiration” when they describe her as a dancer and a teacher.
“She was a technician and a very beautiful dancer,” said Judy Williams Henry, a former student. “You saw somebody who was passionate about what she did. She didn’t just teach kids how to do steps and have a recital, she taught you how to flow through space. Essentially that taught you how to flow through life.”
Hyjek began dancing when she was 4 and had a successful career as a dancer, working with legends such as George Balanchine, her students said. In her retirement, she taught dance classes at the Manchester Senior Center. And on her 80th birthday, she was honored by the Town of Manchester for her contributions to the arts.
To read the full story, visit http://www.courant.com/community/manchester/hc-mx-obit-0515-20140506,0,3679120.story.
By Nina Pinzarrone
The terms used to indicate tempo are almost exclusively written in Italian. The slow tempos—grave (slow and solemn like a funeral march), largo (broadly, with dignity), lento (slow), and adagio (slowly at ease)—correspond to ballet movements such as pliés, adage, développé, and fondu. The medium tempos—andante (walking speed), allegretto (lively, but slightly slower than allegro), and moderato (moderate)—correspond to movements such as rond de jambe, pirouette, and battement tendu. The fast tempos—allegro (lively and bright), presto (very fast), prestissimo (as fast as possible), and vivace (vivacious)—correspond to frappé, petit battements, and petit allegro, etc.
To help students relate to the terminology, use examples they can understand. For older students, use the dance movements to illustrate the tempos. For the younger students, try using examples of animals such as sloths, elephants, and turtles (slow), dogs, rabbits, and cats (medium), and cheetahs, falcons, and greyhounds (fast). Acting out the animals’ movements is a fun exercise for creative-movement classes.
Composers indicate the tempo at the top of the staff above the time signature, either by the word (e.g., “Allegro”) or by a metronome marking. The metronome is an instrument (patented by Johann Maelzel in 1815) that produces regular beats so that musicians can keep a steady tempo.
A largo tempo would be 40 to 60 beats per minute (bpm) for the quarter note, while a presto tempo would be 168 to 199 bpm. The low end of a normal adult heart rate is 60 bpm, and most ballerinas do fouetté turns at that speed. A quick way to find 60 bpm is to look at a clock that has a second hand or download a metronome app available for most smartphones.
By David Arce
In partnering, the male student’s primary responsibility is to make sure his partner looks her best at all times. Often the boys/men are too concerned about how they look as they pose behind the girl, and her position becomes compromised. They must make sure the girl is on her leg and in a comfortable position before posing behind her.
A simple exercise is to have the girl perform a piqué arabesque with a boy partnering her. The boy must travel with the girl as she steps up to her arabesque and have his hands on her waist and his eyes on her supporting leg, while his knees are still bent. Only after she has fully arrived in a comfortable and square arabesque can he complete the pose behind her: tendu, lunge, etc.
The girl must treat any supported position as if she were doing it on her own; under no circumstances should she release her core or turnout muscles or put tension where it is not needed, especially when turning. She must trust that her partner will do his job and keep her in a square position over her leg.
One way I make sure students are prepared to do this is by having the girl do a pirouette by herself and have her partner support the ending passé balance only. This builds trust in both dancers and reminds them of their responsibility in a partnering relationship.
By Geo Hubela
In attempting to breakdance, many young dancers recklessly throw their bodies around; going to the floor for a freeze, they put all the support and stress of the move on their necks.
What scares me most with freestyle circles is when kids go into a headstand and attempt a head spin. The exit is usually the most dangerous part, because dancers who don’t have the upper-body strength to support themselves tend to roll onto their backs; when this movement isn’t controlled, they risk serious neck injury.
Exercise extreme caution and make your students aware of the dangers of certain b-boy power moves. Stress that no dancers (regardless of age) will be allowed to attempt head spins until they have been trained to do so.
For safety reasons, students should learn b-boy moves from an expert only.
Before learning a spin, dancers should have great upper-body strength and be able to hold a basic headstand for 3 to 5 minutes. They should learn to hold a headstand with their legs open in a side split (knees slightly bent), making sure hip and leg muscles are engaged.
A head spin is simply a spinning headstand. Head and body spin as one piece, which requires a strong core with muscles engaged for control. The moment the spin stops or students feel like they will fall, they should fall; trying to spin when the head has stopped moving but the body’s momentum continues can cause neck injuries. Teach students to put their feet on the floor to support their body weight instead of collapsing and flexing the neck and risking injury.
The next step is to learn how to tap, or push off the floor with both hands to gain momentum and speed while maintaining stability.
All power moves should be learned in stages. Positioning, balance, and stability should be perfected before doing the move full out. Once the students have their taps and spin, they can begin to relax the legs and let momentum guide the spin. A helmet is a great tool for learning this move.
By Bill Evans
Many young dancers develop chronic injury patterns as a result of erroneous ideas about turnout. Outward (or lateral or external) rotation at the hip is the movement of the femur around its own axis, away from the midline of the body. Classical ballet requires outward rotation, of course, but modern dancers also need to understand and use turnout. Many of the college students who first enroll in my modern technique courses have tried for years to turn out primarily in the feet, ankles, and/or knees; they have developed serious misalignment patterns (including anterior tilting of the pelvis and pronation of the feet) as a result. A change in one part of the body creates a change throughout the whole organism, and the entire body of a dancer with a misaligned pelvis or feet lacks neutrality, connectivity, and resilience.
A small amount of outward rotation is possible in the knee and the ankle, but it serves students’ best interests to describe turnout as the outward rotation of the head of the femur (thigh bone) in the hip socket.
I ask dancers to initiate outward rotation at the hip socket by allowing the greater trochanter (the large bony prominence on the outside of the femur, which they can touch) to rotate gently outward to move closer to the ischial tuberosity (commonly called the sitz bone). I encourage them to sense the rotation around an axis that travels from the head of the femur through the second toe, to balance the workload from the proximal (near) to the distal (far) ends of the lower extremity.
By Thelma Goldberg
A shuffle, an important part of a tap dancer’s repertoire, is often one of the first movements learned by young tappers. When teaching shuffles, it’s important to emphasize the separate brush and spank movements so that dancers gain the muscle strength to control each action. To strengthen the individual brush and spank sounds, try a pattern of shuffles that alternates ending on the brush or the spank in either of the following two rhythms: (1&2, 3&4, 5&6&7&8) (a1&a2, a3&a4, a5&a6&a7&a8).
It’s also critical to emphasize the need for complete weight shifts so that dancers start shuffles with a relaxed foot hanging from the knee, ready to brush. Do they completely shift their weight on the steps combined with shuffles: ball changes, steps, flaps, etc.? Stability on the supporting leg is necessary to maintain balance so that shuffles are done with confidence and strength.
Completing all four sounds (heel dig, spank, step, heel drop) of a paddle and roll (or paradiddle) challenges dancers of any ability. Here are ways to improve their articulations.
• Drill the basic roll (the step and heel drop) until mastered at your goal tempo.
• Maintain a relaxed ankle while drilling the heel dig and spank. If the dancers point and flex, you’ll have to slow down and help them find that state of relaxation that will promote speed and clarity.
• Move the 1. If you usually start with a heel dig, start instead on the heel drop, the step, or even the spank.
• Change the rhythm to 8th note triplets (1&a2&a3 . . .) instead of 16th notes (1e&a2e&a . . .) to sharpen students’ musical awareness.
Recently I met Amanda (not her real name), a dance teacher who broke down while she explained that she had once loved teaching. Now it was nothing but stress. When she started teaching, she said, things were simpler: “All I had were toddlers; they loved class and so did I.” Now, she said, “I have students of all ages who are jealous of each other, and the parents question every move I make. They call or text me because they do not like my choreography or to blast me because they think tuition costs are too high. Almost everything I do is wrong!”
“Why do the parents feel comfortable expressing their opinion of your choreography?” I asked. She responded, “I always check in with them when it comes to the choreography. I want to be sure everyone is happy.”
I asked her if she would dare to tell her son’s baseball coach that she wasn’t happy with the way he leads the team. She said, “Absolutely not. I know nothing about sports.”
“And has he ever asked your opinion of his coaching style?” I asked.
“No,” she said. Her eyes opened wide in realization.
“Why do you think the kids are jealous of one another?” I asked.
She answered, “They believe I have favorites. But some kids are more talented, so they should be featured because they are the ones who make my school look good.”
I knew immediately that much of Amanda’s stress could be attributed to her own actions. But I wanted to fire away with a few more questions before pointing this out.
“How do the parents get your phone number? Why do they feel comfortable texting you or contacting you at home? Why do they question the costs of their child’s training?”
Her replies: “I gave them my telephone numbers in case they need to contact me, and I needed to go up on tuition to pay my expenses—but I apologized to them before it happened.”
Amanda, and the many school owners and teachers with numerous years of experience like her, shouldn’t ask parents what they think of choreography. They should have enough confidence in their own expertise not to ask for parents’ approval; instead, they should tell parents how excited they are about each student’s part in the choreography.
Every one of you school owners and dance teachers deserves the freedom to be at home, alone with your thoughts. You need time to live your lives outside of the studio, with your families and loved ones. That means the only phone number your clientele should have is the one for the school office. That goes for email addresses too.
As for tuition, don’t apologize. If you need to raise it, raise it—and say nothing. The price of everything your clients purchase goes up all the time. If someone questions the increase, say that you are doing everything you can to give their child the best dance education possible. End of discussion.
I had to tell Amanda that she, in fact, does have favorites. Teaching dance isn’t only about showing the community the best dancers in a school, it’s about presenting audiences with the passion and joy behind the movement and the music. Any dancer, regardless of age or skill level, is capable of that.
The only message you should send is that you are confident in who you are and what you want to accomplish. You don’t need anyone’s approval for well-thought-out decisions and creative choices that are in your students’ and faculty’s best interests. Believe in yourself, and act like the professional you want others to believe is at the helm of your school and in the classroom.
Studio owner/teacher, Dance Connection, Islip, New York
NOMINATED BY: Joseph Naftal, son: “Her studio and her students are her life. She works seven days a week and always makes time for her students, offering mentorship or a counseling ear to anyone who needs it. She is a true teacher.
She was acknowledged in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers after a student nominated her. She is most proud of the best sportsmanship awards she’s won at various competitions and her inclusion in Dancers Inc.’s Hall of Fame.”
YEARS TEACHING DANCE: 35 years and counting
AGES TAUGHT: 20 months to adult
GENRES TAUGHT: Tap, jazz, ballet
WHY SHE CHOSE TEACHING AS A CAREER: I think we chose each other. From the moment I became “Miss Mary,” I knew that teaching was where I belonged. I received a bachelor’s degree in education, then added to that the love of dance—the perfect match.
HER GREATEST INSPIRATIONS: My students have and will always continue to inspire me daily, but my greatest inspiration was my dad. He was a singer and loved putting on shows in the local church basement. Family gatherings always had him directing us all in a song. He taught me to “find something you love to do and make a living doing it, then no matter the salary, happiness is guaranteed.”
WHAT MAKES HER A GOOD TEACHER: I care about every student, regardless of talent. I am passionate about training, so my students will be able to dance as long as they want to with bodies that can stand the test of time. Injury prevention is high on my list. I emphasize respect for one another and the art of dance in my classes and my studio. This is very important to me.
FONDEST TEACHING MOMENT: Years ago, I had the privilege of teaching a tiny dancer who had autism, and I am presently teaching a little dancer who is visually impaired and physically delayed. The experiences will stay with me as long as I live. Their presence at the studio taught us all that no matter what the odds, anything is possible. They may not get all the steps all the time, but nothing can beat their onstage smiles. Another amazing memory has become a holiday tradition. For the past few years, my students have danced at several Make-A-Wish Foundation events. Performing for these children and brightening their day is a reward no trophy can ever match.
ADVICE TO TEACHERS: Never believe you know everything there is to know about dance. Keep learning and keep your dance mind open; take a risk and teach old and new. The history of dance is what brings us to today. Make sure your students know these roots. Don’t be afraid to expose them to it. Students will surprise you with how open they can be to new styles, especially if you are passionate about them. Also, never forget that every dancer is someone’s child. Be a teacher to all, not to some.
ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS: Attitude is a “little thing that makes a big difference.” Strive to create a positive environment in the classroom and in your lobby with your parents. Sure, it might seem like an impossible task at times, but as my dad said, “Never give up!” Positive and negative talk and actions, like dancers, want an audience to thrive. The applause during the positive performance will be worth the hard work getting there. Don’t let the negative make it to the stage.
DO YOU KNOW A DANCE TEACHER WHO DESERVES TO BE IN THE SPOTLIGHT? Email your nominations to Arisa@rheegold.com or mail them to Arisa White, Dance Studio Life, P.O. Box 2150, Norton, MA 02766. Please include why you think this teacher should be featured, along with his or her contact information.
In the world of studio ownership, being an artist isn’t enough. Here’s how to get the left-brain skills you need.
By Bonner Odell
Dance studios are seldom born in the minds of venture capitalists. Most are the brainchildren of people who want to combine their love for dance with a way to make a living (and, one hopes, a love of teaching). While the shift from dance artist to studio owner may seem natural enough, the leap from the right-brain realm of dance and choreography to the left-brain world of budgets and balance sheets can involve a painful landing. Running a business successfully takes training. Often, the choice to invest in that training means the difference between a studio that thrives and one that merely survives.
People in the arts tend to view business as a necessary evil. But we have to be profitable to make a positive impact in our communities. —Misty Lown
It is impossible to imagine somebody auditioning for a professional dance company with no dance training. Why then should you expect yourself to operate a business with no business training? Fortunately, you don’t need to rely on trial and error to learn the best way to manage your dance studio. Affordable, convenient training resources can help you take your studio to the next level.
People, profit, and positive programs
At the helm of a small-town studio with large-scale appeal as a business model is Misty Lown, the founder of Misty’s Dance Unlimited in Onalaska, Wisconsin. Lown says the school has given away more than $175,000 in charitable cash and scholarships; it has also spawned ventures including A Chance to Dance Foundation and a consulting company, More Than Just Great Dancing™, which offers mentorship and networking for studio owners. Lown attributes her school’s success to a business mind-set built on what she calls “the triple bottom line”: people, profit, and positive programs.
“People in the arts tend to view business as a necessary evil,” Lown says. “But we have to be profitable to make a positive impact in our communities.” She views marketing and community service as interdependent. “An attitude of service creates positive associations in people’s minds,” she says. “By offering to perform at local schools or nursing homes, or to help raise funds for a local cause, you simultaneously teach students the value of civic participation and boost visibility for your business.”
Lown believes building a positive brand begins with excellent programming and a solid dance curriculum, but it extends far beyond those core elements. She steers clients to a range of marketing strategies used by successful businesses across industries. One of the first items on the agenda at her Studio Owner University™ conferences is a survey listing 101 marketing tactics on which participants are asked to grade themselves. It lists ideas as diverse as “we miss you” postcards for lapsed clients to QR codes, text opt-ins, and “one-day-only” sales on retail items like branded dance gear.
“What most people consider marketing are really random acts of advertising,” says Lown. “It takes much more than an ad here and an event there. Marketing is something you need to do all year long, and in many ways.”
One marketing outlet Lown says studio owners tend to grossly underutilize is the internet. “We need to better understand the way people live online now,” she says. “It’s not enough to have a website and a Facebook page anymore.” Her “101 tactics” marketing survey includes RSS feeds, YouTube channels, and social-media sites like Pinterest and Instagram.
An MBA delivers
Jessica Canino took a different approach to gaining business knowledge: she enrolled in an MBA program. Canino is director of Creative Dance Studio in Plantation, Florida, which operates out of St. Gregory the Great Catholic School. When enrollment started to grow, she began making plans to launch the dance school as an independent business with its own location. Seeking expertise to realize the venture’s full potential, she chose an MBA program with a special focus in entrepreneurship at nearby Nova Southeastern University, where the night, weekend, and online course offerings accommodate her dance-teaching schedule.
Now that she has satisfied core requirements like Economic Thinking and Accounting for Decision Makers, Canino is moving on to courses like Entrepreneurship/Venture Creation and Entrepreneurship Law, which she says are helping her apply wider business principles to small-business operation.
One course, Internet Marketing and Social Networking, was particularly relevant to Canino’s task of creating a website. She says one of the most useful tools covered was search-engine optimization, the art of using keywords to maximize a site’s visibility.
Canino took several business workshops when she attended the DanceLife Teacher Conference in 2013, and, she says, “I came away with a notebook full of notes. But I was excited to find I already knew a lot of what was covered, especially about search-engine optimization, and at a deeper level. I realized how much my MBA program has taught me about running a business.”
Legal peace of mind
For Julie Holt Lucia, attending Rhee Gold’s Project Motivate conference in 2005 changed her outlook on managing her studio. Gold advised attendees to seek the advice of a lawyer or accountant to protect their businesses. Lucia did both. Her new accountant helped her navigate the process of establishing her business, Studio Dance Centre in Frisco, Texas, as an S corporation. The IRS grants S corporations limited liability, meaning the owner’s personal assets are protected from any debt or loss incurred by the business. The corporation does not pay any income tax, but its profits or losses “pass through” to the owners, who must report them on their personal tax returns as shareholders.
The process of establishing her school as its own legal entity impressed upon Lucia the value of creating a degree of separation between herself and her business. “I realized it didn’t have to be me doing everything,” she says. “I hired an office manager and established systems that are clear and user-friendly for anyone in the office. It’s a load off my shoulders knowing the information isn’t just in my head, and that if something were to happen to me, or when I’m ready to retire, I can hand the studio over to somebody else to run.”
Lucia also learned that with the benefits of incorporation come legal obligations like electing officers, holding annual board meetings, and keeping careful records for tax purposes. She consulted a lawyer to make sure she fulfilled these responsibilities to IRS standards. “Good legal counsel is so important for studio owners,” she says. “There are serious issues around incorporation, liability, and insurance that, if overlooked, can be detrimental to your business.”
One such easily neglected issue is the importance of understanding your state’s labor laws. Learning the rules governing overtime, leave rights, and what legally constitutes discrimination (to name a few) will protect your staff and your business from a potentially devastating lawsuit.
Learning basic principles of accounting and budget management can open doors for your business you might not have thought possible. If dreams like expanding to an additional location or traveling internationally with performance teams feel perpetually out of financial reach, the problem may be one of cash-flow management. Says Lown, “You know you are in a cash-flow trap when you continually have to take money from one revenue source, like costume fees, to cover an unrelated expense like payroll. You are going to stay in that cycle unless you educate yourself about finance and budgeting. You need to network, find mentorship, and attend conferences where you can learn from knowledgeable people.”
Canino has received guidance in developing a business plan for Creative Dance Studio through her Entrepreneurship/Venture Creation course. Lucia worked with a consultant at a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to create and improve her original plan. She also took an online course in Quickbooks accounting software through a community college, which partners with ed2go.com. The skills she learned help her work seamlessly alongside her accountant, who handles all accounts receivable while Lucia oversees accounts payable. Lucia creates the quarterly sales tax reports, and though her accountant prepares her annual taxes, she says her business training has “made it clearer what he is talking about.”
It’s a dilemma often lamented: passion for the arts doesn’t necessarily translate to people-management ability. Dancing, teaching, and overseeing staff are entirely different skill sets. Human resource management, or HR, includes responsibilities like interviewing potential staff, writing contracts, providing ongoing professional development, conducting performance reviews, managing employee benefits like vacation and sick time, and processing payroll. It’s when studio owners assume that the usually small staff size of a dance studio doesn’t necessitate professional training in these areas that problems can arise. Apprising yourself of best practices in management can make the difference between having a productive, team-oriented staff and one undermined by grumbling, gossip, and high turnover.
Lucia worked as an HR intern at a museum prior to opening her school and draws frequently on her experience there. One of the most valuable things she learned was to ask open-ended questions during interviews. “I always ask prospective employees where they had a conflict or difficult situation with a customer and how they resolved it. The answer is usually very telling.”
Owning your inner businessperson
Next to hitting the library’s business section, conferences and seminars may be the most cost-effective ways to gain business savvy. For more in-depth, ongoing access to resources and expertise, you might want to consider joining a membership network or organization. DanceStudioOwner.com provides articles and downloadable forms, plus teleseminars, marketing tips, and a member forum for a monthly fee. Lown’s More Than Just Great Dancing grants access to similar resources, plus fully developed administrative systems and curriculums, with the option to meet with other studio owners face-to-face, or, at the top membership level, consult regularly with Lown.
While dance-specific resources cut to the chase, it is well worth branching out to participate in the business community. The contacts you make outside of the dance world can help you diversify your board, cross-market with other business owners, and scout quality services for your studio. Lucia attended an SBDC mixer and met a banker who ended up approving the loan she needed to start her studio. “I approached a few banks before getting approved,” she says. “It was the personal connection that made the difference.”
As your business skills grow, your business network can too. Lown attended a forum for CEOs hosted by Success Magazine in which leaders in industries from trucking to high tech shared the best innovations across sectors. As the only attendee from the dance field, she says she appreciated the opportunity to represent dance education as a thriving U.S. industry. Your presence in business networks does more than benefit your studio; it gives dance education a place at the table.
Making time for business training may feel like one more thing to add to your to-do list, but it can make your list shorter and more manageable in the long run. All three women interviewed said they ventured into the business world with trepidation (the phrase “I’m not a math person” came up more than once) but were surprised by how much they enjoyed the challenge, how empowered they feel, and how their increased efficiency has freed up time to devote to artistic direction and their families.
As Lown tells her clients, “Investing in business education is a lot like exercise. We procrastinate even though we know it’s good for us. But when we finally start, it’s so rewarding we can’t believe we didn’t do it sooner.”
Modern-based composition classes fuel creativity and confidence
By Julie Holt Lucia
From the day I opened my school eight years ago, it has offered modern-dance classes. I’ve introduced our students to the basics of foundational styles such as Horton, Limón, and Graham and kept other genres, like lyrical jazz, separate. In the modern classes, we occasionally introduce simple improvisation exercises, encouraging students to think quickly and try out their own ideas.
Over time, my staff and I began to notice that during the improv sessions, some of the students came alive. They seemed excited and hungry to create, and their energy was contagious. It was clear that they had an aptitude for thinking on the spot and enjoyed using their imaginations. Since we wanted to foster this creativity, we asked ourselves how we could encourage these dancers to explore their inner artists—without turning every modern class into an improv lesson.
The students seemed hungry to create, and their energy was contagious. It was clear that they had an aptitude for thinking on the spot and enjoyed using their imaginations.
A dance composition class seemed like the perfect answer—a kids’ version of what students might study in college, in which they would learn how to choreograph movement phrases or longer explorations that include a clear beginning, a middle, and an end. Two of my staff members and I designed a season-long program that would be both instructive and inventive.
Students would be introduced to the fundamental concepts behind creating choreography and allowed ample time during class to explore those concepts individually and in groups. The class would lean heavily on modern dance as its foundation, but we wouldn’t eschew the influence of other genres. Our year-end goal was for the students to choreograph their recital routine together, working as a group to flesh out concepts we gave them for the movement. Also, they would choose music and costumes.
We’ve now offered this class for two seasons, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Seventh-grader Olivia Westerburg says, “My favorite part about composition is that we get to explore new [movement] concepts and be independent. We get to be creative with making our own choreography come to life.”
Here’s how we ran our choreography class. Many aspects of its design and implementation can be customized to fit any school and students.
To register for the composition class, dancers are required to be enrolled in at least one technique class at a minimum level; most are enrolled in several. (We strongly encourage modern dance as a co-requisite, for which students must be in middle school or beyond.) This helps ensure that the dancers in the group have similar commitment levels, even though there might be a range of technical levels. We wanted these requirements to guarantee that the dancers would have the maturity or experience to benefit from the class.
Even though the class is based on creativity, it is still structured. We use Anne Green Gilbert’s book Creative Dance for All Ages as a resource for laying out the ideas we want to cover in each semester. Detailed lesson plans help us stay on track and strategize for hiccups in the schedule, such as holiday breaks. The class meets only once a week for an hour, so the lesson plans help us choose which concepts to focus on when, and how best to approach them so the dancers understand them. For example, we might think that explaining the concept of “body” works well with a partner improv exercise, but explaining the concept of “form” will make more sense if we have the dancers take notes first on what types of form exist.
This year the class is taught by one instructor, but in the past three teachers taught in rotation throughout the year to offer different perspectives and feedback to the dancers.
In the original class plan (we continue to tweak it), the fall semester was divided into three-week periods. Each period focused on a different concept pulled from “the elements of dance” as outlined in Gilbert’s book: space, time, force, body, movement, and form.
Week 1: We discussed one concept; for example, space. The teacher jotted down ideas related to space on a whiteboard while dancers took notes. Some areas we covered were self space (i.e., the space around oneself versus the space around others) and general space (the space in the room); far reach and near reach; high level and low level, etc. We then explored those ideas with improvisation exercises gleaned from various sources, including other creative movement and choreography books or teachers’ personal experiences; sometimes we created exercises on the fly.
Week 2: The dancers—individually or in groups, at the teacher’s discretion—created a movement phrase using the ideas from Week 1. Students were given movement or structural parameters; for example, the number of counts or measures, emotional tone, or use of an assigned prop.
Week 3: We introduced music selections for the phrases the dancers worked on in Week 2. After practicing during class time, the dancers performed their phrases for one another. The teacher was there at all times to guide them throughout each three-week lesson, observing the dancers as they created and helping when someone was confused or struggling. For example, the teacher might ask questions that prompt the dancer to think differently: “What are some different ways you can get up from the floor?” or “If you performed this step and this foot is now free, where can you take that?” She would provide helpful feedback, and keep the students from straying too far from the concept. If a dancer seemed to be throwing steps (or “tricks”) together without much regard for the concept, she might ask about the process, how the dancer chose those steps and how they fit the concept. While the teacher is hands-off in terms of teaching steps and combinations, she is hands-on in terms of guidance, prompting, and feedback.
This season we used class time more efficiently—lessons are more streamlined and organized—and altered the class plan to include some two-week periods, which allowed us to cover more material with equal depth.
For the spring semester, we structured the class around having the dancers create a recital dance rooted in the concepts they explored in the fall. The first few weeks were focused on reviewing and revisiting those choreographic ideas. The teacher then chose which concepts would be featured in the recital dance, based on what she thought the dancers understood and interpreted best. She also chose a handful of music selections, and with the specific concepts in mind, the dancers voted on the one to be used.
We discussed how we could best guide the students in preparing their choreography. With a small class (five dancers), we divided the music into five sections and randomly assigned each dancer a section to choreograph for the group. Each dancer was given class time to create her section and later to teach the choreography to her classmates. This seemed like a fair approach.
The dancers understood that the overarching goal was twofold: to create a group dance based on the concepts they studied, and to make the dance look seamless between sections. Throughout the process, the teacher(s) supervised and acted as a sounding board for ideas. The creation process took about 10 weeks, leaving about a month to clean the choreography and make any necessary changes before recital time.
The class has presented a few challenges. Sarah Flaherty, an eighth-grader, says the most difficult part is “grasping the concepts. The class is fun and exciting, and we get to use our creative abilities. But it can be challenging to understand and apply the concepts in different ways.”
One of the more demanding aspects, from the teacher’s perspective, is allowing the dancers to make mistakes and learn as they go. It can be tricky to know when to intervene by asking questions like, “How could you transition more easily from here to there?” and when to stay quiet and let the dancers figure out a solution to a choreographic problem.
Fledgling choreographers occasionally run into roadblocks when working as a group, either in how they communicate (for example, when explaining a step or formation), or what they are asking of each other (like a complicated movement). There may be moments when the teacher must take charge and say, “We’re going to pause for a few minutes while everyone reorganizes their thoughts. Then you can try again.” Guiding students in a neutral manner and keeping them on track is essential.
Make it your own
A composition class can be an enlightening forum for students to express themselves in a way that’s different from what they can do in a technique class.
Although our program culminates with a group recital dance, the class could have any number of objectives. The focus could be on solo work, particularly for high school seniors who want to choreograph pieces for company or college auditions. Or the goal could be to have students learn how to create choreography on someone other than their peers, such as a class of younger students.
If the class has a large enrollment, each semester could include an informal showing at the studio. Showcasing their choreography in an intimate environment allows the dancers to prepare for and experience a performance in a low-stress situation.
A composition class allows students to build confidence as well as creative skills. Most important, though, they experience the art of dance in a new, richer way. They take pride in being given ownership of important details, and parents appreciate that their children get a glimpse into the world of college dance and beyond. As a studio owner, I find it gratifying to offer these students a safe and supportive environment in which they can experiment with dance.
Using improvisation to help students grow as artists
By Elizabeth Zimmer
Much of a child’s life revolves around learning to follow directions or reproduce an action. Between the endless “test prep” of their academic lives and the increasingly screen-bound environments in which they play, kids are constrained and driven into their heads; in the dance studio, they’re enmeshed in competition, learning to do steps “right.”
But there are other ways to move. Teachers who encourage improvisation liberate children physically, mentally, and emotionally, while also developing their skills of attention, imagination, and teamwork.
New movement, new methods
Master teacher Derrick Yanford grew up near the border of Connecticut and Massachusetts, watching Michael Jackson videos. “I danced around the house,” he says, and “copied what I saw people doing on television: Solid Gold, Soul Train, and [the 1985 film of] A Chorus Line.”
We say, ‘Don’t worry about being correct, just worry about moving.’ When you give kids that freedom, they start to dance. —Derrick Yanford
Adults encouraged him to study seriously, initially with Brenda Barna at Dance Slipper in Southwick, Massachusetts. Barna gave him, the only boy in her school, a full scholarship and soon put him on competition teams and gave him classes to teach. He first encountered improvisation at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. “We had a composition class with Phyllis Lamhut, who asked us to do structured improv. Other choreographers used improv as part of their process.”
Now 38, Yanford teaches at studios around the New York metropolitan area, working with students ages 8 to 18, as well as with college students at the National Theater Institute Semester at Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut.
“I’m there to help them figure out how to move,” he says. “I start giving them structured ways to move. There’s a dancer in there somewhere; we just have to find it and pull it out of them.”
Successful work in improvisation requires the right environment. “I dim the lights; people stop judging themselves and are free to move around,” he says. “We do breathing exercises. I ask them to release each part of their bodies and start anew. Then we do exercises for spatial awareness—walking around the room, discovering the corners, picking up the pace, doing it faster, backwards, sideways, on the floor, rolling around. They’re spatially aware but not allowed to touch one another.”
Then he puts on some music, so the students can “begin to find their musicality. We might close our eyes and let the music wash over them, let them understand that the music will be their guide. Sometimes we go against the music as well.
“We find different ways of getting to the floor, spiraling, hinging,” Yanford says. “It’s always about discovery, finding new ways of moving within the limitation I’ve given them. We go to one side of the room and I give them limitations: no pirouettes, no large jumps, no battements. I ask them to cross the room, listen to the music, constantly move forward—as if they’re going up a gigantic mountain, as if they’re coming down, as if the floor is covered in honey, quicksand, broken glass; as if they’re on a tightrope 1,000 feet in the air, backwards.”
Next, he has the dancers go to the center, where he gives them a limitation—one foot connected to the floor, for example—or lets them invent one. “All these strange and wonderful things start to happen. We do the movement in groups, sometimes all together. I ask them to do it in slow motion, in super-slow motion, as if underwater, as if caught in a spider’s web, as if they have no bones, as if it’s the hottest day, the coldest day—just to see what will happen.
“With young kids, I start them on the floor with their eyes closed, then let them [get up and] move around,” he continues. “One of my favorite exercises: walk around the room, then put your hand on another person and draw it down their spine; the person rolls down to the floor. We start with a little bit of touch, then we share some weight, roll on top of each other. Then back-to-back: they have to negotiate each other’s weight as they go across the floor. Sometimes they face each other, mirror image. No one’s really leading or following; they try to figure it out.
“They get into some very precarious positions, but because they’re stuck inside this limitation, they find their way out. We play stop and go, back and forth with touch and movement. We do one in groups: ‘everybody gets a ride.’ They have to connect themselves so one person’s body doesn’t touch the floor at any time.”
One result of these improv games, Yanford says, is that the students “learn working together, teambuilding. They have to make compromises.” And, he adds, “They start to understand that dance can be so many things. We say, ‘Don’t worry about being correct, just worry about moving.’ When you give kids that freedom, they start to dance.”
Yanford asks kids to improv as if they were “an earthworm, a frog, a kangaroo, an elephant, a giraffe. Then inanimate objects: a table, a chair, a bicycle, a computer. Everybody comes up with different ideas of what that might mean. They have to practice moving this way, so it doesn’t seem foreign to them. I ask them to dance as if they were their best friend, or their mother, or the color red.”
There’s a method behind this seemingly random array of commands. “If we want dancers to move their bodies in ways we never thought of,” Yanford says, “we have to teach them in ways we never thought of.”
New York choreographer Daniel Gwirtzman, who teaches levels from pre-kindergarten to college, also credits Michael Jackson for inspiring his career; he composed a solo to “Beat It” at sleep-away camp in the Finger Lakes. Back home in Rochester, he participated in folk dance classes and high school musicals.
At 12, he found his way into an adult class taught by Garth Fagan dancer Shelly Taplin. “She would allow us eight counts of improvisation within a set sequence, going across the floor,” he says. “I was obsessed with the class and with her, having this moment of creativity within a very structured environment.”
In working with young children through high school–age kids, Gwirtzman says, “the same general assignments apply, but there’s such a difference in inhibition.” The goal, however, remains the same, no matter the dancer’s age: “for them to get lost. We try to keep what’s there in a youngster, as the student matures.”
A graduate of the University of Michigan with an MFA from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, Gwirtzman, 43, guides students “through a creative exploration, to warm up their bodies and their minds.” He tells them to imagine their feet are paintbrushes. “I ask them to suspend thought; before they tire of paintbrushes I say, ‘Your feet are now hammers, now sponges, now pogo sticks, now 10-pound weights, wheels, suction cups.’ The idea is to exhaust all the qualitative possibilities, to expand the range in all directions. I ask them to ‘dance in a way you’ve never seen, and in a way you’ve never tried.’ It’s about pushing them toward the new.”
One of Gwirtzman’s explorations for 3- to 5-year-olds makes use of a huge checkered tablecloth. He tells them it’s “like a pond,” he says. “They’re underneath the water, exploring being different sea creatures, completely free in the imaginative world.”
Working with students in New York’s Harlem, at arts high schools in North Carolina, and in elementary and junior high schools in Bahia, Brazil, Gwirtzman asks them, “ ‘What are we talking about? What are these words?’ With older kids it’s more adjective-focused: lethargic, percussive, clumsy, jittery, chaotic; I have about 60 words on a ‘qualities’ sheet I bring to the classroom.
“I want them to discover what’s outside their comfort zone,” Gwirtzman continues, “to be able to express physically along a spectrum from slow to fast, from sharp to smooth, from staccato to legato. The task is to use improvisation to unlock all the movement choices and abilities our body is capable of. In a structured dance class there are boundaries to how we move that are different from how we are capable of moving.
“When we improvise,” he says, “it’s about turning off as much as about turning on: turning off the learned knowledge and turning on intuition, imagination, sensory experience, freedom. It’s an engagement with the unconscious. We’re assuming the role of a creative artist instead of the role of the interpretive artist.”
Natural for kids
New York City–based Ellen Robbins has taught modern-dance technique, improvisation, and composition to students ages 5 through 18 since 1966, currently at Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet and at New York Live Arts. At the latter, she rents space and teaches independently after having served as resident dance educator there for 34 years. Her students have included actresses Julia Stiles and Claire Danes.
The daughter of a violinist, Robbins grew up in Westchester County, studied dance and music theory at the Juilliard Preparatory Division, and graduated from Brandeis University. “I was always dancing in the living room with my sisters,” she says. “Improvisation is a very natural thing for children to do. They love doing it, and it helps them to have a reason for moving, a connection to their feelings, their ideas, that’s more direct than if I just taught them steps. My group pieces have structures with seams that open, so the children can provide the movement. Some children are more comfortable improvising.”
Robbins weaves improvisation throughout her creative dance classes, which include technique and choreography. Her warm-ups for young children “involve a jump. I call it ‘toast’—the toast jumping out of the toaster,” she says. “Every week I change the image.” Another exercise, “bridges,” connects concept and motion: “They make shapes and have to move musically between the shapes. I have them do dances where they draw a map, then improvise a path through the room, creating a design they have to fulfill. I might ask them to create a story that goes along with the map, and then create an idea from the map—‘I’m going through the woods and there’s a pond.’ I try to relate their movement to things that are age-appropriate, that concern them.”
Robbins plays music and has the students improvise, asking them what the music made them feel like. “They find their own connections to music,” she says.
Key to her process is starting with simple things and then building; for example, she says, “a phrase of slow with a surprise; a phrase of fast with a stop. A sport: actions from baseball. An animal: a lion stalking, running, jumping. Then a human situation: you’re sleeping and the alarm rings.”
She has older students improvise together. “They can embellish each other’s ideas, take ideas from each other while dancing,” she says. “It’s kind of like jazz. The improvisation informs their choreography.”
Her students perform their own work at annual shows. “I developed all this out of necessity,” she says. “You wouldn’t study music and not perform, or study art and not make paintings. These dances are vehicles: the child owns it and has input into what she’s doing.”
A creative state
Yanford, a veteran of the competition circuit, has noticed that since the debut of So You Think You Can Dance, for which improv is part of the audition process, people are more eager to improv. “For so many dancers, their goal is to be on that show; they know they have to add other things to their training to give them that edge.”
And the kids are getting very good at improvising, he says, especially the young ones, “because they’re so free and open; they don’t have preconceived ideas of how to move. Their improv is better than what you choreograph for them. They allow their bodies to do things that, if we asked them to do them, I’m not sure they could.
“We’re putting them in a state to just move, without judgment,” Yanford says, “and it’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
The Joffrey Concert Group, a pre-professional performance company that prepares dancers for the world stage, will pay tribute to longtime Joffrey Ballet teacher Francesca Corkle during a May 19 performance at New York Live Arts.
Corkle, who danced with the Joffrey Ballet from 1969 to 1978, has spent the past 30 years teaching at the Joffrey Ballet School. Her significant impact on the lives of the students and her initiative to maintain the highest artistic integrity within the school is unparalleled, said a release from the school.
The 30-member troupe, who will also perform May 20, will present two signature works by Joffrey co-founder Gerald Arpino: Kettentanz (1971) and Light Rain (1981). Other pieces on the program include Entropy by Joffrey Concert Group artistic director Davis Robertson; world premieres by Shawn Hounsell (formerly with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet) and Africa Guzman (former associate director of Compañía Nacional de Danza under Nacho Duato), plus a New York premiere by Scott Rink, former Lar Lubovitch company dancer.
New York Live Arts is located at 219 West 19th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues) New York City. Tickets are $25 general admission and $20 for students and seniors and can be purchased through New York Live Arts at http://www.newyorklivearts.org/event/joffrey_ballet_concert.
Top salsa dance teachers from the Dallas area will lead free 30-minute dance lessons every Saturday night in June and July as part of the Dance Council of North Texas’ Vitruvian Salsa Festival.
The festivals feature lessons at 6:30pm followed by dancing until 10pm to live salsa bands such as Latin Fire, Havana NRG, Latin Katz, Carabali, and Chichos. Gourmet food trucks will be on site beginning at 6pm. The evening’s activities are suitable for the entire family, and all dance levels are welcome. All activities take place at the Vitruvian Park Amphitheater, Vitruvian Way and Ponte Avenue, Addison, Texas.
The summer schedule includes: June 7 and July 5, Cuban Night; June 14 and July 12, Puerto Rican Night; June 21 and July 19, Dominican Night; June 28 and July 26, Colombian and Brazilian Night.
The Dancers Over 40 organization presents “The Teachers We Love!”, a special celebration of some of New York City’s beloved tap, jazz, and ballet teachers, Monday at 7pm at St. Luke’s Theater, 308 West 46th Street.
Moderators Tony Waag, Mary Jane Houdina, Bob Boross, and Nicole Barth will lead the celebration that salutes teachers and “acknowledges the gifts these amazing teachers gave to all of us, and the history that they have passed on to all their ‘kids.’ ”
Teachers to be honored include Bob Audy, Phil Black, Gemze de Lappe, Marilyn D’Honau, Chuck Kelley, Bella Malinka, and Luigi. Special guests include Bob Boross, who will speak about the late jazz master Matt Mattox, and dancers Lyn Schwab, Stephen Reed, Jose de la Cuesta, Alan Onickel, Billie Mahoney, Carolyn Kirsch, and Amy Burgmaier.
Dancers Over 40 is an all-volunteer, membership-driven nonprofit arts organization dedicated to the preservation of the history, legacy, and lives of the mature creative community, and committed to sharing of this knowledge with the younger generation. The event will be videotaped and donated to the Jerome Robbins Dance Collection at Lincoln Center’s Library for the Performing Arts.
Tickets are $25 for Dancers Over 40 members at 212.947.8844 or online at www.broadwayoffers.com; or $45 for non-members at 212.239.6200 or www.telecharge.com. Students of Luigi and other students with “dance cards” can receive the DO40 discount in person at the St. Luke’s Box Office. For more information, visit www.dancersover40.org.
Dance Studio Life columnist and DanceLife Teacher Conference faculty member Bill Evans has been made an honorary member of the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science.
Evans, who joins IADMS honorary members Darcey Bussell and Christopher Wheeldon, was a pioneer in the integration of somatic education and dance technique, and was invited to present his work at the most recent annual IADMS conference, in Seattle.
Since 1977, thousands of dance educators have attended Evans’ summer workshops, conducted internationally, to investigate his method of teaching dance technique through the concepts of Laban/Bartenieff Movement Studies.
“My long life as a healthy dancer is no coincidence,” Evans said in the IADMS announcement. “I was guided by generous and engaged dance kinesiologists at crucial points in my career over five decades. IADMS has created an international community in which dance scientists interact with dance teachers to share investigations and findings that improve the health, well-being, training, and performance longevity of dancers throughout the world.”
“You are a role model for vast numbers of dancers, choreographers, and teachers,” said IADMS chief executive officer Virginia Wilmerding. “Your honorary status is evidence to all of your commitment to dance and dancers.” For more information, visit www.iadms.org.
Dance educators from around the world will meet at this summer’s Dance Teacher Web Live Conference & Expo, July 27 to 30, at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas, where they will learn the latest teaching and business techniques, receive creative inspiration, and celebrate the teaching profession.
The faculty slate of 40-plus dance masters and business leaders includes Liz Imperio, who recently completed her work as artistic director and choreographer for the Jennifer Lopez 2013 World Tour; James Whiteside, principal with American Ballet Theatre; Ricky Hinds, associate director of Newsies on Broadway; Aaron Turner, Top 4 finalist of So You Think You Can Dance Season 10.
Attendees will be treated to four full days and nights of classes, seminars, parties, and performances. Business classes are designed to help studio owners increase revenue and keep up-to-date with cutting-edge technology. Exhibitors include dance industry leaders such as Costume Gallery, Capezio, International Dance Supplies, Dance Informa, and Motion Software.
Also offered is the Dance Teacher University UNLV Teacher Certification program, a partnership between Dance Teacher Web and University of Nevada Las Vegas faculty. This comprehensive teaching training program provides teachers with curriculum for beginning through advanced levels.
“Dance mom” Alaine Kowal has written and released a children’s book, The Little Dance Teacher, as a charitable project to support her local dance studio, Dance Tech Inc., of High River, Alberta, Canada. And the story behind it is very close to the author’s heart.
“Little Miss Jenny-Ray is a dance teacher in a small town at the base of the mountains,” Kowal told the High River Times. “When her little town floods, Miss Jenny-Ray wants to help but doesn’t know what to do. So she does the only thing she can think of—she dances and helps bring back the spirit of her dancers and the town.”
This is Kowal’s first book, and since her two daughters are dancers with Dance Tech, she wanted all proceeds from book sales to go back into the dance studio. “The main reason for putting together a children’s book was to raise funds for the dancers who were affected by the flood,” she said. “There are still many dancers at our studio who are dealing with the flood.”
She noted that Dance Tech owner Amanda Messner was a huge inspiration for the book because of all of the hard work she put into rebuilding the dance studio after devastating floods swept through Alberta in the spring of 2013. Messner had a hard time putting into words her feelings about the support her studio is receiving.
“It’s really overwhelming and I didn’t expect any less from the community but since the flood, our team has gone from a team to a family, so our motivation is different because we have bonded together with a different heart,” she said.
The book is available online at www.routesmedia.com/store. To see the original story, visit http://www.highrivertimes.com/2014/04/21/childrens-book-comes-to-life-to-support-dancers.