2015 | 10 | October

October 2015 | On My Mind

I’m noticing a lack of creativity in choreography lately—or maybe it’s people’s inability to think for themselves. At a respected ballet company’s performance, on the competition stage, and on TV, choreographers are creating contemporary work that’s strikingly similar. Yes, the level of technical mastery among dancers is diverse, but there’s a disturbing sameness to the mood, expression, and movement—which typically convey ideas about suffering and tragedy. This dark subject matter combined with moody lighting and zero humor add up to a sad observation: today’s dance productions may be depressing audiences instead of entertaining them.

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October 2015 | Teacher in the Spotlight | Lisa Marie Pelton

NOMINATED BY: Kim Wood, mother: “In 2003, Lisa opened her school with 80 students. Since then, it has grown and she is living her dream. She is blessed with a 4-year-old son and also a beautiful daughter born two years ago with cystic fibrosis. When she is tired or has been up all night with a sick child, she lights up when she walks into her studio, sees her students, and gets energized to dance with them once again.”

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October 2015 | College Close-Ups | Five College Dance Department

Founded in 1978, the Five College Dance Department (FCDD) combines the distinct dance programs of Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges and the University of Massachusetts–Amherst (UMass–Amherst), pooling offerings and resources to create one of the nation’s largest college dance departments.

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October 2015 | EditorSpeak

“Recipe for a Better World”: On page 146 of this issue, you’ll find a story about the DanceLife Teacher Conference in which we tell you about many of the goings-on at this big event—but there’s one thing we didn’t touch on because it bears separate mention. It’s the joy and abandon, the sweat and exhilaration of the hundreds of dance teachers who threw themselves into all kinds of technique classes.

“Powerful Girls”: It’s 2015, and our culture still conditions young girls to grow up believing men should be strong and women should be pretty. Misty Copeland’s sinewy leaps, Katniss Everdeen’s archery feats, Title IX, Michelle Obama’s arms, and critical best-sellers like The Princess Problem and Reviving Ophelia haven’t yet washed away mainstream expectations that femininity requires physical weakness.

If you teach girls to dance, you know that isn’t true. But do the girls?

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October 2015 | FYI

What’s up in the dance community

Warming of U.S.–Cuba Relations Leads to Historic Giselle

Louisville Ballet Benefits From $1 Million Anonymous Gift

Risky Marketing Makeover Yields Big Rewards

I’ll Take That Dance to Go

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October 2015 | One for All: the 2015 DanceLife Teacher Conference

This year’s DanceLife Teacher Conference began with producer Rhee Gold making a request of the 800 dance teachers and studio owners in attendance: “Make this week about you,” he said. “Take the time to rejuvenate.” He recalled his mother telling him, when he was a child, to go outside and get lost—in a good way, of course. It was time for the attendees to “get lost” themselves; for these few days at The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona, he said, let others handle the school, the house, the kids.

They did, if the smiles, laughter, and conversation witnessed at every turn were any indication. And they did it together. Everywhere, collegiality trumped competition. At breakfast and lunch, teachers welcomed strangers to their tables and swapped stories and ideas.

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October 2015 | Only One Boy

After years of pink sequins and fairy princesses, you’ve finally snagged a boy for your competition team or teenage ballet class—great! Whether only one boy is enrolled at your studio, or there are several boys who fall singly into various technical levels, having an available male creates new possibilities for choreography, themes, and music choices.

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October 2015 | Moving Images

Videos of note (new and not)
1. Peter and the Wolf
2. Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance
3. Mary Wigman: The Soul of Dance
4. Mat Ek’s Carmen

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October 2015 | Bright Biz Idea | Primed for Success (Part 5)

In this business series we’ve taken a comprehensive look at the process of launching a dance school: the business plan, the facility, branding and advertising a studio in the digital age, and forecasting cash flow. In the fifth and final installment, we’ll focus on strategies for maximizing enrollment.

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October 2015 | Creativity Counts

When you’re choreographing, nothing is more frustrating than finding a song you’re excited about, then realizing you can’t use it. If bad words, length, or repetitiveness are obstacles, don’t give up—there are ways to alter any song, by cutting, adding samples, and mixing in other songs. The editing process might seem overwhelming at first, but there are numerous apps and programs on the market that allow you to create your masterpiece even when you’re not an audio or tech expert.

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October 2015 | King of the Show

Who unlocks a show’s magic? Dancers? Choreographers? Audience? Any or all of the above may be true, but the stage manager holds the key. Good stage management is pivotal to a show’s success, and it demands superb communication, organization, and tact, as well as unflappability.

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October 2015 | Thinking Out Loud | Encouraging Young Teachers

Like many of my peers, I began teaching dance at a young age. In high school I assisted my tap teacher with her youth classes, and when she was absent I was entrusted to lead the class on my own. Before I knew it, I was teaching my own boys’ tap class and beginning to sub for other local instructors.

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October 2015 | Higher-Ed Voice | Dance at the Ivies

Where do dancers go for training at the college level? In the past, they have typically chosen to attend conservatories like The Juilliard School, or colleges and universities known for their dance departments. Rarely would they choose Ivy League schools or universities like Stanford (called by some an “Ivy of the West”), which have not accorded dance much esteem. On these campuses, dance typically has been limited in terms of class offerings, performance opportunities, and funding.

All that is changing. Now students can choose to immerse themselves in dance—as well as philosophy, quantum mechanics, and comparative literature—at Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.

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October 2015 | 2 Tips for Hip-Hop Teachers | Box Step and 360-Degree Dancing

The box step is a basic step in many styles. In hip-hop, it was popular with early b-boys/b-girls and lofters.

Most hip-hop dance is done inside a cypher. Dancers address the people around them with their movements, dance together, or dance at each other in battle. Make sure your students think about dancing in 360 degrees. If they always face forward in the studio, their dancing will stay too flat.

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October 2015 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Released, Relaxed, and Ready

Clear weight shifts are essential for strong and articulate footwork. A dancer needs to have one foot released, relaxed, and ready for whatever step is next. A brush, spank, step, stamp, stomp, tap, toe dig, heel dig, or toe tip, for example, requires a 100-percent weight shift to one foot, over the arch, and with the shoulder stacked over a relaxed hip, knee, and ankle. In contrast, only a partial weight shift is needed to produce a strong heel drop or toe drop.

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October 2015 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Port de Bras for Jumps

Tip 1
A coordinated port de bras during a jump preparation is key to reaching full potential in the air. Often arms aren’t being allowed to help achieve big jumps because students aren’t timing their arms’ momentum to coordinate with “lift-off.”

To help students grasp this concept, even before attempting small jumps in center, have them stand with feet parallel and slightly separated. Ask them to bend their knees, keeping the feet flat on the ground, then jump as far forward as possible without using their arms. Next have them swing their arms back and forth. Have them jump forward as their arms swing back—that will feel wrong. Then have them jump forward as their arms swing forward—that will propel them into a longer jump.

This exercise demonstrates how helpful arms can be (when swinging with correct coordination) in propelling our movements; a well-coordinated port de bras is the balletic equivalent.

Tip 2
Try this exercise to correct students who, in coupé jeté manèges, are cutting short the port de bras in the coupé. Have dancers extend the arms in first arabesque, right arm in front. Ask them to make the right middle fingertip the starting point, and also the anchor, of an imaginary circle.

Next, have them move the left hand and arm to connect to the anchored fingertip, completing the circle—as they would do in a coupé turn. Insist that the right fingertip stay still in space and the left middle fingertip reach to complete the circle. Students will have to move their upper and lower bodies toward the anchored fingertip to achieve this. Then have them attempt a coupé jeté using the same principle.

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October 2015| Concept to Choreography to Curtain

One evening before a rehearsal one of my students said to me, “It must be great to be a dance teacher. You can sleep all day and then show up for a few hours of work at night.” This happened during preparations for a rather large-scale show. Like many studio owners, I was responsible for handling all aspects of the production; I’d started planning months beforehand.

This dancer’s comment made me realize how little students understand about what goes into producing a show. In response, I created Production 101, a class that introduces students to the process of theater and dance production, from concept to performance. I also wanted them to see how they could be involved in dance aside from performing.

The two-hour class, open to advanced students, meets weekly for 16 weeks. I also offer the class as an enrichment course at a private high school for international students—a month-long intensive that meets four days a week for three hours each day. On the fifth day, I take the students offsite for field trips. We have toured theaters, observed rehearsals, attended performances, and spoken with production professionals. I also invite guest speakers to the studio for Q&A sessions. Each program ends with a performance at the studio that is open to our dance families.

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October 2015 | Table of Contents

Recital planning time, and there’s so much to think about—what to do with the one boy in class, how to edit music, and what you need in a stage manager.

The answers are here, plus the latest in costumes; teaching kids the basics of production; dance at Harvard, Stanford, and Yale; a look back at this year’s DanceLife Teacher Conference; and the final installment of our business series for new school owners.

Throughout the month of October, we’ll be publishing online versions of selected stories, with full content available by November 1.

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