May-June 2015 | Dance History Quiz

dance-hqFun facts for teachers & students

1 Which tap dancer—who mentored tappers such as Savion Glover, Jane Goldberg, and Dianne Walker—signaled his appreciation for other performers by throwing his tap shoes onto the stage?

a. Tommy Tune
b. Gregory Hines
c. Jerry the mouse
d. Sammy Davis Jr.

b. Gregory Hines began training with tapper Henry LeTang at age 3 and made his stage debut with his brother, Maurice, at age 5. Over the course of his career he danced on vaunted stages worldwide, and was nominated for Tony Awards for Eubie!, Comin’ Uptown, and Sophisticated Ladies. He won a Best Actor Tony for his performance in Jelly’s Last Jam, for which he was also nominated in the Best Choreographer category. He made dozens of appearances on TV and movies, notably in the 1984 film The Cotton Club, and opposite Mikhail Baryshnikov in White Nights. Hines was a tireless advocate for tap in the United States, lobbying to create National Tap Dance Day and serving on the boards of many tap organizations. He deeply respected the older generation of tap dancers—legends like Chuck Green, Jimmy Slyde, Buster Brown, Lon Chaney, and the Nicholas Brothers—and considered them his teachers and mentors. Hines in turn generously mentored younger tap performers, including offering encouragement, support (and sometimes his shoes), from his seat in the house. (See “In Their Corner,” December 2014.)

2 New York City Ballet dancer Tanaquil LeClercq contracted polio at age 27 and retired from the stage. She taught from a wheelchair for which other New York City–based ballet company?

a. Dance Theatre of Harlem
b. American Ballet Theatre
c. Ballet Hispanico
d. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

a. Tanaquil LeClercq (1929–2000) was discovered by George Balanchine when she was a student at the School of American Ballet. At 17 she began performing with his company, which was then called Ballet Society. Balanchine set many of his best-known ballets on her, including Symphony in C and La Valse. They married in 1952; she was his fourth wife. Jerome Robbins too was enraptured with LeClercq and created Afternoon of a Faun for her in 1953. LeClercq contracted polio while on tour in 1956. Despite Balanchine’s ministrations she never danced again, and spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. She did, however, write two books, coach NYCB dancers, and teach at Dance Theatre of Harlem.

3 Which modern dance choreographer was best known for creating movement separate from music, and putting them together only late in the process—sometimes during dress rehearsal or even performance?

a. Katherine Dunham
b. Murray Louis
c. Merce Cunningham
d. Paula Abdul

c. Merce Cunningham (1919–2009) studied tap as a teenager. He attended the Cornish School of Performing and Visual Arts, where he began choreographing. It was there that he began a lifelong collaboration and life partnership with composer John Cage. He danced with Martha Graham Dance Company from 1939–1945, and while he admired her as an artist, Graham’s choreography struck him as overly dramatic and constrained by conventional form. Veering from Graham aesthetics and methodology, Cunningham began experimenting with making movement for movement’s sake rather than to convey a story or emotion, and in 1953 established the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

He began using chance to create dances, throwing dice or coins to determine the sequence of movements. He also untethered music from dance, creating movement separately rather than setting it to a score. Sometimes his dancers did not know what music they would be dancing to until the curtain went up. Cunningham was also known for his collaborations with important visual artists like Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol, but most notably Robert Rauschenberg, who created more than a dozen sets for Cunningham works. Throughout his career he collaborated with film and video artists, and in his later years, Cunningham became interested in using motion capture and other digital technology to create work.

4 The prestigious New York Dance and Performance Awards, known as the “Bessie” awards, are named after renowned dance educator Bessie Schönberg, and focus primarily on performance,choreography, and production. However, they have on a few occasions been awarded to dance educators. Who was the first dance educator to be recognized with a Bessie?

a. Ellen Robbins, “For Teaching Children”
b. Mary Anthony, “For Her Inspirational Teaching”
c. Bessie Schoenberg, “Lifetime Achievement”
d. Ms. Mimi, “For Exceptional Work with Mouselings”

a. Mary Anthony and Bessie Schoenberg were also honored for their dedication to teaching, in 1988 and 2004, respectively. But Ellen Robbins was awarded a Bessie in 1986 in recognition of her work with children. For 34 years, she was resident dance educator at Dance Theater Workshop; and has taught dance education at Sarah Lawrence College, at the 92nd Street Y, and at workshops and institutions in the U.S. and abroad. Robbins’ modern dance program for children and teens ages 5 to 18, now held at the Gelsey Kirkland Academy, incorporates technique, improvisation, and choreography. As a part of their dance education, students choreograph, rehearse, and give and receive feedback on their work. Since 1978, Robbins has presented an annual curated concert, Dances by Very Young Choreographers, which shows polished work by choreographers as young as 8. The much-acclaimed showcase was presented at Jacob’s Pillow in 2001.

5 Which b-boy crew appeared in Flashdance, the 1983 blockbuster movie that helped bring hip-hop dance forms into mainstream culture?

a. Dynamic Rockers
b. Rock Steady Crew
c. New York City Breakers
d. Taylor Swift’s backup dancers

b. What was known as breakdancing began to emerge in the early 1970s in the Bronx, when DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa began spinning music in a way that emphasized the musical “breaks”; those who danced to this music became known as breakdancers or b-boys and b-girls. Hip-hop dance gained mainstream visibility when the Village Voice published a story about it in 1981. But the 1983 movie Flashdance proved a defining moment in the evolution of hip-hop dance into a wildly popular, and some say commodified dance form. Jennifer Beals’ character performed breakdance moves, but the movie also featured one of the world’s best-known b-boy crews: Mr. Freeze (Marc Lemberger), Frosty Freeze (Wayne Frost), Prince Ken Swift (Kenneth Gabbert), and Crazy Legs (Richard Colon), all members of the Rock Steady Crew.

6 Who were three important personalities behind the creation of Broadway Dance Center, an important hub for dance training in New York City?

a. Jo Jo Smith, Frank Hatchett, Richard Ellner
b. Chuck Kelley, Graciela Daniele, Savion Glover
c. Peg Leg Bates, Mr. Wiggles, Arthur Murray
d. Ann Reinking, Lynn Simonson, Henry LeTang

a. In the 1970s Jo Jo Smith ran Jo Jo’s Dance Factory, a jazz dance studio located on Broadway in New York City. As the NYC real estate boom took hold and rents increased, in the late ’70s Frank Hatchett lost his studio space. Sue Samuels convinced Smith to rent space to Hatchett. Other teachers began teaching classes there, and the studio became known as a place where dancers could train in a variety of styles under one roof. Eventually Frank Hatchett and Maurice Hines took over the business, renaming the school Hines-Hatchett.

In 1984 Richard Ellner, a beginning student and an avid dance fan, bought the business and further developed the roster of instructors, which has included such esteemed teachers as David Howard, Mia Michaels, Taye Diggs, and Desmond Richardson. The studio moved to 57th Street in 1998, and Richard Ellner died shortly thereafter. Broadway Dance Center, though, is still going strong, with yet another a new home on 45th Street and teachers like Sue Samuels, Cecilia Marta (See “Jazz Duet,” December 2014), and Michelle Dorrance teaching the hundreds of students who pass through its doors each week.

7 Which of these well-known, historically important modern dance choreographers was not nominated for a Best Choreography Tony Award?

a. Twyla Tharp
b. Anna Sokolow
c. Isadora Duncan
d. Bill T. Jones

c. Many choreographers who were known mostly for their “serious” modern dance choreography also choreographed for Broadway. In addition to Anna Sokolow, Twyla Tharp, and Bill T. Jones, the list includes Helen Tamiris, Hanya Holm, Jean Erdman, and Lar Lubovitch. Bill T. Jones won two Tony Awards, for Spring Awakening and Fela! Helen Tamiris won a Tony in 1950 for Touch and Go.

8 Which of these combinations is not an iconic phrase found in a famous musical or ballet?

a. Four women enter, cross hands, stand in B+. Step to coupé front, then, traveling R, step R, coupé L back, step L, coupé R front, repeat through measure, head moving L to R. Small jeté R, pas de bourrée to fifth, relevé passé L, drop to plié coupé front as head drops to look down at front L foot. Repeat sequence to L, then R, then L. Entrechats quatre; passé, switching direction of head on passé, repeat. Echappé second 4 times.
b. Piqué step R L second position while reaching into a V with jazz hands. Step down R L; jazz hands reach down. Step R, passé hop. Step L, assemblé through passé, end in deep jazz plié. Spring into the air, flick kick R leg. Touch R.
c. Point R leg to R, touch it back in, repeat. Point L leg to L, touch it back in, repeat. With feet in parallel first, hop forward. Hop backward. Hop hop hop.
d. Stomp spank hop flap flap step. Stomp spank hop shuffle step flap step. Repeat each, R and L, four times. Stomp spank hop shuffle step flap shuffle ball change ball change ball change step. Repeat RL twice.

Answer c. describes the Bunny Hop, which, according to Time magazine, originated at a high school in San Francisco in 1952. As in a conga line, dancers hold onto one another in a line or circle and perform the simple steps. Ray Anthony wrote and recorded a song, “The Bunny Hop,” to accompany the dance. Both continue to be popular among hoppers of all ages.

With a score by Tchaikovsky, Swan Lake (answer a.) was first performed by the Bolshoi Ballet in 1877. The original choreography was by Julius Reisinger but the ballet was restaged in 1885 with choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. With many productions extant, most ballet companies base their choreography and staging on the Petipa/Ivanov version. The story of betrayal and death is played out by principal dancers in their roles as Odette, the princess who has been turned into a swan by day; her nemesis, Odile (portrayed by the same dancer who dances the role of Odette); Odette’s love, Prince Siegfried; and the evil sorcerer von Rothbart, but much of the ballet’s magic lies in the corp’s portrayal of a group of similarly cursed swan maidens—including the iconic pas de quatre described here and known as Dance of the Little Swans.

Answer b. describes a jazz dance sequence from the opening (“I Hope I Get It”) of A Chorus Line, which opened on Broadway in July 1975. Choreographed and directed by Michael Bennett, with music by Marvin Hamlisch, the show was an enormous success. Nominated for 12 Tonys, it won nine, and picked up a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1976. The show was based on a Broadway audition and was centered around the stories of the 17 dancers who made the first cut. The character Zach, the show’s director, appeared only as an offstage voice who asked the dancers questions about themselves. Their answers revealed the characters’ often heartbreaking stories, while the drama of the relationship between Cassie, played by Donna McKechnie, and Zach gradually comes to light. A movie version was released in 1985.

Like A Chorus Line, 42nd Street is essentially a show about a show. The 1980 Broadway production was based on the 1933 movie and an earlier novel. Directed by Gower Champion, the show revolves around an innocent ingénue, an aging star, and a dictatorial director. Champion died hours before the opening night performance, but his choreography won Tony and Drama Desk awards. Memorable dance scenes include the opening number, described in answer d., in which the curtain rises on a staircase filled with tapping feet.