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3 Teaching Takeaways from Travis Wall's Latest Creation

Shaping Sound cast in After the Curtain (Photo by Mat Hayward)

It's hard not to be an unabashed Shaping Sound fan after seeing Travis Wall's latest, After the Curtain. Even my boyfriend, who has little to no understanding of the dance world, left ogling over the sold-out show in New Jersey Sunday night. The shear magnitude of the production (the use of lighting, set and props) was enough to break through the divide of contemporary dance skeptics. But the strongest impression by far was left by the technical prowess and full-bodied expression of the 12 professional dancers onstage. From Barton Cowperthwaite to Gaby Diaz to Lex Ishimoto, there wasn't much the audience was left wanting.

Here are three of my teaching takeaways from the haunting and thoughtful After the Curtain:


1. Tell your dancers that the professional market for commercial-contemporary dance is alive and well.

Early on in my dance training, I was told that current opportunities for dancers were either to finger-snap in the back of Crest commercials or dance with a professional ballet company. Essentially, if you're not built like a waif, get ready to twerk. Of course I've since been delighted to learn that this isn't actually the case. In fact there's a whole world of opportunities out there that allow you to use your training and feed your contemporary soul. What is most exciting about seeing Shaping Sound perform, though, is learning that there aren't just opportunities out there to use your training, but there are opportunities to use your training at an incredibly high level. Never again will I believe that there aren't opportunities out there. The sky's the limit, teachers—go tell your convention-circuit babies!

2. Give your students the skills to make opportunities for themselves.

While the professional commercial-contemporary dance market is alive and well, it's still possible there isn't anything available that fits your dancers' dreams and goals. That's OK! In order to do work they wanted to, Travis Wall, Kyle Robinson, Teddy Forance and Nick Lazzarini created Shaping Sound. If they did it, shouldn't your dancers be able to do it to? Gone should be the days of teaching your students to accept less-than-ideal jobs simply because that's all that's offered. As teachers we need to instill the skills and confidence necessary for students to create fulfilling work for themselves should they need to. The next Travis Wall is sitting in one of your studios right now, so let's make sure we are helping prepare him/her for their artistic directorial future.

4. Encourage your dancers to support professional dance shows.

The New Jersey Performing Arts Center was completely packed on Sunday night, and according to Travis Wall's Instagram, the past six performances were completely sold-out, as well. Not surprising when you consider the star power of so many of the performers. The high-pitched squeals from young dancers waiting to meet the cast after the show were deafening. It made my dancer heart so happy to see dance-lovers show up in droves. As teachers, let's continue to encourage this type of support from our students. When we show up to watch dance, we keep this artform relevant. Please teach your students to attend as many professional dance shows as they can.

You can see Shaping Sound on the second leg of their After the Curtain tour, from now until Valentine's Day. Dates and showtimes can be found at the Shaping Sound website.

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