It sounds a bit like a fairytale. At 13, a young Misty Copeland is introduced to ballet through a local Boys and Girls Club. Her talents earn her a full scholarship to American Ballet Theatre’s summer intensive, after which she joins the Studio Company––and poof! In 2007, she becomes the company’s first African American female soloist in two decades with some cool side gigs, frequently collaborating with Prince.

 

Copeland shares this story in episode five of Hulu’s “A Day In The Life,” directed by Morgan Spurlock. (Yes, we’re talking about the guy who broke into the mainstream documentary scene with Super Size Me.) The show features notable culture icons and follows them for 24 hours. Our ballerina has some tough competition––other episodes include names like businessman Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin Group empire, and Black Eyed Peas front man, will.i.am.

 

It’s a busy day in NYC for Copeland: An awkwardly edited interview at Uptown magazine, a quick meeting with her business partner for her upcoming dancewear line “M by Misty,” rehearsal at Dance Theatre of Harlem and a performance benefit for Harlem School of the Arts––and she powers through it all in heels! Though I doubt she wears 4-inch wedges to and from long rehearsals (and if she does, I’m very impressed) or travels strictly by taxi, Spurlock portrayed more than a ballerina. Copeland comes across as an intelligent artist and savvy businesswoman who gives back to her community.

 

In dance terms, the 23-minute webisode is lack luster. Rehearsal and performance shots are cut so close you can barely see the action. Let’s face it––dancers want to see the meat and potatoes! And I think non-dancers would appreciate the full package, too. Copeland reminds us that she has an unconventional body for a ballet dancer, but we barely get to see a full shot of her in the studio to show off her gorgeous lines or her muscles and curves.

 

The highlight of our time with Copeland is, without a doubt, at the very opening when she travels to a Boys and Girls Club in the Bronx to speak to a ballet class. The students take the opportunity to study her technique––how she stays aligned in pirouettes and tricks she uses to appear more turned out. In the end, they find inspiration in her success as a young black woman at ABT. It reminds us that influential teaching can happen in the smallest moments. And though it’s not likely that one of these girls will become the next Misty Copeland, I’m sure that meeting this role model is an event they’ll remember for quite some time.

 

Want to hear more about Copeland? Click here to read about her in Dance Magazine.

 

Pictured: Misty in costume for Prince's Crimson and Clover video. Photo by Matt Karas, courtesy of Dance Magazine.

Introducing and teaching rhythm can seem easy, but in reality it can prove to be a complicated concept—especially for younger dancers to grasp. At Ballet Hispánico's School of Dance in New York City, Los Explorers for 3- to 5-year-olds uses classic salsa and tango music to help kids acquire rhythmic awareness.

Here Rebecca Tsivkin, early childhood programs associate, and Kiri Avelar, associate school director, offer exercises to help youngsters feel the beat.

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Dance Buzz
Panelists (left to right): Emily Nusbaum, Eric Kupers, Judith Smith, Deborah Karp and Suzanna Curtis. Photo by Aiano Nakagawa, courtesy of Luna Dance Institute

This past Saturday, I visited Luna Dance Institute in Berkeley, California, to attend the Dance & Disability Discourse & Panel—a discussion with five artists, educators and researchers about access and equity for disabled students in dance education. Here are three statements from the discussion that I found eye-opening.

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How-To
Todd Rosenlieb, left, of The Governor's School for the Arts. Photo by Victor Frailing, courtesy of Todd Rosenlieb

You're setting choreography on your class and most of the students are picking it up. One dancer, though, is having difficulty remembering the steps. You review the material several times, but you fear that this is starting to hold back your more advanced students. Still, you're worried the struggling dancer will be left behind. What is the best way to proceed?

Memorizing choreography is an essential skill for dancers. Fast learners have more time to work on the technique and artistry within a combination, and they are often the first to catch the eyes of directors. Like most skills, learning pace can be improved. Encouraging students to develop their own memorization methods will help them approach choreography with confidence.

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Dancer Health
Neuromuscular expert Deborah Vogel with Jordan Lazan, right. Photo by Jim Lafferty

By strengthening the intrinsic muscles of the foot and ankle, a dancer can help prevent or correct existing pronation. Having strong intrinsic foot muscles keeps the arches aligned, preventing them from dropping inward.

Here, Vogel shares three strengthening exercises to help correct and prevent pronation. She advises dancers to include these in their cross-training regimen.

Mobilize your ankles. (Step 1)

For this ankle mobilization exercise, having a TheraBand wrapped around your ankles puts pressure on your feet to pronate. By resisting that action and keeping your feet centered through the relevé, you're essentially training the ankle where center is.

  • Sitting up straight in a chair, with your feet planted on the floor a few inches apart, tie a TheraBand in a loop around your ankles. You can place a yoga block vertically in between your knees to maintain space between your legs.

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How-To
Photo courtesy of New York Live Arts

Ellen Robbins' modern dance classes for kids and teens are legendary in New York City. Robbins, who has been teaching kids how to dance since the 1970s (and whose pupils included the actresses Claire Danes and Julia Stiles), takes the standard recital model and turns it on its head. Her students—ranging in age from 8 to 18—are the choreographers for the annual concert she produces at esteemed NYC venue New York Live Arts.

If that approach sounds borderline insane to you (we know you're all deep in the throes of recital season right now), consider Robbins' unique teaching philosophy: Improvisation is present in every aspect of class, for every age group. Here are four ways she shapes her youngest dancers into choreographers—almost without their realizing it!

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Teachers & Role Models
Former students of Kelley gather around a cardboard cutout made in his honor at the recent tribute. Photo courtesy of Merritt

Every dancer has a teacher who makes an impression. The kind of impression that makes you want to become a dancer or a teacher in the first place. For Mara Merritt, owner of Merritt Dance Center in Schenectady, NY, and countless others, that teacher was Charles Kelley.

Known as "Chuck" to most, Kelley was born December 4, 1936. He was a master teacher in tap, jazz and acrobatics, who wrote syllabuses for national dance conventions like Dance Masters of America. Growing up in upstate New York, Merritt's parents, both dance teachers, took her into Manhattan every Friday to study with Kelley. First at the old Ed Sullivan Theater and the New York Center of Dance in Times Square, then years later at Broadway Dance Center.

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