E-News: Lula Washington's Avatar Experience

Lula Washington, director, teacher and owner of the Lula Washington Dance School in Los Angeles CA, recently choreographed for the Oscar-nominated film, Avatar. For the film, director James Cameron asked Washington to create a movement vocabulary specific to the Na'vi people in the film, and choreograph ritual dances that reflected their society. "A lot of my work has to do with themes and issues that are emotionally connected to a culture," says Washington, "so in that sense, it wasn't very different from what I usually do." Washington spoke to DT about her experience on set and how Avatar has affected life at her studio.


What was the process like?

 Members of my company (Lula Washington Dance Theatre) and I wore motion-capturing outfits, so every pulse and gesture could be picked up by computers. When we first arrived on set, we experimented with some movements in the outfits so James Cameron could see my ideas. Every 3 to 5 minutes as they were filming, someone would yell, "Cut." I didn't know what was going on! Later, we learned the computers weren't able to process all the movement. They had to rework their computer systems--so we were instrumental in helping the crew figure out some technical problems early on, rather than later.


What have you brought back to your students?

 After this experience, I talk to my students about being flexible and ready to work at any moment. My dancers and students know they need to be dependable. We also discuss the importance of being focused and paying attention, as in the film industry, there are no excuses for not doing your job.


Are you excited for the Oscars?
Yeah! We were very blessed. I'm just really glad and overwhelmed at the fact that we were part of such an amazing project that is changing the face of film.


--Rachel Zar


Photo by Frances Dowdy courtesy Lula Washington

Dancer Health

The Feldenkrais Method is a somatic technique created by Moshe Feldenkrais in the 1950s. The method has two parts: hands-on sessions with a Feldenkrais teacher (Functional Integration) or group classes comprised of verbal cues (Awareness Through Movement).

Mary Armentrout, a dance teacher, choreographer and Feldenkrais practitioner, shares three ways that this somatic practice can bolster your students' training.

Keep reading... Show less
Your Studio

Oversexualizing young kids has been a hot topic among dance teachers in recent years. It's arguably the most controversial topic teachers and studio owners are faced with. Deciding which choreography, music or costumes are appropriate—or not—isn't always black and white and can be easily overlooked. Is showing the midriff too much for minis? Is this choreography too provocative? Is this popular song too suggestive for a competition piece? The questions can seem endless with no clear objective answers. Until now.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
To make dancers stronger and less injury-prone, Burns Wilson suggest adding floor barre or conditioning classes. Photo courtesy of Burns Wilson

With a career spanning 30-plus years in the dance field, Anneliese Burns Wilson has cultivated a unique perspective on health and injury prevention for dancers. From teaching ballet to teaching anatomy, she then founded ABC for Dance, which publishes dance-teaching materials. Now through research for her next book, which will focus on training the female adolescent dancer, she's delving even deeper into topics many dance teachers have overlooked.

Keep reading... Show less
Erdmann (left) on set for "Hairspray Live" (courtesy of Erdmann)

When Wicked ensemble member Kelli Erdman was training at Westlake Dance Center in Seattle, Washington, her teacher Kirsten Cooper taught her that focussed transitions would be pivotal to her success as a dancer. Now as a professional, she applies this advice to her daily performances, asserting that she will never let the details of her dancing get blurry.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models
Khobdeh dancing Taylor's Speaking In Tongues. Photo courtesy of PTDC

For Parisa Khobdeh, music does more than set the tone for a piece—it's enabled her to connect with movement. And once she joined Paul Taylor Dance Company in 2003, Taylor's body of work deepened this connection. "His choreography showed me the music, the architecture and the space," she says. "I now see the music."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Buzz

We haven't been able to stop watching Lil' Mushroom since she popped and locked her way into Ellen's heart last week. We know you've got a long night of teaching ahead, and this is the dance inspiration you need to get you through. Check it out and tell us what you think about her killer moves over on our Facebook page! (She starts blowing minds at about 2:16.)

Keep reading... Show less

Because the chassé is often neglected during the execution of this traveling step, Judy Rice asks her students to do a minimum of a six-inch chassé before transitioning into the pas de bourrée. She encourages dancers to pay close attention to their shoulders and hips in effacé, too. "Kids tend to open it up. They look like they're fencing," she says. "You don't want that." Both shoulders and hip bones should be facing the corner.

Keep reading... Show less





Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!