Plumb Performing Arts Center dancers

Plumb Performing Arts Center

Scottsdale, AZ

In business since: 1987

Number of students enrolled: 400+

What is the secret to your studio’s success? It starts with the teachers I hire. On my faculty of 10, three performed in Broadway’s Movin’ Out under the direction of Twyla Tharp, and one is a Juilliard graduate. But when we can’t get through to the kids, I bring in master teachers and outside choreographers. Maybe we can’t explain a certain technique to the dancers, but someone else can. I bring in guest teachers for master classes four times a year. Lastly, we really push ballet. Our teen and senior competition dancers take a 90-minute ballet class six days a week.

Why do you take your dancers to competition? Traveling to competitions opened a whole new world for us. We tell our kids that it’s not about getting the
trophy or the title—it’s about growing and learning through the life lessons dance competitions provide. Our students know that they have to put in the work in order to see results, and competitions increase their desire to push further.

In the midst of competition season, how do you make sure the dancers are staying on track? March is tough because the dancers have been going, going, going. In the fall, every dancer sets a goal for competition season and writes it down on a piece of paper. Then we hang all the goals up in the studio and check on their progress every week. Some dancers write that they want to stretch daily, some want to rehearse their solos more and others hope to attend five auditions for college dance programs.

How do you handle the stress that arises during competition season? I take everything in stride, one day at a time. When I’m at an event, I focus on getting through one dance at a time. Back in the studio, I am reminded of how much I love the kids. If there’s something stressful going on, I’ll just sit and watch one of the classes. Seeing them makes it all worth it. Sometimes you just have to remind yourself that you’re not trying to cure cancer or win a nuclear arms race. You’re there to provide art, teach and inspire.

What is your advice to fellow studio owners who are headed to competition? Each routine needs a backup performer because you never know when someone will get sick or injured. Be well-rehearsed and come prepared for anything.

Photo: Plumb by ProPix Photo & Video, courtesy of Plumb Performing Arts Center

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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Photo courtesy of DM archives

"It's hard not to get too hurt in this profession."

Ann Reinking got real earlier this month at New York City Dance Alliance Foundation's Bright Lights Shining Stars gala. She was being honored as a 2017 NYCDA Foundation Ambassador for the Arts, and her speech was so moving that we had to share the entire thing with you.

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Photo by Grant Halverson, courtesy of ADF

As a soloist with William Forsythe's Ballet Frankfurt and later as his assistant, Elizabeth Corbett got to experience firsthand the groundbreaking choreographer's influence on contemporary ballet. "I find it fascinating and never-ending," she says of his work. "It was a repertory that was constantly changing over time and still is." Now on faculty with the American Dance Festival, Corbett brings Forsythe's repertory and processes to the dancers in class every summer.

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During seated stretches, I encourage my students to sit straight on their sits bones and then fold forward at the hips—even if they don't go forward very far. One student tells me that if she sits as I instruct, she can't reach forward at all. Why?
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Teachers & Role Models

In 2011, New York City–based choreographer Pedro Ruiz returned to Cuba after 21 years of dancing with Ballet Hispanico and more than 30 years being away. The experience was so moving that he created The Windows Project as a continuous cultural collaboration between American artists and Cuban dancers.

"I was so overwhelmed seeing all the dancers do Afro-Cuban dance with live music. It was the moment my soul reconnected to Cuba and to my roots," says Ruiz of his first trip back. "I started weeping." He saw that, while Cuban companies and schools have amazing knowledge and passion for dance, they needed access to train with teachers in a variety of techniques, and choreographers outside of Cuba. "Cuba is still struggling economically, so the dancers also don't have good ballet shoes or costumes, and The Windows Project was my way to begin to help," he says.

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Midway through every semester at Indiana University Bloomington, contemporary professor Stephanie Nugent notices that her students aren't quite as awake as they were the first week of classes. They're tired from midterm exams and bring less energy to the studio. Nugent, too, feels the lull. "Teaching in academia is an arc with many peaks and valleys," she says, noting that the repetition of exercises can get monotonous. "On days when it feels like we've been doing the same thing over and over, I give students an improvisational prompt, and it reignites all of our interests. It's something to investigate, rather than something to repeat."

Most teachers experience a moment of stagnation at some point. Maybe students aren't progressing as fast as you feel they should, or you feel uninspired by the daily routine. Factors outside the studio, like administrative work, can also deplete your energy reserves. During these low and slow times, consider the following ideas to find inspiration and give yourself—and your students—a boost.

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Teachers & Role Models
Photo by Jennifer Zmuda, courtesy of BalletMet

Long before switching from ballet to Broadway became de rigueur, Edwaard Liang shocked everyone by leaving New York City Ballet to join the Broadway cast of the musical Fosse. Eleven years later, he defied expectations again by taking over as BalletMet's artistic director—without putting his robust freelance choreography career on hold. Liang, it seems, doesn't pay much heed to the conventional approach to a dance career.

In his four years with BalletMet, Liang has sought to challenge his dancers with diverse repertory that goes far beyond the typical confines of classical and contemporary ballet. This month, to celebrate BalletMet's 40th anniversary, the company teamed up with Ohio State University's dance department and the Wexner Center for the Arts to offer a smorgasbord of dance styles: from William Forsythe's singular brand of leggy-brainy dance to Ohad Naharin's exuberant Minus 16, performed alongside OSU dance students. Here, he talks to DT about the effect his choices have had on his career.

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