Teachers & Role Models

How Kenny Wormald Discovered What He Calls His "Fred Astaire with Sneakers" Style

Music has always been the driving force behind his dancing, Kenny says. Photo courtesy of Wormald

Following his undeniable excitement from attending a New Kids on the Block concert at age 6, Kenny Wormald's parents enrolled him at the Gold School in Brockton, Massachusetts. Since then, whether he's teaching at a NUVO or Break The Floor convention, running his new studio, Playground L.A., or performing on "Dancing with the Stars," it's fair to say that for the former Justin Timberlake dancer, the music has always been the driving force behind his dancing.


"I'll play the song over and over again, really studying the music, and then it's easier to pick out a snare, or a high-hat or a kick drum," he says, which helps create his dynamic choreography.

Photo courtesy of DTS

This attention to detail and the development of his unique smooth style was solidified in 2007. "Dancing with a live band on Justin's tour was the pinnacle for me," he says. "Since then I'm a huge fan and teacher of what I call the 'Fred Astaire with sneakers on' style." He defines this as a hybrid of the traditional hip-hop style and the street—less-perfect hip hop—plus incorporating all the technique he's had his whole life: tap, modern and jazz. Wormald's dedication to inspiring his students stems from the amazing teachers he grew up taking lessons from. "If I can just challenge one student to work harder, even for one day, that's what really motivates me," he says.

Kenny's latest project is his new studio in West Hollywood, Playground L.A. Photo by Hedi Slimane

With so much music to choose from today, whether it's for a convention class or choreography, he credits Spotify as an invaluable music source. "I have access to almost any song and a lot of new artists," he says. When picking music for convention classes, the song is vital. "There's sometimes 400 to 500 kids in a room, and if they're not motivated by the song, it's hard to get students to attack the choreography the way I want them to. I love when the whole room connects."

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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