Jodi Moccia's 8:30 am floor-barre class is filled with a mishmash of early risers—young and old, varying physiques, dancers and nondancers alike. We're sitting on the floor with legs stretched long and feet flexed, rotating from parallel to first position. “Only from the hips, not at all from the ankles and feet," she says, leaning in close to watch that I don't pronate. I return to parallel to start over, slowly rotating from the hips without letting anything below them react. Upon correction, my turnout goes from a deceitful 180 degrees to about 120, the position she says I should be standing in at the barre.

As a dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Moccia was introduced to Zena Rommett Floor-Barre by Judith Jamison, who gathered a group of AAADT dancers to take class. “It was immediately clear that Zena was magic," says Moccia about that first experience. “After I got up from the floor my brain was calm, my base was strong and I was ready to dance."

That's because Rommett's method, with certified alumni here and abroad and at schools like New York University Steinhardt and University of Wisconsin–Madison, is about getting back to the basics. “Everything in the curriculum is based on ballet. What you do at the barre is transferred to the floor," says Camille Rommett, who took leadership of her mother's Zena Rommett Floor-Barre Foundation after her death in 2010. “Zena noticed that the minute she put people to work on the floor she could see where they needed corrections in their joints and alignment."

Transferring ballet to the floor provides anatomical support. For instance, dancers can benefit from a développé while lying down, which allows them to focus on the standing leg, taking stress off the upper body. It also encourages using the inner thigh instead of hiking from the hip flexor. And since it's not weight-bearing, floor barre is a great technique-oriented solution during injury.

The work also pulls the ego and competition out of training. These are sometimes healthy, but can lead to injury. “Not standing in front of the mirror takes away the visual stimulation," says Moccia. “Suddenly it's not about who can get their leg up the highest, but 'What muscles am I using?'"

Jodi Moccia attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Upon graduation, she studied at The Ailey School and eventually joined Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (1974–1979). She went on to dance in Bob Fosse's Dancin' and became associate choreographer for Miss Saigon on Broadway. In 2006, she was certified in Zena Rommett Floor-Barre, which she teaches at Dance New Amsterdam and Steps on Broadway.

Meredith Fages dances with Heidi Latsky Dance, Steeledance and Motley Dance in New York City. She has been studying with Moccia for two years.

This Zena Rommett Floor-Barre exercise helps students activate the core and supports correct alignment. It also works on leg extension and hip rotation, without overworking the hip flexors.

photography by Kyle Froman

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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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.

Next Page
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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