Driving music for modern and contemporary dance

In Larry Keigwin’s Megalopolis, dancers in shiny biketards repeat isolated arm patterns as they enter and exit from the wings. At first, the music is Steve Reich’s looping marimba melodies, but soon the pulsing beat of M.I.A. booms through the speakers. It transforms the work into a sort of modern dance rave, flashing lights and all. “The direction a piece goes can come from anything, even a piece of music or a particular dancer,” says Keigwin, whose Keigwin + Company turns 10 this fall. “When I made the piece at Juilliard, I set it to Reich, and one day a student suggested we try the dance to M.I.A. I lean on the dancers because they’re inside of the work.”

Keigwin often prefers recorded music because “there’s more room for trial and error” during the creation stage. At first, he looks for something with drive. “I need a catalyst to get us moving in the studio,” he says. Later though, he might throw that out and replace it with some opera or pop. “I’ve even heard music I like at bodegas and asked what was playing. Being an artist is about staying tuned in as an observer—even when you’re outside of the studio.” DT

Artist: Murcof

Album: Martes

“I really enjoy all the tracks on this album. There’s a lot of breathing room in the music to investigate movement qualities through improv. And it feels very modern dance. I like to play it at the beginning of class to set the tone.”

Artists: Yolanda Be Cool and DCUP

Song: “We No Speak Americano”

“It’s nice to use music in a foreign language because you don’t feel so attached to the lyrics and instead connect to the melody and rhythm.”

Artist: Philip Glass

Piece: “Mad Rush”

“I feel like I’m leaning further away from pop than I used to, so in class I like something quieter and melodic. This piece is about 14 minutes. It just rolls along and has an emotional undercurrent that I enjoy. It’s nice for a yoga warm-up or unison improv.”

Artist: Françoise Hardy

Song: “Le temps de l’amour”

“‘Le temps’ is another good foreign pick. I like using it for a study when we’re just creating movement and playing off it.”

Artist: Pat Benatar

Album: Ultimate Collection

“We create a very playful climate in the studio. Even if we’re working on something serious, we always throw in a sense of play and lightness. She brings the energy back up. Her music is great for a combo.”

Artist: Adam Crystal

Album: Final Dress

“Adam is a very versatile young composer whom I most recently collaborated with for a Vail International Dance Festival commission. He has such a range, from very classical to an Eastern feel.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.)

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How-To

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.

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