How I teach Simonson

“Spirals are really only contractions and releases of the sides of the body.” —Laurie De Vito

When Laurie De Vito tells her class of intermediate-advanced Simonson technique students to “carve” through the space, to “really slice it, long and flat,” to “scoop” and “toss,” it’s almost as if she’s talking about preparing dinner. But maybe the analogy isn’t so far off: “My class should be a meal!” she says. “It should be a feast—that’s how good you should feel when you’re moving.”

Clearly, De Vito’s students recognize that feel-good quality—they’ve followed her from the now-defunct downtown dance hub Dance New Amsterdam in New York City (which she helped found with Simonson technique creator Lynn Simonson and which closed last fall after a long lease battle) to Steps on Broadway. It’s easy to see why her students took such a big changeover in stride: De Vito is something of a dance whisperer—she can apply only fingertips to part of a student’s body to produce a necessary change; she need only whisper in a student’s ear (“Think about lengthening your bones”) to create a shape. After class, students often turn to her for advice on injuries, for which she recommends helpful exercises or stretches.

Much of the trust her students place in her derives from De Vito’s complete familiarity with Simonson, an organic technique that trains dancers to understand the mechanics of their own bodies and find new freedoms within their anatomical range. A hallmark of this technique is a focus on alignment, with shoulders on top of hips and weight in the back third of the foot when standing in a parallel first. That “plumb line” of the spine, as De Vito refers to it, is a point of reference for students to return to throughout the entire class.

After discovering through her own choreographic ventures that she loved to move sequentially and in spirals, De Vito adapted the standard Simonson warm-up to reflect that. “The demi-plié series is the first place in the warm-up that I felt I could introduce spirals,” she explains. “It made sense to me—spirals are really only contractions and releases of the sides of the body.”

De Vito’s constant use of spirals also allows her to introduce the concept of negative space to her students, which keeps them from collapsing their torsos or crunching their lower backs and encourages them to engage their abdominal walls—all of which goes back to the Simonson-aligned body. Students new to De Vito and Simonson technique sometimes find themselves having to completely rethink the way their bodies are arranged in basic positions. But no one’s complaining: “There’s very little resistance to these changes,” says De Vito. “They’re excited to find something that will allow them to dance forever.”


Laurie De Vito moved to New York City as a teenager and began her training at The Ailey School. She stumbled into a Lynn Simonson class and was immediately hooked—six months later, she was subbing for Simonson. With her and three others, De Vito helped found the now-closed Dance New Amsterdam (formerly Dance Space), where she taught for 30 years. In the early 1990s, she formed Laurie De Vito & Dancers; she has self-produced eight seasons in NYC. She teaches at Steps on Broadway, Gibney Dance Center, Mark Morris Dance Center and Peridance Capezio Center.

Rachel Feinerman has danced for Laurie De Vito and taught at DNA for 15 years.


Photo by Kyle Froman

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!