Creating genre-defying dance

Dendy (top) and his cast in Dystopian DIstractions!

Most choreographers try to avoid repeating themselves with each new piece, but Mark Dendy might have the market cornered when it comes to reinvention. Dendy, who formed his own company in 1983, has choreographed experimental dance theater works, Broadway shows, site-specific works with huge casts, operas and even ballets. For his newest piece, Dystopian Distractions!, which premiered in Santa Barbara in April—after a luxurious, monthlong residency with Dianne Vapnek’s DANCEworks—he borrowed from nearly every genre. “I had girls doing a Rockette kickline; I had whole structures that were improvised; I had a Graham parody, some show business parody, some postmodern things, video projection and a lot of props,” says Dendy. “I enjoy mixing it all. I’m definitely not a purist.” He enjoys varying his cast size and backdrop, too. Last summer, Dendy created Ritual Cyclical for the Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival in New York, with an 80-member cast and the plaza of Lincoln Center as his set.

Dendy anchors himself in his commitment to teaching and sharing with young artists. “Whatever I’m working on at the time is what I’m teaching, in technique or improv or composition or repertory,” he says. “I always say that the revolution of modern dance was forged in the university system. It makes sense to keep that legacy going.” A regular on the Bates Dance Festival faculty, Dendy will teach composition and create a new work on festival participants this summer, July 19–August 10, in Lewiston, Maine. —Rachel Rizzuto

What makes Bates different “It’s a little more laid-back. Everyone is together: You eat in the same cafeteria, so the students get to be with the teachers a lot more. You’re talking about and sharing dance. Every time I go there, I put my emphasis on repertory and improvisation and composition.”

How he choreographs for big groups “You do it with assistance and lots of preparation. I have six company members, and each one is assigned a different section and a different group of dancers. I spend a lot of time researching the sites and spending time in the sites, and I go in with a lot of the material already made. It’s not like you can just go in and have your creative time there in front of 80 people, because you would lose them.”

His dance foundation “I went to Martha Graham, because I knew she was old, and I wanted to be around her before she died, to soak that in. I took away from Graham a certain amount of discipline and the core. Some of my work has a loose narrative to it, and hers certainly did. Theatricality is present. I get that from her, too.” DT


Training: BFA from University of North Carolina School of the Arts; studied at the Martha Graham School and the school of the Nikolais-Louis Foundation

Performance: The Martha Graham Ensemble and in the companies of Jane Comfort, Pooh Kaye and Ruby Shang

Choreography: Founded Mark Dendy Projects in 1983; choreographed the Broadway production of Taboo and the off-Broadway production of The Wild Party; created large-scale site-specific works for the American Dance Festival and Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival in 2013

Photo by David Bazemore, courtesy of the photographer

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.

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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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