In July 1999, Janet Eilber said she glanced at the the newspaper before putting on her glasses—see photo above—and exclaimed, “Who is that dancer doing a contraction on the front page?!” This was a very cute ending to a long, serious and Martha-Graham-style-dramatic evening, in which Eilber, artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, presented during the 2012 American Psychoanalytic Association’s National Meeting.

 

During the seminar, “Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Music: “Revealing the Inner Landscape”: Martha Graham and Dance,” Eilber gave a two-hour lecture on Martha Graham, her choreography and her approach to movement. I’m not exactly sure the purpose of the lecture—maybe it was solely to introduce Graham’s work to doctors, since she used one’s inner turmoil as the soul of her choreography. Graham created an entire vocabulary based on primal and raw movements of the torso, and her famous quote “Movement never lies” was Eilber’s attempted focus of discussion. This statement wasn’t revolutionary to the doctors; and it was a relief that their interest lied mainly in the current MGDC dancers’ preparation for challenging roles, instead of discussing Graham’s minimal role in movement therapy.

 

Eilber included film clips and photographs of Graham, including rarely seen footage of her performing with Denishawn in Three Hopi Maidens (1926). While the lecture was pretty much a basic overview of Graham’s career and choreography, it was a HUGE plug for MGDC'S upcoming season at the Joyce Theater starting March 13. MGDC even held a ticket raffle during the seminar—which by the way is a great idea. Close to everyone in the room offered their business card for a chance to win tickets; now MGDC has their email addresses and contact info. (Do it at your next event to add names to your e-newsletters and recital ticket sales e-mails!)

 

 

A few interesting facts from the lecture:

 

--Martha’s father was an alienist—a psychiatrist specializing in the legal aspects of mental illness—and patients used to visit their house. This definitely aided her ideas of primal movement, and gave her fodder for the heavily dramatic scenes in her ballets, like in Deaths and Entrances.

 

--When Graham choreographed for the Greenwich Follies in the 1920s, she taught a neighborhood dance class. Bette Davis and Orson Wells (among other prominent actors of the day) attended her classes.

 

--Martha studied Pilates.

 

--In 1939, Erick Hawkins and Merce Cunningham became the first male dancers in the MGDC.

 


 

 

 

Are you teaching a proper Graham contraction? Click here and here to make sure.

 

 

 

(Picture of Brandi Chastain in contracted ecstasy after the US Women's Soccer Team defeated China in the 1999 World Cup.)

 

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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Panelists (left to right): Emily Nusbaum, Eric Kupers, Judith Smith, Deborah Karp and Suzanna Curtis. Photo by Aiano Nakagawa, courtesy of Luna Dance Institute

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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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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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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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