Electronic music for advanced students new to contemporary improvisation

Bell leading an improvisation at the Movement Invention Project

Watching Sidra Bell’s work is like entering a mysterious couture circus. Her strikingly costumed dancers isolate body parts like puppets within her highly designed movement. But what appears complex actually stems from clarity. “Simple movement really shows who a dancer is and allows it to speak to many different kinds of people,” says Bell, who sets work on college and high school dancers across the U.S. as artistic director of Sidra Bell Dance New York.

Most of her work is created using aspects of improvisation—a heavy focus in her classes in New York at Peridance Capezio Center, the Joffrey Ballet School and the Movement Invention Project. “Improvisation is really just an exploration further connecting you to dance,” says Bell, who trained at the Dance Theatre of Harlem School, The Ailey School and Purchase College. “I want my students to find something new about their dancing that they can take away and apply to other work.”

Though they’re technically advanced, many of her students in these pre-professional programs have little experience with improv, so for Bell, the simpler, the better. “Dancers tend to want to make ‘the best thing ever,’ so I give them a task. If it’s about keeping a point connected to another person, then it’s literally just about that,” she says, suggesting that newcomers break down the body into separate explorations. “Improvisation isn’t about making a masterpiece. It’s about understanding yourself and becoming content with who you are.” DT

 

Artist: Senking

Album: List

“This is simultaneously ambient and rhythmic. I use music as a stimulant and never turn it off, so that it becomes an environment to support the dance instead of us dancing to it. Sometimes we’re responding to the audio and sometimes we’re not.”

Artist: The Knife

“My class usually parallels what’s happening in rehearsals with my company. This is provocative and a bit avant-garde. It’s really fun and very dance-driven. I’m always looking for new ways to respond to music. New music inspires new movement invention.”

Artist: Boards of Canada

“This is probably the quirkiest of these music suggestions. I was really into it when I first delved into electronic music. It has lyrics, but it’s not as pop-driven and it brings out a theatrical quality. I like things that feel very cinematic and theatrical.”

Artist: Slugabed

“This has a dirty, grimy, almost hip-hop–inspired feeling, and it really evokes different movement qualities from the dancers. I use this toward the end of class to drive the work a bit more. It has more direction than the music we use earlier, making the dancers hit the movement a little harder and become more grounded.”

 

Photo: Bell leading an improvisation at the Movement Invention Project, by Jubal Battisti, courtesy of the Movement Invention Project

Photo by Tim Trumble, courtesy of Arizona State University

Many parents discourage their teenagers from majoring in dance because of fear that their child will become a struggling artist in an unforgiving city, only to end their career in injury. But a dance degree can lead to other corners of the profession, such as marketing, physical therapy and arts administration. "Parents always say their children need something to fall back on," says Daniel Lewis, former dean of the dance division at New World School of the Arts. "They only see the stage time, applause and flowers. But there's choreographing, teaching, PR—the careers are endless."

Others are more concerned with disappointment. "Your daughter doesn't have to be a major ballerina with ABT to be successful," says Lewis. "If she wants to be a dancer, she'll find the work. There's a certain amount of training you have to achieve before you even get accepted into a good college, so if you have the talent, and the drive, you can make it."

As mentors, teachers can be monumentally influential on students' college decision processes. Read on to hear from three dance majors who feel grateful they chose this path—and share their words with your students!

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To show her support for local studios, Kelly Berick requires all her students to be enrolled in an after-school program. Photo by Stephanie Csejtey, courtesy of Akron School of the Arts

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Robert Roldan and partner Taylor Sieve (courtesy of FOX)

Robert Roldan may have stolen our hearts on Season 7 of "So You Think You Can Dance"—but it seems his heart was stolen long before that by none other than Emmy Award winning choreographer, Mandy Moore.

As his first jazz teacher at Bobby's School of Performing Arts in Thousand Oaks California, Roldan says Moore taught him everything he knows about dancing. Now, as an All-Star on this season of "So You Think You Can Dance," he's applying those invaluable lessons with partner Taylor Sieve.

"What Mandy has always taught me, is that you need to feel the emotion and intention of the pieces you perform as a human before you can apply it to your dancing. Because of this, the week that Taylor and I performed Mandy's piece, I used the entire two hours of private rehearsal time we had to talk about what the piece was about and how we could connect to it as humans. I believe that doing this was ultimately more valuable than any time we could have spent cleaning details and making the piece perfect. Mandy taught me this at a young age, and I try to apply it to Taylor as much as I possibly can when I teach her. People won't connect to how high your leg is or what crazy tricks you can do. They want to feel something. And when you feel it, they feel it."

Watch Roldan on "So You Think You Can Dance" tonight on FOX.

Teachers & Role Models
Camille Rommett, left, with her mother Zena, who founded the floor-barre method. Photo courtesy of Rommett.

In 1965, Zena Rommett was asked to teach her unique Floor-Barre method at the American Ballet Center by ballet legend Robert Joffrey. Her gentle-yet-effective technique inspired countless professional dancers over the years, who became faithful followers as a supplement to their dance training. From choreographer Lar Lubovitch to Tommy Tune, Patrick Swayze and Judith Jamison, many swear by the benefits of the technique. Rommett taught it until she was 90.

The summer after Rommett's death, her daughter Camille made her debut on the faculty of our Dance Teacher Summit. She describes teaching to a packed convention room as "a very humbling experience." Despite students often telling her she sounds similar to her mother, she's learned it's not about filling her mother's shoes, but keeping her mother's legacy—and the integrity of the technique—alive.

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Thinkstock

I have heard you say that tight hamstrings prevent full extension of the knees and that you prefer hamstring stretches in a standing position, rather than on the floor. Can you explain why?

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Photo by Julieta Cervantes

In February 2016, we featured the women of Ragamala Dance, the Minneapolis-based bharatanatyam company founded by mother-and-daughter team Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy. (Daughter Ashwini is a dancer in the company and the troupe's publicist.) Since they appeared on our cover, they've had a busy year and a half, full of performances and exciting news. This weekend, they're featuring their mentor, Alarmél Valli, in a special performance at The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts in Minneapolis.

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