Electronic beats for contemporary and modern dance class

Amy O'Neal spent her junior high school nights sneaking out of her house in Turkey to go to nightclubs. After her dad's military work abroad, her family moved to Texas, where she became serious about dance training. "When I was 16, I saw Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham and Donald Byrd, and it just blew my mind," she says. "I wanted to know everything about that world."

For 11 years, O'Neal, who has her own company, AmyO/tinyrage, has been teaching open classes at Seattle's Velocity Dance Center. Her contemporary technique attracts advanced students and professionals and her less conventional classes, Bottom Heavy Funk and The How, are rooted in improvisation and movement quality analysis. O'Neal also co-directs Young Choreographer's Lab, a program run by the Seattle Theatre Group, which gives dancers ages 14 to 20 an opportunity to compose work under her supervision.

In class, O'Neal's movement fuses modern dance and ballet lines with hip-hop flair. She begins with a "tune-up sequence" that stabilizes the pelvis and warms up the core. This prepares the body with the support it needs for stability and longevity. "As dancers, we're so hardcore that we just accept certain amounts of pain," she says. "It doesn't have to be that way. We can be healthy and do amazing things." DT

 

Artist: dBridge and Instra:mental

Album: Fabriclive.50

"It's hard to find an electronic album for my warm-up with beats or emotional qualities that aren't overbearing. This creates a subtle momentum and focused vibe."

 

Artist: PotatoFinger

Album: Upkeep

"This is a Seattle artist I'm really inspired by. He can do everything and makes each composition so unique. I play this whole album in the middle of class as we warm up our feet and legs."

 

Artist: B. Dolan

Album: Fallen House, Sunken City

"I like this for the same reasons I love dBridge and Instra:mental. I'll play the whole album because it takes us on a great ride."

 

Artist: Phaeleh

Album: Afterglo

"This isn't the dubstep you hear high school boys geeking out to. It's subtle and much smoother. I like the mood it creates. Its beat structure is predictable enough, but I've found that there are ways to use it that are very unexpected. When dubstep is done really well, it surprises me."

 

Artist: M83

Song: "Midnight City"

"This song is catchy and the tempo is moderate enough that there's space to really play with the rhythm of it. And there's this awesome saxophone solo at the end that makes everybody chuckle. It's a song that everyone has a fun time with. I've been using this for the choreography portion of class."

 

Photo by Gabriel Bienczycki, courtesy of Amy O'Neal

How-To

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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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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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.

Next Page
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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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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