small_DT_GRAHAM-111Though cross-training has become a necessity for aspiring dancers, it wasn’t always common for modern dance companies to embrace classical ballet training. “There was a big change in the ’70s when my generation joined the company, and we came in with ballet training,” says Peggy Lyman Hayes, former principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company who is now a master teacher at the school. “The basis of the technique didn’t change, but the bodies that performed it were different; more elongated with nice feet and turnout. Martha was thrilled—she loved having our legs up in the air.”

Today, the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance offers both ballet and Pilates classes, in addition to Graham technique. Lyman Hayes also travels the globe as régisseur for the company, setting Graham’s work on professional ballet companies and university dance programs—many don’t offer Graham training. And while she sees the increase of cross-training as an advantage for performers’ versatility and artistry, her primary goal is to preserve both the integrity of Graham’s complex technique and the discipline it’s famous for.

“In other classes, students may wear their hair down or multiple layers of clothing,” she says. “But Graham is different, from the way you dress to the way you stand when a teacher enters the room. And you never marked in rehearsals with Martha.” Lyman Hayes is a stickler for purity, and when leading classes she often reminds dancers to keep movements precise and close to how she learned them from Graham during her time with the company. “One of my pet peeves is that the technique can get very decorated and affected,” she says. “You have to trust that the physical work is enough, without adding anything. Let your arms move as naturally as possible.”

Here, Lyman Hayes teaches a pitch turn, a step found in almost every Graham work from Clytemnestra to Appalachian Spring. While the shape looks similar to a penchée arabesque in ballet terminology, the contraction, release and spiral of its execution is indisputably Graham.

An Ohio native, Peggy Lyman Hayes joined the Martha Graham Dance Company in 1973, and before retiring as principal dancer in 1988, she performed many of the leading roles and solos of Graham’s repertoire, including the pas de deux of Acts of Light, Lamentation and Frontier. She has choreographed her own work for the Peggy Lyman Dance Company and in 1994 helped found the dance division of The Hartt School in Connecticut, where she was director from 2001 to 2004. Today, Lyman Hayes continues to work closely with the MGDC, traveling internationally as régisseur and teaching Graham technique and pedagogy at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. She received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from the University of Hartford in 2011.

Lucy Postell is an apprentice with the Martha Graham Dance Company.

 

Photo by Matthew Murphy

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.

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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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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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