This year, take your show under the sea. Preballet students make adorable octopi. Tap students can be clams. Cast older dancers as mermaids in a lyrical number, or choose some jazzy tunes for a group of starfish. You'll find that the ocean is full of fresh ideas.  

 

Set the scene: — Standard under-the-sea fare can include a treasure chest brimming with gold bullion, an anchor, fishnets, starfish, coral and seaweed. Visit local prop and theatrical supply stores for an array of items for rent. Regional and even national companies also may have items available to ship. If you enjoy a sizable budget (and stage), commission a prop shop to create a sunken ship to substitute for a backdrop.

 

— You can build props yourself with papier-mâché. Enlist the help of your dancers and remind everyone to wear clothes that can get ruined. You’ll need newspaper, warm water, white glue and buckets. Mix one part water with two parts glue. Rip up the paper and saturate the pieces in the mixture. (They may shrink slightly after drying.) If you are making rocks, there will be no need to paint since the color will look like granite from the stage.

 

— An alternative to papier-mâché is multicolor fabric that drapes well, such as georgette. Lay the fabric over chairs or stools of varying heights along the back of the stage to create an uneven ocean floor and then pin or tape it down. — Prom and party supply stores are untapped resources for stage accessories. According to Scott Snyder, a prom business unit leader at Anderson’s Prom, it is not rare for dance companies or studios to order decorations, such as pink coral kits or sea castles. Many products are designed for prom photography, so they are large enough for stage.

 

— To add bubbles to your set, for instance, Anderson’s offers assemble-yourself balloon kits. Fill the clear or light blue balloons with helium, tie off and cut small holes through the balloon knots. String three or four balloons together by running a five-foot piece of fishing wire through the holes. Place them upstage or along the sides and anchor.

 

— Or, for the real deal, invest in a bubble machine, which you can cover with papier-mâché or fabric. Just be careful not to overuse or to place in an area of the stage where students will be dancing, as the floor may become slick. If you’re daring, point it toward the audience.  

 

Tune in: From familiar tunes to grand orchestral pieces, a few hours at your local music store will stir creativity. Here are some suggestions:

 

— For your ballerinas, check out “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship” from Scheherazade by Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov, “La Mer” by Claude Debussy and “Une Barque sur l’Ocean” by Maurice Ravel.

 

— Create a comical corps of hungry sharks to the theme from Jaws. The catchy “Under the Sea” tune from Disney’s The Little Mermaid makes a great finale. Other recognizable movie soundtracks include The Abyss, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Finding Nemo.

 

— “Ghosts of Cape Horn” by Gordon Lightfoot is a folksy throwback for a sailor number.

 

— “La Mer” by Charles Trenet makes a lovely pas de deux. You can also use the English version, “Beyond the Sea” by Jack Lawrence.  

 

Note: As with any recorded music, be sure you have the appropriate music license to avoid copyright infringement.

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.

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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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