Additional Guides and Resource

Peter Chu

Music for contemporary dance

Peter Chu’s career has been so demanding that until recently, he hadn’t had a permanent address in more than five years. He was living on the road, with his belongings in a storage facility that he would return to between gigs: teaching at 24 Seven Dance Convention, choreographing for several companies and “So You Think You Can Dance,” directing his own troupe, chuthis., and dancing in Crystal Pite’s Kidd Pivot.

What keeps him calm amid all the chaos is improvisation. “I’m not a master, but I’m really passionate about it,” says Chu, whose ultra-fluid style nearly masks its tricky athleticism. “Getting into the studio and giving myself tasks like putting a phrase on the floor or moving from just the head or the elbow has helped me find my own groove. It’s about finding a different flavor. Even the kind of improv where I go out and groove at a club helps me figure out who Peter Chu is.” DT

Artist: Johann Johannsson

Work: Virthulegu Forsetar, Part 1

“This sets the tone for my class. There’s a real weightlessness to it, with enough space in the music to focus on breath control and simplicity of movement. Its liquid-like quality helps you move from the bone, not the muscle, which is healthier for the body.”

Artist: Woodkid

Song: “Baltimore’s Fireflies”

“I use this to guide improvisational jams and warm-ups. It has a natural and beautiful build, and a colorful tone that makes it so powerful.”

Artist: Jamie Woon

Album: Mirrorwriting

“I use this entire album to create movement phrases. It helps me be free and explore different ways of moving. It has a calm R&B flavor. His voice is so soulful that it resonates and vibrates.”

Artist: Esquivel

Album: The Best Of

“My imagination runs free when I listen to his quirky style. I love his attention to detail and wide range of instrumental combinations. It’s so rich. There are many rhythms to choose from, and his music never fails to bring me back to 1950s Las Vegas.”

Artist: Marvin Gaye

Song: “What’s Going On”

“Every time I hear his music I stop everything I’m doing and just move—I can live inside it. It’s rich, colorful and honest. And it reminds me of why I dance, bringing me back to the core of my movement style.”

Photo by Levi Walker, courtesy of Laura Murray Public Relations

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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