Featured Articles

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Dance

A conversation with Ballet Tech’s Eliot Feld

One day while sitting on the number 3 train crowded with elementary school children, choreographer Eliot Feld felt a wave of inspiration. There were thousands of New York City kids who could be capable of great talent and passion for dance, but they did not have the opportunity to study it. A year later, in 1978, Ballet Tech School opened its doors.

Feld, who played Baby John in the Broadway and film versions of West Side Story, and whose choreography has been performed by American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet, didn’t have a lot of experience working with kids. But the school was an immediate success. Today, more than 30,000 children, grades 4–8, audition for enrollment each year. Those who show promise are invited to join the school. From this group, dancers are selected to attend Feld’s tuition-free day program. In cooperation with the NYC Department of Education, Ballet Tech pairs a thorough academic curriculum with equally intensive dance training, housed on three floors of a building in lower Manhattan.

Dance Teacher spoke with Feld this winter as the pre-professional company of Ballet Tech, Kids Dance, rehearsed for its performance (June 13–16) at NYC’s Joyce Theater.

Dance Teacher: You’re quite a prolific choreographer—145 pieces since 1967. From where do you draw inspiration?

Eliot Feld: It’s a little bit mysterious to me, but certainly the music is a first stimulation. Whether it makes me want to dance or gives me an idea or a feeling or just confuses me. I’ve never thought of making a ballet without imagining particular dancers doing it. They just start to fuse in some way—the ideas, the feelings, the dancers. And then there’s the part of going into the room where everything you thought about may or may not be useful, because what ends up happening in rehearsals is a whole other reality. You want to follow what your choreographic instinct was, but on the other hand, you don’t want to be trapped in that.

Ballet Tech School marries academics and dance.

DT: What’s the biggest difference in working with adults versus kids?

EF: It’s interesting working with the children, because it’s very much the same as working with adults. Every dance has its particular rigors—what looks good on the dancer, what the feeling is, what the technical limitations are. But the children actually get way, way better very, very quickly. They’re developing neurologically and everything’s changing, forming and making new synapses. Two or three months after you start, you’re dealing with better dancers—more accomplished, more capable and more understanding.

DT: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned from teaching children?

EF: That a school is only as good as the quality of its student body. There’s a lot of excellent teaching out there, but when it falls on deaf ears, it has no value. You can teach technique, and you can try to instruct sensibility, but you cannot actually teach the feeling of making melody in space. That’s a gift that the dancer brings.

DT: Do your dancers get to voice their choreographic suggestions?

EF: Well, all dancers get input, because when it doesn’t look good on them,

it doesn’t get into the ballet. So it’s really simple: They are the final arbiters of what you see in the ballet. They may not have made the steps, but they’ve gotten rid of all the steps that weren’t working. Everybody thinks the choreographer has all the power, but the choreographer’s thinking, “Boy, I’m really at the mercies of these dancers.” DT

Photos from top: by Bruce Weber; by Lois Greenfield, courtesy of Ballet Tech School

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.

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less
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!

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored