Seen & Heard At the Dance Teacher Summit
Dance Teacher Summit faculty member Ray Leeper gives all of his energy when he teaches, and he expects the same from students. The 25-year convention circuit veteran is known for drawing powerful, full-out performances from hundreds of dancers at once during his jazz classes at NUVO, JUMP and Tremaine Dance Conventions. Leeper gave us a preview of what to expect in class at next month’s Dance Teacher Summit.
Dance Teacher: How do you get dancers to really attack their movement?
Ray Leeper: To be a dynamic teacher, you have to be not only consistent but also very vocal. You have to be persistent about asking for what you want. And when you see dancers executing with more attack, offer positive feedback and then ask for more. It’s about using your voice when you teach, and getting underneath their heels and chasing them around the room! You watch coaches in gymnastics or football, and it’s the same thing in dance. You have to have a lot of energy. It’s required. And the payoff is worth it. Your students expect you to be consistent with them. It’s just like parenting.
DT: How do you change your approach to cater to dance educators?
RL: You teach a student how to execute, but I show teachers how to teach the choreography as well as to execute. We stop and examine things more closely, so we spend much more time on eight-counts than I normally would. It’s more about exact details than anything else. There’s more breaking down and explaining, so they can take what they learn back to the studio.
DT: How do you approach a student who’s having an off day?
RL: When you’re not getting what you want from a student, don’t take it personally. Not every student is going to feel like dancing every single day. And if that’s the case, we as teachers have to try to dig them out of that negative place, instead of blaming them or getting angry that they’re not as on as they usually are.
I’ll say, “Hey, are you having a bad day?” I just try to be honest with the student. And if he says it hasn’t been the best, I tell him, “Let’s just try to get through it. Tomorrow’s a new day.” And usually, once you acknowledge it, the student ends up doing well, anyway. The space just kind of opens up and it ends up being OK.
Being resistant to a dancer who walks into the room isn’t healthy. As an adult leader and educator, I have to figure out what I can do to motivate them, despite what is going on in their lives outside of class. —Andrea Marks
Photos courtesy of Break the Floor Productions
Starting this Saturday, the Children's Museum of Manhattan on the Upper West Side will have an interactive dance exhibit called "Let's Dance!" Basically every facet of dance is featured in the exhibit: kids can explore lighting design with a special child-friendly lighting box; choreograph with the use of props, signs and costumes; create accompaniment with percussion instruments; manipulate posable figures; see incredible dance photography and video; and, best of all, interact with the dance portal, where they can watch, learn and interact with professional and student dance companies like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dancing Classrooms, Mark Morris Dance Group and Martha Graham Dance Company. Whew. That's a LOT of great stuff.
Kathleen Kelbe, Pembroke School of Performing Arts | Pembroke, MA
Total budget: $100,000
Project timeline: 3 months (ongoing)
Kelbe expanded from 1,600 to 6,000 square feet. She used Rosco's SubFloor and Adagio vinyl and broke her extensive renovation into three phases.
Ellen Marshall, Off Broadway Dance Center | Fulton, NY
Total budget: $60,000
Project timeline: 3 months
Marshall renovated a Methodist church into a 4,000-square-foot studio, with Stagestep Flooring Solutions' marbleized gray Timestep in her two studios.
Diana Griffin, Fusion Dance Company | Palm Harbor, FL
Total budget: $40,000
Project timeline: 45 days
From restaurant to studio! The checkerboard ceilings were a restaurant leftover that Griffin decided to keep. Her O'Mara sprung floors were self-installed in her 7,000-square-foot space.
Barclay Gibbs, Dance Conservatory of Maryland | Bel Air, MD
Total budget: $10,000
Project timeline: 2 days
Gibbs chose Gerstung Floor Systems' AirBase 600 for her 2,000-square-foot studio. This semi-permanent flooring will travel with her, should she change locations in the future.
Nigel Burgoine, Ballet Theatre of Toledo | Toledo, OH
Total budget: $4,000
Project timeline: 1 day
In her work as director of physical therapy for New York City Ballet, Marika Molnar relies on tools like bands, balls and Pilates equipment to rehabilitate and strengthen dancers. She says there's a place for such tools in daily dance classes, as well. Resistance and stability tools can help students develop strength and even break bad habits. "Say someone is compensating because of a weakness or restriction—that's what they're always going to do," she says, even after a teacher corrects them repeatedly. "If you give them something that makes things a little unfamiliar, their brain has to participate more. It becomes not only a physical exercise but a cognitive one." The dancer learns in a new way, and improves.
Molnar has collaborated with Pilates expert Joan Breibart and PTs at Westside Dance Physical Therapy to create a series of tools and exercises with dancers' training and recovery needs in mind. Here, she shares three of her favorites.
Christy Wolverton had a student who often either missed class or seemed to be sick. "When you're in our pre-professional company, attendance is huge," says Wolverton, owner and director of Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, Texas. She tried to be patient with the dancer and communicate with her parents to get a better idea of what was going on at home. "When she was diagnosed with a serious illness," she says, "we were relieved that we didn't come down on her for something that wasn't her fault."
Laura Glenn can still remember the excitement she felt watching the Limón Dance Company perform at Central Park in the summer of 1962. "I turned to the person next to me and whispered, 'He's going to be my teacher!'" she says. Two weeks later, she started as a Juilliard freshman, where she indeed studied under the legendary José Limón before joining his company in her second year.