How I teach musical theater jazz

"It’s time to hop on the isolation express,” Dana Moore calls out to students in her theater jazz class at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Standing in parallel first position with eyes facing forward, Moore’s head begins to alternate left, right, up and down. But it doesn’t stop there—before moving her shoulders, the veteran Fosse dancer has led the class through more than 10 variations of head isolations at multiple tempos. It’s this kind of specificity that Moore sees as the cornerstone of a successful performance career. “Of course you have to have technique, but if you really know your isolations, you have trained your body to do anything,” she says. “And not just for Fosse’s work. You can do anyone’s choreography.”

Moore certainly has the resumé to back up that thought: In addition to Bob Fosse, she’s worked with choreographers Tommy Tune, Michael Bennett and Twyla Tharp. Still, it’s Fosse whom she identifies as her biggest influence, and she feels a responsibility to pass his legacy to students. “I worked intimately with him and Gwen [Verdon] in rehearsals, and I feel confident that I’m the genuine article,” she says. “I can pass it on with as much authenticity as I know, and be true to what I understand is the intention of his movement.” Moore doesn’t teach his direct repertoire, yet her own choreographic style and class exercises are infused with Fosse’s vocabulary.

In class, the isolation drills follow a grueling 45-minute warm-up of stretching, conditioning, yoga, jazz and ballet-based exercises geared to developing a dancer’s sense of proper alignment and whole-body connection. “With younger students in particular, I’ve noticed a disconnect between the top of the body and the bottom,” she says. “The legs are doing it, and maybe the arms are doing it, but something in the core hasn’t been engaged.”

Sloppy isolations are clear signs that a student’s body is disconnected; it’s as great a challenge to keep the whole body still as it is to move one part individually. “There’s a step in Fosse’s ‘Big Spender,’ for instance, that has distinct pelvis and shoulder isolations, but the torso isn’t doing anything extra,” she says. “That specificity of the movement gets very murky if too many things are moving.”

Here, Moore demonstrates hip and pelvis isolations and shows how they can translate to a Fosse-style step:

A Pennsylvania native, Dana Moore trained with Doris Singer Kokoski before moving to New York City at 18. Moore performed in the original production of A Chorus Line, along with Singin’ in the Rain and The Will Rogers Follies, among many others. Her Fosse credits include Dancin’, revivals of Sweet Charity and Chicago, and the musical revue Fosse. She can be seen dancing on film in Fosse (a video performance of the Broadway show), The Producers and Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You. Now on faculty at Marymount Manhattan College and Steps on Broadway, Moore is also a frequent guest artist and teacher at The School at Jacob’s Pillow and in France and Finland.

Photo by Jim Lafferty

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