DT Awards

Technique: Lifetime Achievement Honoree Bill Evans

How I teach modern dance

On a Wednesday morning in Brockport, NY, Bill Evans watches half of his advanced modern dance class perform a set movement phrase while the other half observes. As the students’ dance flows into improvisation, Evans calls out cues like “press, flick, float.” Afterward, the observers and performers pair up to reflect and discuss, and the cavernous studio (a former gymnasium) buzzes with their chatter.

This interaction is central to the class structure. It amplifies the students’ role in the learning process, says Evans, whose technique class is as much about self-discovery as it is about reproducing shapes. His Laban/Bartenieff-influenced method not only provides a solid foundation for movement but also helps dancers build the kind of confidence that is essential to their success as artists and educators.

Evans has influenced the dance field with his thoughtful approach over a long and fruitful career. He began performing professionally in 1963 with the Utah Theatre Ballet (now known as Ballet West), and he has danced and choreographed for Repertory Dance Theater, served as artistic director for Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers and started two companies of his own (a modern dance group and a rhythm tap ensemble). He is currently a visiting professor of dance at the State University of New York The College at Brockport, after more than 20 years on the faculty at the University of New Mexico. Teachers everywhere flock to his summer intensives. In August, Evans, who just turned 70, will accept the 2010 Dance Teacher Lifetime Achievement Award.

In six years, he has made an indelible mark at SUNY Brockport. All dance majors, for instance, study Bartenieff Fundamentals, which allows Evans to saturate his classes (including choreo-graphy, tap and pedagogy) with Laban principles and vocabulary. “I build my phrases to include a variety of directionalities, effort qualities and spatial relationships,” he says. “This makes students understand the deliciousness and value to dynamic dancing.”

Each student works with a buddy throughout the school year, and together they create artistic challenges and goals for self-improvement. “I encourage students to practice coaching each other in preparation for their own rehearsal processes,” he says. Students who learn only to reproduce phrases without this kind of analysis are less likely to apply the concepts to other techniques, and even less likely to find their own choreographic voices.

“My goal is to create an environment of trust, as well as a place of increased challenges,” he says. “Dancers learn they’re not threatened, and that they can take risks.”

Here, see excerpts from Evans' class and watch him and graduate student Kathy Diehl demonstrate an under-curve exercise. It stresses weight-shifting and directional changes—concepts that can also be applied to other types of dance, including jazz and ballet.

ABOUT THE LESSON:

Under-curve: Shifting of weight from one leg to another while dropping the pelvis lower in the center of the curve. The under-curve is a basic movement, especially central to modern technique.

Inversion: Moving the body upside down in space while bearing weight with your arms, hands, shoulders or head.

“I include both under-curves and inversions in this pattern to help dancers get the hang of shifting weight smoothly in every direction,

as well as upside-down.

“Much of contemporary choreography requires dancers to be able to move through inverted positions safely and confidently. Often, a young dancer will dive into a handstand, keeping her torso in a fixed line, stressing her lower back over time. Instead, she should practice sequentially folding each vertebra and sliding her arms forward, easing into the inversion to aid her spine’s shock absorption.” —Bill Evans

TIP: Let the movement ride the breath, creating an organic acceleration and deceleration that guides each curve.

---

Bill Evans is the artistic director of the Bill Evans Dance Company (founded in 1975) and the Bill Evans Rhythm Tap Ensemble (1992). As a visiting professor and the undergraduate program director of the dance department at the State University of New York at Brockport, he teaches modern dance technique, rhythm tap, Laban Movement Analysis/Bartenieff Fundamentals, dance kinesiology, improvisation, choreography and pedagogy. Certified as a Laban Movement Analyst with both LIMS and IMS, Evans is also a distinguished professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico and has served on the board of the American College Dance Festival and National Dance Association. He was resident choreographer for Utah’s Repertory Dance Theater (1967–74) and artistic director and choreographer for Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers (1983–85). He directs the annual Bill Evans Dance Teachers Intensives and Evans Technique Certification Program.

Kathy Diehl graduated with an MFA from SUNY Brockport this past May. In April 2010, she performed with the Bill Evans Dance Company to celebrate Evans’ 70th birthday.

 

Photograph by Kevin Colton at SUNY College at Brockport  

PC Break the Floor

Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.

"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."



The Boy Factor doesn't just have to do with competition scores: It's how we treat boys throughout their dance education. "We idolize the boys," says Ashley Harnish, a teacher at a competition studio. "We build entire dances around one boy, and we teach them that we need them more than we need the girls."

On the surface, The Boy Factor is flagrant sexism. But what's really behind the phenomenon? "So often, young male dancers are bullied because our culture says that dance is for girls," says a second national competition adjudicator. "This stigma pushes some judges to reward boys by scoring them higher than their female competitors." The Boy Factor also stems from a simple fact: There are far more girls than boys in the dance world.

"Judges see boys as valuable commodities," says Marissa Jean, a staff member at Broadway Dance Center's new building for children and teens and a teacher at several competition studios. "To encourage their career in dance, judges will throw a little extra their way. It could be placing them in the top ten or giving them a special award. They nurture them a bit more than the girls."



But by trying to retain more male talent, are we suggesting to girls that they are less valuable to the dance world than boys? "There's so much about this getting into these kids' psyches," says Childress. "Like, 'Oh the boy will beat me no matter what.' How do we teach self-worth knowing that you're going up against a boy, so what's the point?"

The Boy Factor is a product of and a contributor to the culture that sends the few men in dance up the glass escalator: "Many boys growing up in the dance world are not told the word 'no' often, so they tend to climb the professional ranks more quickly than the women," says Jean. We often bemoan the absence of female leadership in dance, but the damage is already done if we've taught young women that their gender determines their value to our community.

So what can be done about The Boy Factor? First, we could change how we encourage boys to continue dancing. Instead of empowering young men by devaluing young women, we could work as a community to dispel the culture of toxic masculinity that discourages boys from pursuing dance in the first place.

But it also falls in the hands of judges and teachers. "We need to increase awareness," says the second adjudicator. "A lot of us judges don't realize what we are promoting and the messages we send through our scoring and awards. If enough of us band together, I think we can make a difference so that this part of our field is less toxic."

Thinkstock

Q: Do you have any advice for how to clean competition pieces?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Buzz
Kenedy Kallas (via Instagram)

Every true dancer knows just how valuable a perfectly arched foot that curves effortlessly from the ankle to the end of the toes is to a performance. In fact, it's so important, it seems we've all taken an unofficial pact to spend inordinate amounts of time stretching our feet with ominous looking contraptions that cause us severe pain. We are completely crazy! With good reason, but crazy, nonetheless.

In order to keep us all inspired to stretch our toes until they are drool-worthy, DT compiled a list of five dancers whose feet we have a very real crush on. Honestly, these guys should get their toes insured! Truly, they are perfect.

Check 'em out!

Keep reading... Show less
Thinkstock

Q: After running my studio six days a week for 20 years, it's time for me to delegate. How can I transition into a shared-workload system with my teachers?

Keep reading... Show less
How-To
Thinkstock

Students need strong feet for pointe work, but few concentrate on their toes specifically. "Fatigue sets in and they start knuckling," says Atlanta Ballet podiatrist Dr. Frank Sinkoe. This puts excess pressure on the nails, causing bruising. The exercises below strengthen the arch and intrinsic muscles, which flex the toes and support the feet.

Keep reading... Show less
Your Studio
What are your non-negotiables? Share on Dance Teacher's Facebook page.

It could be argued that half the battle of owning a dance studio is getting people to follow the rules. To ensure your business will run like a well-oiled machine, it helps to have clear expectations in place for students and their families—and, most important, to make sure everyone knows them from day one. Of course, every school is unique, and behavior that may be acceptable to you might be out of the question for someone else. "There are so many studios out there," says Dana McGuire, a studio co-owner in North Kansas City, Missouri. "Know and stand by what you're about." Here, four seasoned studio directors discuss the issues they consider non-negotiable.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

I have a student who's going through a growth spurt, and I'm wondering what advice I should give her. Is there anything you recommend?

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored