At the Kehl School of Dance in Madison, Wisconsin, children and adults who use wheelchairs or crutches can enjoy real ballet classes—sitting down. Teacher Jo Matzner came up with the idea after being sick and unable to take regular classes for nearly two years. "Everyone should dance if they want to," she told a local news station. "It's just taking our normal classes a step further."
Seated on cubes or in wheelchairs, dancers take barre, performing port de bras, cambres and other upper-body movements from a typical class. They also do some exercises with their arms that standing dancers do with their legs, including tendus, dégagés and développés.
In the adult classes, where all dancers have wheelchair experience, students perform center exercises and move across the floor. Matzner says they are working on spotting turns in their chairs, too. For the children, however, she’s had to be more adaptable, because dancers’ physical capabilities vary and not all of them know how to operate a wheelchair. For now, she focuses on building young students’ core strength during barre and center exercises. Beyond that, she says, “I’m still trying to decide what I’m going to do. But it seems to be really exciting for everyone who’s participated.”
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You can take the dancer out of Balanchine, but you can't take the Balanchine out of the dancer—or at least, that's Darla Hoover's experience. As artistic director of Ballet Academy East's pre-professional division, following an 11-year career with New York City Ballet, she readily recognizes that aspects of her class—the speed, clarity, musicality and energy—are inarguably Balanchinian. But she was surprised to find she also takes after the late, great choreographer when it comes to classroom demeanor: "Just like Mr. Balanchine would say, I'll tell my students, 'Great! That was so much better.' They'll think, 'Oh, thank goodness,'" she says. "And then I'll turn around and say, 'More. Do it bigger.' That was always him—it was never enough." That constant quest for perfection will be on display this month, when the BAE students perform Balanchine's Donizetti Variations, a cheery but technically challenging 26-minute ballet, in their spring recital, May 19–21 at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College in NYC.
Should your music go out or skip—and it will, every director attests—make sure you have backups ready, whether digital or on a separate device. Always give your dancers the chance at a do-over, too, says Carole Royal. "We'll either replay the music right then—have them leave the stage and come on and do it again from the beginning—or we'll wait two numbers while we get it set up and then have them come back and do it again," she says.
Tony Waag knows from experience that your audience will be relieved by a fresh start. While on tour singing with a big band for a Hoagy Carmichael music show, Waag started singing and realized that his mic wasn't on. "I raised my hands and got the whole orchestra to stop playing. I said, 'We're going to try this again,'" he says. "It was such a relief—people get really uncomfortable if you pretend that nothing is going on."
Carole Royal, owner, Royal Dance Works, Phoenix, Arizona
Tony Waag, American Tap Dance Foundation, New York, New York
This Sunday, master ballet teacher Finis Jhung turns 80. After a career as a soloist for both San Francisco Ballet and the Joffrey and a principal for Harkness Ballet, Jhung carved out a unique place for himself as a ballet teacher in New York City. He's coached the boys of Billy Elliot: The Musical, developed a popular video and DVD how-to series and STILL teaches seven classes a week at the Ailey Extension. He's graced the pages of this magazine to offer his time-honored wisdom again and again, and he's currently working on a memoir. (We can't wait to read it.) Happy birthday, Finis!
Since 1989, tap dancers have been celebrating National Tap Dance Day (NTDD) on and around May 25, the birthday of tap dance legend Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. This year, prime events are happening in Philadelphia, New York and Chicago.