12 Days of Holiday Thanks: Benoit-Swan Pouffer

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet first exploded onto the NYC dance scene less than 10 years ago and gained a reputation for bringing coveted European choreographers to US audiences. Now, the company is everywhere. Benoit-Swan Pouffer credits his success to Judith Jamison, who he worked under during his time with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

"Judith embodied what dancers expect as an artistic director. There was always a goal in her mind, and while everyone has self-doubt once in a while, she never let it show. If you believe in yourself and your message, people will follow and encourage you along the way. She showed us that passion is truly contagious.

I had to set goals for Cedar Lake, and I wouldn't have achieved them without people believing in my mission. Now that we've accomplished my first set of goals for the company, I decided it was time to open the doors to a training program--something I wanted to do once the company had made a name for itself. I wanted to see what my dancers have learned during the past six years with me and how they could share that with these students who are talented and are clearly the next generation of dance." 

Photo by François Rousseau, courtesy of Glen Wielgus

Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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