A Holiday Revelation

Last Thursday, as I flipped through my Alvin Ailey program waiting for the “Best of Twenty Years” show to begin, I noticed that something was missing. This would be the first time I’d seen a full evening of Ailey without ending the night with the company staple, Revelations. “Good,” I thought. “I’ve seen Revelations plenty of times. I can’t wait to see what they do instead.” The closing number, Love Stories, was pretty amazing. It was full of the high energy, amazing skill and emotional relationships that makes the company spectacular, but I still walked out of the theater feeling like the show was incomplete.

And then I had a revelation of my own. No matter how many times I see Revelations I still want to see it again. Not only do I love it, I have come to expect it. Good choreography just keeps getting better, even if (and sometimes especially if) I’ve seen it a hundred times.

This made me think of another familiar work that has been getting some mixed reviews from critics of late, The Nutcracker. Sarah Kaufman of the Washington Post comments on The Nutcracker’s “pervading tweeness” and on wishing “ballet had something better to do this time of year.” She wrote, “What I do regret is ‘The Nutcracker’s’ ubiquity, the way it stifles any other creative efforts in dance during the holiday season.” Personally, I was shocked to read my beloved Nutcracker being abused like this. Yes, a new kind of holiday show might be nice (I’m always a big fan of Nutcracker spin-offs). But, just as at the end of an Ailey show I expect Revelations and feel a little empty without it, come holiday time, I expect the Nutcracker and anything else, no matter how beautiful or exciting, just doesn’t cut it.

Watching a new work, on the edge of my seat wondering what will happen next, is always great, but it’s not superior to the joy I get from watching something wonderful that I’ve seen so many times, picking up on subtle nuances and hoping that everyone around me is catching all the same brilliance that I am.

Many have a Nutcracker that they return to every year. For me, that Nutcracker is the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago’s version. I danced in its children’s cast, always only in the first act. For the second act, my fellow angels or mice and I would sit in the top row of the balcony captivated by the show’s beauty, and we’d make up words to Tchaikovsky’s music. I’ve been back every year since. Sometimes to this day when watching the Sugar Plum Fairy and Nutcracker Prince’s pas de deux, I can’t help singing in my head, “I love to dance with you. Yes, I do.” The familiarity brings back countless memories and makes me feel at home.

Just like Revelations at the end of every Alvin Ailey show, I would miss Joffrey’s Nutcracker if I didn’t see it every holiday season. For the other 11 months of the year, I welcome all the experimentation and variety I can get, but in December, all I want for Christmas is The Nutcracker.

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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

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Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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