Music for Class: Al Blackstone

Photo by Jeremy Davis, courtesy of Al Blackstone

Shifting between hard-hitting jazz and gooey contemporary movement, borrowing modern dance's bare feet and layering character portrayals as bold as those found on Broadway, Al Blackstone's choreography samples several techniques. “I always like to tell the story that my mom, dad and sister were truly my teachers because they surrounded me with the different styles of the dance world," says Blackstone, who literally grew up at his mother's Denise Daniele Dance Studio, then attached to their house in New Jersey. “My mother would take me to see a Broadway show, my dad taught me ballroom and my sister was training at Ailey."



But it wasn't until he took Andy Blankenbuehler's class that he “fell head over heels in love with musical theater." From there, his career progressed steadily: first some regional theater and then the national tour and Broadway production of Wicked. Fresh off that contract, he pocketed the top 2011 Capezio A.C.E. Awards honor at the Dance Teacher Summit, which led to producing his first evening-length work, Happy We'll Be. Now he's teaching at Broadway Dance Center and Pace University and will join JUMP Dance Convention in the fall, offering studio dancers an introduction to his witty, lighthearted style. “Contemporary is so big right now, and students are so used to doing angsty, dark dances. But it's nice to play on the sunny side of the street," he says. “You can feel the relief in the room. And it's important that they know how to do that. Ultimately, it's more likely what they'll do if they become professionals."

WARM-UPS

Artist: The Album Leaf

Song: “Micro Melodies"

Artist: Paul Pena

Song: “Gonna Move"

“I always start with 'Micro Melodies' because it's a palate cleanser. It doesn't have lyrics, and it's very soothing, which calms the body and allows you to focus on breath and slow stretching. It's sometimes difficult to do character work if you don't first find a centered, calm place. 'Gonna Move' is the last song I use during warm-up. It's a fun, upbeat song that I like to do easy steps to—step touch, hip rolls and ponies."

REVAMPED CLASSICS

Artist: Rufus Wainwright

Album: Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall

Artist: Eau Claire Memorial Jazz I featuring Justin Vernon

Album: A Decade With Duke

“I love finding music that somehow bridges today to the classics. And the old standards are great for dancers of all ages. Rufus Wainwright has a very modern voice, but the orchestrations are classic. I want something that young people can connect to that still has an old-fashioned sensibility."

CHARACTER STUDIES

Artist: Bobby Darin

Song: “Talk to the Animals"

Artist: Tony Bennett

Song: “The Trolley Song"

“My process begins with the music. I feel like in every song there's a story that's trying to get out. Bobby Darin has the perfect blend of dynamics and humor. This is from Doctor Dolittle, and he's making animal sounds throughout, which is great for kids. When I taught 'The Trolley Song' at BDC, we made it about a lonely commuter who gets on a train to work and sits across from his favorite movie star."


Technique
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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