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."
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."
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."
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."