Anyone Can Dance

Waiting outside my daughter’s dance class at ODC Commons one morning, I heard music from the next studio. First a pop song by Prince, then salsa, hip hop and swing. Intrigued, I walked over to investigate. The class I saw was different than anything I’d seen: people from teen to 60-something dancing in a circle, hips shaking, arms circling and legs kicking as they propelled their sweat-soaked bodies toward and away from a teacher in the center of the room. It was as much a communal event as an aerobic workout, as much a celebration of moving freely, playfully and without self-consciousness as a dance class.

 

What I had discovered was Rhythm & Motion, a program of dance workout classes that for 30 years have given the Bay Area a lighthearted outlet for creative expression and a way to get fit. In 1978, Consuelo Faust and Catherine Hebert, two dancers and choreographers between gigs, began teaching “Dancergetics,” a licensed dance aerobics workout. Realizing they could create a hipper, “dancier” class, they soon struck out on their own. The premise was simple—hire professional dancers to lead classes, choreograph routines that got dancers and non-dancers alike moving and make classes fun and welcoming. “People can be intimidated by a dance class,” says Faust. “There’s this idea of the ‘house of dance.’ By calling it the dance workout class, you get people to climb through the window.”

 

Word spread quickly and classes were soon packed. After holding classes in 16 locations around San Francisco, Faust, the program’s artistic director, opened a studio on Mission Street, where over a span of 26 years, rent increased from $800 per month to $12,000. Since R&M partnered with ODC in 2006, classes are now held in beautiful new studios to an expanded student base. “Some ODC company members come to our dance workout class,” says Faust, “and some dance workout regulars decide to take ballet. There’s no hierarchy; it’s a wonderful blend.”

 

Faust started by doing all the choreography herself, but as the program grew, other teachers began contributing routines. Over the years there have been more than 1,500 routines created, and there are currently 25 teachers. Classes include a warm-up, a session of high-energy choreography and floor work to strengthen and stretch abdominals, arms and legs. In addition to the classic R&M dance workout “Fusion Rhythms,” there is “Modern Rhythms,” which incorporates contemporary dance moves, as well as “Essential Fusion Rhythms” and “Essential Modern Rhythms,” which are geared toward beginners and those wanting to focus on intricacies of choreography.

 

R&M teacher training is an 8- to 12-week process of three-hour sessions three times a week with Dudley Flores, R&M’s master trainer. Student teachers learn an entire class—“It shocks dancers how difficult it is to learn an hour of choreography,” says Faust—as well as how to convey a sense of fun and inclusiveness, how to draw students in and lift their spirits. Teacher-training sessions are held four times a year to learn new material.

 

In addition to the Bay Area, classes are currently held in Ohio at Cincinnati Ballet and in Brooklyn at the Mark Morris Dance Studios. “We are building and nurturing this wonderful community, emphasizing our belief that anyone can dance,” Faust says.

 

 

Photo by Drew Kelly.

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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