Since she was hired in 2006 to create a dance program at Washington & Lee University in Virginia, Jenefer Davies has operated as, essentially, a one-woman show. She's the only full-time faculty member (with regular adjunct support). Over the last 13 years, she has created a thriving program along with a performance company—at a school with fewer than 2,500 students—by drawing on her admittedly rare strength: aerial dance.

Many of Davies' students who've come to Washington & Lee to study academics such as economics and political science have never taken a dance class. "They've been schooled in a very classical way," she says. "They're accustomed to attending lectures, taking tests and writing papers. They thrive in a world where there's an answer that's either right or wrong. The arts don't necessarily fit within those parameters."

She meets that challenge head-on by introducing them to aerial, which appeals to a wide range of people. The skills that one develops in an aerial class have little to do with previous dance training, and thus it levels the field in a way she describes as "incredibly democratic."

"It's that sense of egalitarianism that has allowed the program to flourish," she says. "Aerial dance really draws from across the campus. I see men and athletes and people who are classics and science majors coming together."

From the ground to the sky

Davies vividly remembers her own discovery of aerial dance and the possibilities it opened for her. "I started exploring it because I'd been studying dance—at that point, for 30 years—only exploring space from six feet down," she says. "The idea of studying space from six feet all the way up to the tallest building was this unexplored territory." Now, she watches her students make that same discovery.

"I've had students who have never had one day of dance training who are just incredibly gorgeous," she says. "I've seen a lot of dancers who aren't sure if their body is aligned unless they can see themselves in a mirror. With aerial, you have to develop this internal intelligence that allows you to know what your body looks like in space as you're using it. The idea of how to manipulate your body that way is fascinating and challenging in a different way."

At W&L, students can train in rope and harness, silks and bungee. Two years ago, Davies published a book about her research: Aerial Dance: A Guide to Dance With Rope and Harness. "It's really a textbook," she says, "since it follows a class I would teach and the exercises and why and how we do stuff. It's endlessly fascinating to me, because you're defying gravity, in some ways. There's all this space that's not utilized in traditional dance."

Giving technology its due

Another way Davies levels the playing field for her students is by using motion-capture technology as a classroom tool. Her approach to composition is admiringly 21st-century: Students must use video-editing software to try out choreographic ideas. "In this world of complexity, it's nice to have an element of comfort," says Davies. "Everybody has technology, and everybody knows how to use it. I'll video a student doing a phrase they've created and then assign them the task of using video-editing software to demonstrate something that I'm trying to teach. It's compositional structure."

Her students might, for example, cut the phrase apart, slow it down, speed it up, reverse it, put it in a new order, relearn the phrase and then perform the new version they've created. "It gives them an understanding of shape and structure," she says. "These sorts of tools help them transition from having this stock view of the world to becoming a questioner or explorer of the world."

Reaching out

Now that her program is well-established, Davies refuses to rest on her laurels with the curriculum and syllabi she has created. She gets a thrill from revising her classes. "I don't like it when things plod along the same every year," she says. "I end up reinventing courses and changing them to keep up with the curricular needs and challenge the students in new ways from year to year. I find that exciting as an educator."

One way she introduces new challenges is to bring 15 to 20 dance minors and company members to New York City each year to perform. "I think that's a valuable experience for them, to perform in other venues," says Davies. "We rent a theater, maybe the Center for Performance Research or the Ailey Citigroup Theater, and bring an entire concert of just our works. It's so much fun, and it broadens the students in a way that reading a textbook never could." The dancers have to adapt to a new space and work with new designers, she says—adjusting from what they know, another valuable skill. "And, of course," she says, "while we're there, they see a lot of awesome dance." The trip also exposes students to other instructors and classes in other styles: "I'm the only full-time tenure-track faculty member," she says. "It helps to decenter the privilege embedded in the field and my very specific training and experience and knowledge."

Pooling her resources

Davies is particularly excited about a grant she just received to create a dance program consortium with five other universities from the Associated Colleges of the South. The model is similar to that of the Five College Dance Department in Massachusetts. The six programs involved will share resources, teach master classes and visit each other's campuses. "It's an effort to provide my students with more than what I can offer them," says Davies. "I think that all of us involved in this grant feel like we're going to open ourselves up to more students, diversify our programs and hopefully bring in underrepresented populations. It'll be a fellowship."

And it'll have the same idea that all Davies' curricular underpinnings share: to push students to think differently, to think creatively. "An arts student has to learn that there isn't a definitive answer waiting at the end of the path," she says. "As a teacher, you can feel when that shift happens. I love that."

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Photo by Kyle Froman

Darla Hoover was at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's studios running a rehearsal in 2014 with director Marcia Dale Weary. Hoover had just returned the day before from staging a ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. Jet-lagged, she mixed up her words when giving a correction.

Weary took Hoover's hand and gently said, "Honey, you work too hard."

Hoover, and the students, had a good laugh.

"Are you kidding me?" Hoover replied. "You're the one who made this monster. There is no off switch!"

Weary founded CPYB in 1955, and it quickly became an internationally known school that has produced countless principal dancers. Famous for her high standards and tough work ethic, Weary instilled those qualities in Hoover, who served as associate artistic director at CPYB under Weary, as artistic director at Ballet Academy East's pre-professional division in New York City and as a répétiteur for the Balanchine Trust.

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Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix, has been called the Queen of Fundraising by colleagues. A studio owner and high school dance coach with over four decades of experience, Clough is known for her smart and successful fundraising ideas.

Now, Just For Kix has created a new online tool to help everyone tackle their fundraising goals, whether you're raising money for uniforms, extra classes, or to cover the cost of travel for your dance team's next convention.

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Jessica Kubat's path to becoming a studio owner wasn't typical or glamorous or the product of a family business, handed down. When she opened MJ's House of Dance in Lindenhurst, New York, this past summer, she had just turned 40, was a mom of three, and had worked at two different studios long-term. Over the last two and a half years, she'd painstakingly saved up $25,000 and had gone to the Small Business Development Center at a local college on Long Island for help creating her business plan. Her area was moderately saturated with studios, so she spent considerable time planning what would set her school apart—live musical accompaniment, for one—and hired a marketing director nine months before the business even opened. It was a methodical, careful approach—Kubat calls it "the old-fashioned way"—to opening a studio, and it's paid off: She started summer classes with 75 students and is well on her way to reaching her first-year enrollment goal of 250 dancers. "When I turned 40, I decided that it was time to do something bigger," says Kubat. "I always wanted to own a studio—it was just never financially available to me."

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Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

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From left: Daniel Novikov, Alla Novikova and Mishella Vishnevskiy at Blackpool 2018. Photo by NYC Digital Media, courtesy of Alla Novikova

Alla Novikova began her dance training at a ballroom studio called Edelweiss in Saratov, Russia, when she was 9 years old. She was immediately recognized for her natural talent and work ethic, placing third at the Russian Open just three months after beginning ballroom lessons. The lessons she learned at Edelweiss shaped her career and provided the foundation she needed to open her own ballroom studio: Work hard to prove that you're good enough to be here, and give honor to the experiences that brought you to where you are today.

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Professions across the globe hold yearly conferences, and the dance industry is certainly no exception. Annual conferences exist for dance teachers, dance medicine professionals, dance educators and more. Taking the time out to attend them can be well worth your while for a number of different reasons. Let's take a closer look at four of them.

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Father-daughter dance. Photo by Lisa Lee, courtesy of Dance Academy USA

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

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Q: How do you approach gender when teaching in 2019? When I was training, male dancers were encouraged to make their movement masculine, while female dancers were encouraged to keep their movement feminine. Today, gender has become much more fluid, and the line between masculine and feminine performance has blurred. How does that impact the way we should be teaching?

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New York City–based pre-professional training troupe Z Artists Group, along with dancers from eight professional companies in the city, are joining together to combat gun violence with, "DANCERS DEMAND ACTION," a performance aligning art with activism at The Joyce Theater, this Monday, November 11, at 7:30 pm.

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Last week, 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and her partner Piotr Iwanicki brought their boundary-breaking work to the "Good Morning America" stage in a segment highlighting her inclusive dance company Infinite Flow.

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Savion Glover is one of the biggest names in the dance world, and perhaps the biggest in the tap world. The trailblazing hoofer's hard-hitting, rhythmically intricate style has fundamentally altered the tap landscape.

Glover is also a master teacher. But during his many years on the scene, he's never appeared regularly at a major dance convention. That is, until this season: Glover is now teaching at JUMP Dance Convention, scheduled to appear at approximately 15 more cities on its 2019–2020 tour.

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Though she loved choreographing, the high school student showcase wasn't quite enough for Julie Deleger, a recent graduate of The College Preparatory School in Oakland, California. The answer for her was an independent-study project during her last semester there. "Choreography is so personal that sometimes you need to take more or less time with it," she says. "Doing it on my own was really helpful. I let the project guide me rather than having to adhere to a specific set of rules."

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