Ballet Class Blogging: A Thanksgiving Reflection

I always forget how much students don’t know at the beginning of the year. Especially with young students—what do you mean you don’t remember what first position is? Why is it so hard to stand in line without talking?

 

I guess this is the fun of teaching dance to children, but I do envy the teachers who get to work with the same students over a few years. It seems as if I have to crunch in as much info as I can in one year, and then start from scratch almost immediately. It’s exhausting! That being said, I love seeing how each student attacks new challenges differently.

 

This year, I feel the first few classes have given me a chance to figure out my students’ learning styles and preferences; overall, they just want to keep moving. They don’t necessarily care how they look when dancing, or how to do a step “more like a ballerina”—they just want to move and discover how their bodies work. (Unlike my class last year; I could talk to those students about tendu for hours and their interest would remain peaked.) Neither is better, but now I have a jumping off point for shaping the rest of my curriculum.

 

It is most exciting when students have revelations. In one instance, we were exploring the concept of triplets, and began moving across the floor with “down-up-up” walking steps. “So the first time I do a ‘down’ step, I use my right leg, and then the next time there’s a ‘down,’ it’s on my left foot,” exclaimed one student so enthusiastically, it was like she just discovered ice cream. And it only got better: “Next time we go across the floor, can we go ‘up-up-down?’ And then how about ‘up-down-up?’” I was so happy that she was interested in the class activity—interested enough to reflect on it and be creative. I’m often worried my exercises aren’t fun enough, or my students don’t care about what I’m teaching them and they’d rather be in hip hop or tap. So I’m thankful that there are times like these that provide a little reassurance that I’m getting through and sparking their creative minds.

 

 

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Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

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Robbie Sweeny, courtesy Funsch

Christy Funsch's teaching career has taken her from New York City to the Bay Area to Portugal, with a stint in a punk band in between. But this fall—fresh off a Fulbright in Portugal at the Instituto Politécnico de Lisboa, School of Dance (ESD), teaching and researching empathetic embodiment through somatic dance training—Funsch's teaching has taken her to an entirely new location: Zoom. A visiting professor at Slippery Rock University for the 2020–21 academic year, Funsch is adapting her eclectic, boundary-pushing approach to her virtual classes.

Originally from central New York State, Funsch spent 20 years performing in the Bay Area, where she also started her own company, Funsch Dance Experience. "My choreographic work from that time is in the dance-theater experiential, fantasy realm of performance," she says. "I also started blending genres and a lot of urban styles found their way into my choreography."

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Courtesy Meg Brooker

As the presidential election approaches, it's a particularly meaningful time to remember that we are celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment, when women earned the right to vote after a decades-long battle.

Movement was more than a metaphor for the fight for women's suffrage—dancers played a real role, most notably Florence Fleming Noyes, who performed her riveting solo Dance of Freedom in 1914 to embody the struggle for women's rights.

This fall, Middle Tennessee State University director of dance Meg Brooker is reconstructing Dance of Freedom on 11 of her students. A Noyes Rhythm teacher and an Isadora Duncan scholar, Brooker is passionate about bringing historic dance practices into a contemporary context.

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