Dance Teachers Trending

Celebrating Donald McKayle: His Choreography Shed Light On Social Injustice

Photo by Esta McKayle, courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

This past week, the University of California, Irvine, Etude Ensemble paid tribute to Donald McKayle, with a performance of Journey of the Heart: A Celebration of Works by Donald McKayle. The renowned choreographer created the student performance group in 1995 when he was an active professor in the dance program. The tribute included audience favorites, Death and Eros (2000), Crossing the Rubicon (2017) and Songs of the Disinherited (1972).


Choreographer, dancer and teacher Donald McKayle established a strong foothold for dancers of color by creating work that commented on social injustices, challenged racial norms and conveyed the black experience. As a member of the politically active dance collective New Dance Group in the late 1940s, he developed an emotionally rich choreographic style inspired by several dance techniques. Over the span of his six-decade career, he has choreographed more than 90 works.

Born in New York City in 1930, McKayle was introduced to dance as a teenager via a school dance club. After seeing Afro-Caribbean choreographer Pearl Primus perform at a local high school, he decided to pursue dance seriously. He auditioned for and received a scholarship to the NYC-based New Dance Group, where Primus taught, and began studying ballet, Afro-Caribbean and modern. This training gave McKayle both a diverse and technically sound movement style and a socially conscious approach to choreography.

At 19, he joined the Contemporary Dance Group—a small company directed by concert and Broadway choreographer Helen Tamiris. In a concert with fellow company members the next year, he premiered Games, a group dance about the hardships of growing up in an urban environment. The critical success of Games launched his choreographic career and secured his reputation as a socially minded artist.

Donald McKayle's Games (1951). Photo by W. Sorell, courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

McKayle continued to choreograph and perform while studying with Martha Graham and postmodern choreographer Merce Cunningham. He set work on his own company, Donald McKayle and Company, and accepted commissions to choreograph for theater and television. In 1959, he created what is now considered his greatest work, Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder—a heart-rending piece about the tragic lives of Southern chain-gang prisoners.

McKayle also had a successful career on Broadway. He performed in House of Flowers (1954) and West Side Story (1957) and began choreographing for Broadway in 1959, including Sophisticated Ladies (1981). He was nominated for five Tony Awards—four for best choreography and one for best direction of a musical (Raisin, 1974).

After teaching stints at the New Dance Group, Juilliard, Sarah Lawrence, Bard College and Bennington College, he joined the faculty at University of California, Irvine, in 1989 as a professor of dance. He retired from UCI in 2010, but was invited back last year as a professor emeritus of dance.

UC Irvine students in McKayle's Bittersweet Farewell. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum, courtesy of UC Irvine

Style

McKayle has a diverse technical vocabulary at his disposal. From Martha Graham, he acquired the use of the torso—contracting, arching and twisting to punctuate emotion. Like Cunningham, McKayle often kept arm and leg movement independent of each other. Circular arm movements and fan kicks are common motifs in his choreography, as well as unison and pedestrian movement. Most of his works tell a story and are emotionally driven.

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're not prepared, studio picture day can be a real headache. But, if done right, it can provide you with gorgeous photos that will make your students and parents happy, while simultaneously providing you with marketing content you will be able to use for years to come.

Here are five tips that will help you pull off the day without a hitch.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via YouTube

In its 14 years of existence, YouTube has been home to a world of competition dance videos that we have all consumed with heedless pleasure. Every battement, pirouette and trendy move has been archived somewhere, and we are all very thankful.

We decided it was time DT did a deep dive through those years of footage to show you the evolution of competition dance since the early days of YouTube.

From 2005 to 2019, styles have shifted a whole lot. Check them out, and let us know over on our Facebook page what you think the biggest differences are!

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Koelliker

Sick of doing the same old stuff in technique class? Needing some across-the-floor combo inspiration? We caught up with three teachers from different areas of the country to bring you some of their favorite material for their day-to-day classes.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I have a very flexible spine and torso. My teachers tell me to use this flexibility during cambrés and port de bras, but when I do, I feel pain—mostly in my lower back. What should I change so I don't end up with back problems?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're a studio owner, the thought of raising your rates most likely makes you cringe. Despite ever-increasing overhead expenses you can't avoid—rent, salaries, insurance—you're probably wary of alienating your customers, losing students or inviting confrontation if you increase the price of your tuition or registration and recital fees. DT spoke with three veteran studio owners who suggest it's time to get past that. Here's how to give your business the revenue boost it needs and the value justification it (and you) deserve.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Margie Gillis (left); photo by Kyle Froman

Margie Gillis dances the human experience. Undulating naked in a field of billowing grass in Lessons from Nature 4, or whirling in a sweep of lilac fabric in her signature work Slipstream, her movement is free of flashy technique and tricks, but driven and defined by emotion. "There's a central philosophy in my work about what the experience of being human is," says Gillis, whose movement style is an alchemy of Isadora Duncan's uninhibited self-expression and Paul Taylor's musicality, blended with elements of dance theater into something utterly unique and immediately accessible. "I want an authenticity," she says. "I want to touch my audiences profoundly and deeply."

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox