Celebrate National Dance Week

National Dance Week, April 24 to May 3, is just around the corner. So what does that mean for your dance business? The annual event is intended to promote pride and appreciation for all forms of the art. But it’s also an excellent way to showcase your studio dancers, strengthen community spirit and attract new students.

Cheri Eagan is a firm believer in the value of hosting an event during NDW. For four years now the former studio owner has organized the Annual Market Street NDW Festival in an area of South Houston known as The Woodlands. “Students and teachers are planning competitions and recitals all year long, and this is something different that’s completely stress-free and really fun,” she says. Eagan invites about 15 to 20 area schools to show their work in 15- to 30-minute segments. The festival runs much like a competition—minus the prizes—giving students a chance to perform and to also watch the work of their peers.

Eagan begins planning the event months in advance, she says, recruiting performance groups and community volunteers. To market the event, she puts up posters in cooperating businesses and asks the participating studios to promote the show in their regions. “Last year, we had a guest speaker from the Houston Ballet, Lauren Anderson, a former principal dancer, so that drew more people in,” shares Eagan. And her job as a representative for Curtain Call Costumes, a division of Perform Group, LLC, works to her advantage. “I network like crazy,” she says. “The people who run Market Street are very community-oriented. So when I proposed the idea for a dance festival, they loved it,” Eagan says. Each year, she is able to use the space and sound system for free. The all-day event lasts for six hours; families, friends and other guests bring lawn chairs or blankets and lounge on the grass to watch.

While a daylong festival is a great way to unite dozens of dance studios in your region, it isn’t necessary to operate on a large scale when organizing an event. Take, for example, last year’s “Kick It Off Big for National Dance Week,” hosted by Triangle Youth Ballet of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The two-hour, kid-friendly carnival was held at a local park and included a silent auction for adults and various low-cost children’s activities, such as a rubber-duck race, maypole dance, lemonade stand and mini-dance class/contest. Proceeds helped fund school performances and other
student programs.

According to Kate Vollrath, a TYB teacher, studio manager and registrar, the event was a great way to publicize the school and its company. “Our event is crafted in a way to introduce young children and their parents to our teaching style, and to develop their interest in taking a trial class, trying out a week-long camp or seeing a TYB show,” she says. “Older children are more likely to have a studio they call home; we are primarily trying to generate interest from that younger, unattached group of potential students.” To advertise at the event, the school displayed posters, course catalogs, registration forms and cards offering one free class. All attendees were also asked to sign in on a mailing list to keep them informed about TYB. “We even had dancers dress in their Sleeping Beauty costumes for an upcoming show, and charged $5 to ‘have your picture taken with Princess Aurora,’” Vollrath recalls.

While she feels that the school and company’s presence was strengthened by the event, looking back, Vollrath says there are a few things they will do differently in the future, like holding the silent auction and kids’ activities separately, so that parents can focus more on the auction, and promoting the event more in depth.

“I really encourage studios to get involved,” shares Eagan. “Do Dance Magazine and Capezio/Ballet Makers Inc.’s poster contest; do Dance Spirit magazine’s essay contest. Hold an open house with a dance demonstration, even if it’s just recital dances. The first year you have to plant the seed; year after year, it will grow.”

Ways to promote your studio during National Dance Week

  • Run a promotional booth at a high-traffic community area, like a school, church, community center or movie theater.
  • Offer in-store discounts and free goody bags at your studio’s dancewear boutique or give away a month’s worth of free dance classes.
  • Give public ballroom lessons at little or no cost, with special performances by students.
  • Hold a “Bring a Friend to Dance Day” for all classes, with plenty of games and partner work.
  • Ask local businesses to display your studio’s NDW poster.
  • Partner with a neighborhood bookstore to create a themed book fair with a small dance exhibition.
  • Ask a professional dancer to speak or teach a master class at your studio, and invite the public.
  • Offer to do a reading of a dance-related book at your local library, accompanied by an Angelina Ballerina–themed coloring contest, a short performance or a free children’s mini-class.
  • Hold a dance-inspired book drive to benefit your library, or a dance-shoe drive to benefit a low-income school.


For more information, visit www.nationaldanceweek.org.

Debbie Strong is a freelance writer in New York City.

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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