Celebrating Transitions and Teachers

When the Career Transitions for Dancers annual gala kicked off last night with a swinging routine by the NYC school children of Yvonne Marceau and Pierre DuLaine's Dancing Classrooms, I immediately thought, "Who trained these kids?" Not only were they technically strong, their spirit was infectious, truly upholding the gala's title, Jump for Joy. Held at NYC's City Center, the night was a chance to honor the work of CTFD, an organization that provides career counseling, grants and training to dancers transitioning to their next line of work. (So it only seemed fitting that the evening began with artists just starting out.) The gala also celebrated a stage legend: The one and only Liza Minnelli accepted the Rolex Dance Award. Her speech highlighted the joys of dance and she even sang a bit from "New York, New York."

 

The event's other performances—including Suzanne Farrell Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Jason Samuels Smith and members of The Big Apple Circus—were also energizing, but the most inspiring moments were given by a few former dancers who acknowledged the looming scariness of retiring from dance. (Which is where CTFD comes in.) For instance, we heard from Leslie-Arlette Boyce, a former Dunham dancer and professor at Bard, whose grant from CTFD helped her find a new passion as a very successful photographer, and Lisa de Ravel, another former ballet dancer who went back to school to study psychology and now is the dean of students at Princeton Ballet School and works as an advisor to dancers and parents.

 

While the stories clearly illustrated the importance of arts organizations like CTFD, they more so proved (not surprisingly) the value of quality dance training. Not only does it create versatile and strong performers, but dance training helps to shape flexible, resourceful and intelligent human beings. The Dancing Classrooms students in their Swing, Swing, Swing routine certainly demonstrated this thought. (And if you've seen the documentary about Dancing Classrooms, Mad Hot Ballroom, you'll remember that the kids exposed to ballroom dance lessons exhibited a change in behavior, drive and an interest in academic work.) Dance training helps students learn to be adaptive, receptive and hard working. They learn to be fearless and dynamic. They learn cooperation, dedication and how to think critically. The list goes on. So while it was a truly amazing night of dance honoring the work of tireless career counselors and the invaluable organization, we should also celebrate the often thankless work of dance teachers around the world, because without them, many artists would be without crucial lifeskills that can come in handy at any point in their lives.  Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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