Choreography Class, Week 3: Strike a Pose

One word to describe Monday’s class: Challenging. My students (eight showed up) were quite chatty—it seemed everyone tried to earn the title of Class Clown. At first I was unaffected by the sarcastic comments after everything I offered; the comments weren’t coming from a malicious place—students just seemed to crave attention. But by the end of class I had had enough. It was impossible to accomplish anything, and I spent more time waiting for students to re-focus than anything else. Next week, I’ll start class with a healthy dose of behavior modification lecturing. In retrospect, I should have nixed all chattiness from the start. I want class to be fun for students—after all, it is summer camp—but they’re not going to get anything out of it if this behavior continues.

 

The most successful part of class:

 

After a brief warm-up, I gave each student two minutes to make a shape with her body. Most shapes were upright and looked more like a pose you’d see at the end of a runway, but each shape was different and two were on the ground. Then, I asked everyone to stand in a circle. One by one, each dancer taught her pose, and we connected all eight—in the order they were standing—to make a phrase. We experimented dancing the shapes in a canon, or starting the phrase at various moments.

 

I asked each student to remember the eight shapes for next week so we can keep working with them next week. Hopefully we can incorporate them into our larger piece—which, so far, is off to a rough start. I am strongly against classes in which preparation for the recital piece is prioritized over learning technique; however, I am realizing the pressure many teachers must feel to produce a recital piece that’s stage-worthy. I vow not succumb to that pressure!

 

For next week, I reassigned each dancer the task of finding a piece of text that inspires her. (No one had brought anything in for this week.)

Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
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After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy TUPAC

When legendary Black ballet dancer Kabby Mitchell III died unexpectedly in 2017, two months before opening his Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center, his friend and business partner Klair Ethridge wasn't sure she had what it took to carry his legacy. Ethridge had been working with Mitchell to co-found TUPAC and planned to serve as its executive director, but she had never envisioned being the face of the school.

Now, Ethridge is heading into her fourth year of leading TUPAC, which she has grown from a fledgling program in an unheated building to a serious ballet school in its own sprung-floor studios, reaching hundreds of students across the Tacoma, Washington, area. The nonprofit has become a case study for what it looks like to carry out the vision of a founder who never had the chance to see his school open—and to take an unapologetically mission-driven approach.

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