Dance Teacher Tips
Alonzo King Lines' LeeWei Chao with dancer Hayley Bowman. Photo by Chris Hardy

The piqué arabesque is a ballet staple that looks deceptively simple. At Alonzo King LINES Dance Center, LeeWei Chao uses the image of standing on the edge of a cliff to inspire correct alignment, emphasizing a strong supporting side so that dancers avoid tilting and dipping forward. "Your body energy goes up," he says. "Stay on that edge of the cliff. You sense the danger there, but that's the most beautiful moment."

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Peter Martins and Farrell in Chaconne (1976), performed for PBS' "Great Performances." Photo courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

With her superb musicality, dramatic skills and go-for-broke speed and risk taking, Suzanne Farrell inspired Balanchine to push the limits of a dancer's physical capabilities. Together, the pair helped shift ballet into more creative, athletic and abstract territory.

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Photo by Kim Lobato, courtesy of Kersten

We're privileged to honor four extraordinary educators with this year's Dance Teacher Awards in August at our New York Dance Teacher Summit. The awardees include Julie Kent, Djana Bell, Rhonda Miller, Sue Samuels and Stephanie Kersten.

On June 12, 2016, after a day of teaching for Music 'n Motion dance camp in Orlando, high school dance teacher Stephanie Kersten went out to the Pulse nightclub with her co-workers. "I was only there for an hour before the shooting took place," she says. "We were stuck inside for a good 30 minutes before, thank God, I was pulled out. I was actually on my hands and knees praying in a closet: 'Please just get us out. I just want to get home to my kids.'"

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Morris in 1984. Photo by Peggy Jarrell Kaplan, courtesy of MMDG

For the past four decades, few names in dance have stirred up as much reaction as American choreographer Mark Morris. Unique for his outsize persona, superb musicality and taking on themes related to gender and sexuality, Morris is one of the most prolific and lauded choreographers of his generation. At his Brooklyn-based dance center, the former enfant terrible continues to create for his company, the Mark Morris Dance Group, and set work on ballet and modern companies worldwide.

Morris has choreographed close to 150 works for his company. In addition to being inspired by music, many have narrative roots in mythology and literature, including the following.

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Dancer Health
Deborah Vogel is a neuromuscular educator and director of The Body Series. Here, she works with Mariah Aivazis. Photo by Jim Lafferty

Turnout—the outward rotation of the hips that dancers are constantly striving to improve. Yet few actually have the 180-degree outward rotation that is so idealized. In her 40-plus years of working as a movement analyst, Deborah Vogel has only come across a handful of dancers who have it. "That's structural," she says. "They have a shallow hip socket, so the head of the thighbone can move in a greater range. The rotation at the hip for the general population, though, is 90 degrees—about 45 degrees in each direction."

Although a dancer's range of motion depends on her structure, Vogel says she can still improve her turnout. "They're not going to get to 180. But if they have good muscle balance, they can improve their ability to stand in greater than 90-degree turnout."

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Hines in White Nights (1985). Photo courtesy of Dance Magazine archive

During tap dance's waning popularity from the 1970s to the 1990s, Gregory Oliver Hines kept it alive with his show-stopping performances on Broadway, television and in film. A triple threat, Hines was best known for his sensational tap skills—namely his natural rhythm, creativity, elegance and speed. Throughout his career, Hines served as a tireless advocate for tap and mentor to dozens of today's most notable hoofers.

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Dance Teacher Tips
With her advanced dancers, Andrea Paris-Gutierrez allows 20 to 30 minutes of class for jumping, post-barre. Photo by Iker Gutierrez, courtesy of Los Angeles Ballet Academy

Ensuring that the timing of a 90-minute class delivers the best results can be struggle. Here, two teachers discuss the importance of leaving enough time to maximize your dancers' strength.

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Jennifer Reynolds teaches in both Spanish and English to make everyone feel welcome in her class. Photo courtesy of Reynolds

In Lexington, Kentucky, a good 70 percent of Jennifer Reynolds' 3- to 12-year-old ballet students speak Spanish at home. To accommodate the dancers and families of the Bluegrass Youth Ballet Valley Park Outreach Program, she teaches bilingually in English and Spanish. "Often the parents feel like they're left out of different things in society," she says. "It's wonderful to be able to create a space for the families to take their child to ballet class, participate and not feel nervous about it because they know what's going on."

Teaching in two languages takes extra time, skill and attention, but the rewards are evident not only with students, but for the teachers, as well. "I feel like it helps me have more humility," says Luna Dance Institute teaching artist Cherie Hill. "It helps me open up my mind and consider my connection with the students, what our differences are and how I can expand my knowledge to include what they know."

Finding Common Ground Through Language

Hill developed her own formula for conducting creative dance in both English and Spanish when Berkeley, California–based Luna Dance Institute began working with two elementary schools in Oakland. Since she is not bilingual herself, she worked closely with a classroom teacher to incorporate Spanish terminology into her weekly lessons. "I would tell her what the four or five main concepts for the week would be, and then she would send me translations for them in Spanish," she says.

Hill creates a "word wall" with the week's terms written out in both languages (rise/subir, fall/caer, advance/avanzar, retreat/retirarse) accompanied by pictures and Laban symbols. She teaches the class primarily in English, but emphasizes those terms by saying them in Spanish first, and then repeating them in English. It's helpful to have the classroom teacher in the room in case she hits a bump in the road with language.

Reynolds' experience is quite different, since she is a trained interpreter and fluent in both Spanish and English. She teaches most of her classes in both languages equally, but adjusts depending on the class. "I've gotten into a rhythm of interpreting myself," she says. "I say something in one language, and I just repeat it in the other language." This takes more time, but Reynolds says it's well worth it to break down the language barrier and make everyone feel welcome in her class.

Cherie Hill developed her approach when Luna Dance Institute began working with Spanish-speaking students in Oakland, CA. Photo courtesy of Luna Dance Institute

As their students get older and progress, both teachers phase their classes into more English. Reynolds says she can often switch to teaching solely in English by the time the students are in their teens. "It's not a set formula," she says. "I'm flexible with where the kids are at and what's needed."

Hill notes, "I've seen students' English comprehension really expand and improve through dance."

When Bridging the Gap Yields Big Rewards

One surprising benefit of the bilingual classroom is language acquisition by the English speakers. Not only do the Spanish speakers grow more comfortable with English over time, but both Reynolds and Hill have seen their English speakers start comprehending Spanish. In particular, the consistent routine of a dance class lends itself to drawing parallels between the two languages.

And with increased understanding of language comes a growing acceptance of diversity. "I love to see the kids grow and become friends and have fun together in class," says Reynolds. "They don't even realize that they look different or sound different from one another."

Teaching bilingually can create a warm atmosphere in the community, as well. While Reynolds' approach has allowed her to include many parents in their children's dance education, Hill cites the positive relationships she has developed with classroom teachers. "A lot of them really enjoy when we can teach in English because their students are learning that vocabulary," she says.

In a progressively more diverse world, bilingual dance education offers students valuable skills for the future. "I think that learning to speak, listen and write in more than just one language is extremely helpful in any job," says Reynolds.

Fundamentally, both teachers agree that whatever gets children dancing is well worth it. "For us to be able to move together is the ultimate success," says Hill. "When we're moving together, we're doing what we came to do despite the language barrier."

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