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5 Music Suggestions From Contemporary Teacher Marinda Davis

Photo courtesy of Davis

Tired of the go-to dark and emotionally charged songs popular within contemporary dance, Marinda Davis has recently been choreographing to Broadway musicals and Frank Sinatra classics. "I'm afraid contemporary could easily become a fad, not a long-lasting genre, if we're not careful," she says. "We have to explore other types of music, versus doing what everyone else keeps doing."


Davis, who teaches at Broadway Dance Center, WILD Dance Intensive and studios throughout the country, has always used music as a tool to test dancers—a lesson she was taught. "I've always heard music in a unique way," says Davis. "My mentor Sheila Barker noticed this and taught me to interpret the song in my own way, while staying true to her intent, finding the pocket of the song."

Another influence is Pat Catterson, whom Davis studied with at Marymount Manhattan College. Catterson encouraged tempo changes within a single piece. "Kids are used to staying with the same monotonous rhythm," says Davis. For a healthy challenge, she likes to speed up, slow down or even just stop the music to find stillness, something she finds is the hardest for young dancers.

As inclined as Davis is to experiment with new music genres, she keeps her warm-up and across-the-floor music consistent for about a year in her class. "I do this so the students can really concentrate on the technique," she says, "and not have to worry about what comes next, including changes in the music."


Album: Hamilton
Artist: Various Artists, Original Broadcast Recording

"I love that you can literally hear the work Lin-Manuel put into it. The cadences, the melodies, the harmonies, the rhymes, the multisyllabic words and the use of motifs. Hamilton's hyperawareness of time and legacy is something I connect to. I can't stop creating to it."

Hamilton: An American Musical FULL SOUNDTRACK www.youtube.com


Song: "Before My Time"
Artist: J. Ralph featuring Scarlett Johansson and Joshua Bell
Album: Chasing
Ice

"The first time I heard this song, I cried my eyes out. No matter how often I use it in class, I still feel a lump in my throat when it ends. The violin is hauntingly beautiful. There's a specific irony to it, but also a vagueness that allows the listener to interpret on their own. I had originally wanted to use this song on 'Dancing with the Stars,' but it came back unapproved due to licensing."

"Before My Time" by J. Ralph Feat. Scarlett Johansson & Joshua Bell - OSCAR NOMINEE - CHASING ICE www.youtube.com


Song: "A Song For You"
Artist: Donny Hathaway
Album: Donny
Hathaway

"There will never be a song written that's more beautiful. Unlike much of the music today, it is timeless and transcendent. The glissando of the piano sounds like tears falling. The lyrics are so pure and stripped down. The love truly lies in his melody."

Donny Hathaway - A Song For You www.youtube.com


Song: "Uneven Odds"
Artist: Sleeping At Last
Album: Atlas:
Darkness

"I play this song in my warm-up. I love that its last line is 'darkness exists to make light truly count.' I think everyone needs to hear that sentence and be reminded of its power. It puts things into perspective."

Sleeping At Last - Uneven Odds www.youtube.com


Song: "Run Like the River"
Artist: Vintage Trouble
Album: 1 Hopeful
Rd.

"No matter how exhausted, this song always gets me smiling and grooving. It's about loving and believing in someone so much that you're willing to set them free. It reminds me of Sheila Barker. One day, I'll create something to this for her."

Vintage Trouble - Run Like The River (Audio) www.youtube.com


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.

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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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