Creating Ballet Choreography, continued

As I mentioned in my last post, one of our latest assignments is to create two pieces of ballet choreography, each about a minute long, using classical music. One piece is for ages 8 to 9; the other for ages 11 to 12.

We've spent the past week observing the choreography created by our peers and then getting a public critique on it by our instructor Raymond Lukens. Actually, it's not quite accurate to say that we get to observe the choreography--many times, we are cast as dancers in the pieces, so we get to experience what various movement choices would feel like for little legs, arms, and bodies.

I haven't shown my pieces yet, but here’s the way the process works: I will need eight dancers for my younger piece, and four for my older piece. I will have about 15 minutes to set one piece, while another choreographer sets one of her pieces in another studio. We then come back to the main studio, have a mini showing, and then start all over again. With 20 students in the program, we'll end up seeing 40 different pieces.

This exercise has not only been a unique way to channel the inner child, but also to learn about creative music and choreography choices. We’re using ABT's National Training Curriculum as a guideline for what steps to use, and it was strongly suggested that we tailor the movements a level below what the students are currently dancing, so they always look their best on stage.

At first I was alarmed at the 15-minute timeframe to set an entire piece, but it turns out that some of the best pieces are those that use steps that would already be in the dancers’ vocabulary along with simple basic patterns and counts. Lukens said that when he owned a private studio, he never spent more than two weeks rehearsing a piece for a demonstration. So, if the timer starts to run over the 15 minutes, the instructor has an indication that perhaps the choreography (or the way it is presented) might need a second consideration.

Here are some additional tips and thoughts from Lukens about this process:

- Always, always, always showcase the children in the best possible light. They should feel special on stage and the parents, of course, want to see them looking beautiful as well. For example, in a class where all the students had weak arms, he choreographed an ice skating scene and all the dancers wore muffs.

- Music choices, especially for young children, should have a clear, easy-to-follow beat or rhythm.

- Children love props, such as baby dolls, stuffed animals, Spanish fans, etc.

- Make the best use of the performance space. Avoid segmenting dancers into groups on either side of the stage as this will cause a tennis match effect on the audience.

- Remember that running in patterns and using clean movements can look gorgeous. Think of some of the elements of Balanchine's Serenade.
I’ll likely have more to say as we continue to view the choreography of my classmates this week. In the meantime, I'm curious: No matter what genre of dance you teach, how do you go about choosing music, and what steps do you take to make sure the student is dancing a piece that’s appropriate for his or her level of development? Share your thoughts on the Dance Teacher message board.
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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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