Crossing Borders

Planning a class trip

Seville, Spain

During the past seven years, Deborah Lysholm has taken students on trips to Mexico, Japan, England and Spain through her studio’s travel-study program. Each trip lasts 8 to 14 days and involves performance opportunities, classes and sightseeing for groups of 17 to 40 students, ages 12 and older.

Amid teaching, choreographing and administrative office duties, planning any type of class trip can seem daunting—not to mention expensive. (Lysholm’s international trips have cost at most $2,500 per person, plus airfare.) Even more overwhelming is a teacher’s responsibility to keep students engaged and, most importantly, safe.

But the painstaking process is worth it, says Lysholm, who owns Heartbeat Studios performing arts center in Apple Valley, Minnesota. “What my students learn from working with dancers and teachers in other countries will be significant in defining their own dance voice for the future,” she says. “Refining their ability to collaborate will help them in several aspects of their lives—not just in the dance studio.”

Advance Planning

Before Heartbeat took its first trip abroad, Lysholm spent six months reaching out to overseas studios and then traveled by herself to several of them to become better acquainted. She also arranged for a speaker familiar with the country and culture of the studio’s destination to meet with students and parents. “It took about three years before the first group trip was organized,” she says. “But now, a year of planning is the norm.”

Deborah Lysholm's studends in Japan

Planning one year in advance is ideal, agrees Larry Edelson, owner of Pro Musica Tours, which offers customized group trips to New York City through its Destination Dance program. However, if it’s a domestic trip, it’s common to start planning in fall for a spring trip. “Ideally, the trip happens six to nine months from the point of initial contact,” he says. “Most airlines won’t price out more than a year in advance, and hotels will usually only provide estimates, not confirmed rates, when looking at dates further than a year out.”

Logistics

The key to a successful trip is finding a reputable travel agency that can arrange transportation, hotel accommodations and a guide, says New York City–based flamenco instructor La Magdalena, who plans to follow that advice the next time she plans a class trip.

Last spring, she took 10 adult students to Seville for a two-week flamenco intensive immersion and planned the whole thing on her own. The trip included classes with legendary flamenco artists and evening outings, giving her students firsthand experience in understanding flamenco culture, in addition to technique.

“I was travel agent, events coordinator and all-around entertainment guide,” she says, adding that transportation ended up being the most challenging aspect. “I had originally planned to do transportation as a group, but everyone wanted to make separate arrangements. Next time I will insist on the group traveling together, otherwise it makes for a chaotic start to an already somewhat naturally chaotic situation.”

La Magdalena's students took flamenco classes in Seville.

La Magdalena also recommends that all travelers have a reliable method of communication, such as a local cell phone or a phone plan that allows international calls or texts. Trying to communicate in a foreign country with 10 students who all arrived at different times and airports was an unexpected layer of difficulty. “It took us days to coordinate new phone numbers and locate internet cafés,” she says. “It was a huge hassle and time-waster since some students, due to their flights and individual schedules, only had a week in Seville.”

Itinerary

Hart Dance Academy in Lincoln, Nebraska, has a special program for intermediate and advanced dancers called Dancers kNeeding New York (or DKNY) that goes to Manhattan every other year. The group involves 10 to 20 students ages 12 to 18, plus a few young adult teachers.

Part of the planning includes choosing the right group: Students invited to attend the trip are those who work hard, are positive role models and skilled in multiple styles. “It is considered a privilege to get invited,” Aly Hart Summerson, Hart’s co-director, says. “You want the kids who are going to be a cohesive group that you can trust to follow you through the busy streets and not get lost.”

While sightseeing and shopping may be tempting on a trip to New York City, Summerson says arranging a comprehensive curriculum for students is most important. Hart Dance Academy does its own research into Broadway shows and lets their dancers choose from classes at Steps on Broadway and Broadway Dance Center. However, Summerson says the levels for classes are quite different from what her students are used to, so the studio makes sure its students are challenged but not so overwhelmed that they leave frustrated or exhausted.

“The high school dancers can handle three or four per day, but that’s the max,” she says. “Even if you have time in your schedule, it doesn’t mean you should take another class. You want your body and mind to be able to take it all in and not be so exhausted you can’t function.”

Dancers kNeeding New York (DKNY) saw "In the Heights" on Broadway.

Though Hart Dance Academy owners organize the educational aspects themselves, finding a tour operator who specializes in tours for dance groups is another option. “Our tour coordinators are not only trained as guides, but they are working dancers who live in New York City and are in between gigs, so students can really get a perspective of what it’s like to be a performer in the city,” says Edelson. “And if a group is going to see a Broadway show, we can arrange classes with dancers from the show to learn actual choreography.”

Labor

For the DKNY trips, students (and parent chaperones) pay for the travel agent, who arranges their plane tickets. But neither Hart Dance Academy nor Heartbeat Studios add in fees for their own work in organizing the trip. “I imagine that a studio could make a profit on overseas trips, but given that I know the financial circumstances of many of my students, increasing the high cost of a trip like this would make it prohibitive for most of the travel participants,” says Lysholm. “I put in months and months of work to coordinate the trips, but it is a labor of love for my students and staff.”

Lysholm also notes that as the leader of the group, she is the go-to person every minute of the day. Patience, she says, is key. “There’s no time to kick back and relax, but there is ample time to see your students grow and mature right in front of your eyes, and I find this so gratifying.” DT

Hannah Maria Hayes has an MA in dance education, American Ballet Theatre pedagogy emphasis, from NYU.

Leaving Town?

Consult our experts’ trip prep checklist:

- For international travel, register all participants’ names with the State Department prior to departure.

- Have all participants complete a Liability Release Form, as well as an Emergency Information Form, so you have emergency contacts, medical insurance information and notice of any existing health issues.

- If you decide to work with a tour company who will arrange your trip for you, make sure you have a written contract where all details are specifically described. You may also want to consider cancellation insurance.

- Consider having an agreement among all adults in the group that if anyone loses his/her money or experiences a theft, everyone pitches in to help the person get through the trip, knowing they will be reimbursed once home.

- Create a printed schedule that your dancers and chaperones can have beforehand, and be organized and clear on deadlines, rules and dress code.

 

Photos from top: ©iStockphoto.com; by Angelica Escoto, courtesy of La Magdalena; courtesy of Deborah Lysholm; courtesy of Hart Dance Academy

 

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.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

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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