Cygnets at the Top of the Rock

In a narrow hallway between the uptown and downtown observation decks of New York City’s Rockefeller Center, two dancers from ABT II performed the white and black swan variations on a slick tile floor in soft shoes while the audience of children ages 4–9 sat pretzel style on the floor. ABT II Director Wes Chapman played the part of the evil Von Rothbart, as Meaghan Hinkis (someone to definitely watch in the future) made about three full circles in the manège section of the black swan variation.

To promote this season’s production of Swan Lake, the company raffled off tickets, gave away T-shirts and old souvenir books, and provided ample time for the press to photograph this first-ever children’s workshop. Chapman gave a humorous narration of the ballet along with a brief introduction to ballet technique, and after the performance, Chapman pulled out the pièce de résistance.

What do you do with more than twenty children, limited space, slippery floors and Swan Lake music?  Freeze-dance. This game is a great way to not only round up rambunctious students; but to teach little artists about improvisation and musicality. Chapman put a nice twist on this old standard, as in each round, the children were urged to dance like the meek and shy Odette, or the sly and cunning Odile; actions that seemed to introduce the idea of character work.

Whether the girls were dressed in pink leotards with their hair neatly pulled back, or in sweats, bare-feet and loose, wild hair, every dancer seemed to love the activities.  Toothless smiles and bright eyes lit up the rainy afternoon; for after the obligatory pictures with the swans taken by their mothers, they had played freeze-dance with the very best in the field.

Teachers Trending
Photo by Yvonne M. Portra, courtesy Faulkner

It's a Wednesday in May, and 14 Stanford University advanced modern ­dance students are logged on to Zoom, each practicing a socially distanced duet with an imaginary person. "Think about the quality of their personality and the type of duet you might have," says their instructor Katie Faulkner, "but also their surface area and how you'd relate to them in space." Amid dorm rooms, living rooms, dining rooms and backyards, the dancers make do with cramped quarters and dodge furniture as they twist, curve, stretch and intertwine with their imaginary partners.

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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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Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

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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