Dance in the Sports Arena

As two of my favorite teams enter baseball’s post season to play a series of games to claim the title of 2009 World Champion, parallels between dance and sports have been on my mind a lot. After all, as dancers, we are professional athletes. We train everyday, sculpt our bodies, compete with others and ourselves and coach the next generation of artists. And we do it all, adding the elements of style, grace and humanity.

Paul Taylor made the baseball slide epic in his piece Esplanade. Nijinsky created Jeux, a ballet about a tennis match. In every football game there is a slew of gestures that I’m waiting for a great choreographer to tap into for artistic inspiration. On the flip side, it’s no secret football stars study ballet and tennis players practice grapevines. The lists continue. But when sports arenas sell out each game, and ballet companies are shutting down, there is clearly something unbalanced.

Last November, to promote their Nutcracker, members of Boston Ballet successfully took center stage at half time during a Celtics basketball game. Football star Emmitt Smith won “Dancing with the Stars” alongside ballroom dance studio owner Cheryl Burke. “So You Think You Can Dance” airs on the same channel as weekend baseball games. If we continue to use sports arenas to our advantage, maybe things can change. Enlist dancers’ soccer playing brothers for your productions, have dancers fundraise during little league or even offer evening dance classes for college athletes. And slowly but surely, maybe we can make national audiences as excited for Nutcracker season as they are for college basketball's March Madness.

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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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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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