Dance Teacher International: Moving Poets

I am mentoring students in choreography workshops at the Universidad Espiritu Santo for three weeks. The classes are design to explore the choreographic process using exercises to help students develop their own choreographic voices.


The university students are most accustomed to the rigors of Cuban Ballet methodology, and many of my exercises seem foreign to them. We discussed that it’s because unlike ballet, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to choreography. In ballet class, it’s easy to tell if a pirouette is off-balance or turned in, but critiquing a peer’s work or assessing your own process is so free, and sometimes scary. So, I usually give my students a prompt for each exercise or improvisation (though I do give them complete freedom within the set confines).


After three days of 4-hour sessions, I felt my dancers were ready to tackle their first major assignment: to create a solo performed to a poem of their choice. I was surprised in my students’ broad range of selected poetry—they found works both in English and Spanish, written by poets including Edgar Allen Poe, Pablo Neruda and Bob Dylan.


Here is the breakdown of the assignment:

1.     Choose a poem that holds personal meaning.

2.     Underline specific words or phrases that will act as movement accents. (During performance, these underlined words or phrases will also serve as audio and choreographic landmarks, as a classmate will read the poem aloud.)

3.     Transform the poem into a rhythmic composition by adding pauses in the form of ticks or vertical lines either between words or stanzas. These pauses can be used for dramatic effect, or to add time for longer movement phrases. For example, one line might look like this: Gone //// far away // into the silent // land //

4.     Working with a group, introduce and read each poem—first as originally written and secondly as your own composition with pauses and rests. (Notice that when the poem is read with students’ rhythmic interpretations it takes on a more emotional and personal feel.)

5.     Now the dancing: Layer movement over the poem using the composed pauses, also paying special attention to the underlined words or stanzas that initially stood out.

6.     Show and share—perform one solo at a time then discuss and critique.


Teachers Trending
All photos by Ryan Heffington

"Annnnnnnd—we're back!"

Ryan Heffington is kneeling in front of his iPhone, looking directly into the camera, smiling behind his bushy mustache. He's in his house in the desert near Joshua Tree, California, phone propped on the floor so it stays steady, his bright shorty shorts, tank top and multiple necklaces in full view. Music is already playing—imagine you're at a club—and soon he's swaying and bouncing from side to side, the beat infusing his bones.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Evelyn Cisneros-Legate. Photo by Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.

Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.

As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.

Keep reading... Show less
The author with Maurice Hines. Photo by Anthony R. Phillips, courtesy Hopkins

In March, prior to sheltering in place due to the coronavirus outbreak, my husband and I traveled from New York City to Miami to screen our award-winning documentary, Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back, at the Miami Film Festival.

Our star, Tony Award–nominated dancer and choreographer Maurice Hines joined us in Miami for the festival—stepping and repeating on the opening night red carpet, sharing anecdotes from his illustrious seven-decade career with local tap students, and holding court at a cocktail mixer with lively female fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.