Technique

Daniel Catanach Is Inspired by Dancers Who Push Themselves—Here He Teaches a Tour en L'Air

Photo by Kyle Froman

"Fifth! Fifth!" Daniel Catanach shouts during a brisk tendu exercise in his advanced-intermediate ballet class at Steps on Broadway. "That's 'fifth' with a 'th'!" he adds, making several students' tense faces relax into smiles. Watching Catanach in action, two things are clear: He's all about precision, and he wants dancers to enjoy his class. He's a stickler and a jokester, infusing discipline with humor. "What's the worst that can happen?" he asks during a pirouette combination. "You fall?" one student murmurs. "No!" Catanach laughs. "The worst that can happen is that you do it perfectly! Then you always have to do it like that, because you know you can."


Catanach came to dance late, after an audition for a college production of Sweet Charity garnered him an invite to a ballet class. A New Mexico native, he soon found his way to L.A., where he studied ballet and jazz before landing a contract with Kansas City Ballet. While his early ballet training was Russian, at KCB he was immersed in Balanchine technique. He was also exposed to Lester Horton technique when Alvin Ailey came to KCB to set The River. The Ailey connection prompted Catanach's eventual move to NYC, where he studied at The Ailey School and School of American Ballet and went on to build a diverse performing, choreographing and teaching resumé.

Catanach's earliest teaching gigs were for jazz, but he has since found a home in the ballet classroom. While his choreography reflects varied influences—jazz, postmodern dance, his Southwestern heritage—as a ballet teacher, he demands clean, classical technique. "I believe you have to know the rules to break them," he says. At the same time, he stresses, "we're storytellers. This is not aerobics."

He takes pride in being an instructor who reads the room. "At a place like Steps, you never know who's going to show up," he says. "I have to assess who's there and plan my class in the moment." He has regulars, including some professionals, but is also comfortable working with newcomers and beginners. His open men's class is popular with dancers who trained in environments that didn't dedicate enough time to what Catanach calls "male vocabulary." "I've created a barre that builds toward the big steps we do as male dancers: the tours, the coupés jetés, the à la seconde turns," he says. He also breaks down male variations across three class sessions and has students perform the piece by themselves at the end. "They may start off scared," he says, "but when they just go for it, it's so exciting."

Catanach is inspired by dancers who push themselves to improve, whether they're aspiring pros or adults older than his own 61 years who are there for the love of the art. "After teaching, I want to feel like I've helped someone in some way," he says. "There needs to be an energy in class that sustains the students, and I feel good when I'm that energy."



May/June 2020 DT Technique - Daniel Catanach www.youtube.com


Daniel Catanach was born into a large Hispanic family and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was a principal dancer with Kansas City Ballet, Armitage Ballet, Garden State Ballet, Connecticut Ballet Theatre, Santa Fe Dance Ensemble and the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, among others. He also appeared in music videos, working with Madonna, the Carpenters, the Divinyls and Sheila E., and has done projects with Annie Liebovitz for Vogue and Vanity Fair. He served as rehearsal director for Kansas City Ballet and was ballet master for Armitage Gone! Dance for three years. He directed Urban Ballet Theater for 10 years, has been a guest choreographer and master teacher at The Ailey School, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Steps on Broadway, Broadway Dance Center, the Dance Teacher Summit, New York City Dance Alliance, Male Dancer Conference and Manhattan Youth Ballet. Catanach is currently on faculty at Steps on Broadway and continues to create work and teach for dance organizations nationally and internationally.

Jeffrey Salce began his dance training with Catanach at the Abrons Arts Center and has studied on full scholarships at the School at Steps, Dance Theatre of Harlem Summer Dance Program and Sheer Elite ballet intensive. He has appeared as a principal guest artist with a number of professional companies, and in the dance film Valentino and many national television series and commercials.

Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.