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For New York Theatre Ballet's Founder Diana Byer, the Accompanist Is Key

Byer with students at Ballet School NY. Photos by Susan Lin, courtesy of NYTB

After teaching ballet for 42 years, New York Theatre Ballet founder Diana Byer has learned that teaching is not just about identifying talent. It's about giving students—of all levels—the right tools to hone a skill. Essential to that tool-set is how to deal with the music. Learning to be musical carries the same weight as learning the perfect technique. "We're not just teaching them how to point their feet or march on the beat," she says. "It all grows as one."

Byer finds working within the parameters of the Cecchetti style's set syllabus helps students learn to find the artistry and musicality. "When you learn the exercises, you don't have to think what comes next," she says. "You're focused on finding the phrasing with the music."

Byer considers the accompanist the most important person in the room. She believes using a live musician keeps the class more engaged and alert, and with music director Michael Scales, she's always working hard to find the right accompanist for Ballet School NY, NYTB's school.

Regardless of students' level, she never has the musician play down to her younger students in class. Even in the beginning, it's important for them to identify a tarantella waltz, a polka or a mazurka. "My aim is to create well-rounded dancers," she says, "and learning about music plays a huge part in that."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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