The Director of Ballet Hispánico's School Teaches More Than Just Dance in the Classroom

Michelle Manzanales has been a part of BH for more than seven years. Photo courtesy of BH

Michelle Manzanales' Mexican-American heritage is a constant theme weaving through her work as a teacher and choreographer. Especially when it comes to the music she chooses. "Dance class is where my love for music grew, so for me it's important to expose students to all kinds of music."

Being a part of Ballet Hispánico for more than seven years, first as a rehearsal director and artistic associate and now as director at the BH school, she naturally aligned with the company's core values of inclusion, diversity and fusion. "The company has exposed me to so many wonderful international music artists, like Susana Baca, Natalie LaFourcade, Carla Morrison, Chavela Vargas and Paquito D'Rivera, and the list goes on and on," Manzanales says. At Ballet Hispánico's New York spring season this year, she premiered her first work for the company, Con Brazos Abiertos. The piece explored the theme of her diverse background and being divided between two cultures. The work featured an array of music selections, from a cover of the popular Mexican song "Maria Bonita," by Julio Iglesias, to a cover by Ember Island of Radiohead's "Creep." "As a choreographer, I know it's the right song when I can see the dance in my head," she says.

BH performing Con Brazos Abiertos at The Joyce Theater in New York. Photo by Paula Lobo, courtesy of BH

As a teacher, she trains her dancers to be performing artists in the classroom, a lesson that is enhanced by the music. "Different sounds pull out different emotions and energy, so the exercises don't always feel the same," she says. "When your dancers are inspired by the music to express themselves through movement, you know you have the right song."

Teacher Voices
Photo courtesy Rhee Gold Company

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, there has been a shift in our community that is so impressive that the impact could last long into our future. Although required school closures have hit the dance education field hard, what if, when looking back on this time, we see that it's been an incredible renaissance for dance educators, studio owners and the young dancers in our charge?

How could that be, you ask?

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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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