Jody Sperling Brings the Magic of Loie Fuller to La Danseuse

Sperling in her Time-Lapse Fantasy (2013). Photo courtesy of Time Lapse Dance
When French director Stéphanie Di Giusto set out to create a film about Loie Fuller, the modern dancer (1862–1928) known for her groundbreaking work with fabric and lighting design, Di Giusto came to Jody Sperling for advice. For the past 17 years, Sperling has made a name for herself as an expert on "La Loïe" by breathing new life into Fuller's work via Sperling's small company, Time Lapse Dance. She and her dancers masterfully re-create Fuller's serpentine, otherworldly style—a process that requires considerable upper-body strength to manipulate voluminous, cape-like costumes.

La Danseuse, which premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival last May, explores Fuller's bon vivant expatriate life in Paris. Granted, says Sperling, the film “takes a lot of license with history," but Di Giusto wasn't interested in a strict retelling. “She didn't want to do a museum piece," says Sperling. “She wanted to tell Loie's story in a way that would speak to a contemporary audience."

Training: BA in dance and Italian from Wesleyan University; MA in performance studies from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts

Performance: Founded Time Lapse Dance in 2000; served as choreographer and consultant for the 2016 film La Danseuse

On training French singer-songwriter/actress SoKo to dance “I worked with SoKo [as Loie] every day but Sunday, between five and six hours a day, for five weeks. She'd never had any dance training before. I'd do my own practice in the morning, and then she'd come in, and I would give her a dance class. She had this spontaneous energy but not the balance or control. She was a fantastic student, very focused and motivated."

Seeing her research on Loie Fuller come to life “I gave a broad range of input for the costuming and the lighting. There's a scene in the movie with charts on the wall, which are basically copied from my notebook—for example, how to draw the costume. And in the movie Loie [the character] tells the costume woman, 'I don't want it to be like number 77. I want it to be like 79.'"

The biggest training surprise “The feet were so important. You think it's all in the arms—the director wanted me to work on SoKo's arm strength—but what's going to make the difference is the mobility in your ankles and the depth of your plié. How you're transferring weight is amplified by the fabric."

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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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