Since his Broadway debut at age 16 in the first revival of On the Town, Chet Walker (DT March 2005 cover) has performed in, choreographed and directed a staggering list of productions, including the Tony Award–winning musical Fosse. The 55-year-old veteran choreographer continues to perform off-Broadway and on tour with his New York–based musical theater company, Walkerdance (also known as 8&ah1).

Walker also travels the globe to teach jazz dance and direct companies in Argentina and Norway. And for the past 10 years, he has directed the Jazz/Musical Theatre Dance summer program at the School at Jacob’s Pillow. To celebrate his decade at the Pillow, Walker invited a number of former students to perform in a star-studded benefit, “A Jazz Happening,” on August 23.

Dance Teacher: How has the Jazz/Musical Theatre Dance program progressed under your direction?
Chet Walker: At first, my approach was to inform young dancers about the type of dancing I did on Broadway. Then I moved in the direction of masters Matt Mattox and Luigi. I then channeled Donald McKayle and Robert LaFosse, to show modern’s and ballet’s role in jazz heritage, and Milton Myers for the connection with modern and Horton technique, along with Mr. Ailey for the way he brought jazz to his company. Next I introduced Jack Cole, the father of jazz and a student of Ted Shawn. In the second year, I went out on my own to find students from around the world, and financed scholarships for them. The Pillow is an international institution, and the school needed to reflect that. [Students now hail from over 40 countries.] And three years ago, I started “A Jazz Happening” to bring in professional dancers and show students the payoff for their own work.

DT: What’s new about this summer’s culminating benefit?
CW: Performers will include former students Andrew Fitch of Spamalot and Rockette Alyssa Epstein, plus Emanuel Abruzzo from Les Ballets Grandiva and Ric Ryder of The Music Man. I will perform with my “partner in crime” Dana Moore [of Fosse and Chicago], and probably with all the former students who will be there. Walkerdance will also perform as part of a tribute to Jonathan [Phelps, who passed away in January]. He was my partner and muse for 10 years, and I’ve been so grateful to know how he’s remembered.

DT: What dance professionals have influenced you the most?
CW: My teachers were Luigi, Madame Valentina Peryslavic, Maria Svoboda and Betty and Danny Hoctor. Those choreographers who had the biggest influence on my life were Bob Fosse, Ron Field and Gwen Verdon.

To be a teacher, not just someone who gives class, you need to be diligent. There should be a partnership between the teacher and the student, and that takes time. When a teacher moves you as a human being, not just as a dancer, you will carry that experience with you.

DT: So where do you draw the line between carrying on a tradition and creating your own style?
CW: When you solely carry on someone else’s tradition, you re-create their work. That becomes your own life’s work. My work is certainly structured like Mr. Fosse’s, but my style, steps and vocabulary show more than his influence. When you choreograph, you can’t go back and say, “What did he do?” It has to be about what the music says to you. It’s like someone reading great literature and then deciding to write their own novel.

DT: How do you advise students hoping for a professional dance career?
CW: I ask, “What sets you apart? What is your ‘it’ factor?” We all have something different to bring to the table; no one’s career is the same.



















Click here to view a slide show of Chet Walker's 10 year anniversary summer.

Jennifer Brewer is a dancer, teacher and freelance writer in Saco, ME.

Photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy of Jacob's Pillow

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Robin Nasatir (center) with Peter Brown and Vicki Gunter. Photo by Christian Peacock

On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I need advice on proper classroom management for dancers in K–12—I can't get them to focus.

A: Classroom management in a K–12 setting is no different than in a studio. No matter where you teach, I recommend using a positive-reinforcement approach first. As a general rule, what you pay attention to is what you get. When a student acts out, it's generally done in order to gain attention. Rather than giving attention to them for inappropriate behavior, call out other students who are exhibiting the positive behaviors you desire. Name the good actions, and all of your students will quickly learn what it takes to be noticed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

For an aspiring professional dancer, an unexpected injury can feel like a death sentence to a career that hasn't even started. The recovery process following an injury can be one of the most grueling and heartbreaking experiences a performer will ever face. In times like these, dance teachers have the power to boost or weaken a dancer's morale.

With that in mind, we've compiled a list of do's and don'ts for talking to a seriously injured dancer.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Last season I had three dancers on my junior team who struggled all year. They've trained with me for years, yet they keep sliding farther behind their classmates. What should I do?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox