The cast of Kinky Boots, atop treadmills designed by Mitchell

Listen to Broadway choreographer and director Jerry Mitchell casually rattle off his list of current projects, and you might start to feel overwhelmed. He’s got one long-running show, Kinky Boots—about drag queens and a shoe factory—still going strong on the Great White Way; another, the Gloria Estefan bio-musical On Your Feet!, doing steady business since its opening last November; and a third, Gotta Dance (about old-timers trying hip hop), eyeing a Broadway run this fall. Oh, and he’s working on a movie, considering directing a new musical and recently bought the rights to a book he loves—one that, you guessed it, is being turned into a musical. But for a consummate professional like Mitchell, no show or project is ever truly over.

Why a show is never finished “The great thing about theater is that it’s an ephemeral art. It’s constantly evolving. It lives for two and a half hours, and then the next night, it’s a whole other flower. We’re constantly replacing people, so that means the flowers need tending. You need to water them, take care of them, make sure they’re getting the proper nutrients so they can deliver the production you want them to deliver.”

A choreographer’s director “I found where I could help Sergio [Trujillo, choreographer for On Your Feet!] was with the structure of the storytelling in the numbers. For instance, the conga in On Your Feet!—it can’t just be Gloria Estefan standing onstage singing “Conga.” In a musical, you always have to tell a story. Gloria had expressed to us that when they were starting out, they played bar mitzvahs and weddings and conventions. I thought, ‘What a wonderful way to see a song grow.’ We’ve watched lots of Gloria’s performances, and in her Vegas show, they actually conga through the audience. I said, ‘That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to conga right off the stage and through the audience and take the people out into intermission.’”

His creative process “With Kinky Boots, there was the conveyor belt delivering the shoes. I thought, ‘What if we jumped on top of them? What if we built a treadmill that was four feet off the ground?’ So I had the shop build me one. I fell off, like, four times. I thought, ‘This will never work. I’ve gotta add some sort of bar or safety rail.’ When I added the safety rail, I found that I could use it to swing around, jump around, flip over. So the thing that I added for safety actually became an element to heighten the choreography. Once I got the treadmill the way I wanted it, they built five, and then I got into the room with the actors and started to create the full number. It was a six-month process. For one number.” DT

Broadway:

On Your Feet! (director); Kinky Boots (director/choreographer); Legally Blonde (director/choreographer); Hairspray (choreographer)

Choreography for film: Drop Dead Gorgeous; In & Out; Camp

Photos from top: by Matthew Murphy; by Christopher DeVargas, both courtesy of O&M Co.

Don’t miss a single issue of Dance Teacher.

Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine

When choosing music for tap, Jason Samuels Smith encourages teachers to start with classic jazz music. Improvisation, call and response, and syncopated rhythms embedded in the genre and its history, in general, help students to understand the structure of tap, which is different than other styles of dance. "Tap dancers have the responsibility to be more than just a visual artist," he says. "They're an instrument and a sound."

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo Courtesy of Ballet Next

In 2011, when former American Ballet Theatre principal Michele Wiles departed the company and formed BalletNext, she found an artistic freedom she'd been longing for. Along with new collaborations with choreographers and musicians, she began working with trumpeter Tom Harrell, who introduced her to the multilayered sounds of jazz. "The dancers are another instrument to a jazz musician," says Wiles. Pairing this music genre with her classical foundation has been pivotal in defining her style. "I have this classical facility, but my mind is more contemporary. Jazz is a good intersection for my work," she says.

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 Summit
Photo by Rachel Papo

Martin Harvey brought a little movie star charm into morning ballet class at our New York Dance Teacher Summit. (His acting credits include Gossip Girls, All My Children, Dirty Dancing, A Chorus Line, Carousel, plus Metropolitan Opera productions of Carmen and Manon Lescaut.) Educated at the Royal Ballet School in London, he danced many principal roles for The Royal Ballet during his 12-year career.

Mark Your Calendar

Join us in Long Beach, CA, July 26–28, or in NYC, August 1–3, for our 2019 Dance Teacher Summit.

Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Q: What suggestions do you have for dancers to get their shoulder blades to lie flat on their backs?

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
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Sarah Ash, courtesy of Larkin Dance

Ask Michele Larkin-Wagner and Molly Larkin-Symanietz what sets them and Maplewood, Minnesota–based Larkin Dance Studio apart, and they immediately give the credit to their mom. Shirley Larkin founded the school in 1950 and continued to oversee the growing business until she passed away in 2011. "She put Minnesota on the map for dance training and made other local studios step up to the plate to become as strong as we are," Michele says. "A lot of people's lives are better because of Shirley Larkin."

For Michele and Molly, following in their mom's footsteps was a no-brainer. "I knew I was going to be a choreographer and take over the studio," Michele says. To Molly, seven years Michele's junior and the baby out of six siblings, the studio was always a second home. The two sisters trained across genres but had distinct specialties: Michele found her niche in jazz, musical theater and lyrical, while Molly excelled in tap. In the summers, they'd travel for workshops in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles. While Michele was in class with jazz legends like Gus Giordano, JoJo Smith, Luigi and Frank Hatchett, Molly was taking tap classes with the likes of Brenda Bufalino and Phil Black.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Gandarillas

In Macarena Gandarillas' jazz class at California State University, Fullerton, a sign in the studio reads, "Never underestimate the power of determination." This simple mantra embodies what has made this self-described "danceaholic" such an impactful teacher.

When Gandarillas came to Los Angeles at age 6 with her family from Santiago, Chile, the language barrier was beyond overwhelming—until her mom enrolled her in ballet classes. Gandarillas found an instant love. "There were no Spanish-speaking kids at my school," she says. "But with dance I could communicate with my body. I'd finally found my voice."

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

Q: Is teaching for an after-school program a good way to find a job in K–12?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Inspire School of Arts and Sciences

It was the morning of November 8, 2018, and Jarrah Myles' first-period choreography students were in last-minute rehearsals for their fall dance concert that evening. "All of a sudden my students' phones started ringing like crazy," says Myles, a teacher at Inspire School of Arts and Sciences, a Chico, California, high school whose dance and theater programs Myles helped establish in 2010. "And once they answered, I saw these tragic faces staring back at me."

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox