A conversation with "A Chance to Dance" co-choreographer

Michael Nunn (center) watches a rehearsal with William Trevitt and Allison Holker.

A new Nigel Lythgoe Production premieres this month—a treat for those who watch “So You Think You Can Dance” and pine for more in-studio rehearsal footage. Ovation TV’s documentary-style show “A Chance to Dance” follows former Royal Ballet dancers Michael Nunn and William Trevitt as they auditioned and worked with 24 dancers over two weeks at Jacob’s Pillow this past spring. Their goal: to form a new company and produce a show for New York audiences.

Nunn (former Royal Ballet first soloist) and Trevitt (former principal) broke from the classical mold in 2000 to found BalletBoyz, a London-based contemporary ballet company for 10 men. They’re also no strangers to dance on film. Their Strictly Bolshoi won the 2008 International Emmy Award for arts programming, and their documentaries The Royal Ballet in Cuba and BalletBoyz: The Rite of Spring were nominated for the 2010 Rose d’Or.

Surprisingly, the work that Nunn and Trevitt create with the new American dance company isn’t all that balletic. “We wanted the broadest possible audience and didn’t want to particularly specialize in one genre over another,” says Nunn. “And to really highlight the dancers, we had to find out what they could do best and then challenge them.”

Dance Teacher: Have you found differences between American and European dancers? 

Michael Nunn: In the U.K. I’m used to working with mainly ballet dancers. But in the U.S., the skillset of each dancer seems to be a lot broader. In one group there are dancers who can do ballet and hip hop and circus skills. It gives you so much more scope when creating a dance.

DT: Many of your dancers are only 18 years old. What were some of the challenges in working with them? 

MN: You forget how young they really are. For some of them, it’s their first professional engagement, and there are little things you wouldn’t expect out of more seasoned dancers. For instance, someone may come to class maybe three minutes before it starts, when you’d expect a professional dancer to be in there at least half an hour before. Not that the dancers were undisciplined. They just didn’t know some of the etiquette that comes with being in a professional setting.

The real challenge is digging out the abilities of each dancer in a short space of time. It’s not as if we had three months to work with them, and then create material; we had to create it instantly. We hadn’t taken into consideration that the guys weren’t as experienced in classical partnering, which is much different than contemporary partnering. So we had to change one of our pieces quite radically overnight and manipulate it. We had to be open to these types of changes, which you have to be if you only have a few days to create something.

DT: Do you like having cameras in the studio?  

MN: Even if we’re not filming for TV, we always record our work in the studio and show our dancers what they’ve been doing at the end of every day. It’s so instant. I can spend an hour giving notes to a group of 12 dancers, or I can just run the film back for 40 seconds and everyone gets it immediately. It’s an amazing tool.

And on the production side, we can film parts of the dance, take it back to the hotel and start piecing it together to see how it could work with different music or different backgrounds.

DT: So you would recommend that dance teachers use cameras on a day-to-day basis?  

MN: Absolutely. I use video for teaching class. Dancers can look at themselves in the mirror all day long and still not see what you do, maybe because they’re focusing only on one element. Video allows them to see a bigger picture. Whether a dancer’s shoulders are up through a whole solo or she’s not using the correct port de bras, you can just show her, and 99 times out of 100 she’ll understand. Dancers don’t like to look at themselves on video, but it’s something that I believe they should get used to from an early age. DT

 

 

Photo courtesy of Ovation

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Mitchell Button, courtesy of the artist

Dusty Button prefers music with a range. "There needs to be a beginning, a climax and a strong ending. Like a movie," she says. The award-winning dancer, who joined American Ballet Theatre's second company, ABT II, at 18, has always been drawn to lyric-free tracks filled with dynamic phrasing, rhythms and composition. "Whether it's the violin, piano or cello, instrumental music gives me more inspiration. I want the dancers and the audience to feel something new," she adds.

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

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

When the news broke that Prince George, currently third in line for the British throne, would be continuing ballet classes as part of his school curriculum this year, we were as excited as anyone. (OK, maybe more excited.)

This was not, it seems, a sentiment shared by "Good Morning America" host Lara Spencer.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo via Claudia Dean World on YouTube

Most parents start off pretty clueless when it comes to doing their dancer's hair. If you don't want your students coming in with elastic-wrapped bird's nests on their heads, you may want to give them some guidance. But who has time to teach each individual parent how to do their child's hair? Not you! So, we have a solution: YouTube hair tutorials.

These three classical hairdo vids are exactly what your dancers need to look fabulous and ready to work every time they step in your studio.

Enjoy!

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
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
To Share With Students
Via @madisongoodman_ on Instagram

Nationals season is behind us, but we just aren't quite over it yet. We've been thinking a lot about the freakishly talented winners of these competitions, and want to know a bit more about the people who got them to where they are. So, we asked three current national title holders to tell us the most powerful piece of advice their dance teacher ever gave them. What they have to say will melt your heart.

Way to go, dance teachers! Your'e doing amazing things for the rising generation!

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
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

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

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox