Fight the Flu

These days, it’s easy to get caught up in the flu panic. But don’t fret. While a dance studio—like any school—is at a high risk for illness outbreaks due to the number of people interacting in an enclosed space, there are smart ways to prevent the spread of germs. Follow these tips to learn how to protect your studio.

1. Make the studio warm ’n’ toasty. “Remember that warming up the body properly and keeping it warm will make the immune system stronger and more able to ward off bacteria or viruses,” says Natalie Caamano, a certified sports nutritionist and dance instructor at the Garden State Ballet in Rutherford, NJ. Keep an eye on the thermostat, remember to turn the heat on well before the first class and remind staff to begin every class with a 10- to 15-minute warm-up. Also, encourage students to wear cozy cover-ups for the first part of class and when arriving at and leaving the studio.

2. Scrub your space spotless. High-trafficked areas are breeding grounds for germs, so take action to keep your studio clean. “Wipe barres down at the end of every class,” advises Dr. Rebecca Clearman, a former dancer and current director of the Personal Physician Group in Houston, TX. “Wipe down anything people touch—door handles, telephones, mirrors, mats, sinks, toilets, class props.” Dr. Clearman recommends placing disinfecting-wipe dispensers in handy spots around your building. Keep hand sanitizer gel and Kleenex readily available inside each classroom, as well.

3. Wash, wash, wash those hands! The number one defense against catching colds is to wash hands with soap and warm water several times a day. Keep antibacterial soap and paper towels on hand in the bathrooms, and be sure to remind all students to cleanse hands before and after class. “We have signs posted over our sinks about hand washing and how to do it properly,” says Caamano, who suggests telling younger students to sing “Happy Birthday” twice through to ensure proper hand-washing time.

4. Sometimes not sharing is caring. It’s OK to teach children not to share some types of personal items, say our experts. “During flu season, dance students shouldn’t share anything—towels, water bottles, snacks, ChapStick,” says Dr. Clearman. Doing so puts the entire class at risk for spreading sickness through simple hand-to-hand or hand-to-surface contact, especially if sweat or saliva is involved. Repeat this information weekly to your classes.

5. Lighten attendance policies. With viruses like H1N1 becoming widespread earlier this year, it’s best to be flexible about attendance this winter. “If you notice someone coughing and sneezing, send them home. And have a specific place where sick children can rest apart from the other students while waiting for their parents to pick them up—one kid will get everybody sick,” says Dr. Clearman. But, it’s important that sick students aren’t penalized for their absences, she adds. Be reasonable about tuition costs, and consider holding additional auditions or rehearsals if a number of students miss important ones.

6. Keep parents in the loop. A studio handout or e-newsletter on germ-fighting tips is an excellent tool for teachers to communicate with parents during flu season, says Karlyn Grimes, a registered dietitian and exercise physiologist in Boston, MA. “A newsletter makes the dancers and their families feel cared for and important,” she adds. An informative poster on the studio bulletin board or walls (download free posters from www.flu.gov), or a website announcement can serve the same purpose. Parents will notice your concern and appreciate your flu-season preparedness and competency.

7. And don’t forget to take care of yourself! Never underestimate the power of basic healthy habits, says Grimes. A well-balanced diet, exercise and plenty of sleep certainly help ward off sickness for physically active people. “Taking a multivitamin will ensure you are getting more cold-fighting nutrients such as vitamin C, which keeps your immune system strong,” says Grimes. “But remember, a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables full of disease-fighting antioxidants gives you the complete nutritional package.” DT

Debbie Strong is a health editor and dance teacher in New York City.

iStockphoto.com/NathanMarx

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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