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Find Out What Tools Saleemah E. Knight Uses in Her Classroom

Saleema E. Knight, with USC Kaufman students (Photo by Carolyn DiLorento, courtesy of USC Kaufman)

Right from the start, dance professor Saleemah E. Knight gets her students—a mix of dance majors and nonmajors at University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance—working up a sweat. "I really think about the whole body moving," she says. "I think the warm-up should be a dance." Her 30-minute warm-up is jam-packed with full-bodied exercises that take dancers from standing to the floor and back up again, exploring positions of the pelvis, finding parallel and the articulation of the spine. To work their brains, Knight uses Matt Mattox jazz technique exercises. "They help with finding shapes and changing the way that you're using your brain to map information. A lot of the Matt Mattox work is very juxtapositional," she says.


From Knight's early days studying ballet and Gus Giordano technique to the Horton, Graham, Dunham, Luigi and Fosse techniques she encountered as a professional dancer, everything finds a way into her class curriculum. "My style requires a dancer to have a strong sense of shape, design and architecture in the body, yet also a sense of groove," she says. "We don't ignore rhythm, musicality and groundedness—getting down in your legs like you would in a hip-hop class."

Improvisation is a key component of Knight's class. She'll have her students listen to the polyrhythms in the live accompaniment as a launching point for their explorations. "Jazz really is steeped in improvisation," she says. "I tell my dancers that improvisation is making real-time negotiations with the music. It's an intellectual skill."

Teaching Tools

LEOTARD SHE LOVES: Motionwear Mesh Keyhole-Back Tank Leotard

FAVORITE FOOTWEAR: Capezio-E Series Jazz Slip-on shoe. "I also still love a good lace-up jazz boot. I know it's old school, but the ankle support and wrap around the foot is solid for execution."

TO STAY IN SHAPE: "Dance, of course, but I also enjoy yoga during my off season. Like dance, it's a holistic practice that engages the mind, body and spirit."

RECOMMENDED VIEWING: The BBC documentary The King Who Invented Ballet, the PBS documentary Blacks and Vaudeville and the National Visionary Leadership Project's interviews with Dance Theatre of Harlem founder Arthur Mitchell

FAVORITE QUICK SNACK: Luna Bars or almonds and berries mixed with yogurt

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Quinn Wharton, courtesy of Forance

While Teddy Forance admits that performing with commercial artists like Lady Gaga and Madonna, and in front of 30,000 people, is exhilarating, he is personally drawn to more abstract music when he choreographs. It's a preference that sometimes confounds his contemporaries. "Some of my friends will ask, 'How do you choreograph to music that sounds like silverware fighting?'" he says. "I just tell them one sound at a time," he says.

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Sponsored by Dance Teacher Web
Courtesy Dance Teacher Web

Dance students aren't the only ones who get to spend their summers learning new skills and refining their dance practice. Studio owners and administrators can also use the summer months to scope out new curriculum ideas, learn the latest business strategies and even earn a certification or two.

At Dance Teacher Web's Conference and Expo, attendees will spend July 29–August 1 in Las Vegas, Nevada learning everything from new teaching methods to studio management software. And as if the dance and business seminars weren't enough, participants can also choose from three certifications to earn during the conference to help expand their expertise, generate new revenue and set their studios apart:

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Dance Teachers Trending
Via YouTube

The celebration of tap dance legend Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's birthday comes each year May 25, and the dance world goes wild for it! Since 1989 the day has been celebrated by tap lovers everywhere through music, movement and festivals.

Interested in joining the party this year? Here's one special way to celebrate NTDD in 2019.

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David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

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To Share With Students

Dance Teacher 2014 K–12 public-school education award recipient, Joan Sheary, is starring in a new documentary, Toe the Line: Arts Education for Life. The film, which is currently wrapping 10 years of filming, follows a group of high school students as they participate in a public arts magnet middle school program in Worcester, Massachusetts, under the direction of dance teacher and former Rockette, Sheary.

Through the eyes of the students, the audience has the opportunity to see the value of arts education in action. The film shows students as they navigate daily practice, grueling workouts, competition, bullying, peer pressure and complex home dynamics, all culminating in the school's year-end performances.

"We have filmed for a total of 450 hours over a 10-year period," director Barbara Copithorne says. "The result is Toe the Line: Arts Education for Life—a 76-minute documentary about Joan Sheary, the origin and breadth of the program she created, the students' lives she's touched and a city that supports the arts."

As the film creeps toward festival submissions, the creators are reaching out to the dance community to raise funds for its release. You can contribute here.

Sheary's success as a teacher was celebrated at our yearly Dance Teacher Award presentation in 2014. To participate in this year's DT Awards, join us at The Dance Teacher Summit in Long Beach, California. Follow the link to get more information on registration, class schedules and events.

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Julianna D. Photography, courtesy of Abreu

Although Rudy Abreu is currently JLo's backup dancer and an award-winning choreographer—his piece "Pray" tied for second runner-up at the 2018 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and a variation of the piece made it to the finals on NBC's "World of Dance"—he still finds time to teach. Especially about how he hears music.

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Getty Images

Q: Our dancers' parents want to observe class, but students won't focus if I let them in the room. I've tried having them observe the last 10 minutes of class, but even that can be disruptive and bring the dancers' progress to a halt. Do you have any advice on how to handle this?

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Dance Teacher Tips
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James Payne, director of The School of Pennsylvania Ballet, starts class each day by asking students how they feel. "If they're collectively hurting, and I know that the day before they were working hard on something new, I might lessen the intensity of the class," he says. "I won't slow it down, though. Sometimes it's better to move through the aches and get to the other side."

A productive class depends, in part, on how well it is paced. If you move too slow, you risk losing students' interest and creating unwanted heaviness. Move too fast and dancers might not fully benefit from combinations or get sufficiently warm, increasing their risk of injury. But even these guidelines may differ depending on the students' age and level. Good pacing is a delicate balance that can facilitate mental and physical growth, but it requires good planning, close observation and the ability to adapt mid-class.

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Studio Owners
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Running your own studio often comes with a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. After all, you're the one who teaches class, creates choreography, collects tuition, plans a recital, calls parents, answers e-mails, orders costumes—plus a host of other tasks, some of which you probably don't even think about. But what if you had someone to help you, someone who could take certain routine or clerical tasks off your hands, freeing you up to focus on what you love?

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Dance Teachers Trending
Derek and Julianne Hough via @juleshough on Instagram

Here at Dance Teacher, we LOVE a talented dance family. Something about parents and siblings passing their passion for dance down to those who come after them just warms our hearts.

While there are many sets of talented siblings across all genres of dance, ballroom seems to be particularly booming with them.

Don't believe us? Check out these four sets of ballrooms siblings we can't take our eyes off of. Their parents have raised them right!

This is far from a comprehensive list, so feel free to share your favorite sets of dance siblings over in our comments!

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Courtesy of Roxey Ballet

This weekend, Roxey Ballet presented a sensory-friendly production of Cinderella at the Kendell Main Stage Theater in Ewing, New Jersey, with sound adjustments, a relaxed house environment and volunteers present to assist audience members with special needs. The production came on the heels of three educational residencies held at New Jersey–based elementary schools in honor of Autism Awareness Month in April.

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