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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

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When dance teacher Tiffany Taylor decided it was time to go back to her job after having her baby, 14-month-old Skyler, she knew she needed to find a way to bring her little one to work with her. At Maria Priadka School of Dance in South Orange, New Jersey, where she teaches, students can't begin taking lessons until they are 2 1/2 years old, so putting Skyler in class while she taught was out of the question. To solve the problem, she decided it was time to create a dance class that both caregivers and babies (from 6 months to 2 years old) could enjoy. Shortly after, Boogie Woogie Babies was born.

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While Taylor teaches Boogie Woogie Babies at Maria Priadka School of Dance every Sunday, she's also traveling to different locations around New Jersey to expand her classes into an entire movement that everyone can experience. "Everyone really enjoys these classes," she says. "We recently had one where 40 students showed up to a class at a local library. The kids were jumping around and loving it!"

If you're interested in learning more about Boogie Woogie Babies, you can follow them on Instagram at @boogiewoogiebabies or Facebook at Boogie Woogie Babies.

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