Green Learning

As the potential impact of environmental devastation has become more apparent—and what was once the sole province of “tree-huggers” is now the crusade of actors, politicians and rock stars—many businesses have traded long-held antipathy toward environmentalism for a commitment to eco-friendly policies.

The “green” revolution that has swept this country in recent years has even reached the dance studio. This fall, Point Park University in Pittsburgh will unveil its state-of-the-art $15.4 million dance facility, which has been certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. The building has sustainably harvested wood floors, a performance space with high ceilings and expansive windows to maximize natural light, reflective wall finishing (colored with paint that is low in volatile organic compounds, or VOCs), lighting that can be manually controlled by instructors, low-flow showers, faucets and toilets and an Energy Star–rated roof. If the new, 42,000-square-foot complex feels like a breath of fresh air, there’s a reason—carbon dioxide levels and air quality will be continuously monitored and the building’s HVAC system will draw in more fresh air than most buildings its size.

As a setting where children exercise, a dance studio is a particularly important place to have good indoor air quality. In fact, there are many potential benefits of going green: creating a healthy setting for students and teachers, saving money, enhancing public image, demonstrating community involvement, increasing publicity and marketing opportunities, boosting teacher morale and of course, helping the environment. Several studies over the past decade, notably one by researchers at University of Oregon and Golden State University, have found a positive correlation between environmental performance and profit.

With Americans ranking climate change as the country’s most pressing environmental problem (according to a 2006 MIT survey), they are increasingly committed to living a green lifestyle—and supporting companies that do, too. Parents and teens tend to be particularly concerned with eco-consciousness. For parents, the fear that their children’s small bodies may soak up a proportionally larger amount of chemicals and toxins has led many to change their buying habits and clean up their homes. Teens who have grown up recycling are especially passionate about this cause.

You don’t need to duplicate Point Park’s green palace to make an impact, both in terms of protecting your studio environment and the environment at large. In truth, many dance studios have long embraced these concepts for other reasons. Who doesn’t remember adding layers of legwarmers in the winter because the studio owner needed to save on heating? And many schools have minimal or no air conditioning, even in the summer months, because of the belief that it’s hard on the muscles and not the best air to breathe while dancing. Also, many buildings that house dance spaces are converted from other uses, which is an eco-friendly alternative to constructing a facility that requires new building materials.

But as studios have modernized and grown, many have lost some of their environmental strengths. Many of the laudable efforts over the past few decades to insulate for energy efficiency have had the ironic effect of reducing indoor air quality and trapping volatile organic compounds indoors. A fresh coat of paint or new carpeting may release chemicals in the air that can trigger asthma, allergies and headaches in students with chemical sensitivities. Even poorly maintained air-conditioning systems can cause air-quality issues that may result in lower performance levels.

Luckily, there are inexpensive, effective ways to integrate environmentally friendly strategies into your operations. In many cases, future energy savings can offset costs. Advanced technologies and products are providing new ways to reduce a studio’s environmental impact and create a healthy setting. These start with the very simple—buying recycled paper products and using non-chemical cleaning supplies—to those that are more complex and costly, such as installing energy-efficient heating systems.

Help is also abundant for businesses taking the initiative to become eco-conscious. Many metro areas have green business programs that offer resources, support and promotional opportunities. Incentives in the form of rebates and low- or zero-interest loans are also offered on local and national levels for companies planning to invest capital in energy efficiency or waste reduction.

Every step, whether small or large, has an impact. By integrating environmental responsibility into the daily operation of your studio, you will help ensure the health of your students, the environment and your bottom line. DT

Caitlin Sims is the Editor at Large of Dance Teacher magazine. 

Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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