Guest Blog: Update from the New NYU/ABT Ballet Pedagogy Program

In January, we observed 60 hours of classes at American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. The idea was to see how the instructors used ABT's new teaching curriculum, and to note movement progression and class structure and themes.

The teachers were extremely precise in their demonstration of combinations, with an emphasis on accents, use of turnout and track of arms. There was no hemming or hawing about counts or about what was expected from the students. The students’ muscles and movement were being almost systematically trained – one could equate it to a sculptor carving out a work of art from a mound of clay. The exercises worked at chiseling specific muscle memories and movement qualities that were then built upon and honed as each level progressed.

There are three programs: Ballet for the Young Dancer for ages 5–10, the JKO school for students ages 12–18 and the ABT II studio company. Regardless of level, instructors made comments about looking beautiful, or performing or presenting the combinations. I particularly enjoyed the use of imagery and the way certain teachers made corrections:

  • “You are on balance because the music told you that you are on balance.” (level 7 women’s class)
  • “When you lift, the third turn (pirouette) happens. Do two on balance with an extra spot.” (Level 6)
  • “When are you going to practice being on stage? When you’re on stage? It’s too late.” (Level 7 modern)
  • “Your heels are kissing together.” (Explaining first position in Ballet for the Young Dancer class.)
  • “It’s like a beautiful package when you present yourself. You want to see the beautiful wrapping. Not the Scotch tape that holds it together.” (Level 7)
  • “It’s not a balance if you’re holding on to the barre.” (ABT II/ABT combined company class)
  • “Kiss the knees.” (Cambre forward, levels 5 & 6)
  • “Fifth is magic. From there, you can do anything.” (ABT II)
  • “Think of having a hot, delicious cup of hot chocolate on your shoulder. Don’t spill it!” (Ballet for the Young Dancer class)
Teachers Trending
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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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

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Dancer Diary
Claire McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet

Former Houston Ballet dancer Chun Wai Chan has always been destined for New York City Ballet.

While competing at Prix de Lausanne in 2010, he was offered summer program scholarships at both the School of American Ballet and Houston Ballet. However, because two of the competition's winners that year were Houston Ballet's Aaron Sharratt and Liao Xiang, dancers Chan idolized, he turned down SAB. He joined Houston Ballet II in 2010, the main company's corps de ballet in 2012, and was promoted to principal in 2017. Oozing confidence and technical prowess, Chan was a Houston favorite, and even landed himself a spot on Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch."

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