Harlem School of the Arts' dance program director dreams big.

Aubrey Lynch II prepares Harlem School of Arts students to perform at the Apollo Theater in New York City.

"Dance with your back," Aubrey Lynch II calls over the music during an evening rehearsal with a trio of teen dancers at the Harlem School of the Arts in New York City. "Your arms are a little spaghetti-ish—we want wrought iron!" He's encouraging and kind, but he also demands passion and proper technique.

During the night's final run, one student becomes emotional. Her performance is heartbreaking and real, and Lynch uses it as a teachable moment for the other two dancers. "Tears mean courage," he tells them. "What you just saw was very brave and very beautiful. The audience wants us to be vulnerable. People look at dancers to tell the human story."

Lynch knows what audiences want; he comes to HSA after performing with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and in the original cast of The Lion King on Broadway. In his first year as dance program director, Lynch has used his professional expertise to imbue a venerable community center with a serious conservatory atmosphere. "I want the students to have fun, and to get real dance training at the same time," he says. "Most of all, I want them to feel empowered. They should leave here feeling like they have been seen, they have been heard and they are accepted as who they are, wherever they are in their training and their lives."

A Historic Institution

When he joined HSA's staff last summer, Lynch became part of a Harlem legacy. Founded in 1964 by Dorothy Maynor as a free after-school program, HSA held its first classes in the basement of St. James Presbyterian Church. New York City Ballet's Arthur Mitchell joined the faculty in 1966, and the school grew from there, breaking ground on its custom-designed facility in 1975. (George Balanchine offered advice on the design of its three dance studios.)

Today, HSA is a crucial part of the cultural fabric of Harlem. Students ages 2 to 18 come after school to study dance, music, theater and visual art from experienced, professional faculty. Total enrollment is around 600 students—roughly 175 dancers—and HSA's outreach programs reach another 2,000 public school children. All students can take an array of dance classes recreationally, and kids ages 12 and older can audition for HSA's structured pre-professional program. Although the school is now tuition-based, a number of scholarships are offered, particularly to students on the pre-professional track.

Because of its longevity, HSA has a unique family feel. "In the dance department, I've seen people who brought their children now bringing their grandchildren," says Yvonne Curry, a tap teacher at HSA for 14 years. "People in the area know about and respect Harlem School of the Arts."

A School in Transition

In 2010, HSA's funding ran out and the school was forced to close its doors for three weeks. It was brought back to life by generous private donations but needed revamping. Yvette L. Campbell, a former member of Elisa Monte Dance and the founder and director of The Ailey Extension program at The Ailey School, took the reins as president. She hired new program directors, including Lynch, who in turn hired an array of prestigious dance faculty, whose affiliations include New York City Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Ailey and Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

To increase the overall seriousness of the program, Lynch enforced the dress code, lengthened class times and shifted the focus toward technique—even for recreational students. "I knew we had to be patient with the kids who were used to a different kind of training," he says. "I told my teachers, 'Bring me your best tools, but meet the kids where they are.' I don't want to lose the community center feel, but I want the training to be real."

Students on HSA's pre-professional track are getting a true taste of conservatory-style training. They take ballet, modern, African and jazz classes each week, go on dance-related field trips and have additional performance opportunities. "I've designed this program so that if you take the classes in the order I've set them out, you can be a dancer, if you want to be," Lynch says.

Looking Ahead

A major component in HSA's revamping is the addition of a musical theater program, which Campbell and Lynch hope will unite the school's four disciplines into a fifth. Although only two musical theater classes were offered this year, the program's expansion is in the works.

"We eventually want to create a full production each term, with set design and costuming coming from the visual art students, the music students playing and singing, and the actors and dancers onstage," Campbell says. "Dancers are sometimes afraid to speak and sing onstage, and actors and singers might be afraid to move, but you have to do all three on Broadway. If we can get our students over those fears early, they'll have more performance options in the future."

Lynch's background has also enabled a partnership between HSA and Disney Theatrical Group that brings in the cast and crew of The Lion King. This semester, participating students have learned about African and Asian cultural arts (including dance, music, storytelling and mask-making) and have studied the songs and choreography from the Broadway production. The project culminates in June in the first-ever children's production of The Lion King, a collaboration of HSA students, faculty and Disney guest artists.

A New Vision

In recent years, HSA has become a training destination not only for the local community, but also for students commuting from Connecticut, New Jersey and surrounding New York areas. "I think people come from all over because it's a very hands-on organization," says Horton Technique teacher Freddie Moore. "We get to know students and their families and show them that we really care. HSA is known for that, and it will continue with Aubrey, who really has a heart for people and is a go-getter."

Lynch's dream is for the school's reputation to soar even higher. "When our kids audition for high school, college or companies, I want having HSA on their resumé to mean something," he says, "and for you to see the training on their bodies." DT

 

Kathryn Holmes is a writer and dancer based in Brooklyn, NY.

Photo by Giuliana Mackler

Dancer Health
Courtesy of Susan Jaffe

Throughout Susan Jaffe's performance career at American Ballet Theatre, there was something special, even magical, about her dancing. Lauded as "America's quintessential American ballerina" by The New York Times, Jaffe has continued to shine in her postperformance career, most recently as the dean of dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. She credits the "magic" to her meditation practice, which she began in the 1990s at the height of her career. We sat down with Jaffe to learn more about her practice and how it has helped her both on and off the stage.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix, has been called the Queen of Fundraising by colleagues. A studio owner and high school dance coach with over four decades of experience, Clough is known for her smart and successful fundraising ideas.

Now, Just For Kix has created a new online tool to help everyone tackle their fundraising goals, whether you're raising money for uniforms, extra classes, or to cover the cost of travel for your dance team's next convention.

Clough shared a few of her best fundraising tips, including everything you need to know about the new tool:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
From The Rock School 2019 Showcase. Photo by Catherine Park, courtesy of The Rock School

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by NYCDA
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Kyle Froman

Darla Hoover was at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's studios running a rehearsal in 2014 with director Marcia Dale Weary. Hoover had just returned the day before from staging a ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. Jet-lagged, she mixed up her words when giving a correction.

Weary took Hoover's hand and gently said, "Honey, you work too hard."

Hoover, and the students, had a good laugh.

"Are you kidding me?" Hoover replied. "You're the one who made this monster. There is no off switch!"

Weary founded CPYB in 1955, and it quickly became an internationally known school that has produced countless principal dancers. Famous for her high standards and tough work ethic, Weary instilled those qualities in Hoover, who served as associate artistic director at CPYB under Weary, as artistic director at Ballet Academy East's pre-professional division in New York City and as a répétiteur for the Balanchine Trust.

Hoover took over as artistic director at CPYB in the spring this year after Weary died suddenly, and while she's committed to continuing Weary's legacy, students have begun to see some of Hoover's vision as well.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Jessica Kubat (center) with her studio staff. Photo by Vincent Alongi, courtesy of Kubat

Jessica Kubat's path to becoming a studio owner wasn't typical or glamorous or the product of a family business, handed down. When she opened MJ's House of Dance in Lindenhurst, New York, this past summer, she had just turned 40, was a mom of three, and had worked at two different studios long-term. Over the last two and a half years, she'd painstakingly saved up $25,000 and had gone to the Small Business Development Center at a local college on Long Island for help creating her business plan. Her area was moderately saturated with studios, so she spent considerable time planning what would set her school apart—live musical accompaniment, for one—and hired a marketing director nine months before the business even opened. It was a methodical, careful approach—Kubat calls it "the old-fashioned way"—to opening a studio, and it's paid off: She started summer classes with 75 students and is well on her way to reaching her first-year enrollment goal of 250 dancers. "When I turned 40, I decided that it was time to do something bigger," says Kubat. "I always wanted to own a studio—it was just never financially available to me."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
From left: Daniel Novikov, Alla Novikova and Mishella Vishnevskiy at Blackpool 2018. Photo by NYC Digital Media, courtesy of Alla Novikova

Alla Novikova began her dance training at a ballroom studio called Edelweiss in Saratov, Russia, when she was 9 years old. She was immediately recognized for her natural talent and work ethic, placing third at the Russian Open just three months after beginning ballroom lessons. The lessons she learned at Edelweiss shaped her career and provided the foundation she needed to open her own ballroom studio: Work hard to prove that you're good enough to be here, and give honor to the experiences that brought you to where you are today.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Professions across the globe hold yearly conferences, and the dance industry is certainly no exception. Annual conferences exist for dance teachers, dance medicine professionals, dance educators and more. Taking the time out to attend them can be well worth your while for a number of different reasons. Let's take a closer look at four of them.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Father-daughter dance. Photo by Lisa Lee, courtesy of Dance Academy USA

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: How do you approach gender when teaching in 2019? When I was training, male dancers were encouraged to make their movement masculine, while female dancers were encouraged to keep their movement feminine. Today, gender has become much more fluid, and the line between masculine and feminine performance has blurred. How does that impact the way we should be teaching?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo courtesy of Z Artists Group

New York City–based pre-professional training troupe Z Artists Group, along with dancers from eight professional companies in the city, are joining together to combat gun violence with, "DANCERS DEMAND ACTION," a performance aligning art with activism at The Joyce Theater, this Monday, November 11, at 7:30 pm.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Infinite Flow

Last week, 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and her partner Piotr Iwanicki brought their boundary-breaking work to the "Good Morning America" stage in a segment highlighting her inclusive dance company Infinite Flow.

Infinite Flow is a Los Angeles–based wheelchair ballroom dance company (the first of its kind in the U.S.) that incorporates an equal number of disabled and nondisabled dancers, as well as a range of styles like hip hop, contemporary and other partner dances.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox