To Share With Students

Harrison Knostman's Winning Path to Juilliard

Photo courtesy of NYCDA

In March 2018, Jennifer Knostman got a call from her son, Harrison. When she picked up, all she could hear was sobbing on the other end. After a brief second of anticipation, she finally heard him exclaim "Mom! I got into Juilliard!"


It was everything she could have dreamed of, not just for her child but for her student, as well. "You invest so much into taking your dancers as far as you can—it meant so much to see him reach this goal," says Knostman, the owner of Studio West Dance Center in Fort Collins, Colorado. "For years people told me that I should send him away to train, and I said, 'No, darn it—I get my 18 years! I can continue to challenge him myself.' I knew I could do it, and I didn't want to miss out on any part of his journey."

In 2005, the 40-year-old, stay-at-home-mom of three decided to fulfill a longtime dream and open a dance studio. Her 9-year-old daughter Noel (who recently graduated from Point Park University's dance program) and 5-year-old Harrison were the driving force for the kind of training she wanted to provide.

"They started showing a lot of promise," Knostman says. "By the time Harrison was 8, it became extremely evident that he could go somewhere with this. When he was 13, I knew I needed to expose him and all of my dancers to outside teachers." Knostman says that meeting Joe Lanteri was the turning point in Harrison's future. "He saw Harrison in the back of the room during his first-ever convention class, and immediately came and asked us who we were and where we had been all these years," she says. "I told him we were still a relatively new studio and that I didn't think we were good enough to come to NYCDA before. He said that everyone is always welcome, and from there, doors began opening."

To date, Harrison is a YoungArts 2018 alumnus, the 2018 NYCDA National Senior Male Outstanding Dancer, and an NYCDA Foundation scholarship recipient of $15,000—an amount his mother says has made all the difference. "Harrison would not be at Juilliard today without this scholarship money," she says. "We are a fortunate middle-class family—my husband has always had a good job—but we would not have had the means to pursue a lot of the things that we have been able to without the help of NYCDA. From regional scholarships to Juilliard, they've meant the world to us."

Harrison says he is forever thankful for the training and guidance his mother provided him at her studio. "She is my mom and my dance teacher all in one," he says. "She has watched me dance since I was 3, and to be able to share all of this with her—I'm getting emotional just thinking about it." While he's loving his time at Juilliard, he misses his first-ever dance teacher every day and is always eager for the chance to bring the things he's learned in college back to his hometown studio. "My mom made such an incredible program in such a short amount of time," he says. "She is the reason I am where I am today. No one will ever understand me better—as an artist, and as a person."

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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