Trending

Here's Why Finis Jhung Thinks Teaching Ballet Is Like Being a Great Cook

Jhung leading a class at his Ailey Intensive in February. Photo by Stephen von der Lanitz, courtesy of Jhung

Finis Jhung's career as a professional dancer began in 1960 in the Broadway and national companies of Flower Drum Song. The Korean-Scottish-English Hawaii native then went on to dance with San Francisco Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet, found his own company, Chamber Ballet USA, and teach his unique classical ballet style to professionals and amateurs all over the world. Now, at age 80, his teaching has gone full circle back to the basics, primarily focusing on what he calls his "adult babies"—absolute and advanced adult beginners—at The Ailey Extension in New York City.


Photo by Stephen von der Lanitz, courtesy of Jhung

When choosing music for beginners, Jhung takes a thoughtful approach. "Beginners need beautiful slow adagios," he says, "which adult beginners find relaxing and meditative, so they have time to think about what they are doing." He goes on to admit, "I stopped using live pianists for these adult-beginner classes because most pianists cannot sustain four-minute-long adagios, and they cannot match the fullness of orchestrated music."

Photo courtesy of Jhung

This observation inspired his collaboration with composer Scott Killian, who has composed several albums with Jhung. The digital orchestrations they crafted together support the work Jhung teaches in class—emphasizing the correct posture, placement and traveling across the floor with linking steps, simple pirouettes and simple jumps. Jhung finds these important principles of ballet easier to teach when students are accompanied by the right music.

"Practice the correct mechanics of movement," Jhung says. "That, to me, is ballet technique. Like following a good recipe when you cook, if you follow it to the letter, you are a great cook!"

Technique
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.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
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.

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.