High Five with Christy Wolverton

Dance Industry won the New York City Dance Alliance 2009 Teen Critics' Choice award for "Family."

“Before you can teach technique, you have to teach the love of dance,” says Christy Wolverton, owner and artistic director of Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, Texas. Dance Industry celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2010 and Wolverton’s commitment to training is beginning to pay off at competition. Last year at New York City Dance Alliance, two dancers, Mason Manning and Ida Saki, took home national titles (Saki also won a four-year partial scholarship to University of the Arts in Philadelphia), and the teen company won the highly coveted Teen Critics’ Choice award.

What’s the secret to Dance Industry’s success?

We have very high expectations of our dancers. Each competing performer must take tap, jazz, ballet, lyrical and hip-hop technique classes in addition to their regular schedule of competition classes. This way, we only attract kids who really love to dance. And of course it’s important to expose them to many different styles.

I am also very firm in my role as studio owner. It’s key to be in control and not bend your philosophies. It’s easy to get concerned about whether or not a parent is happy, or worry about a dancer leaving the studio. But I know the kind of dancers I want to produce—true artists. If the dancer wants to be a part of it and take on all the requirements, I want them to jump on board. But if they can’t handle it, maybe it isn’t the right place for them, and that’s OK.

As a teacher, what is the best part about taking your studio to competition?

The best part is watching your dancers succeed, especially the younger ones. They always surprise me. You put these young kids out onstage and you’re so nervous because you’re not sure what’s going to happen. When you get to watch them grow, it’s so beautiful. The dancers are different people onstage than they are in the studio.

What’s your favorite competition memory?

The second year I was in business, I took my dancers to New York City Dance Alliance nationals. Our jaws dropped when we saw how much talent was there. I thought it must have been a joke! We were not up to that level yet. I told [NYCDA Executive Director] Joe Lanteri, “We’re coming back and we’ll be better prepared!”

Seven years later in 2009, we did return just like I said we would, and our dancers won titles, scholarships and overall high score awards. It was so rewarding. To watch your dancers win something so substantial is like watching your child walk for the first time.

How do you handle competition stress?

You have to keep it all in perspective. When I first opened the studio, I was a basket case. But life is too short to be that way. Competition is about personal achievement. Winning isn’t what’s really important. Waking up and doing what we love every day—that’s what’s important. If someone tries to take away your love for dance, turn your back and move on.

What is your philosophy at your studio?

One of my favorite sayings is “leap and the net shall appear.” I try to teach that to dancers: If you want something, you need to go and get it and make it happen. Really put yourself out there.

I also teach openness and love at the studio. It’s important to make the dancers feel safe and comfortable, because that’s when they can really be themselves. No matter what, we’re all family. I tell the dancers they don’t have to like each other, but they have to respect each other. And at the end of the day, we all have each other’s backs.

 

Photo courtesy of Dance Industry Performing Arts Center

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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