Dance Teachers Trending

Hofstra Professor Robin Becker Brings a Dance of Reconciliation to Vietnam

Robin Becker Dance toured Vietnam with Into Sunlight. Photo by John Maniaci, courtesy of Becker

A group of dancers charges across the stage, a frantic flock of bodies running to the building intensity of drumbeats. Suddenly, the stage is transformed into a virtual battlefield: The dancers duck, dive to the floor and cover their heads, launching their bodies through space. Later, they come together downstage center and stand in a final moment of unity to face the audience, as if in defiance of the horrors they've just endured.

These images are from choreographer Robin Becker's Into Sunlight—an evening-length work about war. In September 2015, Becker and her cast of 16 dancers toured Into Sunlight through Vietnam for 10 days. Though she had reservations about how the work would be received in Vietnam, Becker hoped it would be a healing experience. The tour coincided with the anniversary of renewed diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam.


A Citizen Artist

“I tend to take on big topics," says Becker. “I believe in an artist being relevant to their time. I heard Yo-Yo Ma describe himself as a 'citizen artist.' I love that phrase."

When she isn't making work for her contemporary dance company, Robin Becker Dance, Becker teaches at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. A dance educator for 40 years, she teaches technique classes, choreography courses and a somatic practice called Continuum Movement. She has balanced her roles as an educator and artistic director successfully for 29 years, setting 30 works on her company to date.

Out of Darkness, Into Sunlight

Her impetus to create Into Sunlight came in 2003 when the U.S. went to war with Iraq. “I was so heartbroken," she says. “I felt that I needed to make a statement." She found inspiration in David Maraniss' book They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967, about a devastating ambush of a U.S. battalion and a student protest at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The book's insight into the experiences of the survivors and the deceased's family members deeply affected Becker.

“I became aware that many of my students had no idea that wars were going on, nor were they very interested at the time," says Becker. “Because of the educator in me, I wanted them to become more conscious." She selected a group of Hofstra students to dance alongside her company members and got to work creating Into Sunlight.

From West to East

After reaching out to Maraniss, who was eager to help get the project off the ground, Becker and her company were able to meet with some of the people featured in his book. The author even arranged for Into Sunlight to premiere at UW–Madison in 2011. It was RBD executive director Gloria Hage who saw the healing potential of Into Sunlight and felt that it should be performed in Vietnam. Since 2015 marked the 20th anniversary of renewed diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam, it seemed the ideal time to embark on a tour of the country. A Vietnamese artist Hage knew connected Robin Becker Dance with Vietnamese modern company Together Higher, and the two companies decided on a joint tour through three cities to promote healing and reconciliation between their respective nations.

In September, Becker and her company set out on a 10-day tour through Hanoi, Ha Long Bay and Ho Chi Minh City. Becker also taught a master class at Vietnam Dance College. “It's a platitude that dance is the universal language, but my experience teaching there, especially with such a language barrier, was the deeper truth of that," she says. “It was such a beautiful experience to feel the common bond of movement and how clear a language it really is."

Becker (in blue) surrounded by students of Vietnam Dance College. Photo by Ron Honsa, courtesy of Becker

The Power of Dance

The response to Into Sunlight was phenomenal—the shows in Vietnam were completely sold out. “Seeing young people trying to embody a historical experience that is still continuing today really touched a lot of people," says Becker. Perhaps most rewarding, though, were the discussions that arose. Performances at UW–Madison, Hofstra University, and, later, the United States Military Academy at West Point and Vanderbilt University were followed by talkback sessions with the company, audiences and Maraniss. “They were opportunities for veterans to give voice to their experiences," says Becker.

As for the future of the work, “my hope is that this would be universal," she says. At press conferences in Vietnam, Becker was occasionally met with resistance by reporters. “They often grilled me about, 'Why are you coming to Vietnam with this piece about war? Do you only think about war when you think about Vietnam?'" she says. “I would just explain to them that I didn't set out to do a work about Vietnam. I set out to do a work about war and conflict in the world." She hopes to bring the piece to other countries, and a documentary film about Into Sunlight is in the works, set for release sometime this year.

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by spinkickpictures.com, courtesy of Mitchell

"Popular music has an overall energy that lends itself to the street-jazz style," says Derek Mitchell. But over the last eight years or so, the choreographer, who also teaches contemporary, jazz funk and musical theater, has noticed a lack of great musicality and interesting lyrics. As a result, Mitchell's music searches often gravitate toward the classic hits from artists like Prince and Janet Jackson. "Rarely do I hear a new song that makes me go, 'Oh, I want to dance to that!'"

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Students in Pulinkala's Cocoon. Photo by Robert Pack, courtesy of Kennesaw State

When Ivan Pulinkala was preparing for his interview at Kennesaw State University to create the school's first dance program, he figured the whole thing would be a lark, at best. After all, the New Delhi–born choreographer had just gotten his green card, which meant he could teach anywhere, and Kennesaw, Georgia (a half-hour outside of Atlanta), wasn't his first choice as a location. But after doing a scan of collegiate dance in Georgia, he began to change his mind. "I thought, 'Wow, if someone starts a big dance program at a public institution, the market's wide open,'" says Pulinkala. "There were some good programs, like Emory University, but they were niche—private and expensive."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Courtesy Harlequin Floors

Just like your car, your studio needs periodic tune-ups to keep it humming along smoothly. If you take the time to address a few small fixes, your business will stand out. And you don't have to break the bank, either—you might be surprised how low-cost, DIY improvements can make a surprising difference.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Getty Images

When your students graduate and move to the big city to pursue their dreams, they'll almost immediately discover that there's a void left where your studio once was. Not only will they miss your instruction and daily support, but they'll miss having a physical space to work through challenging movement, polish their technique and improv with no one watching. Help them with their adjustment period by telling them about the studio spaces they can rent out when they need some one-on-one time with the mirror and the music.

Here are five for you to share with them—you're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Gabriel Figueredo in a variation from Raymonda. VAM Productions, Courtesy YAGP.

This week, more than 1,000 young hopefuls gathered in New York City for the Youth America Grand Prix finals, giving them the chance to compete for scholarships and contracts to some of the world's top ballet schools and companies. Roughly 85 dancers made it to the final round at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater on Wednesday. Today, the 20th anniversary of YAGP came to a close at the competition's awards ceremony. Read on to find out who won!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: A student of mine recently got a bad sprained ankle, and it's been weak ever since she returned to class. Are there any exercises you suggest to strengthen it?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photos by Kyle Froman

A few years ago, Mary Ann Lamb got a phone call from Ann Reinking, who was choreographing a production of The Visit starring Chita Rivera. Lamb was thrilled when Reinking offered her the role of Young Claire without even asking for an audition. "And then she said, 'In the first act, you're going to play Chita Rivera when she's a 17-year-old virgin,'" Lamb says, "and I'm like, 'What am I gonna do? I'm like 50 years old!' I started panicking. My dream was to be in the room with Ann Reinking and Chita Rivera, but I was scared to death I was going to make a fool of myself."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
YouTube

"WOD" is back for Season 3, and once again, the internet is loving it! How much do they love it, you ask? Well they've watched many of the dances millions of times, so it's safe to say—A WHOLE LOT! We did some research and discovered which dances have been watched the most since Season 3's premiere, and the results may surprise you.

Here are the top-four most viewed "WOD" videos of the season so far! Let us know your favorite over on our Facebook page!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Q: As a dance teacher, which products do you prefer, Apple or Google?

Keep reading... Show less
Unsplash

When it comes to running a thriving dance studio, Cindy Clough knows what she's talking about. As executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner for more than four decades, she's all too aware of the unique challenges the job presents, from teaching to scheduling to managing employees and clients.

Here, Clough shares her best advice for new studio owners, and the answers to some common questions that come up when you're getting started.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Getty Images

The one thing that can unite all of us on April 15 is the fact that everyone hates doing their taxes. Though they are necessary, they are exhausting and time-consuming, and just plain no fun for anyone!

To help you cope, we've captured what doing taxes feels like through a series of dancer memes.

YOU'RE WELCOME!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Bartlett, front and center, leading a class. Photo by Arthur Fink, courtesy of Bartlett

When Hollis Bartlett began attending NYU's Tisch School of the Arts in 2007, the modern-dance faculty urged students to explore the relationship between composed music and dancing. Coming from a studio that typically used popular tunes or songs with lyrics, rather than scores by Philip Glass or John Cage, Bartlett found this valuable, yet challenging. "Now, as an artist I can fight that rule," says Bartlett, who's danced with Doug Varone and Dancers for seven years.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox