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How Camille Rommett Is Keeping Her Mother's Floor-Barre Method Legacy Alive

Camille Rommett, left, with her mother Zena, who founded the floor-barre method. Photo courtesy of Rommett.

In 1965, Zena Rommett was asked to teach her unique Floor-Barre method at the American Ballet Center by ballet legend Robert Joffrey. Her gentle-yet-effective technique inspired countless professional dancers over the years, who became faithful followers as a supplement to their dance training. From choreographer Lar Lubovitch to Tommy Tune, Patrick Swayze and Judith Jamison, many swear by the benefits of the technique. Rommett taught it until she was 90.

The summer after Rommett's death, her daughter Camille made her debut on the faculty of our Dance Teacher Summit. She describes teaching to a packed convention room as "a very humbling experience." Despite students often telling her she sounds similar to her mother, she's learned it's not about filling her mother's shoes, but keeping her mother's legacy—and the integrity of the technique—alive.


Dance Teacher: Do you approach teaching the technique differently to teachers versus to dancers?

Camille Rommett: At the Summit, for instance, I give an introductory class because it's a very detailed and meticulous technique. It would be impossible to teach the whole curriculum in an hour. That's why we offer the teaching certification workshops. When I teach teachers, I emphasize what Zena was about: reinforcing correct alignment, strengthening the joints, lengthening the muscles and being gentle. The three movements I'm able to break down in an hour class always come back to these points. We don't say "exercises," we say "series of movements."


Camille teaching at a DT Summit. Photo courtesy of Rommett

DT: Why not "exercises"?

CR: It's not like a gym or an exercise class where a specific set of muscles is going to be targeted for the day. Zena could tell what students needed by the way they entered the classroom. That's why we refer to the Rommett technique as a "series of movements." My mother used to say "a good teacher doesn't teach what she knows; she teaches what the dancers need."

Photo courtesy of Break The Floor

DT: What's it like continuing your mother's brand?

CR: I think of Zena every day, yes as my mother, but maybe even more as my partner. We talked about Floor-Barre five times a day. When I bump into my mother's old students, the feedback can be overwhelming because she reached so many people through her technique. When you correct your alignment, and address the body in this way, it can affect everyone, not just dancers. It was typical in Zena's classes to not only have dancers attend—an architect would be lying next to Judith Jamison. This is what drives me to continue the brand and her legacy. The new team of Floor-Barre mentors—a panel of 12, which includes Renee Robinson, who just retired from Alvin Ailey after 30 years—are also keeping the technique alive. This group of high-caliber former professional dancers and teachers are devoted to passing along the method in its purity. It's extremely motivating and rewarding. Zena would be very proud.

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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