Dancing can do great things for your body. But science is increasingly exploring the many ways it's also good for your brain. A recent study showed that dancers' brains react to music even faster than trained musicians or other people. The author of the dissertation, Hanna Poikonen, observed brain activity in all three groups while they watched dances and found that expert dancers were the quickest to respond to rhythmic changes. She believes creating movement to sound could affect how your brain hears music.

Even among dancers, however, there is wide variation in musicality. Some of your students might be naturally musical, while others might struggle a bit more. But whether or not a dance student possesses this mysterious quality, musicality is an essential skill that can help any dancer perform their best and move forward in their training and career.


There are many definitions of musicality, but teachers know it when they see it. A musical dancer gives the audience "more to look at in the same amount of music," says master teacher Finis Jhung. "That's one of the tricks of musicality – using your entire body at every moment to make the most of the music."

His own career as a dancer, performer and teacher spans more than 60 years, and includes appearances on Broadway and dancing in major companies like the San Francisco Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet. Nowadays Jhung is a renowned dance instructor, teaching professionals and adult beginners in New York City. He has also created dozens of instructional videos to inspire dancers of all levels.

So can you teach musicality? "Absolutely," he says. "Whether it's to learn to pirouette or learn to jump or learn to be musical or learn artistry—it can all be taught. All you need is a passion to learn and a brain and a body."

In his view, students often haven't been exposed to different types of music. "Especially today, a lot of people never listen to classical music so they don't hear it," says Jhung. But dance students can train their ears outside of class. Those who play an instrument can apply what they learn in the dance studio, for instance. Even listening to music during the rest of their non-dance day can help your students.

In the classroom, Jhung wants his students to think about the music as well as the steps. "The music has to guide them, but it also challenges them," he says. Together with composer Scott Killian, he created a series of CDs specifically to help students hear the subtleties of sound. "They like the music because it's slow and quiet and it's orchestrated, so it's not just piano."

He also uses clapping, counting, even visualization. "I'll give them images. I'll say, 'when we do this exercise you have to imagine you're swimming in the water.'"

It may not all come in a 90-minute class, however. It takes patience to develop the strength, balance and control required to create beautiful movement.

The secret to musicality really comes down to solid technique, says Jhung. "You have to show the music. It's the way you phrase the movement to it," he says. "That's what allows you to play with the music. That's the magic."

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Photo by Kyle Froman

Darla Hoover was at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's studios running a rehearsal in 2014 with director Marcia Dale Weary. Hoover had just returned the day before from staging a ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. Jet-lagged, she mixed up her words when giving a correction.

Weary took Hoover's hand and gently said, "Honey, you work too hard."

Hoover, and the students, had a good laugh.

"Are you kidding me?" Hoover replied. "You're the one who made this monster. There is no off switch!"

Weary founded CPYB in 1955, and it quickly became an internationally known school that has produced countless principal dancers. Famous for her high standards and tough work ethic, Weary instilled those qualities in Hoover, who served as associate artistic director at CPYB under Weary, as artistic director at Ballet Academy East's pre-professional division in New York City and as a répétiteur for the Balanchine Trust.

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Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

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Professions across the globe hold yearly conferences, and the dance industry is certainly no exception. Annual conferences exist for dance teachers, dance medicine professionals, dance educators and more. Taking the time out to attend them can be well worth your while for a number of different reasons. Let's take a closer look at four of them.

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Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

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Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

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Q: How do you approach gender when teaching in 2019? When I was training, male dancers were encouraged to make their movement masculine, while female dancers were encouraged to keep their movement feminine. Today, gender has become much more fluid, and the line between masculine and feminine performance has blurred. How does that impact the way we should be teaching?

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Photo courtesy of Z Artists Group

New York City–based pre-professional training troupe Z Artists Group, along with dancers from eight professional companies in the city, are joining together to combat gun violence with, "DANCERS DEMAND ACTION," a performance aligning art with activism at The Joyce Theater, this Monday, November 11, at 7:30 pm.

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Last week, 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and her partner Piotr Iwanicki brought their boundary-breaking work to the "Good Morning America" stage in a segment highlighting her inclusive dance company Infinite Flow.

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Since she was hired in 2006 to create a dance program at Washington & Lee University in Virginia, Jenefer Davies has operated as, essentially, a one-woman show. She's the only full-time faculty member (with regular adjunct support). Over the last 13 years, she has created a thriving program along with a performance company—at a school with fewer than 2,500 students—by drawing on her admittedly rare strength: aerial dance.

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Savion Glover is one of the biggest names in the dance world, and perhaps the biggest in the tap world. The trailblazing hoofer's hard-hitting, rhythmically intricate style has fundamentally altered the tap landscape.

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Though she loved choreographing, the high school student showcase wasn't quite enough for Julie Deleger, a recent graduate of The College Preparatory School in Oakland, California. The answer for her was an independent-study project during her last semester there. "Choreography is so personal that sometimes you need to take more or less time with it," she says. "Doing it on my own was really helpful. I let the project guide me rather than having to adhere to a specific set of rules."

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Q: My 5-year-old daughter is pigeon-toed. Do you have any suggestions to help her correct this?

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