Incorporating Skype into Classes

Q: Over the holidays, I used Skype to chat with family members who I was unable to visit. I’ve been trying to think of ways to bring this concept into a classroom—any ideas?

A: We might not be in “The Jetsons” era yet, but video calls are real. Even better, they are free. Skype, which you used, is one of the most highly recognized video conferencing programs for one-on-one calls. Google+ Hangout works similarly to Skype, though it allows you to have true conferences—up to 10 callers can be connected at the same time. To use video calls, both parties need a computer, tablet or phone and a WiFi signal, though some applications, like Apple’s FaceTime (for iPhone 5, through AT&T), can work on cellular signals. I suggest hooking your phone or computer devices into a SMART Board projector or TV monitor to make it work in class.

As far as classroom activities, video conferencing can let you see what’s going on in another studio, no matter how far away. It’s also fun for students. Hook up with an educator across the country, and form dance pen pals. Your classes can perform work for each other, or students can create work together. I’ve also considered using video conferencing to bring in a guest artist and share the cost with another teacher or school. If you use Google+ Hangout, the guest artist could even remain at his or her home location and conference with multiple classes. Moreover, Google+ Hangouts can be broadcast live “On Air,” on Google+, YouTube and your website. This program will not only automatically save your work, it can also give parents or school administrators the occasional high-tech peek into your classroom.

Barry Blumenfeld teaches at the Friends Seminary School in New York City. He’s an adjunct professor at New York University and on faculty of the Dance Education Laboratory of the 92nd Street Y.

Photo courtesy of Barry Blumenfeld

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.

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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.

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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.

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