Dance Teachers Trending

Ivan Pulinkala Started a Dance Department From Scratch at Kennesaw State University

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."


You can probably guess what happened next: He accepted the position, excited by the challenge of starting a dance program from scratch. "There were no buildings, no faculty, no curriculum," he says. "It was a leap of faith." Now, nearly 14 years later, he's happy to report that Kennesaw houses the largest college dance program in Georgia, with 110 majors (and 6 full-time and 10 part-time faculty, 3 staff members and 2 accompanists).

"The university has really supported my vision," says Pulinkala. The main tenet of that vision has been to consistently keep Georgia-bred dancers in mind—he credits the program's growth and success to the unique opportunities KSU offers, including a dance study-abroad program in Israel, intensive production training and a brand-new performance venue built specifically for dance.

From the Ground Up

Pulinkala's hunch that Georgia would benefit from a state-school dance program proved correct. "It grew faster than I expected—a function of the need and demand in the region. By building this program, we were able to attract and retain some of our most talented dancers in Georgia." The program is now highly selective: Well over 100 students audition every year, with only about 25 to 30 accepted.

At the start, Pulinkala—who began his professional career in musical theater and studied intensively at the Paul Taylor School in New York City—says he had only his choreography to attract students. "So that's what I put out there," he says. His plan worked—and made him something of a celebrity on the American College Dance Association scene. The work he brought to ACDA's annual Southeastern regional conference has been selected for the biannual national gala three successive times—meaning for six years in a row—nearly half of the program's existence.

Forging Connections

Pulinkala's choreography has afforded him another unique opportunity—one that's had ripple effects for his students, too. Six years ago, the cultural attaché from the Israeli consulate saw his work and arranged for him to visit Israel, where he choreographed on the Israel Ballet, Fresco Dance Company and Batsheva dancer Ido Tadmor. With each successive annual trip, Pulinkala began to develop a relationship with Batsheva, Israel's premiere contemporary dance company. Three years ago, he launched a weeklong summer study-abroad opportunity for KSU dancers. "They get to take Gaga classes every day; they study Batsheva rep; they get to interact with the dancers; they've even met Ohad [Naharin, the famous former artistic director]," he says. The summer program has also spurred an important connection between KSU and Israeli contemporary dance. "We've brought in a lot of Israeli choreographers to choreograph on our students and work with them," says Pulinkala. "They get an experience of contemporary dance from one of its epicenters in the world."

State-of-the-Art

In 2017 KSU's Dance Theater opened, the only dance-specific theater in the greater Atlanta region. Modeled after The Joyce Theater in New York, it has 450 seats, a sprung marley floor and state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems. Pulinkala's vision went beyond creating a beautiful space for the KSU dancers to perform in—he wanted it to be a Southeast performance hub for major dance companies. So far, he's brought in Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, SpellBound (a contemporary ballet troupe from Italy), Los Angeles' BODYTRAFFIC and Philadelphia's BalletX. Each visiting company is asked to hold a master class. "The students get to work with the dancers or the choreographers while they're here, and that's added great value to our program," says Pulinkala.

When he started the program, Pulinkala made a rule that no outside professionals would run tech for the department's shows. "That forced us to train our students to be stage managers, light-board operators and sound-board operators," he says. Six years ago, the department hired a full-time staff member as the resident lighting designer and production manager, offering students an even more detailed study of dance production and stage management. In addition to running light and sound, dance majors hang lighting (even using an electric lift to focus the lights), lay dance floors, hang theater curtains and backdrops and operate a fly rail system. "As a result of that," says Pulinkala, "our students are working across the country—not just as dancers and choreographers, but in production arenas."

Despite the obvious success Pulinkala has had with KSU, he's quick to share credit with his peers and gratitude for the freedom KSU offered him 14 years ago. "I believe that the health of any program is definitely rooted in a lot of hands being a part of it," he says.

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Quinn Wharton, courtesy of Forance

While Teddy Forance admits that performing with commercial artists like Lady Gaga and Madonna, and in front of 30,000 people, is exhilarating, he is personally drawn to more abstract music when he choreographs. It's a preference that sometimes confounds his contemporaries. "Some of my friends will ask, 'How do you choreograph to music that sounds like silverware fighting?'" he says. "I just tell them one sound at a time," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dance Teacher Web
Courtesy Dance Teacher Web

Dance students aren't the only ones who get to spend their summers learning new skills and refining their dance practice. Studio owners and administrators can also use the summer months to scope out new curriculum ideas, learn the latest business strategies and even earn a certification or two.

At Dance Teacher Web's Conference and Expo, attendees will spend July 29–August 1 in Las Vegas, Nevada learning everything from new teaching methods to studio management software. And as if the dance and business seminars weren't enough, participants can also choose from three certifications to earn during the conference to help expand their expertise, generate new revenue and set their studios apart:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Julianna D. Photography, courtesy of Abreu

Although Rudy Abreu is currently JLo's backup dancer and an award-winning choreographer—his piece "Pray" tied for second runner-up at the 2018 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and a variation of the piece made it to the finals on NBC's "World of Dance"—he still finds time to teach. Especially about how he hears music.

Keep reading... Show less
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: Our dancers' parents want to observe class, but students won't focus if I let them in the room. I've tried having them observe the last 10 minutes of class, but even that can be disruptive and bring the dancers' progress to a halt. Do you have any advice on how to handle this?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

James Payne, director of The School of Pennsylvania Ballet, starts class each day by asking students how they feel. "If they're collectively hurting, and I know that the day before they were working hard on something new, I might lessen the intensity of the class," he says. "I won't slow it down, though. Sometimes it's better to move through the aches and get to the other side."

A productive class depends, in part, on how well it is paced. If you move too slow, you risk losing students' interest and creating unwanted heaviness. Move too fast and dancers might not fully benefit from combinations or get sufficiently warm, increasing their risk of injury. But even these guidelines may differ depending on the students' age and level. Good pacing is a delicate balance that can facilitate mental and physical growth, but it requires good planning, close observation and the ability to adapt mid-class.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Running your own studio often comes with a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. After all, you're the one who teaches class, creates choreography, collects tuition, plans a recital, calls parents, answers e-mails, orders costumes—plus a host of other tasks, some of which you probably don't even think about. But what if you had someone to help you, someone who could take certain routine or clerical tasks off your hands, freeing you up to focus on what you love?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Derek and Julianne Hough via @juleshough on Instagram

Here at Dance Teacher, we LOVE a talented dance family. Something about parents and siblings passing their passion for dance down to those who come after them just warms our hearts.

While there are many sets of talented siblings across all genres of dance, ballroom seems to be particularly booming with them.

Don't believe us? Check out these four sets of ballrooms siblings we can't take our eyes off of. Their parents have raised them right!

This is far from a comprehensive list, so feel free to share your favorite sets of dance siblings over in our comments!

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy of Roxey Ballet

This weekend, Roxey Ballet presented a sensory-friendly production of Cinderella at the Kendell Main Stage Theater in Ewing, New Jersey, with sound adjustments, a relaxed house environment and volunteers present to assist audience members with special needs. The production came on the heels of three educational residencies held at New Jersey–based elementary schools in honor of Autism Awareness Month in April.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Shared via Dance Teacher Network Facebook

I'm a part of a popular group on Facebook called Dance Teacher Network which consists of dance teachers across the country discussing and sharing information on all things dance. Yesterday morning, I spotted a photo shared in the group of four smiling young boys in a dance studio. And I couldn't help but smile to myself and think, "Wow, I never had that...that's pretty damn amazing."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Marr

When Erica Marr discovered ballroom dancing in her late teens, she instantly fell in love with the Latin beats and strong drum lines that challenged her musicality. After shifting her focus away from contemporary and jazz, she began studying with elite ballroom coaches in New York City and quickly earned a World Championship title in her division.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox