How Jodi Moccia Teaches Zena Rommett Floor-Barre

Jodi Moccia's 8:30 am floor-barre class is filled with a mishmash of early risers—young and old, varying physiques, dancers and nondancers alike. We're sitting on the floor with legs stretched long and feet flexed, rotating from parallel to first position. “Only from the hips, not at all from the ankles and feet," she says, leaning in close to watch that I don't pronate. I return to parallel to start over, slowly rotating from the hips without letting anything below them react. Upon correction, my turnout goes from a deceitful 180 degrees to about 120, the position she says I should be standing in at the barre.

As a dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Moccia was introduced to Zena Rommett Floor-Barre by Judith Jamison, who gathered a group of AAADT dancers to take class. “It was immediately clear that Zena was magic," says Moccia about that first experience. “After I got up from the floor my brain was calm, my base was strong and I was ready to dance."

That's because Rommett's method, with certified alumni here and abroad and at schools like New York University Steinhardt and University of Wisconsin–Madison, is about getting back to the basics. “Everything in the curriculum is based on ballet. What you do at the barre is transferred to the floor," says Camille Rommett, who took leadership of her mother's Zena Rommett Floor-Barre Foundation after her death in 2010. “Zena noticed that the minute she put people to work on the floor she could see where they needed corrections in their joints and alignment."

Transferring ballet to the floor provides anatomical support. For instance, dancers can benefit from a développé while lying down, which allows them to focus on the standing leg, taking stress off the upper body. It also encourages using the inner thigh instead of hiking from the hip flexor. And since it's not weight-bearing, floor barre is a great technique-oriented solution during injury.

The work also pulls the ego and competition out of training. These are sometimes healthy, but can lead to injury. “Not standing in front of the mirror takes away the visual stimulation," says Moccia. “Suddenly it's not about who can get their leg up the highest, but 'What muscles am I using?'"

Jodi Moccia attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Upon graduation, she studied at The Ailey School and eventually joined Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (1974–1979). She went on to dance in Bob Fosse's Dancin' and became associate choreographer for Miss Saigon on Broadway. In 2006, she was certified in Zena Rommett Floor-Barre, which she teaches at Dance New Amsterdam and Steps on Broadway.

Meredith Fages dances with Heidi Latsky Dance, Steeledance and Motley Dance in New York City. She has been studying with Moccia for two years.

This Zena Rommett Floor-Barre exercise helps students activate the core and supports correct alignment. It also works on leg extension and hip rotation, without overworking the hip flexors.

photography by Kyle Froman

Courtesy Russell

Gregg Russell, an Emmy-nominated choreographer known for his passionate and energetic teaching, passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, November 22, at the age of 48.

While perhaps most revered as a master tap instructor and performer, Russell also frequently taught hip-hop and musical theater classes, showcasing a versatility that secured him a successful career onstage and in film and television, both nationally and abroad.

His resumé reads like an encyclopedia of popular culture. Russell worked with celebrities such as Bette Midler and Gene Kelly; coached pop icon Michael Jackson and Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane; danced in the classic films Clueless and Newsies; performed on "Dancing with the Stars" and the Latin Grammy Awards; choreographed for Sprite and Carvel Ice Cream; appeared with music icons Reba McEntire and Jason Mraz; and graced stages from coast to coast, including Los Angeles' House of Blues and New York City's Madison Square Garden.

But it was as an educator that Russell arguably found his calling. His infectious humor, welcoming aura and inspirational pedagogy made him a favorite at studios, conventions and festivals across the U.S. and in such countries as Australia, France, Honduras and Guatemala. Even students with a predilection for classical styles who weren't always enthused about studying a percussive form would leave Russell's classes grinning from ear to ear.

"Gregg understood from a young age how to teach tap and hip hop with innovation, energy and confidence," says longtime dance educator and producer Rhee Gold, who frequently hired Russell for conferences and workshops. "He gave so much in every class. There was nothing I ever did that I didn't think Gregg would be perfect for."

Growing up in Wooster, Ohio, Russell was an avid tap dancer and long-distance runner who eventually told his mother, a dance teacher, that he wanted to exclusively pursue dance. She introduced him to master teachers Judy Ann Bassing, Debbi Dee and Henry LeTang, whom he credited as his three greatest influences.

"I was instantly smitten, though competitive with him," says longtime friend and fellow choreographer Shea Sullivan, a protégé of LeTang. "Over the years we developed a mutual respect and admiration for each other. He touched so many lives. This is a great loss."

After graduating from Wooster High School, Russell was a scholarship student at Edge Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, where he lived for many years. He founded a company, Tap Sounds Underground, taught at California Dance Theatre and even returned to Edge as an instructor, all while maintaining a busy travel schedule.

A beloved member of the tap community, Russell not only spoke highly of his contemporaries, but earned his place among them as a celebrated performing artist and teacher. With friend Ryan Lohoff, with whom he appeared on CBS's "Live to Dance," he co-directed Tap Into The Network, a touring tap intensive founded in 2008.

"His humor, giant smile and energy in his eyes are the things I will remember most," says Lohoff. "He inspired audiences and multiple generations of dancers. I am grateful for our time together."

Russell was on the faculty of numerous dance conventions, such as Co. Dance and, more recently, Artists Simply Human. He was known as a "teacher's teacher," having discovered at the young age of 18 that he enjoyed passing on his knowledge to other dance educators. He wrote tap teaching tips for Dance Studio Life magazine and led classes for fellow instructors whenever he was on tour.

In 2018, he opened a dance studio, 3D Dance, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he had been living most recently.

Russell leaves behind a wife, Tessa, and a 5-year-old daughter, Lucy.

"His success was his family and his daughter," says Gold. "They changed his entire being. He was a happy man."

GoFundMe campaigns to support Russell's family can be found here and here.

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