Music for Class: Karole Armitage

Music for contemporary ballet

Armitage Gone! Dance director Karole Armitage at work

Nicknamed the “punk ballerina,” Karole Armitage, artistic director of Armitage Gone! Dance, makes work rooted in the ballet vocabulary, accented with modern’s grounded, off-kilter sensibilities. It’s a taste she developed from her contrasting performance career with the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève in Switzerland and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. “I’ve always been interested in taking the classical form into new dimensions,” she says, “using the intellectual ideas of modern dance and the refinement and virtuosity of ballet, and thinking about the geometry of dance beyond horizontal and linear lines.”

Armitage, who has also created work on companies including The Washington Ballet, Paris Opéra Ballet and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, maps out much of her choreography before she steps foot into her company’s rehearsal space in Jersey City, New Jersey. “I try to give it a great deal of thought before I get in the studio, and I will have a pretty good sense of structure and vocab,” she says. Still, much of it is flipped upside down once it is put onto the dancers’ bodies. “The energy the dancers bring to the choreography makes me see it in a different way. They help reinvent it. Embroider it. Create themes and variations. Turn solos into duets,” she says. “Suddenly, everything I began with gets thrown out the window.” DT

Artist: Bobby Watson

Album: Quiet As It’s Kept

“He turns music into a prism—you’re hearing it up close and from far away, right, left and bottom. It’s an inspiring way to look at music as a choreographer and really opens the way I think about using space.”



Composer: Roberto De Simone

Album: Made in Naples

“This 14th-century music mixes Arabic, Roman and Norman influences. It’s so full of guts and life. I love listening to that because it unleashes a primal side that’s raw, visceral and deeply human.”



Composer: Béla Bartók

Work: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta

“Bartók made music in a way unlike anyone else has. It’s so dramatic, yet so pure. He builds to such extreme crescendos. It’s useful to understand how, as a choreographer, you can push drama and tension.”



Artist: Kanye West

Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

“Kanye is just delicious. I don’t really listen to it for the words, but for the music and rhythms. It’s so inventive because of its drive, which gives you so much energy.”



Artist: Fela Kuti

Album: Chop ’N’ Quench

“I love African pop music because there’s so much extraordinary work in it. The way the melody and rhythms work together sort of takes you to a transcendent place where you can just let go.”



Photo by Kyle Froman

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Photo by Yvonne M. Portra, courtesy Faulkner

It's a Wednesday in May, and 14 Stanford University advanced modern ­dance students are logged on to Zoom, each practicing a socially distanced duet with an imaginary person. "Think about the quality of their personality and the type of duet you might have," says their instructor Katie Faulkner, "but also their surface area and how you'd relate to them in space." Amid dorm rooms, living rooms, dining rooms and backyards, the dancers make do with cramped quarters and dodge furniture as they twist, curve, stretch and intertwine with their imaginary partners.

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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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