How I teach Simonson

“Spirals are really only contractions and releases of the sides of the body.” —Laurie De Vito

When Laurie De Vito tells her class of intermediate-advanced Simonson technique students to “carve” through the space, to “really slice it, long and flat,” to “scoop” and “toss,” it’s almost as if she’s talking about preparing dinner. But maybe the analogy isn’t so far off: “My class should be a meal!” she says. “It should be a feast—that’s how good you should feel when you’re moving.”

Clearly, De Vito’s students recognize that feel-good quality—they’ve followed her from the now-defunct downtown dance hub Dance New Amsterdam in New York City (which she helped found with Simonson technique creator Lynn Simonson and which closed last fall after a long lease battle) to Steps on Broadway. It’s easy to see why her students took such a big changeover in stride: De Vito is something of a dance whisperer—she can apply only fingertips to part of a student’s body to produce a necessary change; she need only whisper in a student’s ear (“Think about lengthening your bones”) to create a shape. After class, students often turn to her for advice on injuries, for which she recommends helpful exercises or stretches.

Much of the trust her students place in her derives from De Vito’s complete familiarity with Simonson, an organic technique that trains dancers to understand the mechanics of their own bodies and find new freedoms within their anatomical range. A hallmark of this technique is a focus on alignment, with shoulders on top of hips and weight in the back third of the foot when standing in a parallel first. That “plumb line” of the spine, as De Vito refers to it, is a point of reference for students to return to throughout the entire class.

After discovering through her own choreographic ventures that she loved to move sequentially and in spirals, De Vito adapted the standard Simonson warm-up to reflect that. “The demi-plié series is the first place in the warm-up that I felt I could introduce spirals,” she explains. “It made sense to me—spirals are really only contractions and releases of the sides of the body.”

De Vito’s constant use of spirals also allows her to introduce the concept of negative space to her students, which keeps them from collapsing their torsos or crunching their lower backs and encourages them to engage their abdominal walls—all of which goes back to the Simonson-aligned body. Students new to De Vito and Simonson technique sometimes find themselves having to completely rethink the way their bodies are arranged in basic positions. But no one’s complaining: “There’s very little resistance to these changes,” says De Vito. “They’re excited to find something that will allow them to dance forever.”

 

Laurie De Vito moved to New York City as a teenager and began her training at The Ailey School. She stumbled into a Lynn Simonson class and was immediately hooked—six months later, she was subbing for Simonson. With her and three others, De Vito helped found the now-closed Dance New Amsterdam (formerly Dance Space), where she taught for 30 years. In the early 1990s, she formed Laurie De Vito & Dancers; she has self-produced eight seasons in NYC. She teaches at Steps on Broadway, Gibney Dance Center, Mark Morris Dance Center and Peridance Capezio Center.

Rachel Feinerman has danced for Laurie De Vito and taught at DNA for 15 years.

 

Photo by Kyle Froman

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