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Lisa Shed's Favorite Prop for Littles Is the Parachute

Photo courtesy of Shed

In 1992 while studying early childhood education at Texas A&M University, Lisa Shed decided to make the bold move of starting her own dance studio, Lisa's Dance Connection, 90 miles away in her hometown of Temple, Texas. Three days a week she would make the commute to teach her eight young students, then wake up the next morning at 6 am to make it to her 8 am class at school. Each year the studio would double or triple in size, and by the time she graduated college, she had more than 100 students. At that point she moved back to Temple and invested all of her time and energy into developing her studio. Since then, they've outgrown multiple building locations, and today she has an impressive 500 students and counting.


As the business has grown and Shed's staff has expanded, she's been able to focus her energy on her role as owner, director and administrator—something she says she loves just as much as teaching. "It's important to me that I don't just passively own this business, but that I'm actually invested in it," Shed says.

Even with all she has going on as owner, Shed still finds time to teach each week. "I teach both the youngest and the oldest students at our studio," she says. "I teach the babies and the senior citizens. I love this age range because you have to make things basic and really know how to get your message across and have it make sense. It's an exciting challenge."

SHE NEVER LEAVES HOME WITHOUT "My lip gloss and my pocket calendar."

GO-TO TEACHING ATTIRE "I think it's important for the teacher to set the tone for class. When I'm teaching littles, I wear traditional leotards from Capezio, with a ballet wrap-skirt from Gilda Marx. For hip-hop or adult classes I like to wear a tank with black dance pants."

MOST-LOVED TEACHING PROP "I find props are really helpful for preschool classes. The kids don't even realize they are learning when they're involved. My favorite prop is a parachute—the possibilities are endless when we pull it out."

Technique
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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