As Maguette Camara seamlessly shifts between the front of the studio and to play drums that are clustered on the side, it’s hard to tell where the musician leaves off and the dancer begins. He’s instructing an advanced-beginner-level West African class at The Ailey School in New York, and the intricate rhythms are proving challenging to the students—30 pre-professional men and women. As he claps, sings, scats, counts and beats out the rhythm with his drumsticks, it’s clear that the two roles, musician and dancer, are inseparable to him. “Listen to me, and we’ll always be on the beat,” he says.

Camara is introducing the celebratory dance kuku, belonging to the people of the Beyla region of Guinea, and characterized by swift stomping, a buoyant torso and expansive, reaching arms. He teaches this from the ground up: beginning with the pattern of the feet, clarifying the angles of the torso and eventually adding on the arm and head movements. But he always brings everything back to the rhythm.

The drums play an integral, communicative role in West African. It is always a give and take between you and the drums,” says Camara. In his class, there are four drums, providing both an underlying pulse and counterpoint: the doundoun, kenkeni and the sangba, all played with sticks by one drummer; and the higher-pitched djembe, played with the hands by another drummer—often by Camara himself.

Camara demonstrates with a loose, relaxed quality in his limbs and a bounce in his legs and torso, making the kuku look effortless. “Look at my arms,” he says as he circles both arms up and around two times. “And one! And two!” Although West African is a dance style open to personal interpretation, Camara encourages his students to follow his lead and home in on the subtle specificity he infuses each movement with. “Your body has to get used to it, get into the habit of it, and then you can add your own feeling into whatever you do,” he says.

Though rhythm is the primary focus, Camara reinforces the joyful, celebratory nature of West African with his positive energy and words of encouragement. As his students end class with a rousing demonstration of another Guinean dance they’ve been working on, liberté—their heads thrown back in triumph and arms extended—it’s clear that they feel that joy from head to toe. DT

Maguette Camara is a New York City–based West African teacher, musician and choreographer raised in Dakar, Senegal. Starting at age 8, he studied West African dance and drumming with local troupe Ballet Bougarabou Dance Company and became a full-fledged company member in 1986. As a professional dancer, he traveled internationally to perform at festivals and lead workshops. He relocated to the United States in 1993. His performance accolades include the Lincoln Center Out of Doors concert series, Guggenheim Museum, the Rolling Stones World Tour, Disney World and World Trade Center jazz festival. He has been teaching West African dance for more than 20 years and is on faculty at The Ailey School, The Ailey Extension, Barnard College and Djoniba Dance Centre at Peridance Capezio Center in New York City.

Kyle Martin, 19, is a first-year student in The Ailey School Certificate Program.

 

Photography by Kyle Froman

Don't miss a single issue of Dance Teacher.

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Robin Nasatir (center) with Peter Brown and Vicki Gunter. Photo by Christian Peacock

On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.

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

Q: I need advice on proper classroom management for dancers in K–12—I can't get them to focus.

A: Classroom management in a K–12 setting is no different than in a studio. No matter where you teach, I recommend using a positive-reinforcement approach first. As a general rule, what you pay attention to is what you get. When a student acts out, it's generally done in order to gain attention. Rather than giving attention to them for inappropriate behavior, call out other students who are exhibiting the positive behaviors you desire. Name the good actions, and all of your students will quickly learn what it takes to be noticed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

For an aspiring professional dancer, an unexpected injury can feel like a death sentence to a career that hasn't even started. The recovery process following an injury can be one of the most grueling and heartbreaking experiences a performer will ever face. In times like these, dance teachers have the power to boost or weaken a dancer's morale.

With that in mind, we've compiled a list of do's and don'ts for talking to a seriously injured dancer.

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

Q: Last season I had three dancers on my junior team who struggled all year. They've trained with me for years, yet they keep sliding farther behind their classmates. What should I do?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox