Dance Teacher Tips

Michele Wiles Puts a New Spin on Contemporary Ballet With Jazz Music

Photo courtesy of Ballet Next

In 2011, when former American Ballet Theatre principal Michele Wiles departed the company and formed BalletNext, she found an artistic freedom she'd been longing for. Along with new collaborations with choreographers and musicians, she began working with trumpeter Tom Harrell, who introduced her to the multilayered sounds of jazz. "The dancers are another instrument to a jazz musician," says Wiles. Pairing this music genre with her classical foundation has been pivotal in defining her style. "I have this classical facility, but my mind is more contemporary. Jazz is a good intersection for my work," she says.


In the company's 2018 spring season at New York Live Arts, Wiles continued to explore music and sound. Of the four pieces, Follin fuses dance with sign language, exploring silence with Robert Frost's poetry and music by Philip Glass, and Vibrer includes a live performance by Harrell and pianist Danny Grissett.

Hearing complicated jazz rhythms can be difficult, especially for classically trained ballet dancers, Wiles admits. When she teaches new choreography to the company, currently six women including herself, she starts with more popular music. "I'll use an artist like Drake," she says, "and then I'll play the jazz music. The dancers will be like 'Oh yeah, now I get it.'"

Artist: Ibeyi
Album: Ibeyi

"I absolutely love Ibeyi's debut self-titled album. They're French twins, and their music has Afro-Cuban, electro and hip-hop influences. I discovered them in Ibiza about two years ago. We use it mostly to take barre and one of my favorite choreographers, Mauro Bigonzetti, used their music for his new work for Alvin Ailey. I've always been inspired by this music, and now my dancers have it on their playlist!"


Artist: David Howard and Steven Mitchell
Album: Return to Covent Garden

"This album offers up gorgeous piano solos. They play each exercise twice, so you don't have to stop. All the music lends itself to a positive, musical and energetic class. I often use this for master classes. It reminds me of David, who I studied with for seven years, and his artistic approach to class."

Artist: Radiohead
Album: Hail to the Thief

"I've always liked Radiohead, but this album especially did it for me. Their music inspires me to improvise, which eventually turns into choreography. There is a deep emotional component to their music that I connect with, and my most fluid movement comes from working with this music."


Artist: Johann Sebastian Bach played by Vadim Chaimovich

"Any Bach concerto—they are witty and very charming. I particularly enjoy this inspiring version. Each concerto takes a different direction emotionally. The challenge of the music forces you to come up with a concept to tell a story. There is so much color and range to these works. We just recently performed a fun, comedic piece to Bach's concerto in D minor (BWV 974) after A. Marcello's concerto for oboe and strings for our spring season."


Artist: Tom Harrell
Album: Moving Picture

"My favorite piece so far is called 'Vibrer,' from the album Moving Picture. It's an exciting work that inspired and brought out many different sides of myself. There are hints of classical piano, which inspire my classical roots. There are groovy sections that allow ballet technique to be free and fluid. But in the end the music always brings you back. There is a clear structure, which gives you a lot of freedom to explore, but also a frame to work within."


The Conversation
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It's the day after Valentine's Day, and every single one of us is in a chocolate coma scrolling through endless love posts on social media. It's both the best and the worst day of the year 😂. Obnoxiously mushy Instagram captions aside, whether you have a significant other or not, we all know that your studio co-workers are the actual loves of your life.

Check out our five reasons why, and let us know over in our comments if we got 'em right!

XOXO

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In Antoine Hunter's jazz class, students inevitably pick up sign language just by virtue of being his student. Though he doesn't typically incorporate ASL into his class combos, this dynamic phrase, which is one of his favorites, includes four signs: "heart," " re," "gone" and "deaf."

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We've all had times when we've failed miserably while trying our best to communicate important concepts and ideas to our students. We are all well-meaning with hopes that our dancers will achieve their dreams and become kind humans along the way. Unfortunately, our delivery may need some honing in order to help them without causing some damage,

Here are four common phrases dance teachers often say, and four ways we can adjust them to make them constructive and productive.

Let us know over on our Facebook page what phrases you try to avoid as a dance teacher!

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Just like your car, your studio needs periodic tune-ups to keep it humming along smoothly. If you take the time to address a few small fixes, your business will stand out. And you don't have to break the bank, either—you might be surprised how low-cost, DIY improvements can make a surprising difference.

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1. Using online registration as a crutch

If you offer registration via your studio website, make sure you aren't losing clients by neglecting in-person registration. One day Kathy Morrow, director of Dance Du Coeur in Sugar Land,Texas, overheard a front desk staffer directing a new client to the studio's website to register, rather than offering to do it over the phone. "I thought, You had a fish on the hook—why didn't you walk them through it?" she says. "When you register, there are a lot of boxes to check off. Some people want to pay with a check, some to link to a credit card. We can make it easier by answering any questions directly."

2. Not delegating

Have you heard yourself say, once too often, "If I want it done right, I have to do it myself"? Overextending yourself because of perfectionism or a misguided need to control can be counterproductive. By creating choreography, teaching, bookkeeping, cleaning, making phone calls, typesetting, doing payroll, mailings and ordering, you could be leaving no time for the very things that will create your best business. Misty Lown decided to delegate all the teaching at her Onalaska, Wisconsin-based studio, Misty's Dance Unlimited. "Giving up teaching was super-hard," she says, "but it's the best decision I ever made. Whenever I was teaching, it meant I never saw the other five classrooms that were operating during that time. Now I can rotate my time checking on classrooms and interacting with students."

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Working with a 9-year-old student, Alexandra Koltun asks the young girl to face the barre. She reviews fifth position, demi-pointe with the front foot and coupé devant. "I separate all the positions, so the student understands each one," says Koltun, founder and artistic director of Koltun Ballet Boston. She reaches down to shape the girl's foot into sur le cou-de-pied, leaving the heel in front and gently squeezing the toes around the ankle. "This position will equip the foot with more strength," she says.

Depending on a ballet teacher's preference and style of training, sur le cou-de-pied (meaning "on the neck of the foot") may be incorporated into class at different times and in various ways. From steps like pas de cheval to frappé and développé, the wrapped position can be fundamental to a student's technical development. Or it can be used less often and as a supplement to cou-de-pied front and back. Either way, the value of the position remains constant as a tool to mold and strengthen dancers' feet.

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Show your significant other how much you love them through dance! Send them one of your favorite romantic dance videos that best describes your feelings, and they're sure to swoon!

Here are four of our favorites that depict a range of emotions along the spectrum of true love. Let us know over on our Facebook page which one best represents your relationship!

You're welcome in advance!

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The best way to celebrate a holiday in the dance teacher world is to create a class combo that fits the theme! It's a sure-fire way to get you and your kiddos into the spirit of the day! So, Valentine's Day, we recommend some mushy, cheesy, oh-so-wonderful love songs!

Check out these six songs for potential class combo ideas. They're sure to be a hit.

You're welcome!

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To say Lisa Morgan wears more than one hat would be a gross understatement. For starters, she teaches a pedagogy course for dance majors at Colorado State University and heads the dance component of an arts-integration program (BRAINY) for local elementary students. She also runs a professional-development seminar for K–12 teachers who want to incorporate movement into their classrooms. And she teaches movement to music therapy students at CSU. Oh, and she was part of a weeklong summer institute last year to expose high-needs high schoolers to college via integrative dance activities.

It's tempting to say that Morgan, who has been an adjunct professor throughout her 20-year tenure at CSU, is just someone who goes above and beyond her job description. But she avows that it's more about feeling compelled to make her mark in dance education. If that sounds idealistic, it is. "When you're in arts education, you always see the bigger picture—a bigger list of things you want to do and get to," she says. Her bigger picture of late? Working on broadening CSU's dance-degree offerings (currently a BA) to include a BFA, eventually with a concentration in dance education—and teacher licensure. "It's what I'm most passionate about," she says. "It's what I can make the biggest difference in."

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