Music: April Cook

Although April Cook always loved tap, she gives Gene Medler credit for motivating her to pursue it to the fullest. “Gene inspired me and opened my eyes to the history, and that’s what really sucked me in,” she says. “I realized I was part of this greater tapestry. We’re learning the actual steps that the people who created this artform put down, and we’re doing it verbatim—it’s like being part of a living, breathing history book every day.”

In her own tap classes, Cook begins with a set warm-up before opening the floor to her students. “My classroom is very give and take,” she says. “I like to open it up to the dancers and take requests for particular things to work on. You’d be surprised how vocal they are about it.”

When it comes to selecting music, Cook makes tap fit whatever songs she likes. “You can tap to anything—to ambient noise, to someone speaking, to cars passing outside. There’s some sort of rhythm to be found everywhere,” she says. “That’s the fun thing about finding a new piece of music. I’m usually drawn to it because I like the sound, then I start to envision how I’ll sound within it.” DT

 

 

Artist: Nina Simone

Album: Nina Simone’s Finest Hour

Song: “Love Me or Leave Me”

“This is one of my all-time favorite songs to dance to. Nina Simone sets up a nice feel in the beginning and then really shows off her musical chops in the phrasing she chooses near the middle. I use this song when we’re working on maintaining consistent tempo and feel. It’s a good exercise in not letting the complexity of her melodies confuse your downbeat or cause you to lose the ‘one.’”

 

 

Artist: LCD Soundsystem

Album: This is Happening

Song: “Home”

“I always use this song for my warm-up. I teach in the mornings usually, so it’s a great wake-up song. It has a good tempo for starting out with Condos’ Rudiments [a series of tap exercises developed by Steve Condos] then increasing to double-time for speed and clarity.”

 

 

Artist: Jamie Lidell

Album: Jamie Lidell

Song: “Do Yourself a Faver”

“This song has a nice feel and a distinguishable downbeat that lends itself well to exercises that train students to articulate sounds and keep timing even.”

 

 

Artist: Ray Charles

Song: “Hit the Road Jack”

“This is such a fun song to move to. You can’t listen to this and not start bouncing. It’s a good place to start with beginner classes, since most people know this tune and can hear where the chorus sits.”

 

 

Artist: Janet Jackson

Album: Rhythm Nation 1814

Song: “Alright”

“This New Jack Swing–style song is super-playful, and when I use it in class, I also like to show the music video. Cab Calloway, Cyd Charisse and the Nicholas Brothers are all in it.”

 

 

Artist: Jason Mraz

Album: We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.

Song: “I’m Yours”

“I like to use this song for exercises that play with accents and shading, since the song is lighter on percussion. You can really hear what the students are doing.”

 

 

 

Photo by Sandy Shelton, courtesy of Cook

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Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

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For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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