Music: Cherrise Wakeham

P7 performs Wakeham's A.C.E. Award–winning piece, SHE.

Cherrise Wakeham started Project 7 Contemporary Dance Company as a performance group so she could work with people who inspired her. The group now also conducts iN House Workshops: one- or two-day experiences that Wakeham takes into individual studios in the Southeast. Students participate in six classes a day in different styles and techniques, audition for scholarships or to be chosen as a company apprentice and perform a final showcase for friends and family. “Not every kid is a convention kid, but they'll still thrive in the energy of an intense 'master class' setting," Wakeham says, “so we bring that push and positivity to them with a professional company atmosphere."

Although she considers her choreography to be contemporary, Wakeham draws elements of theater and hip hop into her work, allowing inspiration to strike rather than starting with a specific concept. “I love to just absorb my surroundings. It could be the way the wind is hitting the leaves, and then I hear a piece of music and it all starts to connect in my mind," she says. “When I first started, I thought I had to always have everything plotted out, but now I'll think about where the piece should come from and where I want it to go. Besides that, it's really whatever the music calls for and how my dancers' movement inspires me." DT

Artist: Elliphant

Song: “Never Been In Love"

“I'm using this for my P7 iN House Workshop teen/senior room combo right now. It's dancehall/reggae style that's an upbeat, summery song I think teenagers can relate to. It's so great sometimes to dance to something that just allows us to let go and fly, so I tried to choreograph something that would allow them to do just that."

Artist: Clean Bandit & Jess Glynne

Song: “Real Love"

“I like doing crunches to this during warm-up because it is energizing, but also has an easy feel to it. I like dancers to engage their cores in crunches by thinking more about 'floating upward' rather than jerking their bodies forward. I think this song lends itself to that more mindful, less stressful approach."

Artist: The Irrepressibles

Song: “In This Shirt"

“This is the song I chose for my A.C.E. Award–winning piece. I knew I wanted to choreograph to it from the moment I heard it. The layers, the lyrics, the arrangement...the artist spoke to me and continues to speak to me with his voice and instrumentation."

Artist: Mariah Carey

Song: “Shake It Off"

“This song makes a regular appearance in my warm-up. Even though my warm-up is pretty hardcore, I love to groove through it with songs that remind dancers to breathe, chill out and not take themselves too seriously."

Artist: Bearson

Song: “Pink Medicine"

“I have certain songs that get me pumped and motivated for when I have a heavy workload of choreography on my plate. Basically, when I'm up to bat, this is my walk-up song."

Photo by Roman Naumov, courtesy of Wakeham

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Dancer Diary
Claire, McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet

Former Houston Ballet dancer Chun Wai Chan has always been destined for New York City Ballet.

While competing at Prix de Lausanne in 2010, he was offered summer program scholarships at both the School of American Ballet and Houston Ballet. However, because two of the competition's winners that year were Houston Ballet's Aaron Sharratt and Liao Xiang, dancers Chan idolized, he turned down SAB. He joined Houston Ballet II in 2010, the main company's corps de ballet in 2012, and was promoted to principal in 2017. Oozing confidence and technical prowess, Chan was a Houston favorite, and even landed himself a spot on Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch."

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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.

"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

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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