Music for Class: A Range of Rhythms

Her classes are influenced by styles from classical ballet to West African; her students range in age from elementary to graduate school; and in her spare time, she creates instructional videos for tots and study abroad programs for university students. When it comes to teaching, Deborah Damast clearly has all the bases covered.

Currently, Damast is artistic advisor of dance education at New York University’s Steinhardt School and artistic director of the school’s resident company Kaleidoscope Dancers. Over the last four years, she has spearheaded an annual study abroad trip to Uganda to teach local children and learn indigenous dance forms. Despite her commitment to the university, she continues to teach young students at the Little Red School House in NYC, and she recently co-created the creative movement video series, Move ‘n Groove Kids.

Damast’s contemporary modern classes are brimming with energy and spunk, and students often approach her afterward to marvel at her music choices and ask for suggestions. “Well-thought-out music for dance class provides an opportunity to enhance the emotional experience of the student,” she says. “Using a variety of genres, rhythms and instrumentations expands the range of dynamic choices in the class content.” Here Damast shares some of her diverse selections with DT. DT

Artist: Philip Hamilton
Album/Song: Maya, “Flat Foot Freddy”
“Philip Hamilton is a NYC musician who used to play for my classes. He incorporates drums and vocalization, and his dynamic range of sound makes his music accessible for all types of movement. This song is great for small jumps or quick shifts, because it has a nice spring to it.”

Artist: Oliver Mtukudzi
Album/Song: Tuku Music, “Todii”
“Oliver Mtukudzi is from Zimbabwe, and his music is very soulful and lyrical. I use it a lot for plié combinations. It has a simplicity that allows you to work between the notes. There’s something very hopeful and profound about this music.”

Artist: Andy Monroe
Album: Joyful Noise
“Dancing to Andy’s music is like riding the crest of a wave. He plays piano and uses his voice in an incredible range of rhythms and melodies. He’s one of the favorite accompanists in NYC for the Paul Taylor School and the José Limón Institute, among others. His music is beautiful and supportive for modern dance class.”

Artist: Zap Mama
Album/Song: Adventures in Afropea, “Abadou”
“Zap Mama is an a capella group, and some of their music uses vocalization techniques that are polyrhythmic and diverse. The Abadou piece has a circular movement to it and is good for anything in a strong three rhythm.”

Artist: Angelique Kidjo
Album/Songs:  Putumayo Kids Presents: African Playground, “Battu” and Fifa, “Fifa”
“‘Battu’ employs a lot of percussion and combines Western and African instruments that result in a high-energy sound that’s good for propelling you across the floor and for intricate footwork. ‘Fifa’ is a more lyrical adagio piece that’s good for slow, sustained stretch combinations.”

Artist: Pink Martini
Album: Sympathique
“Pink Martini has a really fun range of songs that are good for going across the floor, for big jumps and for big combinations. They have a rich-sounding big-band feeling. It’s definitely worthwhile to check this album out and see all of the diversity you can find on it.”

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