Music for Class: Creative Grooves

Seattle’s Anne Green Gilbert is a woman who wears many hats. As artistic director of Creative Dance Center, Kaleidoscope Dance Company and Summer Dance Institutes, she teaches students and runs a studio business, while managing to break new ground in the dance community with well-received books like Brain-Compatible Dance Education (National Dance Association, 2005). She’s a nationally revered advocate for creativity in the classroom—she believes the best way to learn is by playing—so it’s no surprise that her musical interests for her students are multifaceted. “I enjoy using a wide variety of music to inspire my students to move in novel and inventive ways,” she says. “Also, using a new piece of music often inspires me to create engaging and supportive combinations and choreography.” Green Gilbert let DT in on a few of her favorites for teaching students to move creatively. DT

Artist: Eric Chappelle
Album: Music for Creative Dance: Contrast and Continuum, Volumes 1–4
“Eric Chappelle’s original instrumental compositions are written especially for creative and modern dance classes. The incredible variety of meters, styles and lengths of pieces will inspire and support you and your students, young and old. Each CD’s booklet contains movement ideas for each song.”

Artist: Hap Palmer
Album: Rhythms on Parade
“The short, lively songs on this CD are appropriate for ages 5 and under. Although I prefer instrumental music for creative dance classes, I often include one of these pieces for a quick, engaging dance to start class. The clear beats in the music are also excellent for developing young dancers’ rhythmic skills.”

Artists: Gary King and Christoph Maubach, arrangers
Album: The Best of Shenanigans’ Dance Music 1980–1990: Children’s Dances of Terra Del Zur
“My students love music from different cultures. Many pieces on this CD have a clear ABAB form that is useful in exploring contrasting dance concepts, practicing skills or creating simple routines.”

Artists: Greg and Steve
Album: Kids in Motion
“Although this album has an ’80s feel to it, the CD contains some popular, high-energy tunes. The songs all contain words, but I often provide additional ideas and cues to inspire more creative movement.”

Artist: Baka Beyond
Album: Spirit of the Forest
“The mixture of Western and African rhythms on this CD inspires my students to move outside of their usual patterns. Some tracks have a strong rhythmic beat and others are more flowing. I’ve used the music for improvisations, combinations across-the-floor or choreography.”

Artist: Eric Chappelle
Album: BrainDance Music
“I use this CD to accompany the complete brain/body warm-up exercise called the BrainDance. Tracks include sections that use nursery rhymes, are fully narrated, have simple cues or are purely instrumental.”

photo by Stewart Tilger

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Photo by Yvonne M. Portra, courtesy Faulkner

It's a Wednesday in May, and 14 Stanford University advanced modern ­dance students are logged on to Zoom, each practicing a socially distanced duet with an imaginary person. "Think about the quality of their personality and the type of duet you might have," says their instructor Katie Faulkner, "but also their surface area and how you'd relate to them in space." Amid dorm rooms, living rooms, dining rooms and backyards, the dancers make do with cramped quarters and dodge furniture as they twist, curve, stretch and intertwine with their imaginary partners.

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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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