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

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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