Music for Class: From Ballet to Broadway

"Fosse loved when his work was done by ballet dancers. They stand out onstage because their bodies look different, and their muscles are longer,” says Krissy Richmond, whose ballet roots led her to an extensive musical theater career. After dancing with the Beaumont Civic Ballet, The Washington Ballet and Houston Ballet, Richmond broke into Broadway in her 30s, and starring credits include featured roles in The Phantom of the Opera, Roxie Hart in Chicago and the Queen in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. Now, the Texas native teaches both ballet and theater dance at Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy, University of Houston, Hope Stone Center, Marsha Woody Academy of Dance and Beaumont Civic Ballet, as well as frequently traveling for outreach and master classes.

 

Richmond especially enjoys teaching her Fosse-inspired jazz style to ballet students, keeping in mind that the toughest thing about her transition was learning to sing. “You have to let go of your center to support the diaphragm,” she says. “That’s the exact opposite of what you do in ballet.” So she encourages students to belt out a tune in her classes to expose them to the challenges and rewards of being a triple threat. “There are some really great opportunities out there for dancers on Broadway,” she says. “I wish I could have taken that information in a little bit sooner. It’s great for kids to keep an ope­n mind and experience other dance forms.” Here, Richmond shares the music that motivates all students to get in touch with their inner Broadway babies. DT

 

Artist: Black Eyed Peas

Song: “I Gotta Feeling”

 

“I like to start with something upbeat like the Black Eyed Peas. Even though we might be moving slower—stretching, shoulder and head rolls or rib cage and hip isolations—it at least gets the class moving with some energy. Before, I’ve tried using something more adagio, but it never works. My choreography is pretty fast, so I try to get students’ energy up quickly.”

 

Artist: Beyoncé

Song: “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”

 

“Especially when I do outreach, I like to get students to see how artists influence each other across generations. The dancing in Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’ video is so close to choreography that Bob Fosse did for Gwen Verdon and two other women in the 1960s. He affected a wide range of artists, not just in musical theater, so I try to make his choreography relevant to students’ lives.”

 

Artist: Lady Gaga

Song: “Born This Way”

 

“I like to use what’s on the radio right now, and Lady Gaga is very popular. ‘Born This Way’ is great for incorporating a little bit of hip hop into choreography, and I use it when we’re going across the floor. The instrumental at the beginning of this song sounds so similar to Madonna, again demonstrating how different generations of music are interrelated.”

 

Album: A Chorus Line

 

“I do use traditional Broadway music. A Chorus Line is one of my favorites. The combinations from the beginning are really good to teach to ballet dancers because of all the pirouettes. I try to mix it up with different styles of musical theater, too. I just taught a version of Hairspray to the Houston Ballet kids, and they really enjoyed that. And I also love to use West Side Story.”

 

Photo: Krissy Richmond in Chicago (by Paul Kolnik, courtesy of Krissy Richmond)

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