Music for Class: From Discothèques to Dance Floors

Electronic beats for contemporary and modern dance class

Amy O'Neal spent her junior high school nights sneaking out of her house in Turkey to go to nightclubs. After her dad's military work abroad, her family moved to Texas, where she became serious about dance training. "When I was 16, I saw Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham and Donald Byrd, and it just blew my mind," she says. "I wanted to know everything about that world."

For 11 years, O'Neal, who has her own company, AmyO/tinyrage, has been teaching open classes at Seattle's Velocity Dance Center. Her contemporary technique attracts advanced students and professionals and her less conventional classes, Bottom Heavy Funk and The How, are rooted in improvisation and movement quality analysis. O'Neal also co-directs Young Choreographer's Lab, a program run by the Seattle Theatre Group, which gives dancers ages 14 to 20 an opportunity to compose work under her supervision.

In class, O'Neal's movement fuses modern dance and ballet lines with hip-hop flair. She begins with a "tune-up sequence" that stabilizes the pelvis and warms up the core. This prepares the body with the support it needs for stability and longevity. "As dancers, we're so hardcore that we just accept certain amounts of pain," she says. "It doesn't have to be that way. We can be healthy and do amazing things." DT

 

Artist: dBridge and Instra:mental

Album: Fabriclive.50

"It's hard to find an electronic album for my warm-up with beats or emotional qualities that aren't overbearing. This creates a subtle momentum and focused vibe."

 

Artist: PotatoFinger

Album: Upkeep

"This is a Seattle artist I'm really inspired by. He can do everything and makes each composition so unique. I play this whole album in the middle of class as we warm up our feet and legs."

 

Artist: B. Dolan

Album: Fallen House, Sunken City

"I like this for the same reasons I love dBridge and Instra:mental. I'll play the whole album because it takes us on a great ride."

 

Artist: Phaeleh

Album: Afterglo

"This isn't the dubstep you hear high school boys geeking out to. It's subtle and much smoother. I like the mood it creates. Its beat structure is predictable enough, but I've found that there are ways to use it that are very unexpected. When dubstep is done really well, it surprises me."

 

Artist: M83

Song: "Midnight City"

"This song is catchy and the tempo is moderate enough that there's space to really play with the rhythm of it. And there's this awesome saxophone solo at the end that makes everybody chuckle. It's a song that everyone has a fun time with. I've been using this for the choreography portion of class."

 

Photo by Gabriel Bienczycki, courtesy of Amy O'Neal

Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

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When legendary Black ballet dancer Kabby Mitchell III died unexpectedly in 2017, two months before opening his Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center, his friend and business partner Klair Ethridge wasn't sure she had what it took to carry his legacy. Ethridge had been working with Mitchell to co-found TUPAC and planned to serve as its executive director, but she had never envisioned being the face of the school.

Now, Ethridge is heading into her fourth year of leading TUPAC, which she has grown from a fledgling program in an unheated building to a serious ballet school in its own sprung-floor studios, reaching hundreds of students across the Tacoma, Washington, area. The nonprofit has become a case study for what it looks like to carry out the vision of a founder who never had the chance to see his school open—and to take an unapologetically mission-driven approach.

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