Music for Class: Gestures of the Heart

Music to connect dancers to the movement

Cherice Barton (right) and her sister, Aszure Barton (left)

After 15 years of teaching and dancing professionally, Cherice Barton found herself a bit uninspired. "I mastered the art of imitation—dance became kind of empty," she says. But something sparked while choreographing Le Rêve, an aquatic acrobat production by Franco Dragone at Wynn Las Vegas. "They weren't trained like dancers, so I was forced to break down the reason behind each movement," she says. "It's not 'contraction on five,' but 'someone punches you in the stomach.'"

It was this lightbulb moment that pushed her to revisit instruction. Barton, who teaches workshops in NYC and most recently worked as assistant and resident choreographer of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, dedicates a portion of her class to a post-warm-up combination focused on gesture work. "You pick something off the ground, you scratch your head—it's kind of like choreography, but not. It has a reason," she says. "I want the dancers to be human again."

As if Barton isn't busy enough choreographing and teaching, she dances for her sister Aszure, artistic director of Aszure Barton & Artists. It's her younger sibling's approach to dance that informs her own class the most. "I know she's my sister, so I'm a bit biased, but she's brilliant," says Cherice, who puts a spin on Aszure's gestural style by adding emotional appeal for students to connect with. "As dancers, we take the way we move for granted," she says. "Don't lose the heart of it." DT


Artist: Lhasa de Sela

Album: La Llorona

"She's Montreal-based and sings in Spanish, French and English. Her voice is rich and sultry—perfect for the beginning of my class, which starts with what I like to call a 'feel-good warm-up.'"

Artist: Carney

Song: "Think of You"

"Reeve Carney plays Spider-Man, but he's also a singer/songwriter and has a band called Carney. This solo really helps

you connect. For my warm-up, I like to use music that somehow subconsciously allows the dancers to open their hearts."


Artist: Gustavo Santaolalla

Song: "De Ushuaia a la Quiaca"

"I like to do a bit of improv to finish getting everyone warmed up. Gustavo writes a lot of soundtracks. This song has a really even pace and almost meditative feel to it, which helps dancers feel ease during improvisation. The Spanish guitar allows you to feel free."


Artist: Elvis Presley

Song: "(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such As I"

"I love to use Elvis for the gestures portion of class. No one ever expects me to use him, so it relaxes everyone a bit and makes them laugh. If they take themselves too seriously, they can’t get into the humanistic quality of the exercise. I'm trying to get them to make their own story within the movement."


Artist: Balkan Beat Box (featuring Victoria Hanna)

Song: "Adir Adirim"

"I like to do coordination exercises where I put the gesture phrase over separate footwork to get them thinking. I need something with a great beat, and this definitely has it. And it gives the dancers a naturally grounded reaction into the floor. Everyone always loves this track."


Photo: Cherice Barton (right) and her sister, Aszure Barton (left), by George Lange, courtesy of Aszure Barton & Artists

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