Music for Class: Gray's Got Rhythm

“I firmly believe that everybody has rhythm,” says Acia Gray, who originally found her tap-dancing beat playing the drums in R&B and country western bands. Gray co-founded Tapestry Dance Company in Austin, Texas, 20 years ago and teaches students from beginner- to professional-level at the Tapestry Dance Company Academy.

 

No matter a student’s level, Gray’s first step is to take them back to basics. Since most students learn to tap by routines, she likes to teach them, instead, to “speak tap” by practicing the fundamental elements of tap dance and playing with speed, accents and finesse. “We have to work these steps just like a piano player would with scales and arpeggios,” she says. “Then we can go on from there.”

 

Gray has danced, choreographed and taught for numerous organizations and festivals and is artistic director of TDC’s annual Soul to Sole Tap Festival. Her book, The Souls of Your Feet: A Tap Dance Guide for Rhythm Explorers, focuses, like her teaching, on returning tappers to the roots of their movement.

 

“When you listen to a piece of music, it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be, but the tap dancer should add another instrument without stepping on the rhythm that’s already there,” Gray says. “My main goal as a tap teacher is to have students understand that they are an instrument themselves.” DT

 

Click here for a video of Gray demonstrating the technique referenced in her book, The Souls of Your Feet.

 

Artist: Oscar Peterson

Album: Night Train

“These slow, spacious works help to build control. Kids, especially, move at a faster tempo and are not comfortable at a slower one where they can gain control. When using music that’s got a lot of space, students have to grab those downbeats and control their legs to stay on the beat.”

 

 

Artist: Hidden Beach Recordings

Album: Unwrapped

“This four-volume series is a cutting-edge fusion of hip-hop and jazz instrumental music. I use it in beginner or low-intermediate classes. The album’s steady hip-hop groove with a solid downbeat allows students to feel the tempo of the song, but it also exposes them to some incredible jazz solo riffs that are going all these different places.”

 

 

Artist: Club des Balugas

Album: Swop

“This lounge, nujazz project is an eclectic group that swings, hits and plays with interesting textures and grooves. Swop has a ’50s, campy, lounge music feel. The album is lighthearted and

playful, and it sets a great foundation for a fun warm-up or a teasing piece of choreography.”

 

Artist: Ellis Marsalis

Album: Heart of Gold

“Ellis Marsalis is a cool cat. This collection of standards and original works has a warm and cozy feel that lends itself to melodic play and traditional choreographic structure. The waltz selections are beautiful and a great introduction to 3/4 timing.”

 

 

Artist: Ahmad Jamal

Album: Digital Works

“This album holds great challenges in phrasing, solo voices and improvisational study for intermediate and advanced dancers, especially the versions of two songs, ‘Poinciana’ and ‘Wave.’”

 

 

Artist: Keith Terry

Album: SLAMMIN all-body band

“This has to be one of my all-time favorite albums. This brilliant group of vocal and body percussionists puts a tap dancer’s soul in a beautiful place. I’ve used this for choreography, percussive study and classes. It just makes you want to dance, and it’s a live album, so you actually hear them play off of each other. This is true rhythmic art.”

 

 

Photo by Farid Zarrinabadi, courtesy of Acia Gray

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Tribune

Finding age-appropriate hip-hop music can be a struggle. Choreographer Afaliah Tribune addresses this common dilemma for hip-hop teachers by making her own original tracks on GarageBand. "I love experimenting with live music, and my students think it's fun, too," says Tribune, who is an adjunct professor of dance at New York University. "There are so many ways we can open up our work when we experiment with sound."

Keep reading...
Instagram
Karen Hildebrand (center) with 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and members of Infinite Flow. Photo by Joe Toreno

Every year in our summer issue, we honor four dance educators for their outstanding contributions to the field. Recipients have included studio owners, professors, program directors, K–12 teachers and more, whose specialties run the gamut of dance genres.

We need your help to identify this year's best in the profession. Do you have a colleague or mentor who deserves to be recognized as a leader and role model?

Send your nomination by March 1, 2020. You can e-mail us at danceteachereditors@dancemedia.com with the following details:

Keep reading...
Sponsored by Akada Software
Photo by Jenny Studios, courtesy of Utah Dance Artists

Running a dance school used to involve a seemingly endless stream of paperwork. But thanks to the advent of software tailored specifically for dance studios' needs, those hours formerly spent pushing papers can now be put to better use.

"Nobody opens a dance studio because they want to do administrative work," says Brett Stuckey, who leads Akada Software's support team. "It's our job to get you out of the office and back into your classroom."

We talked to Stuckey about how a studio software program can streamline operations, so you can put your energy toward your students.

Keep reading...
Dance Teachers Trending
Barbara Bashaw in Thompson Hall of Columbia Teachers College. Photo by Kyle Froman

Barbara Bashaw has always been a pioneer. Since kicking off her career in education by building a dance program from the ground up at an elementary school in Brooklyn, she's gone on to become an inspiring force in teacher training. Now, as director of the new doctoral program in dance education at Columbia University's renowned Teachers College and as executive director of the even newer Arnhold Institute for Dance Education Research, Policy & Leadership, she's in a position to effect change nationwide.

"The study of dance education is a young field," Bashaw says. "Music and visual arts are far ahead of us, in terms of the research that has been done, as well as the foothold they have in education. Anywhere education is being discussed, we want to put dance on the table—and that means developing researchers and championing research that will push public policy." In a climate where arts education feels both more endangered and more necessary than ever, Bashaw is ready to blaze a trail.

Keep reading...
Site Network
Photo courtesy of Harkness Center for Dance Injuries

When orthopedic surgeon Dr. Donald Rose founded the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital 30 years ago, the average salary for a dancer was about $8,000, he says.

"It was very hard for a dancer to get quality medical care," he remembers. What's more, he adds, "at the time, dance medicine was based on primarily anecdotal information rather than being based on studies." Seeing the incredible gaps, Rose set out to create a medical facility that was designed specifically to treat dancers and would provide care on a sliding scale.

Keep reading...
Dancer Health
Getty Images

It's time to talk seriously about safety in dance education. As the physical and psychological demands put on student dancers escalates—thanks to competitions, social media and ever-evolving choreography—there is a pressing need to consider how we can successfully safeguard young dancers.

Keep reading...
Dance News
Photo by Melissa Sherwood, courtesy of MGDC

Martha Graham Dance Company created The EVE Project to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of U.S. women's right to vote. The female-focused initiative includes new works, as well as the company's classic repertoire highlighting Martha Graham's heroines and antiheroines. In April, the company is showing the newly reconstructed Circe, Graham's 1963 interpretation of the Greek myth, at New York City Center. Dancing the role of Circe is company member So Young An. Here, she shares thoughts on The EVE Project and how she's approaching her role in Circe, the 57-year-old work that invites audiences to consider pressing conversations about womanhood.

Keep reading...
Dance News
Instead of letting 1920s stereotypes of black dancers define her, Josephine Baker used her image to propel herself to stardom and eventually challenged social perceptions of black women. Photos courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

In honor of Black History Month, here are some of the most influential and inspiring black dancers who paved the way for future generations.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I'm having such a love-hate relationship with mirrors right now. They can be distracting, as well as cause emotional distress for my students. At the same time, they're a really useful tool. I know some teachers remove theirs altogether. Is this something you recommend?

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips

Susan Pilarre has been closely tied to the School of American Ballet for nearly her entire life.

From her first class there at age 11 through her 16-year career with its affiliated company, New York City Ballet, Pilarre learned directly from the great choreographer George Balanchine, absorbing the details of his unique style. Sensing her innate understanding of his principles, Balanchine encouraged her to teach; she joined SAB's permanent faculty in 1986. Since then, she has become recognized as an authority on Balanchine's teachings, instilling SAB and NYCB's distinctive speed, clarity and energy into generations of dancers.

Here, Pilarre shares how the specifics that Balanchine insisted upon in class contribute to the strength, beauty and musicality that define his style—and dispels common misconceptions.

Keep reading...

To celebrate Valentine's Day in the most dance-centric way possible, we sat down with five powerhouse dance-teaching couples to talk about their love stories. What do they admire about each other? What are their couple goals and their teaching philosophies, and how do they make their relationships work, especially when they work together? Get ready to swoon!

Keep reading...
For Parents
Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy of BAE

Watching through the studio windows—or even from the sidelines in a Mommy and Me class—can surely make parents wonder what exactly our little tykes are getting out of weekly ballet lessons. After all, they're repeating the same things class after class. Are they bored? Are they progressing? Why are they doing that again?

Keep reading...

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox