Music for Class: Made for the Stage

Lainie Munro's music for show tap class

When rhythm tappers step into a Broadway open call, they can easily grasp the steps, but stylistically, they’re in a whole new world. “In an audition, you have to turn it on and sell it,” says Broadway tour veteran Lainie Munro, who has choreographed everything from musicals to TV, and most recently, a “Fashion’s Night Out” event for shoe designer extraodinaire Christian Louboutin. “There’s a whole new carriage in the upper body and arms, and you have to use your face.”

Munro teaches theater dance and theater tap in New York at Broadway Dance Center and as guest faculty at Steps On Broadway. Most of her students are in the business—actors, singers and dancers who have ballet training and strong jazz technique, but come to work on their tapping.

In teaching, Munro is a traditionalist at heart. “I love to promote and learn from the masters—Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell,” she says. Her final combinations take from the classics. “I think it’s important to teach original Broadway choreography in addition to new stuff,” she says. Her favorites include “I Got Rhythm” from Crazy for You, “Forget About the Boy” from Thoroughly Modern Millie and various numbers from 42nd Street.

Munro finds inspiration in music and suggests that any student studying musical theater should own That’s Entertainment—a 1974 film compiled from performances by big names like Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli and Anne Miller. In class, she uses original Broadway cast recordings. “My philosophy with music is that old school becomes new school becomes old school again,” says Munro. “Because great music is timeless.” DT

 

Artist: Ella Fitzgerald

Song: “Tea for Two”

“It’s the opening for my warm-up because it’s perfect for shuffles. It’s very consistent in tempo from beginning to end, yet it has variations because she plays with her voice. Even a beginner can listen to this and really feel what a shuffle sounds like.”

 

Artist: Ella Fitzgerald

Song: “Too Darn Hot”

“Most of my warm-up is a capella. I use this for the first few things we do across the floor—flaps, shuffle hops, bombershays. Ella’s music just works best with these progressions—big band was her thing. She’s a classic, and you can’t go wrong with that.”

 

Artist: Louis Armstrong

Song: “Hello Dolly”

“This is great as we continue across the floor. He gets a little faster with each verse, so it’s fun depending on where you fall in the lineup, because you have to push a bit faster than the girl before you. It’s a great way to challenge your dancers.”

 

Song: “Greased Lightning”

Show: Grease

“Grease isn’t a tap show, but the music is wonderful. This song is perfect for flap ball change and lindy steps across the floor. With my final progressions, I’m trying out steps that will be in the combination we’ll learn, so they can feel the style.”

 

Artist: Brian Setzer Orchestra

Song: “The Dirty Boogie”

“Big band is phenomenal and this is a great swing arrangement. It’s hot, it’s sexy and it’s very current. I use this for waltz clogs across the floor and also for turning progressions like maxi ford turns. I never pick a depressing song. Tap is happy!”

 

(Photo by Dave Cross, courtesy of Broadway Dance Center)

Dancer Diary
Claire, McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet

Former Houston Ballet dancer Chun Wai Chan has always been destined for New York City Ballet.

While competing at Prix de Lausanne in 2010, he was offered summer program scholarships at both the School of American Ballet and Houston Ballet. However, because two of the competition's winners that year were Houston Ballet's Aaron Sharratt and Liao Xiang, dancers Chan idolized, he turned down SAB. He joined Houston Ballet II in 2010, the main company's corps de ballet in 2012, and was promoted to principal in 2017. Oozing confidence and technical prowess, Chan was a Houston favorite, and even landed himself a spot on Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch."

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Music
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.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

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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