Music for Class: Poetry in Motion

Hokulani Holt-Padilla has dedicated her life to teaching and supporting Hawaiian culture, especially its primary dance form, hula. She founded Pa ‘U O Hi’iaka, a hâlau (or hula school) on the island of Maui, in 1976 and was crucial in the planning of the World Hula Conference. Currently, Holt-Padilla is the cultural programs director at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, and her dance troupe has won numerous awards. In December, she was honored with a Ford Foundation Fellowship for Dance.

 

Holt-Padilla teaches both the traditional hula dance form, kahiko, set to chants and traditional instruments, and the contemporary or auana form, accompanied by song and Western instruments. “My real attachment is for the traditional version,” she says. “Many kumu hula (or hula teachers) view kahiko as the foundation of a dancer’s experience. A student must do that well before moving on.”

 

For most traditional classes, hula teachers act as accompanists, playing and chanting along with their students. For contemporary combinations, however, Holt-Padilla turns to recorded music. She has found a select group of artists who demonstrate the evolution of Hawaiian music, mixing the old and the new.

 

“Hula cannot exist without poetry,” she says. “We do not dance by music or drumbeats alone. We must have words. For those who understand Hawaiian, it is the poetry that leads us to the song we select.” With Holt-Padilla’s choices, even teachers far from Hawaii’s beaches can introduce hula to their students. DT

 

Artist: Keali’i Reichel

Album/Songs: E O Mai, “Ka Opihi O Kanapou” and “Pua Hinano”

“Keali’i Reichel records music specifically for hula dancers. This means that he stays within the 4/4 count, there are few instrumental interludes and the poetry is beautiful. Keali’i’s songs are also wonderful because he understands Hawaiian, so we know he’s enjoying the poetry just as much as we are.”

 

 

Artist: Ho’okena

Album/Song: Cool Elevation, “Ke ’Ala O Ka Rose”

“‘Ke ’Ala O Ka Rose’ is a classic love song about someone who is being wooed and compared to a rose. For female hula dancers, it’s always nice to have songs about flowers and sweet-smelling things, because hula expresses these words through dance. The students exhibit the rain and the blossoms and the ocean and feelings of affection with their dancing.”

 

Artist: Napua Greig Makua

Album/Song: Pihana, “Blue Lei”

“The song ‘Blue Lei’ comes from the 1920s and ’30s, an era of English language in Hawaiian music because the Hawaiian language was banned. Since the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s, we can learn, speak and compose in Hawaiian once again, which is great. But we also enjoy English music as a part of our history.”

 

 

Artist: Natalie Ai Kamauu

Album/Song: ’E, “Ke Aloha”

“‘Ke Aloha’ is a classic contemporary hula song that many hula dancers know. Natalie Ai Kamauu does a beautiful rendition, musically as well as rhythmically. It really inspires students to dance well when they hear beautiful music like this.”

 

 

Artist: Cody Pueo Pata

Album/Song: He Aloha…, “Awapuhi Puakea”

“Cody Pueo Pata is a new artist, and he is also a hula teacher, so the music that he produces has all the things that teachers want. His songs are 4/4 and have beautiful melodies and poetry. ‘Awapuhi Puakea’ is about comparing someone you love to a ginger blossom.”

 

 

Holt-Padilla describes her remounting of Kahekili: Maui's Paramount Chief, a National Endowment for the Arts/American Masterpiece Dance production here.

Photo courtesy Hokulani Holt-Padilla

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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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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