Music for Class: Ready for Anything

“I’m kind of doing it all,” says Nick Pupillo, and he’s not lying. In the last couple of years the performer, teacher and choreographer has added studio owner and company director to his list of roles, and the Visceral name, which he created, is taking Chicago’s dance scene by storm.

It started with the Visceral Studio Company, a teen performance and competition group, which is now beginning its fourth

season. To house these talented teens, Pupillo founded the Visceral Dance Center in 2007, and, with huge warehouse-like studios and an impressive roster of teachers, it quickly grew to one of the Windy City’s most popular destinations for dance. Pupillo isn’t slowing down, and a professional company, Visceral Dance Chicago, is set to launch this spring. In addition to the behind-the-scenes work, Pupillo remains the studio’s star teacher and brings in throngs of faithful students.

“I like to make sure that when my students come into class, they don’t know what to expect,” Pupillo says. His intricate choreography varies from hard-hitting jazz to smooth lyrical. But his warm-up stays relatively consistent.

“Having a formula is beneficial to properly warming up, “ says Pupillo. “Dynamics are important. A warm-up should have extreme highs and lows to energize the body, but also be calm and stretch the muscles.” Pupillo’s range of familiar movements are paired with these carefully chosen songs, making his warm-up feel less like a series of exercises and more like a dance.

Artist: Sigur Rós

Album/Song: Takk . . . “Saeglópur”

“Sigur Rós is an Icelandic group that is very unique. They mix harmonies in an interesting and intriguing way. Starting my warm-up with this calm yet energetic song introduces the basic feel of my class.”

 

 

Artist: Ingrid Michaelson

Album/Song: Be OK, “Keep Breathing”

“I use this song for stretching. Ingrid Michaelson’s harmonies are beautiful and the song has a very happy, peaceful mood. She has a very unique voice and that’s something that’s very important to me in all the music I use.”

 

 

Artist: Regina Spektor

Album: Far

“I’ve found that students respond to Regina Spektor and get excited when the music comes on. She has a hopeful sound, but also a darker, deeper feeling that works for so many aspects of class.”

 

 

Artist: Sia

Album: Some People Have Real Problems

“I’ve used every song on this album. I like that Sia doesn’t always play in straight eights. I think it’s nice to break it up a little bit, so students get into the dynamics of what a six requires.”

 

 

Artist: Portishead

Album/Song: Dummy, “Numb”

“I use this song for developpés. It has a tense, rich tone, which calms things down but keeps up the intensity. This whole album has an energy that keeps students pushing along, and her voice is haunting yet beautiful.”

 

 

Artist: The Rapture

Album/Song: Pieces of the People We Love, “Whoo! Alright–Yeah . . . Uh Huh.”

“This punk rock band is just fun. They play exciting music that I use for battements or sit-ups. The beats are deep and clear, so it’s easy to experiment with repetition and progressions. Its upbeat energy is very aggressive.”

 

 

Photo by Cheryl Mann, courtesy of Nick Pupillo

Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

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After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

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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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