Music for Class: Tunes for Tots

Many of Suzi Tortora’s students literally dance before they can walk. In her dance/movement psychotherapy practice, Dancing Dialogue: Healing & Expressive Arts Center, she teaches students as young as 3 months old. Tortora’s wellness classes start with babies bouncing in their mothers’ laps and continue until up to 10 years old. Students are split into classes by development level rather than specific age and, after age 4, they attend without their parents and focus on improvisational dance. “I like to help children get in touch with their emotions,” Tortora says, “and I see my classes as creative dance self-expression.”

 

Tortora is a New York–based, certified dance therapist specializing in pediatrics, and she holds a master’s degree from NYU and a doctorate with a specialization in infancy/early childhood development, psychology and education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She acts as senior dance/movement therapist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, lectures internationally and is the author of The Dancing Dialogue: Using the Communicative Power of Movement with Young Children (2005).

 

“In my classes, I use music quite a lot to change the atmosphere in the room,” she says. “If I feel like the energy could become chaotic, I just switch the music instead of having to say ‘stop’ or ‘slow down.’ I use these songs as a way to subtly direct, helping the children get in touch with their bodies.” DT

 

Artist: The Clayfoot Strutters

Album: Going Elsewhere

“The Clayfoot Strutters’ songs can have a really strong beat or a more melodic rhythm. There’s a nice variation to what I can do just from this one album. I’m interested in exposing kids to good music, so I don’t actually play many children’s songs. I like to introduce them to music like this that has a lot of texture to it.”

 

 

Artist: Roger Davidson

Album/Song: Mango Tango, “Scallywag’s Tango”

“This contagious tango song has a really lovely beat. Even my 16-month-olds can’t sit still when they hear it, and their parents always want to know who this CD is by. It has an organic rhythm that captures the sense of little babies bouncing.”

 

Album: Cirque du Soleil—Saltimbanco

Songs: “Kumbalawé” and “Norweg”

“Kumbalawé” is a very welcoming song that I often use at the start of class as families are coming in. It sets a lovely tone and fills the room with a relaxed but flowing atmosphere.

‘Norweg’ starts with a percussive pulse and then adds melodic vocals that overlay the rhythm. I use this with older children who can be dancing at the same time, and some will work toward the rhythm and some toward the melody. In this way, choreography starts to develop within the children as they listen to all the layers of the music.”

 

Artist: Wild Asparagus

Album/Song: Wherever You Go, “Wherever You Go When You Sleep”

“This song is mesmerizing. It immediately starts to calm students down, but the waltz rhythm still keeps them moving. When I put it on, children start to slow down and pretend that they’re sleeping or make sleepy dances. They love to float around the room with beautiful flowing scarves as if they’re on clouds.”

 

 

Artist: Peanut Butter and Jelly: Tom Knight and Elizabeth McMahon

Album/Song: Peanut Butter and Jelly’s Greatest Hits, “Alligator Jump”

“Peanut Butter and Jelly teaches the children wonderful genres of music, like reggae and waltz, with lyrics that resonate with them. In “Alligator Jump,” the alligator jumps, slides and turns around. Students can jump or slide in any way they want. It allows them to create their own choreography based on the narrative.”

 

 

Artist: Gabrielle Roth

Album: Totem

“These songs tell a story, especially relating to jungle sounds. Five-year-olds in particular really like to get involved in imagery related to animals. Roth uses interesting layers of rhythm and sounds, like a bird cawing in the background, so kids can imagine that they’re going through a rainforest or a jungle.”

 

 

Photo by Caroline Kaye, courtesy of Suzi Tortora

Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.