Heidi Henderson: "I teach downtown modern, joyous modern."

Henderson (center) with members of her company at Judson Church in New York City. Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of Henderson

With her warm demeanor and self-deprecating sense of humor, Heidi Henderson doesn't exactly come across as a rule breaker. But the choreographer, who started her career dancing with Nina Wiener and Bebe Miller, takes a certain delight in upending ideas about how modern dance should look—or sound, for that matter. “I teach downtown modern, joyous modern," she says. Describing a work in progress in which she pairs what she calls a “sad solo" with aggressive grunge music, she says, “I choreographed to 'Smells Like Teen Spirit,' very much a song you shouldn't use for modern dance—which I liked. It was a kind of noise that was needed for some very quiet material."


Whether working with students at Connecticut College, where she has been on faculty since 2003, or with members of her Providence, Rhode Island–based company, elephant JANE dance, Henderson's choreographic process is the same. “I walk into a room and start moving, and eventually, after what might be hours or days or minutes improvising, hit upon some way of moving that feels unique in terms of quality or texture. And communicating with my dancers helps me identify the way I'd like to move," she says. “There's always flow, weight, articulation and freedom in what I do, but there's something unique to each process in terms of how it feels to be in that moving body. That to me will be the marker of what gives a piece oomph."

Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
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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.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy TUPAC

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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