How Herman Payne Inspires Kids at Miami City Ballet School

Photo by Mark DeLong, courtesy of Payne

Herman Payne, a Juilliard graduate with a resumé as diverse as his hometown of Miami, understands and approaches dance in terms of connections. His musical choices and teaching style are fully guided, he says, by how each student decides to relate to the movement and his instruction. So it might come as a surprise that Payne teaches children as young as 8 at the Miami City Ballet School. Says Payne, "When I talk to younger kids, it's more of a one-on-one approach. But I have the same work ethic no matter who I'm teaching, so I'm just as hard on the younger ones."

Having racked up credits as varied as the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and dancing behind artists like Michael Jackson, Usher and Whitney Houston, Payne is more than qualified to guide young dancers into the mind-set of a professional. “Of course any hip-hop class is a process of psyching yourself out and trying really hard. But even if they don't find a connection with three out of the four eight counts, I want the kids to go away with something they achieved or felt good about, even if it's just one particular step or technical thing," he explains.

To foster those dancer-to-movement connections, Payne takes a thoughtful approach when selecting his music for class and choreography, not least because of the challenges of finding age-appropriate hip-hop music. “I find myself going back to music from the '80s and '90s. The language was less direct and more just suggestive, as compared to today. And the beat is a whole lot clearer, too."

Teacher Voices
Getty Images

I often teach ballet over Zoom in the evenings, shortly after sunset. Without the natural light coming from my living room window, I drag a table lamp next to my portable barre so that the computer's camera can see me clearly enough. I prop the laptop on a chair taken from the kitchen and then spend the next few hours running back and forth between the computer screen of Zoom tiles and my makeshift dance floor.

Much of this setup is the result of my attempts to recreate the most important aspects of an in-person dance studio: I have a barre, a floor and as much space as I can reasonably give myself within a small apartment. I do not, however, have a mirror, and neither do most of my students.

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Allie Burke, courtesy Lo Cascio

If you'd hear it on the radio, you won't hear it in Anthony Lo Cascio's tap classes.

"If I play a song that my kids know, I'm kind of disappointed in myself," he says. "I either want to be on the cutting edge or playing the classics."

He finds that most of today's trendy tracks lack the depth needed for tap, and that there's a disconnect between kids and popular music. "They have trouble finding the beat compared to older genres," he says.

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Courtesy Lovely Leaps

After the birth of her daughter in 2018, engineer Lisa McCabe had reservations about returning to the workforce full-time. And while she wanted to stay home with the new baby, she wasn't ready to stop contributing financially to her family (after all, she'd had a successful career designing cables for government drones). So, when she got a call that September from an area preschool to lead its dance program, she saw an opportunity.

The invitation to teach wasn't completely out of the blue. McCabe had grown up dancing in Southern California and had a great reputation from serving as her church's dance teacher and team coach the previous three years (stopping only to take a break as a new mother). She agreed to teach ballet and jazz at the preschool on Fridays and from there created an age-appropriate class based on her own training in the Cecchetti and RAD methods. It was a success: In three months, class enrollment went from six to 24 students, and just one year later, McCabe's blossoming Lovely Leaps brand had contracts with eight preschools and three additional teachers.

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