Lydia Roberts Coco, a Former Ailey Dancer, Finds Motivation in Music

Horton class at Ballet Virginia International. Photo by Summer Greene, courtesy of Ballet Virginia International

For Lydia Roberts Coco, music is motivation. The former lead dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater opts for percussion music with precise counts when teaching Horton at Ballet Virginia International in Norfolk, Virginia, but she also knows when to pull out all the musical stops. "When I find my students are not dancing with as much life as I would like to see, I teach a more contemporary-style combination at the end of class to music that has beautiful lyrics. My goal is to try to get more emotion and passion out of my dancers."

When Coco isn't teaching modern or ballet, she choreographs for and coaches young dancers preparing to compete in Youth America Grand Prix, a responsibility she enjoys because of the extra time spent focusing on each dancer's unique qualities. “Oftentimes I am first inspired to choreograph by the dancer herself. I simply love creating in the studio, and then enjoying watching it all unfold as a dancer makes it her own," she says.

Coco works hard to build her students into confident, mature performers. “I find that young dancers, especially in the teenage years, become self-conscious and hold back from dancing to their utmost ability in front of their peers. I want them to know when they step onstage that they are there to share their gifts, their beauty. When I was in Ailey, before we went onstage Ulysses Dove would tell us, 'You have nothing to prove, only to share.' I always loved that."

Teacher Voices
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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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Teachers Trending
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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