News: Free Dance Classes for All

At the NORDC/NOBA Center for Dance, there are no prerequisites—except for an interest in moving. The collaboration between the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission and the New Orleans Ballet Association provides free dance programming to local residents, and it has grown since its inception in 1992 to cover three parishes, 11 satellite locations and over 400 students/semester ranging from ages 6 to 80-plus.


“We want to level the playing field—it’s all about accessibility,” says Jenny Hamilton, executive director of NOBA. While the original goal was to offer classes to school-age children, Hamilton stresses the need for senior citizen outreach since Hurricane Katrina.


NORDC/NOBA’s mission lends itself to an array of technical abilities. Students are split into two divisions: open, which is filled on a first-come, first-served basis, and pre-professional, with admittance by audition. While open track stick to a ballet, tap, modern and character curriculum, pre-professional students take additional classes in improvisation and other styles and can learn repertoire from professional choreographers (students will work with Ballet Hispanico faculty this summer).


On May 22, participants will come together in a free performance at Tulane University’s Dixon Hall. While the concert is able to name notable guest artists and successful alums who have moved on to prestigious college programs and professional companies, its main goal is to expose a community to the benefits of dance—working with others, building relationships and developing a sense of respect and discipline.


“A young student said at a previous performance, ‘It’s about celebrating each person and their individual talents—there are no boundaries when it comes to that artform onstage,’” says Hamilton. “And I think a child making a connection like that is incredible.”


Photo: Teaching artist Aline de Souza (by Jeff Strout, courtesy of NOBA)

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.

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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

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Dancer Diary
Claire McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet

Former Houston Ballet dancer Chun Wai Chan has always been destined for New York City Ballet.

While competing at Prix de Lausanne in 2010, he was offered summer program scholarships at both the School of American Ballet and Houston Ballet. However, because two of the competition's winners that year were Houston Ballet's Aaron Sharratt and Liao Xiang, dancers Chan idolized, he turned down SAB. He joined Houston Ballet II in 2010, the main company's corps de ballet in 2012, and was promoted to principal in 2017. Oozing confidence and technical prowess, Chan was a Houston favorite, and even landed himself a spot on Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch."

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