News: Strengthening the Field

“Back to Basics” is the title and theme of the 22nd Annual Conference and Festival of the International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD), which returns this year to Philadelphia, its city of origin. Running January 13–17, the 2010 conference will pack classes, showcases, panels, performances, meetings and special events into its five-day schedule. Hosted by the Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco) in collaboration with Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, the conference coincides with the 40th anniversary of Philadanco and the 50th anniversary of the Philadelphia School of Dance Arts (PSDA).

The annual IABD conference has become a renowned meeting place for dance practitioners of all ethnicities to learn about, support and celebrate the black tradition in American dance. Conference coordinator Sandra Haughton says, “The conference’s basic goal this year is really to help the dance field strengthen itself—its institutions, dancers and choreographers—in this tight economic climate.” With this in mind, there will be panels on funding, choosing competent staff, utilizing the internet and other logistical solutions. But that’s just one aspect of meeting the conference’s goal.

“I’m excited to have a wider range of panels this year and more simultaneous classes,” says Kim Bears-Bailey, assistant artistic director of Philadanco and former soloist with the company.

Panels are grouped in three divisions: creative arts, education and administrative. These tracks will deal with topics from nutrition to management models and documentation. The conference’s classes range from ballet to hip hop and will go from morning to midnight.

The Midnight African Dance Class, taught by Baba Chuck Davis (Friday), and the Midnight Hiphop Class, taught by a member of the Rennie Harris Puremovement ensemble (Saturday), are two of the conference’s trademarks. Bears-Bailey says: “The African class is an exuberant circle of family energy, composed of attendees of all ages, sizes and abilities. There are hundreds of people in the largest ballroom of the facility. And the class itself is a healthy challenge.” A younger crowd attends the hip-hop midnight class, she adds. Other classes will include modern, jazz, Horton, Dunham and Graham techniques, tap, Pilates and choreography.

IABD, Philadanco and PSDA are all the brainchild of Joan Myers Brown, who founded each institution to create opportunities for dancers of color. She started the IABD conference in 1988 to assess and address the professional needs of this underserved community, and once again this year, she’s hosting the conference.

“We’re expecting a very large turnout this year,” says Myers Brown, “because of Philly’s proximity to New York and the concentration of dance on the East Coast.”

Tapper Maurice Hines will deliver the conference’s keynote speech, and Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Rennie Harris/Puremovement, Urban Bush Women and Philadanco are among the dance companies that will showcase their talents. The participating performers will offer dancers a multicompany audition to join the companies and their summer programs. Bears-Bailey says, “It’s an opportunity unique to our conference.” Eight to 12 artistic directors will attend, with choreographer Christopher Huggins (Steps on Broadway, Ailey) leading the audition, the conference’s final event. DT

Brenda Dixon Gottschild is a senior advising editor for Dance Magazine and is writing a book on Joan Myers Brown.

Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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