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NYC Teacher/Choreographer Hee Ra Yoo Aims to Break Barriers

Yoo and Dancers. Photo courtesy of the company

Former Korean National Ballet dancer Hee Ra Yoo has taught in New York City at Steps on Broadway, the Joffrey Ballet School, Peridance Capezio Center and Gibney; throughout the U.S. at American Dance Festival, Tulane University, Georgian Court University and Florida School of the Arts; and all over the globe, as a guest teacher in Japan, Canada, Korea, Austria and Italy, and coaching the Korean and Australian Olympic gymnastics teams. This weekend she's bringing her choreography to the stage with her company, Yoo and Dancers, in a limited engagement at Here Arts Center in NYC. Her piece More Than Memory is an exploration of the body's layers of memory within itself and its ability to create its future.


"I see my future by looking at my memories. Our body is creating new cells every second. How are we creating our future?" is the piece's tagline. It was honed since last September through Yoo's residency at the 92nd St. Y. Her company's mission is to break through cultural and language barriers with its work, which reflects its founder's global perspective.

Yoo and Korean guest choreographer Ji-Hee Lee fuse modern dance and Korean dance aesthetics to create a five-part work that gives the effect at times of a chain reaction, with dancers' sudden movements creating links and activating one another. In other sections there's a great deal of hesitation and striving, a jaggedness to the dance and occasional collapses, as if the future is unknowable or nearly unattainable.

The piece opens tonight at Here Arts Center and runs through Saturday, with two performances that day.

Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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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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