When Bill Evans tap dances he appears to hover above the stage. In the tradition of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, he is charming, debonair and full of that 1940s film era grace. But take another look at Evans as he shuffles and flaps and you'll see something else. His movement is earthbound and grounded, as if honoring the pioneers of 20th-century American modern dance—Graham, Limón, Cunningham and others. As a teacher, performer and choreographer of this remarkable fusion of modern and tap dance, Evans has found his dancing soul and raison d'être.

 

A tenured professor of dance at the University of New Mexico and artistic director of the Albuquerque-based Bill Evans Dance Company (BEDCO), Evans has devoted his life to developing his own dance technique. Students from all over the country flock to Evans to understand his way of moving, which integrates his intensive study of kinesiology and anatomy with his training in ballet, jazz, tap and modern. His work has found its most expressive outlet at BEDCO, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, but also lives and breathes at the literally hundreds of schools, studios, universities, colleges, high schools and companies where Evans has taught, performed and choreographed.

 

His life-long passion for movement began at age three when he, and later, his sister Marcia, would tap dance on a square of linoleum, sandwiched between the carpeted living and dining rooms of his home in Lehi, Utah. It was difficult for Evans, who grew up in a traditional Mormon household, to convince his father to let him pursue dance. (Not allowed to buy tap shoes, Evans put marbles under his toes to make sounds on the floor.) At age eight his father finally relented, allowing him to study tap with Charles Purrington, a retired Vaudevillian hoofer in Salt Lake City. He later studied ballet, tap and jazz with Charles' daughter, June Purrington Park. “It is to them I owe my love of dance. They taught me to move for the sake and pleasure of moving without the sole emphasis being on shape and line.”

 

Evans continued his dance training at the University of Utah where he received a degree in English and majored in ballet under the tutelage of Willam Christenson. After graduating, his career took him to New

York, where he learned Cunningham, Nikolais, Limón and Graham styles, soon realizing that he had a strong kinesthetic affinity for modern dance. Evans performed with several companies, including the Harkness Ballet, Ruth Page's Chicago Opera Ballet and the Repertory Dance Theatre at the University of Utah.

 

The many years of hard dancing had already taken a toll on Evans' body by he time he was in his late 20s. As he began to battle injuries in his cervical spine and knee, he soon realized that his body was actually restricting his growth as a dancer, rather than enabling him to progress. “I became consumed by my body's limitations, trying to overcome perceived deficiencies. I wanted to start over, to figure out from the inside what movement patterns would be safe, healthful and regenerative to repattern into my neuromuscular system." So, beginning in 1968, at age 29, Evans began to develop his technique, which by 1976 was very similar to its current form.

 

Since the mid-’70s, Evans says his work has evolved according to the inclusion of the theoretical concepts of Rudolf Laban, Irmgard Bartenieff and Bonnie Banibridge-Cohen. His intense studies of dance medicine, dance science and Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis (which promotes re-education of the body) by focusing on movement integration, harmony and freeing of the body, has helped him to refine and redirect his teaching methods. “I teach students to explore their own bodies and selves through movement—to dance from the inside out, rather than teaching them to mimic shapes of codified dance styles.”

 

“The longer I teach, the more I base my work on fundamental movement patterns that we all follow,” says Evans. Clarifying this, Evans explains that he teaches his students to work with their patterns of total body connectivity, beginning with breath, followed by movement radiating out from a central NAVEL core, to movement initiated by the spine and limbs. "I find that this simplifies their dancing,” says Evans. "The world is so complex that I like to give my students a way to deal with the complexity and ultimately find a certain freedom through dance."

 

“A dancer who trains to make his or her body look a certain way is less useful to a choreographer than a dancer who integrates the movement with his or her own body patterns,” says Evans, adding that if you give a dancer permission to reveal themselves, they will dance in a way that is more healthful and ultimately more beautiful.

 

Evans' quest to disseminate the principles of his technique keeps him traveling regularly. (At the time of this interview, he was at the University of Central Oklahoma, choreographing a tap piece for the student company.) He has taught dance at Indiana University, the University of Washington, Seattle and the University of Utah. He has been a guest teacher at some 60 schools nationwide as well as having received commissions from dozens of modern and ballet companies, such as Ballet West, the Chicago Ballet, Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. His own company, BEDCO, has the distinction of having been for several years the most booked company in the United States, touring up to 40 weeks per year under the auspices of the NEA. Evans has also directed the Bill Evans School of Dance in Lehi, Utah, the Bill Evans Summer Institutes of Dance, the Bill Evans Teacher Intensives and been the artistic coordinator of the Repertory Dance Theatre and artistic director of Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers in Canada.

 

Today, Evans’ passion to teach continues to be boundless. “I need to be in a studio every day to move with other dancers,” he says. For Evans, teaching as well as choreographing are collaborative processes, and for the collaboration to be successful, Evans must get to know all his students. Each dancer has their own story to tell about working with Evans, yet they all share a belief that he has mentored them in powerful ways.

 

Joab Maestas, a student of Evans at UNM, first studied with Evans at his 1999 Summer Institute. “Working with Bill helps you find a balance between your emotional and physical selves,” he says. “I want to continue to dance and this will be the way to do so in a healthy way.”

 

Over the years, many BEDCO members started out as students of Evans. “I met Bill when I was 15 when he came to teach dance in El Paso, TX. I went to UNM just to study with him and joined the company about five years ago,” says Denise Herrera, a current dancer with BEDCO. “Bill has pushed me beyond what I thought were my limits as a dancer and has done it with the utmost respect for me as a person.”

 

Evans' generosity as a teacher is extraordinary. Not only does he try to understand his students on multiple levels, he in fact tries to become them metaphorically. “Once I pretended to be Debbie Poulsen,” says Evans about a former student in the Virginia Tanner Institute Of Dance in Salt Lake City, UT, who later joined his company. “I supposed that her body was my body and then tried to feel and think like her, allowing me to create movement that would perfectly suit her.” Out of this exercise, Evans re-choreographed a solo called Sarabande (the third section of Bach Dances) originally choreographed in 1975. “Bill and I had a non-verbal way of communicating about dance,” says Poulsen, as she reminisced about the Sarabande experience. "I depended on Bill to provide the structure through which I could fully express myself. In turn, I could fully embody what he wanted to express through his choreography.”

 

This academic exercise of thinking and feeling like his dancers helps Evans keep his choreography for class and performance dynamic, fresh and utterly appropriate. "I get out of myself and try to look like them, rather than asking them to look like me. Taking his choreographic cue from his students, Evans might look at a dancer and say, 'What would I like to see on her body? What movement would I like to see her explore today?'"

 

Another tool Evans uses to get to know his students is to ask them to write weekly letters to him raising questions or concerns about the movement they're learning in class. “I then address their comments,” says Evans. “It helps me guide and understand them and, consequently, they trust me more."

 

“When I teach, I look at my students as whole human beings,” says Evans. “Each student is an individual who processes information differently, relying on multiple intelligences (verbal-linguistic, visual-spatial, kinesthetic, musical-rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, mathematical-analytical, naturalist) in various combinations.  I address my teaching to each student in a different way—making the information available through all of the above intelligences as the need arises.”

 

Evans contributes his enormous success as a teacher/choreographer to the joy he derives from working. “If you love what you're doing, hard work can be as joyful as anything else in life,” says Evans, an attitude that would explain why Evans has done it all. He simply likes it all.

 

“I’m one of the last of a generation of dancers who perform, teach, choreograph and administer,” says Evans. "Today, these functions are largely independent, but each role feeds a different part of me, and I really can't imagine giving up any of those parts of myself. I have also loved being an administrator, but that is the role I could give up if I had to give up one.”

 

Evans has no intention of slowing down as he approaches his 60th birthday in April. In fact, he is busy planning his next move, which is to document all he has done through videotapes, Labanotation and eventually writing a textbook on his technique. For now, he's on the road, going where he can to choreograph, teach and inspire dancers to learn about themselves—body, mind and soul. DT

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Kyle Froman

Darla Hoover was at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's studios running a rehearsal in 2014 with director Marcia Dale Weary. Hoover had just returned the day before from staging a ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. Jet-lagged, she mixed up her words when giving a correction.

Weary took Hoover's hand and gently said, "Honey, you work too hard."

Hoover, and the students, had a good laugh.

"Are you kidding me?" Hoover replied. "You're the one who made this monster. There is no off switch!"

Weary founded CPYB in 1955, and it quickly became an internationally known school that has produced countless principal dancers. Famous for her high standards and tough work ethic, Weary instilled those qualities in Hoover, who served as associate artistic director at CPYB under Weary, as artistic director at Ballet Academy East's pre-professional division in New York City and as a répétiteur for the Balanchine Trust.

Hoover took over as artistic director at CPYB in the spring this year after Weary died suddenly, and while she's committed to continuing Weary's legacy, students have begun to see some of Hoover's vision as well.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix, has been called the Queen of Fundraising by colleagues. A studio owner and high school dance coach with over four decades of experience, Clough is known for her smart and successful fundraising ideas.

Now, Just For Kix has created a new online tool to help everyone tackle their fundraising goals, whether you're raising money for uniforms, extra classes, or to cover the cost of travel for your dance team's next convention.

Clough shared a few of her best fundraising tips, including everything you need to know about the new tool:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Jessica Kubat (center) with her studio staff. Photo by Vincent Alongi, courtesy of Kubat

Jessica Kubat's path to becoming a studio owner wasn't typical or glamorous or the product of a family business, handed down. When she opened MJ's House of Dance in Lindenhurst, New York, this past summer, she had just turned 40, was a mom of three, and had worked at two different studios long-term. Over the last two and a half years, she'd painstakingly saved up $25,000 and had gone to the Small Business Development Center at a local college on Long Island for help creating her business plan. Her area was moderately saturated with studios, so she spent considerable time planning what would set her school apart—live musical accompaniment, for one—and hired a marketing director nine months before the business even opened. It was a methodical, careful approach—Kubat calls it "the old-fashioned way"—to opening a studio, and it's paid off: She started summer classes with 75 students and is well on her way to reaching her first-year enrollment goal of 250 dancers. "When I turned 40, I decided that it was time to do something bigger," says Kubat. "I always wanted to own a studio—it was just never financially available to me."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by NYCDA
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
From left: Daniel Novikov, Alla Novikova and Mishella Vishnevskiy at Blackpool 2018. Photo by NYC Digital Media, courtesy of Alla Novikova

Alla Novikova began her dance training at a ballroom studio called Edelweiss in Saratov, Russia, when she was 9 years old. She was immediately recognized for her natural talent and work ethic, placing third at the Russian Open just three months after beginning ballroom lessons. The lessons she learned at Edelweiss shaped her career and provided the foundation she needed to open her own ballroom studio: Work hard to prove that you're good enough to be here, and give honor to the experiences that brought you to where you are today.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Professions across the globe hold yearly conferences, and the dance industry is certainly no exception. Annual conferences exist for dance teachers, dance medicine professionals, dance educators and more. Taking the time out to attend them can be well worth your while for a number of different reasons. Let's take a closer look at four of them.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Father-daughter dance. Photo by Lisa Lee, courtesy of Dance Academy USA

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: How do you approach gender when teaching in 2019? When I was training, male dancers were encouraged to make their movement masculine, while female dancers were encouraged to keep their movement feminine. Today, gender has become much more fluid, and the line between masculine and feminine performance has blurred. How does that impact the way we should be teaching?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo courtesy of Z Artists Group

New York City–based pre-professional training troupe Z Artists Group, along with dancers from eight professional companies in the city, are joining together to combat gun violence with, "DANCERS DEMAND ACTION," a performance aligning art with activism at The Joyce Theater, this Monday, November 11, at 7:30 pm.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Infinite Flow

Last week, 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and her partner Piotr Iwanicki brought their boundary-breaking work to the "Good Morning America" stage in a segment highlighting her inclusive dance company Infinite Flow.

Infinite Flow is a Los Angeles–based wheelchair ballroom dance company (the first of its kind in the U.S.) that incorporates an equal number of disabled and nondisabled dancers, as well as a range of styles like hip hop, contemporary and other partner dances.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending

Since she was hired in 2006 to create a dance program at Washington & Lee University in Virginia, Jenefer Davies has operated as, essentially, a one-woman show. She's the only full-time faculty member (with regular adjunct support). Over the last 13 years, she has created a thriving program along with a performance company—at a school with fewer than 2,500 students—by drawing on her admittedly rare strength: aerial dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

Savion Glover is one of the biggest names in the dance world, and perhaps the biggest in the tap world. The trailblazing hoofer's hard-hitting, rhythmically intricate style has fundamentally altered the tap landscape.

Glover is also a master teacher. But during his many years on the scene, he's never appeared regularly at a major dance convention. That is, until this season: Glover is now teaching at JUMP Dance Convention, scheduled to appear at approximately 15 more cities on its 2019–2020 tour.

We talked with JUMP director Mike Minery, himself a gifted hoofer, about working with a living legend—and how Glover is already changing the convention class game.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox