Prologue

Open with a number set to Van Morrison’s “Hey Mr. DJ.” Cast eight dancers as disc jockeys—each representing a station—and costume them in a way that embodies their respective styles of music. For example, the classical station DJ can wear a tuxedo, while the country station’s host dons boots and a cowboy hat.

In one corner of the stage, set up a booth with several record players and a microphone to represent a sound studio. Paint the back wall of the booth as though it’s covered floor to ceiling with records. (Enlist local art students to help.) After each number, the DJ for the next one can step into the booth and mime choosing which song to play. During these bits, play pre-recorded introductions. For instance, prior to the “Top 40” number, the DJ can say, “And now—he’s no stranger to the music charts—here is Chris Brown, with ‘With You’!”

Top 40

Genre: Intermediate lyrical

Tweens will love dancing to hit singer-dancer Chris Brown’s love song “With You.” Cast a boy and a girl as the lead couple, with a class of lyrical dancers as the corps. The costumes should be light and breezy, but colorful to match the vibe of the song. The lyrics describe spending time with a significant other, so make the movements sweet and charming. One idea is to have the lead couple constantly in some sort of physical contact, whether it’s a lift or just holding hands while doing footwork. The beat is slow enough for intermediate-level dancers to show off multiple pirouettes and complicated fouetté sequences, but not too slow for extensions. For other Top 40 song ideas, peruse the charts at www.billboard.com.

R&B

Genre: Advanced lyrical

In a number to Joss Stone’s “Music,” create a gritty lyrical piece about a love affair with music. Challenge yourself to create movement that always originates from the heart and then extends into the rest of the body, as if the music itself lives in and pours out from the dancer’s heart. Go all out with Joss Stone–inspired face paint. Think hippie peace signs, hearts and flowers (try sweat-proof stage makeup and body paint) and deep-red hair extensions.

Classic Rock

Genres: Intermediate and advanced jazz, creative movement

For this dance, choose a three-song classic-rock medley. Begin with a jazz piece to Journey’s monster ballad “Open Arms.” The sweeping chorus lends itself to dramatic head-tossing, layouts, level changes and switch leaps. Outfit the class in ’80s-style wigs (think big, feathered bangs). Each dancer can wear a different colored headband, a high-legged leotard and multiple pairs of neon ankle warmers.

Follow up with a hate-to-love number to “Cryin’” by Aerosmith for advanced jazz dancers. Check out the music video starring Alicia Silverstone and lead singer Steven Tyler’s daughter, Liv Tyler, on YouTube for choreography ideas. One option is to use a corps of boys with one girl as the lead love-object. This dancer should portray a fun-loving heartbreaker, outfitted in a flashy costume that stands out against the others—try loud prints, sequins and fringe. Choreograph a series of lifts in which the lead dancer’s feet never touch the ground.

Finish the medley with “Mr. Roboto” by Styx for beginning jazz dancers. Go for a robot look with silver unitards, combat boots and gloves, and choreograph jerky, angular, robotic dance moves. Work with students on keeping their torsos rigid and their arms stiff. Pay homage to the music video by using strobe lights at the end of the piece (but not throughout, as it may be too much for young ones to stay oriented onstage).

Classical

Genre: All levels of ballet

For a classical music station, choreograph to Bach’s “Suite for Solo Cello No. 2.” (Yo-Yo Ma’s 1998 recording is particularly lovely.) Showcase a different level for each of the suite’s six movements, the Courante being ideal for beginning ballet since it’s less than two minutes long. Reserve the Menuett for a pas de deux, the Gigue for pointe and the Allemande for a solo. Use the other two pieces for larger corps work. Costume the entire suite with variations on the same theme. For instance, the dancers in each movement can all wear the same style bodice but different skirts, including romantic tutus, platter tutus and wrap skirts.

Talk Radio

Genres: Modern, contemporary, dance-theater

Create a dance-theater piece that incorporates spoken word. The dialogue should imitate an NPR-style talk radio interview. (Check out NPR’s free podcasts on iTunes.) The theme of the interview, which the dancers speak aloud, should inform the movement. Write an interview with a local artist or community activist, or search the news for intriguing stories. Find inspiration, say, in the Genographic Project (www3.nationalgeographic.com/genographic), a worldwide study in which participants volunteer their DNA, helping researchers track human migratory patterns. The concepts of human journey and exploration offer interesting movement ideas. For instance, if you have a large class, orchestrate complicated geographic patterns and shapes that mimic migration paths, then translate those shapes into a single movement for each dancer. Dress the students in simple, pale-colored unitards. If you go with a news item regarding the environment, use earth tones. Or use black, white and gray shades to mimic newspaper print. You can also have dancers research their own ancestry and use their findings to shape your choreography.

Country-western

Genre: Beginning tap

Score audience laughs with a number for your baby tappers set to “Firecracker” by Josh Turner. Dress them in cowboy and cowgirl outfits with fringed plaid shirts, leather vests and cowboy hats. Attach taps to the bottom of cowboy boots, and send your little ones electric-sliding,
shuffle-stepping and line-dancing across the stage.

To add to the rodeo theme, you might also have dancers gallop around the stage on hobby horses or recruit two older students to don a two-person horse costume.

Oldies

Genre: Tap

Following the seriousness of talk radio, lighten up the mood with a number to “Be Bop a Lula” by Gene Vincent, set in a 1950s diner. The girls can wear big skirts with blouses tied at the navel, cat-eye glasses like these, from Fun-shop.com, and deep red lipstick, while the boys sport black jeans, white T-shirts and slicked-back hair. Cast two dancers as waitresses (extra points if you put them on roller skates!) and one as the burger flipper. Set the scene with a bar, malt glasses, a jukebox and shiny red barstools. Try to incorporate swing movements and partnering to tie into the theme.

Weather & Traffic

Genres: Tap, jazz, creative movement

To incorporate “weather and traffic,” ask a student to record a “heavy rain” forecast and use this as an introduction to a morning commute–themed number to “Taking Care of Business” by Randy Bachman, “5:15” by The Who or “9–5” by Dolly Parton. Dress a group of tap dancers as suit-and-tie-clad professionals driving to work. The movement should create a freeway effect, with each dancer moving in columns as though driving in lanes. A few dancers can be obnoxious “weavers,” who move faster in and out among the others. Have arm movement be gestural; for instance, an arm that arcs over the head can represent windshield wipers. Others can incorporate various elements of the morning weekday routine, such as getting coffee, walking the dog, packing a briefcase and reading the newspaper. Some dancers can act as construction workers, baristas and dog walkers. You can even ask hip-hop dancers to portray street performers. Creative movement students can be dressed as schoolchildren walking in a line to school. The overall effect of the stage should be one of organized chaos. Use a cityscape backdrop.

Finale

Bring back your DJs and a few dancers from each number for an upbeat finale to “Radio” by Smash Mouth. The quirky music lends itself to a variety of genres, including pointe, tap and jazz. DT

Kristin Lewis is a writer in New York City.

The Conversation
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Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

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Vanessa Zahorian. Photo by Erik Larson, courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet Academy

At the LINES Ballet Dance Center in San Francisco, faculty member Erik Wagner leads his class through an adagio combination in center. He encourages dancers to root their standing legs, using imagery of a seed germinating, so that they feel more grounded. "Our studios are on the fifth floor, so I'll often tell them to push down to Market Street," says Wagner. "They know that they should push their energy down to the street level." By using this oppositional force, he says, dancers can lengthen their bodies to create any desired shape.

A slow and fluid adagio can captivate an audience. When done well, it demonstrates tremendous strength and control, while allowing dancers quiet and subtle moments of expression. But adagio work can be challenging and nerve-racking even for the most seasoned professionals. Using imagery like Wagner's idea of the root system and other simple techniques will give students the tools they need to achieve freedom in their adagio. They might even grow to love it.

Hold With Placement

To create and sustain adagio movements, dancers need proper alignment and a strong core. At the Pennsylvania Ballet Academy in Camp Hill, co-artistic director Vanessa Zahorian starts young beginner dancers with an eight-count développé in each direction first facing the barre at 45 degrees, and then with one hand. "With the lower levels, you need to go slowly so they hold each position and see what it feels like," she says. "The longer they hold it, the easier it gets. Then they can start to move through the positions and add more complicated steps."

Zahorian emphasizes the need for good placement and talks to students about the importance of using their inner thighs and backs of the legs, mentioning the associated benefits of Gyrotonic. "They need to lengthen their extension from the hip socket and keep very square hips, so that everything rotates with turnout and spirals outward. The energy never stops."

At Ballet West, academy director Peter LeBreton Merz might give a 64-count adagio—sometimes 128 counts—to give dancers ample time to use their muscles. "I like a long adagio," he says. "People try to power too much and not use enough technique. When dancers are a little more tired, they are forced to think more technically and support the movements better."

Find Balance

The key to a solid adagio? "It's all about the balance," says Merz. "In ballet, the secret ingredient is to improve balance, because it affects so many things." Jumps are higher when the force is focused up in one direction. Turning, of course, is also easier when dancers are "on their leg." "Adagio helps you focus on those aspects and maintains balance through big, unsupported movements. We use it to prepare for everything else in center," he says. Merz encourages teachers to be very specific about port de bras and épaulement, since a slight difference in head and shoulder placement can affect a dancer's sense of balance as well.

Standing steadily on one foot can be especially difficult for dancers in pointe shoes. The shank may feel like a short and narrow platform that undermines a dancer's ability to establish contact with the floor. Merz tells dancers to imagine that their first and fifth metatarsals are reaching away from each other, reaching around the shank and onto the marley. For all dancers, he recommends not resting on the toes or heels, but making sure that the tailbone is centered over the ball of the foot. "Make the leg as long as possible and pull the pelvis up off the femur," he says. "It's not static or gripping, but a dynamic action."

Use Expression

Whether dancing alone or with a partner, an adagio provides the luxury of time—an organic opportunity for students to express themselves. "I like to talk about subtlety and mystery," says Wagner. "Dancers can create allure that will inspire an observer to lean in. I tell students not to 'give it away' in the preparation." In an effort to be more expansive, students might want to initiate a step with the head or shoulders. But Wagner warns against it. "There shouldn't be a movement before the movement. It's about using artistic volume control so it's not all on one level. Less is more!"

When students are tense, their adagio will be less successful. Zahorian recommends that these dancers remember to breathe through each movement. "They shouldn't inhale as they piqué, but exhale and release the energy," she says. If they are struggling to get their legs up, ask them to go back to tendu on the floor and revisit the idea of lifting to hip height with length. Or have them stand at the barre and try again there. "Most important, I like to emphasize the rhythm so that their movement isn't static. Dancing an adagio to the music can take them to another place."

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New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

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