Prep School

Nestled in a historic building that was once a Catholic school (now featuring eight dance studios and a full-service production studio), near the idyllic Finger Lakes in Auburn, New York, the New York Institute of Dance and Education is molding dance teachers into “triple-threat” educators. A unique, two-year certification program—focusing on business administration, dance education and performance—trains teachers in all aspects of the industry, from running a studio or company to landing teaching jobs.

NYIDE’s teacher-training program came into being nearly 20 years ago, after President and Director Sean McLeod, then a recent graduate of the Conservatory of Dance at Purchase College, experienced career-changing inspiration while studying with Broadway Dance Center founder Richard Ellner in New York City. “Richard gave in a way that was extraordinary, never with the slightest hint that he wanted something back,” says choreographer and lecturer McLeod, who has taught at Purchase and Howard University, among many others. “We don’t refer to people as students, but as clients, as a reminder that we work for them, and they don’t work for us. That’s a premise we promote, and we have watched it create opportunities for accomplishment in dancers and educators.”

A day-in-the-life of a certification-program client begins with business training. Taking class lessons into the field, teachers shadow NYIDE staff to learn how to write proposals, do cold-call marketing, set up training sessions, book events, seek out corporate funding, trademark creative ideas and understand logistics, among others. “Teachers have to understand a corporate vocabulary to get past ‘hello’ when it comes to true funding,” says McLeod.

The daily schedule continues with technique and training classes, followed by rehearsals for the NYIDE modern dance company, Kaleidoscope Dance Theatre. Clients also have the opportunity to perform with KDT. For those who wish to teach, the course of study teaches how to make corrections and adjustments, use McLeod’s trademark kinesthetic methodology (Reinforced Motor Function), work with parents and understand basic principles of child development.

“If you pay attention and truly absorb everything there is to offer, you will leave this program knowing all you need to start and operate a business of your own,” says former graduate Jerami Kipp, a SUNY Purchase dance major and NYIDE American Master Class Tour instructor.

Those unable to relocate to upstate New York may opt for a customized distance-learning program. This can include a mix of master classes, telephone sessions, online classes and/or DVD lessons. Another option is to attend the two-week teacher-training intensive during the annual New York Dance Festival, held every July in the Finger Lakes region. Teachers can also receive training at NYIDE’s two affiliate schools: the Landing Dance Center in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Dance4Life Training Institute in Wilmington, Delaware.

Dance teacher Carol Bryan, a former American Ballet Theatre dancer, booked private career consultations with McLeod instead of going to the school to broaden her teaching and business skills. She credits the sessions for expanding her teaching ability and public presence, which led to speaking opportunities with NYIDE. Bryan now freelances at schools throughout Connecticut and Westchester, NY, and she produces an annual dance festival called DanceFest. “McLeod opened my mind and my eyes to a broader spectrum of teaching and of education in dance,” says Bryan.

“It’s not enough just to be a teacher,” says McLeod. “Your job is to work so hard at constantly expanding your information base that students will always want to come back to you. That is what the future dance teacher must evolve into if our profession is going to survive this tumultuous economic time.” For more information, visit www.nyide.com.

Want to know more?

Here, Director Sean McLeod shares a few examples of advice you’ll hear as a client of The New York Institute of Dance and Education:

  • Be willing to make mistakes. When the teacher is the person most accepting of failure, then students will follow.

  • Realize that your responsibility is to help students achieve their wants. If you put them on their desired track to be a professional dancer and they stop trying, don’t get angry. Simply recalibrate what they require of you.

  • Collaborate; don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Find someone who has what you need, then offer them something you have and work together.

  • Go beyond your comfort zone. Is there a teacher or studio you dislike? Make it a goal to figure out how to work with them—you just might learn something.

  • A great teacher’s job is to relieve students of the sense that they would be “less than” if they leave your studio. It’s their duty to grow beyond your walls.

  • Practice “industry elevation.” Success is defined by how many people you carry along the way. When you share knowledge with others, or help them on your road to success, the dance industry will elevate as a whole.

  • The best way to tell if someone knows something is to watch them teach it. If you cannot first explain it, you cannot teach it.

Lee Erica Elder is a freelance writer based in New York City.

Photo by Brian Morey, courtesy of New York Institute of Dance and Education

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."


In 2019, NYCB came calling: Resident choreographer Justin Peck visited Houston Ballet to set a new work titled Reflections. Peck immediately took to Chan and passed his praises on to NYCB artistic director Jonathan Stafford. Chan was invited to take class with NYCB for three days in January 2020, and shortly thereafter was offered a soloist contract.

The plan was to announce his hiring in the spring for the fall season that typically begins in September, but, of course, coronavirus postponed the opportunity to next year. Chan is currently riding out the pandemic in Huizhou, Guangdong, China, where he was born and trained at the Guangzhou Art School.

We talked to Chan about his training journey—and the teachers, corrections and experiences that got him to NYCB.

On the most helpful correction he's ever gotten:

"Work smart, then work hard to keep your body healthy. Most of us get injuries when we're tired. When I first joined Houston Ballet, I was pushing myself 100 percent every day, at every show, rehearsal and class. That's when I got injured [a torn thumb ligament, tendinitis and a sprained ankle.] At that time, my director taught me that we all have to work hard, memorize the steps and take corrections, but it's better to think first because your energy is limited."

How it's benefited his career since:

"It's the secret to me getting promoted to principal very quickly. When other dancers were injured or couldn't perform, I was healthy and could step up to fill a higher role than my position. I still get small injuries, but I know how to take care of them now, and when it's OK to gamble a little."

Chan, wearing grey pants and a grey one-sleeved top, partners Jessica Collado, as she arches her back and leans to the side. Other dancers behind them are dressed as an army of some sort

Chun Wai Chan with Jessica Collado. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy Houston Ballet

On his most influential teacher:

"Claudio Muñoz, from Houston Ballet Academy. The first summer intensive there I couldn't even lift the lightest girls. A month later, my pas de deux skills improved so much. I never imagined I could lift a girl so many times. A year later I could do all the tricky pas tricks. That's all because of Claudio. He also taught me how to dance in contemporary, and act all kinds of characters."

How he gained strength for partnering:

"I did a lot of push-ups. Claudio recommended dancers go to the gym. We don't have those kinds of traditions in China, but after Houston Ballet, going to the gym has become a habit."

On his YouTube channel:

"I started a YouTube channel, where I could give ballet tutorials. Many male students only have female teachers, and they are missing out on the guy's perspective on jumps and partnering. I give those tips online because they are what I would have wanted. My goal is to help students have strong technique so they are able to enjoy the stage as much as they can."

Music
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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