Rachel Kreiling Learned Musicality at Abby Lee Miller's Studio Long Before 'Dance Moms'

Photo courtesy of Kreiling

While training with Abby Lee Miller in Pittsburgh, Rachel Kreiling underestimated the studio's requirement of enrolling in every class. The versatile curriculum (tap, ballet, hip hop, modern, acro, lyrical and jazz) paired with Miller's unconventional teaching style, since showcased on "Dance Moms," greatly impacted Kreiling's own style and relationship to music. "Abby would play the music and choreograph within the phrasing, but rarely to actual counts," she says. This resulted in a huge positive learning component. "I had to learn musicality myself," says Kreiling, who left the studio at age 18 after graduating, more than a decade before the Lifetime network show aired. "And studying every style became instrumental in my attachment to music," she adds. "I'm always seeking out new genres and diverse songs." After a performing career that included a Broadway-style revue at Tokyo Disney, Revolution (a tap tour with Mike Schulster), and dancing with Alison Chase/Performance and in a Rasta Thomas contemporary ballet, Kreiling began assisting Suzi Taylor at Steps on Broadway in New York City. In 2007, Kreiling, who describes her class as extremely athletic and technical, became full-time NYCDA faculty.

As a choreographer, Kreiling enjoys using music with spoken word or a less melodic metronome, which leaves space for dancers to interpret and explore the music. "I'll offer them a phrase, and maybe they'll emphasize an accent or follow the vocalist rather than the instruments," she says.

Setting movement this way can be uncomfortable; but she strongly encourages teachers to try it. "Try moving with the music instead of counting the beats," she says. "Then when you're ready to teach a phrase, describe the strings or drums without counts to your students. This can better inform the movement and help focus on the music's nuances."

Whether she's chosen an instrumental track or a classic Billie Holiday song, playing with syncopation and unexpected rhythms forces dancers out of their comfort zones. "I like to prepare my students with as many tools as possible," she says. "Everyone can count to eight, but you might not always be asked to at an audition."

Artist: Frank Sinatra

Album: The Best of Frank Sinatra: The Capitol Years

"Sinatra was an early inspiration for me. He, as a vocalist, is incredible—extremely clear, harmonizes with the band beautifully and carries so much soul with the utmost honesty. Pairing contemporary movement on past musical stylings is fascinating to me. Sinatra's can be cinematic."

Frank Sinatra - I've Got the World on a String

Artist: Billie Holiday

Album: Billie Holiday

Song: "I'll Be Seeing You"

"Ms. Holiday's vocal phrasing carries enormous emotion, and the musical back-phrasing has its own story. The uneven meter allows dancers to challenge transitional phrasing, which is an invaluable tool in learning to adapt to various choreographers and musical scores."

Billie Holiday - "i´ll be seeing you"

Artist: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Album: This Unruly Mess I've Made

Song: "The Train" (feat. Carla Morrison)

"All of their music provides a delivery that is raw and honest. I did a combo to 'The Train' a couple seasons ago, and the collaboration of rap and lyrical vocals is such an interesting dynamic in itself, let alone the added instrumental backing. The dynamic and textural difference between the three elements allows for a variety of play and exploration."

The Train (feat. Carla Morrison)

Artist: Mt. Wolf

Album: Red

Song: "Burgs"

"This artist's vocals are so conversational, which encourages dancers to approach movement from a position of delivering a message. Movement with the intention of delivering a specific message needs to take care in punctuation, and working with the poeticism of Mt. Wolf certainly facilitates or, at least, encourages that."

Burgs by Mt. Wolf

Artist: @MoStFeAr

Album: Resurgence

Song: "Resurgence of the Mind, Body, and Soul" (feat. Alan Watts)

"The brilliant collaboration of poet and musician, with a very open (and challenging) musical backdrop can be intimidating. Yet, I see it as a playground! Free play—and fun play! You've got an ambient background to use as a canvas to create rhythmic and dynamic phrasing of choreography for dancers. Rather than dancing to music, they must become part of the score themselves."

@MoStFeAr (feat. Alan Watts) - Resurgence (Teaser Trailer)

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Scott Robbins, Courtesy IABD

The International Association of Blacks in Dance is digitizing recordings of significant, at-risk dance works, master classes, panels and more by Black dancers and choreographers from 1988 to 2010. The project is the result of a $50,000 Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources.

"This really is a long time coming," says IABD president and CEO Denise Saunders Thompson of what IABD is calling the Preserving the Legacy and History of Black Dance in America program. "And it's really just the beginning stages of pulling together the many, many contributions of Black dance artists who are a part of the IABD network." Thompson says IABD is already working to secure funding to digitize even more work.

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