Rafi Maldonado-López

Music for jazz and music theater

Maldonado-López teaching jazz at Miami City Ballet School

As instructor for jazz and contemporary techniques at Miami City Ballet School and a jazz and ballet for music theater teacher at New World School of the Arts, Rafi Maldonado-López thinks he has the best of both worlds. “I come to New World and I have all my Broadway babies,” he says, “and then I go down the street and I have all of my concert dance babies.” Though this means his lesson plans don’t necessarily have a lot of overlap—his dancers at MCB are “lithe and beautiful thoroughbreds,” and his New World students are music theater kids, focused on becoming triple threats—Maldonado-López relishes the opportunity to expand the worlds of both groups. At MCB, his jazz and modern classes give the dancers a leg up when it comes to the contemporary choreography that’s thrown at them more and more often. At New World, he’s giving his students another chance to explore characterization: “When you work with music theater kids,” he says, “they want to know, ‘What am I exuding in this toward the audience? What’s the story I’m telling?’”

Maldonado-López’s own training was an amalgam of dance and theater: He apprenticed with Ballets de San Juan and studied at the Joffrey Ballet School and The Boston Conservatory before crossing over to the more contemporary Minnesota Dance Theatre and Ballet of the Dolls, a dance theater group. This eclectic education has made his daily trip from bunheads to gypsies an easy one—though he doesn’t really think there’s too big of a difference between the two. “The hair at New World is not in a bun. They work the hairography, as I call it,” he laughs. “That’s the real difference.” DT

Black Violin, Black Violin“I like a challenging warm-up. I like three-quarter tempos, stuff that’s not just square four-by-four. I like counts of 17, because that’s what gets my students to wake up choreographically, when somebody throws that at them.” 

 

 

 

StreetDance 2 movie soundtrack

“This is Miami: We always have to do Latin-Cuban. The remix of a Cuban salsa, ‘Cuba 2012,’ is fierce. I play it, and everyone at the ballet comes down. They call it Club Rafi.”

 

 

 

Patti LaBelle, Patti LaBelle: Greatest Hits

“I use this when I want to go classic and bluesy. I like to challenge my dancers to bring in their emotional maturity. You can be athletic and jump three feet off the ground, but can you show me an honest and believable relationship with another dancer onstage?”

 

 

 

Olly Murs, Right Place Right Time

“I teach young teenagers, and they’re bursting. I use this to take some stuff across the floor. His music brings excitement to the dance floor that helps the dancers generate a positive attack to the combos.”

 

 

 

Afro Celt Sound System, Volume 2: Release

“For warm-up, I always like drums. I like stuff that’s new. This is an Afro-Celtic group that’s amazing.”

 

 

 

 

Photo by Mitchell Zachs, courtesy of Maldonado-López

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.

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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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From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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