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

Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of the Academy for the Performing Arts

“Keeping agile" has taken on a whole new meaning for every studio owner and dance instructor since the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shuttered studio doors for safety's sake in March. Now is the time to show parents how you bring normalcy and positivity to their children's lives so you can retain tuition revenue until your doors reopen for business as usual.

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I remember it like yesterday. Those days, when I could step to the front of my classroom and guide students through enchaînement—demonstrate the combination, offer tidbits of advice, cue my accompanist and walk around offering detailed corrections.

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Update March 31, 2020: This article was first published in Dance Teacher, February 2009.

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