Reaching Out

Adding community outreach to your studio's repertoire

The Dance Institute of Washington teaches dance and life lessons to students in need.

Educational outreach programs have become standard for major dance companies and their affiliated nonprofit dance schools, and they are typically supported by grants from state and local arts councils. But a number of private studios do outreach as well, and, in many cases, studio owners dig into their own pockets to support these efforts. Here, studio owners talk about their outreach programs and why they’re worth it.

Marcia Sarosik

Marcia Sarosik Dance Studio, 300 students

South Lake Tahoe, CA

As a kid, Marcia Sarosik’s family went through hard times after her dad was laid off from his job, but she went on to attend a private high school and college on scholarship. Now, as a studio owner, Sarosik tries to return the favor, providing scholarships to about 40 students who want to dance, but whose families are having financial trouble.

While she has, on occasion, provided separate classes for groups like the Boys and Girls Clubs, much of her outreach is done behind the scenes with scholarship students coming to take class alongside paying students at the studio.

“I get calls from counselors, teachers, principals and people in the community. They say, ‘I know this student who wants to dance, but I don’t think their family can pay. Can you do something?’” Sarosik says. “I don’t get grants. I’m still doing it by the seat of my pants, but I just say, ‘Sure, we’ll find a way.’ I know the business models say, ‘Don’t give away classes for free,’ but we have a responsibility to give these kids a chance and to help raise good human beings, too.”

Fabian Barnes

Dance Institute of Washington, 125 students

Washington, DC

Educational outreach doesn’t just mean teaching dance for the Dance Institute of Washington. The Institute offers outreach programs that mix dance with what director Fabian Barnes calls “life skills.” It began in 1999, when the school received a grant to teach at three affordable housing projects. Now the school offers its Positive Direction Through Dance program—mixing dance and life skills classes—for students ages 4–18 at one housing complex in the Institute’s neighborhood.

“We teach anything from financial literacy to conflict resolution to nutrition,” Barnes says. “We saw that the kids in the communities we were working with needed more than just dance. These classes introduce students to things that they may not get at home.” Teachers for the classes include volunteers from an area bank and a nutritionist, as well as staff members from the institute.

Institute staff meet regularly with the housing complex’s parent and tenant associations, and resident services coordinators. And since teaching dance in the apartment building’s multipurpose room is difficult, outreach students also attend regular dance classes at the studio. The buildings are close enough that Barnes doesn’t have to worry about transporting students to his facility. Grants and donations are utilized to supply dance clothing and shoes for outreach students.

“You have to be flexible. Going into these communities assuming everything will be perfect doesn’t work,” Barnes says. What does work, he adds, is mixing outreach students into classes with paying students. “People from all socioeconomic backgrounds need to know how to interact with one another, and they all receive the same training. This gives an example of what they’ll encounter in the world.”

Deena Laska

Children’s Center for Dance Education, 232 students

Evansville, IN

At the Children’s Center for Dance Education, educational outreach programs are a learning experience for the center’s students, as well as for audiences at schools and nursing homes where they perform. The dancers travel to other parts of Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky to present one-hour versions of classic ballets and fairy tales like Swan Lake and Hansel and Gretel. “This gives dancers a very important understanding that they are not the center of what is going on in the world, which is an essential lesson,” says director Deena Laska.

The center also runs several dance programs at local schools and rehabilitation centers. The studio’s nonprofit status allows it to apply for grants to pay for these programs, which are taught by Laska and other staff members. One, the Pirouette Project, provides weekly ballet classes, including dancewear and shoes, for students in the third through fifth grades at area schools. Older students can opt to continue their dance training on full scholarship at the center.

Kate Carol

Kate Carol and Company Dance, 250 students

Iowa City, IA

Kate Carol and Company Dance invites specialized groups, such as mentally or physically challenged students, for free classes at the studio (paid for by grants and sometimes out of Carol’s pocket).

The studio’s five student companies also sometimes present lecture demonstrations and performances in the community. “Since we’re not a competition school, it’s a nice opportunity for our students to perform,” Carol says.

Another component of the studio’s outreach consists of Carol teaching in area schools through Artists in the Schools programs, which are funded by the Iowa Arts Council. “It’s a chance to change someone’s perspective about the mental, intellectual and physical challenges of dance,” she says. “And occasionally you come across someone who is an amazing dancer, and you can help provide an opportunity for them.” Carol says her participation has not only made the studio eligible for grants, but it has been a vehicle for networking with other artists. “It’s great for professional collaborations because you meet people who design sets or costumes or are musicians or writers,” she says. She met a theater company owner through the program and ended up choreographing some of his productions.

“Outreach gives you the chance to pay it forward,” she says. “You give back to your community and to the artform.” DT

 

Karyn D. Collins teaches at The King Centre for the Performing Arts in NJ.

Photo courtesy of the Dance Institute of Washington

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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Teachers Trending

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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