Better Nate Than Ever

By Tim Federle

Simon & Schuster, 2013

275 pages, $16.99

“Macaroni and cheese is still my favorite food—how would I know who I want to hook up with?” That’s Nate Foster, the 13-year-old protagonist of Tim Federle’s young readers novel, Better Nate Than Ever, responding to a bully who taunts him about his sexuality. Whether you use the book in class as a discussion starter, or share it with students at your studio, this is a must-read for all middle school–age performers.

The story follows Foster, who secretly takes a Greyhound bus from his small-town Pittsburgh suburb to New York City to audition for E.T.: The Musical. But it’s more than an adventure through Manhattan. The coming-of-age tale sheds light on real themes: bullying, sexuality, family and self-discovery, all from the hilarious and loveable perspective of a musical theater–obsessed teen.

Most compelling is the realism within the pages. From the New York City landmarks—like Ripley-Grier Studios and a walk between the Flatiron Building and SoHo—to the scene at a new musical open call, Federle gets it right. He’s a Broadway dancer and former coach of the Billy Elliot kids; his childhood mirrors his protagonist’s. (According to Federle’s biography on his website: “1987: Tim develops interest in the musical Cats; 1988: Bullies develop interest in Tim.”) Federle’s sharp wit successfully captures the voice of a precocious, but unsure young teen, while appealing to adult readers as well. You won’t be able to put it down.

Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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