Roxane D’Orléans Juste: How I Teach Limón

On a chilly Friday morning in a New York City studio, a group of students are making themselves fall, over and over again. This isn’t an exercise in futility—it’s Roxane D’Orléans Juste’s class in Limón technique, and the dancers are venturing off center in a classic fall-and-recovery combination. As they swing their legs out and up and let gravity do its work, only to rebound against the floor and launch themselves back to an upright position, they attempt a moment of suspension. This signature principle of fall-and-recovery proves to be one of the more challenging concepts for students to grasp. “The idea of suspension is not necessarily natural,” Juste says, with a lilting accent that reveals her Montreal origins. “How do you teach suspension?”

After 33 years of performing with the Limón Dance Company, dancing iconic roles like the tragic Desdemona in The Moor’s Pavane and the anguished “Crucifixus” solo in Missa Brevis, Juste understands the sophisticated interplay between weight and emotional affect in Limón’s work. She challenges her students to investigate how their relationship with gravity influences the quality of their movement, having them repeat tricky exercises again and again. Her mix of high demand and constant encouragement is one of the many reasons her students adore her.

“I honestly have to force myself to slow down,” Juste says with a chuckle. “I have to make myself take a breath and let the students stretch.” It’s clear from the way she demonstrates that the 56-year-old is still a formidable dancer—plunging headfirst into action, eating up space effortlessly with daredevil falls off balance and fluid rebounds. Considering her long-standing association with the Limón company, it’s hard to believe she grew up studying only ballet and didn’t encounter modern dance until she was nearly 20. Enrolled then in the National Ballet School of Canada teacher training program, she began taking modern classes in the evening—first in Martha Graham technique and later Limón. She immediately gravitated toward the fluidity and dynamism of Limón technique, joining the company three years later. Hailed by critics as a performer who can bring gravity and truth to even the most basic steps, Juste knows what it takes to embody the range of qualities in Limón movement.

Dressed in a formfitting black top and pants, with a sleek braid down her back, Juste exudes warmth. Although her class starts gently, center combinations soon build in pace and intensity. “On y va!” (“Let’s go!”), she calls out in French, amping up the dancers with the energy in her voice. “I create challenging movement that asks for a physical investment,” she says. “You can’t just conceptualize or imagine it, you have to affect space.”

When practicing fall-and-recovery, she instructs students to pair up and take turns nudging their partners’ hips to guide where their weight should be when falling. They then try the combination again with this tactile feedback in mind. “I think it’s an important part of my class that the dancers interact with one another,” Juste explains. “That’s what dance is about. You have a responsibility to connect.”

Whether she’s offering a verbal correction (“This is the point of suspension,” with pressure on a dancer’s upper back) or simply laying a hand gently on the spine, Juste’s keen ability to address each student as an individual is clear—a skill she’s honed over 39 years of teaching. “You first have to know who you’re working with,” she says. “You have to do your homework.” As the dancers plié, curve, stretch and reach, she’s simultaneously snapping the rhythm, providing tactile cues where needed and issuing counts and corrections, all the while emanating positivity—a master multitasker if there ever was one.

Near the end of class, when the dancers zip across the floor in a traveling drag step in tricky counts of five and seven, Juste urges them to test the limits of their equilibrium, to propel themselves forward with urgency. “Once you love falling,” she says, “then you can start loving recovering, and then you can play with both. You have to be willing to let yourself fall first.” DT

Roxane D’Orléans Juste is the associate artistic director of the Limón Dance Company and has been dancing with the company since 1983. Born in Montreal, she studied ballet as a child and later received her teaching diploma from Canada’s National Ballet School. She went on to study Limón technique under Linda Rabin and Risa Steinberg and danced with the Eleo Pomare Dance Company for a year and half, before joining the Limón Dance Company. As an in-demand expert on Limón’s technique and choreography, she teaches master classes and reconstructs repertory for companies and universities around the world. Additionally, she directs the Limón4Kids program, which brings free Limón technique classes to New York City public schools.

 

Photographed by Kyle Froman

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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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