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Sultry Jazz Teacher Sabrina Phillip Keeps Her Students Strong With These Warm-Up Tips

"Push yourself to your extremes and see how far you can go. I don't expect you to be perfect, but I expect you to try," says Phillip. Photo by Chehon Wespi Tschopp

Anyone planning to take a contemporary jazz class from Sabrina Phillip at Edge Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles better be ready to sweat—pushing physical limits is this teacher's specialty. "I want dancers in my class to work really hard," says Phillip. "I want them to be inspired to push their boundaries and become well-rounded students so that they can have long careers."


The classically trained bunhead turned sultry jazz goddess begins class with a heat-generating warm-up that incorporates movements like reaching, lunging and yoga. From there, the energy never drops. She directs stretches and exercises on the entire right half of the body before shifting to the left side to increase difficulty. "It's like doing leg day at the gym," says Phillip. "You don't give the sides of your body a break in between stretches. It feels overwhelming, but it gets you stronger." After the fatigue has set in, she further challenges her students by guiding them through développé, plié and balance exercises. Her 30- to 35-minute warm-up often finishes with a difficult core exercise series, like planks or V-sits.

The intensity of this warm-up prepares Phillip's dancers for the combination that is sure to have avant-garde inversions, turns and challenging transitions. "I really like exploring different pathways in my choreography," Phillip says. "I always try to avoid the expected transition and find something more interesting—even if it's much harder." The best part? Phillip participates in every difficult moment of class from start to finish, so whenever her dancers are tempted to stop, she boldly reminds them, "If I can do this, so can you!"

FOOD SHE CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT: "Cheese! All the cheese…"

FAVORITE BOOK FOR ARTISTIC INSPIRATION: "I really liked Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, because it talks about the 10,000-hour rule and how it is the key to success in any field. I really believe in that."

RECOMMENDED VIEWING FOR DANCERS: "I think it's important to know the greats who came before us. I would definitely recommend watching old Hollywood musicals like West Side Story, Sweet Charity (really anything Fosse), Annie, Guys and Dolls and Singin' in the Rain."

HOW SHE STAYS IN SHAPE: "Working on my choreography often is a great workout, and I take my own class. I also love yoga and going to the gym."

MUST-HAVE FITNESS SUPPLIES: "Good running shoes, a foam roller or balls of varying densities for rolling out the kinks after class."

News
Courtesy Russell

Gregg Russell, an Emmy-nominated choreographer known for his passionate and energetic teaching, passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, November 22, at the age of 48.

While perhaps most revered as a master tap instructor and performer, Russell also frequently taught hip-hop and musical theater classes, showcasing a versatility that secured him a successful career onstage and in film and television, both nationally and abroad.


His resumé reads like an encyclopedia of popular culture. Russell worked with celebrities such as Bette Midler and Gene Kelly; coached pop icon Michael Jackson and Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane; danced in the classic films Clueless and Newsies; performed on "Dancing with the Stars" and the Latin Grammy Awards; choreographed for Sprite and Carvel Ice Cream; appeared with music icons Reba McEntire and Jason Mraz; and graced stages from coast to coast, including Los Angeles' House of Blues and New York City's Madison Square Garden.

But it was as an educator that Russell arguably found his calling. His infectious humor, welcoming aura and inspirational pedagogy made him a favorite at studios, conventions and festivals across the U.S. and in such countries as Australia, France, Honduras and Guatemala. Even students with a predilection for classical styles who weren't always enthused about studying a percussive form would leave Russell's classes grinning from ear to ear.

"Gregg understood from a young age how to teach tap and hip hop with innovation, energy and confidence," says longtime dance educator and producer Rhee Gold, who frequently hired Russell for conferences and workshops. "He gave so much in every class. There was nothing I ever did that I didn't think Gregg would be perfect for."

Growing up in Wooster, Ohio, Russell was an avid tap dancer and long-distance runner who eventually told his mother, a dance teacher, that he wanted to exclusively pursue dance. She introduced him to master teachers Judy Ann Bassing, Debbi Dee and Henry LeTang, whom he credited as his three greatest influences.

"I was instantly smitten, though competitive with him," says longtime friend and fellow choreographer Shea Sullivan, a protégé of LeTang. "Over the years we developed a mutual respect and admiration for each other. He touched so many lives. This is a great loss."

After graduating from Wooster High School, Russell was a scholarship student at Edge Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, where he lived for many years. He founded a company, Tap Sounds Underground, taught at California Dance Theatre and even returned to Edge as an instructor, all while maintaining a busy travel schedule.

A beloved member of the tap community, Russell not only spoke highly of his contemporaries, but earned his place among them as a celebrated performing artist and teacher. With friend Ryan Lohoff, with whom he appeared on CBS's "Live to Dance," he co-directed Tap Into The Network, a touring tap intensive founded in 2008.

"His humor, giant smile and energy in his eyes are the things I will remember most," says Lohoff. "He inspired audiences and multiple generations of dancers. I am grateful for our time together."

Russell was on the faculty of numerous dance conventions, such as Co. Dance and, more recently, Artists Simply Human. He was known as a "teacher's teacher," having discovered at the young age of 18 that he enjoyed passing on his knowledge to other dance educators. He wrote tap teaching tips for Dance Studio Life magazine and led classes for fellow instructors whenever he was on tour.

In 2018, he opened a dance studio, 3D Dance, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he had been living most recently.

Russell leaves behind a wife, Tessa, and a 5-year-old daughter, Lucy.


"His success was his family and his daughter," says Gold. "They changed his entire being. He was a happy man."

GoFundMe campaigns to support Russell's family can be found here and here.

Teaching Tips
@jayplayimagery, courtesy Blackstone

Zoom classes have created a host of challenges to overcome, but this new way of learning has also had some surprising perks. Students and educators are becoming more adaptable. Creativity is blossoming even amid space constraints. Dancers have been able to broaden their horizons without ever leaving home.

In short, in a year filled with setbacks, there is still a lot to celebrate. Dance Teacher spoke to four teachers about the virtual victories they've seen thus far and how they hope to keep the momentum going back in the classroom.

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News
Betty Jones in The Moor's Pavane, shot for Dance Magazine's "Dancers You Should Know" series in 1955. Zachary Freyman, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow

An anchor of the Humphrey-Limón legacy for more than 70 years, Betty Jones died at her home in Honolulu on November 17, 2020. She remained active well into her 90s, most recently leading a New York workshop with her husband and partner, Fritz Ludin, in October 2019.

Betty May Jones was born on June 11, 1926 in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and moved with her family to the Albany, New York, area, where she began taking dance classes. Just after she turned 15 in 1941, she began serious ballet study at Jacob's Pillow, which was under the direction of Anton Dolin and Alicia Markova for the season. Over the next three summers as a scholarship student, Jones expanded her range and became an integral part of Jacob's Pillow. Among her duties was working in the kitchen, where her speedy efficiency earned her the nickname of "Lightning."

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