Seen and Heard At the Dance Teacher Summit: Gregg Russell

Gregg Russell teaching at a workshop in Jackson, MS

Our Dance Teacher Summit is less than two weeks away! Check out this interview with Gregg Russell, then catch him in class next weekend:

As b-boying gained popularity in the early 1980s, Gregg Russell was a child, training in tap and, later, jazz. He picked up a few breaking moves from friends and TV, but just for fun, he says. That attitude changed when he met Frank Hatchett, whose street-dance–infused jazz classes drove him to explore hip hop and jazz more seriously. Today, Russell is best known as a master tap teacher with Co. Dance convention, but he also specializes in teaching hip hop to recreational dancers and classically trained students.

Dance Teacher: What should hip-hop novices know about the style?

Gregg Russell: In jazz or ballet, we tend to work from the outside in. We rely on the visuals to make it feel good. If I look in the mirror and I’m pulled up and look good, I think, OK, that feels good. But hip hop is more from the inside out. It’s a feeling first and then we clean it as we go. That helps trained dancers know they might not look so good right away. But if they have the feeling, their teachers can help them clean up the look.

DT: How do you address the stereotype that hip hop has to be sexy?

GR: Recently in my class I taught “Vogue,” because I had the pleasure of learning the choreography from Oliver [Crumes], who was one of Madonna’s dancers. We went across the floor and did a “Vogue” combination, and some of the girls went crazy. They thought it was the coolest thing in the world. And it made me excited because they forgot about popping their booty for a couple minutes and enjoyed something else that’s part of the hip-hop community.

It’s important to show students there’s more to hip hop than one step they see in a video. But there’s a way to do it without being condescending or making them wrong for liking that. Every generation has their steps that make the older generation say, “I can’t believe they’re doing that.” It’s our responsibility as mentors and teachers to show them everything.

DT: What is the greatest challenge you face with hip-hop beginners?

GR: Teaching kids not to give up. I know it’s always happened, but I’ve seen it a lot more in the last five years. It surprises me, because [when I was training] I’d just get mad and keep trying until I got it. But kids get something wrong and they’re like, “Well, I just can’t do it.” So training them not to do that is a big thing. That’s why I do break dancing in class—just the basic footwork, six-step, three-step, freezes. It takes them longer to get a result, but when they get it, they feel awesome. It’s an accomplishment because they know it’s a skill that is not easy. They build up that confidence of working through a problem.

Photo courtesy of Gregg Russell

Teachers Trending
Evelyn Cisneros-Legate. Photo by Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.

Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.

As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.

Keep reading... Show less
News
The author with Maurice Hines. Photo by Anthony R. Phillips, courtesy Hopkins

In March, prior to sheltering in place due to the coronavirus outbreak, my husband and I traveled from New York City to Miami to screen our award-winning documentary, Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back, at the Miami Film Festival.

Our star, Tony Award–nominated dancer and choreographer Maurice Hines joined us in Miami for the festival—stepping and repeating on the opening night red carpet, sharing anecdotes from his illustrious seven-decade career with local tap students, and holding court at a cocktail mixer with lively female fans.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Haruko Photography, courtesy ABT

Gabe Stone Shayer may be American Ballet Theatre's newest soloist, but he never dreamed he'd be dancing with the company at all. Though he grew up in Philadelphia, his sights were always set on international ventures—especially The Bolshoi Ballet and The Royal Ballet.

Even in his early training, he was learning from Russian educators: Alexander Boitsov at Gwendolyn Bye Dance Center, and Alexei and Natalia Cherov, from the Koresh School of Dance. At age 13, he transferred to The Rock School for Dance Education, where he danced until his acceptance to The Bolshoi Ballet Academy at age 14. At 16, Shayer returned to spend his summer in the States and attended ABT's summer intensive—fully intent on going back to Bolshoi to continue his training in the fall. Four weeks in, he was offered a studio-company contract. "I was so surprised," Shayer says. "Having come of age in Russia, I was very Eurocentric. Of course ABT was on my radar, I just never imagined it was for me."

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.