Seen and Heard At the Dance Teacher Summit: Doug Caldwell

According to Caldwell, a great lyrical piece begins with the music.

Our Dance Teacher Summit kicks off on Friday, and the full schedule has been posted online. This year we welcome some new faces to the teaching roster, including tWitch and the one and only Twyla Tharp!


After last year's Summit, we spoke to Doug Caldwell about the state of lyrical dance:

A commercial dance mainstay, Caldwell worked on films like Staying Alive and A Chorus Line, as well as the TV show "Charlie's Angels," before beginning to teach at conventions in the 1980s. Caldwell says he was there at the beginning of lyrical dance, 30 years ago, and it has changed quite a bit since then. A teacher with JUMP Dance Convention, as well as the Dance Teacher Summit, he shared his thoughts and advice on the style.

Dance Teacher: If a teacher wants to create a successful lyrical piece, what type of movement should they think about?

Doug Caldwell: The base of really quality lyrical is ballet. The movement has to be very flowing and pretty. Lyrical is about storytelling, emotion, love and light and spirituality.

Pure lyrical is good technique with emotions, but it's never pure lyrical anymore. Somewhere along the way they always have to add gymnastics and tricks. I have a dance studio in my house and taped on the wall is a list of things not to do, like fouettés. Those should be in ballet pieces. You don't need to throw them into lyrical.

Instead of just choreographing, really listen to the music and hear the storyline. Finish the storyline. A lot of competition numbers start out with a story, but by the end you realize they've lost it.

DT: Do lyrical dances have to be done to music with lyrics?

DC: No, but the music played by itself should get a standing ovation. Try to find music like “Vienna," by Linda Eder. It gets to a crescendo and makes the audience so happy as it builds—as opposed to many songs that are flat and just lie there. You need passion—either instrumentation or vocals that soar.

DT: What is your best advice for teachers regarding their personal choreographic process?

DC: Once you start working, go with what comes out. I don't reshape or re-choreograph. I can choreograph a three-minute group piece in two hours. People make it so hard on themselves by changing and changing while their dancers are waiting. Trust your gut and your love. Of course, when you finish a piece, there might be a count of eight here and there that makes you go “Eh, that doesn't quite work," but don't spend three hours on the first two counts of eight.

Teachers Trending
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.

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.