The Shawl-Anderson Youth Ensemble, a key component of Shawl-Anderson Dance Center's youth program in Berkeley, California, strives to develop the whole person, not just improve dance technique. And its caliber of performance has made SAYE visible and respected in the San Francisco Bay Area over the past 13 years.

As a pre-professional, audition-based, modern performance group for ages 14 to 18, SAYE has its dancers co-create at least six pieces with professional choreographers each year. These dances explore relevant topics for teens, like bullying, coming-of-age and claiming identity.


For La Riña (The Dispute), from the 2018–19 season, choreographer Rogelio Lopez asked the dancers to consider the experience of "inferiority" or "superiority" within an intimate relationship. The students magnified the process with conversations about bullying at school and wider-spread aggression toward women. (The piece was aptly made during the Kavanaugh hearings.)

"It started out with two dancers staring at each other menacingly. One hit the other and pushed her to the ground," says dancer Eláh Sordean (age 17). "Throughout the piece different people were lifted and thrown around. At the end, roles were reversed, and the other dancer did the pushing."

Making La Riña was one thing, but performing it (with rigor) was another—revealing to the dancers the scope and impact of their own emotions. "It really showed me how violence is a cycle," Sordean says. Odessa Newman (age 18) felt a mixture of satisfaction and alarm from just how heavily the piece landed. "The emotions were real in our bodies," she says. "I felt things I didn't know I could feel while 'acting.'"

Mo Miner directs SAYE, teaches its modern classes, selects each season's choreographers and makes work with the group. She guides the teens to "work hard, think critically, support one another, ask thoughtful questions, make decisions and treat their teachers/choreographers with respect," she says. She models professional behavior, and her standards are passed from leading veteran members to newcomers.

As for teaching technique, Miner's approach is stout. "I use the same phrase material that I use for my adult advanced classes," she says. "I sprinkle in other components of modern dance training, including improvisation, composition, anatomy, partnering, inversions and floor work, and somatic practices."

The choreographers Miner brings in don't tailor or simplify their processes either. Instead, they treat rehearsals with SAYE like they would with their own companies. "We were trusted with work that people are doing professionally. That's different from other youth performance programs," says Nina Gonzalez Silas (age 21), alumna. The ensemble has worked with world-class choreographers like Miriam Engel of Israel.

Yet, the effect of the ensemble goes deeper. "As much as it is an education in dance, it's also an education in how to build a community," says Eliza Gilligan (age 16). "We learn how to recognize and work with each other's boundaries." Miner fosters an environment where teens can feel safe and powerful in physical contact, and can generate new ideas and versions of themselves. When they have things to say, there is space to come forward. The dancers feel connected to one another and to Miner, even nicknaming her "Mo(m)."

Each cohort grows close as they witness and support one another's virtuosity and imperfection. "Last year I was learning a shoulder roll (I come from ballet), and everyone stopped to offer me helpful tips. We do that a lot," says Sordean. Recalling times when she was making tricky choreography, Gonzalez Silas says: "What I got from it all was a sense that doing weird stuff brings you closer to people. It's helpful to be in a place of vulnerability, not in a place of confidence at all times. We weren't showing off. We were figuring things out together."

Gonzalez Silas now studies at Barnard College, and her academic work is rooted in inquiry that began in SAYE—questions about the body and selfhood. Alumna Lucia Flexer-Marshall (age 20) is studying dance at UC Santa Cruz and says: "It has been a complete sense of continuity and congruency with my SAYE experience, especially with choreographers allowing for dancers' creative input. Some dancers here who come from commercial backgrounds are thrown into the deep end. I didn't feel that way at all."

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

Finding a male dance instructor who isn't booked solid can be a challenge, which is why a New York City dance educator was inspired to start a network of male dance professionals in 2012. Since then, he's tripled his roster of teachers and is actively hiring.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of HSDC

This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Kim Black

For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Photo via @igor.pastor on Instagram

Listen up, dance teachers! October 7 is National Frappe Day (the drink), but as dance enthusiasts, we obviously like to celebrate a little differently. We've compiled four fun frappé combinations on Instagram for your perusal!

You're welcome! Now, you can thank us by sharing some of your own frappé favs on social media with the hashtag #nationalfrappeday.

We can't wait to see what you come up with!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Original photos: Getty Images

We've been dying to hear more about "On Pointe," a docuseries following students at the School of American Ballet, since we first got wind of the project this spring. Now—finally!—we know where this can't-miss show is going to live: It was just announced that Disney+, the new streaming service set to launch November 12, has ordered the series.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Tony Nguyen, courtesy of Jill Randall

Recently I got to reflect on my 22-year-old self and the first modern technique classes I subbed for at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. (Thank you to Dana Lawton for giving me the chance and opportunity to dive in.)

Today I wanted to share 10 ideas to consider as you embark upon subbing and teaching modern technique classes for the first time. These ideas can be helpful with adult classes and youth classes alike.

As I like to say, "Teaching takes teaching." I mean, teaching takes practice, trial and error and more practice. I myself am in my 23rd year of teaching now and am still learning and growing each and every class.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Misti Ridge teaches class at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio. Photo by Arlyn Lawrence , courtesy of Ridge

The dance teachers who work with kids ages 5–7 have earned themselves a special place in dance heaven. They give artists the foundation for their future with impossibly high energy and even higher voices. Enthusiasm is their game, and talent is their aim! Well, that, self-esteem, a love for dance, discipline and so much more!

These days, teachers often go a step beyond giving tiny dancers technical and performative bases and make them strong enough to actually compete at a national level—we're talking double-pirouettes-by-the-time-they're-5-years-old type of competitive.

We caught up with one such teacher, Misti Ridge from Center Stage Performing Arts Studio, The Dance Awards 2019 and 2012 Studio of The Year, to get the inside scoop on how she does it. The main takeaway? Don't underestimate your baby competition dancers—those 5- to 7-year-olds can work magic.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Patrick Randak, Courtesy In The Lights PR

The ability to communicate clearly is something I've been consumed with for as long as I can remember. I was born in the Bronx and always loved city living. But when I was 9, a family crisis forced my mom to send me to Puerto Rico to live with my grandparents. I only knew one Spanish word: "hola." I remember the frustration and loneliness of having so many thoughts and feelings and not being able to express them.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Courtesy Just for Kix

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Getty Images

It's the middle of the semester and two dancers are sitting out of class, you're worried about one student's mental health and another has developed an eating disorder. Sound familiar? College can be a tumultuous time. To help address the additional demands of being a dance major, some schools have found strategies for enhancing wellness and integrating health services into their departments.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox