Spotlight On: Al Blackstone

Seen and Heard at the Dance Teacher Summit

When he won the 2011 Capezio A.C.E. Award for Choreographic Excellence, Al Blackstone stood out amid a sea of contemporary dancemakers with Happy We’ll Be, his earnest musical theater piece about finding love. In classes at New York City’s Broadway Dance Center and Steps on Broadway, he passes on skills for storytelling through movement. He also teaches all ages on the JUMP convention circuit. Here, he offers tips from his seminar Performance Plus at the Dance Teacher Summit for helping dancers connect to their movement.

Dance Teacher: How do you help your youngest dancers develop performance skills?

Al Blackstone: I apply the things I ask for in performance from the beginning of class, instead of waiting until after warm-up to start talking about how to behave onstage. The first thing I do is ask dancers to find a position—in my warm-up we start sitting on our knees, but it could be a standing jazz second—anything where you can get them to be still for a moment, as opposed to putting on music and jumping right into something. I want them to find a quiet, centered place where there’s no fidgeting. It’s like a game with the kids, because they don’t even realize they’re fidgeting. To keep it from feeling too serious, the next thing I’ll do is have us take this very loud, deep breath, so immediately everyone’s making sound—a loud inhale and a loud exhale—so there’s a sense that they can participate in the room.

DT: What’s your best advice for increasing any dancer’s stage presence?

AB: In a group number, have dancers make eye contact with each other. We always focus on how they should connect with the audience, but they should also work on connecting with each other. Looking at each other creates a sense of unity onstage, that they’re dancing as an ensemble. It can immediately relax the face and draw a genuine facial expression. It’s a great way to get them feeling comfortable onstage.

There should be three conversations happening: the dancer and the audience, the dancer and other people onstage and each dancer and himself. They need to connect with their own inner voice.

DT: Why is developing that inner voice important?

AB: The more we understand the material we’re performing, the better the performance, the deeper and more rooted it is. Any soloist doing a number should be able to have a conversation about the piece they’re performing. They should have an opinion and be able to speak about it.

Photos from top: by Jeremy Davis, by Kelly Slosher, both courtesy of Al Blackstone

Getty Images

Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

Keep reading... Show less
Robbie Sweeny, courtesy Funsch

Christy Funsch's teaching career has taken her from New York City to the Bay Area to Portugal, with a stint in a punk band in between. But this fall—fresh off a Fulbright in Portugal at the Instituto Politécnico de Lisboa, School of Dance (ESD), teaching and researching empathetic embodiment through somatic dance training—Funsch's teaching has taken her to an entirely new location: Zoom. A visiting professor at Slippery Rock University for the 2020–21 academic year, Funsch is adapting her eclectic, boundary-pushing approach to her virtual classes.

Originally from central New York State, Funsch spent 20 years performing in the Bay Area, where she also started her own company, Funsch Dance Experience. "My choreographic work from that time is in the dance-theater experiential, fantasy realm of performance," she says. "I also started blending genres and a lot of urban styles found their way into my choreography."

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy Meg Brooker

As the presidential election approaches, it's a particularly meaningful time to remember that we are celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment, when women earned the right to vote after a decades-long battle.

Movement was more than a metaphor for the fight for women's suffrage—dancers played a real role, most notably Florence Fleming Noyes, who performed her riveting solo Dance of Freedom in 1914 to embody the struggle for women's rights.

This fall, Middle Tennessee State University director of dance Meg Brooker is reconstructing Dance of Freedom on 11 of her students. A Noyes Rhythm teacher and an Isadora Duncan scholar, Brooker is passionate about bringing historic dance practices into a contemporary context.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.