Spotlight On: Bob Rizzo

Seen & Heard At the Dance Teacher Summit

Bob Rizzo will teach at the 2012 Dance Teacher Summit.

Bob Rizzo

A well-regarded jazz and musical theater instructor, Bob Rizzo teaches master classes across the U.S. and in Europe.

Dance Teacher: What is your classroom philosophy?

Bob Rizzo: I try to stay aware of the needs of the class in general, always keeping in mind what it’s like to be a student. I want to help all my dancers meet their fullest potentials, so I try to offer a caring environment that’s also structured and disciplined. Getting a strong technical foundation is so important for the dancers, so they can freely express themselves without having to think about it—the movement needs to become innate.

DT: Is there one thing teachers are always asking to learn from you?

BR: They always appreciate a turns-and-jumps class, because that’s their bread and butter. That’s the material they need to bring back in order to see their kids grow technically. And more importantly, they need to be able to take what they learn from me and modify it for their own students. Fortunately, one of my strengths as a teacher is the ability to break down a difficult jump or turn and show the teachers in steps how to teach it to their students.

DT: What should a teacher’s priority be when it comes to furthering his or her education?

BR: I think the biggest thing would be variety. If you go to an event, you want to get a full curriculum, so in addition to technique classes, look for business seminars, maybe some lectures on dealing with parents, things like that. That’s the kind of class diversification I would look for if I were going. —Andrea Marks

Photo by Paul Janusz, courtesy of Bob Rizzo

Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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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.

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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.

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