While contemporary jazz teacher Stacie Webster keeps her choreography rooted in traditional jazz, she likes to incorporate soulful music in the studio. "I gravitate toward deep house music because it's a mixture of house, jazz, funk and soul," says Webster, who has taught for the Broadway Dance Center Children and Teens program since 2007. "It creates a good energy and everyone can relate to it, even kids." In addition to the energetic rhythms that keep the class moving and the vocals that add a storytelling element, the genre also helps students to find their authentic voices. "Even when kids are great technical dancers, they lack a certain maturity. I try to pick music they can connect with," she says.
"When I first moved to New York, Wes Veldink's class became a huge influence," she says. Veldink, who often choreographed to alternative artists like Ani DiFranco, greatly challenged and inspired Webster's conventional interpretation of musicality. "Wes taught me to listen to music differently and to communicate parts of a song that I wasn't even hearing," she says. As a result, Webster says her style became more fluid and soulful, while avoiding what she calls "sexy jazz." "I want gender roles to be open in my movement, without oversexualizing the kids, and to come from a place of authenticity that enforces the foundations and history of jazz—isolations, footwork, rhythms and community."
Whether teaching teens, an open adult class at BDC, or at a Turn It Up Dance Challenge convention, Webster says she avoids going too commercial with her music choices. Though she's not afraid to play the occasional track from artists like Alicia Keys or Drake. "If you got a job dancing for a popular artist, do you know their music? I think it's important for dancers, and myself, to know what's relevant," says Webster, who never underestimates her students. Kids today are smart and they know music and how to freestyle on their own, she says. "If you give them the authentic material and a chance, they'll match you."
Four Tet - Planet www.youtube.com
Artist: Four Tet
Album: New Energy
"This song reminds me of choreographic principles in musical form. The layers and repetition bring new ideas and then deconstructs them as it moves forward, altering rhythm and variation on a theme. It's beautiful, colorful and fun to move to."
The Paper Kites - Willow Tree March www.youtube.com
Artist: The Paper Kites
Song: "Willow Tree March"
"This song has so much power, it's hauntingly powerful. I love how open it is, and the lyrics are a reminder that time is important and how we spend it is what we leave behind."
RENT Full Soundtrack OBC www.youtube.com
Artist: Various Artists
Album: Rent (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
"This album gave me a lot of hope. From the music, the story, the characters, to the themes of inclusivity, representation and artists' passion. I recommend listening to the whole thing."
Alanis Morissette - IRONIC (MTV UNPLUGGED) www.youtube.com
Artist: Alanis Morissette
Album: MTV Unplugged
"I love her voice and songwriting—so poetic and raw. 'That I Would Be Good' is such a reminder to value ourselves, and that we all share insecurities and have hopes and dreams and experiences navigating through life."
Kidnap Kid - Moments (feat. Leo Stannard) www.youtube.com
Artist: Kidnap Kid (featuring Leo Stannard)
"The lyrics 'I have to move to feel like me' is an anthem for what dance feels like to me. It's about the focus, the drive and moments in time to recognize your journey.
I love it!"