Starstruck at the 2012 DM Awards

Few events draw as many of the best of the best as the Dance Magazine Awards. Last night, Dance Magazine honored four amazing women: American Ballet Theatre principal Julie Kent, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater principal Renee Robinson, New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff and the master of all master tap teachers,  Dianne Walker. It was truly a star-studded event with dance celebs galore in the audience, including Paloma Herrera, Suki Schorer, Freddie Franklin, Robert Battle, Hope Boykin, Omar Edwards, Deborah Jowitt, Susan Jaffe and many, many more. And while the entire evening left me completely inspired, a few event moments were particularly touching:

1. Julie Kent wore a dazzling short gold dress with cap sleeves—adorably, but elegantly, matching her daughter’s.

2. In her acceptance speech, Kent reflected on a card given to her by Natalia Markarova before Kent’s debut in La Bayadere. Markarova wrote: “Someone once said that beauty can save the world. So you have a great responsibility.” The gorgeous Kent has certainly lived up to that sentiment over the years.

3. Even though Robinson had gone through the Ailey School and was a member of Ailey II, she had to audition TWICE before being accepted into the main company. (Where she has performed for 30 years.) Tell this story to students frustrated with rejection. It’s especially inspiring considering that Judith Jamison (of all people!) referred to Robinson as the “Queen of Alvin Ailey” during her award presentation.

4. Anna Kisselgoff’s astute declaration that she studied dance from ages 8–14, and when she realized that a professional performance career wasn’t in her cards, she continued to dance until she was 17—because she liked it. What a strong case for supporting and loving your recreational dance students!

5. Before Walker’s award presentation, tap stars Derick K. GrantMichelle DorranceDormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Andrew Nemr, Jason Samuels Smith,Claudia Rahardjanoto and Kazu Kumagai performed an amazing rendition of one of Ms. Walker’s famous solos, “Emily.” And if it couldn’t get any better than that, SAVION GLOVER joined the group for the Shim Sham to close the evening. It was a stunning representation of Walker's influence.

What’s so incredible about Dianne Walker is that I’ve yet to speak with a professional tap dancer who hasn’t, in someway, been influenced by her teaching. Whether they’ve studied with her in Boston, in performance on Broadway or at a festival internationally, students flock to her side. And the love onstage for Walker last night was palpable from even the back row of the audience where I sat.

When I was working with Michelle Dorrance for Dance Teacher’s cover andtechnique story earlier this year, I asked her about her mentors and the teachers who inspire her. She offered this statement about Dianne Walker:

I cannot exist without crediting her. I quote her all the time. She is someone who teaches you even when you’re simply watching her perform. She shares such a generous spirit, and she’s so magical. 

 

Dianne is one of the first few people who threw her arms open wide for me. And she does that for any student who really loves it. Starting in 1992 or ’93, I studied with her every summer, including the years when I was at NYU for college. I’d make it a point to be at a festival in order to take a class with her. Even now, if we’re teaching at a festival and our classes overlap, I’ll give my class a water break and run to watch her class. She means so much to me as a teacher. She’s been a friend and a mentor, and spoke to me with respect and made me feel like an adult before I was one.  I love the spirit with which she approaches teaching, and I aspire to that.

Technique
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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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.

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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.

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