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Morris in 1984. Photo by Peggy Jarrell Kaplan, courtesy of MMDG

For the past four decades, few names in dance have stirred up as much reaction as American choreographer Mark Morris. Unique for his outsize persona, superb musicality and taking on themes related to gender and sexuality, Morris is one of the most prolific and lauded choreographers of his generation. At his Brooklyn-based dance center, the former enfant terrible continues to create for his company, the Mark Morris Dance Group, and set work on ballet and modern companies worldwide.

Morris has choreographed close to 150 works for his company. In addition to being inspired by music, many have narrative roots in mythology and literature, including the following.

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Dance Teacher Tips
Cheryl Madeux-Abbott, ballet director at the Franklin School for the Performing Arts in Hudson, Massachusetts

There's more to private lessons than one-on-one instruction. Consider these practical issues as you plan for your next session.

Outside Coaching

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Some schools discourage private lessons and outside coaching for fear that these might contradict their training methods and confuse the student.

Deciding a Rate

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Rates range anywhere from $40 to $100 or more per hour, depending on the instructor. Some studios set a flat rate, offer a discounted package or offer need-based scholarships.

Dealing With the Parents

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Parents might ask to observe the lesson, but their presence could actually hinder the child's progress. "Students work better when their parents aren't watching," says Becky Erhart Moore, artistic coordinator at Marin Ballet. If they insist on peeking in, suggest that they only come for the last 15 minutes.

Scheduling

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Scheduling can be tough, especially since most students aren't available outside of school hours. "If I have to turn down a student because of scheduling issues on my end, I refer them to someone on my staff who is available," says Cheryl Madeux-Abbott, ballet director at the Franklin School for the Performing Arts.

Time Management

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Your time is valuable, so encourage students to arrive ready for the lesson. "If they're practicing a variation, they need to have done class before," says Edward Ellison, director of Ellison Ballet. "But if we're working on fundamentals, then we can start at the beginning of barre and get warm as we go along."

Last night I officially kicked off my holiday movie viewing, with the 2003 American classic film Elf. (I am a self-proclaimed Christmas NUT.) I’ll watch many more Christmas-themed movies over the next 10 days—Meet Me in St. Louis, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Muppet Christmas Carol, A Christmas Story, Love Actually, Jingle All the Way, The Shop Around the Corner (and this is just a short list, people)—but I’ll definitely make time for holiday films with pretty memorable dance scenes, like these three:

Sure, White Christmas has some memorable dance production numbers (and “Sisters,” despite its limited actual dance moves, has always been a favorite of my two sisters and me, for obvious reasons), but I think the real gem here is “Choreography.” That’s the number Danny Kaye does with a group of modern dancers who are clearly a stand-in for Martha Graham’s company. Not sure why Kaye wears a beret, but his disdain for the drama of modern dance makes me giggle.

I feel like Martha would be proud:

Then there’s the “Jingle Bell Rock” number from Mean Girls, in all its inappropriate glory. I’m not sure what’s better: That first, unexpected thigh slap, or Amy Poehler doing the routine in the aisle as she attempts to videotape.

But for my money, the real holiday tour-de-force is Fred Astaire’s drunk dance in Holiday Inn. He’s just SO GOOD: His plastered dance moves seem uncannily real, yet he still retains the grace and smoothness we’ve come to associate with his style.

Holiday Inn - Drunk Fred Astaire Film Cip by Flixgr

OK, so what are your holiday favorites? And will you be using any of these numbers above as inspiration for your studio’s holiday performances?

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During last night’s “Christmas in Rockefeller Center” on NBC, Mariah Carey’s performance of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” stole the show, but not for the reason you might think. Of course the diva hit those impossible high notes, but it was her crew of elfish dancers that made my jaw hit the floor.

Choreographed by the incomparable Debbie Allen (DT August 2011), many of the tiny comp kids were from the New York and New Jersey area. They frolicked, flipped and even did a little pop-and-locking, all with the polish and presence of Broadway veterans (and a hint of b-boy attitude).

Allen appeared on California’s KTLA News this morning, just returned from New York, where she said she watched the dancers perform from the sidelines. “My real passion is kids, the arts and passing that baton,” the Emmy-winner said. Of the Rockefeller performance, she added, “Those elves. What a great night, what an inspiration.”

Debbie Allen on the April 2001 cover of Dance Teacher

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