"Fifth! Fifth!" Daniel Catanach shouts during a brisk tendu exercise in his advanced-intermediate ballet class at Steps on Broadway. "That's 'fifth' with a 'th'!" he adds, making several students' tense faces relax into smiles. Watching Catanach in action, two things are clear: He's all about precision, and he wants dancers to enjoy his class. He's a stickler and a jokester, infusing discipline with humor. "What's the worst that can happen?" he asks during a pirouette combination. "You fall?" one student murmurs. "No!" Catanach laughs. "The worst that can happen is that you do it perfectly! Then you always have to do it like that, because you know you can."
On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.
It's nearing 5 pm on a Sunday in February, and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" reverberates through University of South Carolina's volleyball gym, where the Carolina Girls dance team is rehearsing a Nationals routine. What's most striking isn't the dancers' radiating energy or the team's precise unanimity. Instead, it's the complexity of the choreography—the weaving formations, transitions, level changes, directional shifts and moments of partnering—that seems out of place on center court. It's a scene that would make more sense in front of a mirror (not bleachers) and on marley (not wood). Yet the 28 collegiate dancers, clad in well-worn jazz shoes and official Under Armour team apparel, look right at home, happily working out the kinks in each phrase and troubleshooting lifts.
To a certain subset of the New York City dance community, Gail Accardi is known as the Body Whisperer. For her part, Accardi calls her work "creative physical problem solving." Whether she's leading her Anatomy Awareness class for dancers, substitute-teaching Simonson Technique, or working with a private client one-on-one, Accardi has a clear vision: "I want people to gain insight into and learn to celebrate their individual structures," she says. "When I was young, a teacher referred to my weak arches as a horrible defect! I never want a student to experience that. When it comes to anatomical variations, this is who you are, so let's figure out how to work with it."
In Antoine Hunter's jazz class, students inevitably pick up sign language just by virtue of being his student. Though he doesn't typically incorporate ASL into his class combos, this dynamic phrase, which is one of his favorites, includes four signs: "heart," " re," "gone" and "deaf."
The tripod (demonstrated by LizAnne Roman Roberts) is one of the more standard Countertechnique tools, designed to challenge the body to maintain dynamic balance while multitasking through multiple trajectories. Aptly named, the tripod works in three different directions: as the lower body moves down, the upper body moves up and back, eventually spiraling into an elegant twist.
Taught by Francesca Harper and demonstrated by Naya Lovell, this step borrows from William Forsythe's quest to take classical movement vocabulary and deconstruct the shapes created. "Let the momentum at the top of the développé carry you," says Harper, "and see how your body intuitively has its own response."
Stepping into arabesque from développé effacé is tricky, says Kelly Slough of Mark Morris Dance Center, because it involves "that moment of truth": changing weight from one leg to the other in one movement. To make that transition easier, Slough encourages dancers to complete the weight shift as quickly and confidently as possible—as counterintuitive as that may seem. "Taking your back with you," as she calls it, means there's less of a chance you'll underestimate the required change of weight and fall backward from the arabesque.