Renee Robinson and Troy Powell in Donald McKayle's Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder

It’s Paul Taylor month! Not only is he featured in our March issue’s history column, but the Paul Taylor American Modern Dance’s Lincoln Center season begins on March 15. What better way to get into the Taylor spirit than to learn repertory that will be included in the company’s 2016 season?

Next Sunday, March 13, PTAMD and the American Dance Legacy Initiative will conduct a workshop on Donald McKayle’s “Rainbow Etude,” at the Taylor Studios in NYC. “Rainbow Etude” is a distilled version of McKayle’s larger work Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder, which will be performed at Lincoln Center on March 22, 24, and 26 by guest artists Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. The workshop includes class, a lecture demonstration and a screening of excerpts from a documentary about the piece.

Donald McKayle (DT, December 2003) is a choreographer and former member of the New Dance Group. His 1959 work Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder, about a prison chain gang, is regarded by many as his masterpiece.

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder

For more information about the workshop, visit: adli.us. To check out PTAMD’s 2016 season, visit: ptamd.org.

Photos from top: by Roy Volkmann, courtesy of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; by Andy Snow, courtesy of Paul Taylor's American Modern Dance

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Seen & Heard At the Dance Teacher Summit

Gregg Russell teaching at a workshop in Jackson, MS

As b-boying gained popularity in the early 1980s, Gregg Russell was a child, training in tap and, later, jazz. He picked up a few breaking moves from friends and TV, but just for fun, he says. That attitude changed when he met Frank Hatchett, whose street-dance–infused jazz classes drove him to explore hip hop and jazz more seriously. Today, Russell is best known as a master tap teacher with Co. Dance convention, but he also specializes in teaching hip hop to recreational dancers and classically trained students.

Dance Teacher: What should hip-hop novices know about the style?

Gregg Russell: In jazz or ballet, we tend to work from the outside in. We rely on the visuals to make it feel good. If I look in the mirror and I’m pulled up and look good, I think, OK, that feels good. But hip hop is more from the inside out. It’s a feeling first and then we clean it as we go. That helps trained dancers know they might not look so good right away. But if they have the feeling, their teachers can help them clean up the look.

DT: How do you address the stereotype that hip hop has to be sexy?

GR: Recently in my class I taught “Vogue,” because I had the pleasure of learning the choreography from Oliver [Crumes], who was one of Madonna’s dancers. We went across the floor and did a “Vogue” combination, and some of the girls went crazy. They thought it was the coolest thing in the world. And it made me excited because they forgot about popping their booty for a couple minutes and enjoyed something else that’s part of the hip-hop community.

It’s important to show students there’s more to hip hop than one step they see in a video. But there’s a way to do it without being condescending or making them wrong for liking that. Every generation has their steps that make the older generation say, “I can’t believe they’re doing that.” It’s our responsibility as mentors and teachers to show them everything.

DT: What is the greatest challenge you face with hip-hop beginners?

GR: Teaching kids not to give up. I know it’s always happened, but I’ve seen it a lot more in the last five years. It surprises me, because [when I was training] I’d just get mad and keep trying until I got it. But kids get something wrong and they’re like, “Well, I just can’t do it.” So training them not to do that is a big thing. That’s why I do break dancing in class—just the basic footwork, six-step, three-step, freezes. It takes them longer to get a result, but when they get it, they feel awesome. It’s an accomplishment because they know it’s a skill that is not easy. They build up that confidence of working through a problem.

Photo courtesy of Gregg Russell

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