Tapper Michelle Dorrance Receives a $625,000 MacArthur Grant

Congratulations are in order for hoofer Michelle Dorrance (DT, May 2012), a newly named 2015 MacArthur Fellow! This is a big deal: MacArthur Fellowships last for five years, come with a generous $625,000 stipend (!) and—mysteriously—have no application process. (To get a MacArthur Fellowship, you have to be nominated by an anonymous group.) Recipients—a group that includes such big dance names as Bill T. Jones, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp and Paul Taylor over the years—aren’t required to spend the money in any particular way; it’s a real, no-strings-attached deal.

Dorrance is one of the younger awardees, at 36, but her career has been prolific, to say the least. After joining the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble at age 8, she went on to join the cast of the off-Broadway show STOMP and became a founding member of Savion Glover’s company Ti Dii. She’s on faculty at Broadway Dance Center (see our Technique column for her how-to on a five-count wing) and has won major dance awards, like a Princess Grace Award in 2012 and a Bessie in 2011.

While we couldn't be more pleased that the MacArthur Foundation chose to recognize her, we can’t honestly say we’re surprised—Dorrance has been changing the tap game for quite some time with her contemporary dance approach, narrative choreographic style and gutsy music choices.

If you’re in New York, you can catch her company, Dorrance Dance/New York at Fall for Dance next week. If not, check out the company’s website for a complete list of upcoming performances.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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