Health & Body

Get Your Downward Dog on With TaraMarie Perri to Celebrate International Yoga Day

Perri noticed after one or two classes how it completely changed the way she was dancing. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Guess what, dance teachers. Today is the third annual International Yoga Day. In honor of the event, a special free yoga and meditation session will be held at Castle Clinton in Battery Park, NYC, 5–8:30 pm. To register, click here. The first 500 participants get a free yoga mat!

For those of you not in the greater NYC area, take a look at how NYU professor TaraMarie Perri teaches yoga for dancers.


In a small studio four floors above Manhattan's rush-hour commute, 20 or so students sit on their heels at the center of their yoga mats. "We're going to do a hips class today," says TaraMarie Perri, adjunct professor at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. The dancers look nervous to approach deep stretching and strengthening at 9 am, but Perri assures them that this is about much more than that. "Do you have a sense of how your hips actually function? You're thinking joint rotation, but I want you to look at the whole pelvis," she says. As the class later works through a series of lunging poses, she continues. "Turnout isn't about how far you can push your hip to the floor. Lifting up through the top of your head and imagining the hips narrowing can actually make room in the joint—something you can think of as you stand at the barre, too."

What's immediately clear is that Perri doesn't teach your average yoga class. Sure, the poses and sequencing aren't wildly different from Vinyasa flow, but her curriculum was built with dancers in mind. In 90 minutes, she has addressed breathing to make movement easier, finding strength in hypermobility and relieving post-performance stress. "We don't teach bliss and rainbows," says Perri, whose Mind Body Dancer method has taken over New York studios Steps on Broadway, Mark Morris Dance Center and Dance New Amsterdam, as well as other programs here and abroad. "It's about learning that 'When I'm really angry, I grip my hips, but when I breathe through it, the tension goes away.'"

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Perri took her first yoga class while earning her dance MFA at Tisch. "Yoga really piqued my intellectual interests. After just one or two classes, I noticed it had completely changed the way I was taking dance. I had a deep sense of alignment and anatomical awareness," she says. That fueled her to get certified and transition into teaching yoga full-time, eventually returning to her alma matter as an adjunct professor.

But it wasn't until a few years later when Perri realized she might be able to better bridge the professional worlds of yoga and dance. "A former student was leaving to teach at the Boston Ballet School and wanted advice, and while we were talking, she suggested I make my own curriculum," she says. Perri began to explore what was most important to her as a dancer and yogi—alignment, breath, meditation—and started to outline Mind Body Dancer.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

MBD is designed to address dancers' strengths and weaknesses both physically and mentally: Dancers often approach yoga with none other than the "work harder" dancer mindset, pushing their flexibility and muscling through poses. "Regular yoga is too fast and sometimes heated," says Perri. "That doesn't complement a dancer's training, because it's what they do all day in the studio." The method encourages prop use; adding a blanket under the sitting bone in half-pigeon pose or putting hands on a yoga block can completely change a stretch.

The biggest takeaway is how dancers—part artists, part athletes—can discover the best way to work through a relentless routine of class, rehearsals and performances. "Dancers learn to imitate and just find the muscle memory of a step, but they're rarely making choices," she says. "Am I ready to take that leg high or should I keep it low today? Yoga is about learning the differences between discomfort, challenge and injury. It's awakening patience and learning to let go. And it's about being present. And that awareness is what makes a dancer an artist."

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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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.


Find a formula that works for your studio

For Melanie Boniszewski, owner of Tonawanda Dance Arts in upstate New York, the answer to profitable summer programming lies in drop-in classes.

"We're in a cold-weather climate, so summer is actually really hard to attract people—everyone wants to be outside, and no one wants to commit to a full season," she says.

Tonawanda Dance Arts offers a children's program in which every class is à la carte: 30-minute, $15 drop-in classes are offered approximately two times a week in the evenings, over six weeks, for different age groups. And two years ago, she created her Stay Strong All Summer Long program for older students, which offers 12 classes throughout the summer and a four-day summer camp. Students don't know what type of class they're attending until they show up. "If you say you're going to do a hip-hop class, you could get 30 kids, but if you do ballet, it could be only 10," she says. "We tell them to bring all of their shoes and be ready for anything."

Start-up costs are minimal—just payroll and advertising (which she starts in April). For older age groups, Boniszewski focuses on bringing in her studio clientele, rather than marketing externally. In the 1- to 6-year-old age group, though, around 50 percent of summer students tend to be new ones—98 percent of whom she's been able to convert to year-round classes.

A group of elementary school aged- girls stands in around a dance studio. A teacher, a young black man, stands in front of the studio, talking to them

An East County Performing Arts Center summer class from several years ago. Photo courtesy ECPAC

East County Performing Arts Center owner Nina Koch knows that themed, weeklong camps are the way to go for younger dancers, as her Brentwood, California students are on a modified year-round academic school calendar, and parents are usually looking for short-term daycare solutions to fill their abbreviated summer break.

Koch keeps her weekly camps light on dance: "When we do our advertising for Frozen Friends camp, for example, it's: 'Come dance, tumble, play games, craft and have fun!'"

Though Koch treats her campers as studio-year enrollment leads, she acknowledges that these weeklong camps naturally function as a way for families who aren't ready for a long-term commitment to still participate in dance. "Those who aren't enrolled for the full season will be put into a sales nurture campaign," she says. "We do see a lot of campers come to subsequent camps, including our one-day camps that we hold once a month throughout our regular season."

Serve your serious dancers

One dilemma studio owners may face: what to do about your most serious dancers, who may be juggling outside intensives with any summer programming that you offer.

Consider making their participation flexible. For Boniszweski's summer program, competitive dancers must take six of the 12 classes offered over a six-week period, as well as the four-day summer camp, which takes place in mid-August. "This past summer, because of COVID, they paid for six but were able to take all 12 if they wanted," she says. "Lots of people took advantage of that."

For Koch, it didn't make sense to require her intensive dancers to participate in summer programming, partly because she earned more revenue catering to younger students and partly because her older students often made outside summer-training plans. "That's how you build a well-rounded dancer—you want them to go off and get experience from teachers you might not be able to bring in," she says.

Another option: Offering private lessons. Your more serious dancers can take advantage of flexible one-on-one training, and you can charge higher fees for individualized instruction. Consider including a financial incentive to get this kind of programming up and running. "Five years ago, we saw that some kids were asking for private lessons, so we created packages: If you bought five lessons, you'd get one for free—to get people in the door," says Boniszewksi. "After two years, once that program took off, we got rid of the discount. People will sign up for as many as 12 private lessons."

A large group of students stretch in a convention-style space with large windows. They follow a teacher at the front of the room in leaning over their right leg for a hamstring stretch

Koch's summer convention experience several years ago. Photo courtesy East County Performing Arts Center

Bring the (big) opportunities to your students

If you do decide to target older, more serious dancers for your summer programming, you may need to inject some dance glamour to compete with fancier outside intensives.

Bring dancers opportunities they wouldn't have as often during the school year. For Boniszewski, that means offering virtual master classes with big-name teachers, like Misha Gabriel and Briar Nolet. For Koch, it's bringing the full convention experience to her students—and opening it up to the community at large. In past years, she's rented her local community center for a weekend-long in-house convention and brought in professional ballet, jazz, musical theater and contemporary guest teachers.

In 2019, the convention was "nicely profitable" while still an affordable $180 per student, and attracted 120 dancers, a mix of her dancers and dancers from other studios. "It was less expensive than going to a big national convention, because parents didn't have to worry about lodging or travel," Koch says. "We wanted it to be financially attainable for families to experience something like this in our sleepy little town."

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