American Ballet Theatre principal dancer James Whiteside is doing his best to adjust to life at home during the coronavirus outbreak. Watch below for his insights, and see who among the ballet world's best is teaching online, including DT's January cover star and director of The Juilliard School's Dance Division, Alicia Graf Mack (minute 1:07).
For the past 20 years, Ohio State University professor Nyama McCarthy-Brown has been advocating for dance pedagogy that embraces students' cultural backgrounds. "When you look at a textbook and all you see is Western-based dances or people moving in ways that point back to a Eurocentric culture, how do you value other cultures?" she asks. "How do we value other cultures when we're not seeing them in every place that we're told is important?"
In her 2017 book Dance Pedagogy for a Diverse World: Culturally Relevant Teaching in Theory, Research and Practice, McCarthy-Brown details her approach, which hinges on researching the cultural backgrounds of the students in the room and teaching with these in mind. Integrating students' cultural practices into dance curriculum, especially in K–12 schools, enables students to be seen and valued, and to have a more positive learning experience.
Kristin Damrow is a beloved teaching artist in the San Francisco Bay Area. On average, she teaches 15 hours a week with adults and teens of different levels, plus directs her company Kristin Damrow & Company. She is also a tech-savvy artist who makes vlogs and maximizes social-media posts through Facebook and Instagram to support her teaching and choreographic work. Her dance work is already well-connected via technology.
This week we asked Kristin a few questions as she posted her first online teaching video, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and the closing of all institutions in which she teaches.
On a school day in December, the scene in the P.S. 002 auditorium on Manhattan's Lower East Side is particularly joyful. The pianist plays an upbeat tune, while a sea of fifth-grade students stomp, bend, punch and jump around the stage with big smiles on their faces. The dance teacher, National Dance Institute artistic director Ellen Weinstein, shouts out level changes, direction changes, compliments and corrections, with a pacing that doesn't allow time for distraction. Notably, these students are not chatting, resisting or goofing off the way you might expect of this elementary school age. Everyone is participating.
David Roussève has spent the last 35 years creating dance theater work that's both fiercely political and personal. He took on AIDS with The Whispers of Angels (1995), same-sex marriage with Jumping the Broom (2005) and the Twitter generation with Stardust (2014). Dance writer Deborah Jowitt characterizes his work as treading "a fine line…between gritty tragedy and fairytale pathos." For every critic who might accuse him of occasionally tugging too hard on his audience's heartstrings, there's someone else who thinks his work "offers a succinct and lyrical look at how the highs and lows of life collide" (Sarah Kaufman, for the Washington Post). But perhaps, more than anything, Roussève is interested in the process of discovery. He wants every choreographic experience to feel different.
Finding age-appropriate hip-hop music can be a struggle. Choreographer Afaliah Tribune addresses this common dilemma for hip-hop teachers by making her own original tracks on GarageBand. "I love experimenting with live music, and my students think it's fun, too," says Tribune, who is an adjunct professor of dance at New York University. "There are so many ways we can open up our work when we experiment with sound."
Barbara Bashaw has always been a pioneer. Since kicking off her career in education by building a dance program from the ground up at an elementary school in Brooklyn, she's gone on to become an inspiring force in teacher training. Now, as director of the new doctoral program in dance education at Columbia University's renowned Teachers College and as executive director of the even newer Arnhold Institute for Dance Education Research, Policy & Leadership, she's in a position to effect change nationwide.
"The study of dance education is a young field," Bashaw says. "Music and visual arts are far ahead of us, in terms of the research that has been done, as well as the foothold they have in education. Anywhere education is being discussed, we want to put dance on the table—and that means developing researchers and championing research that will push public policy." In a climate where arts education feels both more endangered and more necessary than ever, Bashaw is ready to blaze a trail.
When Joseph Morrissey first took the helm of the dance division at Interlochen Center for the Arts, a boarding high school in Interlochen, Michigan, he found a fully established pre-professional program with space to grow. And his vision was big, with plans to stage the kind of ambitious repertory he'd experienced during his dance career. But the realities quickly set in. During his first year in 2015, the department was denied by the George Balanchine Trust to license any Balanchine ballets—the dancers were not quite ready.
This early disappointment didn't derail Morrissey. In just four years, he has not only raised Interlochen's training standards, he's staged ambitious full-length ballets and been granted the rights to works by Merce Cunningham, Agnes de Mille and, yes, Balanchine. Guest artists regularly visit, and he's initiated major plans to expand the dance department building. Morrissey is only 37, but it should come as no surprise that he's done so much so fast—his entire life's journey has prepared him to be an artistic leader.
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Growing up, Melissa Weigel spent most of her time at Irish step dance competitions. She was a regular at regional, national and world events, representing her hometown studio, located just outside of Chicago. But by the time she graduated from college, she was ready to hang up her dancing shoes. "Dancing beyond college was a full-time commitment, and I wanted to balance my love of dance with my nondance career." She took a step back from competitive performing, pursued a career in conservation investments and enrolled in classes at The New York Studio of Irish Step Dance. She now teaches for the studio one night a week and enjoys the challenges of working with adult recreational dancers in an advanced/championship class, many of whom have backgrounds like her own.
"We have a lot of dancers who used to dance growing up and are looking to get back into it as an adult, as well as some who are picking it up for the first time," she says. "They are all here taking classes to have fun and to get some great exercise."
For Gianna Reisen, a classically trained ballet dancer who now performs with L.A. Dance Project, the process of finding music for her choreography is everything. "If I'm not 100 percent inspired by the music, the movement just doesn't come out," she says. Following this natural creative spirit, though, wasn't always the driving force behind her artistry.
Marshall Davis Jr.'s introduction to tap dance began at 10 years old at African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, where his father is director, in Miami, Florida. Training began in sneakers and dress shoes that Davis Jr. did his best to get sound out of. "My father was reluctant to invest in tap shoes, because he thought it was likely I would change my mind about dancing," he says. But it didn't take long before Davis Jr.'s passion for tap became undeniable, and his father bought him his first pair of tap shoes. Just one year later, Davis Jr. became the 1989 Florida winner for the Tri-Star Pictures Tap Day contest, a promotion for the movie Tap, starring Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr. Through that experience, a new tap-dancing future was opened.
"No formal training. No dance studio. No mentor," says Erik Saradpon about his beginnings in hip hop.
"I think that's why I'm especially tough on these guys, because I don't take the relationship for granted," he says, referring to his students. "I'm like a dad to them. I had a shortage of role models in my life. I wanted that so badly. I project that onto my kids."
Alla Novikova began her dance training at a ballroom studio called Edelweiss in Saratov, Russia, when she was 9 years old. She was immediately recognized for her natural talent and work ethic, placing third at the Russian Open just three months after beginning ballroom lessons. The lessons she learned at Edelweiss shaped her career and provided the foundation she needed to open her own ballroom studio: Work hard to prove that you're good enough to be here, and give honor to the experiences that brought you to where you are today.