When dance teacher Tiffany Taylor decided it was time to go back to her job after having her baby, 14-month-old Skyler, she knew she needed to find a way to bring her little one to work with her. At Maria Priadka School of Dance in South Orange, New Jersey, where she teaches, students can't begin taking lessons until they are 2 1/2 years old, so putting Skyler in class while she taught was out of the question. To solve the problem, she decided it was time to create a dance class that both caregivers and babies (from 6 months to 2 years old) could enjoy. Shortly after, Boogie Woogie Babies was born.
During a Boogie Woogie Babies class, moms, dads, nannies and caregivers have the opportunity to bust a move while carrying their snuggly babe on their hip. Taylor says classes are generally based in hip hop and always incorporate fun and lively music for everyone to enjoy.
"We start class sitting in a circle, where we sing songs," Taylor says. "We use scarves and other props while playing games like Ring Around the Rosie to get our bodies moving. Then, everyone will get up and either hold their babies or let them run free if they want to, while I teach the choreography, which is built around their kids. We do a new routine every week with different songs and formations to keep things fun for the 45 minutes I have them in class."
While Taylor teaches Boogie Woogie Babies at Maria Priadka School of Dance every Sunday, she's also traveling to different locations around New Jersey to expand her classes into an entire movement that everyone can experience. "Everyone really enjoys these classes," she says. "We recently had one where 40 students showed up to a class at a local library. The kids were jumping around and loving it!"
If you're interested in learning more about Boogie Woogie Babies, you can follow them on Instagram at @boogiewoogiebabies or Facebook at Boogie Woogie Babies.
Ballet instructor Michael Cusumano has a secret identity that even his mother didn't encounter until recently.
When he's not teaching at Pace University or editing funny videos on YouTube, he's transforming into his alter ego Madame Olga, a feisty Russian ballet star who claimed part of his brain and a lot of his closet.
Anyone planning to take a contemporary jazz class from Sabrina Phillip at Edge Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles better be ready to sweat—pushing physical limits is this teacher's specialty. "I want dancers in my class to work really hard," says Phillip. "I want them to be inspired to push their boundaries and become well-rounded students so that they can have long careers."
At six foot two, Jillian Davis doesn't fit the classical ballerina mold. Her teachers discouraged her from pursuing a career in ballet because, although she excelled technically as a young student at School of American Ballet and San Francisco Ballet School, her tall frame presented limitations—especially when it came to partnering. Undeterred, she found the training program of Alonzo King's contemporary ballet company, LINES.
As a teaching artist for New York City Ballet's The Nutcracker Project, Mari Meade has six 50-minute workshops to introduce third- and fourth-graders of PS 199 Maurice A. Fitzgerald in Queens to the magic of George Balanchine's Nutcracker ballet. By the program's end, these students—most of whom have little to no experience with ballet—will have seen an NYCB performance of the ballet, written a poem and choreographed a dance they'll perform for their fellow schoolmates. Meade kept a journal of her time last winter with the students of PS 199, charting their course from ballet novices to burgeoning dancemakers.
Establishing the Rules
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor
Lesson 1: First things first—I go over the rules. Number one: Have lots and lots of fun. Two: Stay out of bubble trouble. (I explain that we each have our own bubble, and if you get too close to someone else, your bubble "pops.") We want to respect our neighbors, our teachers and our space. Three: Obey the silent fox symbol. If they see me make what looks like a hang 10 hand motion above my head, they must copy the movement silently to show me they're ready to learn. Four: Always raise your hand to speak, and listen to the person who's talking. Five: Sit criss-cross-applesauce.
Then I ask what they know about The Nutcracker. (Not much.) I play parts of Tchaikovsky's score and show them pictures of Balanchine, Lincoln Center and King Louis XIV. (I may have made up that King Louis XIV's favorite color was gold. But the kids love that fact, so...creative liberties? He did put gold everywhere.)
I try to add laughs anytime I can. When I ask them to stand like a soldier, I prompt them by asking, "Does a soldier stand like this?" and slump down. They yell, "Noooo!" Then I ask if a soldier stands like this—slumping further and adding a yawn. They yell "Noooo!" again and crack up. Finally, I show a straight-backed, feet-together soldier, and they follow suit. It's all part of something new I'm trying this year: Instead of correcting them by saying, "Don't stand like _______," I've started saying, "Make your feet like my feet," so that I'm giving a positive directive.
Dance teachers are often naturals when it comes to nurturing. Even so, certain individuals seem particularly gifted in connecting with their students. Maybe they have an uncanny sense of exactly the right prompt or image that allows a correction to click into place. Perhaps every student who leaves their class feels like a star. DT singled out five such instructors to discover just what makes their classes magical.
During her second season at Saint Louis Ballet in 2012, Vanessa Woods' search for a fulfilling side job led her to start her own. With a reputation of being "the business ballerina" (she earned her degree in marketing from Washington University in St. Louis' night program while dancing with SLB), Woods began brainstorming ideas with her mom.
After realizing seniors were overlooked in the dance world, Woods decided to create Vitality Ballet, a program for senior citizens. "I think as dancers we're used to being told what to do," she says. "At times it's hard to figure out what to do next, and how do you properly launch a website, and figure out pricing, and hire teachers?"
Woods teaching Vitality Ballet. Pratt + Kreidich Photography
Using her apartment as an office, she spent countless hours listening to music, researching geriatric exercises and developing a business concept. After calling a local nursing home to pitch her idea, she taught her first class. Today, Vitality serves about 60 facilities in the St. Louis area, with an average of 120 classes per month taught by 10 to 12 teachers at any given point.
"I've always had a place in my heart for seniors," says Woods. Growing up in New Jersey, her grandparents lived just minutes away. "It made me appreciate how much seniors can do and how much they can offer."
Vitality teaches ballet, chair yoga and water ballet. For many of the seniors, dance evokes the past in some way, whether they took classes as children, grew up watching ballet or dreamed of dancing but weren't able to take lessons. Some are also dementia, Parkinson's or Alzheimer's patients. "It's really fun to see the memories that the music or the movement can conjure for them," says Woods.
Pratt + Kreidich Photography
Beginning her own dancing at age 5 in her hometown, Woods later trained with Miami City Ballet School's pre-professional division and danced with Colorado Ballet's Studio Company and The Suzanne Farrell Ballet. She was freelancing in New York, and craving the stability of company life, when she decided to reach out to Saint Louis Ballet's director, whom she'd auditioned for in the past. "I contacted him about auditioning, and he wrote back and was like, 'We're down a swan for Swan Lake. Can you come right now?' "
In 2016, Woods suffered from a serious foot injury. Sidelined for over a year, she continued to teach and run Vitality while trying to work her way back to the studio. After seven seasons with SLB, she officially retired.
Woods dreams of expanding Vitality and hiring professional or retired dancers to teach seniors in other cities. "I was known for being the biggest bunhead, just absolutely obsessed," she says. And while she still identifies strongly as a ballerina, "I think it's such a valuable thing to learn you have other skills. You can use what you've learned as a dancer to help you in your next phase."