When it comes to Broadway, Becca Petersen does it all. Not only is she a swing learning multiple roles for Mean Girls on Broadway as well as understudy for the principal roles of Cady Heron and Regina George, but she also plays an administrative role as the assistant dance captain. When she's not onstage dancing one of the 10 different tracks she covers, or acting out two of Broadway's most notorious mean ladies, she's in the audience, taking notes in order to clean choreography in the next rehearsal. "Once the show opens and the creative team leaves, the dance captains, stage managers and associates keep things running," Petersen says. "I help teach choreography to newcomers when there is turnover and make sure the dancing looks good from day to day."
Gesel Mason has serious chutzpah. Eighteen years ago, fresh off a performance career with the Dance Exchange and eager to focus on her own work, she decided to ask some high-profile African-American choreographers—Bebe Miller, Andrea Woods Valdés, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Donald McKayle, David Roussève—if they'd set solos on her. "It was one of those moments where you don't realize what you're asking," she says. "Before I got too in my head, too 'Why-would-I-even-dare-to-ask-these-people?', I just...did." In looking back, she's surprised they all said yes.
That was the beginning of No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers, an evolving collection of solos meant to show the resilience and diversity of black contemporary performance. "The work very clearly shows that, actually, the boundary of the term 'blackness' doesn't really exist. It's wide and risk-taking and sophisticated," says MK Abadoo, a friend and colleague who has performed with Mason.
Since 2001, Mason—while also creating her own work, directing a company and holding teaching positions at many universities—has steadily amassed 11 solos, embedding herself in these choreographers' processes. Now, No Boundaries is evolving once more. Mason is archiving videos of the solos and extensive interviews with their respective choreographers via an online platform that will go live this spring, as part of her new (as of fall 2018) position at The University of Texas at Austin.
Tired of the go-to dark and emotionally charged songs popular within contemporary dance, Marinda Davis has recently been choreographing to Broadway musicals and Frank Sinatra classics. "I'm afraid contemporary could easily become a fad, not a long-lasting genre, if we're not careful," she says. "We have to explore other types of music, versus doing what everyone else keeps doing."
It's a humid afternoon in New York City, and I'm sitting in a crowded restaurant on 29th Street and Seventh Avenue waiting to interview an artist I've admired since I first started dancing—this is a major fan-girl moment for me.
When Mia Michaels arrives, she enters with the kind of confidence and energy that makes people stop and take notice. She greets me with a warm hello and a tight hug. For an artist with a resumé like hers, I'm surprised by how easy she is to be with. "Do you mind if I get a coffee?" she says immediately. She's going to need it—after our interview, she'll rush directly to her cover photo shoot before teaching a master class at Broadway Dance Center this evening. Tomorrow, she'll be walking the New York Fashion Week runway for the Chromat fashion label, and later this week she'll be on a flight to Chicago for another master class, before finally heading to Tahiti for the first vacation she's had in months. "It's been a very intense year for me," she says.
2018 was an incredible year here at Dance Teacher, and we can't let it go without one final homage to the cover stories we absolutely loved! Check out these 12 standout features you'll want to read again and again (go ahead, nothing's stopping you!), and let us know over on our Facebook page what your favorite piece of the year was!
Hardly anyone writes thank-you notes anymore. But sometimes it's just not OK to send a text, and there are two notes I've been meaning to mail the good old-fashioned way. I know most people say it doesn't matter anymore, but I don't think that's true. What's true is that it is easy to stop remembering what matters.
It's not like I believe there is nothing like the good old days, I don't. In too many ways they weren't. But each day I'm trying (vigorously!) to balance my embrace of change with the unwise choice of embracing too much of it, blindly. But I'm getting ahead of the story here. So let me back up.
I was 23 when I taught my first beginning adult dance class in a rickety room above Dollar's Garage on Water Street in Port Townsend, Washington. It was an effort to keep myself from moving too fast for beginning students, but I enjoyed the challenge. I chose music measured enough for students with less experience to enjoyably make their way through. Except, clearly, it was still too fast.
Passing dance history on to the next generation is a bit like handing down the family jewels, says Wendy Whelan, seen here teaching. Photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy Whelan.
When I was a young dancer in Louisville, Kentucky, my ballet teacher used to speak a lot about Merrill Ashley. She brought neoclassical technique to exquisite new heights under Balanchine, and as a technician, she famously paved the way for today's balletic whiz kids. (Later, when I was a teenager, I was lucky enough to have her as a teacher.) Today, as I travel around the country giving master classes, I often find myself bringing up the names of quintessential American ballerinas, dancers like Merrill. But now, if I mention her name, I can't help but notice my students' eyes widening as they look to each other wondering who exactly this famous ballerina named Merrill is.
Tchoupakov teaching audition class at 2018 YAGP finals. Photo by VAM Productions, courtesy of Tchoupakov
When Mikhail Tchoupakov began to work with college dancers, he quickly recognized there was at least one big difference in the way college and conservatory students learn."College dancers need to learn that when they get a correction from you, it's not because you're picking on them. It's because you care," says the University of North Carolina School of the Arts assistant professor. "If your dancers have only received praise from their local studio, they'll come to college and be overwhelmed by what they deem as negativity. You need to show them that you're just trying to help them."
New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin. Photo by Nick Nakahara, Courtesy Pazcoguin.
As conversations in the ballet world about race and representation have opened up in the past few years, its most beloved holiday tradition, The Nutcracker, has come under scrutiny as well. Last year New York City Ballet made changes to its second act Chinese Tea variation, removing elements of racial caricature from both the costume and makeup and the choreography.
NYCB soloist Georgina Pazcoguin, who is part Filipino, was one of the voices fighting for that change. This year, as companies and schools worldwide are gearing up for Nutcracker season, Pazcoguin, along with former dancer and arts administrator Phil Chan, is back with a new campaign. Final Bow For Yellowface is an online platform dedicated to educating companies and schools on how to veer away from offensive Asian stereotypes (yellowface) and providing resources on how to make those changes. The site also lets readers join dance world luminaries including Virginia Johnson, Julie Kent, Adam Sklute, Troy Schumacher and Christopher Wheeldon in signing a pledge to end the practice of yellowface onstage. We touched base with Pazcoguin to hear about how this initiative came to be, and what she and Chan have in the works for the future.
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe
Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."
Forsythe has taught Horton at AAADT since 1973 and continues to mine the technique daily for its legendary specificity and discipline. Photo by Nicole Tintle, courtesy of The Ailey School
Ana Marie Forsythe's eyes twinkle, and a smile plays at the corners of her mouth as she welcomes the 40-plus teachers who are enrolled for her two-week-long Horton teacher-training workshop at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater studios in New York City—plus me, a dancer and writer, taking part for the day. As we watch Genius on the Wrong Coast, a film about Lester Horton, the "princess of Horton" (as someone aptly refers to Forsythe) offers her own version of a director's commentary: She identifies faces as they appear onscreen and interjects her own narration ("Fortification 15—that's the one I hated so much," she says).
Tade Biesinger and Kandee Allen, photo courtesy of Biesinger
It's officially the one month out of the year that's exclusively about gratitude, and there's nothing dance enthusiasts are more thankful for than our dance teachers. They're everything to us!
Case in point: we reached out to Marymount Manhattan freshman and former Billy Elliot: The Musical star, Tade Biesinger, and asked him to write a thank-you letter to his hometown studio owner/teacher Kandee Allen. The result brought tears to our eyes! How Biesinger feels about Allen is how all of us feel about our teachers.
Allen and Biesinger. Photo courtesy of Biesinger
Check out what he had to say, and then write a thank-you message to your dance teachers in the comments of our Facebook page.