What My Teacher Taught Me: BODYTRAFFIC's Tina Finkelman Berkett

Berkett (center) performing with BODYTRAFFIC in Sidra Bell's Beyond the Edge of the Frame

Like many dancers who grow up in a small, close-knit studio, Tina Finkelman Berkett considers her favorite teacher, Michele Cuccaro Cain, a second mother. (She can remember Cain once offering her own sleeve in place of a tissue when Berkett’s nose began running backstage at a competition.) Now, as the co-artistic director of Los Angeles–based company BODYTRAFFIC, Berkett is lucky enough to have her former teacher as a frequent audience member.

Berkett (right) with Cain

“The greatest thing she taught me was how to command a stage. She felt that my natural talent would allow the technique and form to develop. But more important to her than anything was that I could go out there onstage and show people that I was worthy of being watched. I’m 31; I’ve been running my own company for seven-plus years; I’ve toured all over the world—but when she’s in the audience, there’s a comfort I have that’s unlike any other time that I perform.”

BODYTRAFFIC will perform at the Harris Center in Folsom, CA, on January 24 and at Santa Monica's Broad Stage on February 26 and 27.




Top photo by Christopher Duggan; both courtesy of Berkett

Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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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.

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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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