Teachers share the philosophies and materials that make them successful in their careers and classes.
Peek into a Smuin Ballet company class on a Friday morning, and you might see a crew of lithe pirates taking barre. Every last Friday of the month, ballet master Amy London holds a themed dress-up day for dancers she calls “critical class.” A San Franciscan to the core, she borrows the name from the city’s iconic Critical Mass, a monthly exercise in civil disobedience where bicyclists swarm the streets and stop traffic. London’s event, however, is simply for fun. She even names a costume winner, who gets to choose the next month’s theme.
Though London keeps the atmosphere light, she sets a high bar for company members. “With professional dancers, it’s easy to fall into ‘class is just a warm-up’ mode,” she says. “I hold the standard to keep their tools and their skills sharp. We keep the mentality of continuing to train.” London reminds dancers that they are what they practice, and that everything they put into class is either helping or hurting their craft. When giving corrections, she stays vigilant but sensitive, finding what works best for each dancer. “Some of them need me to just quietly remind them, some need me to light a fire and have accountability in front of everybody—they need to hear their correction from across the room for it to take hold. Others need just a little poke here or there to remember.”
Keeping the pros on their toes means there’s no luxury of set combinations for dancers or for London. She constantly gives new exercises to keep company members from working on autopilot. One of her favorite sources of inspiration for classroom choreography has been audition videos, which she reviews for the company. “They’ve been a surprising fountain of ideas,” she says. “You see influences of people from all around the world.” DT
Teaching gear: Capris and a T-shirt (usually a sports team or cartoon) with a zippered sweatshirt.
Footwear: Capezio Toggle dance sneakers. “They keep my feet super-warm with enough support for eight hours. I have several different colors. I wear my orange pair when the Giants have significant games.”
For tension relief: Body Back Buddy, an S-shaped tool that “has a knob for every knot.”
During downtime: “I am an avid reader, especially of historical fiction. I love to escape to another time and place to clear my mind.”
Photo of London by Kevin Jenkins, shoe courtesy of manufacturer