Teachers' Tools: Up Close With Kathryn Sullivan

Teachers share the philosophies and materials that make them successful in their careers and classes.

Peek into one of Kathryn Sullivan’s ballet classes and you might see her pull out her trusty green Thera-Band. When her students at Steps on Broadway or Barnard College struggle to balance on one leg at the barre, she uses the band to illustrate the body’s center “plumb line,” a concept she learned from renowned teacher Finis Jhung. She anchors one end of the band under the ball of the dancer’s foot and pulls the other end straight up along the body’s center. “That is what standing on one leg should look and feel like,” she says. “It has that elasticity of downward and upward energy.”

The former Boston Ballet dancer keeps ballet technique straightforward. “The more I teach, the simpler I get,” she says. She skips mind-teasers in favor of simple barre combinations, and she encourages students to clap or stomp the rhythm to clarify a tricky petit allegro. Her classes highlight a particular step or concept each week—inside turns, outside turns, temps de cuisse. Combinations become more challenging throughout the week, but the goal is for dancers to perfect each step in its purest form, not to get caught up in flowery details. “Having the basics will give you good technique at any level,” she says. DT

A medium-strength Thera-Band can be used to demonstrate alignment.

Sullivan teaches in a leotard, tights and skirt. She prefers canvas ballet shoes by Sansha and Capezio mesh tights.

“I have my Barnard students keep dance diaries. They write down

their corrections or thoughts of the day.” Sullivan enjoys gardening on weekends.

After watching many dancers cushion their heels with towels and sweaters while stretching on the barre, Sullivan invented the Ballet Glider, a fleece sleeve that wraps around the barre to protect the Achilles tendon and allow the dancer to slide with ease.

Photo by Lijie Zhang; flowers and diary ©iStockphoto.com; others courtesy of manufacturers

Getty Images

Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

Keep reading... Show less
Robbie Sweeny, courtesy Funsch

Christy Funsch's teaching career has taken her from New York City to the Bay Area to Portugal, with a stint in a punk band in between. But this fall—fresh off a Fulbright in Portugal at the Instituto Politécnico de Lisboa, School of Dance (ESD), teaching and researching empathetic embodiment through somatic dance training—Funsch's teaching has taken her to an entirely new location: Zoom. A visiting professor at Slippery Rock University for the 2020–21 academic year, Funsch is adapting her eclectic, boundary-pushing approach to her virtual classes.

Originally from central New York State, Funsch spent 20 years performing in the Bay Area, where she also started her own company, Funsch Dance Experience. "My choreographic work from that time is in the dance-theater experiential, fantasy realm of performance," she says. "I also started blending genres and a lot of urban styles found their way into my choreography."

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy Meg Brooker

As the presidential election approaches, it's a particularly meaningful time to remember that we are celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment, when women earned the right to vote after a decades-long battle.

Movement was more than a metaphor for the fight for women's suffrage—dancers played a real role, most notably Florence Fleming Noyes, who performed her riveting solo Dance of Freedom in 1914 to embody the struggle for women's rights.

This fall, Middle Tennessee State University director of dance Meg Brooker is reconstructing Dance of Freedom on 11 of her students. A Noyes Rhythm teacher and an Isadora Duncan scholar, Brooker is passionate about bringing historic dance practices into a contemporary context.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.