Teachers’ Tools: Up Close With Lizzie MacKenzie

MacKenzie’s contemporary class has a foundation in Giordano jazz basics.

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

From a young age, Lizzie MacKenzie’s students learn the value of hard work and professionalism. “My reputation precedes me,” she says. “I get pretty serious students coming my way, because those are the students I connect with.”

Drawing from her early training at Interlochen Arts Academy and 12 years of performing experience with Giordano Dance Chicago and River North Dance Chicago, MacKenzie emphasizes classroom etiquette in all her classes at her Chicago studio, Extensions Dance Center. “My students come into the room and understand we’re there to work,” she says. “There’s no talking in class. They are expected to look at me when I’m talking. They are expected to come into the class and dance, not just go through the motions.”

Her advanced contemporary class has a strong technical foundation in Giordano jazz basics like contraction and plié, but she engages her students’ creative sides, as well, with improvisation. After a warm-up to get their heart rates up, MacKenzie leads her teens through 25 minutes of guided improvisation exercises. Since contemporary choreography is frequently created collaboratively, she wants her students to “build a toolbox” of improvisational techniques that will empower them to be confident collaborators and individuals. “I call it a continuation of the warm-up,” she says. “We’re warming up the creative and intellectual mind, not just the body.” DT

For fitness: “A foam roller, because some days you just can’t live (or dance) without a good rollout.”

Teaching Wardrobe: “I wear American Apparel solid calf-high socks because they are 75 percent cotton, which makes them not slippery. They are also thicker, so they last longer before getting holes.”

For training: “I have my students use the Balletband to help with flexibility.”

To unwind: MacKenzie enjoys a glass of wine while streaming her favorite TV shows, like “True Blood” or “Game of Thrones.”

To stay in shape: “I recently became obsessed with CorePower Yoga. I get a fantastic workout, and most classes are heated, so I get a great sweat on.”

Photo by Gianna Hagnell, courtesy of MacKenzie; wine: Thinkstock

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