How I teach musical theater jazz

"It’s time to hop on the isolation express,” Dana Moore calls out to students in her theater jazz class at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Standing in parallel first position with eyes facing forward, Moore’s head begins to alternate left, right, up and down. But it doesn’t stop there—before moving her shoulders, the veteran Fosse dancer has led the class through more than 10 variations of head isolations at multiple tempos. It’s this kind of specificity that Moore sees as the cornerstone of a successful performance career. “Of course you have to have technique, but if you really know your isolations, you have trained your body to do anything,” she says. “And not just for Fosse’s work. You can do anyone’s choreography.”

Moore certainly has the resumé to back up that thought: In addition to Bob Fosse, she’s worked with choreographers Tommy Tune, Michael Bennett and Twyla Tharp. Still, it’s Fosse whom she identifies as her biggest influence, and she feels a responsibility to pass his legacy to students. “I worked intimately with him and Gwen [Verdon] in rehearsals, and I feel confident that I’m the genuine article,” she says. “I can pass it on with as much authenticity as I know, and be true to what I understand is the intention of his movement.” Moore doesn’t teach his direct repertoire, yet her own choreographic style and class exercises are infused with Fosse’s vocabulary.

In class, the isolation drills follow a grueling 45-minute warm-up of stretching, conditioning, yoga, jazz and ballet-based exercises geared to developing a dancer’s sense of proper alignment and whole-body connection. “With younger students in particular, I’ve noticed a disconnect between the top of the body and the bottom,” she says. “The legs are doing it, and maybe the arms are doing it, but something in the core hasn’t been engaged.”

Sloppy isolations are clear signs that a student’s body is disconnected; it’s as great a challenge to keep the whole body still as it is to move one part individually. “There’s a step in Fosse’s ‘Big Spender,’ for instance, that has distinct pelvis and shoulder isolations, but the torso isn’t doing anything extra,” she says. “That specificity of the movement gets very murky if too many things are moving.”

Here, Moore demonstrates hip and pelvis isolations and shows how they can translate to a Fosse-style step:

A Pennsylvania native, Dana Moore trained with Doris Singer Kokoski before moving to New York City at 18. Moore performed in the original production of A Chorus Line, along with Singin’ in the Rain and The Will Rogers Follies, among many others. Her Fosse credits include Dancin’, revivals of Sweet Charity and Chicago, and the musical revue Fosse. She can be seen dancing on film in Fosse (a video performance of the Broadway show), The Producers and Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You. Now on faculty at Marymount Manhattan College and Steps on Broadway, Moore is also a frequent guest artist and teacher at The School at Jacob’s Pillow and in France and Finland.

Photo by Jim Lafferty

Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine

When choosing music for tap, Jason Samuels Smith encourages teachers to start with classic jazz music. Improvisation, call and response, and syncopated rhythms embedded in the genre and its history, in general, help students to understand the structure of tap, which is different than other styles of dance. "Tap dancers have the responsibility to be more than just a visual artist," he says. "They're an instrument and a sound."

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo Courtesy of Ballet Next

In 2011, when former American Ballet Theatre principal Michele Wiles departed the company and formed BalletNext, she found an artistic freedom she'd been longing for. Along with new collaborations with choreographers and musicians, she began working with trumpeter Tom Harrell, who introduced her to the multilayered sounds of jazz. "The dancers are another instrument to a jazz musician," says Wiles. Pairing this music genre with her classical foundation has been pivotal in defining her style. "I have this classical facility, but my mind is more contemporary. Jazz is a good intersection for my work," she says.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Rachel Papo

Martin Harvey brought a little movie star charm into morning ballet class at our New York Dance Teacher Summit. (His acting credits include Gossip Girls, All My Children, Dirty Dancing, A Chorus Line, Carousel, plus Metropolitan Opera productions of Carmen and Manon Lescaut.) Educated at the Royal Ballet School in London, he danced many principal roles for The Royal Ballet during his 12-year career.

Mark Your Calendar

Join us in Long Beach, CA, July 26–28, or in NYC, August 1–3, for our 2019 Dance Teacher Summit.

Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Q: What suggestions do you have for dancers to get their shoulder blades to lie flat on their backs?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Sarah Ash, courtesy of Larkin Dance

Ask Michele Larkin-Wagner and Molly Larkin-Symanietz what sets them and Maplewood, Minnesota–based Larkin Dance Studio apart, and they immediately give the credit to their mom. Shirley Larkin founded the school in 1950 and continued to oversee the growing business until she passed away in 2011. "She put Minnesota on the map for dance training and made other local studios step up to the plate to become as strong as we are," Michele says. "A lot of people's lives are better because of Shirley Larkin."

For Michele and Molly, following in their mom's footsteps was a no-brainer. "I knew I was going to be a choreographer and take over the studio," Michele says. To Molly, seven years Michele's junior and the baby out of six siblings, the studio was always a second home. The two sisters trained across genres but had distinct specialties: Michele found her niche in jazz, musical theater and lyrical, while Molly excelled in tap. In the summers, they'd travel for workshops in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles. While Michele was in class with jazz legends like Gus Giordano, JoJo Smith, Luigi and Frank Hatchett, Molly was taking tap classes with the likes of Brenda Bufalino and Phil Black.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Gandarillas

In Macarena Gandarillas' jazz class at California State University, Fullerton, a sign in the studio reads, "Never underestimate the power of determination." This simple mantra embodies what has made this self-described "danceaholic" such an impactful teacher.

When Gandarillas came to Los Angeles at age 6 with her family from Santiago, Chile, the language barrier was beyond overwhelming—until her mom enrolled her in ballet classes. Gandarillas found an instant love. "There were no Spanish-speaking kids at my school," she says. "But with dance I could communicate with my body. I'd finally found my voice."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Is teaching for an after-school program a good way to find a job in K–12?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Inspire School of Arts and Sciences

It was the morning of November 8, 2018, and Jarrah Myles' first-period choreography students were in last-minute rehearsals for their fall dance concert that evening. "All of a sudden my students' phones started ringing like crazy," says Myles, a teacher at Inspire School of Arts and Sciences, a Chico, California, high school whose dance and theater programs Myles helped establish in 2010. "And once they answered, I saw these tragic faces staring back at me."

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox