How Risa Steinberg Teaches Limón

"Limón work looks really easy," says Risa Steinberg, after a technique demonstration at Juilliard. "But it's stunning to people when they try it. They'll say, 'Oh, you just swing and drop your head.' But those things are very scary." Developed by Mexican choreographer José Limón, the classical modern technique is based on movement principles conceived by his teachers Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman: fall and rebound, suspension, and the use of momentum, gravity and breath.

Limón died in 1972, and his choreography is foremost sustained by the Limón Dance Company and former company members like Steinberg, who travel worldwide to restage his work. But even if a student doesn't aspire to join the Limón Company, Steinberg says studying this technique gives dancers a strong basis for today's contemporary work. It challenges their use of weight, support, strength and musicality in an anatomically healthy approach.

In many cases, it's a college program that introduces a young dancer to pure Limón technique, and the transition isn't always easy. But helping younger students attempt new dance styles is not about getting them to drop their old tendencies, Steinberg says. “They just add to what they already know. They have to understand why and how something else might enhance their work." For her students, dropping their heads and rounding their spines are the hardest Limón elements to master, she says. “They're relatively new concepts that take a while for them to trust." But she primarily wants students to develop an intelligent and anatomical understanding of moving. “It's never what you do, but how you do it. Even if you have to do something extreme, you're conscious of it, and you can reformat your body to go back to a neutral place. Understanding neutral is really important."

Steinberg describes her class as having a classical structure: first warming up the spine, legs and feet, and then moving across the floor. “I spend a lot of time getting the body in order, then add the torso very judiciously. Eventually, it will all come together." Her classes begin with sequential movements, mostly initiated by the head—the heaviest part of the body. As students move with more momentum, these initial movements set up the body to move on track.

Here, Steinberg and Juilliard graduate Chuck Jones demonstrate successive curves of the spine to the front, side and high arch: movements that both warm up the spine and serve as foundations for Limón's choreography.

Steinberg teaches successive curving of the spine in all directions at the beginning of class in a moderately slow tempo. As students progress through class, momentum is added to these movements, but their integrity should not change. These torso curves serve as the basis for much of Limón's choreography and are fundamental elements of classical modern dance.

A New York native, Risa Steinberg graduated from The Juilliard School in 1971 and soon after began her 11-year tenure with the José Limón Dance Company. She has also performed with Anna Sokolow's Players' Project and the American Repertory Dance Company in Los Angeles. She joined Juilliard's faculty in 2000, and since 2009 has served as the associate director of the dance division. Additionally, Steinberg is on the faculty of the Limón Dance Company and School, and teaches at the Peridance Capezio Center in NYC and the ImPulsTanz Vienna International Dance Festival in Austria.

Chuck Jones is a 2011 graduate of The Juilliard School and a member of Nederlands Dans Theater II.


News
Betty Jones in The Moor's Pavane, shot for Dance Magazine's "Dancers You Should Know" series in 1955. Zachary Freyman, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow

An anchor of the Humphrey-Limón legacy for more than 70 years, Betty Jones died at her home in Honolulu on November 17, 2020. She remained active well into her 90s, most recently leading a New York workshop with her husband and partner, Fritz Ludin, in October 2019.

Betty May Jones was born on June 11, 1926 in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and moved with her family to the Albany, New York, area, where she began taking dance classes. Just after she turned 15 in 1941, she began serious ballet study at Jacob's Pillow, which was under the direction of Anton Dolin and Alicia Markova for the season. Over the next three summers as a scholarship student, Jones expanded her range and became an integral part of Jacob's Pillow. Among her duties was working in the kitchen, where her speedy efficiency earned her the nickname of "Lightning."

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Finis Jhung teaching a virtual class. Photo courtesy Ruden

Looking back, it's hard to describe how terrifying the early days of the pandemic were in New York City. The sudden shutdown of our daily lives; the scarcity of toilet paper and reports of food shortages; the empty stillness of the streets of Manhattan and the sight of the USNS Comfort hospital ship from my bedroom window; the conflicting information on how to stay safe; and the daily press conferences with Governor Cuomo recounting intubations and the daily death toll.

I watched the hospital employees walking to Mount Sinai Hospital next door and marked the passing of time by the daily seven o'clock tribute to essential workers that broke the eerie silences.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Break the Floor Productions, courtesy Meismer

Revered NUVO convention teacher Mark Meismer has made a career out of not compromising his values—and it's paid off.

Take Meismer's practically unheard-of NUVO convention schedule—a weekly Friday/Saturday shift that's allowed him to prioritize time with his daughter and attend church on Sundays.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.