How I teach ballroom

Yvonne Marceau with students Danny Barry and Maria (Gorokhov) May

Trained dancers might assume that learning a ballroom waltz would be easy. After all, the steps share the same rhythm as a simple balancé. But watching Yvonne Marceau demonstrate the steps and weight shifts unique to a true ballroom waltz, it becomes clear that the familiar “down-up-down” is very different.

“Ballroom is not instantly transferable from other styles,” says Marceau. “It’s a technique that requires the same amount of training as any other dance form.” The waltz is one of the first steps she introduces because its core principle of traveling in a box pattern while rising and falling is central to many ballroom techniques. But waltzing with a partner also helps develop cooperation and coordination—invaluable skills for dancers of all styles.

Marceau entered the ballroom arena through an Arthur Murray teacher-training course soon after graduating from the University of Utah with a BFA in dance. “When I started performing, I used a lot of my ballet training to incorporate lifts that weren’t standard,” she says.

With her longtime partner, Pierre Dulaine, Marceau was one of the first to bring ballroom to the proscenium stage, choreographing and performing on Broadway in Tommy Tune’s Grand Hotel. Today, she teaches the waltz in a required ballroom class at Juilliard, a course she describes as the students’ gateway to advanced partnering in modern or ballet.

“From a trained dancer’s point of view, the waltzing steps themselves are simple,” she says. “The challenge lies in moving in sync with a partner, not only concentrating on one’s own body. It really opens up a student’s awareness.” Marceau says to imagine every molecule of one’s body connected and moving in parallel to a partner’s molecules: “You dance as a team, as a four-legged animal.” The waltz strengthens connections between partners and the music. It’s not about flash or overly projecting to the audience: “Dancers love sweating—I know my Juilliard students want to do a triple turn, drop to the floor,” she says. “But waltzing is more subtle than what they’re used to.”

Because the waltz is a social dance, the basics are the same whether you’re preparing a couple for their wedding or competitive dancers for performance. Most importantly, the waltz generates teamwork. “The man doesn’t push and pull the woman around the floor,” Marceau says. “He provides options and reacts to the choices she makes. There’s leading and following on both sides of the equation. But when you’re in the zone, no one leads and no one follows—you’re doing it together.”

Originally from Chicago, Yvonne Marceau has been a ballroom instructor for over 30 years. Together with Pierre Dulaine, she founded American Ballroom Theater in 1984 and performed at The Joyce Theater in NYC, Jacob’s Pillow and Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. Marceau and Dulaine received an Astaire Award for their choreography and performance in Tommy Tune’s Grand Hotel on Broadway, and in 1993 they received a Dance Magazine Award. Since 1994, Marceau has been the artistic director of Dancing Classrooms, the arts-in-education program founded by Dulaine highlighted in the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom. Currently on faculty at The Juilliard School, she also teaches adult classes at social organizations throughout NYC, such as the Union League Club, the Union Club, and a cotillion society for 4th–7th-grade

students.

Danny Barry, 11, and Maria (Gorokhov) May, 12, are students of the Dancing Classrooms Academy and members of the DC Youth Dance Company.

 

 

Photo: by Carey Kirkella at Dancing Classrooms studios in NYC

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jacqueline Chang, courtesy of Ailey Extension

Marshall Davis Jr.'s introduction to tap dance began at 10 years old at African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, where his father is director, in Miami, Florida. Training began in sneakers and dress shoes that Davis Jr. did his best to get sound out of. "My father was reluctant to invest in tap shoes, because he thought it was likely I would change my mind about dancing," he says. But it didn't take long before Davis Jr.'s passion for tap became undeniable, and his father bought him his first pair of tap shoes. Just one year later, Davis Jr. became the 1989 Florida winner for the Tri-Star Pictures Tap Day contest, a promotion for the movie Tap, starring Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr. Through that experience, a new tap-dancing future was opened.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: Are there good sources to find replacement dance teachers? When I go through standard employment services, I get people who are not properly trained or lack experience.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Courtesy of Susan Jaffe

Throughout Susan Jaffe's performance career at American Ballet Theatre, there was something special, even magical, about her dancing. Lauded as "America's quintessential American ballerina" by The New York Times, Jaffe has continued to shine in her postperformance career, most recently as the dean of dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. She credits the "magic" to her meditation practice, which she began in the 1990s at the height of her career. We sat down with Jaffe to learn more about her practice and how it has helped her both on and off the stage.

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

Reviewing a simple recording of your voice when you're teaching can help you hear how you sound to your students. Taking the time to play back your instructions, corrections and compliments throughout class will help you find any weak spots as well as recognize some of your strengths. It's a great technique to help you evaluate your instructional ability and make improvements, and pat yourself on the back for things you are doing well. Plus, it's super-easy to do!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Including ballet competition standout Alina Taratorin (photo by Oliver Endahl, courtesy Taratorin)

Congratulations to the 39 talented dancers just named 2020 YoungArts award winners! This year's group of awardees includes several familiar faces from the competition scene.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo by Brian Babineau, courtesy Burghardt

When Alicia Burghardt entered Dean College in Massachusetts as a freshman dance major, it hadn't occurred to her that the Boston Celtics had a dance team. A competition kid with aspirations for Broadway, Burghardt never imagined herself as an NBA dancer. But by the time she was finishing her senior year, she'd not only joined the Celtics Dancers, she was choreographing a number for a major playoff game. And after finishing her rookie year, surrounded on that TD Garden parquet floor by uproarious fans, she couldn't help but stay for another. "It's unbelievable performing for Boston fans," she says. "They're so loyal to their team. It could be third quarter, down 20 points, and they're still cheering."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
"The Greatest Show on Earth." Photo by Brenda Rueb, courtesy of Vona Dance

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending

"No formal training. No dance studio. No mentor," says Erik Saradpon about his beginnings in hip hop.

"I think that's why I'm especially tough on these guys, because I don't take the relationship for granted," he says, referring to his students. "I'm like a dad to them. I had a shortage of role models in my life. I wanted that so badly. I project that onto my kids."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
From Coppélia. Photo by Toshi Oga, courtesy of MOGA

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Nanette Grebe/Getty Images

Have you heard the story about the dancer who needed a double hip replacement…at age 16?

It's not an urban legend—just ask iconic choreographer Mia Michaels. In a video series about dance injuries, produced by Apolla Performance Footwear, Michaels tells the tale of a teenage comp kid who pushed so hard she ended up in surgery.

That dancer's harrowing story was one of the inspirations for the Bridge Dance Project. The new initiative—brainchild of Jan Dunn, co-director of Denver Dance Medicine Associates, and Kaycee Cope Jones, COO of Apolla—aims to connect members of the competition and commercial dance communities with dance science experts. While many academic and professional concert dancers have benefited from recent advances in dance medicine, that information hasn't made its way to most of the young students in convention ballrooms. And as the technical demands on those students increase, so does the number of injuries.

We talked to Dunn and Jones about how the Bridge Dance Project was born, the initiative's long-term goals, and why young competition and commercial dancers should make injury prevention a priority.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Jessica Kubat (center) with her studio staff. Photo by Vincent Alongi, courtesy of Kubat

Jessica Kubat's path to becoming a studio owner wasn't typical or glamorous or the product of a family business, handed down. When she opened MJ's House of Dance in Lindenhurst, New York, this past summer, she had just turned 40, was a mom of three, and had worked at two different studios long-term. Over the last two and a half years, she'd painstakingly saved up $25,000 and had gone to the Small Business Development Center at a local college on Long Island for help creating her business plan. Her area was moderately saturated with studios, so she spent considerable time planning what would set her school apart—live musical accompaniment, for one—and hired a marketing director nine months before the business even opened. It was a methodical, careful approach—Kubat calls it "the old-fashioned way"—to opening a studio, and it's paid off: She started summer classes with 75 students and is well on her way to reaching her first-year enrollment goal of 250 dancers. "When I turned 40, I decided that it was time to do something bigger," says Kubat. "I always wanted to own a studio—it was just never financially available to me."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
From "Boston—Our City." Photo by Rachel Hassinger, courtesy of BalletRox

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox