To Share With Students

The CUNY Dance Initiative Is Calling All Artists in October

Dušan Tynek Dance Theatre performs ANNA as artist in residence at John Jay College. Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of CDI

Space to rehearse and perform. Guest teaching gigs. Relationship building. Deepened college curriculum. Financial support. These are valuable gifts to artists and college departments alike. The CUNY Dance Initiative (CDI), now heading into its sixth year, successfully embraces and supports both artists and students, dance companies and theater/arts departments. They have become a model example of public/private partnerships.


The seed for the project is credited to Kerry McCarthy, vice president for philanthropic initiatives at The New York Community Trust, whose reflection about the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's report "We Make Do" sparked some out-of-the-box thinking about spaces at City University of New York (CUNY) campuses. CDI is based at Queens College and works with 13 colleges and community colleges within the CUNY system—4 dance programs and 9 performing arts centers. CDI's goal is to connect each resident artist and their project with a variety of departments and student groups across each campus.

Artists can apply for a CDI residency at one of the 13 campuses. Artists can select their choices, and the open call for applications is October 3–November 4 for residencies from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021.

Residencies include studio space, and, frequently, performance opportunities, as well. Through generous funding by several foundations, CDI is able to offer an artist stipend of $500–$3,000, depending on the project. Visiting artists offer master classes, workshops and open rehearsals.

"As a program with a budget for guest artists, CDI has been the primary way we provide workshops to our students," says Amy Larimer, director of dance at Lehman College (Bronx). "These kinds of residencies have exposed the students to approaches to dance that they might not otherwise know about, and have also provided the program with a way to get to know artists and develop more substantial relationships."

Over the past five years, the program has offered more than 6,000 hours of studio and stage time for artists. Says director Alyssa Alpine, "Certainly in New York, where space is at a premium, and the cost of it takes a good portion of a company's budget, we have space, plus we offer access to a new community for artists. Time, space and money—the essentials for dance to flourish. We literally open the doors at the CUNY campuses."

"CDI gave me the freedom and the space to realize a major production that I have been working toward over the last six years," says former CDI artist in residence Dušan Týnek, who worked at John Jay College in Manhattan. "Having access to a beautiful theater (basically for free!) for two weeks in New York City was a dream come true."

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

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For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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