The Dance Family Tree

As we were putting this issue to bed, I caught a piece in The New York Times about Sonya Tayeh. After launching a successful commercial career seven years ago, the choreographer (DT, December 2010) is now dipping her toes in the waters of NYC concert dance. But what really got my attention was the parallel the writer draws between Tayeh’s work and Martha Graham. “She’s kind of like a great granddaughter of the Graham style, because the physicality defines the emotions,” says MGDC artistic director Janet Eilber. “Sonya’s part of our family tree.”

It’s a great example of this month’s cover story topic on why modern dance still matters. Writer Lea Marshall interviewed 10 people who carry the philosophy and technique of the modern masters to a new generation of dancers. In “Brushes with Greatness," they reveal how they stay true to the master and how they adapt and evolve the information.

For the cover, we selected Elena Demyanenko because the master she speaks of, Trisha Brown, herself is a bridge—from modern to postmodern. Demyanenko credits a wide variety of influences, including traditional ballet training in her native Russia. But when teaching, she relies heavily on what she absorbed from Brown. “I think what I’m carrying on from her is that openness to invent,” says Demyanenko. “It was all about what are the principles that can serve you as an inventor, which can keep opening up perspectives.”

Another striking example from the feature is Sandra Neels, a former Cunningham dancer and longtime faculty member at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She has adapted some of the Cunningham canon to address the needs of today’s dancers. Specifically she cautions them to protect their bodies when performing contemporary. “I would never do the kinds of movements that have come up, such as, from a grand jeté or a saut de chat you suddenly fall on your hip,” she told us. She used Maddie Ziegler to illustrate her point: “She has such hips, but she’s breaking down that hip joint when she falls on it.”

Indeed, as health editor Andrea Marks points out, dancers’ hips take a great deal of abuse. In “Healthy Hips, Happy Hips,” she shares the latest information on building strength to protect and sustain a dancer’s career. Because we know your dancers aren’t ready to quit emulating Maddie, right?

And as your high school dancers begin to prepare for their careers beyond your studio, you can help them by sharing the 2015 DT Higher Ed Guide. We’ve included more than 150 schools where they can continue dancing while pursuing a degree, whether in dance or business or technology or science. Dance training prepares a person for whatever they decide to devote themselves.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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