The Global Dance Studio

Opening your doors to a wider world

Dudley Flores leads a high-energy Rhythm & Motion workout at ODC

In a quaint shopping center in northwest Houston, the windows of New Vibe Dance Studio read, “Ballet, Tap, Drill Team, Zumba, Kathak.” It’s not the usual roster for a neighborhood dance studio. Are the demographics of U.S. suburbs changing so quickly that the demand for world dance forms has filtered out to small suburban studios? For certain cities like Houston that have a diverse international population, the answer is a definite yes.

Whether the goal is to offer adults an alternative to beginning ballet or yoga, respond to the interests of an evolving community or simply to be at the forefront of a new trend, world classes can set your studio business apart. DT spoke with four studios about how they’ve introduced a world dance curriculum, each from a different perspective.

When owners Victoria McDonough and Beyonka Young opened the doors of Houston’s New Vibe last summer, their goal was to offer some form of cultural dance. Located in an area where dance studios are as numerous as nail salons, they decided to aim for a unique identity. “Both Beyonka and myself appreciate the beauty of the dances of other cultures,” says McDonough, “so we were exploring the idea of including African and Asian forms of dance from the beginning.” It just so happened that Hannah Igoe, a trained Kathak teacher who also teaches modern and lyrical, walked in their door as they were setting up shop. Igoe is well-connected to the growing East Indian population in the area, and she now teaches classes to adults and

children.

Zumba, a fitness program set to Latin rhythms developed by Beto Perez, is the studio’s first venture into Latin forms. “We wanted to offer something more exciting than typical aerobics, and Zumba seemed like a good fit,” says McDonough.

Performing Arts Network in Miami, FL, came about when founder Ilisa Rosal became aware that a group of artists needed a place to teach and rehearse. Faculty members are professional dancers, either with their own companies or as members of another. “We offer a place to train seriously in flamenco and other forms; we offer traditional and contemporary training,” says Rosal, who also is the founder and artistic director of Ballet Flamenco La Rosa. “We wanted to create a place to study these forms intensely with people who make their living dancing. There are also opportunities to apprentice or perform with a student company.”  Classes include Irish step, Middle Eastern dance, Afro-Haitian, Afro-Cuban, traditional African dance and several levels of flamenco, along with ballet and creative movement. PAN welcomes children and adult beginners to their classes, too. “We are happy to have students who are looking for a creative way to get some exercise,” says Rosal. “We are a wonderful mix of professionals and hobbyists.”

Rozann Kraus, director of The Dance CompleX, in Cambridge, MA, didn’t set out to create a multicultural dance center. “It just kind of evolved,” she says. “After all, Cambridge is one of the most culturally diverse places in the state.” In addition to modern and ballet, students can choose from a dizzying array of global classes, including Kathak, Brazilian, Irish, Caribbean, flamenco, Middle Eastern, Latin ballroom, African and Afro-fusion. “It’s like the United Nations around here,” says Kraus, who oversees a faculty of 48 in her 18,000-square-foot facility. Adults flock to these classes, and it’s not unusual to see modern dancers testing the international waters as well.

The way Kraus makes it work is teachers rent studio space from her. “We want to encourage entrepreneurship in our teachers,” she says. For those starting to build a following, a class fee split can be arranged, but generally the rent is the same regardless of class enrollment. Rent includes front desk services and publicity in the form of twice yearly open houses, faculty concerts, frequent press releases and posters in the lobby.

When Kimi Okada and her colleagues at ODC in San Francisco were planning to build their new facility, Dance Commons, they hoped to not only reflect the cultural diversity and wealth of world dance teachers in the Bay Area, but to create an inclusive environment. “We wanted to celebrate the notion that everyone of all ages and levels can experience the joy and spirit of dance,” says Okada, school co-director. To achieve diversity (ODC’s program is in ballet and modern), she turned to another dance studio: Consuelo Faust’s Rhythm & Motion, which includes both a workout program that is influenced by world styles, and an extensive array of global classes.

“Basically, we were putting two huge organizations together. It took a year to do the feasibility study,” says Okada. “Administratively, it was like being shot out of a cannon; we went from 2 classes a day to 27.”

Today, four years into this joint arrangement, Faust and Okada report that their two populations have mixed well. Like the other studio directors, they are pleased with resulting crossover enrollments of students. “ODC dancers love the workout program,” says Faust. “Modern dancers try global classes, and there’s a sense of mixing populations.”

The reward for all the negotiation, finagling and rearranging is that when the studio directors walk through the building and hear the gentle strains of ballet music mixed with world beats, they know they have created a place where dance is truly a global concept. Recreational dancers feel welcomed and mix and mingle with professionals. “It’s thrilling to see so many kinds of people in the building,” says Okada. “We built a home for dance that is really special.” DT

ADAPTING YOUR SPACE

Sound-proofing

Kimi Okada of ODC found herself unprepared for just how far the sound of live drumming travels. “In the beginning, we had some complaints from our neighbors and needed to move some classes,” she says. As time went on, they added more sound-proofing in some of the studios in the form of large acoustic baffled wall panels. Because the original construction did not include sound-proofing between the studios, there are also concerns over what’s happening next door. She learned quickly to place slow meditative classes like Feldenkrais as far away as possible from noisier ones.

Rozann Kraus of The Dance Complex handles sound issues through careful scheduling. “We never schedule two classes with loud accompaniment at the same time,” she says.

Floor Surface

“Certain teachers love wooden surfaces and we try to accommodate them as best we can,” says Okada. “We have one studio where anything goes; bring your spike heels.” The Dance Complex protects its floors by putting marley underneath all floor-seated instruments.

Temperature Control

Keeping everyone happy with the ideal studio temperature is an ongoing issue at ODC. Workout students prefer it cool, while professional dancers prefer more moderate temperatures. “Even though each studio has its own thermostat, it’s hard to keep everyone pleased,” says Okada.

 

Nancy Wozny writes about the arts and health from Houston, TX.

Photo by Drew Kelly

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.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

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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