The Russians Are Coming

We have a history of fascination with Russian dancers here in the U.S. It started for me with the glamour and Cold War intrigue of Nureyev (1961) and Baryshnikov (1974) defecting to the West. And now that cultural exchanges go both ways (David Hallberg splitting his time between the Bolshoi and American Ballet Theatre; Keenan Kampa joining then leaving the Mariinsky; and Joy Womack, the first American to graduate from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy), we are privileged to see the fruit of the legendary Russian training more regularly. Diana Vishneva, Natalia Osipova, Maria Kochetkova and Daniil Simkin (who is one of the dancers featured in Dance Magazine’s video series, “Behind the Curtain”), for instance, have all appeared with ABT, either as guest performers or principals.

And of course, with the dancers come the teachers. For instance, when Galina Alexandrova (on the cover) left Russia for the Bay Area, her mother Svetlana Afanasieva followed and quickly established a reputation for training in the Vaganova style. Now Alexandrova operates her own school, and her students are beginning to make names for themselves: The Joffrey Ballet’s Jeraldine Mendoza began her training with Alexandrova, and 17-year-old student Rio Anderson won the silver medal at Youth American Grand Prix earlier this year (see “Pure Vaganova”).

But how does the notoriously strict Russian training fare when exported to American soil? Wendy Perron, who has served on competition juries with several Russian teachers, asked four of them to talk about how they’ve adjusted their expectations and class demeanor (see “From Russia with Love—and Discipline”).

While the Russians may have an advantage when it comes to ballet training, tap dance is pure homegrown American. This month we check in with two of our favorite tap artists. In “Technique,” Katharine Pettit demonstrates how she teaches a five-count riff step, and Ray Hesselink recommends some music for tap class.

Check out the DT Costume Guide. Fall is when dancewear manufacturers unveil their new lines, and style editor Alyssa Marks has curated a sample of new and best-selling ballet costumes (“Costume Preview”) in time for your recital ordering. She also spoke with the designers to identify trends you’ll see this season.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Don’t miss a single issue of Dance Teacher.

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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