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3 Legends Who Danced Like No One Was Watching

Nijinsky in costume for Afternoon of a Faun. Photo by Baron Adolf De Meyer, courtesy of the New York Public Library

Dance history is inundated with risk-takers, but these three legends took it to a whole other level, pushing the boundaries of what was possible. For today's #ThrowbackThursday, take a moment to remember these three iconic figures.


Vaslav Nijinsky: 1890–1950

Russian ballet dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky helped usher in a new era of ballet. He redefined the male presence in classical ballet, bringing athleticism and range to what had previously been a supporting role. His controversial choreographic works, like The Rite of Spring and Afternoon of a Faun, are now considered some of the first contemporary ballets.

Did you know that, during the first rehearsals of The Rite of Spring, the dancers became so frustrated counting Stravinsky's score that they threatened to quit?

Kazuo Ohno: 1906–2010

Butoh, or the "dance of utter darkness," was created in the 1950s by Japanese artists Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno. Marked by distorted body shapes and taboo subject matter, butoh combines elements of theater, German expressionism and modern dance with facets of traditional Japanese dance forms. Ohno adopted an androgynous persona onstage, dressing in both male and female costumes, to highlight transformation and mask his own identity.

Kazuo Ohno in Admiring La Argentina. Photo by Naoya Ikegami, courtesy of Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio

In La Argentina Sho (Admiring La Argentina), an hour-long solo, Ohno transformed into many different characters, from female to male and back again, in homage to Antonia Mercé, a Spanish dancer.

Yvonne Rainer: b. 1934

Yvonne Rainer is a NYC–based choreographer who was a leading member of Judson Dance Theater, the 1960s avant-garde dance collective. In 1965 Rainer wrote her famous "No Manifesto," a public dismissal of the qualities that exemplified then-current concert dance styles: spectacle, glamour, virtuosity. Her resulting choreographic work, Trio A (1966), epitomized the minimalist aesthetic of postmodern dance.

Rainer in Trio A. Photo by Herbert Migdoll, courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

Rainer and her Judson Dance Theater cohort believed that any movement could be considered dance. They sought to eliminate hierarchy, shift the focus from product to process and view the body purely as an instrument to perform movement.
Music
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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 onstageblog.com, 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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