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Tim Milgram's New Dance Studio Aims to Break Class Video Stereotypes

The dancers-slay-choreo-while-onlookers-cheer class video is pretty popular these days. And if you've watched a viral class video within the past 24 hours, there's a good chance it was filmed by Tim Milgram. With 3.1 million subscribers and counting on his YouTube channel, TMilly TV, it's obvious that online audiences love his video style, with its dramatic lighting and choreographed camera work.

But while many in the dance community appreciate class videos as a way to show their work and expand their online following, others have spoken out against the practice, questioning how it negatively affects dancers' training and priorities. Acknowledging those complaints, Milgram recently decided to open his own studio, TMilly TV, in North Hollywood, CA. It aims to create a better balance between time spent learning and time spent filming. Already, the studio has attracted some big-name faculty, from Dominique Kelley to Jake Kodish.

We caught up with Milgram to get the scoop on his new studio, and how he hopes to improve the dance community's perception of the class video.


Milgram at work (courtesy Milgram)

What effects has the class video trend had on the dance world? When did you decide you wanted to do something positive about it?

Over the past few years, I realized how big of an impact incorporating cinematic filming into the classroom has had on the dance community. I felt like I'd achieved something amazing by putting dancers in the spotlight and showing the personalities of dancers in class videos. But with the trend evolving so quickly, there've been a few unfortunate consequences. The main one is that the amount of time spent filming in classes continues to increase, often with no oversight from the dance studios themselves. This started to affect the amount of time and emphasis given to actual dance training in classes. It wasn't long before there was some backlash.

Nobody called me out specifically, but I still felt attached to the issue. It was two years ago, after some soul searching, that I realized I wanted to open a studio where training and filming are both valued and given the proper amount of time and emphasis they deserve.

What was it like opening up your own studio?

I've learned so much in the past two years! After many months of searching for a location and finally signing a lease, I started what would become a nine-month-long construction process. As I was working on the studio, I was also running a master class series to test out the idea. I would rent space and bring lights in, and create an environment for a good class. It reassured me that this whole thing was going to work.

Finally, in September, 2018, we had our first class. Now, I'm super stoked to have this amazing space. It's the perfect hybrid between a dance studio and a production space.

Courtesy Milgram

What is class at TMilly TV like?

All our classes are 2-hour blocks, ensuring a full 1.5 hour dance class happens before filming begins. Once that mark hits, we adjust the lighting to accommodate the center of the room rather than the entire room, and a videographer comes in. By that point, everybody's already danced a lot in smaller and smaller groups, so they're ready to go.

The filming portion of class is in many ways like being on a music video set. We give our staff on-camera training sessions, and teach them the principles of filming dance, so everyone understands the reasons behind the bells and whistles.

I don't want to be known as the filming studio. It's not about the clips. Despite the lights, fog, and cameras, the training you get in a class here is our top priority. I believe dance deserves to be captured in a way that is entertaining without distracting from the choreography and performance.

How can dancers get more comfortable in front of the camera?

Practice! Giving dancers the opportunity to perform on camera is important. It's not always about the footage, but rather about getting away from the mirror, which is potentially harmful if you get too comfortable with it. Even just marking away from the mirror and imagining there's a camera there can be helpful. My main goal is to lower people's stress level in front of the camera, so when they're in a high-pressure environment like their first music video, they feel safe—and thus don't have to be safe in their dancing.

Where do you see the studio in the future?

Hopefully, still around! Now that the logistics have worked themselves out, I'm starting to think about unique programming, which better integrates the filming and the class. I want the studio to be a beacon in the dance community, a well-respected place for people to get a dance education, create content, and build their brands.

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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