Trending

Two Teachers Weigh in on the Benefits of Teaching Dance Bilingually

Jennifer Reynolds teaches in both Spanish and English to make everyone feel welcome in her class. Photo courtesy of Reynolds

In Lexington, Kentucky, a good 70 percent of Jennifer Reynolds' 3- to 12-year-old ballet students speak Spanish at home. To accommodate the dancers and families of the Bluegrass Youth Ballet Valley Park Outreach Program, she teaches bilingually in English and Spanish. "Often the parents feel like they're left out of different things in society," she says. "It's wonderful to be able to create a space for the families to take their child to ballet class, participate and not feel nervous about it because they know what's going on."

Teaching in two languages takes extra time, skill and attention, but the rewards are evident not only with students, but for the teachers, as well. "I feel like it helps me have more humility," says Luna Dance Institute teaching artist Cherie Hill. "It helps me open up my mind and consider my connection with the students, what our differences are and how I can expand my knowledge to include what they know."

Finding Common Ground Through Language

Hill developed her own formula for conducting creative dance in both English and Spanish when Berkeley, California–based Luna Dance Institute began working with two elementary schools in Oakland. Since she is not bilingual herself, she worked closely with a classroom teacher to incorporate Spanish terminology into her weekly lessons. "I would tell her what the four or five main concepts for the week would be, and then she would send me translations for them in Spanish," she says.

Hill creates a "word wall" with the week's terms written out in both languages (rise/subir, fall/caer, advance/avanzar, retreat/retirarse) accompanied by pictures and Laban symbols. She teaches the class primarily in English, but emphasizes those terms by saying them in Spanish first, and then repeating them in English. It's helpful to have the classroom teacher in the room in case she hits a bump in the road with language.

Reynolds' experience is quite different, since she is a trained interpreter and fluent in both Spanish and English. She teaches most of her classes in both languages equally, but adjusts depending on the class. "I've gotten into a rhythm of interpreting myself," she says. "I say something in one language, and I just repeat it in the other language." This takes more time, but Reynolds says it's well worth it to break down the language barrier and make everyone feel welcome in her class.

Cherie Hill developed her approach when Luna Dance Institute began working with Spanish-speaking students in Oakland, CA. Photo courtesy of Luna Dance Institute

As their students get older and progress, both teachers phase their classes into more English. Reynolds says she can often switch to teaching solely in English by the time the students are in their teens. "It's not a set formula," she says. "I'm flexible with where the kids are at and what's needed."

Hill notes, "I've seen students' English comprehension really expand and improve through dance."

When Bridging the Gap Yields Big Rewards

One surprising benefit of the bilingual classroom is language acquisition by the English speakers. Not only do the Spanish speakers grow more comfortable with English over time, but both Reynolds and Hill have seen their English speakers start comprehending Spanish. In particular, the consistent routine of a dance class lends itself to drawing parallels between the two languages.

And with increased understanding of language comes a growing acceptance of diversity. "I love to see the kids grow and become friends and have fun together in class," says Reynolds. "They don't even realize that they look different or sound different from one another."

Teaching bilingually can create a warm atmosphere in the community, as well. While Reynolds' approach has allowed her to include many parents in their children's dance education, Hill cites the positive relationships she has developed with classroom teachers. "A lot of them really enjoy when we can teach in English because their students are learning that vocabulary," she says.

In a progressively more diverse world, bilingual dance education offers students valuable skills for the future. "I think that learning to speak, listen and write in more than just one language is extremely helpful in any job," says Reynolds.

Fundamentally, both teachers agree that whatever gets children dancing is well worth it. "For us to be able to move together is the ultimate success," says Hill. "When we're moving together, we're doing what we came to do despite the language barrier."

News
Courtesy Russell

Gregg Russell, an Emmy-nominated choreographer known for his passionate and energetic teaching, passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, November 22, at the age of 48.

While perhaps most revered as a master tap instructor and performer, Russell also frequently taught hip-hop and musical theater classes, showcasing a versatility that secured him a successful career onstage and in film and television, both nationally and abroad.


His resumé reads like an encyclopedia of popular culture. Russell worked with celebrities such as Bette Midler and Gene Kelly; coached pop icon Michael Jackson and Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane; danced in the classic films Clueless and Newsies; performed on "Dancing with the Stars" and the Latin Grammy Awards; choreographed for Sprite and Carvel Ice Cream; appeared with music icons Reba McEntire and Jason Mraz; and graced stages from coast to coast, including Los Angeles' House of Blues and New York City's Madison Square Garden.

But it was as an educator that Russell arguably found his calling. His infectious humor, welcoming aura and inspirational pedagogy made him a favorite at studios, conventions and festivals across the U.S. and in such countries as Australia, France, Honduras and Guatemala. Even students with a predilection for classical styles who weren't always enthused about studying a percussive form would leave Russell's classes grinning from ear to ear.

"Gregg understood from a young age how to teach tap and hip hop with innovation, energy and confidence," says longtime dance educator and producer Rhee Gold, who frequently hired Russell for conferences and workshops. "He gave so much in every class. There was nothing I ever did that I didn't think Gregg would be perfect for."

Growing up in Wooster, Ohio, Russell was an avid tap dancer and long-distance runner who eventually told his mother, a dance teacher, that he wanted to exclusively pursue dance. She introduced him to master teachers Judy Ann Bassing, Debbi Dee and Henry LeTang, whom he credited as his three greatest influences.

"I was instantly smitten, though competitive with him," says longtime friend and fellow choreographer Shea Sullivan, a protégé of LeTang. "Over the years we developed a mutual respect and admiration for each other. He touched so many lives. This is a great loss."

After graduating from Wooster High School, Russell was a scholarship student at Edge Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, where he lived for many years. He founded a company, Tap Sounds Underground, taught at California Dance Theatre and even returned to Edge as an instructor, all while maintaining a busy travel schedule.

A beloved member of the tap community, Russell not only spoke highly of his contemporaries, but earned his place among them as a celebrated performing artist and teacher. With friend Ryan Lohoff, with whom he appeared on CBS's "Live to Dance," he co-directed Tap Into The Network, a touring tap intensive founded in 2008.

"His humor, giant smile and energy in his eyes are the things I will remember most," says Lohoff. "He inspired audiences and multiple generations of dancers. I am grateful for our time together."

Russell was on the faculty of numerous dance conventions, such as Co. Dance and, more recently, Artists Simply Human. He was known as a "teacher's teacher," having discovered at the young age of 18 that he enjoyed passing on his knowledge to other dance educators. He wrote tap teaching tips for Dance Studio Life magazine and led classes for fellow instructors whenever he was on tour.

In 2018, he opened a dance studio, 3D Dance, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he had been living most recently.

Russell leaves behind a wife, Tessa, and a 5-year-old daughter, Lucy.


"His success was his family and his daughter," says Gold. "They changed his entire being. He was a happy man."

GoFundMe campaigns to support Russell's family can be found here and here.

Teaching Tips
@jayplayimagery, courtesy Blackstone

Zoom classes have created a host of challenges to overcome, but this new way of learning has also had some surprising perks. Students and educators are becoming more adaptable. Creativity is blossoming even amid space constraints. Dancers have been able to broaden their horizons without ever leaving home.

In short, in a year filled with setbacks, there is still a lot to celebrate. Dance Teacher spoke to four teachers about the virtual victories they've seen thus far and how they hope to keep the momentum going back in the classroom.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Betty Jones in The Moor's Pavane, shot for Dance Magazine's "Dancers You Should Know" series in 1955. Zachary Freyman, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow

An anchor of the Humphrey-Limón legacy for more than 70 years, Betty Jones died at her home in Honolulu on November 17, 2020. She remained active well into her 90s, most recently leading a New York workshop with her husband and partner, Fritz Ludin, in October 2019.

Betty May Jones was born on June 11, 1926 in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and moved with her family to the Albany, New York, area, where she began taking dance classes. Just after she turned 15 in 1941, she began serious ballet study at Jacob's Pillow, which was under the direction of Anton Dolin and Alicia Markova for the season. Over the next three summers as a scholarship student, Jones expanded her range and became an integral part of Jacob's Pillow. Among her duties was working in the kitchen, where her speedy efficiency earned her the nickname of "Lightning."

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.