Teaching Tips
Chisa Hidaka's Applied Anatomy class at Barnard College. Photo by Guy de Lancey, courtesy Barnard

Gail Accardi believes there should be a model skeleton in every dance studio.

"How the body works can be mysterious, especially to beginners," says the New York City–based teacher, who has taught anatomy awareness courses at Peridance Capezio Center and Dance New Amsterdam. "A visual aid can help students understand what the body is actually doing in various dance movements."

But using a skeleton to demonstrate a port de bras or développé is only one way to get students familiar with how their body parts team up to perform choreography. Dance Teacher spoke to three educators about how to foster an understanding of anatomy in dancers of all ages.

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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.

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Higher Ed
John Evans, courtesy Ani Javian

Unlike in the spring, when pandemic shutdowns required college dance faculty to pivot to remote learning with almost no warning, many teachers had time to plan over the summer for how their fall semester might look this year.

A key point in the planning: rethinking grading strategies. As they assess students' performance in movement-based classes, instructors must also account for the challenges of remote and hybrid learning, as well as the ways dancers have been physically and mentally affected by this difficult year.

Dance Teacher spoke to five college educators to learn how they've adapted their rubrics during COVID-19.

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Teaching Tips
Dana Wilson teaching from her studio. Photo courtesy of Wilson

A lot goes into crafting a successful Zoom class. You can't simply download the app and launch into your usual syllabus. Is your teaching space set up properly? Are you wearing an outfit that will pop on-screen? These and other factors can make or break your students' experience.

Commercial performer, choreographer and master teacher Dana Wilson recently produced a video aimed at helping dance teachers effectively use Zoom. Wilson herself was a Zoom early-adopter, using the app for nondance meetings, and was quick to transition to it as an educator, hosting invite-only classes for studios she'd worked with in the past. (Wilson has also been teaching for New York City Dance Alliance's Virtual Dance Experience during the pandemic.) Within weeks of her first Zoom sessions, she says, "I started getting asks from studio owners to teach their teachers." Wilson's 21-minute video is chock-full of words of wisdom for educators making the jump to online training. Here are a few takeaways.


Set Up Smart

Position your camera somewhere that allows for a full-body view as you show combinations. Also, make sure the camera is mounted or placed on a stable surface—something that won't jiggle as you jump around. Connect all of your devices to outlets before class to avoid battery snafus. And don't forget to clean up any household clutter that's in the frame.

Dress for Success

In a Zoom class, your body is only as big as your students' screens. Make the most of your limited pixels by wearing formfitting, solid-color clothing that contrasts with your background and your natural skin tone. "Your outline needs to be visible. It will be doing the primary communication," Wilson explains.

Practice Your Angles

Are you lucky enough to have a mirror in your home dance space? You may want to teach facing it, with the camera behind you. Without a physical mirror, you might prefer to face the camera and mirror your pupils. Zoom also offers a setting where you can flip your video. Try each option to see what feels most natural to you and what gets through to your dancers.

Put Students in the Spotlight

Zoom's "spotlight" feature allows hosts to display a participant's video on everyone else's screens. This is useful when you require a demonstrator—or, Wilson says, when you want to keep dancers on their toes. "When I spotlight a student, all they can see is themselves," she says. "This means they can't rely on their neighboring squares for cues. This is a great test and great training for real-world dance."

Nail Your Audio

"Audio is the most challenging Zoom issue for me," Wilson says. "I test audio every time I teach, and I always get feedback that guides me to make tiny changes." While she does offer a list of preferred audio equipment in her video, she also has general advice. For instance, keep your microphone and speaker volume set at 90 percent and use Zoom's "share computer audio" feature rather than playing music through an external device.

Find a New Language

Establish clear gestures so students (whose devices should be on mute) can communicate with you. For example, a thumbs-up to the camera can mean they have the combo, while arms crossed in an X can mean they don't. Specific questions can be typed into Zoom's chat box, or you can have students wave a hand and unmute when called upon. Check in frequently, both out loud and by peeking at the grid to see if anyone is trying to get your attention.

Wilson's video has many more tips, and she's happy to consult with teachers who have follow-up questions. "I love sharing information!" she says. It's not just about getting through the current crisis. "I absolutely see this type of technology sticking around (but not replacing in-person events) post-COVID," Wilson says. "If dance is a universal language, Zoom is a universal ballroom."

Trending
Photo by Sarah Ash, courtesy of Larkin Dance

Ask Michele Larkin-Wagner and Molly Larkin-Symanietz what sets them and Maplewood, Minnesota–based Larkin Dance Studio apart, and they immediately give the credit to their mom. Shirley Larkin founded the school in 1950 and continued to oversee the growing business until she passed away in 2011. "She put Minnesota on the map for dance training and made other local studios step up to the plate to become as strong as we are," Michele says. "A lot of people's lives are better because of Shirley Larkin."

For Michele and Molly, following in their mom's footsteps was a no-brainer. "I knew I was going to be a choreographer and take over the studio," Michele says. To Molly, seven years Michele's junior and the baby out of six siblings, the studio was always a second home. The two sisters trained across genres but had distinct specialties: Michele found her niche in jazz, musical theater and lyrical, while Molly excelled in tap. In the summers, they'd travel for workshops in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles. While Michele was in class with jazz legends like Gus Giordano, JoJo Smith, Luigi and Frank Hatchett, Molly was taking tap classes with the likes of Brenda Bufalino and Phil Black.

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Technique
Photo by Kyle Froman

To a certain subset of the New York City dance community, Gail Accardi is known as the Body Whisperer. For her part, Accardi calls her work "creative physical problem solving." Whether she's leading her Anatomy Awareness class for dancers, substitute-teaching Simonson Technique, or working with a private client one-on-one, Accardi has a clear vision: "I want people to gain insight into and learn to celebrate their individual structures," she says. "When I was young, a teacher referred to my weak arches as a horrible defect! I never want a student to experience that. When it comes to anatomical variations, this is who you are, so let's figure out how to work with it."

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Trending
"The Vaganova style is so pure and logical. It's designed to show your deficiencies, not to disguise them. You're forced to be honest with yourself," says Ellison. Photos by Jim Lafferty

Edward Ellison shapes his students like clay. If a leg needs more turnout, he rotates it and drops the hip into place. If a torso is off-kilter, he pokes and lifts until everything's aligned. During combinations, he watches with intense focus, and when someone pulls off a difficult step or sequence, he radiates pride. His dedication to both his pupils and the Vaganova technique he teaches is evident in his every word and gesture.

Ellison has long been known as a master teacher, but since he launched his own school in 2005, his reputation for excellence has only grown. Ellison Ballet is small by design—during the year, there are usually between 30 and 40 students, while the summer intensives draw 175 to 200—but the school's output rivals that of larger, more famous academies. Ellison only accepts the best of the best, dancers who show potential that he's confident he can shape into something spectacular. That attitude pays dividends; his students dominate at major ballet competitions, and his graduates perform with top-tier companies around the world.

"We expect a lot from our students," Ellison says. "I believe they can achieve something extraordinary, but to achieve the extraordinary takes extraordinary work. How much you want that end result will show in what you do every day." Given his complete commitment to his students, he could just as easily be speaking about himself.

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Trending
Mastering a fish lift, with Nicholas Mishoe and ADA students Connor Medrow and Renee Shubov. Photo by Sori Gottdenker, courtesy of ADA

What makes someone ready to leave a successful performance career to buy a dance school? For Nicholas and Shayne Mishoe, that turning point came while Nicholas was touring in the Netherlands with the Dutch National Ballet. "Dancing late into the night on a hard stage, getting on a bus and driving a couple hours and doing the whole thing again the next day, for a month—one night, I thought, 'I've had enough of this,'" Nicholas says.

"We train dancers to be accountable for their own dancing," says Shayne Mishoe. Photo by Sori Gottdenker, courtesy of ADA

"The life we were living didn't feel sustainable long-term," adds Shayne, who was performing on a project basis in Amsterdam, while also teaching ballet, Pilates and Gyrotonic. Operating their own school had always been their dream, and after Nicholas' bus tour through Holland, the stars aligned. Shayne knew that the founder of her childhood studio in New Jersey, where her mother has also taught since the early 1990s, had been thinking about selling. She and Nicholas talked it out, made the phone call and set the plan into motion.

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