Your spring show is three months away, Regionals are around the corner, and you have dozens of numbers to choreograph. But you're stuck. If this sounds familiar, don't worry—you are not alone. Some of today's most high-profile dancemakers are no strangers to choreographer's block. Next time, try these strategies to get yourself back on track.
This year, take your show under the sea. Preballet students make adorable octopi. Tap students can be clams. Cast older dancers as mermaids in a lyrical number, or choose some jazzy tunes for a group of starfish. You'll find that the ocean is full of fresh ideas.
Set the scene: — Standard under-the-sea fare can include a treasure chest brimming with gold bullion, an anchor, fishnets, starfish, coral and seaweed. Visit local prop and theatrical supply stores for an array of items for rent. Regional and even national companies also may have items available to ship. If you enjoy a sizable budget (and stage), commission a prop shop to create a sunken ship to substitute for a backdrop.
— You can build props yourself with papier-mâché. Enlist the help of your dancers and remind everyone to wear clothes that can get ruined. You’ll need newspaper, warm water, white glue and buckets. Mix one part water with two parts glue. Rip up the paper and saturate the pieces in the mixture. (They may shrink slightly after drying.) If you are making rocks, there will be no need to paint since the color will look like granite from the stage.
— An alternative to papier-mâché is multicolor fabric that drapes well, such as georgette. Lay the fabric over chairs or stools of varying heights along the back of the stage to create an uneven ocean floor and then pin or tape it down. — Prom and party supply stores are untapped resources for stage accessories. According to Scott Snyder, a prom business unit leader at Anderson’s Prom, it is not rare for dance companies or studios to order decorations, such as pink coral kits or sea castles. Many products are designed for prom photography, so they are large enough for stage.
— To add bubbles to your set, for instance, Anderson’s offers assemble-yourself balloon kits. Fill the clear or light blue balloons with helium, tie off and cut small holes through the balloon knots. String three or four balloons together by running a five-foot piece of fishing wire through the holes. Place them upstage or along the sides and anchor.
— Or, for the real deal, invest in a bubble machine, which you can cover with papier-mâché or fabric. Just be careful not to overuse or to place in an area of the stage where students will be dancing, as the floor may become slick. If you’re daring, point it toward the audience.
Tune in: From familiar tunes to grand orchestral pieces, a few hours at your local music store will stir creativity. Here are some suggestions:
— For your ballerinas, check out “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship” from Scheherazade by Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov, “La Mer” by Claude Debussy and “Une Barque sur l’Ocean” by Maurice Ravel.
— Create a comical corps of hungry sharks to the theme from Jaws. The catchy “Under the Sea” tune from Disney’s The Little Mermaid makes a great finale. Other recognizable movie soundtracks include The Abyss, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Finding Nemo.
— “Ghosts of Cape Horn” by Gordon Lightfoot is a folksy throwback for a sailor number.
— “La Mer” by Charles Trenet makes a lovely pas de deux. You can also use the English version, “Beyond the Sea” by Jack Lawrence.
Note: As with any recorded music, be sure you have the appropriate music license to avoid copyright infringement.
Each holiday season, millions of people flock to New York City hoping to catch the Radio City Christmas Spectacular—the show that has been dazzling theatergoers of all ages since 1933. And audiences have been enjoying an increased stage presence by the Rockettes, after director and choreographer Linda Haberman revamped the singing and dancing extravaganza in 2007 for the show’s 75th anniversary. They dance more than ever before, not only in their trademark precision kicklines, but in challenging and visually impressive choreography. Last year, Haberman created an arena production, designed for large-scale venues seating up to 12,000 people, that traveled to 18 cities across North America. The performance was so successful it is now traveling to 36 cities.
Though the arena production is based on the Radio City Music Hall show, the size and scope are much larger, with 22 trucks and nine buses moving the elaborate sets. There are complex special effects, new songs and costumes (including a more lyrical grand finale, “Let Christmas Shine,” with costumes adorned in 3,000 Swarovski crystals), and a giant LED projection screen that journeys through wintry landscapes, Times Square and Santa’s workshop. At one point, snow even falls on patrons, as Santa himself flies over.
Even though Haberman was never a Rockette herself, the School of American Ballet–trained dancer is uniquely qualified to lead the leggy ladies. After finding her calling on the Great White Way as the youngest cast member in Bob Fosse’s Dancin’, she assisted Fosse in Big Deal and began working with the Rockettes in 1990 as then director Scott Salmon’s assistant. By 1993, she was choreographing and directing touring productions of the classic Christmas Spectacular. In the midst of rehearsals, Haberman took a break to chat with DT about the upcoming season.
Dance Teacher: What was your thought process when beginning to adapt the show for arenas?
Linda Haberman: I wanted a fresh approach and vision. I wanted to feature the Rockettes more in terms of big dance numbers that were not just about formation but also about dancing. The arena show is the same show creatively. It’s just staged differently to suit the space.
DT: Was it more challenging than choreographing for a theater setting?
LH: Yes, you have to be much more aware of how things look from the side and from above. I bring movement out into the auditorium more. The choreography faces different directions, so it’s not all straight front.
DT: It’s exciting that in a recession, the arena production is touring to more cities this year. What has made it such a success?
LH: It’s amazing-looking in terms of scale and size and the amount of scenery. You just don’t get a touring show that looks like this. People have never seen anything like it.
DT: You are known to be strict, and when I think about those perfect kicklines I can see why that would come in handy. Would you agree, and is that how you get all 36 Rockettes onstage to dance with such exacting precision?
LH: I say that is fairly accurate! We have eight-hour days in the studio for four weeks. Once we go to the theater, we do 10-hour days. It’s very intense. We work the most minute details that in another setting people might not even notice. We spend hours on the tiniest things. There’s a pride in being a Rockette, and they are very proud of the show and their role in it. So it makes my life easier because they want to be good, and they work so hard.
DT: How do you find inspiration to choreograph a holiday show each year? Do you ever feel burned out?
LH: Oddly enough, I don’t. When you have to stay in the realm of Christmas, it makes your life easier as a creator because you know the confines. Luckily, I love the holidays. The challenge is coming up with things I haven’t done yet.
DT: Did working with Fosse have any impact on your creative development?
LH: Absolutely. He was also very detail-oriented and would spend a lot of time on a finger move or an eye move or a head nod.
DT: Any advice to pass on to fellow teachers and choreographers?
LH: Whatever your ideas are, don’t be afraid. We question ourselves as creative people, but you have to go for it and be willing to make big mistakes. DT
Kristin Lewis is a classically trained ballerina and the former managing editor of Dance Spirit. She is also a regular contributor to Dance Magazine and Pointe.
As a studio owner, you know the importance of maintaining a safe haven for your staff members and students. But with increasing litigiousness and the bevy of injury risks unique to dance, it’s now more important than ever for a quick safety refresher. Here are some expert-recommended ways to protect yourself—and your business.
1 Prevent slips, trips and falls. According to J. Terrence Grisim, president of Safety Management Consultants in Elmhurst, Illinois, one of the biggest issues for any business is what he calls “slips, trips and falls.” Loose threads in carpeting, slippery throw rugs, slick spots, broken tiles and ripples can cause these accidents. Keep all floors throughout your facility in good repair and clean up spills right away. It’s also important to minimize clutter, which presents a fire and tripping hazard. “You can’t have too much storage,” says Sheryl Dowling, owner of The Dance Club in Orem, Utah, whose architect included several spacious closets in the building design. Store costumes, props, sets, supplies and boxes away from hallways and studios. If you don’t have enough space, rent a storage unit.
2 Be mindful of hanging objects and lighting. Grisim cautions against hanging mirrors within view of stairs or steps, as the reflection can be disorienting. Also, when hanging mirrors or framed artwork along walls, be careful that you don’t place them where they can be easily knocked down and shattered. Place lighting fixtures in areas that aren’t well lit, and use window treatments to control natural lighting. Regularly inspect wall-mounted and portable barres, and replace them immediately if they are splintered, rickety or broken.
3 Keep traffic and student wandering under control. Most studios have two types of traffic: pedestrian and automotive. “You can have serious traffic issues with kids entering and exiting the building,” says Dowling. When she moved into her 13,000-square-foot facility last year, she created a pick-up/drop-off zone to keep kids from dodging between cars in the parking lot. It’s also important that no one park in the zone and that students wait for their ride to pull up to the curb before stepping off the sidewalk. In addition to the large front viewing window at her studio, Dowling installed security cameras that feed into the main office to keep a better watch on students as they come and go. And to keep students nearby between classes, she offers comfortable spaces where they can hang out, eat and do homework, including a snack bar (called The Ballet Bar) that sells nutritious food and has an outdoor patio with tables and umbrellas.
4 Provide a sanitary space. This may be common sense, but don’t forget to clean barres, floors and rest rooms daily to minimize the spread of germs. If you have a sanitation or janitorial service, remind staff to wipe down those surfaces and restock soap, toilet paper, toilet seat covers and tissues each day. David Bell, associate dean of The Hartt School in Hartford, Connecticut, which just opened a new 55,000-square-foot performing-arts complex, recommends installing hand sanitizer dispensers in each studio so students can cleanse before, after and sometimes during class.
5 Instill an Emergency Action Plan (EAP). Create and post an EAP that features evacuation procedures, including where to gather in the event of an emergency and how to account for everyone. Call your local fire department for help with forming an EAP, and test your plan once a year. (Depending on your city’s building codes, you may need to install sprinklers like Dowling.) “Have fun with it, too,” says Pamela Ferrante, president of JC Safety & Environmental in Pittsburgh. “Block an exit so teachers have to think about what they would do in that situation.” (Remember there are other reasons to evacuate besides fire, like explosions, gas leaks and natural disasters.)
Also, make sure exit signs are clearly marked and that you have a well-stocked first-aid kit, two fire extinguishers and working fire alarms. And consider certifying staff in CPR and first-aid, says Margaret Tracey, associate director of Boston Ballet School. The American Red Cross will come to your studio to give a class, or you can attend their classes.
6 Consult a safety specialist. A safety specialist will inspect your premises and make recommendations on how to make them more secure. Many insurance companies provide this service for free. If yours does not, inquire with your state’s worker safety department. Some states offer free services, information and advice. If you decide to hire a private consultant, ask a few companies for proposals before committing to anything. “Certified Safety Professional” is a reliable designation for a safety consultant.
7 Educate your students. “The most challenging component of having a safe environment is educating the people who are there,” says Bell. Remind dancers to speak up about slick spots on floors, as well as any potentially dangerous problems they see. Tracey adds, “Teaching discipline in respecting your space is part of the education.” DT
- American Red Cross: www.redcross.org
- American Society of Safety Engineers: www.assedirectory.com/searchconsul.asp
- National Fire Protection Agency: www.nfpa.org
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration: www.osha.gov
Kristin Lewis is a freelance writer in New York City.
Photos by: Robert Benson Photography, courtesy of The Hartt School; courtesy of The Dance Club
Persuading teens to join a dance class is only half the battle for K–12 teachers. Once students are on board, creating a safe environment for them to learn without having to worry about how they look or whether their peers will sneer is the next step.
For Diane Rawlinson, a dance teacher at Wheeling High School in Illinois, the key has been an improvisational practice—or what some might call a philosophy—called InterPlay. InterPlay combines improvisation, speaking, singing and storytelling in a dance environment that’s rooted in affirmation and community building, rather than critique and technical achievement. Dance educators like Rawlinson, one of the first to be certified in the technique, have made it the basis of their teaching. “My kids do InterPlay every semester to learn not only to respect each other, but also to see what everybody brings to the environment,” she says.
InterPlay is an ideal method for teaching teens because of its all-accepting atmosphere. There is no right or wrong in the practice. “People try new things; they’re less reticent,” says Phil Porter, who founded the practice along with Cynthia Winton-Henry in 1989. “Your ability to act is freed up. And just to be able to affirm teens is huge—there are few situations where we can wholeheartedly say ‘yes’ to someone.”
InterPlay exercises are designed to develop students’ ability to observe each other and work together in nonjudgmental ways. In an exercise called “noticing,” for example, each student improvises in the center of a circle for 10 seconds. The other students identify movement they see, without attaching value. This teaches them to watch and describe without critique. Another exercise called “walking, stopping, running” has them pair up to walk, step and run together, in sync, to build kinesthetic awareness. In “matching your partner,” dancers follow their partner using the same energy, not just the same movement. Another exercise called “hand to hand,” which can be an introduction to contact improvisation, has students touch one hand to their partner’s hand and begin with mutual pushing. “This shows that you’re dancing with someone who is strong, who is not a pushover,” explains Winton-Henry. “They’re getting bits of information about what’s permissible.”
Rawlinson remembers a semester when her InterPlay practices were truly tested. She was faced with a class that included five male students, all unique individuals, from different social circles in school. “Within three weeks, they were able to do contact improv together—high school boys from completely different backgrounds in a class of primarily girls. It wasn’t just the five guys being nonjudgmental—it was the entire class being nonjudgmental,” says Rawlinson.
Rawlinson has found InterPlay to be a useful precursor to teaching technique. She now begins each term with InterPlay so that when it’s time to tackle technique, students already feel comfortable. “They’re not worried if they do a leap and it’s not the most graceful thing in the world,” she says. “Because they know no one else is looking at them with judgment.”
Nothing could make InterPlay’s founders happier. “We were interested in broadening our understanding of what it means to move and how people move,” says Porter. He and Winton-Henry were professional dancers in the San Francisco Bay Area when they teamed up to create InterPlay, and today they also direct WING IT!, the InterPlay professional ensemble. “We wanted to focus on improvisation—movement, singing, speaking—all the things the body can do and how movement can affect people and personal development and the power of those forms to create community.”
And the community continues to grow. More and more teachers are attending the InterPlay Leader Training Program, and they leave as InterPlay leaders—essentially certified InterPlay instructors. The program—composed of multiday workshops, regular group meetings with other participants, reading and writing exercises and practice teaching sessions—introduces attendees to the core forms and philosophies of the practice, how to teach it, how to create InterPlay’s welcoming and affirming atmosphere, how to use InterPlay forms in different settings and how to self-evaluate as a teacher. It’s also possible to attend InterPlay classes without enrolling in the training program. Most sessions take place in the San Francisco Bay Area, InterPlay’s home base. But classes are also taught in other states and countries. (Visit www.interplay.org to find out if there are any in your area.)
Porter and Winton-Henry are thrilled that InterPlay is proving useful in so many places around the world, since bringing people together is one of their goals. At Wheeling High School, InterPlay has done more than turn reticent students into open-minded dancers. It’s broken through social barriers. In dance class, Wheeling students are asked to say “thank you” if they accidentally collide, because in InterPlay’s mistake-free ideology students should never apologize for human contact. At Wheeling, that attitude has transcended the walls of the studio, and dance students from different social groups who would never have interacted before now say “hi” to each other and “thank you” if they bump in the hallway. Think what that could mean on a global scale. DT
Kristin Lewis is a writer in New York City.
photo by Brent Rawlinson, courtesy of Diane Rawlinson
“Dance like there’s a hurricane inside your body.” “Walk as if you’re wearing heavy boots.” “Wave your arm like you’re painting a rainbow on the ceiling.” These are examples of imagery, one of a dance teacher’s best tools. Imagery can be used to correct technique, elicit a movement quality and encourage self-expression. It can even help students retain information. But it’s important to note that the images you use and the way you use them should change according to who and what you are teaching. (For example: The rainbow image might work well for a 6-year-old, but how would an adult react to it?) Here are some effective, engaging and developmentally appropriate ways to incorporate imagery into your classes.
Breaking it down
Eric Franklin, a Zurich-based dance educator and author of Dance Imagery for Technique and Performance, organizes imagery into these categories:
Internal versus external
According to Franklin, internal images are inside the body, while external images are outside. “Imagine your hip joint rotating in the socket” and “Imagine your body is full of pillows” are inner images. “Make a circle with your arms like the sun” is external. Franklin has found that inner images generally work better with adults and external images with young dancers.
Metaphorical versus literal
A metaphorical image evokes a picture. If you say, “Extend your fingers to the ceiling,” you are using a literal image. If you say, “Imagine light beams shooting out of your fingers,” you are speaking metaphorically. Franklin says that younger children may struggle with literal images, especially anatomical ones. So, if you want more lift from the sternum, tell young dancers they are wearing a beautiful diamond necklace and ask them how they would hold their chests to show it off. For adults, who may find that kind of language childish, phrases like “lift your heart” might be more appropriate.
Sensory images are auditory (“land as quietly as a cat”), kinesthetic (“feel resistance in your ronde de jambe en l’air, like stirring batter”) and visual (“curve your spine like the letter C”). Franklin believes external sensory images coupled with metaphor tend to work best with children, while internal, literal and kinesthetic images are effective with adults.
Imagery can fall flat when it’s too complicated or nebulous. If you want students to jump with more power, don’t just say, “Imagine you’re a coiled spring.” Dancers need to know how the image will help them improve. “Never present the picture without explaining what it will do for the student,” Franklin advises. “Say, ‘If you want to jump higher, imagine you are a coiled spring before takeoff.’”
Though specificity is usually ideal, there are some occasions when loose concepts work well—in free dance, for instance. Tanya Waits, artistic director of Kansas’ Ballet d’Enfant, which trains children as young as 18 months and up to 8 years old, will sometimes tell her younger students, “Float like a snowflake,” and then let the dancers move about as they choose. “It’s good for inspiring self-expression,” she explains. For improvisation with teens and adults, use more advanced imagery, like, “move as though your body has no bones.”
Make a Connection
You won’t get very far with 6-year-old tappers if you ask them to conjure the sound of a fax machine. On the flip side, you wouldn’t want to ask your 14-year-olds to act like Big Bird. Your language must connect to your students’ existing vocabulary and experiences. Dancers in primary grades will respond to language that relates to the seasons, the weather and foods they like to eat. “If you want to get a bound-flow feeling from younger students, say the whole floor is covered in peanut butter, and they have to get across,” says Diane Jacobowitz, executive and artistic director of DanceWave, a performing arts school in New York City. “They’ll immediately find the resistance that comes with getting your foot stuck.” When working with very small children, introducing a simple prop, such as a rose, can also reinforce the image, says Waits. Struggling students often find that concrete items help them to construct their own pictures in their heads.
Whatever the students’ ages, engaging their imaginations in the learning process reminds them that their bodies are more than machines. “Using imagery helps dancers understand that even in the most specific choreography, there is an element that comes from their own minds,” says Jacobowitz. “It says that who you are is important to what you’re doing.” DT
Kristin Lewis is a writer in NYC.
Interactive Is In
Sometimes it’s useful to let dancers come up with their own images. “Say you’re teaching a plié,” says dance educator and author Eric Franklin. “Ask, ‘How does a plié feel to you? How would you want your plié to be—flowing, free, grounded?’ It’s more direct contact with the student, and you’re talking on their terms.” Student-derived imagery can be useful in teaching choreography, as well. In an activity that Franklin calls “imagery strings,” which he uses with children ages 8 to 12, he asks students to think of metaphors. Then he has them turn those metaphors into movements. Lastly, he asks them to string all the metaphor-movements together to create a short piece.
Eric Franklin: www.franklinmethod.com
Ballet d’Enfant: www.afairytaleballet.com
Dance Imagery for Technique and Performance, by Eric Franklin
Conditioning for Dance, by Eric Franklin
These days, giving students a thorough and balanced dance education often means going beyond your regular curriculum. Since dancers are expected to be versatile, intelligent and savvy, it pays to go that extra mile with special workshops and activities that will enrich them physically, mentally and emotionally. “The reason to have adjunct classes is to create the total dancer,” says Charles Maple, director of the Maple Conservatory of Dance in Irvine, Calfornia, and a former soloist with American Ballet Theatre. “And those who don’t become professional can be successful in other areas of dance.”
Here are some ways you can cultivate dancers who are well-rounded in body, mind and spirit.
#1 Weekly film series
Host a film series at your studio, and screen documentaries and performance videos to boost students’ dance history knowledge. Once in a while, throw in a fun cult hit like The Turning Point. Lucretia Lomax Alvarez, director of The Dance Studio in Austin, Texas, holds movie-night slumber parties. A self-described “avid collector of dance films,” she’s shown everything from documentaries on Jacob’s Pillow to West Side Story. Task dancers with taking turns bringing different snacks or beverages to share with everyone.
#2 Special workshops and guest teachers
A summer intensive program is a great way to expose your students to disciplines you can’t fit into your regular curriculum, such as yoga, Pilates, Gyrokinesis, Irish step, character dance, acting, mime, world dance, audition technique and more. If you don’t have staff instructors qualified to teach these classes, find local experts through your network of parents and colleagues. Or search online for teachers in your area with whom you haven’t yet connected.
Another option is to take a cue from the Maple Conservatory and integrate some enrichment classes into your regular curriculum. Maple offers special classes on Saturday mornings before rehearsal and changes the topic often to give students a wide range of material. You can also invite guest teachers to come in for a chat with your dancers—for example, Maple recently brought in former ABT dancer Cynthia Gregory to give a lecture about her life and career. Alternatively, take students to classes outside your studio. When Edward Villella was teaching at The University of Texas at Austin, Alvarez arranged for some of her advanced students to attend.
#3 Health days
Educate students about the latest dance medicine research. Maple requires students in his professional division to take courses held at the studio in injury prevention and nutrition, and he brings in local health professionals, many of whom he knows from his ABT days, to give the seminars. To find experts in your area, check nearby universities, medical centers and physical therapist offices that specialize in adolescent dance or athletic care.
#4 Trivia game
At the end of the year, test what your students have learned with a “Jeopardy”-style game of trivia. Challenges can include performing a tricky step or piece of choreography, translating a ballet term, recalling a piece of dance history or naming the composer of a famous work. Offer winners prizes such as discounted tuition or a gift certificate to a local dance retail shop.
#5 Company tours and performances
If you live in or near a city with a major dance company, inquire about arranging a tour of the company’s studios or theater. Your students will gain an inside look into the professional dance world by watching company class or rehearsal. They may also be allowed to visit the costume, prop or set rooms, and chat with designers.
Finish the day by attending a performance (be sure to ask about group discounts). Alvarez makes an effort to bring awareness about any local shows to her students and their families. “A lot of times I choose one for the parents and children to see. We’ve seen Broadway shows like Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, and companies like ABT, Philadanco and Pilobolus.”
#6 Book clubs
Take advantage of all of the great nonfiction dance titles available—from biographies and memoirs of famous dancers and choreographers to dance criticism. Encourage students to participate in book clubs and discussion groups. It doesn’t require a lot of work on your part: Appoint one dancer to organize each group and allow the groups to report back to their classes about what they learned. Parents may also wish to participate.
#7 Stretch-and-study parties
Invite students to prepare for SAT tests while they stretch. You can quiz them on vocabulary with call-and-response while directing their stretching exercises. Just make sure they continue to breathe and stretch actively, rather than passively.
#8 Campus visits
Alvarez arranges for college-bound dancers to visit nearby schools like The University of Texas at Austin, Southern Methodist University and one of her alma maters, Texas Christian University. In the past, she’s even organized campus visits in the cities where her dance company is also attending a convention. “I take them to watch class, and sometimes they’re allowed to take class,” says Alvarez. “I arrange with the faculty to give us 10 or 15 minutes so that they can talk about what their jobs are at the university and what they entail.”
#9 Stage makeup seminars
Lori Lahnemann, director of The Philadelphia Dance Academy, held a class on how to apply stage makeup, and it was by far the most popular special class offered in her summer program. Lahnemann hired a dancer’s mom, a makeup artist with experience doing runway shows and theatrical productions, to teach dancers how to apply stage makeup and alter it according to different types of lighting. At the end, students did each other’s makeup and received feedback.
#10 Choreography workshops
Alvarez has enjoyed great success with her Young Choreographers Workshop, in which students spend three months setting works on their fellow dancers that are presented in a spring show. As part of the experience, Alvarez often enlists theater specialists to give lectures or takes the students on field trips.
“They learn firsthand about working with their peers, how to handle the responsibility of being in charge of their rehearsal and using the time wisely and productively,” says Alvarez. “As their coach and mentor, I guide them and make suggestions on how to work more efficiently, how to give staging and layering to their choreography, and how to choose or design costumes to fit their music and choreography.”
#11 Video analysis
Teach students to self-correct and analyze technique by videotaping them. Then sit down together and watch the tape in slow-motion. It’s a strategy Maple often uses for pirouettes.
Here’s how it works: Replay the tape with the student, pausing and rewinding to point out problems with form, and explain how they affect the execution of a particular step. Students eventually should be able to recognize good form without your assistance. You can also use video analysis to tape rehearsals, so dancers can analyze their technique and interpretation of the choreography.
While Lahnemann makes it a point to explain ballet terms during technique classes, she also teaches a terminology class during the summer to build students’ understanding. In the class, Lahnemann, who minored in French, requires dancers to learn word meanings as well as spellings. She concludes with a quiz. “It’s multisensory,” she explains, “writing, doing and saying.”
#13 Mock Company
One of Maple’s most popular activities is a company project that gives dancers firsthand experience with what it takes to run a successful professional group. He divides students into faux companies, empowering each to come up with a name, fundraise, rent rehearsal space, organize rehearsals, cast, choreograph, market and perform. The company with the most money in its account at the end of the project wins. Any money raised is funneled back into the school’s nonprofit preprofessional company, Maple Youth Ballet. DT
Kristin Lewis is a writer in New York City.
With all the buzz surrounding the release of Disney’s High School Musical 3 next month, it’s a great time to create your own high school–themed production.
While copyright laws make it difficult to adapt HSM for a dance recital, you can still capture the spirit of the series—Diana Gebhardt, owner of Step By Step in Millstone Township, New Jersey, did. Her show, titled “Our High School Musical,” had 42 numbers that all related to school and learning. She also put notes in the program to explain how each piece fit the theme. “I love High School Musical, and the kids love it,” says Gebhardt. “I wanted something to draw more people into the studio—the marketing perspective made me choose the theme.” Don’t miss the bus on this one! Read on to get ideas for developing your own school-themed show.
In the Hallways
Song: “School Days” by Chuck Berry
Start the show with a dance that takes place in the hallways. This upbeat tune lends itself to battements, jumps and swing dancing. Choreograph stereotypical high school dynamics into the dance—the star of the football team and cheerleader flirtatiously dancing together, the goth art student pining for the bad-boy loner and the gym teacher urging students to behave decorously. During the chorus have everyone dance in unison, and save the verses for dancers to break off into their own tableaux.
Song: “The Song of the Count” from “Sesame Street”
Dressed as Count Draculas with capes and vampire teeth, have your little ones lie inside cardboard coffins placed upstage. Play up the counting theme by having one dancer pop out of a coffin at a time. Once they’re all out and moving, repeat a movement theme during the chorus—as the song speeds up, challenge dancers to keep up. (Check out “The Song of the Count” on YouTube for a better idea.)
Song: “Romeo and Juliet” by Sergei Prokofiev
Dress a few students as drama geeks in full Elizabethan regalia—jerkins (tight-fitting sleeveless jackets), breeches, tights and caps with feathers for the boys, and Juliet-style dresses for girls. Raise the houselights and set the scene for a mock rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet. Have dancers stroll down the aisles, carrying backpacks and textbooks while chatting (Omigod, I totally failed that chem test!). As they find their way to the stage to casually stretch and warm up, a dancer cast as a teacher wearing a headset and carrying a clipboard walks onstage to announce, “Boys and girls, let’s make Shakespeare proud! Places, everyone!” Dim the houselights and continue with a performance of the Montague ball from Act I of Romeo and Juliet.
Songs: “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles
For physics class, costume your lyrical dancers in bright red or orange costumes to represent the sun or Mars. As the group moves around the stage like planets in orbit (rotating, in elliptical patterns), have two dancers “gravitate” toward one another until they finally collide and partner. Project a solar system gobo onto the backdrop and use red lighting.
Song: “Chemistry” from the musical One Night to Live: Prom Night—The Musical
Genre: musical theater dance
For a number about attraction in chemistry class, outfit dancers in white lab coats and goggles, with props such as Bunsen burners, beakers and test tubes. Project the periodic table onto a scrim, and play up the idea of experiments gone awry with a fog machine and strobe lights. Movements can be small and introverted while the scientists are hard at work, and then large and explosive when something’s gone wrong.Anatomy
Song: “Those Bones”
by The Backyardigans
Genre: creative movement
Outfit your tiniest tots in skeleton costumes for an anatomy-inspired number. Look for a skeleton backdrop or gobo and ask a local high school to lend you life-size skeleton models to decorate the back of the stage. As the dancers demonstrate basic movements like passé, chassé, pas de bourrée and chaînés, they can point to the corresponding bone mentioned in the lyrics.
Song: “Be True to Your School” by The Beach Boys
End the first act with a high-energy lunch dance. See if you can talk a dancer’s dad into donning lipstick and a wig to act as the lunch lady. Dress him in a white shirt and pants, cat-eye glasses and hairnet, and have him hold a giant ladle. Place tables onstage that students can (carefully!) tap on. At the beginning, the lunch lady dishes “slop” onto trays. As the song picks up, she and students dance together. For props, use Velcro to attach milk cartons, apples and other faux food items onto trays. Students should incorporate the chairs as well: Have them sit and kick their legs in sync or toss props back and forth for added visual interest.
Song: “The Buckeye Battlecry” by Ohio State University Marching Band
Genres: jazz, tap
Look for a football game backdrop for a spectacle dance comprising the marching band, baton team and flag or ribbon-waving color guard. Intersperse five cheerleaders executing kicks, side jumps, partnering stunts, flips, aerials and basket tosses—if space permits. Brownie points for enlisting a local marching band to play the song live! Create drama by having the captain of the cheerleading squad secretly pine for a band nerd when her friends aren’t looking.
Song: “Dance at the Gym” from West Side Story
Genre: boys’ jazz
Use a locker-room backdrop for a dance about gym class. Dressed in different-colored jerseys, have two groups battle back and forth over who can do the most push-ups, pirouettes or other technical feats. The star jock’s team should always win. Place an actual locker onstage and have a student dressed as a nerdy math whiz make a cameo: He can pop out, only to be stuffed back in by the boys.
Song medley: “Teach Me Tonight” by Chaka Khan, “School Spirit” by Kanye West, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes from Dirty Dancing
Genres: lyrical, hip hop, jazz
End your show with the quintessential end to a school year: prom! This medley can incorporate as many dancers as possible. Decorate the stage with balloons and set pieces from a prom supply company. Students can even wear their real prom dresses. Dim the lights, project a starry night gobo and cast your faculty as teachers and chaperones. If your advanced dancers have worked on partnering and lifts, incorporate them as much as possible. DT
Kristin Lewis is a writer in New York City.