How I teach contemporary

Wes Veldink draws the shades and switches off the fluorescent lights to create a mood of contemplation during the warm-up of his intermediate/advanced contemporary class at Broadway Dance Center in Manhattan. As the teens and young adults flow through his dance-y version of a yoga sun salutation in the near dark, he encourages them to breathe, to find energy radiating from their tails through their heads and to explore a small spiral of the spine during a deep lunge where the arm traces an arc back, out, up and forward. “Find the corner with energy in your fingers and reach to get over the hump,” says Veldink. As for the spiral, “It’s a small movement, but it is still work.”

Using quirky musicality and shapes that alternately swoop and thrash, Veldink is known for his off-kilter movement quality. It has earned him the devotion of his dancers. But his goal for students goes beyond mastering cool choreography. He wants them to dance with specificity, not to move out of habit. “For a lot of the younger generation, the contemporary style has become a free-for-all,” he says. His minutely detailed directions and attention to the initiation and intention of each movement are designed to shape versatile dancers. Students may come to his class for the cutting-edge combinations, but they return for the precision training.

The lights come on briefly after warm-up, then Veldink switches them off again to create ambience during the center combination. The room regains the feeling of a sacred space. Because he doesn’t count music, he lays out a phrase to the first eight words of the song. The sharp punctuations and quick transitions of Veldink’s vocabulary—set to a melancholic cover of Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love” by Antony and The Johnsons—produce a gritty take on contemporary or lyrical. Veldink’s movement is based in jazz and modern technique. He describes it as a hybrid that “involves human posture and gesture with special attention to musicality and detail.” Indeed, movements of the hands and arms are particular and deliberate.

As soon as he gets the names of the steps out of his mouth, he details, almost reverently, the how and why of each movement. “Instead of throwing the arms out, try to press down on your lats as you stretch your arms up in the air,” he says. He coaches each nanosecond of port de bras to tame overly decorative arms that veer away from authenticity and a gesture’s necessary mechanics. “We are turning very geriatric in the roll back to the floor,” he says with sly, understated humor. “Don’t hold your breath and fight the ground; exhale into it.” As the students struggle to marry the demands of the breath with the lightning speed of the floor work, it is clear that the lessons of his holistic teaching style will continue to resonate beyond this room and this phrase. DT

Candice Thompson danced with the Milwaukee Ballet Company and is a writing fellow at Columbia University.

Wes Veldink grew up in Los Angeles and developed his technique, passion and work ethic under jazz choreographers Jackie Sleight and Cindy Montoya. He also studied butoh, the Japanese theater artform characterized by painted white faces, dark stages and dark subject matter. He was featured as a dancer in the film Newsies (1992) and taught at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles before moving to New York City and starting his own company, The Wes Veldink Movement (2000–2005). His commercial choreography credits run the gamut from Paula Abdul to Ani DiFranco to Alicia Keys. Recently, he has set work on concert dance companies around the world, from Oslo Dance Ensemble to K-Broadway in Japan, in addition to conceiving, directing and choreographing two dance films. He teaches regularly at Broadway Dance Center.

Jess Hendricks is a choreographer and on faculty at 24 Seven Dance Convention. She was a member of Veldink’s former company for five years.

Photography by Kyle Froman

 

The Conversation
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

James Payne, director of The School of Pennsylvania Ballet, starts class each day by asking students how they feel. "If they're collectively hurting, and I know that the day before they were working hard on something new, I might lessen the intensity of the class," he says. "I won't slow it down, though. Sometimes it's better to move through the aches and get to the other side."

A productive class depends, in part, on how well it is paced. If you move too slow, you risk losing students' interest and creating unwanted heaviness. Move too fast and dancers might not fully benefit from combinations or get sufficiently warm, increasing their risk of injury. But even these guidelines may differ depending on the students' age and level. Good pacing is a delicate balance that can facilitate mental and physical growth, but it requires good planning, close observation and the ability to adapt mid-class.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dance Teacher Web
Courtesy Dance Teacher Web

Dance students aren't the only ones who get to spend their summers learning new skills and refining their dance practice. Studio owners and administrators can also use the summer months to scope out new curriculum ideas, learn the latest business strategies and even earn a certification or two.

At Dance Teacher Web's Conference and Expo, attendees will spend July 29–August 1 in Las Vegas, Nevada learning everything from new teaching methods to studio management software. And as if the dance and business seminars weren't enough, participants can also choose from three certifications to earn during the conference to help expand their expertise, generate new revenue and set their studios apart:

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: Our dancers' parents want to observe class, but students won't focus if I let them in the room. I've tried having them observe the last 10 minutes of class, but even that can be disruptive and bring the dancers' progress to a halt. Do you have any advice on how to handle this?

Keep reading... Show less
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Running your own studio often comes with a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. After all, you're the one who teaches class, creates choreography, collects tuition, plans a recital, calls parents, answers e-mails, orders costumes—plus a host of other tasks, some of which you probably don't even think about. But what if you had someone to help you, someone who could take certain routine or clerical tasks off your hands, freeing you up to focus on what you love?

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy of Roxey Ballet

This weekend, Roxey Ballet presented a sensory-friendly production of Cinderella at the Kendell Main Stage Theater in Ewing, New Jersey, with sound adjustments, a relaxed house environment and volunteers present to assist audience members with special needs. The production came on the heels of three educational residencies held at New Jersey–based elementary schools in honor of Autism Awareness Month in April.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Shared via Dance Teacher Network Facebook

I'm a part of a popular group on Facebook called Dance Teacher Network which consists of dance teachers across the country discussing and sharing information on all things dance. Yesterday morning, I spotted a photo shared in the group of four smiling young boys in a dance studio. And I couldn't help but smile to myself and think, "Wow, I never had that...that's pretty damn amazing."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Marr

When Erica Marr discovered ballroom dancing in her late teens, she instantly fell in love with the Latin beats and strong drum lines that challenged her musicality. After shifting her focus away from contemporary and jazz, she began studying with elite ballroom coaches in New York City and quickly earned a World Championship title in her division.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Thinkstock

Q: I own a studio in a city that has a competitive dance market. I've seen other studios in my community put ads on Instagram and Facebook for open-call auditions in April, long before most studios have finished their competition season and year-end recitals. Is this fair?

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: How can I improve my pointed feet?

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
YouTube

Did you know there is an annual contest in which scientists turn their PhD research into dance? Well there is, and it's even better than you're imagining! I mean, honestly, if our grade-school science teachers had us turn our schoolwork into dances, we may have enjoyed chemistry a bit more 🤣.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox