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How Allison DeBona's Ballet Teacher Responded When She Chose to Quit Ballet

Allison DeBona in Val Caniparoli's "Dances for Lou" with Ballet West Principal Adrian Fry (Photo by Beau Pearson)

Long before Allison DeBona took the stage as a first soloist with Ballet West, she had chosen to give up dancing to have a normal adolescence. In eighth grade she quit ballet and joined her high-school drill team. In spite of this decision, DeBona's teacher, Jean Gedeon of Pittsburgh Youth Ballet, never gave up on her and her future as a classical performer.


"When I quit ballet, Jean called my mom once a week every week for three or four years and said, 'When she wants to come back, I have a place for her because I believe in her.' She had so many students at the time, but she still took the time to care about me as an individual dancer. When I did finally come back, she provided opportunities for me to grow and be challenged. She took the time to help me get things right. I wouldn't be where I am today without her."

DeBona says she uses the skills she gained from her training in her daily work as a dancer and as a teacher. She and her husband and fellow Ballet West dancer Rex Tilton have started a summer intensive, artÉmotion, in which they push dancers to do their best by focussing on small but important details—a practice she attributes to her time with Gedeon.

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Photo by Yvonne M. Portra, courtesy Faulkner

It's a Wednesday in May, and 14 Stanford University advanced modern ­dance students are logged on to Zoom, each practicing a socially distanced duet with an imaginary person. "Think about the quality of their personality and the type of duet you might have," says their instructor Katie Faulkner, "but also their surface area and how you'd relate to them in space." Amid dorm rooms, living rooms, dining rooms and backyards, the dancers make do with cramped quarters and dodge furniture as they twist, curve, stretch and intertwine with their imaginary partners.

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Music
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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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