Hubbard Street's Kevin J. Shannon: What My Teacher Taught Me

Teetering on the edge of total abandon is a scary but often ultimately rewarding place for a dancer to find himself. "My teacher Alphonse Poulin was constantly challenging me beyond what I thought I could do," says Kevin J. Shannon of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. During his training at Juilliard, Shannon was lucky enough to have Poulin as his ballet teacher for all four years. Poulin's colorful personality encouraged his students to explore a comparable openness in their dancing.

"Sometimes Alphonse would come in and say he'd watched these ridiculous videos of dancers doing absolutely crazy things--and then he'd make us do them! It was hysterical. We'd go across the floor doing five pirouettes with a piqué penchée in the middle. I'd take the step as far as I could go, and I just trusted that one day I'd get there. And that's been a mantra for me in my career: I can take a step to its limits and then come back and reevaluate. I can look at the step and say, 'This is where I went; maybe I don't need to go that far.'"

Shannon will perform with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago May 25-26, at New York City's Joyce Theater.

Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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