Dance Teachers Trending

What's These Two Tap Teachers' Mission? To Keep the Copasetics Alive

Margaret Morrison, right, and Susan Hebach, left. Photo by Kyle Froman

Margaret Morrison and Susan Hebach understand the value of a good teacher. As longtime faculty members at the American Tap Dance Foundation, they've spent their careers adhering to ATDF's noble mission to give tap a permanent and well-deserved place in concert dance, via education, preservation, new developments and presentation. In 2014, Morrison and Hebach capitalized on their joint (and rare) strength—teaching others how to teach tap—by founding ATDF's Tap Teacher Training Program. It's based on the work of the Copasetics, an ensemble of tap soloists from the mid-20th-century golden age of tap.

Unsurprisingly, their teacher training is intensive. For one week, teachers from all over the world spend all day in New York City at the ATDF studios, learning five classic dances from the Copasetic repertory with an eye to technique, musicality and style, and focusing on specific teaching goals. The week wraps with an informal showing, in which each participant presents the five dances they've learned. DT spoke with Morrison and Hebach about what makes their teacher training unique and how they keep the vibrant history of tap alive in it.


DT: When you say that there's a sense of accountability within your teacher training, what do you mean?

MM: One of the biggest dangers of having a teacher training was: How do you teach a curriculum and make sure the participants have it and won't misteach it? So we have a whole system of distance learning: Each person who comes to study with us is assigned a mentor from our faculty and, once the week is over, turns in assignments through video, so we can give feedback. "This is great, but I noticed you could fix that." It's a supportive mentorship.

DT: How does tap dance history make its way into your teacher training?

MM: I give a short history of tap dance, dating from before it was even called 'tap dance'—from early American dance, a combination of West African dance forms and Irish dance forms here in North America. The participants learn the Copasetic repertory: the Shim Sham, the Coles Stroll, the Copasetic soft shoe, Doin' the New Low Down. When they learn these classic dances, there's information about the background. They can bring that to their students. What people keep reporting back to us is that their students get super-excited when they know they're not just learning an arbitrary dance—it's a dance that's connected to all these other people and has a history.

DT: Why use the Copasetics' canon in your curriculum?

MM: This group of men, the Copasetics—tap dancers and jazz professionals [including original and subsequent members Dizzy Gillespie, James "Buster" Brown and Charles "Honi" Coles, mentor to ATDF co-founder Brenda Bufalino]—formed a social club in 1949 to honor Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who'd just died. When they'd perform, they would each do their own solos and high-level acts, but they'd also slip in historic material.

SH: These works are good foundational dances—I can see the value. They're easily used in presentation and performance, for various levels of students.

MM: The Copasetics understood that you had to educate the audience on the heritage of tap. It's not arbitrary—there's a reason these dances survived. The more we dance them and teach them, the deeper they get.

DT: How do you keep the improvisational spirit of tap alive in a codified teacher-training curriculum?

SH: Our teachers [in this training program] have some classes in improv, and we also give them ideas on teaching improv. Maybe you improvise, but you only use a certain handful of steps; maybe you improvise in certain amounts of time so you learn how to hear musical phrasing. In our youth program at ATDF, even the very youngest classes improvise. The Copasetic dances we teach give us something to deconstruct and pull apart.

DT: What would you say to a studio owner who's struggling to keep an interest in tap afloat at her studio?

SH: Tap dance is a deep art. It's not like ballet—it's for anybody, of any body type, any ethnicity, any height. There's a lot of room for individuality. You feel accomplished in a different way. Students might thrive, if they can't thrive in ballet or contemporary, and that doesn't make it any less important or valid or exciting

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Mitchell Button, courtesy of the artist

Dusty Button prefers music with a range. "There needs to be a beginning, a climax and a strong ending. Like a movie," she says. The award-winning dancer, who joined American Ballet Theatre's second company, ABT II, at 18, has always been drawn to lyric-free tracks filled with dynamic phrasing, rhythms and composition. "Whether it's the violin, piano or cello, instrumental music gives me more inspiration. I want the dancers and the audience to feel something new," she adds.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Courtesy Just for Kix

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

When the news broke that Prince George, currently third in line for the British throne, would be continuing ballet classes as part of his school curriculum this year, we were as excited as anyone. (OK, maybe more excited.)

This was not, it seems, a sentiment shared by "Good Morning America" host Lara Spencer.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo via Claudia Dean World on YouTube

Most parents start off pretty clueless when it comes to doing their dancer's hair. If you don't want your students coming in with elastic-wrapped bird's nests on their heads, you may want to give them some guidance. But who has time to teach each individual parent how to do their child's hair? Not you! So, we have a solution: YouTube hair tutorials.

These three classical hairdo vids are exactly what your dancers need to look fabulous and ready to work every time they step in your studio.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Via @madisongoodman_ on Instagram

Nationals season is behind us, but we just aren't quite over it yet. We've been thinking a lot about the freakishly talented winners of these competitions, and want to know a bit more about the people who got them to where they are. So, we asked three current national title holders to tell us the most powerful piece of advice their dance teacher ever gave them. What they have to say will melt your heart.

Way to go, dance teachers! Your'e doing amazing things for the rising generation!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox