Dance Thoughts

Monday, May 22, 2006

Death of a Pioneer

By SAMANTHA GROSS, Associated Press Writer Mon May 22, 1:19 AM ET
NEW YORK - Katherine Dunham, a pioneering dancer and choreographer, author and civil rights activist who left Broadway to teach culture in one of America's poorest cities, has died. She was 96.

Dunham died Sunday at the Manhattan assisted living facility where she lived, said Charlotte Ottley, executive liaison for the organization that preserves her artistic estate. The cause of death was not immediately known.
Dunham was perhaps best known for bringing African and Caribbean influences to the European-dominated dance world. In the late 1930s, she established the nation's first self-supporting all-black modern dance group.

"We weren't pushing `Black is Beautiful,' we just showed it," she later wrote.
During her career, Dunham choreographed "Aida" for the
Metropolitan Opera' name=c1> SEARCHNews News Photos Images Web' name=c3> Metropolitan Opera and musicals such as "Cabin in the Sky" for Broadway. She also appeared in several films, including "Stormy Weather" and "Carnival of Rhythm."
Her dance company toured internationally from the 1940s to the '60s, visiting 57 nations on six continents. Her success was won in the face of widespread discrimination, a struggle Dunham championed by refusing to perform at segregated theaters.
For her endeavors, Dunham received 10 honorary doctorates, the Presidential Medal of the Arts, the Albert Schweitzer Prize at the Kennedy Center Honors, and membership in the French Legion of Honor, as well as major honors from Brazil and Haiti.
"She is one of the very small handful of the most important people in the dance world of the 20th century," said Bonnie Brooks, chairman of the dance department at Columbia College in Chicago. "And that's not even mentioning her work in civil rights, anthropological research and for humanity in general."
After 1967, Dunham lived most of each year in predominantly black East St. Louis, Ill., where she struggled to bring the arts to a Mississippi River city of burned-out buildings and high crime.
She set up an eclectic compound of artists from around the globe, including
Harry Belafonte' name=c1> SEARCHNews News Photos Images Web' name=c3> Harry Belafonte. Among the free classes offered were dance, African hair-braiding and woodcarving, conversational Creole, Spanish, French and Swahili and more traditional subjects such as aesthetics and social science.
Dunham also offered martial arts training in hopes of getting young, angry males off the street. Her purpose, she said, was to steer the residents of East St. Louis "into something more constructive than genocide."
Government cuts and a lack of private funding forced her to scale back her programs in the 1980s. Despite a constant battle to pay bills, Dunham continued to operate a children's dance workshop and a museum.
Plagued by arthritis and poverty in the latter part of her life, Dunham made headlines in 1992 when she went on a 47-day hunger strike to protest U.S. policy that repatriated Haitian refugees.
"It's embarrassing to be an American," Dunham said at the time.
Dunham's New York studio attracted illustrious students like Marlon Brando and James Dean who came to learn the "Dunham Technique," which Dunham herself explained as "more than just dance or bodily executions. It is about movement, forms, love, hate, death, life, all human emotions."
In her later years, she depended on grants and the kindness of celebrities, artists and former students to pay for her day-to-day expenses.
Will Smith and Harry Belafonte were among those who helped her catch up on bills, Ottley said.
"She didn't end up on the street though she was one step from it," Ottley said. "She has been on the edge and survived it all with dignity and grace."
Dunham was married to theater designer John Thomas Pratt for 49 years before his death in 1986.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Broadway Dance Center Needs Your Help!

After reading this blog, please link it to your blog or sent it via e-mail to people who may be interested in this topic. Speading the word is the best help I can provide to this cause. Thanks. Here is an article from Backstage and other links.

Dancers Rally for NYC Center
December 01, 2005

Dancers rallied Thursday morning in support of the Broadway Dance Center, which is in the midst of a legal battle to retain its space on West 57th Street in Manhattan.

About 150 people gathered at the facility, said Bruce Cohen, press representative for the center, on Thursday afternoon.

For two decades the center has served the rehearsal, training, and conditioning needs of thousands of dancers, according to Cohen.

"More [than] 40,000 members, including Rockettes and Broadway chorus line dancers, consider the Broadway Dance Center their professional home and the place to stay in shape," said a press release announcing the rally.

The New York Times reported on Nov. 23 that the dance center might lose its home, a victim of Manhattan's "heated real estate market," which "is squeezing arts groups in the city."

The center is involved in a legal battle with its landlord, the Extell Development Company, to keep its space at 221 West 57th St.

Extell purchased the building and an adjacent site in June for a reported $67.5 million, according to the Times story, which added that the Broadway Dance Center's lease expires in 2012. Allison Ellner, chief executive officer and director of the center, told the Times that Extell had offered her $1 million to leave the space but that she had declined and that she had estimated the relocation cost at $3.4 million.

Franklyn Snitow, an attorney for Extell, told the Times that the company was prepared to operate the building "while there are existing valid leases for the premises." He would not comment on negotiations for relocating the dance center, except to say, "We were not willing to accept the dollar figure they presented."

-- Roger Armbrust

Also visit the new BDC Support site:

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Other Blogs and Web Sites

My NYC Dance Auditions Blog:
Diary of a Dance Mom:
My Dance Web Site:
NYC Guide:

Friday, October 21, 2005

Great Article About Teaching Jazz Dance

Jazz Dance: The American Discipline
Jazz as a pop dance style means past contributors are easily forgotten.
By Karyn D. Collins
Issue: August 2000

Thanks to the 1999 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Fosse, most jazz dance students are now familiar with the name Bob Fosse. Fosse was, of course, the choreographer whose singular style became synonymous with the dance musical and yielded shows like Sweet Charity and Damn Yankees, as well as the movie All That Jazz. But how many students know about Jack Cole, the man who inspired Fosse? Would the names Luigi, Matt Mattox, Lynn Simonson or Gus Giordano draw blank stares from the same students now sporting Fosse T-shirts? Do they know who Billy Siegenfeld is? How about Ruth Walton or Phil Black?

“My guess is that most dance students don’t really know who these people are,” says Tom Ralabate, director of the Kiptom Dance Center in suburban Buffalo, NY, and chairman of dance at the University at Buffalo. “They may recognize a name like Giordano but they probably don’t really know what his contributions to the field are.” For the record, Luigi, Mattox, Giordano, Simonson and Siegenfeld have each developed codified jazz techniques that are taught worldwide. Cole is widely considered to be the father of jazz because of his innovative work as a choreographer and teacher. Walton and Black are two of the jazz world’s leading teachers as are Charles Kelley, Marcus Alford and Frank Hatchett.
“Jazz dance changes so quickly and it always reflects what’s going on now,” says Bob Boross, a dance instructor who specializes in the Mattox technique. Boross has also written about jazz dance history and developed a jazz dance website ( “When what might have been important 20 years ago doesn’t fit the mold now, it’s forgotten. Jazz is marketed on what it is today. It’s just like with pop music, if it’s not the new thing, young people aren’t interested. It doesn’t get the attention that the newest thing does.”
The pop element of jazz means that it’s not often considered a serious dance form worthy of the same amount of study as ballet and modern dance. It can be difficult for teachers to find the necessary background information to pass on to their students: Many dance history classes do not include jazz. “With ballet, heaven knows we don’t have to talk about whether students know who some of the important people are. But jazz is still relatively new and it’s just not taken as seriously,” says Joy Johnson, who is director of Johnson’s Dance/Gymnastics Studio in Owensboro, KY, and teaches the Giordano technique.
Studio owners who study and teach jazz history say that for many teachers, the problem isn’t as simple as knowing who the important teachers and choreographers are—the real dilemma is time. “For teachers in a studio setting, giving the history and philosophy of these people is very difficult,” Ralabate says. “Time is very limited. You may only see a group of students once or twice a week for 90 minutes at a time. It’s not like a university setting. There, you may have a history class or the classes may meet several times a week, allowing you to focus on technique and history.”
Johnson suggests many teachers might also be uncomfortable teaching techniques or styles that they may have seen but never really studied. “I studied Giordano technique. I know it inside and out. I trained in it, but I cannot honestly teach a good Luigi class or a Mattox class. I’ve seen them. I know they’re important but I wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to teach them myself,” she explains.
“If you’re a Graham teacher in modern then that’s your world. If you’re a Cecchetti teacher in ballet then that’s your world. But jazz is different,” says Ralabate. “It’s almost impossible to just do one technique and not reflect the other techniques and styles. Jazz is so encompassing. I think if you call yourself a jazz teacher, you have to not only keep up with what’s new but also with what’s come before.”
Here are some tips on how to incorporate lessons about jazz legends into a regular studio class:
1) Connect the movements you teach in class to jazz history: “If I’m doing a swing number then I tell my students about George Snowden, who developed the movement called the ‘Shorty George,’” Ralabate says. “Hook them in with the movement. Once they’re into the movement you can say, ‘This is where this all came from.’ For younger students just mentioning the name may be enough. The more advanced they get, the more information you can include.”
2) Bring in master teachers to show combinations or styles you’re not familiar with. “We may do eight weeks of a semi-Luigi or other master’s technique and then go back to the Giordano technique. Or I may pick one class during the week and make it a different technique,” says Johnson. “I’ve had someone who has done the Fosse style come in and teach a combination. I’ve done the same thing to give my students a taste of hip hop.” Johnson also takes her students to the annual Jazz Dance World Congress (, established by Giordano, where they are able to take classes by jazz masters as well as see some of the top jazz companies from around the world (see Dance Wire, page 16).
Learn more from these books:Jazz Dance Today by Larraine Person Kriegel and Kim Chandler-Vaccaro Jump Into Jazz by Minda Goodman Kraines and Esther KanJazz Dance by Marshall and Jean StearnsLuigi’s Jazz Warm Up: And Introduction to Jazz Style & Technique by LuigiJazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance by Marshall Winslow StearnsFrank Hatchett’s Jazz Dance by Frank Hatchett, Nancy Myers Gitlin
3) Use visuals—posters and videos of jazz companies and famous routines—around your studio to teach history. “Have that VCR playing in the waiting room all the time, showing routines from movies and shows,” suggests Boross. “Take a routine from one of those videos and try to do part of it, just for class. You can do the audition from A Chorus Line or Fosse’s Steam Heat. When you’re teaching or showing these routines, you can talk a little about the contributions that Michael Bennett or Bob Fosse made to jazz.”
4) Periodically, host special events at your studio to encourage student interest in jazz history. “Make a party on a Saturday afternoon where instead of the kids leaving, you order in some pizza and have them stay to watch some videos,” Boross says. “Organize a trip for students at your studio to see a show.”

See a timeline at:

Great Ballet styles article taken from - by illuvia with help from wikipedia

Balanchine method (American ballet):

Balanchine style, named after the legendary choreographer George Balanchine, is a technique of dancing characterized by more open and emphasized lines, speedy allegros, and very little plie. In Balanchine Technique, the preparation for en-dehors pirouettes is a 4th position with a straightened back leg (the leg that becomes the working leg).


Bournonville School(Danish Ballet):

The Bournonville School is a very distinctive style of ballet, most associated with the Royal Danish Ballet and its leader for many years, August Bournonville.
The technique features very basic use of arms, usually keeping them in preparatoire position. Perpetual use of simple diagonal epaulements. Vocabulary for men is essentially varied forms of beats. Pirouettes are taken with a low developpe into seconde, then from seconde, for outside turns, and with a low developpe into 4th for inside turns. Enormous use of fifth position bras en bas (preparatory position) for beginning and ending movements. Has many recognizable poses such as pointe derriere one arm in 5th, the other a la taille (at the waist), with a touch of epaulement. Famous dancers from this school include Erik Bruhn, and most notably nowadays, Johan Kobborg.


Royal Academy of Dance (English Ballet):
The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) was established in 1920 by a group of professional dance artists brought together by Philip Richardson, editor of the Dancing Times and including:
Adeline Genée - Denmark
Tamara Karsavina - Russia
Lucia Cormani - Italy
Edouard Espinosa - France
Phyllis Bedells - England
Representing the principal dance training methods of the time the group formed the Association of Teachers of Operatic Dancing in Great Britain. Over the next fifteen years the Association grew in size and influence and which lead to the granting of a royal charter. At the last Privy Council Meeting of King George V in 1936 the Association became the Royal Academy of Dancing.
In 1997 The Benesh Institute, international centre for Benesh Movement Notation, was amalgamated with the Royal Academy of Dancing.
With over 15,500 members in 82 countries the Royal Academy of Dance is one of the largest and most influential dance education and training organisations in the world. Members receive a monthly magazine "Dance Gazette". It is the largest classical ballet examining body in the world. Over 200,000 candidates take RAD examinations each year.
The annual Genée award has been made since 1980, for dancers aged 18 or 19, organised by the R.A.D. It is usually held in London. In 2004 gold medals were awarded to Alexander Jones and Ayako Ono. In addition gold medallists receive 7,500 Euros. Many gold and silver medallists go on to join the Royal Ballet, London.


French School(French Ballet)
The "École Française" (French school of ballet, French style), is characterized by an emphasis on precision, elegance, and sobriety.
The French are known for their complex beats, and their rigorous technical cleanliness, called "placement", which is more important to them than virtuosity.
Mega-star dancer & choreographer Rudolf Nureyev choreographed re-worked versions of the great academic classic ballets (such as "La Bayadère", "Swan Lake", "Romeo & Juliet", "Raymonda", "Cinderella", "Sleeping Beauty", & directed Paris Opera ballet. His artistic direction was extremely strong, and he formed and named a whole generation of young principals ("Étoiles"), called the Nureyev Babies. (Manuel Legris, Laurent Hilaire, Kader Belarbi, Isabelle Guerin, Elisabeth Maurin, amongst others). Since that time the French school has turned into the Nureyev school, with his very idiosyncratic style, based on all the steps that Nureyev himself excelled at. Great speed and quantity of steps, necessitating the music to be played slower are characteristic of this style. This influence lasts from the 1980's to the 2000's, when it is just starting to wane, as the Nureyev Babies retire.


Cecchetti method(Italian Ballet)
The Cecchetti method of ballet instruction was created by Enrico Cecchetti (1850-1928). The method traditionally has eight grades.
Grades one through four were added after Cecchetti died. Grades five through eight correspond to his original levels. Grades one through four are commonly seen in local studios to ready their pupils for the more advanced professional levels. If you pass level five then you are considered a real dancer. There are five different marks for passing a level. From lowest to highest they are: passed, passed plus, passed with commended, passed with highly commended, and passed with honours.
Grade five marks the beginning of the professional levels and is known as elementary level. Grade six is known as intermediate level and grade seven is known as advanced level. A student who has achieved grade seven is qualified to teach the Cecchetti Method. After finishing advanced level students can choose to go on to Diploma A and Diploma B in order to further their learning.


Vaganova method(Russian Ballet)
The Vaganova method is a method of teaching classical ballet that was founded by Agrippina Vaganova and developed into an exact science by her pedagogical pupil for over 30 years, Vera Kostrovitkaya and countless other teachers in the decades following Vaganova's death in 1951. Therefore, it is really a misnomer to call it that, as she meant for it to be called the teaching of classical dance. It is in the mistranslation of the title of her book, "Basic Principles of Russian Classical Dance" that it is implied that it is her method. She actually titled her book: "The Foundation for Dance." It is combination of the finest of the esthetics and physical results of strength, from French, Danish, and Italian schools, the method has produced many of the world's best dancers and continues to do so today. Vaganova is known for founding the Soviet System of Ballet Education, but her and Kostrovitskaya's teaching method has developed into the applied laws of physics and the core of the teaching does not need to be constantly revised and modified, as other ways of teaching that are not scientific. The method is still used worldwide.
The method demands precision in instruction, including how to teach, when to teach, how much of each exercise to give and for how long and when to change forms. Its results in addition to sound technique are a strong lower back, plasticity of the arms and the exact amount of strength, flexibility and endurance in the muscle needed to execute one of the most difficult movements known to ballet - that of the classical pas de deux. Although it is widely in use, being the most common ballet teaching method in Russia and parts of Europe, and the most popular also in the North America and other parts in the world, in today's world, few really understand fully the material. Only a few people outside of Russian Ballet Schools understand how to teach classical ballet (people don't teach the method, they teach classical ballet).


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

News Article: Remember the Joffrey? At 50, It Fits Nicely Into the Chicago Spin

Published: October 19, 2005
New York Times

"What have you seen lately that's interesting?" Robert Joffrey would often ask, eyes twinkling as he leaned forward to listen. That all-consuming but always unaffected interest in dance found its perfect reflection in the ballet troupe he founded in New York City in 1956 with Gerald Arpino, who now directs it.


Joffrey died in 1988 but the Joffrey Ballet lived on through crushing financial troubles and bitter takeover attempts by the philanthropist Rebekah Harkness in 1964 and by its own board in 1990. This week the company begins a 50th-anniversary celebration in Chicago, its home since 1995, which continues through early May with programs that hint at the Joffrey's special place in American dance history.

American Ballet Theater was grand classical ballet in the European mode. George Balanchine captured the speed and style of New York City, his adopted home, in choreography for his New York City Ballet. The Joffrey was the most American of the city's three major classical companies in its embrace of pop culture and its youthfulness. And it was also the troupe that drew in new ballet audiences of all ages to see not only rock ballets and Mr. Arpino's fleet-footed, vivid crowd-pleasers but also dances by European choreographers whose work was rarely seen in America, in some cases dances that were considered lost.


At one point the Joffrey repertory included 10 ballets by Sir Frederick Ashton, whose lyrical, moon-dappled "Dream," a one-act version of Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream," will be performed during an opening anniversary program that begins today. It was Joffrey who introduced generations of New York audiences to the largely unknown choreography of Kurt Jooss, starting with his biting antiwar dance "The Green Table," created in 1932.

Joffrey had seen the ballet, which will be performed in a new revival by American Ballet Theater on Friday at City Center, as a child of 11 in Seattle. Even then, he sensed the differences between the ground-hugging, jagged modern-dance qualities and the ballet technique he was learning. "The Green Table," presented by the Joffrey in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam War, was the company's first full staging of a historic ballet. Delectable rarities by August Bournonville, Balanchine and Bronislava Nijinska also swelled a repertory that included choice bits of Americana, like Ruthanna Boris's ebullient "Cakewalk." Most of all, there was Joffrey's fascination with the sumptuous Diaghilev era, which led to historically important revivals of dances by Leonide Massine and Vaslav Nijinsky.

The Joffrey did not go in much for glittering guest stars, though Rudolf Nureyev did perform with the company. It was he who had approached the Joffrey, and his "Homage to Diaghilev" program on Broadway in 1979 saved the company from one of its worst financial declines. The versatile, individualistic young Joffrey dancers, drawn from a company school that has remained in New York City, played an important part in establishing the company as a thoroughly American institution. Not all had pretty faces or handsome bodies. But they could move, had an often ferocious classical technique and tended to pour themselves so eagerly into the dance at hand that the world beyond the theater paled for those two hours.

Joffrey's love for classical ballet was reflected in his "Pas de Déesses," a charming portrait of three famous 19th-century ballerinas that was included on the company's first formal program. But he was ready for wild experimentation when a filmmaker approached him about the collaboration that led to the 1967 "Astarte," a multimedia rock ballet in which a man walked onto the stage from the audience, stripped to his briefs and danced with a chill goddess who emerged from the billowing screen fabric on which huge images of the two were projected. At the end, the man calmly walked out the back of the stage, through the City Center stage door and onto West 56th Street. "Astarte" made the cover of Time magazine.

Excited young audiences packed the uppermost regions of the auditorium, as they did for the candle-bearing dancers of Mr. Arpino's signature 1967 rock ballet, "Trinity," and, six years later, for the onstage graffiti artists and hipsters of "Deuce Coupe," a company landmark, set to songs by the Beach Boys and choreographed by the young Twyla Tharp. Ms. Tharp was not the first modern-dance choreographer to be drawn into the Joffrey's fold. But "Deuce Coupe," which the company will perform in late April in Chicago at the close of its anniversary year, is considered the first piece to fuse ballet and modern dance.

The company's 1995 re-establishment of itself as the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago - now just the Joffrey Ballet again - was a daring if necessary move. The troupe had had great success in touring engagements in Chicago over the years, but the city had the reputation of being tough on its own dance companies. "The company has been reborn here," Hedy Weiss, dance and theater critic of The Chicago Sun-Times, said in a recent telephone conversation.

That may be true, too, of Chicago as a dance town. Longtime resident companies have become more active and sophisticated in recent years. "There are now lots of small dance companies and a lot more marketing for dance," Ms. Weiss said. "I partly attribute that to the Joffrey's presence." The company is now a continual presence in the city with four two-week seasons a year. And it is moving toward establishing itself as the third leg of a classical triumvirate with the Lyric Opera and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

"I think of the Joffrey as being 10 years old, not 50," the former board chairman Pamela B. Strobel said earlier this month in remarks at a pre-anniversary gala. "And I look to parallels of what the Lyric Opera was like at 10: fragile, but with good genes and good custodians. That's where we are with the Joffrey today."

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Competition, Yay or Nay?

It seems that in dance there are two very distinct "camps." That is, those who support dance competition and those who do not.

I am 100% PRO Competition. I grew up as a competitive dancer in a well reputed studio and never once did I dislike a competition experience.

Those who are against competition usually have the following to say: Competition promotes low-self confidence and cattiness among students. Stressing learning routines takes away from time to learn technique.

In my opinion, that is not the case! In fact, I believe that competition promotes confidence. The judges I have had have never been anything but supportive and wonderful, offering up constructive criticism. I usually left competition and felt proud of my performance no matter what my medal standing (and for many years it certainly wasn't Platinum).

Dancers who do not compete miss out on the chance to be on stage frequently. Being on stage is absolutely imperative to being a dancer! Also, they don't get the chance to see what other talent exists within the dance world. Non competitive dancers often times live under a dance rock!

I do admit that I have seen technique suffer in some schools that stress routines during class time. However, many successful competition studios have managed to balance technique and choreography by creating separate technique classes plus required ballet. Also, I believe that students should be able to learn from the routines that they perform. In that case, learning choreography may even help dancers to grow.

Enough about me. What do YOU think?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

"Gotta Dance..."

I'm curious to know how many of you do research on the dance styles that you dance.

I am becoming more involved in theatre dance and musical theatre, so I decided to rent the "That's Entertainment" series for some background information (in addition to watching Broadway Shows).

All I can say is WOW! For those of you who don't know, MGM brought us some of the most critically acclaimed musicals of our time - Singin' In the Rain, An American in Paris, Ziegfield Follies, Brigadoon, Show Boat, On the Town and many more. Their stars included Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Lena Horne, Anne Miller, and Debbie Reynolds.

I'm the first to admit that the technique of many of the dancers in the MGM productions was less than perfect. I'd also agree that the story lines of these musicals were on the predictable side. However, we all know that a dancer with perfect technique is nothing without performance ability. The charisma and personality that the MGM stars gave in their performances was amazing. It's something that can only be understood by watching it. There is a polished and seasoned performance quality that the MGM performers possess. This quality enabled them to mesmerize viewers that had no knowledge of technique.

For dancers who don't have access to amazing professional teachers, research on prior history of a dance style (including but not limited to video and the written word) can be a valuable asset. Learning the choreography from a musical on film can, in and of itself, serve as a class!

So, what are you waiting for? Go Learn!

(I just made a list of MGM musicals in chronological order on my web site, if you're interested:

The Dance Blog!

Welcome to the Dance Thoughts dance blog. Information about various forms of dance will be posted here. It is also a place for dancers to ask questions and get answers! So, ask away!