Selecting a Teacher

This is an article that I adapted from an earlier blog post. It was published in Danzin’ Magazine.

As we approach a new year of dance training, many parents and students in our industry will be looking for new teachers. Similarly, many schools, studios and conservatories will be looking to hire new faculty members. And finding the right teacher can be a very difficult process for both students and studios. It has come to my attention recently,  that many parents, students and studio owners are favoring young teachers who can still dance “full out” over older, perhaps more experienced teachers. Dance can not really be taught by simply “showing”. If showing and demonstrating was the primary necessary skill and talent, then one could simply learn to dance by watching videos of dancers… and we all know that isn’t possible. Many newer and younger teachers (not all) tend to “show”. Clearly they explain while they show but they tend to rely on “this is how you do it” and then demonstrate the step or combination. Of course they will give some “how-to” information and offer some corrections, but in my experience with many newer teachers, they tend to rely on their technical prowess to make their point. I know that I did. Then the years crept on and one day, no matter how hard I worked, no matter how many hours I put into the studio, my body betrayed me.

I believe that dancing is more about “what it feels like” than “what it looks like”. This idea has always informed my teaching, but as my body declined it became more and more apparent that I was going to need to become a more skillful explainer if I was going to have a career. Of course, when teaching beginners, a certain amount of demonstration is helpful; and perhaps even necessary. But one does not need to tendu like Baryshnikov to teach tendu.

I remember the legendary Luigi talking about what he “felt” in class. He continued to demonstrate, as best he could, as his body aged. Clearly in his advanced years he couldn’t dance like he did in his youth. No one can. But he could still, though his teaching, take an absolute beginner and guide a dancer into a career. He explained everything from the point of view of what it felt like to him. He explained these feelings in excruciating detail. He explained what he did and how he did it with brilliant clarity. It was a painstaking, time-consuming process. And it took a student who was very hungry and very patient to “get it”. But once the student “got it” they had a depth of knowledge and understanding of dance that was richer, more profound, more expressive and more interesting than the students of the other methods that I encountered. He so often said to me “I don’t teach chorus dancers, I make stars”. And to a certain degree he did. Every student that passed through his studio was brought up and nurtured, through his technique, to become profoundly unique artist with a solid technique that supported their artistic expression. There certainly are young, fit, still performing dancers who are excellent teachers. But to think that a studio owner or parent would prefer a young teacher, still in “performing shape” to a seasoned and experienced professional simply because they can demonstrate “full-out” is disappointingly short sighted.

Building a dance technique and cultivating an artist is not a quick process. It takes endless hours of maddening repetition under the guidance of a teacher who knows how to impart the information. I implore studio owners and parents to weigh their choices very carefully. Careers can be made by a teacher and careers can be destroyed by a teacher. Do not select a teacher based on what they can show, because these teachers will create dancers who can “do”. Rather, select a teacher based on what they can teach, because these teachers will create dancers who can soar.

Luigi teaching in the studio
Luigi, well past the age of 80, still teaching

Passing On The Work…Just a Thought

What we do as dancers is so very intimate and personal; our bodies are our instruments, our muscles contain our memories and our art is kept in a very deep place…on the inside. This art, this work, these traditions are lovingly and painstakingly passed down, from teacher to student; from generation to generation. My beautiful Joffrey trainees are part of this distinguished chain of teaching that stretches back through the generations. It was thrilling to watch as they brought this ravishing work to life through the brilliant teaching of Stacey Caddell. I am in constant awe of my colleagues and honored to be part of this program where I can bring my link in the chain: from Maestro Cecchetti to Madame Nijinska, to Luigi, to me to my students. Joffrey Ballet Trainees.

On My Mentor’s Birthday…Happy Birthday Luigi!

Today is the birthday of the Legendary Luigi. 31 years ago I walked into Luigi’s Jazz Centre, an adult absolute beginner, and began to study his revolutionary Jazz technique. Starting as an adult, it never occurred to me that dancing would ever be something more than a hobby. About a year later, one day in class, he whispered in my ear “It’s not too late for you”.

That day, that sentence, that whisper in my ear, forever changed my life. My career is now in dance as I endeavor to faithfully pass on the teachings of Luigi to the next generation of dancers. In every class I teach, including the ballet classes, it is Luigi who I bring into the studio with me. I strive every day, just as he did, to painstakingly pass down the teachings of the great teachers of the past: From Cecchetti, to Nijinska, to Luigi, to Me to my students. And I bring his glorious jazz technique to today’s dancers as accurately and faithfully as possible and try every day to fill the work with the joy and the love that he brought to the classroom.

The work that dancers do and the way that we pass it on from generation to generation is so intimate and personal; because we carry these ideas,these teachings inside our bodies. Our bodies are our instruments, our muscles contain our memories and our art is kept in a very deep place…on the “inside”.

So, as my mentor and teacher Luigi always said: “Dance from the Inside” and Never Stop Moving”

 

Our Dreams

This past Friday I was listening to WNYC as I was frantically commuting from one job to another (the life of a free-lance dance instructor in New York). That afternoon there was an interview with a young American writer named Zak Dychtwald. Mr. Dychtwald learned Chinese, moved to China and now writes extensively on the “Restless Generation” of “Young China”. The interviewer asked: “When you are here in the United States, what do you miss the most about China?” The writer’s response: “Talking to my friends about their dreams”. He went on to explain that the youth in China today freely talk about their hopes and dreams while their American counterparts view talking about their dreams as “lame” (his word).

I immediately flashed back to 1966 when I saw my first Nutcracker on a rabbit-eared black and white portable television. I was transfixed and I was hooked…for life. I longed to dance like the fuzzy images on that tiny screen. I knew that I was meant to live a life in dance. But I believed that it would never come to pass. This was not the world in which I lived. I lived in a world where people didn’t dream on a grand scale. I lived in a world of practicality. And I lived in a world where boys most certainly did not dance.

A few years later I discovered The Royal Book of Ballet by Shirley Goulden / illustrated by Maraja on the shelf of my elementary school library. I checked the book out of the library week after week, hiding it from my family for fear of being discovered, pouring over its pages of extravagantly beautiful illustrations behind my bedroom door.

But I never spoke of my dream. I buried that dream as deeply as I could, locking it away for safe keeping it at the very core of my being. And those readers who are familiar with my story, know that I didn’t take my first dance class until I was well into adulthood. And it was the brilliance of Luigi who unlocked that dream and introduced me to a world in which I thought I would never live.

Years later I confronted my mother. I was certain that the world of convention in which I was raised, my preposterously late start in ballet training had all but ruined my life. Her response: “But you never asked for dance classes”. And she was right. And the light was finally turned on.

So from that moment on I spoke of my dreams; I shouted my dreams to anyone who would listen. I was approaching 50 and clearly my performing days were over. But I could teach. I could pass on the knowledge, the training, the passion that was instilled in me by great teachers. And so was born my new career; my new life. I am now poised to take a very big step. I am making some very big changes in my life and taking some very big risks as my dreams for my life in dance get bigger and bigger. And I speak to my students of my dreams for THEM as I help mold the next generation of artists.

Breathing Life Into Dance, One Teacher’s Perspective – A Book Review

In her beautiful book, Breathing Life Into Dance, Robin Conrad Sturm does just that. I have been familiar with Ms. Sturm’s writing for some time now, having read many of her inspirational, charming, thought-provoking and always enlightening blog posts. But those posts could never have prepared me for what lies within the pages of this book. Part autobiography, part teaching manual, part survival guide and part blog, this book touches on every aspect of building a dancer and a life in ballet. Her passion and her love for this art-form, for a life spent studying, exploring and celebrating ballet infuses every page with that life.

This book chronicles every aspect of ballet education: technique, artistry, syllabi, pointe work, adult beginners, choreography, performances and auditioning. She talks about the transition that every dancer must make when a performing career comes to an end. She discusses teaching. She writes about the college decision many dancers face when high school ends. And she graces us with a number of her beautiful articles and musings on ballet and ballet education.

But what sets this book apart from the myriad of teaching manuals and ballet survival guides that I have read is its focus. This book is centered on the love and the joy and the LIFE found in the process of studying ballet. It should be read by every dancer, every teacher, everyone who loves this art form. I smiled from cover to cover.

Breathing Life Into  Dance is published by GraceNotes Press

With Ballet in My Soul: Adventures of a Globetrotting Impresario – A memoir by Eva Maze, Moonstone Press LLC

image

“Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.” – Helen Keller

And with this quote, Eva Maze begins her fascinating memoir- With Ballet in My Soul, Adventures of a Globetrotting Impresario.

There are many, many people who have dreamed of a career and a life on the ballet stage. And that dream becomes a reality for very few. Some choose to leave ballet all together while others choose to channel their passions into one of the non-performing roles in the ballet industry. In the case of Eva Maze, she turned her passion for ballet into a brilliant career as an impresario, forging a path where no woman had previously traveled, presenting the very best of Theater, Music, and of course, Dance to audiences around the world.

Born in Bucharest, Eva Maze dreamed of being a ballerina but had been forbidden to study ballet as a child (she had suffered a devastating illness at age 7 and her parents were terrified of her exerting herself). Her family moved to the U.S. when she was in her teens and she finally began studying ballet at the age of 20. Her husband’s career with Pan Am required that they periodically relocate and this had afforded her the opportunity to live all over the world; the first stop being India. While on a return visit to New York, Ms. Maze met with her old ballet teacher. It was during this visit that her teacher suggested that Ms. Maze organize a tour of India for a small group of ballet dancers. And so was born the fascinating career of Eva Maze.

image

Through her clear, straight forward, un-fussy writing style and pages of gorgeous photos, Ms. Maze chronicles her life’s work and passion for the arts. She spins out the story of how her love for ballet, (and for all art, ranging from the classical to the avant garde) and a meeting with her old ballet teacher lead her unsuspectingly into a career and a life dedicated to bringing all forms of artistic expression to the great stages of the world.

This is an engrossing, whirlwind of a book detailing a whirlwind of a life and career. And in the end, Ms. Maze finally “hangs up her pointe shoes” and begins her retirement in the United States. We feel the poignancy in her knowing that she had lived her life well, bringing the beauty of Art to countless fans around the world, with Ballet in Her Soul.

Secret Dancers

Some time back I was interviewed by Edwin Olvera of Edwin Olvera Creative Services. If you haven’t heard the interview, and if you’re interested, the link is provided at the bottom of this post.

We discussed pretty much my entire career, and when we touched on the subject of teaching open adult beginner classes, Edwin used the term “Secret Dancers” to describe the adult beginner dance student. This term, this idea of a “Secret Dancer” has haunted me since that day, last August, when I first heard him say it.

I was a secret dancer. I grew up in Staten Island, the one part of New York City that leans somewhat conservative. I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s in a family that most definitely did not encourage or support careers in the arts. This was clearly a place and a time where “boys did not dance”. And so I became a secret dancer. There was one picture book in my elementary school library on ballet. I checked this book out of that library as often as I could, I tucked it into my brief case (yes, I carried a brief case in the third grade), I took it home, and safely behind my bedroom door, I copied the poses and positions that I saw within its pages. I watched everything on television about dance and copied what I saw. I asked girls in the neighborhood who took dance classes to teach me what they learned. I participated in school plays and musicals mostly to learn  little bits of choreography. And when I got to high school I met one boy who attended the School of American Ballet. I knew that this was not something that my parents would ever consider. In fact I was afraid to ask for ballet lessons because I didn’t want to actually hear the answer; that would have been too painful. But I would listen to the stories that this boy would tell me about attending classes at SAB, all the time secretly yearning to study seriously, to dance seriously. But that was not my path. That was not the road that my family, my world, laid out at my feet. I was terrified of being labeled “Different” I was terrified of being judged: by my family, by society, by the world. I had to be a Secret Dancer.

My journey into the world of professional dance and then into dance education was certainly unusual. It is all laid out in the interview below and not really the main subject of this post. But I came to realize that the person who was my harshest judge was ME. And so I gathered the STRENGTH and the COURAGE to walk into a professional studio like Luigi’s Jazz Centre at the age of 26. And from that first class I was fearless, and I sacrificed, and I dedicated every fiber of my being to study, to train, to keep my eye on the target. There was no longer any secret. Luigi unlocked my Secret Dancer.

Now as a dance educator, one of my great joys is to teach “Adult” open classes for the Joffrey Ballet School and the Alden Moves Dance Theater. And every once in a while I am thrilled when I meet another Secret Dancer. Some time ago I was required to take a 30 hour course in teaching methods. Most of the teachers taking this class with me were not in the arts. There was an engineer, two gemologists, a jewelry designer, a group of nurses, a film editor, A hairdresser, and two make up artists. During the training, we were required to present a seven minute lesson, in our subject, using the teaching methods that we were learning. So for my presentation I decided to teach a short and simple barre exercise. I asked for one of my classmates to volunteer to be the student. One of the make up artists raised her hand. There was a shelf that was just the right height to serve as a barre. So in the way that I would teach an absolute beginner adult class , I explained the short combination consisting of: 2 tendus from first position en croix, followed by three demi pliés and a releve. It was completely apparent from the moment that this gal placed her hand on that shelf that she had danced before. Although she had not danced for many years it was clear that she had been beautifully trained. I put on the music. I gave a speech about “dancing inside the music” and “finding the power in the simplicity”. She executed the exercise quite beautifully, and then burst into tears. Ballet had been a passion all her life, but for numerous reasons her training stopped in her early teens. That short exercise reminded her of the joy that dancing brought her, a feeling she had forgotten years ago. I turned to the class, poised to say “only someone who has studied and loved ballet would understand what this feels like”. When I looked at this room full of engineers , hairdressers, make up artists, nurses, etc. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. This gal has since contacted me and told me that she has gone back to taking dance classes near her home in eastern Long Island. I had unlocked a Secret Dancer. The power of that moment touched everyone in the room.

If you are a dancer who’s family, who’s world, supports you in your dream, I hope you appreciate how truly fortunate you are. For not everyone is given that opportunity. I know that I was not. But I do know how lucky I am to be having the career I am now having. I look at every opportunity to step into a studio as a precious gift. I have had many opportunities to unlock “Secret Dancers” and every time it happens, the feeling is just as thrilling as the first time.

Jazz Workshop

image

I HAVE A WORKSHOP COMING!

I know it is a bit early to start promoting this…but I’m like a kid with a new toy! I can’t wait to share this with all of you.
I’ve written a lot about Jazz, Jazz training, and how Jazz dance and the training of Jazz dancers have changed over the decades. And as I’ve spent more and more time thinking on this topic I came to a sudden realization:
Why “think”, “talk”, “write” or “explain”, when I can TEACH and SHOW?
So I have put together a Jazz workshop. The Jazz that I grew up on. Jazz in its original form. Jazz dance – as it was created by the great innovators. I want to show the link between Jazz Technique and Jazz Choreography.  I want to bring this work and this way of training to the current generation of dancers.
So I have invited the great teachers of today-teachers who have worked directly with Luigi, Matt Mattox, Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins, to come together for this workshop on January 29, 2017. We will be giving a full day of training: technique and repertory classes, all taught by teachers that worked with the original creators.
So I am inviting you to join us for this unique opportunity. Experience four classes in one day as we explore the great American dance form through the work of Luigi, Mattox, Fosse and Robbins: four of its most important and innovative creators.
In the images below you will find all the information, class descriptions and faculty bio’s.

imageimage