Dancing on a Budget

From her very first time in the studio, Anne Souder dreamed of being a professional dancer. But there was one big obstacle standing in her way: money. “I have five siblings,” says Anne, who’s now a rising senior in NYC’s Ailey/Fordham BFA Program. “Our parents always supported our interests, but finances were tight.”

So Anne took matters into her own hands, approaching Amy Morton Vaughn, director of Van Metre School of Dance in Maryville, TN, about doing work-study to cover the cost of training. From eighth grade through high school, Anne helped out at the studio, doing everything from cleaning to filing to assisting in children’s classes. “I’m so grateful I had work-study opportunities, because I wouldn’t be where I am now without that dance training,” she says.

There are many reasons your family might have trouble affording dance classes. Maybe you also come from a big clan with a tight budget, or your mom just lost her job. Whatever the case, if you’re serious about dance, there are ways to tackle the tuition problem and get the training you need.

Seek financial aid. If your studio has a scholarship program, apply. You don’t always have to be the best dancer in class to receive tuition assistance. “Our financial aid committee tries to be generous,” says Mary Roth, business manager of Delaware Dance Company in Newark, DE. In addition to awarding one merit scholarship, DDC offers need-based financial aid; applicants are asked to submit a financial statement along with a letter explaining why they love dance and what they hope to accomplish at DDC. You can also look outside your studio for financial aid. Harlequin Floors, for example, has a monthly scholarship video contest.

Try work-study. Work-study programs allow you to provide services to your studio—teaching, cleaning, etc.—in exchange for dance classes. Fourteen-year-old Julia Kepple started helping out at her studio, Encore Dance Center in Lancaster, PA, when she was 11. Julia had already received tuition coverage when her parents were both being treated for cancer, and when she was old enough to start work-study, she began assisting in children’s classes. “I love working with little kids, and I love dancing, so it’s great that I can do both at the same time and help pay for my classes,” she says. Julia and the studio’s other assistants also help out with studio cleaning needs.

See if your studio has a work-study program, which will allow you to provide services—like cleaning—in exchange for classes.

When applying for work-study, be realistic about your skill set. “I’m a stickler for quality when choosing assistant teachers,” says Melissa Hoffman, director of Melissa Hoffman Dance Center in Hudson, NH. “However, I might need help sorting costumes, and those hours could also go toward tuition.” Even if your studio doesn’t have a formal work-study program, Anne recommends looking for a need and offering to fill it, whether that means organizing the costume closet, answering the phone or cleaning dressing rooms.

Involve your parents. At DDC, parents are encouraged to volunteer at the studio in exchange for tuition credit. “We have parents at the reception desk, taking payments and filling out forms,” Roth says. If your parents have time and are willing to help, get them involved—and that doesn’t have to mean cleaning or doing office work. Does your mom sew? Maybe she can construct costumes. Does your dad do carpentry? Maybe he can build sets.

Make cutbacks. Unfortunately, studios can’t always meet every financial need brought to them. You might have to cut costs on your end. If you compete, that could mean attending fewer competitions, or doing fewer numbers. At a non-competitive studio, you could cut costs by doing fewer numbers in the recital. Competing or performing less isn’t fun, but it might be the way to keep your training on track.

Look elsewhere. It’s possible to find free or inexpensive classes outside of the typical studio setting. For example, you could take hip hop at a local community center or YMCA, instead of paying tuition for a similar class at a dance studio. You could also watch videos online to learn new techniques and stay in shape. Just remember that recreational classes will only take you so far, and videos can’t improve your placement or musicality, so these options should only act as supplements to your more intensive training.

Chances are, your studio doesn’t want you to leave because of money issues. “We want to keep our students, and we want them to improve, so we do everything we can to help if classes are outside a family’s budget,” Roth says. Hoffman agrees. “When a kid’s family is going through a rough time, such as a job loss or a sick loved one, I say, ‘This is your family, too. You need to be here.’ ”

Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Anne says: “Asking for assistance when you really need it shows your teacher or studio owner that you’re willing to work hard for something you love.”

Illustrations by Lealand Eve

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Photo by Matthew Murphy, courtesy Cory Lingner

How Broadway Dancer Cory Lingner Perfected the TikTok Duet

With #SocialDisDancing still very much in place, it's a challenge for dance partners to perform safely, and even harder to perform safely together.

But Broadway's Cory Lingner may have found the solution—on TikTok. He's using the app to tap alongside some of the most iconic movie stars, including Gene Kelly, Gregory Hines, Ann Miller and Shirley Temple. And, no, he doesn't have a time-traveling device.

Lingner has perfected the use of the app's duet feature. On one side of the video is a clip of the tap-dancing icon and on the other is Lingner, dancing in unison. And as a bonus, Lingner's also giving viewers facts about the stars and the performances as they watch.

Lingner's danced in everything from On the Town to An American in Paris, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Carousel. But still, his tapping TikToks may be one of his favorite challenges yet. "I've gotten very lucky to do shows on Broadway," Lingner says, "But I haven't actually gotten to do as much tapping as I'm doing in these videos."

When Broadway shut down last March due to the pandemic, Lingner was in rehearsals for Love Life with New York City Center's Encores! series. Without a stage and a live audience, he's getting his fill of performing from his social media duet series. And it's so popular on TikTok, he's gained more than 8 thousand followers in a mere month.


@corylingner

##duet with @tcm & Gene Kelly!! Couldn’t think of a better way to make my TikTok debut! ##genekelly tapdancechallenge ##tap ##tapdance ##dancechallenge

♬ original sound - Turner Classic Movies

Dance Spirit: How did your "Cory's Duet Series" on TikTok get started?

Cory Lingner: It was kind of just a spur-of-the-moment thing. The very first spark of inspiration was another fellow tapper, Nicole Billow. She actually did the first side-by-side with Gene Kelly from An American in Paris. I watched it and I was like, "This looks really fun." I went ahead and made a TikTok account and made my first duet. I posted that thing with zero followers and by the end of the night, there were 500 followers and it was blowing up with views.

DS: How do you pick which numbers you're going to do?

CL: Well, part of it is going down the YouTube rabbit hole looking up performers that I'm familiar with. The majority of what I've tried to focus on is introducing new performers so I don't repeat dancers too much. The last time that I repeated was with Vera Allen in White Christmas, since it was the holiday.

I also try to find sections where not only I can do the choreography in my limited space, with my little piece of plywood, but also if they're able to stay on a single camera shot for long enough for the 20 to 30 seconds.

DS: How long does it take you to learn the dances?

CL: It depends. If I'm a bit more familiar with it, I can probably pick it up quicker. Sometimes it takes 15 to 30 minutes. One that I worked on that I'm going to share is with Ginger Rogers. That took about an hour and a half. Luckily, I've always been a visual learner.

DS: What do you think about the skill level of some of Shirley Temple's tap steps?

CL: It's remarkable the fact that she did that many films and had that kind of tap dance skill set at such a young age. It is so impressive to me. People were commenting on that video too, writing, "Oh my gosh, I didn't even realize what she can do. That's very impressive."

DS: It seems like we don't see this style of dance anymore, since the Golden Age of the Hollywood movie musical. How do you feel film choreography has changed since then?

CL: This style of dance definitely does feel different. I've always admired it and gravitated towards it. It's fascinating to picture how these choreographers even conceptualized sequences where the stars are dancing all across these sets and sound stages.

I find myself wondering, "Did they have the set to begin with and then worked on it, or did they come up with ideas and then that gave set designers ideas to build?" The rhythms and the tap melodies are pretty bright, and that makes it really fun for me and exciting for anyone watching.

DS: What is some of the feedback you've been getting?

CL: Oh, my goodness. It's so lovely, all the comments and messages. There was a grandmother that said, "I think you just inspired my 3-year-old grandson to start taking dance." It warms my heart. From what I'm reading and seeing, it still resonates with so many people.

DS: What are some dream duets that you need to do?

CL: I've gotten a lot of people up requesting the Nicholas Brothers. They're the best. I'm going to try to see if I can find something to do them justice and try to keep up with them. But with my little piece of plywood, there's no way I can do their iconic jump into the splits because I'd get splinters.

There were other duets people were recommending, like James Cagney. So I'm trying to find a moment when he stays still. I learned "Moses Supposes" from Singin' in the Rain many years ago, which would be really fun to tackle again. Maybe I'd do that one in two separate sections, so I can do one with Gene Kelly and one with Donald O'Connor.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer and choreographer Hope Boykin (center) after teaching a master class at the Center for Civil and Human Rights (Emily Hawkins, courtesy Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater)

4 Dance Works Honoring the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Social justice has a been a prominent theme in many Black American dancemakers' repertoires. Today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day­—and in the midst of ongoing social and political turmoil in America—this theme carries new resonance.

Dr. King's legacy has spurred the creation of many dance works, with many creators using his words to respond to the social issues of the moment. So, today, in celebration of MLK, Jr. Day, here are four of those dances which honor the legacy of the late civil rights leader.


"r-Evolution, Dream." by Hope Boykin

Set to a soundscape that includes music by jazz musician Ali Jackson, narration by Tony Award-winner Leslie Odom, Jr., "r-Evolution, Dream.," performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, debuted in 2017. Choreographer—and Ailey vet—Hope Boykin was inspired to create the piece on a visit to the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. "I got a chance to listen to Dr. King's voice and watch the footage of his funeral with the casket running through the city," Boykin said in an interview with the L.A. Times. Boykin says she was especially stirred by the cadence and sound of his voice.

Moved by the timeliness of Dr. King's teachings (over a half century after he first orated them), Boykin set out to create a ballet that, in effect, translated some of his most famous sermons and teachings into movement. The ensemble piece, which also features solos and sets of pas de deuxs, is a powerful reminder of the long fight ahead for racial equality in America.

"Bodies as a Site of Faith and Protest" by Tommie-Waheed Evans

First performed by Dallas Black Dance Theatre in 2018, "Bodies as Site of Faith and Protest" also transcribes Dr. King's words into dance—only this work zeroes in one particular speech: Dr. King's "We Shall Overcome."

The most resounding imagery in choreographer Tommie-Waheed Evans's work is the clump of dancers at center-center, who march and march with searing purpose oozing from their eyes—yet seem to arrive nowhere. It's as if Evans puts on display the historical, present, and future conditions of the Black American: That the battle for equal protection under the law will be ongoing.

"Dougla" by Geoffrey Holder

In response to the assassination of Dr. King on April 4, 1968, Arthur Mitchell, then a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, felt compelled to take action. His efforts would culminate in the formation of Dance Theatre of Harlem.

The ballet troupe performs everything from classical rep to new works—one of the most iconic is Geoffrey Holder's "Dougla," with movement that depicts the wedding of a Dougla couple, in which one partner is of African descent and the other of Indian descent. The ballet features a spectacle of costume, with a thumping, grounding pulsation of drums beneath movement that, in of itself, is bold and unafraid of making a statement.

Perhaps most memorable about this piece are the moments done in unison, when everything is "working together at once," as Carmen de Lavallade, who helped restage the piece for DTH in 2018, said to theNew York Times. The power in these moments of togetherness conjures scenes of Americans marching in unity for social justice, echoing the very reasons Dr. King worked to lead change before his death.

"Deep Blue Sea" by Bill T. Jones

In an interview with our sister publication Dance Magazine, Jones says the work deals with one overarching question in particular: "Are we really still this beacon, this light on a hill, this conglomerate of disparate groups and stakeholders that we call American democracy?" As a young child, he believed that the Black community could overcome the effects of systematic racism, said Jones to DM. Now, he has less faith—and "Deep Blue Sea" dives into the reasons why.

Intended to be performed at the Park Avenue Armory, the cast included not only the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, but also nearly 100 members of the New York City community.

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