Summer Study Diaries

St. Louis Tap Festival
Twenty-one-year-old Oklahoma City University Junior Richard Riaz Yoder spent a week tapping his heart out in Missouri.

 

Saturday, July 24
I’m excited about the St. Louis Tap Festival this year because I am so much better than I was last year. I’ve been coming for four years and I use the festival to gauge how much I’ve improved. I also like seeing how the teachers’ styles change. The environment here is great because everyone treats each other like family.

Sunday, July 25
I woke up early today to help set up the floors. At 5:30 am, all of the teachers gathered in the ballroom. I got to talk with Ernest Brown, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Reginald McLaughlin, Brill Barrett, Robert Reed III and his father, Mr. Robert L. Reed, the founder and director of the festival. I was reminded of Dr. Leonard Reed (unrelated) who passed away in 2004. He used to talk to us and show us the way they used to dance “back in the day.”

 

Monday, July 26
Today, my first class was with Avi Miller and Ofer Ben from 9 to 10:15 am. I had taken class from Avi before, so I was used to his style. Brill, who taught from 10:30 to 11:45, is one of my all-time favorite teachers. He makes sure that each person has the step he is teaching by the end of the class.

 

I took Dormeshia’s class from noon to 1:15 pm. Last year, her class was very hard for me and, this year, the first day was almost impossible. At first I thought I had gotten worse, but then I realized she probably just got better. Regardless, her class showed me that I have a lot to learn.

 

Next I had Mr. Reed from 1:30 to 2:45 pm. Since I was familiar with his class from OCU, he asked me to demonstrate. From 3 to 4:15, I took class from Martin “Tre” Dumas III. He showed me a new way of shuffling. I definitely have something to practice during school this year. Rosie Radiator taught from 4:30 to 6:15. She invented a tap technique called Radical Tap. She does a five-count shuffle, which she calls a Supershuffle.

 

Lastly, I had a very difficult class from Jason Samuels-Smith from 6:30 to 7:45 pm. For the warm-up he does a two-minute drill during which you repeat the same step for two minutes straight. He speeds it up and it gets really hard, but by the by the time you finish, you know that step will come more easily for the rest of your life.

Tuesday, July 29

Today was much like Monday in terms of classes. I stayed up late and watched old tap movies with my friends from OCU and with the St. Louis Hoofers.

Wednesday, July 28
The tap jam is today and I am a little scared and nervous. “I am here to learn,” is what I keep telling myself. To my disappointment, I had to sit out part of a class because my feet hurt so much; I hated it. My parents watched me take Jason Samuels-Smith’s class. After class, I asked him what I could do to become better and he said that I should pick a step and stick with it until I can do the step at any speed with ease.

 

At the tap jam, the students went around in a circle taking turns dancing. I was really scared, but I had fun. Afterwards the teachers took turns. All the teachers were so different and stylized. I hope I am as good as them one day.

Thursday, July 29

During my tap classes today, I noticed that I have improved since I got here. I stood in the front of one of the groups in Dormeshia’s class and I did well—until she had us reverse the steps.

 

Jason's class was really hard today, too, but I am picking up more easily.

 

At today’s panel discussion with Melba Huber, they talked about the late Leonard Reed. Afterward, Brownie (Ernest Brown) was outside demonstrating a step from a chair dance. In the dance, you take both feet off the ground and clap your hands under and over your legs. Well, he asked me to show it standing up. I was doing fine until I had to take both feet off the ground at once and I completely fell flat on my face. Everyone laughed. Dr. Jimmy Slyde said, “If you don’t ever fall, then you are not really dancing,” which made me feel a lot better.

Friday, July 30
Today I got to take a class from Dr. Jimmy Slyde. His class is all about building upon the basics and he used older terms I had never heard before. In Reggio and Brownie’s class my friends and I took the steps way over the top. Our teachers loved it and said that’s how it should be done. At the end of class they asked everyone to perform with them in the show on Saturday night.

 

For the showcase, my friend Deanna Wantz and I took a dance that our teacher Mr. Reed made and put it to the Jackson 5’s “Rockin’ Robin.” We are known for doing funny weird tap numbers, and this one was just as crazy and funny; everyone loved it and we were a hit, once again.

 

Pacific Northwest Ballet
Megan Shoare, 17, honed her ballet technique in Seattle, WA.

 

When I was younger, attending Pacific Northwest Ballet’s summer program seemed like an unattainable goal, but I have just finished my fifth summer at the program. I have been dancing since I was very little. I grew up in Connecticut and went to Luis Pabons Dance Arts Center, a studio that didn’t focus on ballet, but taught me principles of dance and performance that I will never forget.

 

I moved to Kansas City when I was 11 and decided that I really wanted to study ballet, so I attended Kansas City Ballet School. The training that I got at KCB helped me catch up to all the other girls who had been studying ballet for years. One of the great things about being in a ballet school that is associated with a professional ballet company is that you get to perform with amazing dancers. When I was 13, I auditioned for PNB’s summer program and was accepted on full scholarship. The PNB auditions usually consist of a regular technique class with about 15 minutes of pointe. When they audition older students, the whole class is on pointe.

 

Summer at PNB
Although the classes are extremely hard, the environment at PNB puts you at ease. You feel challenged to do your best, yet comfortable with the teachers who are all kind and really want their students to do well. The facility is gorgeous, with everything a dancer needs—seven spacious studios, a lounge, a Pilates studio, a library and big changing rooms. The building is located in Seattle Centre, which is a tourist attraction in downtown Seattle.

 

Dorm life is really fun; the boys and younger girls are in Dorm 1, which is a sorority house at the University of Washington. Dorm 2 is where the 20 or so oldest girls live. That dorm is at Seattle Pacific University, which is about a 10-minute bus ride from the studios.

 

When I got to PNB this year I was already placed in the highest level, which they told me in my acceptance letter. This summer was my hardest yet! I have a technique class on pointe everyday followed by pointe or variations. Then I have either adagio (partnering), modern, character, Spanish, jazz, or mat (Pilates/stretch) class. All of the ballet teachers are top of the line, and I have improved every summer significantly. The classes we take other than ballet are great, too, because the teachers help you relate many of the things we learn back to ballet.

 

PNB has a professional division, which is a group of about 30 dancers chosen by the PNB faculty to study at the school full-time. It serves as further preprofessional training, and you may also get the opportunity to perform with the company. PNB chooses people who they believe have potential to be in a professional ballet company. I am very honored to be a part of that program this upcoming year! To be associated with such an amazing company is something I have wanted since I was 13.

 

The Pacific Northwest Ballet summer program has taught me so much, from how to improve my technique to the fact that I should really soak my feet in ice water every night to be able to fit them in pointe shoes the next day.

 

American Dance Festival
Twenty-four-year-old Carlos Armando Cruz Velázquez spent his summer studying modern dance in Durham, NC.

When I was 7 years old, I started taking classes in Mexican folk dance, which I studied until I was 19. I stopped during college because I didn’t think I had what it took to major in dance. Instead, I decided to major in communications, because at the time I was working in TV.

 

One day, when I was looking for the radio laboratory at the University of the Americas, Puebla, in Mexico, I came across a dance studio, watched class for a while and realized that I needed to start dancing again. During my second semester in college I started a minor in dance. I was so enthusiastic that I finished it in just three semesters. After that, I decided to major in both communications and dance, which was the best decision I have ever made.

 

I learned about the American Dance Festival in Durham, NC, while taking a class on modern history of dance, though it didn’t occur to me that I could participate in the festival until Douglas Nielsen, who taught a three-week workshop at the university, encouraged me to apply. I also decided to
apply for a scholarship because that was the only way I could afford to attend, and received one in the archives department.

 

Twenty other dancers were also there on scholarship, and we all started working on the first day. Really important materials are kept in the archives, including the collection of Pearl Primus and recordings of every performance at ADF.

At American Dance festival
All the festival participants had the option to audition for the International Choreographers Commissioning Program and for parts in repertory performances. I wasn’t cast, but I had the opportunity to take additional technique classes on the weekends in order to study different styles of modern dance. I took regular-session classes with David Dorfman, Paul Matteson and Ming-Lung Yang from Taiwan. I decided to study with Yangkeun Kim from Korea, Annemari Autere from France and Vitali Kononov from Russia for my extra classes. The musicians in each class influenced and inspired me greatly.

 

One of the most beautiful moments at the festival for me was meeting Olga Pona, Russian choreographer, because it seemed like she really identified with the students. Additionally, Vitali Kononov and Rosemary Hannon’s contact improvisation class gave us tools to become aware of our bodies, to create honest movement and to explore new choreographic situations.

 

It was great to take master classes with Andrea Olsen, Gus Solomons Jr., John Jasperse, Miguel Gutiérrez, Shen Wei, Ronald K. Brown, Eric Franklin and Martha Myers. It was also interesting to see all the works that were included in the Dance On Camera Festival, which is an event that showcases dance works created specifically for the big screen.

 

The performances at ADF were also memorable and performing in the student concert gave me the opportunity to give back to all the instructors who gave me something. The solo I choreographed for the concert was inspired by improvisation sessions with my girlfriend María José Pérez-Castro. I used all my free time to rehearse. It was a great experience, because all the students who wanted to perform something for the concert were allowed and all the creations were accepted, so it was amazing to see works from other cultures, lifestyles and contexts.

ADF Reflections
The most important aspect of ADF was the opportunity to share my passion with people from other countries who have different experiences with dance. Germany, Russia, China, Guatemala, Colombia, Thailand and Spain, among other nations, were represented. Although language separated us, something really honest connected us. I met so many wonderful people and participated in a part of history.

 

Jazz Dance World Congress 2004
Jessica Cairo, 18, brushed up on her jazz technique in San josé, Costa Rica.

 

This past summer I attended the Jazz Dance World Congress in San José, Costa Rica, hosted by Jazzgoba Dance Studio and Alejandra Gonzalez and facilitated by the Gus Giordano Dance Center. There, I took classes from the most talented, esteemed and prestigious jazz teachers in the world. This was my third year attending JDWC, so I knew what to expect. Plus, I have been taking dance classes at the Giordano Dance Center in Evanston, IL, since I was 12 and recently received a scholarship to continue my studies there.

 

At JDWC
Four days of classes, preceded by the Giordano Workshop taught by Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago company members, have created some incredible memories. I went to the Congress with a few other scholarship students (one of whom is a native of Costa Rica and a former student of Jazzgoba Dance Studio) and my mom, who was the official photographer for the event.

DAY ONE: The conference center was set up to look like a rainforest, complete with trees and parrots. Gus Giordano, 81, welcomed everybody and demonstrated that he can still do his signature shoulder isolation with jazz hands—an image that is closely associated with his name, technique and company.


My first class each morning was with Jon Lehrer (from Chicago), who taught stretching and a warm-up. I’ve taken his class since I was 12, so I got to assist him. After that I took a zumba class with Alberto Arias (Chicago). Zumba is a fast-paced, cardio workout done to Latin music, using cha cha, merengue, salsa, tango and mamba rhythms. Then I took a hip-hop class with Kirby Reed (Chicago). His class focuses on facial expressions, personality and attitude.


Pattie Obey (The Netherlands) taught my final class of the day. She used to dance in GJDC and so her movement is heavily influenced by the Giordano style. We learned a lyrical combination that was filled with character, attitude and subtlety.

 

That night was the opening ceremony and both the U.S. and Costa Rican national anthems were performed. The concert was very diverse and included modern, hip hop, lyrical, musical theater, comedy, Latin, and Japanese acrobatic pieces from companies such as Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, Instincts Live Media Dance Company (Los Angeles), Masashi Action Machine (Japan), Odyssey Dance Theatre (Utah), and soloist Melissa Hough (New York).

DAY TWO:
After Jon Lehrer’s class, I took a class from Gus Giordano himself. Mr. G, as he is affectionately called, is a legend in the jazz dance world, and is often referred to as the godfather of jazz dance. He developed his technique in the 1950s with the notion that a dancer’s center is in his or her pelvis, where all movement should be initiated. Giordano technique also emphasizes correct placement over flashy moves and intense facial expressions. Then I had class with Joe Tremaine (Los Angeles) of Tremaine Dance Conventions. We did across-the-floor combinations and a center combination that was fast, sharp and energetic.

 

My last class of the day was with Randy Duncan (Chicago). He teaches a jazz class with a very strong modern influence and a lot of deep contractions and direction changes.

 

Tonight was the start of the Leo’s Jazz Dance Choreography Competitive Event, in which there was choreography ranging from modern to hip hop to character dancing. Additionally, Jazzgoba Dance Studio performed a piece about the animals of the rainforest, and at the end, hundreds of butterflies were released from the orchestra pit. It was breathtaking.

DAY THREE:
My day started with Jon Lehrer again. Today he said that when you’re running, walking or doing any combination of steps, it’s imperative that you move with full energy and cover as much distance as you can.

 

My next class was with Masashi Mashiro (Japan), the founder of Masashi Action Machine. His class had a lot of percussive, sharp, classic jazz movements. His choreography incorporates punches, cartwheels, high kicks, and karate-inspired movements.

 

The class after that was with Joe Lanteri (New York City), the founder of New York City Dance Alliance. He led a warm-up and then moved into a combination with a lot of pedestrian movements. He told the class that he didn’t care if we got the steps perfect. Instead, he wanted to see our personalities show through our movement.

 

That night was the second performance of the Leo’s Jazz Dance Choreography Competitive Event, which again was an assorted program including African, modern and jazz dance pieces.

DAY FOUR: Jon’s class was once again an adventure. This time he used it as a laboratory for a new piece he’s working on; we were his guinea pigs and got to try out some brand-new choreography. Then I took class from Nan Giordano (Chicago), the artistic director of GJDC. Nan’s choreography, based on the Giordano technique, is very powerful and requires a lot of physical energy and stamina.

 

Next was the Jazz Jamm Fiesta, where each teacher from the Congress teaches for about 15 minutes, for a total of three hours. This year, Gus Giordano arrived in an antique car and all the teachers wore traditional Costa Rican costumes over their dance clothes.

 

Tonight the winners of the Leo’s Jazz Dance Choreography Competitive Event were announced and the gold winner, choreographer Dave Massey, performed his piece alongside all the professional companies.

 

Overall, this was a great learning and cultural experience—studying with so many teachers, getting to demonstrate in classes and seeing professional companies perform. Now I’m enrolled at the University of Arizona and can’t wait to get into the real world.

(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)

Congratulations to Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers on their profile pages, and then vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.

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Isabella Boylston in "The Bright Stream" (Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy American Ballet Theatre)

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