Liz Imperio teaching at Hollywood Vibe, Courtesy of Hollywood Vibe

The Case For Staying with Studio Training

It's an increasingly common scenario: A talented dancer wins big at a competition, is offered an assistantship with a famous faculty member, and ends up leaving her hometown studio to travel with a convention. Convention-hopping has obvious benefits. Every event generates new content for dancers to post on social media, gives them a better shot at ending up on their favorite choreographers' accounts, lets them learn from the best of the best, and helps them make valuable connections. "Traveling is a great way for dancers to gain admirers around the country," says Jen Jarnot, owner of Artistic Fusion Dance Academy in Thornton, CO. "That's something every dancer craves." So it's no surprise that weekend FOMO has been blazing through studios like wildfire.

But is this jet-setter lifestyle really the most effective road to take? Can weekends of dancing with top talent truly replace the bread and butter of daily work at your home studio? The answer, according to most industry experts, is no. We asked five pros to explain why.


Technique

Your studio is the incubator in which you establish, polish, and sustain your technique. "The teacher-student exchange in a Monday-through-Friday scenario is different than what happens in 45-minute classes with 80 other students," says Hollywood Vibe artistic director and choreographer Liz Imperio. "Come Monday, you need a space to flush out everything you've learned at convention over the weekend. What's that experience worth if you don't apply it and practice it later?"

Studios not only give dancers consistent classes with fewer students, but they also provide a team of people monitoring your technical growth. "Our instructors have lesson plans," says Jarnot. "They know how the progression of classes should go from month to month. Your convention teachers give you cutting-edge movement and connect you to the larger dance community, but they don't have the time to work on your turnout for a year straight."

After traveling the country as The Dance Awards' 2017 Mini Female Best Dancer, and gaining celebrity status through her time as a pro on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars: Juniors," Brightyn Brems seems like an ideal candidate for the full-time assistant life. But Brems "never even considered it," she says. "I've always felt that studios are the best way to keep up your skills. I know dancers who have left to branch out on their own, and their training has gone downhill because they aren't getting enough classes."

Liz Imperio teaching at Hollywood Vibe, Courtesy of Hollywood Vibe

Physical Safety

According to Hollywood Vibe founder and national director Christopher Smith, one of the most important benefits of studio training is physical safety. "Having studio mentors is important for your health," he says. "Kids will try something they saw at competition without a teacher's support, and it's to the detriment of their bodies. If you aren't in regular classes, building strength and learning how to do things correctly, you're putting yourself at risk."

For Michele Larkin-Wagner, owner of Larkin Dance Studio in Maplewood, MN, less-than-ideal convention venue conditions are also a concern. "My kids do about three regional conventions per year, and I can tell you that when they get home from three days of dancing on cement, they are pretty sore," she says. "For dancers to be doing that week in and week out—it's just not healthy for their bodies."

Support System

Being a part of a team or company teaches you to have respect for other people, and helps you build relationships with those you might not have connected to otherwise. "At your studio, you can make some of your best friends, and learn how to work with different types of people," says Brems. "You're not just a soloist in this industry," Smith says. "Even the best dancers are generally going to be a part of an ensemble. Studio training prepares you for that."

That camaraderie is built through day-to-day work that will benefit you for the rest of your career. "When you leave your studio, you are missing the power of a team," says Jarnot. "You can go so much farther when you have a group of people behind you. If you tell them what your dreams are, they can help you make them happen."

Artistic Fusion students at 24Seven, Courtesy of Jen Jarnot

Staying Power

While conventions do provide more opportunities for fame than studio training does, Imperio says a big following doesn't always lead to success. "You can book a job from social media, but if you don't have the work ethic, consistency, stamina, and communication skills derived from daily studio training, you won't keep it," she says. "People love to feel like they're on top of the world, but to get there, you have to build your mountain. You can't jump right to the top."

Liz Imperio teaching at Hollywood Vibe, Courtesy of Hollywood Vibe

Alternative Options

All that said, conventions are still an important aspect of training. "Going to convention opens doors, and gives dancers a new perspective," says Jarnot. If your studio doesn't prioritize conventions, consider speaking with your teachers about the potential of adding a few more to your schedule. If that's not an option, request bringing in more outside choreographers for master classes.

If you want more material for your social feeds, like the weekly videos posted by dancers who travel with conventions, ask your teachers to film your classes. "We actually put special lights in a room for filming class combos," Jarnot says. "Our teachers film whenever it's appropriate, and then send the footage out to be posted."

Artistic Fusion students at 24Seven, Courtesy of Jen Jarnot

The Bottom Line

While it's valuable to supplement training with conventions, Nationals, summer intensives, and master classes, you don't need to abandon your studio to reap their benefits. "The best way for a dancer to set themselves up for success is to have a buffet of experiences," says Imperio. To become the best dancer you can be, you need to explore many different sides of the dance training world, rather than sequestering yourself in one small part of it.

If You're Traveling...

Sometimes, traveling with a convention might make sense financially, or you might want a short break from studio life. Here are a few tips for making assistantship/convention life work for you in those situations:

  • FIND STUDIOS in your hometown that allow for drop-in ballet/ technique classes. Prioritize those classes on weekdays.
  • PUT IN THE EXTRA EFFORT to make choreographers and dancers around the country part of your support system. If possible, ask a master teacher to be your mentor.
  • TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY by giving yourself a full warm-up each day. Work with health specialists to discover what you can be doing to combat the physical strain convention classes (and venues) can have on your body.
A version of this story appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "The Case for Staying with Studio Training."

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Because all dancers have experienced it at some point or another (Getty Images/patat)

How Dancers Can Beat Zoom Fatigue

Now that we're more than nine months into the pandemic, there's a big chance you're feeling Zoom-ed out. Read: Totally overusing the video-conferencing app for school and dance classes—and everything else. And according to dance/movement therapist Erica Hornthal, MA, LCPC, BC-DMT, there's good reason for that: "Managing your environment in a virtual space is taxing on the mind, and therefore taxing on the body."

Hornthal attributes these feelings, in part, to a mind–body disconnect that happens when we use the app: Your body knows you are alone in the room, but your mind sees a group of people on screen—and managing this COVID-era reality can be, well, exhausting. But we can also feel Zoom fatigue, Hornthal says, from having to "constantly be present to the third 'person' in the room: the Zoom camera." Uh, relatable!

So if staring at a grid of fuzzy faces—or into the abyss of that cold, dark lens on your device—has you feeling less than energized, here are some ways to cope.


Take breaks from tech throughout the day

Tamia Strickland, a sophomore in the Ailey/Fordham BFA dance program, trains both in person (with a mask, of course!) and online but says there are unique challenges that come with the latter. For one, she says, it's hard "to stay focused and motivated when you are in your basement or living room staring at a computer screen all by yourself—and all day long." These feelings can lead to frustration: You want to stay engaged with the class, but after staring at your computer screen for so long, you start to feel unmotivated.

As a remedy, Hornthal suggests taking breaks from your tech devices when you can. "The last thing you want to do," she says, "is exit a Zoom session and then immediately jump onto your phone." Instead, take a breather from everything virtual, and give your mind—and body—time to recalibrate. "Create space to connect or reconnect with your body when you are off technology," Hornthal says. "Take a walk, practice mindful breathing, embrace nature."

Move for yourself—and on your own

Another way to overcome feelings of online-class fatigue, Hornthal says, is to find time to move on your own—away from the camera on your device. As you begin moving for yourself, try to recognize and notice your own body wisdom. As a dancer, this could simply mean taking stock of what feels good and natural to your body as you, say, indulge in an improv sesh.

Tim Roberts, a Maryland dance studio owner and former performer, says giving his students time to turn their cameras off and work through their own movement has helped keep them motivated. "Opening that space for them is so necessary­ and beneficial, and helps them appreciate the time they do have with me," he says.

If you're not feeling up to a movement break, consider cooling down the mind and body by taking some time to stretch out and take up space in the body, Hornthal says. By encouraging greater body awareness, stretching can help give you more insight into what your body needs at any given point—a physical check-in before you head back into The Land of Zoom.

Tap into your other senses

When you're on Zoom, you're constantly using your eyes—to learn choreography, to support fellow dancers, to catch physical cues from teachers—so it's important, Hornthal says, to give yourself screen breaks. As you give your eyes a rest, take time to whet your other senses: Squeeze a stress ball; smell the outside air; gulp a tasty green smoothie; listen to your favorite playlist. The key here is to take in stimuli that trigger your other senses, rather than continuing to use (or overuse) your sense of sight.

And as a golden rule for your overall Zoom-life health, always remember: "It isn't just dance that is happening online—our entire lives are virtual," Hornthal says. "That means we have to be intentional with our downtime, and turn off technology, so we can tune in to ourselves."

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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