9 Glorious Days of Dance @ The 2013 NYC Dance Week Festival Guest writer, Elana Aquino for The Dance Enthusiast
Guest Blogger — Uraline September Hager
Uraline was my road buddy during the Dance Week festival, taking classes with me and on her own. She was my eyes and ears for Day 10 of the festival as I was attending a Zumba Jam Session (a 3 hour training to learn new choreography) in New Jersey. Uraline took both Dancehall Workout and House Dance. These are her thoughts:
1.00 pm – Dancehall Workout @ Ripley Grier
i was pissed when i arrived because i was 10 minutes late (due to the lack of information at ripley’s front desk), but my anxiety was quickly alleviated when i saw that there was only one student in the class. class hadn’t really started. we began, and eventually two more women joined in. the music was fun, all dancehall and carnival style. every song had its own dance routine.
rayvynne, the instructor, would usually mark the sequence before she played the song so that we could follow along better. the basic move was whining. whining = gyrating plié in dancehall. the moves were very sexy. i felt like a dancehall queen. she was good at identifying the names of the dances, like “the crocodile.” she had a great energy about her. anyone who has ever danced to a few dancehall songs up in the club without a break or pause, already knows that dancehall is a good workout. most of the moves require a lot of lower back, abs, and thigh strength. and of course, as is customary in dancehall and soca, we did a few dance sequences with flags. i rocked the jamaican flag, lol.
towards the end of the class, we did a lot of wall work. we whined up against the wall, facing the wall with our posteriors up and out, as well as back up against the wall as though we were grinding up against our respective boos, (again customary in dancehall lol). one wall routine required us to whine and cock up one leg at the same time. we then had to alternate, cocked leg for four counts, central whine for 4 counts, then the other leg cocked up for 4 counts. repeat. the class ended with a circle in which each of us got in the middle and showed off what we learned. after the circle, she cooled us down and stretched us out. i definitely felt like i was ready to hit up a jamaican beach party and show off what i had learned.
6.00 pm – House Dance @ Alvin Ailey
i was nervous that this class was going to be full. the class was capped at 150 students, and my boy and i were 130-something on the sign in sheet. thankfully, the class had no more than 30 people and we were in a spacious gorgeous 5th floor ailey studio, usually reserved, i believe, for rehearsal space for the first company. i was very excited to take this class because house music has become a recent love of mine (in the past 6 or 7 years or so). the one little house step that i know is completely self-taught. i’m always in awe and amazement when i see a good house dancer up in the club. my amazement borders on awe and ‘damn, that’s sexy!’
class started with the instructor fiddling around with the sound system. i appreciated his desire to find the right balance and properly equalize the sound for us. the music was on point! even though my knees were killing me from my previous dancehall class earlier in the day, his music kept calling me. it would’ve been a sin to keep still.
he started with a basic warm up of isolations. the warm up also included some basic foot work. i thought the instructor, eddie, was pretty patient with the students. he broke down the steps when necessary and really tried to guide students who struggled with their footing and coordination.
the moves are all grounded in a demi-plié position in which the dancer is always bouncing. this bouncing demi-plié position is what gives house dancers that sense of being very light on their feet and kind of flying through the air. The moves started easily and got increasingly difficult. The moves require a lot of agility and fast foot work. after the warm-up, eddie had us doing routines across the floor. once again, he did a great job of breaking down the movements and answering questions and confusion. his class had me sweating profusely. usually in situations like that, i run for my towel and my water and take every last nanosecond of my break. in this class, i found myself bopping to the music, even during my treasured breaks.
after we moved across the floor, we came back to the center to learn the dance sequence. even when the choreography became challenging, it was still fun. the class was scheduled to end at 7:30 pm. 7:30 came and went, and eddie kept teaching and dancing. i wish i could’ve stayed until the end, but my friend and i had to leave. i enjoyed many classes during dance week, but this is the ONE class that i’m seriously itching to return to once my poor knees recover.
6.15 pm – Zumba, taught by ElanaZumba @ Ballet Academy East
Once in a while, actually pretty often in my life if I’m being honest, serendipitous moments come along that could not have been scripted better if I tried. Day 9 was one of those moments. My friend Uraline — who has been my road buddy on this Dance Week journey, and I decided to take a Zumba class at Ballet Academy East. Due to some confusion, the instructor did not actually make it to the class.
Without even looking, I could see and feel the disappointment on the faces of the people gathered. My kneejerk response was to stand up and blurt out ‘I’m a Zumba Instructor, I can teach class.’ My friend Uraline teases me that I sounded like a paramedic or a doctor in a restaurant or on a bus who kicks into action when someone falls ill: ‘I’m a doctor, I can help.’ The energy instantly shifted in the room and in a few moments we were dancing and grooving.
Up until that moment, I was just an excited and eager NYC Dance Week festival participant. Words can not really describe how amazing it felt to now become a part of the instructional team, on the giving side instead of just the receiving side. Another lesson in what can happen when we answer the call, align ourselves with our purpose, and just say yes. A further reward for me is the way people’s eyes light up when they connect their bodies with the music and ride the wave…and then let it all go and just dance.
6.30 pm – Core Synergy Conditioning, taught by Allison Cook Beatty @ Joffrey Ballet School
In the spirit of transverse abdominal (core) strengthening, that we learned on Day 7 is so important to dance injury prevention, I decided today to take Allison Cook Beatty’s Core Synergy Conditioning class. When I stepped into Studio 1 at the Joffrey School, I must admit it was not without some trepidation. I had recently undergone laparascopic surgery, which made three tiny incisions through my abdominal muscles only two months before and I was unsure if my abs were up to the job of today’s class. Granted, I had since participated in an intense four day Zumba conference in France, continued teaching my Fitness classes and danced in seven days of the NYC Dance Week Festival up to that point, so perhaps my concerns were unfounded But nonetheless, I was anxious.
Enter stage right: Allison Cook Beatty. Not to be fooled by her petite frame, Allison is a powerhouse. Within the first 5 minutes of class, I knew it was going to be just the challenge I needed. Not really knowing ahead of time what to expect, it was easy to imagine the routine crunches and leg raises that often comprise core toning classes. But Allison takes it to a new level and offers a surprisingly creative core class with an aerobic and barre component as well. Anyone who regularly takes this class, dancers and non-dancers alike, will find themselves ahead of the curve in terms of core strength and endurance. It is a serious workout and, at the same time, anyone can do it. It’s inspirational and aspirational watching Allison and seeing the level of strength I can hope to one day achieve if I keep at it.
Apart from her amazing core strength, Allison has also recently discovered her talent for choreography and is taking it to new heights with her company ACB Dance. Here’s an excerpt from one of her premiere works…
7.00 pm – Bollywood Funk, taught by Ayesha Khanna @ Ripley Grier Studios
What is Bollywood Funk? Is it the same as Bhangra? Will I be able to keep up? Or will I stick out like a sore thumb? These were the questions in my mind as I entered Ripley Grier Studios on Wednesday for Ayesha Khanna’s Bollywood Funk class. The regular students, who affectionately call themselves B-Funkers, immediately helped to put me at ease by being wonderfully friendly and inviting. All the amicable chatter outside the studio before class begins, makes you feel like you are just catching up with your friends and it just so happens that you will be learning semi-complicated South Asian pop moves as well. Thank goodness for the few Bollywood songs I picked up in Zumba trainings and the various Bollywood movies I watched while living in East Africa, where there is a sizable Indian community, I wasn’t completely lost.
But Ayesha’s tight moves and vibrant gestures definitely take some effort to keep up with. Right out the gate, she is a ball of energy. It’s obvious that she’s a pro and has been at it for some time. It’s also obvious that she loves it and values each of the members, who she calls by first name. Dance Instructor, Zenobia Dotiwala, is right there in the front of the room helping to demonstrate the choreography for us.
Taking inspiration from the amalgamation of ‘East’ and ‘West’ in contemporary Indian culture and cinema, Bollywood Funk is a culturally and technically diverse Bollywood-inspired dance style born in India, but raised in North America. To the question of whether Bollywood is the same as Bhangra… From what I could gather, Bhangra is a type music and Bollywood Funk is a style of dance. Bollywood Funk can be danced to Bhangra music. Somebody please correct me if I’m wrong. Either way, you do work up a sweat and look pretty cute doing it. What’s better than that, really?
4.30 pm – Harkness Center Dance Injury Prevention Workshop @ Peridance
As both a dancer and a person who is responsible for guiding others towards wellness through fitness and dance, I found the Harkness Injury Prevention workshop especially useful. I will certainly bring tips I learned from this seminar back to my classes. I also now have better tools to examine my own risk for injury and burnout and to catch early warning signs. Here’s a list of just a few of the great tidbits I picked up:
→ 90% of dance injuries are caused by fatigue. This is a mind blowing fact, when I consider that, in order to make a living, many of my Zumba and fitness colleagues teach upwards of 20 classes a week. Last summer, I myself taught 16 high cardio Zumba classes a week all over New York City. Between prep time, travel time and teaching, fatigue was on high. Luckily, I came out the other side largely unscathed, but ice packs and tiger balm were my daily companions.
→ Clinical burnout is real. Some of the symptoms are: loss of interest in dance, depression, and change in appetite.
→ Imagery can be a powerful tool to heal. Being in class, observing and marking the steps, can accelerate the healing process. Meditation and positive self talk are good tools as well.
→ Proper nutrition is vital. Dancers tend to load up on proteins and not eat enough calories. The dancer needs about 2,000 calories to make it through a day including a dance class and/or rehearsal. Many dancers only consume about 1200 calories and are suffering, probably often unknowingly, from disordered eating – not eating enough calories to support daily activities. This can have adverse effects on bone density and organ function.
→ The 4 Cs of a malnourished dancers diet often include reliance on: coffee, cigarettes, diet coke, and chocolate. Caffeine is a natural diuretic which is dehydrating and also leeches calcium from the bone. Sugars promote inflammation and things like yeast infection and joint pain. Cigarettes decrease oxygen transfer in the body by 15% and will make you more tired in class. It’s better to eat more small meals throughout the day of actual food, preferably non-processed.
→ During the first 30 seconds of a class or rehearsal, the body will use carbs for energy. If carbs are unavailable, after 15 minutes, it will switch to burning fats for energy, and then protein. If my diet consist of mostly protein this will go towards energy for my body during workouts or classes, instead of replenishing and repairing muscle. My muscles may not be getting the opportunity to repair as they should because of this, which can make me more susceptible to injury.
→ Stretching should never be skipped as it raises the body temperature and gets it ready for more intense movement. There are three kinds of stretching that, when used at the right times, can aid the body in gaining flexibility: dynamic (ex: walking lunges), static (ex: holding a pose to stretch a particular muscle group), and ballistic (ex: anything involving bouncing and rebounding). Cooling down is equally important to bring the blood back to the heart. Doing static stretches during this time when muscles are really warm and pliable can boost flexibility.
→ Dancers tend to have flexibility and muscular endurance, but not cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength. To improve this, dancers should go to the gym and workout or run, using the progressive overload technique and cross training, like other athletes, to get stronger. Particular emphasis should be placed on strengthening the transverse abdominal muscles or the ‘core.’
7.00 – 8.30 pm – Beginner Ballet, taught by Teresa Anne Volgenau @ Joffrey Ballet School
Nestled between some of NYC’s hippest happeningest neighborhoods, the Bleeker area, Union Square, and Washington Square, the Joffrey Ballet School is as much fun to find, as it is to be in. That hip happening eclectic vibe definitely continues indoors at Joffrey, where tango dancers teach ballet and ballet dancers teach core synergy.
Tonight’s class was Beginner Ballet taught by a spicy redheaded instructor named Teresa Anne Volgenau, who also specializes in tango. She began her love affair with Argentine Tango in 2004 and has since traveled to Buenos Aires to study with maestros, as well as collaborating with numerous partners to further develop her authenticity and style. Her teaching clearly expresses her passion for the art of movement. The class that I found myself in was full to the brim with eager dancers of all different levels and ages, from pretty experienced to no experience whatsoever. Teresa was able to accommodate all of the participants, always showing variations to allow beginners to catch on at their own speed.
Now here comes the part where I divulge my love/hate relationship with ballet. I hate that I love it, and it loves to hate me. Yes, I have personified a dance form, mainly because my struggle with it has been so visceral that it’s palpable. From the beginning of one’s dance career — mine started at age 6, you are told how important ballet is as a fundamental element and vocabulary in your training (or at least that was my experience). And yet my body was always more suited for more rhythm-based dances that require undulation and gyration, dances that are more forgiving of full figures and celebrate things like…hips. What a conundrum for me as a young dancer, knowing that dance is one of my gifts and my preferred form of expression, and yet feeling separated from my own identity, in a sense, by not being able to perfectly grasp this exquisitely beautiful but extremely difficult dance form that I had been told is fundamental to me improving my gift.
Every single time I’ve walked into a ballet class, from age 6 to now, these thoughts are somewhere rolling around in my head. Even if I am not specifically thinking them, I am feeling them. We all have our challenges and this one is mine. Thank goodness for maturity and spiritual awareness though, because I am now able to see that my fears are much like Don Quixote and his windmills; there, but only in my own mind. And as such, I can control how I react to the fear and if I even allow it to exist at all. The fact is, I love ballet. I relish every time I get to take a ballet class. I love the way it feels when I try it on, luxurious, regal, elegant. It is like breathing in a rarefied air for a brief moment, taking it into my lungs and body and making it a part of me.
6.30 pm – Advanced Beginner Modern Dance, taught by Mike Abbatiello for Dante Brown @ DNA
Today marked the half way point in the festival and my fabulous journey seeing New York City through dance. So many different studios, styles, and faces so far and yet the heart and the intention is the same at each place: to lose oneself to dance. To make a statement, with instructors as guides, that is somehow bigger than oneself. To tap into a collective pulse and to offer up one’s own particular, peculiar, singular light.
That said, somewhere between Day 4 and Day 5, I hit a wall. Slammed right into it. And not just any wall, a very special wall that all dancers are familiar with when the mind and spirit have the best intentions, but the body just will not go on. My wall had muscle soreness and fatigue written on it. All the hardcore dancing and trying new things (in addition to being a Zumba Instructor with regular classes) finally caught up to me. On Monday, I wisely called off all my daytime activities to stay home and recuperate. I still made it to dance class in the evening though!
This evening, my choice of class was Modern dance with Danté Brown | Warehouse Dance at Dance New Amsterdam aka DNA. Taught by one of the Warehouse Dance company members, Mike Abbatiello, the class was full of pleasant surprises; not least of which was heavy use of improv as a warm up technique. Guiding us across the floor, initiated by various body parts, Mike encouraged us to find the space between the movement and see where it takes us. He, himself, was extremely light on his feet and agile as he spun, dipped and rebounded. The playlist was equally versatile, from Daft Punk disco beat to Kanye West and random songs in between.
It’s the kind of dancing where the less you try, the better you get at it. Though less was more in this style, it was hard sometimes not to force the movement in an earnest attempt to ‘get it’ and instead to just allow the movement to be, in one’s presence, on one’s body, like a loose but seductive summer dress. It pulled me in and freed me simultaneously.
1:30 pm — Afro-Cuban Folkloric Dance, taught by La Mora @ Cumbe Center for African and Diaspora Dance
The experience at Cumbe is total immersion. From the moment I walked in the door, I was engulfed in a community-like atmosphere. The pulse of rhythmic joy can be felt even in the hallways as people greet each other and share their enthusiasm to be back, once again, to dance. As a newcomer, that enthusiasm was infectuous. Even still, I was not completely prepared for what I was to experience in La Mora’s class….
La Mora, who also teaches at Alvin Ailey, takes Afro-Cuban dance to a whole new level, bringing in the old dance styles and traditions from Cuba and making them accessible to modern day hustling bustling New Yorkers. Her class evokes the dominant presence of the Orishas — spirit kings, queens and warriors of Cuban Santería based on the traditional Yoruba pantheon of West Africa. The class begins easily enough, with stretches and rhythmic exercises to live drumming and singing. All fairly standard routine for the opening of a good African dance class of any kind. With La Mora welcoming us all the while with her gorgeous and enticing smile.
And then…. she shouts, to be heard above the drums: ‘across the floor!’ and all the dancers, led by those who have been there before, line up into rows of three, waiting for the moves that will take us across the floor diagonally. Some of La Mora’s movements are flirty and seductive. Some of her movements are fierce and in attack mode. All of her movements require singular focus, fortitude, and stamina. You can not cross the floor with these movements without feeling some kind of conviction. Whether you believe in Orishas or not, the power is in the movements themselves, with the cutting of sugar cane, the brandishing of machetes, the charging, the retreating, and the constant undulation of the back providing an ever-present undercurrent of the rolling sea.
I walked into class expecting typical fare and walked out a princess warrior. It was fantastic and fantastical! Best of all were the moments of waiting in between where I could watch others dance and see how they took the movement into their bodies, punctuated by my own moments of bliss and exhaltation as my turn came to go across the floor.
2.00 pm – Samba & Brazilian Fusion, taught by Leticia Taylor @ Mark Morris
4.00 pm – POP UP SLAM / STREB Block Party @ Williamsburg Walks
Mark Morris Dance Center flung it’s doors open to the public this Saturday for three free classes. Along with Gaga.dancers — a movement language developed by Ohad Naharin in Israel to help dancers and non-dancers reconnect to the way they move, there was also Contemporary dance in the Simonson Technique taught by Laurie De Vito, whose classes I use to take and love when she was still teaching at Dance Space before it moved and became Dance New Amsterdam. My poison of choice for the day was Samba & Brazilian Fusion, taught by Leticia Taylor. And how deadly it was!
First of all, it does not go unnoticed that Leticia is gorgeous and tall and fabulous. Second, the way she breaks down an extremely complicated step such as Samba into three distinct movement groups (the feet, the hips, and the arms) makes it seem like butter! She was also excellent at sensing when students got it and just wanted a chance to fly with the step. Having taken Samba with one of it’s most regaled New York City queens, Quenia Ribeiro, at Alvin Ailey, I was truly appreciative for this return to basics with the step. I’ve always known my Samba was passable, but just a little bit off. Leticia broke it down to it’s most basic elements, giving everyone from first-timers to the more experienced a chance to access this wonderful dance style. And the choreo segment at the end with the music selection was like a big warm hug, straight from Brazil.
I decided to top the day off by visiting the STREB POP UP SLAM / Block Party which was a part of the last weekend of Wiilliamsburg Walks – a wonderful four weekend reprieve in Brooklyn where several blocks of Bedford Avenue are blocked off and covered with grass patches for pedestrians and joyous lollygaggers. The pictures describe it best. See for yourself…