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TAP DANCE SCHOLARSHIP CHANGES YOUNG LIVES

5 Mar

Sophia Stewart-Chapman’s 14th birthday is on April 13, the same day she will be performing in the American Tap Dance Foundation‘s annual Gala in support of the Gregory Hines Youth Scholarship Fund. “What can be better than tap dancing on my birthday?” said Sophia. “I love to express my feelings through my feet. What better way to celebrate?”

Sophia began tap dancing when she was six years old, and has been a recipient of the Gregory Hines Youth Scholarship since she was nine. She will be performing at the ATDF Gala with her nine-year old brother, Andrei, also a scholarship recipient. He has been tap dancing since he was three, and both are members of the ATDF Junior Ensemble, one of several troupes performing that day.

When I tap, I like the rhythm my shoes make and how that sounds. Before I started I was scared, but then, the more I got into it, the better I felt. I love being in the world of tappers!” said Sophia.

Andrei and Sophia Stewart-Chapman rehearse in-studio

Andrei and Sophia Stewart-Chapman rehearse in-studio

The Gregory Hines Youth Scholarship Fund was created the year after Hines’ death, in 2003. Tony Waag, Artistic/Executive Director of ATDF, and Margaret Morrison, then Education Director to ADTF (now ATDF Education Advisor), discussed creating a scholarship fund in memory of Gregory’s contributions to the art form. According to Ms. Morrison, “Tony and the Board of Directors of the ATDF founded the Scholarship Fund so that young dancers, up to the age of 19, could study and participate in ATDF training programs and perform in events such as ATDF’s Tap City, the NYC Tap Festival. Gregory’s family, including his brother Maurice Hines, Jr., his former wife Pam Koslow Hines, and his son Zachary Hines gave their full support to ATDF around this project.”

The Scholarship Fund ensures that young dancers who want to pursue quality tap dance training have the opportunity to study, awarding scholarships every year to students based on both merit and financial need. The goal of the program is not only to offer training and performance opportunities to ‘under-served’ youth, but also to encourage pre-professional level students to continue their studies with on-stage performing experience. The program brings together students from different socio-economic and racial backgrounds.

Tony Waag - Artistic/Executive Dir. American Tap Dance Foundation

Tony Waag – Artistic/Executive Dir. American Tap Dance Foundation

“Besides being a leader in tap artistry, Gregory Hines had a commitment to access and diversity,” said Ms. Morrison. “He believed tap dance was for everyone. Tap dance fans and audiences come from all walks of life and can be found all over the globe. Gregory believed that tap dance should be inclusive of performers and choreographers of all races, ages, and genders, and from every economic class. Tap dancers come from many different countries and cultural backgrounds, and perform tap dance excellence in a variety of styles,” she said.

For Sophia and Andrei, the Gregory Hines Scholarship has been a way not only to allow them to learn the art form, but to gain confidence in themselves.

According to little Andrei, “I really like my friends and teachers. I feel kind of special, because I’m the youngest in the Junior Ensemble. That means I’m especially good for my age! When my family comes over and they watch me dance, I feel excited to show them what I’ve learned and what I know.”

Margaret Morrison, ATDF Education Advisor

Margaret Morrison, ATDF Education Advisor

Sandra Chapman, Sophia and Andrei’s mother, explained how tap dance has made a difference in her children’s lives. “It’s changed them in so many ways. They used to be hesitant to try new things and worried about failing. Tap dance has given them an outlet – they make mistakes and learn from them. Throughout the year, I watch my kids struggle with a tap step or dance piece, practice at the train station while we wait for the train to school, or watch as my son is helped by his big sister… then twice a year I see how they ‘nail it’ at the ATDF holiday and end-of-year performances. They’ve learned to take risks, yet still have appropriate expectations.”

“Through tap they have learned perseverance, a strong work ethic, and that you can have fun doing something challenging if you have the right support and encouragement. Those seem like life skills to me,” she said.

When Gregory Hines received the first ATDF Hoofer Award in 2001, he noted that tap dance doesn’t exclude anyone: “if you have a pair of tap shoes, you’re in.” The Scholarship Fund aims to sustain that vision.

GALA14CoverOn Sunday, April 13, the annual Gregory Hines Youth Scholarship Fund Gala will be hosted by comic actor, dancer and performance artist Bill Irwin, with a special appearance by former Saturday Night Live cast member Ana Gasteyer. Top tappers Max Pollak, Cartier Williams, Randy Skinner and Michela Marino-Lerman will perform, along with members of ATDF’s Junior Tap City Youth Ensemble and the Tap City Youth Ensemble. The afternoon will include a revived piece of choreography, Gregory Hines Boom, re staged by tap dancer/choreographer Barbara Duffy. A live jazz quartet will accompany all.

The Gala afternoon will take place at the Theater at the 14th Street Y (344 East 14th Street, NYC), beginning with a reception and silent auction at 1pm, with performances and live auction beginning at 2pm.

The Gregory Hines Youth Scholarship Fund Gala comes at the heels of the critically lauded Rhythm in Motion (April 8-12), a production featuring new work by New York’s most renowned tappers and choreographers. Tap luminaries Michelle Dorrance, Brenda Bufalino, Derick K. Grant, and Cartier Williams are among those presenting new choreography in ten performances over four days. Rhythm in Motion was overwhelmingly well-received in its March, 2013 run, including Brian Seibert at the New York Times who called it, “a vindication, a triumph, a knockout show.”

Former recipients of the Gregory Hines Youth Scholarship are current members of the professional tap community. They perform, choreograph, teach and continue Gregory Hines’ legacy of excellence in the art form.

“It feels really good to let my feelings out,” says Andrei. “With tap, instead of using words, I use my feet.”

Gregory would be proud.

Adria Rolnik is helping promote the American Tap Dance Foundation.

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SOME DANCE WISHES FOR THE NEW YEAR

31 Dec

Happy-New-Year-2014The New Year is upon us, and I’m hoping all dance lovers continue to help support the art form in 2014.  Whether you’re an amateur or a pro, a dance fan, a student, a parent or someone who just loves to dance, your actions count! There are many things we as a community can do. Here is my wish list for 2014:

  • Support your local dance companies.
  • Spread the word and encourage family and friends to see a performance.
  • Voice the need for governmental support of the arts.
  • Support arts education programs in the schools.
  • Enroll your child in dance classes.
  • Bring a child to see dance – and live theater – open their world!
  • Realize that dance in all forms, whether modern, contemporary, classical, dance/theater, Broadway, tap, jazz, ballroom, tango, flamenco, hoofing, classical Indian dance and beyond – count and need your support.
  • Be vocal – demand dance coverage in newspapers and magazines. Space is being cut – critics are disappearing. Raise awareness or we will disappear.
  • Fill a seat. Please, fill a seat.
  • Do what you can to participate in, and encourage, private and corporate giving.

Let’s do what we can to support dance in 2014!

Dance is the hidden language of the soulMartha Graham

I don’t want people who want to dance, I want people who have to danceGeorge Balanchine

I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myselfMikhail Baryshnikov

You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel aliveMerce Cunningham

We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least onceFrederich Nietzsche

THE BALLET CLASS GRUMP

23 Sep

I’m dressed in my leotard and tights, bending and stretching at the barre, getting ready for 10 am class to begin. The piano player takes her seat; the teacher enters the studio and gives the opening plié combination.

I start class, but during the first port de bras my mind begins to wander. Instead of focusing on the music and movement, I instead begin to make a mental list of things that make me “buggy” in ballet class. lucy ballet[1]

Ballet is my most favorite of art forms, and class is something I always look forward to – for me it’s like breathing! I feel compelled to be there – it’s a big part of my life. Why can’t I just relax and enjoy myself? Why do I always let things bother me? Is it age? Exhaustion? The weather?

Maybe I’m just a ballet class grump!

Here’s my top ten list of ballet class bug-a-boos:

  1. Teachers who rush the barre – please go slowly until my muscles loosen up.
  2. Dancers who don’t towel off – please don’t fling your sweat at me!
  3. Dancers who don’t move backward or forward – can’t they make room for everyone around them?
  4. Stagnant air – please turn on a fan!
  5. Pianists who never change their music – ever.
  6. Teachers who talk too much – let’s get moving.
  7. Dancers who don’t angle at the barre – don’t put me in mortal danger with your battement!
  8. Show offs – do you really need to do eight pirouettes between combinations?
  9. Classes that start late – and end on time!
  10. Dancers who believe they “own” their spot – read “Whose Spot is it Anyway” on adriaballetbeat.com.

battement-tendu-2[1]There – now I feel better. Sometimes it feels so good to vent. Now I can concentrate, and enjoy my first tendu.

Are there things that makes you “buggy” in ballet class?

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: “SUMMER DANCE”

2 Mar

Imagine – a sleep away camp where you dance, morning, noon and night. Where you stage performances, learn from the masters, excerpt the great ballets and learn folk and modern dance too. Ah, to live in the mountains during the hot summer months, on a lake with an outdoor stage, with piles of pointe shoes, costumes, and new friends and cool mountain air. What I wouldn’t have given to go to a dance camp like the one in Summer Dance. The pre-teen novel struck a chord.

"Summer Dance" by Lynn Swanson

“Summer Dance” by Lynn Swanson

All at dance camp was not perfect for 13-year old Sara – finances were tight at home and a scholarship was needed to come back next year.  Dance was Sara’s passion, and her dream was to dance professionally some day. Could the training at “Lakewood Dance Camp” hold the key?

“Young dancers should be easily drawn into the passions and frustrations of Sara and her friends and the nicely evoked upper Michigan setting,” says Publishers Weekly.  I agree.

If you have a daughter who loves to dance, Summer Dance is a perfect choice for the young reader.  The challenges of learning and perfecting your craft, the motivation for scholarship, and changing relationships with friends over a memorable summer in the northern Michigan woods create a passionate story filled with surprises.

Lynn Swanson, author of Summer Dance, is a dance educator and member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She holds a BFA in dance from the University of Michigan and an MA in Creative Writing from Michigan State University.  Here are some excerpts from a recent conversation:

Author Lynn Swanson

Author Lynn Swanson

They always say, “Write what you know” – why do I have a feeling you spent summers at dance camp?

Yes, it’s true! Two summers in Michigan at Interlochen Summer Arts Camp as a student, and two summers there assisting in the prestigious ballet department.

Summer intensives are commonplace for dance students on the professional track. Do you think a dance camp is an effective alternative?

It depends on what the dancer’s technical and emotional needs are at the time.  A camp environment is ideal as long as the instructors are top-notch.  No sense wasting a summer or developing bad dance habits if you are a serious dancer.

I love that you introduce the reader to some of the great classical ballets – Swan Lake, Les Sylphides, Romeo & Juliet… what made you choose those ballets for the story?

I danced in Les Sylphides and in Les Patineurs, which is also in the book, so I knew the choreography in detail and the artistic expression required to dance them. I love the music from both ballets.  I chose Swan Lake and Romeo & Juliet for their romantic appeal.

How does a young girl become passionate about dance? Do you think it’s learned or innate?

Lynn Swanson presenting Summer Dance to students last summer at Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan.

Author Lynn Swanson presenting “Summer Dance” to students last summer at Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan.

I think all little girls are passionate about some form of movement and do it very naturally if you watch them. Not all sustain the commitment needed to move through every stage of training to become a professional dancer.  It’s the passion that fuels a dancer to keep going.

A scholarship is necessary for Sara to continue her studies. Financing for arts education is always a struggle. Can you tell me something about the importance of scholarship for young dancers with potential, like Sara?

It is highly important that we financially support our dancers through scholarships, especially in this country where there are no government supported boarding schools for dance. It is sometimes up to individual dance teachers at private studios or at the local community center or YMCA to not only identify gifted and passionate dancers, but to help them find a way to get the financial support they need to pursue their dance training. I honor and praise all those who continue to find ways to keep talented dancers moving!

Find Summer Dance on Amazon.com.

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