Teacher's Wisdom: Ann Reinking
Best known as the leading interpreter of Bob Fosse's style of musical theater dance, Anne Reinking made famous her Broadway leads in Dancin’, Sweet Charity, and Chicago. Reinking has worked with many legendary artists, including Katherine Hepburn, Gwen Verdon, Tommy Tune, Joel Grey, Ben Vereen and choreographers Jerome Robbins and Fosse. She won the 1997 Tony Award for Best Choreography (in the style of Bob Fosse) for the revival of Chicago, and in 1999, Fosse, which she directed and co-choreographed, won the Tony for Best Musical. A 2000 Dance Magazine Award recipient, Reinking has appeared in the films All That Jazz, Annie, and Micki and Maude, and has choreographed for the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Ballet Hispanico, and American Ballet Theatre. Reinking founded the Broadway Theatre Dance Project, a summer program for aspiring dancers, and teaches master classes all over the U.S. This past March, she was a master teacher and adjudicator for the southeast region American College Dance Festival, where fellow adjudicator Steve Rooks, associate professor and resident choreographer at Vassar (and former member of the Martha Graham Dance Company) observed her class.
Fosse technique has sometimes been classified as being a bit too sensual and risqué for some tastes, yet it clearly has a style and clarity that is trans-generational. What do you say to those detractors?
Certainly the style can be sensual but elegant, and no more sensual than what you might see in sections of works by Robbins or other Broadway choreographers. The hip isolation in Fosse’s work is given the same reverence that you would give to the art of an East Indian or Balinese dancer. Bob never wanted a “hard bump”—he always wanted it dainty, very controlled. Sensuality must be done with intelligence or wit or both. Students in my class should be bound to the earth, but attached to the heavens. That paradox is so marvelous. All this history from legends like Fosse goes into what each student experiences in the class.
What is the primary foundation in your teaching approach?
One of my greatest goals is to instill trust in my students. They want to know that they can trust you, and they want you to know that they will do their homework. In addition to their technical development, I want my students to be the best dancer they can become that day. I know the pressure that dancers face in every class—they have to be careful not to judge the work that they do each day, and as a teacher it is important that I support them and create this trust.
Who were some of your greatest influences?
I was very fortunate to have some legendary teachers, including Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. However, it was Robert Joffrey who, after hearing me sing, suggested that I might consider musical theater over ballet as a career. He told me, “It really would be fantastic if you did Broadway.” His counsel was pivotal to the direction of my career, and just as when I began to teach, once I began I knew what I wanted to do.
Aside from the great movement in your combinations, there is a distinct focus on clarity of line and detail.
If I have the students long enough, I like them to work on little sections with specific goals. I think that the students should pick up things quickly, and be good at pinpointing certain aspects of the dance. These nuggets can really help fine-tune the dancers’ craft. As a dancer, you have to like repetition, and be aware of the subtext of your work. I really want to create in the student a need to become involved. As an artist, everything has to be created inside your being—you must ask, how do I get myself into the piece?
What challenges do you face as you teach our 21st-century dancers?
Our dancers are technique-bound. They often feel that by simply doing the step they’ve “done it.” There isn’t often the work of dancing from the human soul. I believe that the student should be an inventive and contributing interpreter in the class. They should have a full-size view of what they want to do beyond pointing the feet and working on turnout.
At the American College Dance Festival, you spoke of your love for great music. Can you talk about the importance of music in your classes?
When I teach a repertory class, I use music that is specific to the work. However, I love live music, and I have enjoyed some wonderful class collaborations with Philip Hamilton. Live music really makes students grow. The studio becomes a “bouillabaisse” of creativity when everyone comes to class as a contributor—the great music, the pieces of repertory, and the student’s experience.
As a teacher, what are some of your pet focal points?
I want my students to work on good alignment, but I also want them to be able to explore “different lines,” especially for those dancers with strong balletic training. Their lines tend to be there automatically, but dancers often need to just let it go. I try to go to the need of the student at their appropriate level.
As you observe today’s dancers, what would you say are the greatest needs for teachers to impart in our students?
I think that teachers should help today’s students become specialists, but I also feel that dancers should be able to integrate all styles. They should learn to communicate to their audience that what they do is good, right, and wonderful! As instructors, we need to continue to teach dancers to be creatively obliged, to be interested in all approaches to dance.
You know Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as the men who parody your favorite ballet variations—and make it look good. But there's more to the iconic troupe than meets the eye.
A new documentary, Rebels on Pointe, goes behind the scenes of the company, and it's full of juicy tidbits about what it's like to be a Trock. These were some of our favorite moments:
After 30 years of pioneering work in physically integrated dance, AXIS Dance Company co-founder Judith Smith has announced plans to retire from the Oakland, California, company. Throughout her tenure, she strived to get equal recognition for integrated dance and disabled dancers, commissioning work from high-profile choreographers like Bill T. Jones. Her efforts generated huge momentum for expanded training, choreography, education and advocacy for dancers with disabilities.
By phone from her home in Oakland, Smith reflected on how far the field has evolved since the early days of AXIS, and what's yet to be done.
You know that how you care for your body before curtain can impact your performance. But with so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to nail down an exact routine. How much rest is enough? How close to showtime should you eat? We asked the experts.
How do you make your athleisure collection stand out from the pack? Get the ultimate studio-to-street seal of approval by having dancers star in your campaign, of course.
For his second collaboration with activewear brand Carbon38, ready-to-wear designer Jonathan Simkhai traded in his usual top models like Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss for the original Hiplet dancers—and the resulting video is as cool as we'd expect from such a fierce collaboration.
Last week, we highlighted the deliberately, hysterically bad @biscuitballerina Instagram account, created by a then-mysterious dancer with a great sense of humor. This week, the artist behind @biscuitballerina—who turns out to be Royal Ballet of Flanders corps member Shelby Williams—got in touch with us to set the record straight about the intentions of those LOL-worthy posts.
Her photos and videos, with their exaggeratedly cringe-worthy technical flaws, are NOT meant to mock amateur dancers. Instead, Williams is actually hoping the account will help all dancers move past their shortcomings and accept themselves and their dancing.
Everyone knows that training is the cornerstone of a successful career in dance. But as a dance educator, I also take comfort in the fact that high-quality dance training helps shape students into genuinely good people (in addition to creating future artists, which is a wonderful goal in itself.) These are the lessons dance teaches that help make students into better humans:
Improvement Takes Commitment Over Time
In my tap courses at Cal State University, sometimes students are shocked when they can't learn something quickly. In today's world, we're used to getting fast results. You need an answer—Google it. You need to talk to someone—text them. The cooking channel wants your dinner to be easy, the physical trainer wants your workout to be five minutes, Rosetta Stone can have you speaking Mandarin in an hour.
Again and again, dance teaches me that when the filters fall away between people—when the boundaries of geography, religion and politics soften—the beginning and end of our relationships is always human.
In March, I traveled with Keigwin + Company to Cote D'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Tunisia, on a tour sponsored by the US State Department and facilitated by DanceMotion USA/Brooklyn Academy of Music. Our mission was cultural diplomacy: Simply, to share ourselves with diverse communities, to promote common understanding and friendships.
Our last stop was Tunisia. Until that point, we had mostly been learning varieties of traditional African dance, and sharing American modern dance. But Tunisia was different. The dancers already had a solid grasp of contemporary movement invention. Though we didn't speak the same language, we could make movement vocabulary with surprising ease. Everything about our backgrounds was different, but there was this special intersection through dance that seemed to present an open door to collaboration.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.
Christopher Wheeldon's new Nutcracker for the Joffrey Ballet was huge news when it premiered last winter. The choreographer shifted the setting from the home of a well-off German family to the Chicago world's fair, making the hero the young daughter of a working-class, Polish immigrant sculptress. This month, WTTW Chicago, the city's public broadcasting station, will premiere Making a New American Nutcracker, a new documentary showing how Wheeldon and his high-profile collaborators made the magic happen. Premieres on WTTW11 and wttw.com/watch on Nov. 16 before appearing on public television stations across the country. Check your local listings.
For most dancers, walking into the theater elicits a familiar emotion that's somewhere between the reverence of stepping into a chapel and the comfort of coming home. But each venue has its own aura, and can offer that something special that takes your performance to a new level. Six dancers share which theaters have transported them the most.
GLENN ALLEN SIMS
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Glenn Allen Sims in Alvin Ailey's Masekela Langage. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy AAADT
Favorite theater: Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain
Royal details: "The theater is gorgeous and ornate, with deep red upholstery and gold trim. There is a huge royal box in the center, which takes you back to when kings and queens were watching performances there."
Impressive facilities: Even the dressing rooms are a sight to see: Amenities for the dancers include large, carpeted rooms, and towel service.
The business side of dance can often fall second to the art. Contracts, which usually appear after you've done the hard work of securing a job, can seem like an inconsequential afterthought. You might decide to simply sign without reading the terms—or be understandably confused by all the legalese.
Ultimately, though, contracts can play an important part in setting the expectations for your job. A basic understanding of the legal terms you might see can go a long way in making sure that signing is a positive step toward growing your career.