Teach-Learn Connection

February 10, 2011

Feeling the Rush

Universities let students sample life and dance in NYC.

By Jen Peters


The Big Apple, The City that Never Sleeps, NYC: Whatever the nickname, New York City is known for its influence on the arts—especially dance. Jumping straight into the concrete jungle for college, though, can be overwhelming. The price tag of private university dance programs and city living, along with the competitive atmosphere, persuades many students to stay away.


But several schools—like University of Massachusetts Amherst, Ohio State University, and Florida State University—provide opportunities to glimpse the world’s most varied dance scene first-hand without committing to four years in a fast-paced metropolis. “Our students immerse themselves in the trench work of the dance community,” says Sally Sommer, director of Florida State’s semester-long FSU in NYC program. “They see how things run, learn how to network, and find tools to survive in a big city.”


Classroom to the Real World
  UMass Amherst’s New York Professional Outreach Program (NYPOP) in dance was created in 2007 by former Limón dancer Paul Dennis. “The dance department wanted to give students exposure, quality, and diversity,” Dennis says. The semester-long class balances time in the classroom with two weekend ventures to New York. “We visit educators, agents, and choreographers,” Dennis says. “It’s not just about auditioning and getting into a company.”


NYPOP is available to dance students in the Five College Dance Department (Mount Holyoke, Amherst, Hampshire, Smith, and UMass Amherst) and typically has 7 to 11 students. Christina Ferrara, a 26-year-old NYPOP alum, now lives in the city, where she is a producer for The Pulse on Tour. “I knew I wanted to be a dancer or be involved in the dance world. Being from Long Island, I always planned on moving to New York after school,” says Ferrara. “Even though I was familiar with the city, NYPOP was a sobering reality check. I saw what I really needed to do to get work in the city.”


The students meet face to face with artists like George Faison and Robert Battle, visit the Dance Division of the Library for the Performing Arts, watch Limón company rehearsals, have lunch with the dancers, and see performances each night. But the point of the program is not necessarily to encourage students to live in New York. “We use New York as a city model,” Dennis says. “Many of our students envision going to Chicago, L.A., Seattle, so they learn how to navigate any city after college.”

Intimate Exchange
  Graduate students tend to have more worldly encounters under their belts than undergrads; many of Ohio State University’s MFA students have performed in New York or other major cities. Three years ago, OSU and Movement Research, the laboratory for experimental performance in downtown Manhattan, created an exchange program with the needs of these more experienced students in mind.


“Our exchange is about developing connections, pushing their work forward, and learning self-production,” says Susan Van Pelt Petry, chair of OSU’s department of dance. Third-year students are asked to choreograph a short piece, and one or two are sent to New York to produce their work at Judson Memorial Church (while taking free classes at Movement Research). In return, OSU hosts a Movement Research artist in residence for two weeks on campus.


“Dancing at Judson with Deborah Jowitt moderating had such a sense of history,” says Kathryn Enright, one of the first OSU exchange participants. “I felt like one in a lineage of many before me.” Not to mention, her appearance led to an invitation to dance at Joyce SoHo. “The city is pumping with life—people figuring out how to do their art and live at the same time,” she adds. In the future OSU hopes to develop a more in-depth three-week course for undergraduates.


Semester-long Adventure
  FSU is one of the few schools offering an entire semester for students to live, work, study, and dance in New York. The program ultimately provides participants with a blueprint for how artists survive in the city. They see at least three shows a week, usher at theaters, find their own apartments, do administrative internships, take classes, and present a site-specific performance. “It helps them figure out where they fit in,” says program director Sally Sommer.


Many of the students, like current BFA senior Hanaah Frechette, plan to make the move after graduation. Frechette is finishing up her double major in dance and Spanish, so her internship with Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana fit perfectly. She got to see the nuts and bolts of a company and took classes taught by company members. As for new experiences, Frechette and her friends dipped into house dancing at a downtown club and discovered Shen Wei’s pop-up classes at the Park Avenue Armory.


The program has a focus on unconventional venues and site-specific work. “Theaters are becoming more expensive, so they learn how to perform for no money, make good site-specific work, do their own marketing, make promo videos,” Sommer says. Frechette and her peers performed their final project at a bar on the Lower East Side!


“I fell in love with New York’s energy and pace,” Frechette adds. “I am inspired by New Yorkers. Everyone is on a mission; they are all doing something, going somewhere.”



Jen Peters is a Pilates instructor and dances with Jennifer Muller/The Works.


Kathryn Enright (left) performed at Judson Church as an OSU MFA student. Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy Enright.



Technique My Way: Domenico Luciano

By Lauren Kay


Dominic Walsh Dance Theater’s Domenico Luciano is a study in fluid length. From a 6′ 3″ frame, his seemingly endless limbs unfold in movement that eats up space. An audience favorite, he’s danced many title roles created by the choreographer, as well as in works by Kylián, Bourne, and Ek. Classically trained, Luciano has also performed with Tulsa Ballet and several European companies. His stature and style make him mesmerizing to watch, but his height has also been a source of injury. The good-natured Italian danseur, voted best dancer by the Houston Press in 2008, chatted with DM about how he stays in shape from toes to fingertips.


Structured Warm-Up

Luciano begins his day with simple floor exercises, using balls and rollers to undo any kinks. But afterward, he says, regular company class is his best bet for being prepared. “Some people have their own system, but for me the structure of class helps me focus,” he says. “You follow the path and have everything there you need to get warm. If you do it by yourself, unless you are really thorough and disciplined, you just wander around.”


Luciano also enjoys cross-training on his days off. Pilates, Gyrotonics, and Bikram yoga are his go-to activities. He appreciates Pilates for how it re-centers the body. “Because our repertoire ranges from classical to extremely contemporary, we can work differently, from turned-out to turned-in to changes in dynamics, all in one day,” he explains. “Plus, in contemporary work you often do something over and over again on one side—it’s not always symmetrical. Your body feels that imbalance. Pilates helps you find that center and length again.”


While Pilates develops a solid core, Bikram has helped his flexibility. “Because the room is so warm, I stretch further and hold the poses for longer than normal,” he says. “I drink a ton of water afterward. The whole experience makes me feel clean and released.”


The Balancing Act of Strength

Luciano prefers light strengthening on a daily basis, as opposed to weight training. “I do push-ups and sit-ups throughout the day, totaling about 120 repetitions,” he says. His focus on building muscle tone helps him to evenly distribute the workload of lifting. “When my arms are strong, I use my back less,” he says, “so I have less of a chance of injuring my back. And I’m more able to release my legs, which get tired the quickest because they’re used the most in solo sections.”


Luciano also works on strengthening opposing muscle groups. “For example, my quadriceps and big muscles always want to take over,” he says. “So I try to work on my hamstrings and the back of my body to lessen how much my quads work.” To that end, Luciano likes the following exercise: Lie on the floor with your legs straight out and your heels on top of a large exercise ball. Lift your bottom off the floor, tightening your glutes and hamstrings, so you are in a diagonal with the weight on your heels and shoulders. Hold for 10 seconds, then release, and repeat 20 times. Alternate with only one leg on the ball.


A Tall Order

Luciano says an awareness of your body’s unique structure—its stronger and weaker areas—is essential to staying injury-free. For him, this lesson came by way of injuries in his feet and knees. “I’m very tall, but I have flexible feet that aren’t quite big enough to support my frame. That’s not the best set-up, especially since I dance so much in socks or bare feet,” he explains. “When I wear ballet shoes, they hold my feet at least. Without them, my calves tense and I get inflammation; I’ve had a few stress fractures as well. So I need to be sensitive to what my body is telling me—not wait for an injury. I tape my feet, wear ballet shoes on occasion, and use a tennis ball to release tension.”


Due to growth spurts as a teenager, Luciano tore both ACLs at different times. Now, after much physical therapy, he addresses any discomfort right away. “When my muscles are tight, I know immediately that I need to get this massaged and take care of it so it doesn’t pull on my knee,” he says. “The body works like a puzzle. We all have strengths and weaknesses. We need to be conscious, focused, and sensitive to who we are individually. Then you can take note, compensate, and work on what will help you personally.”



Lauren Kay, a
Dance Spirit contributing editor, is a dancer and writer in NYC.


Luciano in Walsh’s Le Spectre de la Rose. Photo by Gabrielle Nissen, courtesy Luciano



Across The Floor


Notes & News

The New York International Ballet Competition
honors founder Ilona Copen, who died last February (see “Transitions,” May 2010), with a gala performance and dinner dance on March 22. The gala will include Jose Manuel Carreño of ABT, Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili of the Joffrey Ballet, and Roxane D’Orléans Juste of the Limón Dance Company. The first Ilona Copen Award will be presented to Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride for their contributions as artists and educators. See www.nyibc.org.


Students and top-notch professionals unite for’s sixth annual “Ballet Stars of NY,” March 19 at the Koger Center for the Arts in Columbia, SC. The USC Dance Company, directed by Stacey Calvert, shares its home stage with principal dancers of New York City Ballet, accompanied live by the USC Symphony. See www.cas.sc.edu/dance.