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.

The Conversation
Fox produced a live broadcast of Rent in January—but could an original musical be next? Photo by Kevin Estrada, Courtesy Fox

When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?

Keep reading... Show less
Hive by Boston Conservatory student Alyssa Markowitz. Photo by Jim Coleman

The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking Stereotypes
Courtesy Lee

Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.

The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Bruce Mars via Unsplash

Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.

Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by McCallum Theatre
Last year's winner: Manuel Vignoulle's EARTH. Jack Hartin Photography, Courtesy McCallum Theatre

It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.

Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body

It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).

But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.

Keep reading... Show less
Advice for Dancers
Getty Images

I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!

—Andrea, New York, NY

Keep reading... Show less
Dance As Activism
From Dance of Urgency. © Ekvidi

When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.

The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.

The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.

As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
Lorenzo Di Cristina/Unsplash

When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.

The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."

Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
Quinn Wharton

What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.

So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance History
Still of Fonteyn from the 1972 film I Am a Dancer. Photo courtesy DM Archives

On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance As Activism
Courtesy #Dance4OurLives

Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.

When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.

The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.

Keep reading... Show less


Get Dance Magazine in your inbox