Ryan P. Casey is a teacher, performer, writer, and choreographer. A founding member of Dorrance Dance, he was featured during season six of So You Think You Can Dance.
In 2015, Ryan was recognized as one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch" as well as one of The Boston Globe's "25 Most Innovative People Under 25."
The recipient of grants from the New England Foundation for the Arts and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Ryan has presented original work for his ensemble, Off Beat, at such venues as Jacob's Pillow Inside/Out series, the 92nd Street Y, Symphony Space, Southern Vermont Dance Festival, and David Parker's Soaking WET series. He has also danced for Aaron Tolson, Billy Siegenfeld, Adrienne Hawkins, and Lorraine Chapman.
Ryan has worked with studios, colleges, festivals, and youth companies including: Summer Performing Arts with Juilliard, Hofstra, Brown, The Boston Conservatory, American College Dance Festival, Tap United, Beantown Tapfest, Calgary's Tri-Tone Youth Rhythm Ensemble, and Candy Apples Dance Center. He is currently on faculty at The Dance Inn (Lexington, MA) and Impulse Dance Center (Natick, MA).
Ryan also writes frequently for publications such as Dance Studio Life, Dance Magazine, and Dance Teacher.
While tapping to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, Dario Natarelli finds a way to make something we have all heard before sound new. His choreography alternately matches the rhythmic cadence of King's words and honors the meaningful pauses between them. Watching the masterful control he has over his footwork and dynamics, it's no wonder tap sensation Michelle Dorrance scooped him up to perform with her and serve as her assistant choreographer at Vail Dance Festival—before he's even graduated from college.
Training at The Juilliard School. Signing a contract for an international tour. Seeing your name on the schedule at Millennium Dance Complex.
These are the kinds of opportunities that draw aspiring professionals to major dance destinations like New York City and Los Angeles, which are teeming with resources that most dancers' hometowns can't offer. And once you're there, it may be hard to imagine why you would ever leave.
When I read last month that Jessica Lang Dance had announced its farewell, I'm sure I wasn't the only dancer surprised. In the same way that many of us, when reading an obituary, instinctively look for the cause of death, I searched for a reason for the company's unexpected folding. It was buried in the fifth paragraph of The New York Times article:
Her manager, Margaret Selby, said in an interview that Jessica Lang Dance's closing showed how difficult it is to keep a small dance company running these days. "You have to raise so much money, the smaller companies don't have enough staff, and Jessica was running the company for the last seven years without a day off," she said. "She wants to focus on creative work."
Whereas the announcement itself may have come as a shock, the root cause certainly doesn't. All of us in the field are familiar with the conditions to which Selby refers. But that these problems can topple the success of a company like Lang's, which boasts seven years of national and international touring that include commissions from Jacob's Pillow and The Joyce, among others, is sobering.
Ephrat "Bounce" Asherie is no stranger to Jacob's Pillow. The New York–based b-girl has performed on the famous Inside/Out stage and at the Doris Duke Theatre and has appeared several times as a guest artist with Dorrance Dance. The native Israeli returns this summer as the first recipient of the Jacob's Pillow Fellowship at Tilles Center for the Performing Arts at LIU Post (which includes a $15,000 grant, a weeklong Pillow residency and another residency at Long Island University)—and to premiere a new work, Odeon, with her company, Ephrat Asherie Dance.
You must be so excited to go to Jacob's Pillow again.
It's truly amazing to be somewhere where people value dance so much. There's a weight given to what we do that's special and not how the rest of the world tends to operate around art. It's like a dance fairyland.
Being bullied, unfortunately, is still a common experience among dance students, particularly male dance students. But there are a variety of strategies that you can use to help deal with difficult emotions and restore self-confidence.
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
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Although discussing money is often considered taboo, it's an essential skill for choreographers looking to produce work and directors wanting to build their companies. "Fundraising is a practice, like rehearsing a dance," says Stephen Clapp, executive director of Dance Metro DC, which provides support, promotion, education and advocacy for dance artists and organizations in the Washington, DC, area.
When dancers are unhappy or uncomfortable in the studio, healthy communication is essential. Perhaps you feel slighted by a casting decision, dissatisfied with a new rehearsal schedule or uneasy about something a choreographer has asked you to do.
What can you do? Here are three strategies to keep in mind.
There may be six musicians playing right behind her, but in "Evolution of Tap Dance," a viral video from music group Postmodern Jukebox, tap dancer Sarah Reich is clearly the bandleader. Her transitions are seamless as she guides the band from a sultry, understated rendition of the bossa nova classic "Wave" to a hard-hitting tribute to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk." It's the perfect role for a budding choreographer exploring how tap can become an integral part of popular music.
The 28-year-old not only wants to help earn tap more recognition as percussive music, but also use that music to get more people excited about tap as an art form. "I want to continue to bring tap into mass media with great respect and quality," she says, focusing on "reprogramming the minds of the general public on their perception of tap dance."
At one point during my latest show, Unbound, I scamper offstage and disrobe as quickly as possible. Behind me, a friend I have known since we began taking dance class together 20 years ago (we danced to "The Color Song"; she was orange, I was purple) holds out a dress shirt for me to put my arms through. I start buttoning furiously while my dance partner, who was also one of my tap teachers for six years, holds out pants into which I step gingerly. While I fix my belt, she helps snake the microphone wire back up through my shirt so I can clip it into my collar and be back onstage in under a minute.
Among most groups of friends, this would be no ordinary—or comfortable—situation. But for me and the members of my company, Off Beat, it's a ritual that we're used to. We don't even think twice about the closeness, the vulnerability, the physical contact.
Dancers develop bonds unlike any other: Through our passion and commitment for our craft, and all the time we spend together, we develop our own family-like relationships that are almost impossible to explain to non-dancers.
Find out what exactly dance companies are looking for and book your next gig.
During my company's fledgling years, I remember emailing a promising venue in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, hoping to include them in my plans for an upcoming tour. Unfamiliar with the typical process of getting presented, I had no idea what I was in for. I hadn't anticipated that it would take almost two years of persistent follow-ups to confirm their interest, finalize a date and discuss logistics. And that was just for a one-night appearance!
For emerging dance companies, booking a gig can seem even more daunting than choreographing a new work. With so many ensembles vying for a limited number of performances each season, the competition can be overwhelming. Finding the right venue can feel like an impossible match. And while juggling artistic, financial and logistical elements, it feels all too easy to overlook an important detail that might cost you a booking. This month, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters' annual conference will connect eager companies to decision-makers from venues all over the country. But what are they looking for? Dance Magazine talked to top presenters about their pet peeves, dos and don'ts, and advice for helping a company get noticed—and get jobs.
Bernardo Nogueira, Courtesy Só Dança
The hoofer created his own tap-based workout class to get fit.
Despite an exhausting weekly schedule rehearsing for upcoming performances, teaching at Broadway Dance Center, working with private students and traveling for workshops and shows, New York hoofer Aaron Tolson had a surprising realization: “As I get older, tap dancing is not keeping me physically fit.”
The father of two decided to find a way to make his career last longer—and fulfill one of his dreams: “I wanted to get as many people tapping as I could.”
So he developed a combination cardio, strengthening and tap class called Sole Power. It fuses his tap expertise with knowledge he gained from his record-setting track career, which had earned him a full scholarship to St. John’s University and an invitation to the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials. “It’s a tap class that never stops moving,” says Tolson, with a laugh.
Intended for non-dancers, Sole Power requires no previous dance experience or rhythmic ability. Each class begins with an introduction of basic tap steps—such as shuffles, flaps, step-heels and heel-toes—that eventually form a short sequence that students repeat in between exercises to keep their heart rates up. Students alternate between learning simple tap technique and performing exercises like lunges and squats, to which a tap component (like heel drops) is added. Even as Tolson demonstrates the next activity, the class stays in motion by repeating the interval or doing marches and step-touches.
The final exercise is tap trenches, which require alternately sliding each leg back while reaching the opposite arm perpendicular to the floor. Then students work on a long combination and end the class by cooling down with stretching.
Sole Power recently launched at Crunch Gym locations around New York City and Los Angeles, and will soon be in more cities as Tolson trains new teachers, or “Solemates.”
Tolson estimates that students can burn between 300 and 600 calories in each hour-long class. “It exercises your body and your mind,” he says. “When you tap, you have to focus—you can’t let your mind wander. You don’t even realize how hard you’re working.”
Sole Power Results
Tolson credits his own creation with making him healthier and stronger. Teaching the class has helped him to lose about 30 pounds and relieve his tendonitis and knee pain. His other secret? Eliminating peanut butter and desserts from his diet.
No Tap Shoes Necessary
Students wear Power Soles, shoe covers with plastic taps that don’t ruin floors. They can also be used as beginner tap shoes, so students can practice anywhere.
“I want to be fit for my kids,” Tolson says, referring to his daughters Charlotte, 3, and Alexis, 10 months. “The more fit I am now, the better off I’ll be in the long run with them.”
Even while tapping with live accompaniment, Samara Seligsohn shows that she is the musician in charge. A percussive chameleon, she can alternate between impeccably crisp rhythmic bursts and delicate melodies, displaying both effortlessness and athleticism. Several burgeoning tap troupes in New York City have already claimed her, and now she’s starting to find her own voice as a choreographer.
Seligsohn's side job at Then She Fell is much more than a paycheck: Watching the cast grow in their roles inspires her to delve deeper into her tap work. Photo by Eric Tronolone, courtesy Seligsohn.
Companies: Nicholas Young’s SoundMovement Dance Company & Chloe Arnold’s Apartment 33
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Training: Ballet, tap, jazz, modern and lyrical at Meg Segreto’s Dance Centre in Davie, Florida; ballet and modern at Barnard College, where she earned a BA in dance.
Her second home: Steps on Broadway, where she spent two years in the work-study program and met three significant mentors: Derick K. Grant, Lynn Schwab and Nicholas Young.
Breakthrough moment: She presented her first ensemble piece this spring at American Tap Dance Foundation’s Rhythm in Motion showcase. The New York Times praised her and her dancers for “punctuating their soundtrack…with unexpected pockets of stillness.” Seligsohn says, “Choreographing filled an artistic void I wasn’t even aware I was feeling.”
Insider tips: During and after college, Seligsohn worked for Divine Rhythm Productions, an artist management collective headed by Elka Samuels Smith, sister of tap star Jason Samuels Smith. “I got an inside look and deeper understanding of what went into a career in tap.”
Improving her improv: “I’m still really working on opening up my flow, looking for a balance between control and spontaneity,” she says. “For me, I think this means developing a fluid translation from idea to action, and keeping my technique sharp.”
What Derick K. Grant says: “Her hunger to get better has set the bar for her friends and classmates—it’s infectious. She’s confident enough to be a leader among her peers, but humble to the point where people are happy to hire her.”
Double life: She’s also an assistant stage manager swing, working behind the scenes about once every two weeks, for Then She Fell, an interactive theatrical experience. “I’ve been so inspired watching these performers stay excited and refreshed in their characters. It gives me something to strive for as a creator and performer.”
On the horizon: Next season, she’ll return as an artist in residence with ATDF. “I come primarily from a concert dance background, so I’m interested in creating concept-based tap works that hopefully stand beside other dance forms more heavily represented on proscenium stages.”