Non-Performance Dance Careers: More Alternatives

This is the second article in a two-part series about alternative dance careers. Last time, we visited with Claire Bagley Hayes, a student of the University of Utah’s Screendance Certificate Program and Chelsie Batko, a student of Columbia College Chicago’s Dance/Movement Therapy program.

In part two of this exploration, meet tutu-maker, Toya Dubin and dance critic, Brian Schaefer.

What is an “alternative” dance career?

A person pursuing an alternative dance career is someone who is not primarily dancing with a company, teaching at a school or in a studio, performing, or choreographing for the stage.

Toya Dubin has always loved costumes.

Toya Dubin with the sewing machine she uses to build dance costumes.Toya made her first tutu when she was 13 for her first ballet variation showing.

“Because I didn’t know what to be afraid of, I launched in worry-free,” she explains. Toya tried to do as much research as possible before starting her project but found that information on tutu-building wasn’t as readily available as she initially assumed. She was largely on her own when it came to this project, but soon discovered that “the rules guiding line in an arabesque are not dissimilar from the lines a tutu creates to best flatter its wearer.”

“From the moment at which I was capable of changing my clothes, every day involved at least ten costume changes. I love the endless possibilities presented by fabrics and their uses to create a character.”

From here, Toya fell in love with the art of making tutus and works to make them by commission.

She is currently working on a rehearsal tutu commissioned by a fellow dancer. She finds her inspiration from ballet itself.

“Ballet taught me that beauty takes huge amounts of hard work and pain to accomplish – that no one gets good overnight, that corrections are to be learned from, and most of all, not to quite. Essentially, it taught me never to accept failure.”

Toya Dubin in a self-made tutuRight now, Toya balances costume designing with dancing in three ballet companies and taking honors classes as a senior at her high school. This fall, Toya will be attending SUNY Purchase as a Design and Technology major.

Brian Schaefer engages with the dance community through his writing.

As a weekly columnist at the Haaretz newspaper in Israel, he asserts that his career in criticism is not a “fallback or a second career – it’s [his] first choice and [his] unique skill”.

Dance criticism has allowed Brian to combine his loves for communication and dance, which he first cultivated as an undergraduate at the University of California, San Diego.

Brian Schaeffer, dance critic

Brian didn’t grow up dancing and first started engaging with the art in college. He took hip-hop, jazz, modern, and ballet classes and ended up becoming very involved with the dance community at UC San Diego. In a Criticism & Aesthetics class, Brian’s professor told him that she believed he could make valuable contributions to the dance world with his writing. Thus, criticism became a valuable part of his dance background.

“This was the first time I understood that dance writing could be an actual career. It was an eye-opening experience.”

Soon after graduation, Brian started making connections in the dance writing world. A local publication,, asked him to write occasional reviews of performances for them.

Brian used this experience to apply for and receive a National Endowment for the Arts which allowed him attend a three-week institute at the American Dance Festival (ADF) on dance that dance writing.

He then met the editor of Dance Magazine at a dance festival and started sending articles to her in order to build a relationship with the magazine’s community.

Brian is a member of the Dance Critics Association and attributes this connection to opening many doors for him, including getting an article about an Israeli dance company published in the New York Times.

Brian works to “write about how arts and culture overlap with politics, science and social issues”.

This is something he has been able to explore a lot in his current position with Haaretz.

“I’m interested in writing about dance that is accessible to non-dance fans, that treats it as something worth discussing in society. To do that, we have to expand our field of vision and write for different audiences. I’m most excited when I get to write about dance for a non-dance publication or use dance to talk about Middle East politics or gay and lesbian issues.”

Learn more about Toya’s tutus and read Brian’s latest criticism.


Alissa Anderson is a lifelong resident of Jamestown, New York. Currently in her senior year at Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin, she is majoring Dance and Comparative Literature. Her choreography has been featured in the Beloit College December Dance Workshops during Fall 2011 and 2012. Additionally, she studies both Spanish and Portuguese and spent a semester abroad studying environmental sciences in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais, Brazil. After graduation, she plans to pursue a career writing for the arts and to continue her study of the Portuguese language.

History Moves: Using the Creative Process to Explore Dance History

The history of dance is far from dull and including dance history in your classes doesn’t have to be either.

When we think of learning about history, most people see lectures, thick books, and discussions about plenty of dead people. There are ways to incorporate information about the traditions of dance and the people who shaped them while relating it to the material that students may find more exciting.

Last month I provided a list of ten ways to move beyond steps, making dances that venture outside the norm of assembling favorite movement to popular songs. This enriched way of working leads to many possibilities for students to become aware of their dance heritage and the methods dance icons have used for creating dance.

IMAGE Blindfolded dancers in a group IMAGE

Photo by George Joch / Courtesy Argonne National Laboratory.

To recap:

Concert Dance, to me, is determined by process – the ways movement is inspired, how it is developed, edited, and finally presented. The style of dance is irrelevant in many respects; it is all about the intent and the journey, which lead to the product.

Let’s draw on those same ten ideas to outline two ways to practically include dance history lessons while going about the usual business of making dances:

A: For a single artist’s view, I have chosen modern dance heavy-weight Merce Cunningham whose development of his own technique, innovative ways for crafting dances, and pushing the boundaries in dance technology provide ample opportunity to explore many aspects of dance.

B: If you are more interested in covering a variety of artists, here is a sampler of artists that have made interesting decisions during the work they’ve created.

1. Choosing Content.

Find content with enough depth that it can be explored from multiple angles, voices, and perspectives.

Merce Cunningham: Creating dances “about” the movement potential of the human body, the potential of movement within an established movement vocabulary

George Balanchine, founder of New York City Ballet: Balanchine’s choreography is known for its visual relationship to the musical score. Balanchine’s early work included direct narratives (Prodigal Son, The Nutcracker), his later work revolved around identifiable themes without demonstrating a clear plot (Agon, Serenade). In this sense, Balanchine offers three different ways in which content can be explored.

2. Choosing Genre.

Which style of dance best suits the idea or concept you are presenting?

Merce Cunningham: Modern Dance choreographer whose movement relates well to other types of dancers. This example allows for the discussion of how technical concepts are experienced differently or similarly based on styles of dance. Example: Cunningham’s use of spine, port de bras, and weight shift can be compared similarly to classical ballet and yet very differently to other types of modern dance such as release technique.

Twyla Tharp, versatile choreographer with major works in post-modern (Eight Jelly Rolls, The Fugue), contemporary ballet (When Push Comes to Shove, Sinatra Suite), and musical theatre “jazz” (Hair, Movin’ Out).
If any choreographer epitomizes versatility, it is Twyla Tharp. Working from a strong personal point of view, Tharp relies heavily on technique and the fundamentals of movement and thus can easily relate to many kinds of dancers and audiences.

3. Choosing Movement.

Is the idea behind the piece best represented by technical movement, gestural movement, or a combination?

Merce Cunningham: Again, creating within an established movement vocabulary, Cunningham explored possibilities physically first but later in his career used a computer program, Dance Forms, to inspire new movement threads before teaching them to his dancers.

Bill T. Jones: a self-proclaimed liberal artist. This is a choreographer who masterfully ebbs and flows between codified and gestural movement based on what the piece needs. Please note, when looking for video samples be sure to preview before watching with students. His work takes on many topics and some are more suitable for high-school aged dancers and older.

In jazz, Bob Fosse offers a rich example of stylized movement vocabulary that allows each piece to look different while still reflective of the Fosse trademark swag.

4. Choosing structure.

Dances don’t have to be choreographed from beginning to end. Try creating large movement phrases that can be ordered in different ways, layered in contrasting movement, or fragmented.

Merce Cunningham: The pioneer of chance operation as a choreographic device, Cunningham created methods such as rolling dice to determine the order of movement, order of works within a concert, and other production elements.

Explore the range Romantic, Classical, and Neo-Classical ballet to discuss structuring story and structuring movement. Martha Graham offers great examples of how to structure these principles as well as movement for solos or large groups.

5. Choosing sound.

Does the piece need music or could it be danced to text, silence, or unconventional sound?

Merce Cunningham: search out his collaborations with John Cage or the use of dueling stories in How to Pass, Kick, Fall, and Run.

Pearl Primus, a modern dance choreographer and anthropologist: Primus created Strange Fruit, set to the poem of the same title by Lewis Allen. This is also a nice example of how dance can be used to discuss other subjects such as the African-American experience within American culture.

6. and 7. Choosing alternate methods for coaching ideas and movement within rehearsal.

Find the unison in intent rather than (just) the unison of performance.

Watch choreographers rehearse their dancers in A Lifetime of Dance about Merce Cunningham and Dancemaker, about Paul Taylor.

Check out Daniel Nagrin‘s book, The Six Questions: Acting Technique for Dance Performance.

7. Choosing production elements.

What kind of showing is best? How important are costumes? Lights?

Merce Cunningham and collaborators believed dance, music, and set design should co-exist in space and time rather than depend upon one another.

Explore choreographers such as Anna Halperin, Doug Varone, and Liz Lerman and their use of site-specific dance. Google site specific dance for a long list of artists (and video samples of their work) creating this way both in the past and in the present.  Although site-specific dance does not necessarily mean outside, here is article that offers valuable information on non-traditional performance spaces.

8. and 9. Choosing your value system and Choosing your method for reflection.

What determines good v. bad? How do you measure the success of the process as well as the success of the work?

Consider re-evaluating how you talk about choreography. Some interesting reads on this are by Larry Lavender (Dancers Talking Dance) and Liz Lerman (Critical Response Process: A Useful Method for Getting Feedback On Anything You Make from Dance to Dessert).

The artists listed here are a mere sampling of a larger pool of artists that relate easily to any and all of these segments of the creative process. Many of the artists listed are established modern dance choreographers, however, there are a great many choreographers from ballet and jazz worlds also working within the concert dance philosophy and developing interesting creative processes, too.

In developing lesson plans, realize how important it is for students to SEE dance and include opportunities to do this.

The newly available Jacob’s Pillow Interactive, dance company websites, clips from Youtube, PBS broadcasts available for purchase, or materials available through your library should make much easier than even a few years ago.

Here are some additional ideas for teaching the History and Evolution of Dance, and for leading students through the process of making their own dances.

How do you explore dance history in your classes?
What recommendations for source material would you add to those above?

Terpsichorus: Discussing Entity — Wayne McGregor/Random Dance

IMAGE Delight in Dance - Terpsichorus IMAGE

Click the button to find out more about the idea behind Terpsichorus

Welcome to our first Terpsichorus discussion!

If you haven’t yet watched the film, don’t panic! You can still download and watch the film at the locations below. Feel free to come back and add your thoughts, questions, or comments after you do. The discussion will remain open indefinitely (I may close comments eventually but not for a while!).

Click to download on iTunes IMAGE BestBuy - CinemaNow IMAGE
Look out below

I’ve posted some flash responses offered during preliminary email discussion between Steve, Robin, and myself (Nichelle). These are just to stir some conversation. You can comment on any of our comments!

Also, you’ll find some viewing prompts. These are open questions that you can choose to answer or not. If you find you’re at a loss for words, these may be good starting points.

Note: I am roughly considering Part I, anything that occurs before the big set change, and of course, Part II anything after it.

An extended list of viewing prompts, should you want to watch with it in front of you, is available here.

Spread the word

Don’t forget to invite and share with friends. If you’re on Twitter or Facebook, use the sharing buttons above (on the site). Include the #terpsichorus hashtag on Twitter, if you would! If you follow our pages on Facebook you can tag us with @Dance Advantage or @You Dance Funny in a status update and let use know you’re watching.

Steve on Twitter | Nichelle on Twitter | Robin on Twitter

You Dance Funny on Facebook | Dance Advantage on Facebook

The Movement

IMAGE Wayne McGregor | Random Dance's Entity IMAGE“Aesthetically, I find the vocabulary beautiful in its awkwardness… Occasionally something resonated on a human/emotional level but mostly I watched with interest from visual moment to moment.” – Nichelle

“I’m finding the movements get repetitive, they are much the same tempo throughout without any particular highs or lows. There is a bit in the early men’s section where one guy sort of crab walks backwards, partially supported by another guy, that i thought was awesome.” – Robin

“I found the patterned, more structured moments to be more pleasing to watch, a theme that was sort of echoed in the geometric shapes cast on the floor.” – Steve

“I felt like there were three main “modes” he was operating within the choreography. Don’t know if it’s true for his other work too? One, is fast, forceful, and angular. Two is very sinewy and sleek. Three is what I’m dubbing “the pterodactyl” – hyperexteded spine, inward rotation, bird-like. The mood, music, lighting, set, etc. had a lot of variety and it was interesting how he used these “modes” throughout all of those changes.” – Nichelle

List 3 adjectives describing McGregor’s movement vocabulary (or body of movements).

How would you describe the shift in mood, movement, and emotion that occurs with the change in costume, lighting, and music in Part II?

The Music, Sets, Costumes, & Lighting

“I don’t enjoy the music!… I do think the dancers execute the movement brilliantly and they are all very beautiful but really, i am just not liking it.” – Robin

“I will say that MacGregor’s work is intense and he has a genius ability to visualize (and actualize!) incredibly innovative sets and choreography.” – Steve [Read more…]

Delight in Dance With Us!

IMAGE Reading a book at the beach IMAGEI delight in reading fiction. It’s my quiet retreat but, a couple of years ago I was stuck in a reading rut. My recent reads at the time were by J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer and to my dismay I realized it had been a while since I had tried a new author, in or outside the YA niche! What did I do to get out of my rut, try new things, and discover new writers?

I joined a book club.

Obviously, dance is something else that I delight in and I’ve been spending some time thinking about how I might bring some dance art discussion to DA’s other educational offerings. Reading dance books and biographies was definitely a first thought but past experiences, like chatting live during a Misnomer Dance Theatre performance in 2008, seeing the encouraging level of participation recently during PNB’s Internet broadcast of Giselle, and the increased availability of downloadable dance performance by “arts ambassadors for the future,” TenduTV, inspire me to consider video as well.

What I like about the email book club I joined is its accessibility. Within the group there are a wide range of ages (though admittedly lopsided in gender) and quite a range of literary interests. Some read and discuss more critically than others. Some clearly enjoy certain genres more than others. But somehow everyone feels free to join in and discover new things in the process.

IMAGE Delight in Dance - Terpsichorus IMAGEIn that spirit, I’d like to introduce to you, Terpsichorus.

Delight in Dance

In Greek mythology Terpsichore is the muse of lyrical poetry and dance but the word more literally means, “delighting in dancing”.  You might also know that a Greek chorus is a group of performers who comment on the action within a play.

Terpsichorus is a dance discussion project. It’s still a work in progress – one that I hope will continue to define itself – but I’m joining up with a couple of pals to work together with me as this little venture comes into its own.

One of those pals is someone you may already know, You Dance Funny writer and Top Dance blogger, Steve Ha. He definitely delights in discussion of dance performance. Another is long-time Dance Advantage friend and follower, Robin Mahboeb. She’s not a blogger but a dance teacher who we know delights in a good dance book.

One step at a time

The only way I know to begin is to just begin it!

Our first selection will be Entity by Wayne McGregor: Random Dance.

When we’ll open discussion.

Download/purchase and watch anytime… starting now. On February 24th [Read more…]