CLASS it up
An artist-run teaching series brings affordability and choice to a new generation.
Thu Jan 29 2009
Photograph: Courtesy Of CLASS
Starting in February there will be a band of new teachers in town, courtesy of CLASS. The organization, created to kick-start the next generation of contemporary dance teachers, is a gamble. But for Anna Sperber, who has been masterminding the program along with a silent partner, it is an attempt to give aspiring artists a shot at teaching and dancers some variety. “We wanted there to be more options for interesting classes,” she says, “to create an environment where people could develop and experiment.”
Whenever a new organization is formed, you have to wonder: What is it a reaction against? For starters, it is the increasingly prohibitive cost of actually taking class. “It’s gotten crazy,” Sperber says. “Who can afford to pay $16 for a single dance class? People do it, but the cost inhibits you from doing it on a regular basis.” In the series, held at three artist-run spaces in Brooklyn, the classes, which are open to all, are $10; four-hour workshops are $15.
The program begins Sunday 1 with “Moving from Outside,” a workshop led by Biba Bell that asks, “What is the space for making dance?” But there are also technique options in this three-month series, which features 25 classes and workshops, as well as three teaching forums—potluck gatherings in which participants will discuss teaching and training.
Another motivation has to do with challenging the ways younger artists can break into the teaching circuit. “I love Movement Research, but there isn’t a constant opportunity for people to study with new teachers,” Sperber says. “There are limited resources for people to get teaching positions.”
Barbara Bryan, Movement Research’s executive director, doesn’t deny the lack of new voices in her organization. “One reason behind the stable group of teachers is that we are actually trying to support teaching artists to have teaching careers in New York and to not have to be tied to an educational institution,” she explains. In some ways, the grassroots approach of CLASS could be viewed as a junior component of Bryan’s organization. (She is planning to help publicize the series through cross-marketing on Movement Research’s website.) “Part of me, when I heard about it, wished they had come to us and seen how we can support it,” Bryan says wistfully. “But then I thought, No, it’s great that they’re self-initiating because that’s how Movement Research started. It’s hard for me to think of Movement Research as the establishment, but for a new generation of artists, it is. And although the organization has tried to be really responsive over time, there’s only so much we can do.”
While CLASS will introduce a wealth of younger, new teachers, it’s also providing opportunities for more established choreographers, such as Stanley Love and Paige Martin, who are interested in launching teaching careers. “I have a slight agenda of what I’m going to teach but it’s actually going to be completely customized to what this group ends up being like,” Martin says. “I’d love for it to be something intimate, for dancers to come in leotards and to see what that feels like.”
For Martin, the leotard conjures memories of being young and dancing. “There’s something possibly inspiring in being in that uniform,” she says. “Nowadays, wearing a leotard is the closest thing to being as exposed as you can get without being naked. I think that sets up a nice mental structure to begin with.”
Love, a Juilliard graduate, will focus on what he calls “eclecticism”: “The first half will warm the entire body up; it will stretch and strengthen,” he says. “And the second half will be dancing to music. There’s a lot of disco music, so I’m going to use that to warm up to because it has a happy sound. Obama! It’s a new age. What better time to bring some disco?”
This is Love’s first foray into teaching, although he considers his years as a choreographer a form of it. “I didn’t want to start teaching right out of school because I thought it was tacky,” he says. “You know—you’ve just graduated and you start teaching. Hello? You’re gonna teach what they told you? But now I feel I am old enough. For me, when I dance in my bedroom, I’m dancing to the music and respecting that, but I’m also dancing for the gods and goddesses. I want to bring a sense of celebration back.”
CLASS runs Sunday 1 through April 30. For a list of specific classes and workshops, visit classclassclass.org