Backstage with William Waldinger of The Joffrey Ballet School & Broadway Dance Center

Friends, we've got a first over here this week on the Backstage Blog! I make an effort to interview a wide variety of dancers and educators in the dance community who all have different passions and perspectives, and most often, these amazing individuals are women... but today that changes! William Waldinger is a Master Teacher who can be found passing on his knowledge to dancers at The Joffrey Ballet School and Broadway Dance Center. I'm thrilled to have gotten to know him better during this interview and am super jazzed (haha, see what I did there?) to share this interview with you!

KC: What's your earliest memory of dance?

WW: My earliest memory of dance is that of seeing The Nutcracker  for the first time on television. I remember where we were living, and we moved from that apartment in early December when I was six years old, so was was probably five at the time. I remember watching it on a tiny black and white portable set with rabbit ears. I was completely transfixed and I knew at that moment that THIS was what I wanted to do. When I got into the first grade, I remember being brought to the school library. There was a book there called The a Royal Book of BalletI checked that book out of the library and spent the week pouring over its gorgeous illustrations. I couldn't yet read well enough to actually read the book, but it was my only link to this mysterious world to which I was aching to belong.

KC: What's your background with dance? Was it love at first plie?

WW: I wasn't actually able to start my training until I was an adult and had the ability to arrange for and pay for my own classes. I had danced a little in school plays, but there was no actual training. My very first class was at Luigi's Jazz Centre when I was just shy of 26 years old. It was so much MORE than "love at first plié"; I was finally HOME.

KC: How did you get into teaching? What's your favorite thing about it?

WW: My first experience teaching was at a small studio in Brooklyn, NY. I was just starting my serious performing career and I heard through a dear friend that this little studio was looking for a ballet teacher. I figured it would be a good way to earn some extra money. As it turned out, I really enjoyed it. I taught there for one year, but then my performing schedule became too busy for me to continue. Many years later (probably about 15), a teacher at Steps on Broadway asked me to sub for him. It had never occurred to me to start teaching again. As it happened, that subbing opportunity didn't pan out. But it put the bug in my head to start teaching again...so all these years later I contacted the owner of that little school in Brooklyn and asked for a job. Within three months I was back teaching there. Although I didn't get the chance to sub that class at Steps, I did go and take that class. The teacher who was subbing ultimately recommended me to teach at CAP21 Musical Theater Conservatory in Manhattan. One thing lead to another and I landed at CORA Dance, The Manhattan Ballet School, NY Film Academy, Broadway Dance Center and the Joffrey Ballet School. 

My favorite thing about teaching is being part of a chain of educators. What we do as dancers is so intimate and personal; our bodies are our instruments, our muscles contain our memories and we keep our art in a very deep place-on the inside. There is only one way to teach dance...and to really TEACH dance it must be personally passed down, in the studio, from teacher to student. Maestro Cecchetti taught Madame Nijinska who taught Luigi who taught me. Madame Vaganova taught Madame Darvash who taught me. Now my students get to be part of this chain as I take these teachings, filter them through my experience, and pass them down to my students...to the next generation of dancers.

KC: Who are your dance heroes, and why?

WW: There are so many dancers and choreographers whose work I greatly admire: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Gwen Verdon, Edward Villella, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Rudolf Nureyev, Cynthia Gregory, Margot Fonteyn, Suzanne Farrell, George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse, Martha Graham...and there are many more. But you specifically asked about HEROS. I have one; and that would be Luigi. 

Luigi was paralyzed in a car accident in his early twenties. His doctors told him that he would never walk again and that there was nothing that could be done. He rehabilitated his broken body using exercises that he, himself created and then went on to a brilliant dancing career. Upon retiring from performing he turned these rehabilitative exercises into "The Luigi Jazz Technique", a training method that forever changed the way dancers were trained. It was this man; my teacher, my mentor and my HERO who was singularly responsible for my career and my life in dance.

KC: You write wonderful articles over on your blog, Classical Ballet and All That Jazz. One of my favorites is your blog, Dancing With Different Bodies. Do you think the dance community is getting better at accepting bodies in different shapes, ages and stages?

WW: I think that things are changing in some corners of the dance world, and not in others. I am happy to be part of the Joffrey Ballet School in NYC, where body type is not a consideration when students are auditioning for the preprofessional trainee program. There are still many programs that select their students based on body proportion, flexibility, hip rotation, etc.. The ballet world has an esthetic, an expectation of what a Ballet Dancer looks like. Some extraordinary dancers are breaking that mold...but not many. In other genres of dance (especially in modern, hip-hop and commercial dance) there is a much wider range of what is considered an "acceptable" body. Choreographers like Bill T. Jones have celebrated diverse bodies in assembling their companies and I applaud them. The "uniformity" across the company comes not from a similar body type but from a similar training, movement style and quality.

KC: That's such an important distinction to make about 'uniformity'. What's one piece of advice you'd give your younger dancer self?

WW: "DON'T EVER STOP" . And "BE CAREFUL HOW YOU DEFINE SUCCESS". If I may, I would to link an article here on the definition of success.

KC: What's one of your favorite funny or heart warming stories about teaching dance?

WW: This story does not directly involve me, but is more about one of my employers, mentors, role models and dear friends. I am very proud to have taught at this beautiful teacher's school and I must keep the name of this school anonymous (for reasons which you will soon see). This truly remarkable woman owns a beautiful, small, recreational studio. On the rare occasion that she identifies a truly talented student, she always has a conference with the parents. She explains that if this child wants a career in dance, that they must move the child to a serious pre-professional program; that a neighborhood recreational studio (even though the teaching may be excellent) does not have the resources to make a professional dancer. On one such occasion she met with a parent and suggested that the child audition for the summer intensive at one of the big famous ballet schools in NYC. A few weeks later, this studio owner received a phone call from the parent. The child was accepted into the summer intensive! Unfortunately, there was no way for this family to pay for the tuition, so the child will be returning to this lovely recreational studio for the summer. This studio owner, who could barely make her rent and payroll, wrote the tuition check for this student to attend that intensive. Not only did she send a student away (the most talented student she ever had), she PAID THE TUITION HERSELF. The following school year, this big famous school in NYC put this talented student on full scholarship and this student is now in a very famous internationally respected company. This is what it means to be a teacher. This is what it means to make a dancer.

KC: Are there any cliches or preconceptions about dance you try to correct in your teaching?

WW: Yes. I always try to make it clear that in MY OPINION, high extensions, heart stopping jumps  and dizzying pirouettes do not add up to "dancing". And that carefully sculpted epaulment, head positions, eye positions and finger positions do not add up to artistry and expression. Dancing, artistry and expression come from a very deep place, on the inside. And it is up to us as teachers to find that in our students and cultivate it from the very first tendu and the very first plié.

KC: What about the dance community is currently exciting you the most?

WW: I can't believe I'm about to say this, because I'm a huge technophobe, but I'm excited about the Internet. I definitely think that Internet sensations are a problem. I definitely think that hiring dancers based on how many Instagram and YouTube followers is an even bigger problem. But the Internet has allowed me to connect with teachers and schools all over the world and has opened doors for me that I never knew existed. Without the internet my guest teaching opportunities would be severely limited. Without the internet this interview would have never happened.  I just hope that I can, at my age, keep up with the technology because in many ways I feel like my career is just getting started. 

KC: And now... just for funsies...

Burritos or tacos?

WW: BURRITOS...for sure

KC: Disco balls or rainbows?

WW: DISCO BALLS, I was very happy in the '70's

KC: Center Stage or Flashdance?

WW: FLASHDANCE "What a feeling"

KC: One word to describe yourself?

WW: RELENTLESS

Thank you SO MUCH, William, for sharing your insights and experiences with me! I'll just be over here, on the other side of my computer, doing my best Jennifer Beals dance to 'What a Feeling' :) 

Finding Help In Unexpected Places

As dance educators and studio owners, we wear a lot of hats. It can be overwhelming, even impossible at times to feel like we have the help and support we need.

We’re also guilty of trying to do too much on our own (I’m suuuuuper guilty of this). We are WonderWomen, but that doesn’t mean we should look for, or accept help.

I’ve found that sometimes help can come in the most unexpected of places - our students. One of my favorite ways to engage young students who might be feeling shy or uncertain about joining class is to make them my “helper”. I made a video about it a few weeks ago….

This works because we all like to feel useful, and it gives the child something actionable to do, which makes them feel more at ease, focused, and safe. It puts them back in control when they’re feeling out of control. It has the added benefit of helping me, and showing the other students ways in which they can be helpful. Usually when I do this, before I know it I’ve got a whole classroom full of helpers who I can give various tasks to, and who feel proud of their actions.

Where will you find help today? In a student, a parent, a random interaction on the street? I’d love to know where and how you found help, and how it made your day a little better!

Two Must Have Fall Songs For Creative Movement

If you’re a dance teacher who works with Littles, you know the power of a good song. Incorporating action songs and transition songs into your classes is a great way to keep kids engaged and focused, and is an excellent way to deliver instructions in a fun way.

Today I’m sharing two must have songs to work into your fall creative movement classes. This first one is one of my most watched videos over on my YouTube channel. I originally developed it as part of a BrainDance, but you can use it just about anywhere in your classes.

Additionally, you can nab these fun handouts in the Shop to send home with parents so the fun can continue at home, or share them with your employees!

This second song is a good one for exploring levels and actions. You can replace any of the words with various directions or actions, such as hop, jump, march. etc.

There you have it! If you enjoyed these videos I’d love for you to #1 subscribe to my YouTube channel, and #2, make sure you check out my online shop, where you can find more resources for your young dance classes! Happy Dancing!

UPCOMING! November Backstage Blog Palooza!

Hey Friends! If you’ve been reading the blog for awhile, you know that I try to do a Backstage Blog interview where I chat with dancers, educators, and business owners and bring you their wisdom. It’s one of my favorite things to do here on the blog, and I’m super excited that next month is going to be all Backstage Blogs, all the time!

Yayyyyyyyy!

Now there’s a practical reason I’ve done this as well: if you’ve been following me on Instagram, you know that I’ll be having a surgery in November, so the Backstage Blog Interview Palooza is timed so that I can be hands off on the blog and give myself some time for R&R.

It’s been an interesting process coming to terms with the fact that my body, mind, and spirit are in some serious need of rest when summer-fall have been an extremely busy time for me. (You can read more about that in this blog.) If you want to keep up on this journey of mine and see how I’m getting on, I’d love for you to follow me on Instagram, or search the hashtag r&r&r (that’s what I’m dubbing my November recoup month: rest & relaxation & recovery).

In the meantime, you can look forward to the AWESOME line up of interviews by reading a bit about each of my interviewees.

Leslie Scott of Youth Protection Advocates in Dance. Leslie is well known not only for her talents but her unwavering work ethic, inspiring public speaking, contagious positive energy and bold use of movement to spread a positive message!

Annett Bone, Founder of The Dancepreneuring Podcast which has an international audience that’s been downloaded in 70 countries to date. She’s a big believer that anyone can accomplish great things from where they are, and they can start with what they have.

Tricia Gomez of Rhythm Works Integrative Dance. She is the President of Dance – In a Box Publishing and Global Director of Rhythm Works Integrative Dance. She is considered a pioneer in pre‐school and elementary Hip Hop education, often daring to go where others thought impossible. Her unique Hip Hop teaching methods have landed her on the Dr. Phil Show as their dance expert and as the Head Judge of the CBS TV series “Dance Revolution”.

William Walldinger, Master Teacher. William is a well known and much sought after master teacher, and teaches regularly at Broadway Dance Center and The Joffery School of Ballet. He shares his teaching experience and wisdom on his blog, Classical Ballet and All That Jazz.

I can’t wait to bring you these amazing and inspiring interviews! Stay tuned so you don’t miss them, and be sure to follow me on Instagram so you know when they go live!

October Book Report - Monsters, Ghosts & Dragons!

I couldn’t choose just one book for October’s book report, so we’re going with a trinity of books covering Monsters, Ghosts and Dragons! All three of these books are great additions to your creative movement classes, fun inspiration for spooky themed Halloween choreography, or just to enjoy for a bedtime read.

First up is Monster Boogie by the incomparable Laurie Berkner. Many of you are probably familiar with Laurie Berkner’s songs, and We Are The Dinosaurs is a favorite song and dance game in my classes. Monster Boogie has the same fun and silly feel of We Are The Dinosaurs, and is great for exploring size and shape with dancers.

If you’ve got a fan of nursery rhymes, Mother Ghost by Rachel Kolar is going to be the book for you! It cleverly takes traditional nursery rhymes and gives them a Halloween flair. Instead of ‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary”, we have “Mary, Mary, tall and scary’. Simple, silly, and good for readers who appreciate a good giggle, this is a wonderful option for October bedtime reads.

There’s a Dragon In Your Book by Tom Fletcher might just be the cutest book I’ve seen all year. With an adorable, clumsy baby dragon and interactive text, this book will have young readers engaged in no time. Tom Fletcher also has a book called There’s a Monster In Your Book, which is equally entertaining. Creative Movement dancers will have a blast flying like dragons, leaping over fire, and letting their beastly imaginations run wild.

Which of these will be on your bookshelf this month? Comment below and let me know!

Why Dancers Hate Dance Movies

Well I bet that title got your attention didn’t it? ;) Now before you get all ‘that’s not true, I LOVE dance movies and I’m a dancer!’ on me, let me put out the disclaimer that I know not all dancers hate dance movies, but the vast majority of fellow dancers and educators I’ve known and talked to are iffy at best about most dance movies, and underwhelmed is the adjective I’d use to describe most dancer’s reactions when a new dance movie comes out.

Personally I know that when I see a new commercial or ad for a dance movie, I internally cringe and roll my eyes at the same time. And then I thought ‘well that’s an odd reaction considering I am a dancer’, and got curious about why that’s always my reaction.

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So, like any legitimate investigator, I got on Instagram and Facebook to poll the other dance masses, and it turns out, most of you had the same reaction as I did. Most of you feel that the majority of dance movies are superficial, topical, and lack breadth. Personally, I feel like most dance movies end up bastardizing the art form and reducing it to a few very tired stereotypes. I’ve yet to see a dance movie that correctly captures the dance community, life, and art. To be fair, to do so would be a tall order, but isn’t that kind of the job description of film directors?

I think it’s safe to say that the dance community is tired of seeing dance on the silver screen as psycho Swans (you can read more about my opinion of Black Swan in this article), starving, poor artists, or backstabbing divas. And that’s not even mentioning using non dancers as actors or actresses in dance films. All of these elements combine to make me feel undervalued and misunderstood as a dancer, so it’s no surprise the buzz of a new dance film leaves me feeling meh and somewhat resentful.

Now on the flip side, the thing that got these thoughts flowing was seeing the newest trailer for Disney’s Nutcracker, which I was fully expecting to hate, but was actually pleasantly surprised to see looks somewhat fresh and fun. We’ll see how I feel after it hits the big screen, but hope springs eternal, and I hope Disney will get it right.

I’d love to hear from you! Are you a dance movie lover, or hater, and how do you feel about the new Nutcracker coming to theaters this fall? Leave me a comment and let me know!

MindBody SPARK Is Here! (And Why It's Slightly Incomplete)

FRIENDS! It’s a big day for me, because the creative dance curriculum I’ve been working so hard on is now LIVE in the Different Drummer Dance online store!

MindBody SPARK creative dance curriculum

The store went live earlier this month, and has lots of great resources for dance educators and studio owners (with still more goodies to come!), but the MindBody SPARK curriculum took a little longer, because, well, it’s a big project with lots of moving parts, and I wanted to take my time to give you the best program possible!

I’d love for you to check out the store here, and get a more in-depth look at the curriculum here! But I also want to tell you why the MindBody SPARK curriculum is still slightly incomplete, and why I decided to make it live anyways.

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen a series of Instagram Stories I did where I explained my decision, but it comes down to this: earlier this summer I found out I have several ovarian cysts that are causing me pain and discomfort, not only physically, but mentally. Physically because they make me feel bloated and uncomfortable, and mentally because my physical state of discomfort makes my brain say things like ‘you’re fat/ugly’, and ‘your body is out of control’. Not nice things to say to yourself… and especially hard for me to come to terms with when I’m all about body positivity and positive self talk. Yet, I kept pushing myself to complete the curriculum, and I did, minus one part - the curriculum video demonstrations.

I give myself credit for trying, but things kept coming up that would derail me - I forgot to download my music and didn’t have a WiFi connection, I needed a tripod to really get the right angle, etc. Finally I realized that the deep, dark reason I kept getting derailed and not finishing this aspect of my project was because I just didn’t want to see myself on camera. I knew it would send me into a tailspin of self bashing and shaming, and I just didn’t want to deal with it.

 My Instagram post on why I didn’t complete the videos for the MindBody SPARK curriculum.

My Instagram post on why I didn’t complete the videos for the MindBody SPARK curriculum.

I was faced with the conundrum: do I force myself to get through the videos and deliver on a product I’d been promising would be complete, making my customers happy but making myself miserable, OR, do I pause the videos and return to filming them at a later date, when I feel better, but risk disappointing my customers (and myself) by not finishing my product on time?

I decided on the latter. It was not an easy decision, but as all of us know, the negative voices in our heads can be so fierce and mean, and as someone who’s business is built around body positivity and encouraging positive self talk and confidence, I knew I’d be letting not only myself and my business down by pushing through, but also my customers and followers who look to me to set an example for embodying positive self image and talk.

So, friends, yes, the MindBody SPARK creative dance curriculum is live and available for purchase (yay!), but the video elements won’t be available until later this year, after I’ve had surgery to remove the cysts and feel both physically and emotionally better. (If you do decide to purchase the curriculum before that date, I will happily walk you through any exercises over the phone!)

I hope you’ll understand, and celebrate not only the publishing of a work that I’m truly passionate about and 100% believe will change the way we educate young dancers, but also celebrate me taking a body positive step forward for myself that was really hard. I really do think that we’re called to do the work that we need to learn the most; I preach a lot about body positivity and empowerment for others because it’s a lesson I will continue to need to learn for myself.

Thanks so much for reading, for sharing, and for your support! If you’re interested in purchasing the MindBody SPARK curriculum, you can get the deets here, email me to chat about it, or punch the button below to get added to my email list to receive further updates.

Your Friend in Dance,

Katrena

September Book Report - Up In The Garden & Down In The Dirt

So it's been a little wet in upstate NY lately, but for this week's Book Report I'm channeling my Northern California roots, where September is hot, hot, hot, and many gardens are in their full glory.

Kate Messner's Up In the Garden and Down In The Dirt is a great book for any kid who loves to be outside and get messy (aka - ALL kids). It's also a great one for exploring ecosystems, and in dance class, levels, and size. That's just one of the reasons (one of the others being its gorgeous illustrations) that this book is also a recommended read in the Creative Dance Curriculum (which you can get a FREE download of here!)!

The Creative Dance Curriculum is broken down into 10 modules, each exploring a different dance concept. Additionally, each lesson plan includes a 'Kickstarter'; a book, poem, or short activity that helps dancers understand the concept they'll be exploring. 

Books like this one are some of my favorite to use with young dancers; they're so accessible, fun, and colorful, everyone can't help but enjoy them and get excited about learning!

Get the first Module in the Creative Dance Curriculum below, and then I'd love for you to join me at my Facebook Live conversation I'll be hosting on date, where you can hear me talk more about why I'm so in love with this program, and what, exactly, makes it unique, and valuable to you as a dance educator!

Happy reading, and happy dancing everyone! Hope you see you on Facebook at date!

Back To (Dance) School Goodies!

Ah September. I can practically smell the glue sticks, Crayola crayons, and Lunchables. It's a bittersweet time for many of us, because who doesn't love the fresh start that fall brings, but also, back to school routines and the ho-hum of everyday life can be a bit blah.

 Affirmation coloring bracelets to use with your students are just some of the goodies in the DDD Online Store!

Affirmation coloring bracelets to use with your students are just some of the goodies in the DDD Online Store!

So to curb the blues you might be feeling about facing fall, today I'm sharing some of my favorite goodies on the newly published DDD Online Store!

There's everything from free worksheet downloads for your dance business to affirmation cards you can use with your students, not to mention a FREE download of the first Module in my Creative Dance Curriculum, which is chock full of exercises, music suggestions, choreography, a BrainDance, and so much more!

All 10 of the Creative Dance Curriculum Modules will be available for purchase on Sept 15th, and if you're curious about what, exactly, makes this program different from any others, just check this out:

What makes the Creative Dance Curriculum (CDC) unique is its attention to the WHOLE dancer. This method teaches dance from the inside out, using body positive affirmations, growth mindset statements and attention to each dancer’s individual needs. It teaches not only solid and sound dance technique, but tools that will help students grow into happy and healthy humans - body, mind, and spirit.

I hope you'll browse around and take it all in, then let me know what your favorite items are, so I can deliver even more of those goods to you! Let me know in the comments - what are the top things you're lusting over in the Different Drummer Dance Online Store?