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A Review of Dance Spotlight's DVD The Dance Technique of Lester Horton: An Advanced Beginners Class

by C. J. Biene
December 11, 2015
An Overview of Dance Spotlight's Technique Class DVD Series
A Review of Dance Spotlight's DVD "The Dance Technique of Lester Horton: An Advanced Beginners Class"
A Review of Dance Spotlight's DVD "The Dance Technique of Lester Horton: An Intermediate Class"
A Review of Dance Spotlight's DVD "The Dance Technique of Lester Horton: An Advanced Class"
A Review of Dance Spotlight's DVD "Intro to Dance for Boys Using Horton and West African Dance"
A Review of Dance Spotlight's DVD "Graham Technique Taught by Peggy Frank: An Intermediate Class"
In Dance Spotlight's DVD, The Dance Technique of Lester Horton: An Advanced Beginners Class, Ana Marie Forsythe and Marjorie Perces teach an advanced beginner level Horton class to a group of students affiliated with the Fordham/Ailey BFA program. These two teachers are excellently matched to the portions of the class that they each teach.

Ana Marie Forsythe teaches the first and third portions of the class: the parts that that the non-improvisational movement exercises comprise. She does a fantastic job of using her voice to help students understand what qualities they should embody in different parts of movement exercises. I would even go so far as to say that her voice could be thought of as part of the class accompaniment, since she uses it to guide her dancers so skillfully and musically. The way in which she uses her voice is one of her greatest strengths as a teacher. When she tells her students to reach and stretch, her voice audibly really reaches or stretches right along with them. Her teaching is full of clarity and directness, but with a flexibility in it that allows her to sometimes deviate from the intended arc of class to correct a particular dancer or discuss a movement study in greater detail. Her corrections are always spontaneous and based on what she observes going on in her students' bodies and movement at any particular time.

I like the way that eagle-eyed Ms. Forsythe corrects one dancer's slightly misaligned hand during an exercise. The way that she tells dancers exactly where to remove excess tension from their bodies and her comments about keeping in mind the position of one's body relative to a line that is parallel to the ground likewise bring a great clarity to the class. She always explains exactly which parts of the body should be moving and which should remain still at any given time during the exercises. With comments such as "pull up as you lower the heels", she does a great job of giving students insight into what really ought to be happening on each count of each exercise. She gives students a manageable amount of information to focus on during the exercises ("…Let me see that hip shift! Nice long torso…") which I would definitely find helpful were I a student in the class in the DVD. Her discussions of directions of movement and of where to focus one's gaze are very useful.

Ms. Forsythe's way of explaining that she wants to see a jump rather than a landing shows a great understanding of how to help students understand where in the exercise to accent their movement. The way that she discusses shifts of weight is excellent, too. The images she chooses to talk about—such as one of a skewer extending vertically through the body—are perfectly clear and helpful. When she comments, "I want to see a swinging action, not a kicking action" I can see how good she is at demystifying the movement exercises for the students. I also love her mention of exactly how dancers can make movement more percussive; it is wonderfully incisive and insightful. Her decision to have the class do coccyx balance in two groups is terrific because it allows her to teach students not just how to improve their coccyx balance sequences, but also how to be aware of the movement of other dancers. In this, she is developing her students' ability to dance well with others on stage, even though she and they are currently in class and not performance. Her discussion of the meaning of the term 'attenuation' and of what dancers should keep in mind in order to achieve better line is wonderful.

It is also really nice to see Ms. Forsythe give corrections to individual dancers while never forgetting to teach in a way that is directed toward the whole class. Dancers in her class receive individual attention, but not in a way that shortchanges the rest of the class. Her habit of frequently correcting of one student as others look on or explaining an exercise while only one dancer demonstrates it is helpful to the entire roomful of students. Comments like "keep growing!" and "…and smooth, and breathe!" help students to bring emotional life and presence to the movement exercises. Comments like these help students to be fully and truly engaged in each part of the class, even the toughest ones. When Ms. Forsythe reminds students to smile, it is easy to see how much she enjoys teaching. Throughout the DVD, it is evident that she truly knows how to teach, not merely instruct.

The inclusion of a slide explaining the role of improvisation in a Horton class is a good choice. Marjorie Perces, who leads the improvisation portion of class, has a wonderfully encouraging personality; she is the perfect person for teaching improvisation. She really knows how to give students enough information to stimulate their imaginations and movement, but not enough to overwhelm or inhibit. "It's not a criticism: please use more space!" for example, is a good comment. I also like how she mentions that in more advanced Horton classes, the students will move on to improvising with a partner, because it gives her students a context in which to understand their learning and progress (even though improvisation is often hard to gauge one's learning and progress in). Her exhortations to "feel it!" and "change levels! Change tempo!" are uplifting and encouraging.

Both teachers' joy in teaching is palpable, and Ms. Forsythe's broad and detailed knowledge of the Horton technique is clear. I do not have any major complaints about or criticisms of the class, other than that it perhaps could have been helpful to show students asking questions during the class and then having their questions answered by the teacher. Another welcome addition might have been showing students correcting one another with their teacher's assistance. However, because Ms. Forsythe still demonstrates how to correct individual students, I do not consider these oversights glaring ones.


The DVDs can be ordered online at www.DanceSpotlight.com

or from:
Dance Spotlight
156 West 44th St Flat 7
NYC, NY 10036

or ordered by calling: 212-398-4200
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