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A Review of Dance Spotlight's DVD The Dance Technique of Lester Horton: An Intermediate 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 Intermediate Class, released in 2009, Ana Marie Forsythe and Majorie B. Perces teach an intermediate-level Horton technique class to a group of students affiliated with the Ailey/Fordham BFA program. (This DVD is the second in a series of three DVDs in which the pair teach different levels of Horton classes.) Just like in the beginner-level Horton DVD, Ms. Forsythe teaches the first and last sections of the class, and Ms. Perces teaches the second, improvisatory section.

The way in which Ms. Forsythe uses her voice and the excellent verbal cues she gives throughout her portions of the class are some of her greatest strengths as an instructor. During Flat Backs, for example, she tells the class to keep "one nice long sustained energy" in mind. Her corrections and comments always give students a manageable amount of information that they can apply immediately upon hearing them. When students hear "nice long fingers, no tension", "always think of going out", "pull forward as you releve", "feel the length of this", and "pull up as you lower the heels… everything lengthens" they know just what to do. I love these prompts because with them, Ms. Forsythe gives students simple, tangible things to think about that have real effects on their movement and musicality. She has an eagle eye that misses no errors in her students' movement, and she misses no opportunities to give her students helpful information at a level they are ready to accept.

When during Flat Backs she tells her students to "plie deep, stretch stretch stretch streeeetch" and "you have to be very careful not to pull back in your legs… you're really reaching out out out out out out!" her voice audibly stretches and reaches in the way she wants her students' bodies to. The way she enunciates and the rhythm of her speech masterfully enrich her teaching. When Ms. Forsythe describes between the variations of the Release Swings where in the body the movement should initiate, it is obvious that she is teaching an intermediate-level class. There is more nuance and detail in this discussion than in the ones she has with her students on the beginner-level DVD. Ms. Forsythe does an excellent job of teaching in a level-appropriate way. Furthermore, her discussion after the Lateral Stretches of what the feeling inside the movement ought to be is nuanced yet clear.

I like the way that she shows Leg Swings by having one student demonstrate them in front of the class as she uses her hands to help along the student's motion and explains aloud what is going on at each stage of the movement. With "the leg may not go as high as you would like it to go but that is our constraint… keep the torso quiet", she addresses the difficulty students might face during a particular movement study and tells the them what to bear in mind as they experience it, and I think that is very helpful. When, while explaining Leg Swings with Attitude Turn, Torso in Lateral, Ms. Forsythe remarks, "you should have the feeling that you're wrapping around something", she shows that she knows how to give many different kinds of corrections since not all dancers will find the same corrections or imagery most helpful. When she explains exactly where to find momentum for the turn, I think she delivers very valuable information in a straightforward, demystifying way.

At the start of Fortification #4, she comments, "make sure the arms and the legs are moving together on this… it's hard to sustain, but I know you can do it." I really like how she identifies what aspects of the exercise will be particularly challenging, but notes that she has faith in her students' ability. This is a helpful, encouraging thing to say. At the end of this fortification, she asks the students to assume a certain position from the exercise and then walks around the room correcting individual students' versions of the position. Next, she tells the class that the position is one that Mr. Ailey made famous in Revelations. I love how she gives the students this type of individual attention and helps to give historical context and meaning to the exercise by explaining how it fits into the bigger picture of dance in performance. There's also a distinct wit and humor to her teaching, which is apparent when she says in a winking way during coccyx balance, "you're not really holding, though; you're really pulling up, right?" Before Ms. Forsythe begins discussing Fortification #11, she remarks, "you're not supposed to hold your breath; you're just supposed to hold the positions!", and this is a nice, succint reminder for her students.

Ms. Perces begins the improvisation section of the class by reading a Robert Rauschenberg quotation and then telling the students that as long as they do not worry about whether what they are doing as they improvise is right, everything that they do will be interesting. She next starts off the first improvisation exercise in such a way that the students almost do not know it is starting; there is an organic feeling evolution from stillness into full participation in the exercise. She also is able to give directions and corrections in a way that imparts information but does not feel critical, which is in my opinion a very important skill for a teacher of improvisation to have. This is evident in her comment "it doesn't matter if you happen to bump, but try not to". Her comments tell students what they should aim for without tapping into the inner critics they might have.

I also like her discussion of how to be authentic and truthful yet also have performance quality: "you can stand like you're waiting for the bus… or you can stand like you're on stage and have some thought in your head". She is essentially teaching her students how to be compelling performers, and this will serve them well not only during this specific section of Horton class, but in all the techniques they study and all the dancing that they do. Also lovely is the way that Ms. Perces adds another layer of complexity to the improvisation exercises she taught in the beginner-level Horton DVD; it is clear that she is teaching intermediate-level improvisation on this intermediate-level DVD. Another one of her strengths is her ability to make this section of the class feel celebratory; it feels like some kind of party, but one thrown for the purpose of learning and discovery. When she briefly discusses Martin Luther King's thoughts on what makes art universal before beginning the contact improvisation section of class, she gives the students some philosophical context in which to view the exercises she is leading them through.

I really like how she explained what contact improvisation is and is not by demonstrating with a student in front of the class. Her "it was beautiful! Just move! Keep moving and don't think!" and "closer! Don't hold hands, Love! Use your body, not your hands!" are kind and encouraging.

All together, I do not have any real criticisms of the class shown on this DVD. Ms. Forsythe's and Ms. Perces's particular strengths as instructors really shine, and the DVD is a useful tool for teachers who seek to understand how to structure a class and give corrections at an intermediate level.


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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