Monday, December 20, 2010

An Interview with Peridance's Dorit Koppel

Photo by Jaci Berkopec

Taking Technique

Ballet technique classes are a huge part of any dancer’s training, but taking them day after day can be highly repetitive. How is it that dancers, beginner through professional, go back to class day after day and year after year without getting discouraged? While this commitment to training depends on the individual dancer’s diligence, an excellent teacher can be what takes a class from repetitive to enjoyable. I talked to one of Peridance Capezio Center’s own ballet teachers, Dorit Koppel, to see how she makes each class a new experience.
This is what she had to say:

Every class I teach is like a precious jewel or a kaleidoscope of movement that I switch and turn. What is most important to me when giving a class is that my students do not leave my class the same person they were when they entered. They should have something to take with them: a new step, a correction, an image, a new way of approaching their practice. A dance class should be an hour and a half of great experiences. Otherwise, it becomes tedious and tedious you cannot survive. I use imagery extensively to bring the outside world into the dance studio, using visually palpable examples. I believe it makes for a more creative and colorful class and one to which all students can relate.

Photo by Jaci Berkopec

In my classes a great deal of emphasis is placed on the movement of the upper body. These little nuances of the head and arms, are difficult to pick up, but they make a dancer. You have to learn how to use the upper body at the barre so that in the center it becomes second nature. Therefore, I encourage my students to dance the barre rather than execute the exercises.

Ballet can be quite restrictive, there are all these things that we are told not to do; it can begin to feel very confining. It is important to learn to move with freedom, in order to fully explore your body and space. A technique class is only class, not an audition, and in my view it should be treated as a laboratory, a place for experimentation. No matter the level of the student, I still want them to dance the class. This is how you build, little by little, day by day.

Photo by Jaci Berkopec

The classes I teach are open classes, not a closed program. I enjoy the variety of students and the energy they bring. It is much more interesting and colorful, because you get people from all walks of life and ability levels. I always have several class plans up my sleeve, just in case because I do not know who will be in the class.

Ballet naturally demands precision and thus tension, so I always try and relax the class because you cannot approach it with stress and fear. I bring humor into the class, to keep everything in perspective. If you do not enjoy the dancing, then don’t do it. It is not merely exercise; it is an art form. I tell my students, if you want to get in shape, go to the gym, not a ballet class. Dance requires a giving of oneself to something; it is greater than you. It can be a humbling experience, but it is okay to be humbled by it because it is such a high art form.

Dorit Teaches at Peridance Tuesdays & Thursdays Slow Intermediate 5:30-7:00pm.
Click here to see her schedule on the website.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday Advice

Take a look at Peridance instructor, Lauren Tepper's excellent article, What Don't You Want for Christmas? on how to have a more satisfying holiday season.



It’s called ‘Santosha,’ translated as contentment or gratitude. I’m exploring Santosha as a new paradigm for my life. One way I practice is by first noticing a desire when it arises. Then rather than giving in to the desire immediately, I sit still for five minutes or more and consciously practice contentment. I direct my awareness to the simple act of breathing that sustains my life, and pay attention to the pleasurable sensations in my body as I simply sit doing nothing in particular. (Patrick McDonnell wrote a great children’s book called The Gift of Nothing depicting this idea with a charming story and illustrations, fun for adults too!)

If you want to read more about this simple and life-changing practice, I’m reprinting below an excerpt from a series I wrote for on Santosha, which is one of five yogic ‘Niyamas,’ or observances. I wish you contentment and freedom from wanting this holiday season.

Santosha, or freedom from wanting

Of all the niyamas, to me santosha is the one that just feels good. Sutra 2.42 tells us that “from contentment, the highest happiness is gained.” Cultivating gratitude, practicing contentment… I picture myself like a cat curled up on a sunny windowsill, just lapping up all the sweetness of this juicy life.

But what about when life doesn’t paint this idyllic picture? From serious conditions like illness or violence to minor annoyances like delayed subways and bad hair days, I am challenged to practice gratitude even when things are not going ‘my way.’

To help remind me that santosha is meant to be a continual practice of unconditional gratitude, I posted a little reminder above my desk: Until you can make friends with the present moment, you’re not really living. Seated breathing practices and simple mindfulness exercises have helped me tremendously to embrace santosha, and not just when things are going ‘well.’ Everyday annoyances like missing a train by the skin of my teeth become an opportunity for practice: can I slow my breathing down and practice contentment, even in this mucky tunnel?

In Edwin Bryant’s commentary on the Sutras, he explains that santosha is about finding the greatest happiness “from the cessation of desire.” When I let go of my designs and surrender to what is, my life shifts into the present moment. My computer crashes; the four hours I spend trying to get back online could be full of irritation and impatience for results, or I could choose a more sattvic (harmonious) approach to the situation. Each press of my finger on the keyboard could be a reminder that here I am, alive in this miraculous and mysterious existence. When I practice santosha, joy arises from within, completely independently of my external situation, which is always changing.

Santosha doesn’t mean I don’t work to change what feels unacceptable. My life partner will hear about it when he leaves tomato sauce stains on the countertops. I still work to protest war and violence. Contentment doesn’t mean just sitting back and lackadaisically watching the world go by. But armed with this gentle yet vital practice, I am able to approach each day with more compassion, more relaxation, and thankfulness just for the opportunity to be here and experience it all – the pleasurable events as well as the drudgery. It’s all an opportunity to grow, and to let go of the idea that I can control or put any conditions on reality.

Check out Lauren's blog at

Lauren teaches yoga at Peridance Align/Flow Yoga: Sundays 10:00-11:30am.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Faculty News

Korhan Basaran, Peridance Contemporary teacher has a piece premiering December 15th “The Second Elegy: Fall of a Swan” will be performed by Shay Bares & Korhan Basaran at the Cunningham Studio. Korhan will also be performing as Drosselmeyer in Igal Perry’s original Nutcracker.

Marijke Eliasberg is currently teaching and choreographing in the Netherlands. She is choreographing a new commissioned piece on the 2nd year teacher department of the Theaterschool/Amsterdam School of Dance and teaching Master Classes at Codarts Rotterdam and Studio K'dans in The Hague! She will be back at Peridance Saturday, Dec. 18th 3pm and has a new class starting Tuesday, Dec. 21st 11:30-1pm!

Peridance teachers, Dana Foglia, La Jon Dantzler, and Joanna Numata are participating in the creation of “cy.clo.thy.mi.a.” a new dance show by The United Project. The performances are Dec. 12th and 16th at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center. For more information or 646.385.8493.

Anabella Lenzu is celebrating her 20th anniversary of teaching and the 5th anniversary of her company Anabella Lenzu/DanceDrama throughout 2011! She feels that she has come very far in realizing her dream to form a company that has a unique dance language. She also has an upcoming show, Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) 2011 Conference at New York City Center, January 9th 2011.

Wes Veldink has been away teaching in Italy and Finland. While away he shot a dance short film in the south of Italy that will be submitted to dance on film festivals this coming year. He also choreographed Gwyneth Paltrow, Leighton Meester and Garrett Hedlund for the feature film "Country Strong" which has a limited release Dec. 22nd and wide release Jan. 7th.