More on Jazz Dance in Russia

I posted some thoughts on teaching jazz dance in Russia, and I thought I should add some clarification. I called our American dancers on to the carpet a bit for some less-focused class attitude than a teacher would like to see. Of course there are top American dancers who are on the ball, hard working, and always attentive in the class. Just last night I taught three master classes at the Loudoun School of Ballet in Leesburg, Virginia, to dancers ages 10-16, and they were wonderful - attentive, hard working, smiling, and learning.

The difference between the American and Russian systems is more of the reason why dance is even pursued. In the Eifman Academy, the school exists solely to make dancers for the company and for other professional venues. Its all about making a professional dancer, and its organized from a "top down" mentality. The directors create a program to create professional dancers. That is why the entire organization exits. No recreational dancers here.

Meanwhile, in much of American dance, the studios are independently owned businesses, and the parent (i.e. consumer) purchases the dance experience for their child. Although the studio wants to create the highest level of achievement, it's really the desires of the parent/student/consumer that drives the process. Pleasing the student/parent is high in importance, rather than honoring a tradition of a path to professionalism. So, students in American schools may be taking more for recreation than expectations of a professional career. In fact, many parents spend large sums of money to provide a dance experience for their child, with the result that they achieve excellent skills, but still with the expectation that they will enroll in college and find a different path in life - a non-dancing path.

So maybe therein lies the biggest philosophical difference - the dedication to a tradition and to professionalism as the reason for existence, as opposed to a strong love for dance but still being organized as a business that relies on consumer payments for financial existence.

Just thought I'd add this in!

Jazz Dancing in Russia

Well, I just returned from my fourth time of teaching jazz dance in St Petersburg, Russia. The last two times were dual projects, at the Boris Eifman Dance Academy and the Kannon Dance company. I could write pages on this experience, and maybe someday I will, but for now I'll just put down some impressions.

First - the Russian dancers mean business. Much more so than American dancers and studios. I taught adult dancers at Kannon Dance and they were strong, accomplished, focused, and full of positive energy. They wanted to work and they enjoyed their process of working. Does this happen in the US? Not really. Not to the extent that it happened in Russia. Sorry US, you aren't cutting it. The Russian dancers worked harder and appreciated the class they were getting.

I also taught two levels of younger dancers at the Boris Eifman Dance Academy. This is a more traditional Russian ballet academy where the young dancers are selected by audition, and then have their training provided by the "state." They live at the academy, have their academic classes there, and then have a dedicated program devised to train them to be professional ballet dancers. In this case, to be suitable for the choreography of Boris Eifman and his international company. It's a major undertaking, as the "state" has provided funding for a magnificent seven story building with 13 state of the art dance studios and a fully equipped small theatre. Its a palace, and I'm sorry, the Ailey school in NYC pales in comparison to this Eifman Dance building. The Eifman Academy and building is truly amazing.

To go one further, the "state" has provided funding to build a new full dance theatre adjacent to the dance academy, just for performances of the Eifman full dance company. Does this level of support happen in the US? Of course not. No way.

But the result is that the dancers are so well provided for and trained that they produce a result that would never happen in the normal US suburban dance studio. I taught two levels of younger dancers, ages 11-15, and they were spectacular. Fully stretched, hard working, attentive, focused, and extremely talented. And the dancers didn't talk during the class. They paid attention. What a difference from the young American dancers I teach, who can't go across the floor without breaking into spirited conversation every time they hit the other end of the dance floor.

I asked if they needed a water break, and the response was "What for? We are here to work." No water bottles on the sides of the studio like in America.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. My classes showed remarkable progress in just one week. And they looked stronger and more passionate than the American kids I teach. A big part of it is just paying attention. Not talking. Another big part is a stronger work ethic. The only reason they are at the academy is to dance. They accept everything given to them. They don't have a say in it, and they don't express opinion on what they are getting. They accept their instruction as good and valuable, and there is no such thing as "well, I think I'd to drop dance and do soccer instead." They smile, they work, they get better.

Again, the proof is in the pudding. Just watch these videos, with dancers who have had only five classes/rehearsals…and you'll agree that these young Russian dancers know how to learn. Can American kids make the same claim??

Eifman lyrical jazz dance combo

Kannon Dance adult dancers