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C. J. Biene
Instructional Product Reviews
Movie Reviews
Special Focus

An Overview of Dance Spotlight's Technique Class DVD Series

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"
Dance Spotlight's five-DVD series (which The Dance Technique of Lester Horton: An Advanced Beginners Class, The Dance Technique of Lester Horton: An Intermediate Class, The Dance Technique of Lester Horton: An Advanced Class, Graham Technique Taught by Penny Frank: An Intermediate Class, and Intro to Dance for Boys Using Horton and West African Dance comprise) is a useful tool for teachers who seek to improve their pedagogical skills. Though not without some shortfalls, the series is on the whole a very good informational resource.

In all five DVDs, the choice of teacher is excellent. Ms. Frank, Ms. Perces, Ms. Forsythe, and Mr. Inman are all ideal choices for the classes that they each teach. When classes are team-taught (as in the beginner and intermediate level Horton DVDs), there seems to be a clear reason for this, as each teacher appears to teach the portion of the class that particularly allows her strengths as an instructor to shine. Ms. Forsythe's talent for sizing up with great accuracy which aspects of a student's movement need correcting at a quick glance and for making the ensuing corrections with real clarity and in a very memorable way is on display for viewers of the DVD to strive emulate in their own teaching, while Ms. Perces's ability to prompt students to tune into their imaginations and tune out their inner critics makes her a terrific choice for leading the improvisation sections of two of the Horton technique DVDs.

Just as ongoing training and education is vitally significant to all professionals, it is of paramount importance to dancers, teachers of dance, choreographers, and others who work in the dance field. These DVDs support the ongoing training and education of dancers, dance teachers, and perhaps even dance historians.

While it is true that being somewhere in person (such as in an observer's chair in the corner of a studio while a technique class is being taught) allows one a kind of experience that is in many ways unmatched by watching a recording of the same content, it is also true that one can often see (literally and figuratively) through the lens of a camera and the story told by a filmmaker some things that would not fully register to a live observer. Dance Spotlight's producers made skillful use of the film medium in some ways, but in other ways fell short of the true capabilities of the medium and could have gone further. The introductions in which teachers are filmed in their offices having what feels like a friendly, casual discussion about pedagogy with the viewer exemplify the way in which sometimes a camera can take one to a place or perspective that would otherwise be inaccessible; having the chance to chat one-on-one with these venerable teachers in their offices is probably unlikely for most people (due to geography or other factors), but through the medium of film every viewer of the DVD can have something like that experience. The introduction-followed-by-class format works very well, as well; it is helpful to be able to first hear the teachers discuss what they feel are the most important concepts underpinning the classes they are each about to teach and then to be able to see how these concepts are put into practice during the actual teaching of a class.

It is nice that the actual teaching of the class is not interrupted for any discussion (since it all occurs before the class), because this allows viewers to get a sense of the overall arc and flow of the class. Since one of the purposes of the DVD series is that the DVDs are meant to be a tool teachers can use to improve their teaching, this is very important. A foundational part of learning to teach a technique class is learning how to choose themes for class and reinforce them throughout the class so that the class has a sense of continuity to it. Had the DVD shown small pieces of class interspersed with the teacher speaking to the camera, how to structure a class so that information introduced to students at the class's beginning is reinforced throughout the class would have been harder for viewers to catch.

Another way in which a film can take one where one cannot otherwise go is through the physical location of the camera and the way that footage is shot. The producers of the DVDs could have done more to make the most of this aspect of the film medium, even if only briefly. Shooting from a bird's eye view (with the camera above the dancers) would have shown the movement from a vantage point that one cannot experience by observing a class in person. Since different dancers and teachers of dance learn in different ways, perhaps shooting a small part of each DVD from this perspective could have clarified some aspects of movement for some viewers. I also think filming the dancers with the backs or sides of their bodies facing the camera, rather than the fronts of their bodies facing the camera, more often could likewise have been a helpful addition to the DVDs.

Lastly, I have some additional suggestions for the producers at Dance Spotlight regarding future additions to the series. It is very helpful to see Ms. Forsythe's teaching approach change in subtle ways (but remain conceptually the same in some other ways) as she teaches different levels of Horton technique. Adding DVDs that cover different levels of Graham instruction to the series could be a great opportunity to enhance what viewers of the DVDs can learn about how to communicate information differently to students who are taking different levels of classes. A DVD in which Mr. Inman might teach boys who are older than those filmed in the Intro to Dance for Boys DVD could likewise be a helpful addition to the series for viewers who want to improve their pedagogical abilities.

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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