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Hip-hop turns bunheads.

"Right, left, up, down, slide, double turn, buh buh boom!" Bradley Johnson, 20 years old and teaching for the first time in his life, is calling out combinations to seventeen responsive students at the School of Nashville Ballet on a sunny Saturday in mid-October. The double turn is deceptive: Johnson is a hip-hop dancer, and the music to which the dancers are shaking their shoulders and thumping their feet has a relentless and emphatic beat.

"This takes attack, too," calls Johnson, who trained in ballet at the Chicago Multicultural Dance Center, which he attended on scholarship after graduating from the Nashville School of the Arts. "And endings are important," he instructs, like any ballet teacher telling the students to finish their pirouettes. "Kick, ball, change, turn out." The instructions come fast and rhythmically as the budding ballerinas and a couple of boys learn some down-and-dirty street moves. By the end of the class their knees jerk, their hips are slung, and epaulement is flung to the winds as they isolate each shoulder while the beat goes on.

BALLET SCHOOLS all over the country, even such bastions of professional classical training as the Pacific Northwest Ballet School, are offering increasingly broad curricula, necessary when dancers can be asked to perform Martha Graham, Marius Petipa, and William Forsythe on the same mixed bill. Nashville's school has a two-track program, one for students who simply love to dance and one for those dedicated to a professional career. Former students perform with Nashville Ballet, Boston Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Alley II. But hip-hop?

Adam Sage, school director since 1999, is very clear about why. "We're offering it to attract boys as part of our contemporary division, which includes jazz and musical theater," he says. "The kids come in for jazz or hip-hop, and they end up doing ballet." Sage, who received his training in San Diego twenty years ago at the United States International University of Performing Arts Conservatory and at the California Ballet School before performing with California Ballet, Ballet West, and companies worldwide, says that being grounded was the most important thing in his own training. "We had to do everything," he says. He often tells students "never be in a situation where a teacher or choreographer asks you to do something, and you say 'I can't do that,' either technically or artistically."

While the likelihood of a choreographer working with a ballet company demanding hip-hop onstage is small, Johnson's students did have the chance to see some break-dancing soldiers in Nashville Ballet's fall opener, Ann Marie DeAngelo's basically classical work, The Bell Witch.
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Title Annotation:Education Matters
Author:West, Martha Ullman
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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