This wasn’t the first time I had been to Nice, France. When I was 16 my Richmond Hill, Ontario high school didn’t have OAC French. The course also nicknamed Grade 13 French was an Ontario Academic Credit course. Since I graduated with the whole of 49 students, there wasn’t a demand for the course, therefore it wasn’t offered. So I went to study for my OAC French in Nice, France in the summer of 1997. It was magical! The first time I had been away from home for an extended period of time without the parents, and the first time I was going to school with people I didn’t know. It was a place where I could let myself go and embrace my French heritage. There are countless stories of that time and since I was a high- school aged and had free rein, I’m not about to go into detail about the amount of fun and often ridiculousness that went on. I actually still have a printed photo album and no digital pictures from this time in my life. Oh how technology can make you feel old. One day I’ll digitize them!
Then in 2009, I was back in Nice. I danced for Holland America Line and when I found out we would be anchored off the coast of Monte Carlo, there was no doubt about it, I was going to take the train to Nice. It had changed, particularly Place Massena, but it still held such a strong pull. The time was too short! I knew as we rode the train back to Monte Carlo and tendered towards the MS Rotterdam, at some point, I would return and stay for a while. Now we’re in the digital world!
In 2015, that dream of returning was made possible. I had been researching dance in the South of France for some time and came across Off Jazz Dance Center right in the Port area of Nice, France and I had to get there! The pull for me was that the Artistic Director, Gianin Loringett studied with Matt Mattox one of the founding Jazz Dance Fathers. So it was settled that somehow I would make it to their Stage D’éte.
I began to research how I could fund the trip and applied for the Graduate and Professional Student Council Research and Project Grant at the University of Arizona. It was a long and hard road trying to get funding from a Grant that was not so keen on offering funding for practical work. But I met with the president of GPSC at the time who incidentally wrote the grant application. I also had a boatload of help from the Fine Arts Representative to which I am forever grateful. And in discussions, we came to realize that the grant wasn’t intentionally eliminating arts applicants with practical research but in its language had managed to do so. Cue Sam Cook signing, “A Change Gonna Come.” And with a long uphill battle it eventually sorted itself out and I was able to study at Off Jazz.
Let this be a lesson, if you find something that needs changing, I’m particularly passionate about arts legislature, take a deep breath and delve into the middle of it. With lots of hard work it may just pay off and it’s better than complaining and feeling negative about the situation. Mahatma Gandhi said, “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important… You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”
And so I arrived in Nice with a serendipitous event. My friend that I was just staying with in Switzerland had also booked her vacation to Nice. So I got to spend an extra week with her and since she is a dancer we took class together a few times.
The heat in Nice and the fact that there was no air conditioning didn’t bother me one bit! First, I knew that at the end was a dip in the French Riviera and second I was doing what I loved so why complain. I would walk down 80 stairs in the morning from our flat in Vieux Nice, grab a croissant and coffee and make my way to three dance classes in a row from 12:30pm to 5:00pm, most of the time until 5:30pm, because who wouldn’t want to dance just a little longer.
The classes were varied and incredible. All of the teachers were supportive but also commanded respect for the art. After all, we were there to learn and we were going to learn something. I remember being asked what the rhythm was from the previous day and needing to identify it’s name, “Gallop, African 6/8, Batucada.” This was for the rib isolation exercise. And then we were asked, “Qui était Martha Graham, Lester Horton, etc.” And another, “Le basin, on doit descendre le basin.” The teachers pushed musical knowledge, dance history, and alignment within the classroom so in the end I didn’t just take a class, I was cultured, I was dynamically aligned, and I was tested on musical knowledge. In my opinion, this is what dance class should be. We got through a lot of material each class and each week brought in some new teachers.
Artistic Director, Mr. Lonringett’s classes were a reminder of my undergraduate jazz classes at the University at Buffalo, particularly those classes taught by Tom Ralabate and Lynne Kurdziel-Formato. Both were my jazz teachers and both taught Luigi, Mattox, and Cole. What I had forgotten was the coordination “games” that were intertwined into the techniques. Asking that the head move to the right while the hip moved to the left, things like that, which I had learned and were somewhere in the body but hadn’t been used in such detail since my undergraduate days. I smiled at my body’s confusion and as soon as I realized that I should let muscle memory take over I sailed!
It’s unbelievable how much jazz dance has evolved but it’s so interesting to go back to these fundamentals that made jazz dance what it is today. As Professor Clouser, at the University of Arizona teaches in his Looking at Dance Course, that Jazz Dance evolved from African Dance and that the some of fundamentals of African Dance include Polycentrism/Polyrhythms, High Affect Juxtaposition, and the Aesthetics of Cool. The evolution in Mr. Loringett’s class was palpable, apparent, and observable. I was happy to delve back into the early pioneers of jazz dance. Mr. Loringett was an incredible teacher really wanting everyone to get something out of class. It was also so wonderful to watch the progression of the other dancers in the room. One girl seemed to have very little jazz dance training and by the end of the three weeks, she looked like she could certainly hold her own and soaked everything in like a sponge.
Huges Salas jazz classes were also encouraging and fun. His class utilized the basic jazz dance principles mixed with a more contemporary style and more advanced technique. The movements for his combinations were grand and expansive, taking up space, and really asking for equal parts technique and artistry. His demeanor was soft and kind. He always made sure, particularly on the hot days, to check in with us. I particularly liked talking to him about dancing in France and about the evolution of jazz dance. Was there too little technique nowadays? Where is the mixture of style and technical elements? Is jazz dance dying? Really great questions were pondered and in his dance class I think we were able to mix technique and artistry beautifully.
I also had the privilege of taking jazz class with Angelo Monaco. His classes were very inspiring because he really asked us to pull everything out and in return we were invigorated with the spirit of dance. He talked to us about why he had a tattoo of a Tiki Warrior. He quoted philosophers and dance greats. He wanted us to understand that in the end, “C’est vous!” It’s you. You have to desire to want to grow, change, and evolve, as a person and dancer. No one else will, or better yet, can do it for you. “C’est vous!” I loved his classes! I was able to take both his intermediate and advanced classes back to back. So for 6 days 3hours a day I was exposed to Mr. Monaco’s preaching and I couldn’t get enough! He was a bold teacher but not pompous or arrogant. I think what I liked most about his classes were that his warm-up prepared me exactly for what I was going to do in the center and in the combinations. He utilized the low center of gravity typically apparent in jazz dance and he loved the use of centrifugal isolations! So did I! I do hope that I can take class with him again someday. He told me about a dance festival in Chateaux Roux, France called DARC (Dance Art Rhythm and Culture). DARC in its 40th anniversary year seems to be a great training ground for students in Europe who wish for a more diverse plan of study. To find out more go to:
Martine Kaisserlian’s classes were wonderful too. Her contemporary classes bordered more on the American modern dance spectrum, which was something I noticed in other French contemporary classes. The cultural difference in the title of the dance classes was simply an observation and by no means impacted how I felt about taking her classes. She was a remarkable teacher. In fact, she reminded me a lot of Amy Ernst at the University of Arizona. The care she took in asking her students to not only pick up and learn choreography was equaled by her desire to have the students understand the movement impulse. The floor work at the beginning of class was a great way for us to understand if the toe, knee, hip, or whatever else was initiating the movement because it took gravity out of the picture. It also helped to create a more grounded quality for the remainder of the class. All in all, I truly enjoyed both Mme. Kaisserlian’s teaching style and movement.
Jeff Bizieau taught another contemporary class I took. I was happy to find out that he was teaching for the full two weeks so I was able to really delve into the material of his class. Also, having Mr. Bizieau scheduled the week after Mme. Kaisserlian was helpful. I feel that their courses lent well to one another and the material taught in Mme. Kaisserlian’s class could be applied and further explored in Mr. Bizieau’s class. The class started on the floor with an exercise that was added to as the days progressed. This was a great way to introduce movement and then build upon, something that was really focused on in our Teaching Methods class at the University of Arizona. I really feel that this kept the necessity of remembering the combinations but also required us to be at our best mental capacity because of the nuance changes that occurred when the exercise evolved. His combinations at the end of the class were always a joy to perform. And his signature, “Allez, courage!” helped as well! He was caring and gentle and funny.
No training would be complete without ballet class. And I did love the ballet classes I took. Lorella Doni’s class was full of dancing. The barre was standard but did have some tricky mind games; but from the center on, I felt that I was dancing not training. The grand allegro was by far my favorite. It felt good to move across the floor with sissonnes and grand saut de chats, precipités, and pirouettes. She also had an excellent way of preparing us at barre for what we would do in the center. Use of the feet into the floor paralleled with a nice use of length was exactly why I enjoyed the class so much.
I was invited to dinner with Mme. Kaisserlian and Mr. Loringett at Paradis du Fruit along with other English speakers studying at the school. I met a woman who owns a large studio in Isreal, we exchanged stories about our students. I also met a former student who studied at Off Jazz and danced on cruise ships, we delighted in our times on the ships but were happy to be on dry land. And I met a student auditioning for the Off Jazz Year Program, I wished him the best and we swapped stories about the origins of “merde” and “break a leg” when wishing someone good luck. It was sheer delight to meet people from all over and seem so connected. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience!
My three weeks in Nice were unforgettable. I loved every minute of being in the city that really made me fall in love with France so many years ago. I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to revisit and I cross my fingers that someday I can head back! Merci milles fois! Merci! And if you have the chance to study at Off Jazz check them out: http://www.offjazz.com