Tony Coppola has been in the dance business for over 40 years. In that time, he has worked as a performer, choreographer, writer and director all across the country, even earning such a big reputation as a tap soloist that Capezio named a tap shoe after him in the ’90s. With an extensive background in jazz, tap, modern, music and gymnastics, Coppola has also developed a broad teaching career. Presently, he spends most of his time sharing his expertise in his favorite teaching format: master classes.
“Students have their everyday teacher, and she or he may be giving them great information and great corrections, but they’re hearing the same information every day,” Coppola says. “And when somebody with a little bit of background in the mainstream of dance comes in, we may give them similar corrections, but it’s from a different voice and they tend to focus because you’re somebody different and you’re only there for a few days.”
As a judge for LEAP! National Dance Competitions, Coppola sees a lot of young dancers on a regular basis, noticing trends in the dance community and also picking up on common bad habits. With his master classes that blend rhythm, jazz and tap, he can take his experience in the mainstream dance world and share it with his students.
“You can really get a lot of work done,” he says. “You can really see a quantum leap in everything in three to four days with master class students.”
While Coppola recommends versatility to aspiring dancers and he incorporates a broad range of styles into his classes, his teaching specialty is a unique rhythm coordination method used by himself and his company, Coppola Rhythm Ensemble, in Las Vegas. He admits that this class is hard to describe. “It’s not a tap class, it’s more a rhythmic coordination class,” he says, “and this is different from stepping and body percussion.”
Coppola teaches this method to students of all ages and abilities, from absolute beginners to advanced dancers to theater students. In the class, he introduces students to hand-held instruments that help develop coordination, upper body energy and musicality, which are qualities he says are often missing from some of the dances he sees in competition.
“People love it,” he says. “It’s become one of our signatures.”
With his vast experience as a performer and teacher, Coppola has a lot to offer his students, both in terms of technique and career advice. When asked what dancers need most to succeed, he laughingly says “pain tolerance”. More seriously, he adds, “Can you go through it and view it as something positive and something that makes you feel good because it means you’re progressing?”
Coppola also recognizes the need for cross-training and cautions against thinking that dance training will suffice. In his own life, he goes to the gym, but he also recommends experimenting with Pilates, yoga or any regular practice that helps dancers maintain their body and mind. Coppola knows that both being a good student and also being a good teacher means continuing to learn, grow and “staying on top of your game”.
He also understands that no teacher can give a student everything that he or she needs, which is why experiencing new teachers via master classes can be so significant to a dancer’s training.
“I’ve been blessed with really great teachers,” he says. “One of my early tap teachers said, ‘You know everything I know. You need to go find other teachers.’ It was a very giving thing, and it was a pivotal moment in my life where somebody said, you need to go fly.”
To invite Tony Coppola to teach a master class at your studio, contact Amanda Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Katherine Moore of Dance Informa.
Photo (top): Tony Coppola. Photo by Ronnie Silveira.