Sue Samuels, artistic director of Jazz Roots Dance Company and longtime teacher in the New York City dance community, will receive the coveted Dance Teacher Award at this year’s Dance Teacher Summit in NYC. Samuels will be recognized for her incredible contributions to the dance world and as a very giving instructor during a ceremony on August 4.
Here, Dance Informa speaks with Samuels about her career, how she describes her class, her keys to success and how it feels to be receiving this honor.
When and why did you start teaching?
“I began teaching a long time ago when I was studying classical ballet in Florida at the Broward Civic Ballet, directed by Barbara Rassel. Miss Rassel allowed each of us to lead the barre exercises every now and then, and I realized I enjoyed leading the class. Then, when I moved to New York in the 1960s, I studied with Jo Jo Smith, and he asked me to teach the beginner level of his jazz style.”
Who or what are some of your inspirations behind your teaching style?
“Some of the inspirations behind my teaching style are Barbara Rassel, my ballet teacher. She took the time to explain the proper positions and why they were done that way to prevent injuries. Also, Jo Jo Smith, who taught me musicality and how to hear all the instruments, enabling me to dance to them individually. Both of these teachers still live within me every class I teach.”
How would you describe your class? And what do you hope students take away from your class?
“My class is a classic jazz dance style class. It begins with a jazz barre warm-up, which teaches proper body alignment and technique. Then we do jazz isolations, across-the-floor progressions and end with a classic jazz style combination, which can be lyrical, latin jazz, theater style or just jazzy! I also enjoy teaching a combination in different time meters such as 5 or 7. I hope the students learn correct dance technique which can be used anywhere, musicality which is helpful in a dance career, and performing qualities which develop an interesting and individual delivery of the steps.”
What is your favorite part about being a dance teacher? And what’s the hardest part?
“My favorite part about being a dance teacher is watching the students evolve and develop. This is a blessing and a joy. Not only in being able to guide their technique but also in touching their spirit to build their general confidence as well. The hardest part was raising my two children, Elka Samuels Smith and Jason Samuels Smith, on the salary of a dance teacher!”
You’ve been on the NYC teaching scene for many years. What do you like most about the NYC dance community?
“I like the NYC dance community because it is diverse and international. The students really want to learn the proper technique. They are shining with their energy and desire to learn. I get energy from my students.”
How about your company, Jazz Roots Dance Company, which you formed in 2009? What’s the repertoire and mission of Jazz Roots?
“The company is dedicated to the preservation of the classic jazz dance form, and aims to entertain and educate all generations about the roots of jazz dance.
The company repertoire emphasizes strong clean lines that are driven by the musicality of the very orchestrations within the music. The body of work is varied from lyrical, Latin, to theater, the way classical jazz dance was influenced by musical variations and infused with stylistic relevance. The style of repertoire is all classic jazz. Some of it was choreographed in the 1970s by Jo Jo Smith. Some of the choreography was done by people who studied with the classic jazz dance masters such as Luigi, Matt Mattox and Phil Black, which demonstrates the beauty of the classic jazz dance style and the diverse stylization of the early jazz dance masters. All the other repertoire was choreographed by myself and a couple of my close jazz dance partners, Kelly Carrol and Judy Emmett, but mostly by myself.”
Congratulations on your upcoming Dance Teacher Award! How does it feel to be receiving this honor?
“I am so honored and tickled to be receiving the Dance Teacher Award. With so many fine teachers in the business today, it is amazing to be recognized. I am standing on the shoulders of all who have come before me…mostly men in the jazz dance field.”
What do you think has brought you much success as a dance teacher?
“I teach a clean, classic style which never fades. Technique is the backbone of dancing without injuries, and I watch the students to make sure they are working properly. Also, that they dance musically. This is information they can take with them as they move on in their lives.”
What advice do you have for other teachers wishing to make an impact on their students?
“To the teachers who are wishing to make an impact on their students, I say teach from your heart. Enjoy what you are doing. You have the opportunity to touch many people’s lives.”
To learn more about Sue Samuels and Jazz Roots Dance Company, visit www.jazzrootsdance.com.
By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.