As part of Dance Informa’s new series, Spotlight on the Teacher, we feature jazz, theater and lyrical teacher Richard Pierlon, who teaches regularly at Steps on Broadway. He has a contagious spirit full of energy and excitement, and his classes combine ballet, modern and jazz dance technique, with an emphasis on the acting and emotional components of dance as well. His combinations require hats and heels one day, jazz shoes the next, and then socks for a lyrical routine; and his choreography is sassy and feminine, interspersed with technical demands and spacious dancing.
“For Richard, every dancer has something to offer, and he always pushes you to trust it and share it so you are able to express with your own language,” says Yuritzi Govea, a freelance dancer who frequents Pierlon’s classes. “He has been and is an inspiration to me to always work on ballet technique, to use clean and correct technique as much as possible, and to never stop practicing. He has always reminded me that performing starts in the studio, that those habits you create in there, you will be taking them to the stage, so it’s very important to work on your performing art right there, where mistakes are allowed for you to get better.”
Here, Dance Informa speaks with Pierlon about his introduction to teaching and what he hopes to get across to his many students.
What’s your dance background?
“I was on scholarship at The Harkness Ballet, The Ailey School and New Dance Group Studio, and I trained at the Martha Graham School. I have worked with Agnes de Mille, Kathryn Doby, Gwen Verdon, Lee Theodore/The American Dance Machine, Bob Fosse, Debbie Allen, Eleo Pomare, Sophie Maslow, Walter Nicks, Arlene Phillips and Louis Johnson, among others. I appeared on Broadway in The King and I with Yul Brynner and Angela Lansbury, on tour with Leslie Uggams in West Side Story, and in movies All that Jazz, The Wiz and Chorus Line. I’ve taught, choreographed and performed all over the United States, Japan, Israel, Germany, Spain, Holland, England, Italy, France, Brazil, Finland and Argentina.”
When and why did you start getting into teaching?
“I started dancing at the age of 11. By 14, my teacher, Polly Rogers, was training me to teach as she was also teaching me how to dance. At 18, I was teaching her class, with her observing.”
Who and/or what have been your inspirations for your teaching?
“My inspirations have been Polly Rogers, Milton Myers, Pat Thomas, David Howard, Willie Berman and Ana Marie Forsythe, because they all asked me for quality of movement, and to dance from the inside out, not the outside in.”
How would you describe your teaching style?
“My teaching style is a mixture of all the techniques that I learned: ballet, Graham, Horton, jazz.”
What do you hope students take away from your class?
“I would like my students to leave class knowing that they learned a quality of movement, performance and, most importantly, technique, and knowing that they also learned something about themselves.”
Do you have any key phrases or expressions you often use in your classes? If so, what are they, and why do you find them important?
“My phrases are ‘5, 6, 7, 8, you better dance’; ‘What are you saving it for – Christmas?’; ‘You get only one chance to do it’; ‘I feel nothing from you’; and ‘This is your callback.’ I have found these phrases help the students demand more of themselves.”
What do you love most about teaching? What’s the hardest part of your job?
“I love teaching when I see a dancer develop and grow as an artist because they have trusted and believed in me as a teacher. The hardest part of teaching is when there isn’t this trust and I see a dancer not improving.”
What advice do you have for other dance teachers who wish to make an impression on their students?
“Have good training and go into your classroom knowing that you’re teaching from your heart, that dance is also a form of acting, and that to dance is a part of life itself. I’ve been fortunate to teach all over the world and know that once you step into the classroom, you have to bring all your passion, all your joy, all your love into that class. And we as teachers have to encourage and draw out these qualities from our students.”
To see some of Richard Pierlon’s work and to follow his open class schedule, visit www.richardpierlon.com.
By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.