As part of Dance Informa’s series, Spotlight on the Teacher, we feature contemporary teacher and Artistic Director of NYC-based company Sexy Beast, Max Stone. Stone has been teaching for over three decades and is now on faculty at Steps on Broadway and Peridance Capezio Center. His class merges ballet with free-flowing movement, emphasizing space, transition, breath, fall and recovery, and artistic expression.
Maija Garcia, now director of professional training at Guthrie Theater, first started taking Stone’s class in 1997. She describes him as the “moon god of gravity” and says, “Max’s choreography is challenging. It requires your full presence in a three-dimensional realm. He encourages you to take up space and free your form. Once we find momentum in the phrase, we are encouraged to improvise and interplay with others in the studio. A certain catharsis takes place, making us all more alive! Max has influenced thousands of dancers to free their form. Simply put, his movement is medicine.”
Here, Dance Informa speaks with the inspirational Stone on his path to teaching and what he hopes students take away from his class.
Tell us a little about your dance background.
“Before coming to NYC, I was a university dance major at Texas Christian University and Southern Methodist University (SMU), both in Texas. The training was extensive and heavily focused on ballet and modern (Graham) techniques. SMU also offered jazz classes, which I greatly enjoyed. During this time, I had performed at various venues around the Dallas area. Eventually, I acquired my Equity Card and moved to New York City, booking a new Broadway show, They’re Playing Our Song. This was quite a lucky break and set my course for a wonderful performing career over the next 12 years.”
When and why did you start getting into teaching?
“I was actually performing in a show in Stockholm, Sweden, when I first began seriously teaching. The show was in the evenings, and my days were free. I’d heard there was a dance conservatory in Stockholm (Balettakademien), so I contacted the director. She asked me to teach a class for her to observe, which was a nerve-wracking experience, much like an audition. Previously, I’d done only part-time teaching (with children) while in college to make some extra money. I eventually ended up living in Stockholm over the next two-and-a-half years teaching full-time for the conservatory. I loved the experience and never auditioned as a dancer again. Upon returning to the U.S., I got a faculty position at SMU, sort of coming full circle before moving back to New York. Eventually, I became faculty at both Steps on Broadway and Peridance Capezio Center.”
Who and/or what have been your inspirations for your teaching?
“When I was a ‘Broadway kid’ in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I studied with jazz teachers John Medeiros, Luigi and Phil Black. But I’d have to say my favorite was Lynn Simonson, who taught ‘downtown’. Her style was a contemporary/modern jazz class and appealed to my love of dancing in bare feet, feeling the floor in a more grounded, intimate way. While in college, I loved Graham but felt too restricted. Lynn’s method really appealed to me in a ‘jazzier’, more contemporary freestyle way.”
How would you describe your teaching style?
“The term used to be ‘modern jazz’ but is now more commonly referred to as ‘contemporary’. Basically, contemporary dance is a hybrid fusion of ballet, modern, jazz, even hip hop. These days, there seems to be as many contemporary styles as there are stars in the sky. I focus primarily on transition, flow, weightedness, floorwork fall and recovery, and of course artistic expression.”
What do you hope students take away from your class?
“I love helping dancers to discover their own freedom, power and physicality in movement, while simultaneously exploring subtleties of texture, suspension and breath. It’s great to be ‘fierce’, but a dancer’s stillness of presence can be emotionally powerful to the observer. Dance is athletic, certainly, but vulnerability is the difference between artist and athlete.”
Do you have any key phrases or expressions you often use in your classes?
“I always tell them to be more present or in the moment with their movement, to not anticipate what’s next or dwell on what they did or did not do. I usually follow up with, ‘Could this be a metaphor for life?’ Also, I sometimes make silly comments to lighten the mood. If I demonstrate a rather awkward, abstract shape, I’ll say, ‘I wake up every morning in this position.’ When they’re about to start dancing the phrase in their particular groups, I’ll say, ‘Don’t be nervous. Just know that everythingdepends on this!’ These usually get a chuckle and help relieve tension in the room.”
What do you love most about teaching? What’s the hardest part of your job?
“I love watching dancers express themselves through movement. Without really knowing them, you still get a sense of who they really are. The challenging part is helping them feel safe enough to expose/express who they really are. Dance can be liberating yet very personal. The body is the most personal of all instruments.”
What advice do you have for other dance teachers who wish to make an impression on their students?
“That’s difficult to answer because every teacher has their own particular method. But I suppose I’d say make sure you have the passion for imparting knowledge and inspiration. Teaching is giving, and yet if conducted authentically, you’ll in turn receive enormous satisfaction. Helping a dancer to develop and hopefully achieve their goals/dreams is very satisfying. I’ve been teaching for 33 years and have reveled right along with the successes of many generations of students (too many to mention here). Their success is also, in many ways, my own.”
Max Stone teaches at Steps on Broadway on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 4:30-6:15pm. He teaches at Peridance Capezio Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 1-2:30pm. For more information on Stone and his NYC-based company, Sexy Beast, visit sexybeastnyc.com.
By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.