“Stand out.” That’s the typical advice that young dancers are given before an audition.
Then once they land the dream job in the company or Broadway show, dancers are told to blend in. This is especially true if they’re Rockettes.
Deanna Ford, a former Rockette, will explain how at Dance+ 18. The annual festival of dance master classes is set for Saturday at Skidmore College. Ford, a former dancer with the Hartford Ballet and Radio City Music Hall, is one of the guest teachers drawn from out-of-town to bolster the roster of area dance instructors. She will join locals including Maude Baum (modern), Tina Fretto-Baird (tap), Felix Ortiz (salsa) and Mark Tolstrup (tai chi) for the workshops in styles ranging from African dance and drumming to Latin zumba.
Ford is first and foremost a ballerina. She was trained at the School of American Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet School. But because the ballet classes are safely in the hands of former New York City Ballet dancer Peter Naumann, Ford will teach her other specialties — jazz and precision dance.
“My jazz class is open,” said Ford, who lives in Beacon and teaches throughout the Hudson Valley and Connecticut. “What I will be teaching is some good jazz basics. The basics should not be overlooked.”
She said they often are, especially by hip-hop dancers who feel that technique is old-fashioned. They can nail head spins and bounce up and down in low plies to the floor, “but ask them to do a developpe and they fall over.”
“They also will say things like ‘a jazz run is stupid,’ but it still needs to be put in the body,” she said.
And that’s the key to good dancing — training muscles to move instinctively. It’s necessary that the basics steps are ingrained. But sometimes it’s difficult for the dancer to pin down a new step. Ford said she has tips for that, too.
“If you are having trouble and you can’t get a step, you probably need to change your weight,” said Ford.
She will also discuss the importance of knowing how you learn — visually, aurally, kinetically or a combination. Knowing aids learning.
Ford said her knack for developing dancers and her own versatility on stage can be attributed to Jo Emery, her first teacher in Tacoma, Wash.
“She was an excellent ballet teacher and an excellent jazz teacher. She choreographed a lot of shows with jazz. But she always pushed you toward your strong points. She pushed me in ballet.”
After several years as a professional dancer with both Hartford and the New Jersey ballets, Ford figured it was time to explore the world. In her early 20s, she quit ballet, earned an equity card and took on stints with musical theater. After the national tour of “Sugar Babies” and Disney’s “Fantasia,” she saw the Rockettes and decided to audition.
“They told me to work on my tap and come back,” she said. At age 35, she did and was one of six out of 400 dancers who was hired, recalled the 49-year-old, who danced for five years with Radio City Music Hall productions.
“It wasn’t that I was so good. I couldn’t really sing. It was because I was relaxed and could follow what the choreographer wanted,” said Ford. “I tell everyone that it is important to never tell yourself that you can’t do it. Don’t cut yourself off, enjoy.”
Because of her ballet training, Ford was eventually selected to dance the adagio ballet duet for Radio City Music Hall’s “Christmas Spectacular.” She would open the show, in the chorus line, in tap shoes, then run back to change into a tutu and pointe shoes, and then switch back again to tap and the kick line.
At the Dance+ 18, she’ll share her memories and chorus line essentials. The most difficult things to master, but one of the most important things to do, she said, is not drawing attention to yourself.
“That’s the first thing about being a Rockette. Don’t pull focus. The group is the star.”
In the precision workshop, she will teach intermediate dancers how to stay exactly in place, how to link arms for the kick line and where to be in patterns.
“We’ll do a traveling kick line, some circle kicks. It will be an introduction.” said Ford.
In 90 minutes, that’s all the workshop can be, because, she said, “To look all the same, it takes a lot of practice.”
WHERE: Skidmore College, Dance Center, Saratoga Springs
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $45 all day, $35 seniors and students all day, $15 per class, $25 for two classes, $8 for children classes
MORE INFO: 465-9916 or www.dancealliance.org