Young Dancemakers Company: Interview with Founding Director Alice Teirstein

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Young Dancemakers Company
Young Dancemakers Company



Young Dancemakers Company is an organization that seeks to empower and nurture talented young dancers, many of who are still in high school. Founded by Alice Teirstein, the company allows students in public high schools to develop original dance works under the guidance of acclaimed professionals. 2019 marks YDC’s 24th annual touring season, which will be performed at various locations across four NYC boroughs, for audiences up to 2000.

Via this series, young artists develop their own original choreography and go on to present it in free public showcases occurring between July 24 and August 3. All performances are free and open to members of the public of all ages. However, reservations are required. Show schedule here. To reserve tickets, email [email protected].

Young Dancemakers Company
Young Dancemakers Company gives young dancers the chance to create and perform in their own piece.

Founded in 1996, Young Dancemakers Company was created as a tuition-free training program for dance and choreography. Selected through auditions, members of the current ensemble have been training in a six-week intensive program that will culminate with eight fully produced performances. Each program includes eleven short original works choreographed by the young artists and performed by the company, as well as the chosen repertory piece. The process works like this: emerging choreographers propose a dance with a theme that is meaningful to them and create an original work based on that theme. Each choreographer goes on to collaborate with the company’s costume designer and a professional composer to develop their completely original piece. Since 2018, the young dancemakers can also attend one-on-one sessions with tutors– composers who work with them on music for their choreographies.

Alice Teirstein recently discussed this incredible company via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get involved with dance and what led you to establish the Young Dancemakers Company?

Alice Teirstein (AT): I began dancing, like many dance artists and dance friends, in my living room, along with radio music. Later, working intensively with teens as a teacher, I became aware of their need for full expression of their thoughts and lives. During my years of teaching dance at the Fieldston School, I observed the emotional and artistic outlet that dance provides for teenagers. The success of my dance program at Fieldston led me to develop this idea and expand it into Young Dancemakers Company, as a form of expression for New York City teens.

Young Dancemakers Company
Young Dancemakers Company has helped nurture the drams of thousands of aspiring dancers.

MM: What led you to want to work with high school children in particular?

AT: Teaching dance to high school students at the Fieldston School in the Bronx, I found I enjoyed the process of cultivating the innate creativity of teens.

MM: What are the perks of the program that make it so special?

AT: Young Dancemakers Company explores the creative potential of young people in the art of dance. I am interested in the individuality of high school students which leads to their creative exploration of this art form as a personal expression. I want to lead dance students away from the temptations of peer imitation, encouraging their investigation of their individual potential to create their own work. YDC offers teens the opportunity to explore and create their own individual work leading them to the confidence to produce their own personal artistic expression. Yes, it happens, and when it does, it is an eye opener – a reminder to young people that they can believe in themselves and can be truly unique. In their individual creative explorations teens receive confirmation of their artistic potential. Yes, they begin to say to themselves “I can do this. I believe in my potential to be a creator in dance.” In this capacity, in the early teen years, they begin to surprise themselves. And with the encouragement of YDC, they have the potential to develop into dance artists. I recall the frustration I felt in early teaching experiences, going from rehearsal to rehearsal hearing the familiar 5-6-7-8 resounding repeatedly from each workspace. I think it is up to teachers of teens to let their students realize their capacity for individual artistic expression.

MM: What do your students typically find most challenging about choreographing their own original pieces?

AT: We invite you to one of our eight performances this season, to ask the teens themselves about their experiences creating original work. Visit youngdancemakerscompany.org for a full performance schedule.

Young Dancemakers Company
The company puts on a series of live shows every year that are open to the public.

MM: Over the years, what pieces have stayed most in your mind and why?

AT: The pieces that were concerned with issues of the moment have been especially successful over the years.

MM: Are there any themes that really seem to be especially popular?

AT: Themes of exclusion and inclusion seem to be recurring.

MM: This year, what themes can audiences expect to find in the show?

AT: This year in YDC, the teens are concerned with themes related to community, individuality, bullying, the creation of the universe, and the criminal justice system, to name a few.

MM: How do you collaborate with the venues that showcase YDC performances?

Young Dancemakers Company
The company plans to continue working with youths far into the future.

AT: This year we are performing at the following venues: the Fieldston School, University Settlement, the 92Y, RIOULT Dance Center, Kumble Theater at LIU, Harlem School of the Arts, Symphony Space and Ailey Citigroup Theater, many of whom have been longtime collaborators with us. We provide written descriptive material and, on occasion, special public workshops.

MM: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about?

AT: An innovative project of YDC is the involvement of today’s professional composers who are writing music for dance. They have visited our classes and engaged in dialogue regarding the collaborative process between the composer and the choreographer. This has resulted in very fruitful partnerships.

MM: What other projects are you working on with YDC and what are you planning for the future?

AT: This process of working in the studio, and in performance with professional composers, along with my long-time creative colleagues Jessica Gaynor, Co-Director and William Catanzaro, Music Director, has been exceptionally productive. We plan to continue in the coming seasons.