Technique

Daniel Catanach Is Inspired by Dancers Who Push Themselves—Here He Teaches a Tour en L'Air

Photo by Kyle Froman

"Fifth! Fifth!" Daniel Catanach shouts during a brisk tendu exercise in his advanced-intermediate ballet class at Steps on Broadway. "That's 'fifth' with a 'th'!" he adds, making several students' tense faces relax into smiles. Watching Catanach in action, two things are clear: He's all about precision, and he wants dancers to enjoy his class. He's a stickler and a jokester, infusing discipline with humor. "What's the worst that can happen?" he asks during a pirouette combination. "You fall?" one student murmurs. "No!" Catanach laughs. "The worst that can happen is that you do it perfectly! Then you always have to do it like that, because you know you can."


Catanach came to dance late, after an audition for a college production of Sweet Charity garnered him an invite to a ballet class. A New Mexico native, he soon found his way to L.A., where he studied ballet and jazz before landing a contract with Kansas City Ballet. While his early ballet training was Russian, at KCB he was immersed in Balanchine technique. He was also exposed to Lester Horton technique when Alvin Ailey came to KCB to set The River. The Ailey connection prompted Catanach's eventual move to NYC, where he studied at The Ailey School and School of American Ballet and went on to build a diverse performing, choreographing and teaching resumé.

Catanach's earliest teaching gigs were for jazz, but he has since found a home in the ballet classroom. While his choreography reflects varied influences—jazz, postmodern dance, his Southwestern heritage—as a ballet teacher, he demands clean, classical technique. "I believe you have to know the rules to break them," he says. At the same time, he stresses, "we're storytellers. This is not aerobics."

He takes pride in being an instructor who reads the room. "At a place like Steps, you never know who's going to show up," he says. "I have to assess who's there and plan my class in the moment." He has regulars, including some professionals, but is also comfortable working with newcomers and beginners. His open men's class is popular with dancers who trained in environments that didn't dedicate enough time to what Catanach calls "male vocabulary." "I've created a barre that builds toward the big steps we do as male dancers: the tours, the coupés jetés, the à la seconde turns," he says. He also breaks down male variations across three class sessions and has students perform the piece by themselves at the end. "They may start off scared," he says, "but when they just go for it, it's so exciting."

Catanach is inspired by dancers who push themselves to improve, whether they're aspiring pros or adults older than his own 61 years who are there for the love of the art. "After teaching, I want to feel like I've helped someone in some way," he says. "There needs to be an energy in class that sustains the students, and I feel good when I'm that energy."



May/June 2020 DT Technique - Daniel Catanach www.youtube.com


Daniel Catanach was born into a large Hispanic family and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was a principal dancer with Kansas City Ballet, Armitage Ballet, Garden State Ballet, Connecticut Ballet Theatre, Santa Fe Dance Ensemble and the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, among others. He also appeared in music videos, working with Madonna, the Carpenters, the Divinyls and Sheila E., and has done projects with Annie Liebovitz for Vogue and Vanity Fair. He served as rehearsal director for Kansas City Ballet and was ballet master for Armitage Gone! Dance for three years. He directed Urban Ballet Theater for 10 years, has been a guest choreographer and master teacher at The Ailey School, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Steps on Broadway, Broadway Dance Center, the Dance Teacher Summit, New York City Dance Alliance, Male Dancer Conference and Manhattan Youth Ballet. Catanach is currently on faculty at Steps on Broadway and continues to create work and teach for dance organizations nationally and internationally.

Jeffrey Salce began his dance training with Catanach at the Abrons Arts Center and has studied on full scholarships at the School at Steps, Dance Theatre of Harlem Summer Dance Program and Sheer Elite ballet intensive. He has appeared as a principal guest artist with a number of professional companies, and in the dance film Valentino and many national television series and commercials.

Teachers Trending
Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy. Photo courtesy Dance With Me

Listening to Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy riff together makes it crystal-clear why each has mastered the art of partnering in the ballroom—they've long been doing this dance in real life as brothers and business partners.

Along with their "Dancing with the Stars" pedigree (and a combined three mirror-ball trophies between them), Maks and Val (and their father, Sasha) also run Dance With Me, a dance company hosting six ProAm Dancesport competitions annually and running 14 brick-and-mortar studio locations across the U.S.

Last year, the pair launched an online component, Dance & Co. The online video platform offers beginner through advanced instruction in not only ballroom but an array of other styles, as well as dance fitness classes from HIIT to yoga to strength training. "DWTS" fans will recognize such familiar faces as Peta Murgatroyd, Jenna Johnson, Sharna Burgess and Emma Slater, along with Maks and Val themselves.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
@jayplayimagery, courtesy Kerollis

In the spring of 2012, Barry Kerollis was abruptly forced into treating his career as a small business. Having just moved cross-country to join BalletX, he got injured and was soon let go.

"I'd only ever danced with big companies before," the now-freelance dance-teacher-choreographer-podcaster recalls. "That desperation factor drove me to approach freelancing with a business model and a business plan."

As Kerollis acknowledges, getting the business of you off the ground ("you" as a freelance dance educator, that is) can be filled with unexpected challenges—even for the most seasoned of gigging dancers. But becoming your own CEO can make your work–life balance more sustainable, help you make more money, keep you organized, and get potential employers to offer you more respect and improved working conditions. Here's how to get smart now about branding, finances and other crucial ways to tell the dance world that you mean business.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Courtesy Oleson

American dance educator Shannon Oleson was teaching recreational ballet and street-dance classes in London when the pandemic hit. As she watched many of her fellow U.S. friends pack up and return home from their international adventures, she made the difficult choice to stick with her students (as well as her own training—she was midway through her MFA at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance).

Despite shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, she was able to maintain a teaching schedule that kept her working with her dancers through Zoom, as well as lead some private, in-home acro classes following government guidelines. But keeping rec students interested in the face of pandemic fatigue hasn't been easy.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.