By Joshua Harris
Jazz Choreography Enterprises sponsored its latest jazz dance workshop on April 21, 2015. The workshop, which was held in conjunction with the New York Jazz Choreography Project, was free and open to anyone who wanted to attend. Choreographer and dancer Cat Manturuk, the workshop teacher, got to show students some combinations from the style she invented called Mod-Hop-Jazz.
The class began with warm-ups and exercises that focused on isolations and footwork, then it moved on to combinations across-the-floor and in the center. These combinations started with fluid jazz and ballet inspired movements before moving into the hip hop oriented isolations. Towards the end of the class Manturuk also included some breakdancing floor work to the routine.
Alan Spaulding, who attended the class, had this to say:
“The class with Cat was very well done. As someone who teaches dance I was a bit wary of venturing into a ‘hip-hop’ format but it turned out to be an extremely satisfying dance experience.
Having been familiar with her work from seeing her perform numerous times in the Jazz Choreography Project, I thought class would be too difficult, (i.e., advanced!) but as Cat put it, she would ‘pace with grace’ and managed to arrange a class that was well within the least experienced students’ abilities, while at the same time challenging enough for those who had more experience. The best part was her ability to coherently express her individual performance style through her teaching. The class she offered seemed to be a primer in her dance technique and enabled me to see an artistic structure upon which she bases her choreographic vision! It made me feel that I could almost perform her work! Most importantly, class with Cat was fun!”
Manturuk spent time individually with students to help them break down movements when they were having trouble and give them the best approach. She was also happy to modify some of the movements if they were too difficult for some students, giving them alternative steps they could do that would work in the combination.
Following the class I was able to interview Manturuk and ask her a few questions about her style, influences, and her teaching method.
Who were your major influences as a dancer, a choreographer, and a teacher?
My major influences are Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Michael Jackson, Paula Abdul, Gregory Hines, Savion Glover, Gus Giordano, David Howard, Lar Lubovitch, Mary Hinkson, Billy Siegenfeld, Patty Obey, Ken Swift, and Erick Hawkins.
What led you to develop your own style of Mod-Hop-Jazz?
Mod-Hop-Jazz was created after spending my life training in all three styles and picking out my favorite elements of each of them. I combined these three styles because when I hear music being played my body doesn’t like to stay with just one! I like the quality of modern dance from Fall and Recovery and Release technique. Jazz Dance was the first style I learned as a child with isolations and progressions that helped me heighten my strength and technique. Hip-Hop was something that always came natural to me, with the exception of break-dancing. Growing up in the 80s, Hip Hop was something you did whenever, on school yards to dance clubs and warehouses. The music let you explore upbeat bounce and new moves hadn’t seen before at that time. Mod-Hop-Jazz allows me to use many years of dance training to formulate the joy I find in each form to come out!
Over time, what elements have you integrated into your style, and what, if any, have you removed?
The elements that I have integrated are modern under-curve and over-curve techniques, jazz walks, epaulement, forced arches, long lines, break-dancing, footwork, syncopation, and expression. There is not an element that I can say I removed…mostly keep adding.
Other teachers we have interviewed often used warm-ups that were developed by their mentors. What does your warm-up come from? Did you develop it yourself?
My warm-up comes from my background in exercise science combined with dance. I am an exercise physiologist that understands how to create heat in the body, stretch, strength, balance, and alignment. My warm-up does have many influences from previous mentors including Bartenieff Fundamentals.
Do you have a different approach when teaching your students a combination as opposed to teaching members of your company one of your routines for a performance?
When teaching students a combination I have found that less is more. Repetition and attention to detail is key. Technique and form always come first. On the other hand with my company members, I like to get the material out fast and then tweak the details later. As a company we make decisions together as to what feels best and looks better to the eye. It is a collaborative effort!
Your style is a hybrid of several dance forms, but do the students who take your classes come predominantly from any specific dance background?
The students who take my classes usually come from a background of jazz or modern dance training. Others come with mostly hip hop training. This is where it can be challenging to me as the teacher because certain parts some students may not get right away while others do and vice versa. When you break down the transition before it…the student often says… “it makes total sense to my eyes but getting it to where my body understands it will be the real challenge.”
Does a specific dance background prepare students for your style better? For example, do jazz dance students pick it up more quickly than hip hop students or vice-versa?
Not necessarily. It all depends on how much a student practices learning material fast whether jazz or hip hop. I do recommend a strong ballet background which is helpful for body facings and placement on stage!
What is the one thing you would want a new student to take away from your class?
The student should take away a joy of dance along with the awareness of the potential that lies within the dancer. The beauty of Mod-Hop-Jazz is that there is something in there for everyone. It allows for dancers to come together and learn from each other without the rigidity of sticking to one style the whole time!
Cat Manturuk is the artistic director and choreographer of the dance company Dance Cat-alyst. Her company has performed across the United States as well as abroad. You can check out their website to find out when their upcoming performances will take place: www.dancecat-alyst.net. Jazz Choreography Enterprises sponsors free jazz dance classes in order to promote the art form and continue to foster its growth and relevance within the dance community. To learn about any upcoming classes being offered as well as other events hosted by JCE, you can sign up for the company’s newsletter.