- D’Valda and Sirico Dance and Music Center Assistant Artistic Director (approximately 4 years)
-D’Valda and Sirico Dance and Music Center Teacher
Simone, a native of Connecticut, studied locally prior to her acceptance into Alvin Ailey’s School of American Dance. She continued her studies in New York City before moving to Europe as a dancer/singer for cruise ships, clubs and resorts. Simone recently returned from Egypt where she headlined at the Sheraton Theatre and recently added to her television credits with appearances on Saturday Night Live.
Simone and I had a conversation the other day and I was able to ask her a few things about being a dance teacher, performer, and artistic director to our dance studio. Simone is such a fun-loving character who always has a smile on her face and a joke up her sleeve. She can brighten any mood and is essentially the support system here at the studio. In short, we LOVE her. She acts as a liason between the faculty and the directors (Steve and Angie). Any questions or concerns that may arise are directed her way, and she’s there as the go-to before approaching the directors. She helps to maintain a chain of command, a communication balance within the studio, and helps to lighten up the Directors’ load by sifting through issues that need their immediate attention versus issues that can be answered in the moment and then later filled in on. She also runs the Early Childhood program within the studio which consists of 3-5 year olds. The program offers different special events during the year which she plans and organizes and makes sure they run smoothly.
Simone has taught ballet, jazz, tap, modern, hip-hop, and her own personal afro-jazz technique here at the studio. She developed the afro-jazz class based on a history she had, personally, with african dance. As a youngster she trained over at Newbridge, which was originally founded by Paul Newman. There she was taught African dance along with Ballet and Modern. When she moved to New York City to train at Alvin Ailey, she had African classes as well as ballet classes, modern classes and etc. African was a genre that she realized she enjoyed doing. Then she had the thought to bring some of the elements from her jazz classes and incorporate the ideas from her African classes into a fun, upbeat class of its own. The afro-jazz class cannot be considered an “African” class because it moves very differently and interprets the music through the beats and the movement differently. Yet, it has a jazz feel because it has turns and leaps. It’s done to afro-centric music and possesses the famous release quality that makes the movement feel so good!
The qualities that afro-jazz uses are much more grounded and require a greater release on top than your average technique class. “I find it is a good compliment to your ballet class or other technique classes because it gives more freedom of movement within the work you’re doing, yet still maintaining control. The afro-jazz class allows them to release, which is always tricky for younger dancers to understand” Simone says. She tries to connect to her students individually, so as to draw the release out of them by providing a comfortable environment for them to experiment with this movement change. “I honestly try to make every kid feel like I’m catering to them, that everyone has something special to offer. I try to make sure that they feel like they’re contributing something special that no one else has. And of course it’s always laced in humor because that’s just what I do, but it’s always rooted in discipline. Disciplined humor“. Her trick as a teacher for keeping the dancers in line? THE EVIL EYE! Then 5 beats later, a joke. She calls it disciplined humor because class isn’t a playground and rules need to exist to keep it functioning orderly. “I have a group of 5-7 year olds that when I walked into the studio after having to speak to a parent they were already working on their own on things, practicing, because I’ve explained to them that’s what’s expected. You can’t drill it into them, you just tell them that’s the way it is and that’s what you need to do”.
In addition to being the artistic director, teacher, evil eye enforcer, and studio comedian, Simone is also still performing!!! She says that still being a performer enhances and keeps a good balance and variety. “There are days that make me want to teach more and there are days that make me want to perform more” …if that doesn’t sum up the life of a dance teacher then I don’t know what does!
Thank you, Simone, for your time. We love you, and I highly suggest to any reader that should the opportunity to take Simone’s afro-jazz class present itself, don’t pass it up! You’ll have the time of your life!