Students' chant to teacher: You make me feel like dancing
Choreographer gets a school on its feet
After a few dance lessons, high school student Jared Mazzochi became frustrated. He remembers walking up to his teacher and admitting, "I can't pull my leg that way."
Instead of yelling, "Just stretch it more!" Brian Feigenbaum, his teacher and choreographer, described a role for his student to enact.
"Think of it as a person carrying a lot of weight," Jared recalls Feigenbaum saying to him."You have a bundle of rocks on your back and you've been doing this for 48 hours. You're exhausted and you don't want to do it anymore. Now, show me that position."
And Jared, who had done a lot of acting, could then move into the position easily. "And Feigenbaum replied, 'Jared, that's exactly what I want!' "
Mr. Feigenbaum, a dance instructor at the Lawrence Academy, in Groton, Mass., works with high school students often learning dance for the first time.
"The art is certainly secondary to their daily experience as growing people," says Feigenbaum. "They're questioning their own obvious love of art as relevant or not. And I don't blame them. My family also felt that [dance] was superfluous."
What's unusual about the program at Lawrence Academy is the breadth and depth of its offerings. Not only do students have regular dance classes and after-school programs, but they also perform original choreographies about three times a year.
In addition, this past summer, Feigenbaum took 13 of his dancers, aged 15 to 18, to Edinburgh. Their modern dance, called "Town," was performed at the Scottish capital's annual arts festival.
It was the first time Lawrence Academy had been part of "The American High School Theater Festival," an organization that will, next summer, make its 10th annual pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe.
When he returned to Massachusetts this fall, Feigenbaum choreographed Lawrence Academy's musical, "Jekyll and Hyde," derived from the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Senior Kacey Schneider, who played the lead role of Lucy, says Feigenbaum is her favorite teacher.
"One of the great things about him," she says, "is that at school, we have a lot of hard-core jocks and athletes, and he brings them into the dance program and he produces amazing pieces of dance from them."
Feigenbaum has just finished his 10th year of teaching. Before arriving at Lawrence, he was dancing and choreographing full time for regional ballet companies in New York and Cambridge, Mass., but - as he and his wife worked to raise three children - he found he needed a larger paycheck.
He received commissions for original choreography, and began teaching at various schools in Massachusetts. His work at Lawrence turned into a full-time position. "Students seemed to like my teaching - and I seemed to enjoy teaching them."
It is clear that he instills into his students a remarkable dedication to modern dance.
Jared, who graduated this summer and is now studying drama at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn., agrees. "Brian attracts pretty much any kind of person," says Jared. "My parents would comment on the fact that in the [modern-dance] shows, there would be hockey players, athletes - people from all realms of the school."
The impact of Feigenbaum's teaching was evident in "Town." The dancing was fluent, accomplished, and dynamic, with a sophistication surprising in such young dancers.
Feigenbaum says his students - who trained rigorously for almost a year in preparation - gained much from performing in Edinburgh.
But his teaching garners praise throughout the school year. "I have had countless parents come up to me over my 10 years at Lawrence Academy and say, 'I cannot believe what you got my son' - and in many cases, 'my daughter' - 'to do.' "
Feigenbaum says he gets results by treating his students as adults. And, he adds, they "rehearse a lot more than anybody else."