RDT’s Repertory-Based Lessons

Here you will find RDT dancers and staff sharing the wealth of knowledge that is RDT’s Repertory

Dancing the Bears Ears


Before creating ‘Dancing the Bears Ears’ choreographer Zvi Gothiener traveled to Bears Ears National Monument with his company Zvi Dance and Repertory Dance Theatre. For one week the dancers traveled to different parts of the monument, learning about the history of the land and the people for whom it is sacred. The dancers would spend time at each site improvising with one another and later used those improvisations to help create material for the piece you see onstage.


Task: Use your own landscape to create a phrase

Go into your yard or to a park and find a spot with enough space to move in. Look at the materials around you. Is there grass or dirt under your feet? Is it soft or hard? Are there any trees? Can you hear birds or squirrels? Do you head the sound of cars passing by, or is it quiet? Do you smell anything? Using the textures, sights, and sounds of your landscape as inspiration start to explore different ways of moving. Maybe you can try playing in the grass, feeling the texture as you roll around. Perhaps there is a tree for you to climb, or someplace where you can dig. Don’t be afraid to let it be more playful than “danced”. You can stay in one spot, or try exploring new places to move.


Write down some of the things you most enjoyed about being outside. What textures interested you the most? Did any specific plants or animals catch your eye? How were you inspired to use the land around you? Use your answers to create a movement phrase that reflects your experience. Memorize it. Record your phrase, either outdoors or indoors. You can share it with your classmates, and see the different ways each person is inspired to use their own landscape to move. How are they alike? How are they different?


Explore Further:

Using a computer, research the history of the land you live on. Did a specific tribe once call your land home? What about a specific breed of animals? Or was there a native type of plant that was commonly found in your area?


Create a new phrase all about the history of your landscape. If a tribe inhabited it in the past (or still does!), research some of their traditions and find ways to express them through movement. Was there a time that wild animals roamed near your home? How did they move, and how can that shape your movement? If there are any plants native to your area, what texture are they? Do they grow large or small? Combine your phrases about your current landscape and the history of your landscape to make one larger phrase. Share it with your classmates and celebrate the history and beauty of the places you each call home!


View the full piece HERE



During RDT’s week-long exploration in Bears Ears National Monument, we improvised outside every day. We never danced to counts, or music, instead we danced to the natural rhythms of the wind, birds, landscape and the power of the earth beneath our feet. Dancing, improvising in that way created an energy that I’d never quite felt before. This experience was a gift, among many, given to met by our generous Navajo guides and the strength of my colleagues who opened up the “space”, allowing us to receive as much as we could during those seven days.


On our hikes and during our improvisation sessions, our Navajo guides shared stories with us. Some of these stories were personal while others were related to the history of the land and its people.  They asked us to share stories of our people and the things we love and treasure. They shared with us the stories of their home, their land. Using these stories, movement experiences and our interaction with the land and the Navajo people, the piece Dancing the Bears Ears began to emerge.


Lesson Plan – Improvisation Circle

To Begin:  Find a space that you feel comfortable moving in.  Use the prompts/ideas below to begin moving, however you see fit.  This is an improvisation. There are no rules or specific movements required, only your imagination and the ability to move and not judge or edit your movement.  See what happens!

  1. Be thankful for what you can call “home”, even if it is a temporary home.  Be thankful for what your home provides you, food, warmth, entertainment, family, pets. What sounds do you hear? What do you feel? Use all of this information to inform your dance.  Thank your home. This is your dance.
  2. Based on your experience during the first improvisation, now imagine that you are being evicted next week.  Imagine your home is being foreclosed this summer. How does this influence your “thank you” to your home? How would this information influence the stories and memories you share with others about your home and everything that has taken place there?  Thank your home again, knowing that you won’t have it for very much longer, and despite fighting for it, there’s nothing in your power to stop this from happening. You lost. This is your dance.
  3. Either go outside or imagine you are outside.  Use the ideas of the above two prompts, but now expand them to our whole planet, our whole world.  Genuinely thank Earth for providing us this home, using anything you see, hear, taste, smell and feel.  Nature is a powerful force and it can move you literally and figuratively if you allow it. This is your dance.

RDT Dancer Elle Johansen teaches her part in Dancing the Bears Ears.

“Thank you so much for taking some time to learn my movement from Bears Ears. I wonder how you might tell the same story using different movements? How would your bird look and move differently from mine? What’s a unique story that only you can tell about your life? How would you make a movement phrase to tell someone that story?”

– Elle


Lauren shares phrase work from Doris Humphrey’s piece Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor.
Lauren continues her teaching of Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor by teaching a walking phrase from the piece.

Lauren teaches the Lyric Phrase from Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor.

RDT Alumni Dancer, Tyler Orcutt, introduces repertory from Invention by Doris Humphrey.

Lauren Curley teaches one part of the trio Invention by Doris Humphrey.

Jaclyn Brown teaches another section of the trio Invention by Doris Humphrey.

Lauren teaches a jumping and traveling phrase based of Limon repertory, Mazurkas.

Michio Ito

Michio Ito Introduction

Repertory Dance Theatre is proud to be the US repository for the works of Michio Ito (1892 – 1961). Twice, RDT has worked with Ito master teachers from Japan learning Ito’s technique, style, and choreography.

Below, you will find a 20-minute documentary that introduces this lost modern dance pioneer.

Following the video are some discussion questions. More Ito lesson plans are being developed and will be offered once they have been created.

Discussion Questions
  • What are the ways Michio Ito fused ideas from Eastern & Western cultures?
  • Can you think of any artists working today who fuse artistic ideas from various cultures, movement styles, and backgrounds? Who?
  • How do the movement and dance styles we study today differ from the movement Ito used in his choreography?
  • From the few clips of his choreography, what lines, shapes, and forms do you see used again and again? How would describe his movement style and choices?

A & B Gestures

Repertory Dance Theatre is proud to be the US repository for the works of Michio Ito (1892 – 1961). Twice, RDT has worked with Ito master teachers from Japan learning Ito’s technique, style, and choreography.


Mary Jean Cowell is an Ito scholar who received an MA in Dance from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. in Japanese Literature and Theatre from Columbia University.  She is the author of East and West in the Work of Michio Ito and Michio Ito in Hollywood:  Modes and Ironies of Ethnicity.


The following information about the Ito Gesture Series is taken from documents and writing provided by Ms. Cowell.


The Ito Gesture Series

Michio Ito began teaching in New York City in 1919, at least six years before Martha Graham began to develop and teach her own technique.


The central component of Ito’s method is two sequences of ten arm gestures called A and B, masculine and feminine.  This is not about defining restrictive gender-appropriate movement but about the idea of balance.  The two sequences relate to yin-yang, the East Asian concept of a balance of contrasting elements in the universe and in each individual.  Ito expected his students, whether male or female, to master both the A and B sequences and he freely combined gestures from both sequences in his choreography.  Ito characterized the A sequence as strong, sharp, assertive, direct, with breathing integrated so that the dancer inhales on 1, 3, 5 and so on, while exhaling on 2, 4, 6, 8, 10.  All positions were defined more softly in the B series, in keeping with its assumed feminine character, and the dancer reverses the breathing, exhaling on the odd numbers, inhaling on the even.  Beginning students also learn a specific style of walking which is the same for both A and B.


In studying the Ito method, the dancer first learns the gestures in their basic order at an even, slow pace, one gesture and one step to every four beats.  The required slow transfer of weight through the feet and the sustained arm gestures are Ito’s approach to developing continuity of movement and control of energy.  Just as beginning ballet students go from simple steps and rhythms at the barre to more difficult variations, the Ito student progresses from the basics to more complex exercises.  For example, the gestures may be done in different rhythmic patterns, may be done in backward sequence, may be done with the sequence reordered 1,3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 8, 6, etc.  More advanced exercises also develop coordination, as when the right arm moves through the sequence 4 counts ahead of the left, or when R arm moves through the A sequence while the L arm simultaneously executes the B sequence.


In his choreography, Ito freely combined gestures from both sequences.  And of course, other movements were added to these gestures, depending upon the specific musical accompaniment and expressive intent of a dance.  But like ballet training, the Ito method prepares the dancer for the style and carriage typical of the choreography to be performed.

Click HERE for A Gestures
Click HERE for B Gestures


So you’ve learned the Ito Gestures?

Now let’s see if we can move from one set to another! Let’s connect the A & B types together into one sequence.

Going from the masculine to feminine gestures is actually how the piece Pavane begins so we are going to do it to that music.

What makes this tricky is how we count the gestures. We are going to vary the time we take to complete each gesture. This is very common in the Ito training as students learn to do the gestures with various rhythm and counting structures.

For this exercise, we will move through that type A, masculine gestures twice. That’s moving from 10 to 1 the 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, up to 10 again, twice. The first time is given 4 counts. The second time they will only be given 2 counts each. Then we will move through the 2 rounds of the feminine gestures. Again, starting in gesture 10, moving to gesture 1 and then up to gesture 10. The first time each gesture is only given 2 counts. The second time they will only be given 1 count each. It’ll be tricky but follow along until you get it.

You may also notice that Elle’s right heel is slightly lifted. This is true for when we do the masculine gestures. However, you will notice her feet will do a small exchange when she is switching to the feminine gestures. That is because anytime we are doing the feminine gestures it is the left heel that is lifted. It’s a small detail, but see if you can catch it!

Create Your Own Gestures

So you’ve learned the Ito Gestures?


But what is a gesture? How did Ito use gestures as the basis for choreography?


A gesture is a way that we communicate an idea without speaking.


Think about how you would say “hello” to someone without using your voice. Let’s say you wave to them with your hand and arm, well that would be considered a gesture for greeting someone. How else might you greet someone? What are some other gestures you see in your everyday life? Check out the 7 gestures Elle created that relate to the COVID-19 outbreak. Can you guess what each gesture means?

How would you use Elle’s 7 gestures to make a dance?

What gestures could you create on your own?

Could you create 7 new gestures that reference the COVID outbreak? How could you use the elements of dance (time space and energy) to change the gestures into an entirely different dance?

Share any and all of these creations on social media and tag us @rdtutah. We can’t wait to see what you make!

Access the Michio Ito Study Guide HERE


A Little History….

Stepping (or step-dancing) is a form of percussive dance in which the participant’s entire body is used as an instrument to produce complex rhythms and sounds through a mixture of footsteps, spoken word, and handclaps and gestures. Though stepping may be performed by an individual, it is generally performed by groups of three or more, often in arrangements that resemble military formations.


Stepping may also draw from elements of gymnastic, breakdance, tap dance, march, and African and Caribbean dance. The speed of the step depends upon the desired beat and rhythm of the performers. Some forms of stepping include the use of props, such as canes, rhythm sticks and/or fire and blindfolds.


The tradition of stepping is rooted within the competitive schoolyard song and dance rituals practiced by historically African American fraternities and sororities, beginning in the 1900s.


Steppin’ is a dance choreographed and created for RDT in 2003 by Natosha Washington. Having grown up in the South, rhythm, dance, and performance were a natural part of Natosha’s life. Many versions of these rhythms have been taught to dancers at UVU, BYU, and various high schools around the state of Utah over the past 20 years. Steppin’ continues to be a staple of RDT’s dance education performances on stage and in schools. The rhythms taught below were choreographed and created by Natosha Washington and are taught her, with her permission.

The Basic Rhythm

The Basic Rhythm is often taught as the most beginning, basic rhythm a new student should learn. It is made up of stomps and claps. All Steppin’ rhythms, taught and created by Natosha, are learned with words FIRST and then are put into the body.


Start by listening below and following along…

Find the rhythm HERE

See if you can memorize the series of stomps and claps and do it without looking or following along. Once you have the rhythm memorized, take a look at the video below. Thank you to Nathan Shaw for demonstrating the Basic Rhythm.

Follow along with Tyler as he guides you through the process of making your own Steppin’ dance. Steppin’ is a dance piece that RDT performs in their VOYAGE concert on tours.

Feel free to share these videos, embed them for your students, or link to this page. New online educational resources are being developed every day. If you have suggestions for what you’d like to see let us know: rdt@rdtutah.org.

RDT appreciates the generous funding provided by the Utah Legislature and the Utah Board of Education that help make our Arts-in-Education Programs possible in Utah’s Public Schools.

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