Anabella Lenzu Sets the Mood in Class by Sticking With One Album
June 18, 2024

Anabella Lenzu doesn’t use playlists in her dance classes. Instead, she puts on full albums. “I feel like if I play different songs from different composers, it’s too distracting,” she says. On the other hand, she feels like “one album is an exploration.” She wants class to be a journey—akin to a show. Even if she chooses an album that’s a soundtrack with different composers and types of musicality, “at least they’re in the same family to create an emotional landscape for class,” she says.

For Lenzu, what students can get out of the music they dance to in class is too important to be laissez-faire about song choices, no matter whether she’s teaching her dance theater course at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study or barre-à-terre (floor barre) at Peridance Capezio Center. Before playing anything in class, she will always test out an album on her own first, listening until she knows it by memory. Depending on the mood of the songs, she sometimes will reorder them to assist the arc of class, or program particular songs for combinations in which she plans to focus on using the breath or responding to rhythm, for instance. 

Yet the way she teaches musicality isn’t always straightforward. Although she’ll instruct beginners to dance on the beat, she tries to “liberate” pre-professional students from the idea that they have to follow the music exactly. “They can have a relationship with the melody, or the rhythm, or the structure,” she says. Lenzu teaches them to have a dialogue with the music rather than simply “obeying” it.

The seriousness with which Lenzu approaches music dates back to her training at Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. The students there take several years of music theory to be able to communicate effectively with composers. “It made me very picky about what music I dance to,” she says. Today, she particularly gravitates to artists who draw on folk music but make it contemporary. “It’s the right marriage of tradition and innovation. That’s what I do in my classes.” 

Photo by Todd Carroll, Courtesy Lenzu.

And as a proud Argentinian, Lenzu says she’s not afraid of using music with strong emotions—which can sometimes overwhelm her American students. “Sometimes my dancers cry and ask ‘Why is this music so powerful?” Her answer? “I want you awake! Not just thinking about muscles and bones but about emotion when you’re dancing. That’s the difference between aerobics and dance class. And music helps with that.” 

Lenzu often finds new music ideas these days by talking with other artists and musicians, asking for recommendations and listening to podcasts. She also gets inspiration by watching other dance shows, which she attends about four times a week. If she hears a song that intrigues her, she’ll seek out the album to see if it could be a fit for class. Favorites currently include Hang on Little Tomato, by Pink Martini, Flamenco Fantasy, by Gustavo Montesano/Carlos Gomez/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and Serenity, by Louis Romanos Quartet. She’s also a major fan of multiple albums by composer Andy Monroe, who used to play live in classes she took at José Limón Dance Foundation as a student. She finds that Monroe’s use of singing helps students to better understand the use of breath and the projection of energy. “The first thing I teach a dancer is if we don’t breathe, we look like puppets onstage,” she says. “What unites music and dance is the breath.” 

Lately—particularly when she’s working with young dancers who come from the commercial world—one of Lenzu’s go-to albums is the soundtrack to Pina, the 2011 documentary by Wim Wenders about the dance theater icon Pina Bausch. She says it not only creates a great emotional environment to dance in but doubles as a dance-history teaching moment. “Even though there are different composers on the soundtrack, they’re kind of painting with the same brush,” she says. 

Below, you’ll find Lenzu’s “playlist” (the Pina album), along with three of her favorite songs from it to teach to. 

“All Names,” by Jun Miyake: “I love the rhythmical lines and instrumentation,” says Lenzu. She says she uses it to “shake your emotions!” 

“Glasshouse,” by Thom Hanreich: When this song comes on, Lenzu encourages her dancers “to explore how emotion creates motion,” she says. (Unfortunately, this one isn’t available on Spotify, so you need to download the soundtrack or get the CD.)

“Lilies of the Valley,” by Jun Miyake: Lenzu uses this fun, fast-tempo track filled with syncopations to help her students explore breath, rhythm, and gravity.

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