How I teach Horton’s Lateral T
Amid the flourishing 1930s American modern dance scene, Lester Horton began shaping a technique that would serve as the foundation for much of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater repertoire. “Alvin was never shy in saying that Horton was most influential to his choreography,” says Ana Marie Forsythe, chair of the Horton department at The Ailey School. After her students’ first semester of Horton classes, Forsythe sends them to see the company perform. “It’s always fun to hear my students report back, ‘Oh, I saw a lateral T! I saw a hinge,’” she says. “But of course Alvin used the technique so artistically, it just blends in.”
Even if your students don’t dream of performing in Ailey’s Revelations, Forsythe describes Horton technique as invaluable in creating strong, long and versatile dancers. “Jazz dance uses many of Horton’s shapes and movements, like the hinge, table position and flat-backs. It helps dancers understand how to use their adductors, and how to move their body from their pelvis. It made me a better ballet dancer because of the use of parallel,” she says.
Horton’s motivation was to explore how many shapes and directions the body can move. “The technique has a huge range of dance vocabulary that explores many areas of the body,” says Forsythe. When Horton began codifying his technique in the 1950s, he created movement studies called fortifications and preludes that train a dancer to move precisely and artistically.
Forsythe starts her classes standing, with a sequence of roll-downs, flat-backs and a mix of Horton’s 17 fortifications that focus on strength-building and six preludes to help develop students’ artistry. Her students also practice the lateral T, a key element of the Horton technique.
Here, Forsythe and Ailey II dancer Paige Fraser demonstrate a lateral-T series that exemplifies the clear lines and physical strength vital to the technique.
“It’s either a T-shape, or it’s not. Horton liked this clarity of line. There’s no ambiguity, so it’s easy for people to see and understand in their own bodies when they’re
learning to dance.” —Ana Marie Forsythe
A native of New Jersey, Ana Marie Forsythe began studying the Horton technique with Joyce Trisler and, at 14, joined the Joyce Trisler Danscompany. In 1973, Forsythe started teaching at The Ailey School and, since 1979, has been the chair of the Horton Department. She leads an annual Horton pedagogy workshop attended by teachers from around the globe, and this June, she stepped down as director of the Ailey/Fordham BFA program. Forsythe is a co-author of the book The Dance Technique of Lester Horton and has created three DVDs documenting the technique. In addition to The Ailey School, she has been on the faculty of Vassar College, The Boston Conservatory, The New School and the State University of New York at Albany.
Paige Fraser, 21, is a senior in the Ailey/Fordham BFA program and a member of Ailey II.
Photo: Ana Marie Forsythe and Paige Fraser at the Ailey Studios in NYC (by Matthew Murphy)