Teddy Forance is always ahead of the game. After ushering in a new standard of virtual education three years ahead of the rest of the industry, he’s now creating a conservatory meant to train the next generation of professional dancers through innovation and connection.
Forance was raised in his family’s 88-year-old studio in Easthampton, Massachusetts, called Hackworth School of Performing Arts. He was a competition/convention kid who trained in all of the standard styles in the industry (ballet, jazz, lyrical, etc.). At 17 years old he won NYCDA’s Senior Outstanding Dancer title. Shortly thereafter, Mia Michaels hired him to work with an artist in Greece named Anna Vissi (who Forance calls the “Madonna of Greece”). From then on, Forance’s career exploded: He toured with Cirque du Soleil in Delirium, assisted on “So You Think You Can Dance,” seasons two and three, danced with artists like Florence + the Machine, Lady Gaga, Usher and Madonna, and co-created Shaping Sound. But amidst his performance career, Forance had the itch for teaching and choreographing. “I’ve always loved putting choreography together and figuring out how it makes sense on my body and other dancers’ bodies,” Forance says. In 2009, he landed a teaching slot at JUMP Dance Convention and never looked back. “Overnight I was suddenly teaching at studios around the country. I set, like, 200 pieces each year.”
In 2014, Forance and his soon-to-be co-founder and CEO Jon Arpino noticed a gap in the dance industry that they wanted to fill: Dance teachers and studio owners were often overrun with busy schedules that prevented them from movement exploration that led to inspiration. Forance and Arpino’s idea to fix it? Virtual dance classes that would bring cutting-edge choreography to studios without breaking the bank! “When I was growing up, conventions used to sell recorded classes on DVDs that I would buy and study for months,” Forance says. “They stopped making them, and I really missed them.” Thus, CLI Studios was born.
From 2014–17, the program exclusively provided prerecorded classes and content to subscribers. (A new class was released each week and would be tailored to the feedback teachers and studio owners would give them.) In 2017, Forance and Arpino took the plunge into what the world now knows as Zoom dance classes—three years before most people had even heard of the technology. “I’ll never forget the first live, interactive class we held,” Forance says. “We just knew in our bones that it was going to be revolutionary.”
When the pandemic hit in 2020, CLI (short for short for create, learn, inspire) was prepared to support the industry in this new world of at-home training. “We bought studios time by offering a full schedule of classes on our platform,” Arpino says. (Because CLI is meant to be supplementary and not replace studio training, once teachers were ready to offer their own programs online, CLI stopped their full schedule.) According to Forance, many teachers thanked them for their virtual training, as it prepared them to quickly transition to Zoom classes of their own.
After seven years, Forance and Arpino decided CLI was ready to add a new educational arm to the company: an in-person CLI conservatory designed to launch dancers’ professional careers in commercial, Broadway and concert work. The nine-month program, launched this past September in Massachusetts (where Forance and his family moved during lockdown), has accepted 38 up-and-coming dance artists who train six days a week in a diverse curriculum from 8:30 am to 7 pm. The program culminates in a final show choreographed by a star-studded list of choreographers, including Al Blackstone, Billy Griffin and Marguerite Derricks, to name a few.
For a company so decidedly virtual, it might be surprising to see it moving into the in-person training sphere. But according to Forance, the program still offers plenty of virtual experiences. “The coolest part about the whole thing is that every day, the dancers can audition to become assistants for CLI classes that will be held later that day,” he says. “This gives them audition experience, and connects them to new choreographers.” What’s more, certain aspects of the program will be livestreamed. “While this small group of students gets to have this incredible experience, we also want to make quality training more accessible around the world,” Arpino adds.
Here, Forance shares some of his favorite tips for teaching a successful virtual class, as well as the teaching products and tools he can’t live without.
What makes a virtual class successful
“It’s so important to have energy and clarity. Show your passion for teaching by making your classes dynamic. Add entertainment by going full-out or having your assistants perform. Make sure you utilize your assistants, so you don’t have any ‘dead time’ when you need a water break and go off camera. When kids are at home, they’re easily distracted, so you need to work harder to keep them engaged.”
His go-to teaching warm-up
“I warm up through improvisation, yoga and cardio!”
His favorite teaching attire
“I usually wear Lululemon pants and Uniqlo T-shirts with the new Blochsox.”
Virtual-teaching equipment he recommends
“A regular MacBook Pro works well.”
How he keeps his energy up on busy days
“I drink a ton of water, a full breakfast, salad/sandwich for lunch and a big dinner with pasta or steak/chicken.”
His favorite nondance activities
“I love playing soccer, basketball and running around as ‘Daddy Monster’ with my kids.”
His ideal day off
“Spending quality time with my family.”
Book he recommends
The Power of Now
The dance video he can’t get enough of
“‘One Flat Thing, reproduced,’” by William Forsythe, on YouTube”
Items he never leaves home without
“My phone, passport, wallet and laptop.”