In February 2018, NAISDA was fortunate to host Cynthia Riesterer along with fellow Horton teacher Alvin Rangel, for a two-week Horton Intensive. During this time, our Developing Artists had an opportunity to learn about this dynamic and functional dance form and improve their overall dance technique.
The Horton Technique was pioneered by Lester Horton, who developed the dance form throughout the 1920s, 30s and 40s based on Native American dances, anatomical studies and other movement influences to strengthen and open up the body for performance in any style. Horton has remained an important dance technique, particularly across North America and most notably at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. The technique is seen to strengthen and increase the expressive range of dancers’ bodies. You can learn more about Horton Technique here.
Cynthia is one of the few people today teaching the original Horton Technique, as directly descended from the historic Lester Horton Dance Theatre. For twenty years, Cynthia was a student of and teaching assistant to the late James Truitte, an original member of the Horton Company and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre who came to be recognised as the world’s leading exponent of the Horton Technique in its purest form.
We had the opportunity to talk to Cynthia about her experiences teaching at NAISDA as part of the two-week Horton Intensive program. Here’s what she had to say.
How did you first become familiar with the Horton Technique?
I was at college aspiring to become a classical ballerina when I took a class with Mr James Truitte, one of the original students of Lester Horton. Mr Truitte was offered a teaching position at my college, the University of Cincinnati, teaching the Horton Technique. When I took his classes, it totally opened my eyes and changed my world. I was a long-term student of his and then became his assistant, helping to teach and demonstrate the Horton Technique for his classes.
Alvin and I are currently working on a large project, trying to preserve the Horton Technique as taught by James Truitte. He was the only one of Horton’s students who continued teaching until his death.
Why do you think Horton is such an important technique for dancers to learn?
Horton is one of the founding dance techniques of modern America. Its history is very interesting. Lester Horton developed the technique based on dance forms from other countries and Indigenous dance. This was at a time of great social segregation. When the Lester Horton Dance Theatre was established in 1946, it was the first multi-racial dance company and the first permanent theatre in the USA dedicated to modern dance.
The first time I read NAISDA’s mission statement, I gave a little gasp of joy. The spirit of NAISDA in promoting Indigenous people through artistry is similar to Lester Horton opening his door to dancers of all races. Horton’s choreography was known for making political statements and broaching delicate topics, much like what NAISDA was doing, and continues to do, in Australia.
Tell me about your experiences teaching at NAISDA. What has it been like to conduct the Horton Intensive classes?
It’s been very exciting! Both Alvin and I have seen changes in the dancers, even over this short period of time. Their technique has become stronger and their overall level of ability has improved. Overall, I noticed a better sense of confidence in the way they move. The students were like sponges and were so open to us – they worked very hard. It was a really rewarding experience.
What advice do you have for NAISDA’s Developing Artists and really any aspiring dancers out there who are considering a career in dance?
To persevere. Dance is a really difficult profession and requires a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears and dedication. When I was first starting out, I had a lot of teachers who weren’t very encouraging, but when I met Mr Truitte, it all fell into place. It all takes time – just keep on pushing forward.