Skip to main content
Northwestern School of Communication

Billy Siegenfeld

70 Arts Circle Drive
Room 5-177
Evanston, IL 60208


Billy Siegenfeld

Billy Siegenfeld is a former jazz and rock drummer; a rhythm-driven actor-dancer-singer and stage director; the founder, choreographer, musical arranger, and ensemble performing member of the vocal-rhythmic theatre-movement company Jump Rhythm® (; an author of essays, plays, and a book-in-progress titled How to Make Gravity Our New Best Friend by Standing Down (not Up!) Straight; and a Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence in the Department of Theatre at Northwestern University.

The courses he teaches at Northwestern, the workshops and talks he presents nationally and internationally, and the work he produces in theatre are guided by the following ecological, egalitarianism-promoting, and art-making concept:

STANDING DOWN STRAIGHT® (SDS), a.k.a. “The Anatomy of Letting Go.” SDS is a scientifically fact-based, injury-preventive, “less is more” approach to both performing arts training and daily living. By basing all movements and vocalizations on gravity-directed relaxation, it guides aspiring and career performing artists as well as people of all ages, demographics, and physical ableness who love music, moving rhythmically, or thinking imaginatively to do both performative and everyday tasks with less physical strain, more emotional gain, and a literally-and-metaphorically grounded mind-body connectedness to the earth, oneself, and the people with whom one lives, works, and/or plays.

His performance work focuses on building African-American-originated, vocal-rhythmic movement-driven theatre out of primal human behavior. The emphasis is on the expression of energy, not shape – on articulating the physical and emotional energies we feel at our most relaxed and unself-conscious rather than the looks we display at our most self-conscious and public. This process turns fusions of rhythm-driven motion, song, and speech into stories that laugh, cry, or rant about our species’ most dominant, self-sabotaging condition: tampering with Mother Nature to get more than enough but then realizing – once we start replacing win-at-any-cost patriarchal social constructs with a communal-egalitarian point of view – that less is more and that what we already have inside and outside ourselves is not only enough but in fact can be more than enough.

Springing from this idea is his 2019 play with music and dance, What Do You Want To Be When You Give Up? It premiered at the Mark O’Donnell Theater in New York City.

His new two-character play with music and dance, Fortitude or and Gentleness, is about a rehearsal for a play. It continues exploring the above idea.  In it, two people who have only worked together as performers learn to embrace each other as warts-and-all humans. In 2023, Fortitude or and Gentleness again premiered at the O’Donnell Theater in New York. In 2024, it will premiere in Tampere, Finland, Paris, France, and at venues in the United States.

Billy received a bachelor's degree in literature from Brown University and a master's degree in jazz music and dance from New York University’s Gallatin Division. His thesis was titled “Hunting the Rhythmic Snark: The Search for Swing in Jazz Performance.” When living in New York City, he performed in dancer-choreographer Don Redlich’s company; directed the dance program of Hunter College; performed as an actor-dancer-singer in both off-off-Broadway shows and the Broadway production of Singin’ in the Rain; and studied Meisner-based acting with Tim Philips and natural-voice singing with Joan Kobin.

After becoming injured from years of dance training that emphasized pushing the body beyond its natural limits, he studied an approach to movement called ideokinesis as taught by André Bernard. Ideokinesis uses gravity-directed, skeletal relaxation to heal the body and, in a seeming paradox, power it. It is based on the ideas of posture and motion presented by Mabel Ellsworth Todd in The Thinking Body.  Todd both analyzes and affirms what our cousins the animals are experts at: letting the body do what it wants to do rather than what we, at our most over-reaching and over-controlling, think it should do. Todd’s point of view inspired his development of the ecological-creative principle, Standing Down Straight® (SDS), a.k.a. “The Anatomy of Letting Go.”

He also works for the environment. As an Openlands TreeKeeper, he helps maintain park trees around Evanston, Illinois and works with a group of volunteers to ensure the eco-health and preservation of the town’s Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary.


  • MA Jazz Music and Dance, New York University
  • BA Literature, Brown University

Recent Publications

Billy Siegenfeld is a writer on various subjects, including vernacular-bodied, jazz-rhythm-based performance; teaching to “the person inside the student”; and “Standing Down Straight®,” a gravity-directed, injury-preventive approach to both actor training and everyday behavior.

His most recent article, “Performing Energy: American Rhythm Dancing and ‘The Great Articulation of the Inarticulate’,” appears in an anthology of jazz writings, Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots and Branches. His next article, “Democracy’s Energy,” will appear in a text on Jump Rhythm titled Democracy’s Energy: Getting Down to Go Forward.

Recent Awards, Honors, and Commissions

  • Commission by Millennium Performing Arts, London, England: director, choreographer, and vocal-rhythmic musical arranger of Variations on “I’ve Got Your Number,” premiered at Bathway Theatre, London, England.
  • Commission by Chicago Tap Theatre: director and co-choreographer of Tidings of Tap, premiered at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts.
  • “Best New Production 2016”: Chicago Tap Theatre, for direction of Time Steps, conferred by Dance Magazine.
  • Commission by Chicago Tap Theatre: director of Time Steps, premiered at Stage 773, Chicago IL.
  • Artistic Achievement Award, conferred by Chicago National Association of Dance Masters, 2016. Commission by Jump Collective Finland: choreographer and vocal-rhythmic musical arranger of god of dirt, and Too Close for Comfort, premiered at the Narri Theater, Helsinki, Finland.
  • Tapestry Award, conferred by Dance Inn, Lexington MA.
  • Inspiration Award, conferred by Chicago Tap Theatre.
  • Stone Camryn Lecturer on the History of Dance, designation conferred by the Newberry Library, Chicago.
  • Choreographer of the Year, awarded by Dance Chicago and Cliff Dwellers Arts Foundation.
  • Commission by European Union and the City of Turku, funding the site-specific re-creation of Sorrows of Unison Dancing, premiered at Brinkhall Manor, Kaskerta, Finland.
  • Outstanding Choreographer: Body of Work, conferred by Dance Chicago.
  • Editors’ Video Award, for the production of Why Gershwin?, conferred by Dance Teacher.
  • Emmy® Award, Outstanding Achievement for Individual Excellence On Camera: Performer, Jump Rhythm Jazz Project: Getting There.
  • Ruth Page Award: Outstanding Contributions to the Field, conferred by the Ruth Page Award Committee, Fulbright Senior Scholar, designation conferred in conjunction with a two-week residency at Turku University of Applied Sciences, Turku, Finland by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Department of State, and the Council of International Exchange of Scholars, 2005.
  • Jazz Dance World Congress Award: Outstanding Contributions to the Field, conferred by the Jazz Dance World Congress.
  • National Performance Network Creation Award, in support of a touring production of Sorrows of Unison Dancing.
  • Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence, Northwestern University, 2002. Commission by Limón Dance Foundation, funding the creation of If Winter, premiered by the José Limón Dance Company at Mexican Heritage Center, San José CA.
  • Twentieth Century Timeline of Choreographers and Innovators, recognition conferred by Dance Teacher, 2000. Commission by American Theater Company: choreographer of The Mineola Twins, American Theater Company, Chicago IL.
  • Dancer recognition: “Billy Siegenfeld has used the components of the classic performances of jazz dancing as the basis of his Jump Rhythm Jazz Technique, successfully inventing the first genuine jazz dance technique in forty ” This recognition appeared in the February issue of the magazine, 1998.
  • Ruth Page Award for Outstanding Choreography, for Romance in Swingtime, No Way Out, and Sola Nella Mia Bocca.
  • Commission by Next Theatre: choreographer of Love’s Labor’s Lost, Next Theatre, Evanston IL, 1997. Commission by De Theater school, Amsterdam, Holland: choreographer and vocal-rhythmic musical arranger of Ellington Dancing, Opleiding Theater, Amsterdam, Holland,
  • Jazz Dance World Congress Gold Leo Award for Outstanding Choreography, conferred by the Jazz Dance World Congress for Getting There.
  • Sage Cowles Land Grant Chair in Dance, conferred by the University of Minnesota.

Recent Grants

In partnership with Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, he has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, and the Richard Driehaus Foundation.


  • Jump Rhythm® Technique
  • Jump Rhythm® Tap
  • Standing Down Straight® for Actors
  • SDS-Based Partnered Swing Dancing as Source of Collaborative Decision-Making
  • Choreographing Music: Rhythmic and Dynamic Approaches to Creating Movement for the Stage
  • American Rhythm Singing-Dancing and the African-American Performance Aesthetic