Seen and Heard at the Dance Teacher Summit: Denise Wall
Our Dance Teacher Summit is less than two weeks away, and we’re marking that countdown today with an interview with Summit ambassador Denise Wall. Wall was DT’s 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award winner and has owned her studio for over 30 years. Her students—including her son, “So You Think You Can Dance” star Travis Wall—have gone on to perform professionally all over the world. We spoke with her about her favorite Summit instructors and typical hot button issues that get dissected at the Summit.
Dance Teacher: What surprised you most at last year’s Summit?
Denise Wall: When the question of teacher salaries came up at a studio owners’ seminar, it was surprising how different everyone’s answer was. Some people are paying so low, I’m not sure how they get people to work for them. You’re not just paying for the hours of teaching, you’re paying for their knowledge and the time spent preparing for the class. At the same time, I know there’s a wide pay range depending on location. You expect places like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles to have higher salaries, but some other places were paying their teachers at even higher rates.
DT: The age-old question of how to deal with intrusive parents came up during the studio owners’ seminar, as well. What is your solution?
DW: I try to be an open book. In the fall, I did a big open house at the studio for my new parents to let them know what we’re all about. I had all my teachers talk about themselves and their backgrounds. Their resumés are on our website, but having them speak makes a difference.
Then I explained how I place kids in classes. In September the biggest question is always, “Why didn’t Susie move up?” Parents are all about what each level is called, but every year I restructure the school and talk to every teacher about every student to group kids together by what they need to work on at that time, like hip flexibility. I can advance kids more quickly that way. So if they’re in Ballet 1 for three years, parents think they’re not progressing, but they are progressing as a class working on that skill. If I changed the group’s name every year to Ballet 2, Ballet 3, I’d have Ballet 20! I tried explaining the process this time and it actually stopped a lot of the questions. I even had parents there who have been with us for five years.
DW: I met Paula Morgan for the first time at the 2012 Summit. [A popular California-based convention teacher, Morgan has developed her own technique, blending elements of yoga, Pilates and ballet to build long, lean muscles. Former students include Paula Abdul, Tyce Diorio and Ray Leeper.] People kept telling me I had to meet her, and I finally took her class. Within 10 minutes I had tears rolling down my face. When we met, it was like fireworks going off. I was like, “This is my mother of dance.” And being around Judy Rice and Anthony Morigerato—every teacher there is just amazing. It gives me enough motivation to get through a year. —Andrea Marks
Photos from top: by Matthew Murphy; courtesy of Break the Floor Productions