Special needs dance educator Ann Kathleen Shea passed away on October 10 at the age of 67, after a long struggle with Parkinson’s Disease. One of Shea’s many recognitions for her tireless advocacy for dance education in public schools was the 2009 Dance Teacher K–12 national award.
A lifelong dance educator, Shea knew her calling from the very first time she took dance class at the age of 7. “From the first minute of my first summer dance class,” she said, “I knew that I wanted to be a dance teacher—it was that immediate.”
Shea founded and directed the Orange Grove Dancers, a dance troupe for adults and children with developmental disabilities, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She also choreographed more than 50 pieces for organizations including the Chattanooga Ballet and Dance Theater Workshop, as well as several local high school dance programs.
She devoted herself to bringing dance to K–12 students—especially those in inner-city schools—by instituting grant-funded workshops and dance literacy outreach projects. “I like sharing with anyone who wants to learn about dance,” she said. “I want dance education to be accessible, viable and visible.”
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"I describe it as organized chaos," says Kimberly Rishi with a laugh, as she hunts for a quiet space inside her 12,000-square-foot studio in Ashburn, Virginia. In any given week, Studio Bleu Dance Center's 11 dance studios accommodate 800 enrolled students, 52 staff members, adults who take drop-in classes, plus kids in vocal and piano programs and an affiliated ballet conservatory. "It may look like there's always a party going on," Rishi says, "but that's not the case. There's a schedule, and everyone knows where they're headed."
When Rishi took the reins in 2003, there were only 80 students, 20 of whom were competitive. Today, 300 dancers are enrolled for the competition program. And just this winter, she launched a musical theater program, taking in triple-threat hopefuls in the area. While the Ashburn area (outside of Washington, DC) is burgeoning, faculty member Heidi Moe says Studio Bleu's growth is due to more than changing demographics. It's the direct result of Rishi's business experience and leadership ability.
Irish dancer Cara Butler remembers the helpful advice that her teacher Donny Golden gave her as a child to ease her mind before competitions.
"I remember that he was really good at calming my nerves as a kid. He would always say, 'Your nerves are a form of energy. Use it as fuel.' That was something, especially when I was younger, that would always get me through it. I find that even today I still get nervous about certain performances. But he taught me to just use it as energy and think of it as a good thing. If you're not nervous, where is the emotion and the passion? Nerves are good."
Dancer and choreographer Chuck Davis, who founded the largest African dance festival, DanceAfrica, and performance company African American Dance Ensemble, died Sunday at his home in Durham, North Carolina. He was 80. Known for his benevolent spirit and powerful presence, he was committed to keeping the roots of African dance alive, as well as fusing together the older traditions with contemporary choreography. In 2004 he was honored with a Dance Magazine Award and a Bessie Award in 2014 for outstanding service to the field of dance.
Sometimes a little video comes along that manages to cheer you on a dreary Wednesday, inspire you to be better and give you all the good feels. Meet Sheila Rozann, an 88-year-old ballet teacher for the National Dance Institute, New Mexico, who's been teaching for more than 66 years (!). She gives great advice on everything from why ballet is so pleasing to the eye to how a teacher can pick out a student destined for greatness. But my favorite jewel of wisdom that she offers is simple, and one that we often hear from the teachers we feature in DT: Dance is something that molds kids into good people, regardless of whether they go on to pursue careers in the field.
This month, Steps on Broadway tap teacher Claudia Rahardjanoto teaches a crossover step—a traditional rhythm tap step first performed by the great Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. The step is usually done three times with a break at the end, and is a great way to practice weigh shifts.
Here, some of tap history's greatest hoofers perform the crossover step.