"I was born doing this," says Atlanta native Dawn Axam of her career in dance. Her older sister wished for a baby sister who danced, and Axam grew up doing just that. She began her formal training as part of her high school's dance program and went on to earn her BFA from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and her master's in art education from Lesley University. For the past 25 years, she's taught at a variety of schools and studios, including the Tri-Cities High School in Georgia, Las Vegas Academy of the Arts and in Senegal on a Fulbright Scholarship. Today, she directs the lower school (grades 4–6) at the Atlanta-based Woodward Academy, where her goal is to foster young choreographers and their creative voices.
"I've seen students transform after training with Dawn. She will take on anyone who wants to learn to dance, including kids who never stepped foot in the studio," says Jenny Gould, Woodward's middle-school dance director. "She will work with them for as long as it takes—as long as they are committed to showing up with a willingness to do the work. Her students go from having hardly any technique to strong, confident, beautiful dancers and performing artists." As part of her mission to shape young dance artists, Axam has launched a new program called "Undiscovered," in which select students from Woodward and other Atlanta-based schools create work to set on her professional contemporary company, Axam Dance Theatre Experience, which she founded in 2005.
Her modern classes are based in Horton technique and also influenced by her training in Limón and Graham, and her ballet classes are modeled after her Cecchetti studies with Finis Jhung. Axam also shares Mojah technique (a fusion of modern, jazz and West African dance), a dance style developed by her Dunham technique–trained sister Terrie Ajile, whose studio Axam teaches at regularly.
Though Axam says teaching came naturally to her, she did notice a shift in the way she taught once she became a mother. "I always wanted someone to teach children the way I would teach my own, which means I needed to be just as good of a teacher to someone else's child," she says. "I remember thinking I've got to be a great teacher, because I want my daughter to have a teacher who loves what they do."