"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.

Photo by Shoccara Marcus, courtesy of Axam

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."

The Feldenkrais Method is a somatic technique created by Moshe Feldenkrais in the 1950s. The method has two parts: hands-on sessions with a Feldenkrais teacher (Functional Integration) or group classes comprised of verbal cues (Awareness Through Movement).

Mary Armentrout, a dance teacher, choreographer and Feldenkrais practitioner, shares three ways that this somatic practice can bolster your students' training.

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Your Studio

Oversexualizing young kids has been a hot topic among dance teachers in recent years. It's arguably the most controversial topic teachers and studio owners are faced with. Deciding which choreography, music or costumes are appropriate—or not—isn't always black and white and can be easily overlooked. Is showing the midriff too much for minis? Is this choreography too provocative? Is this popular song too suggestive for a competition piece? The questions can seem endless with no clear objective answers. Until now.

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To make dancers stronger and less injury-prone, Burns Wilson suggest adding floor barre or conditioning classes. Photo courtesy of Burns Wilson

With a career spanning 30-plus years in the dance field, Anneliese Burns Wilson has cultivated a unique perspective on health and injury prevention for dancers. From teaching ballet to teaching anatomy, she then founded ABC for Dance, which publishes dance-teaching materials. Now through research for her next book, which will focus on training the female adolescent dancer, she's delving even deeper into topics many dance teachers have overlooked.

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Erdmann (left) on set for "Hairspray Live" (courtesy of Erdmann)

When Wicked ensemble member Kelli Erdman was training at Westlake Dance Center in Seattle, Washington, her teacher Kirsten Cooper taught her that focussed transitions would be pivotal to her success as a dancer. Now as a professional, she applies this advice to her daily performances, asserting that she will never let the details of her dancing get blurry.

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Khobdeh dancing Taylor's Speaking In Tongues. Photo courtesy of PTDC

For Parisa Khobdeh, music does more than set the tone for a piece—it's enabled her to connect with movement. And once she joined Paul Taylor Dance Company in 2003, Taylor's body of work deepened this connection. "His choreography showed me the music, the architecture and the space," she says. "I now see the music."

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Dance Buzz

We haven't been able to stop watching Lil' Mushroom since she popped and locked her way into Ellen's heart last week. We know you've got a long night of teaching ahead, and this is the dance inspiration you need to get you through. Check it out and tell us what you think about her killer moves over on our Facebook page! (She starts blowing minds at about 2:16.)

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How-To

Because the chassé is often neglected during the execution of this traveling step, Judy Rice asks her students to do a minimum of a six-inch chassé before transitioning into the pas de bourrée. She encourages dancers to pay close attention to their shoulders and hips in effacé, too. "Kids tend to open it up. They look like they're fencing," she says. "You don't want that." Both shoulders and hip bones should be facing the corner.

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