Teachers & Role Models

Teachers Share Their Go-to Daily Tools for Success

Saleemah E. Knight teaches a mix of dance majors and nonmajors at University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. Photo by Carolyn DiLoreto, courtesy of USC Kaufman

Being a dance teacher can be difficult. To be the best teacher for your students, it's important to maintain the best version of yourself. From workout regiments to favorite snacks and books, three teachers reveal what motivates them to be on top of their game.


Elizabeth Corbett, on faculty with the American Dance Festival

Photo by Grant Halverson, courtesy of ADF

MUST-HAVE TEACHING SUPPLIES: Water bottle, yoga mat, pencil and paper

FAVORITE FOOTWEAR: Capezio split-sole ballet shoes or Bloch teaching shoes

RECOMMENDED READING: Distant Dances, by Sono Osato. "At 97, she is still ahead of her time!"

DANCE BAG ESSENTIALS: "I always bring Boiron Arnicare Gel and Biofreeze Professional 360° Spray for sore muscles and minor injuries."

FOR INSPIRATION: "I recommend taking a look at William Forsythe's website, Synchronous Objects. It's fascinating!"


Saleemah E. Knight, University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance

LEOTARD SHE LOVES: Motionwear Mesh Keyhole-Back Tank Leotard

FAVORITE FOOTWEAR: Capezio-E Series Jazz Slip-on shoe. "I also still love a good lace-up jazz boot. I know it's old school, but the ankle support and wrap around the foot is solid for execution."

TO STAY IN SHAPE: "Dance, of course, but I also enjoy yoga during my off season. Like dance, it's a holistic practice that engages the mind, body and spirit."

RECOMMENDED VIEWING: The BBC documentary The King Who Invented Ballet, the PBS documentary Blacks and Vaudeville and the National Visionary Leadership Project's interviews with Dance Theatre of Harlem founder Arthur Mitchell.

FAVORITE QUICK SNACK: Luna Bars or almonds and berries mixed with yogurt


Amit Shah, AATMA Performing Arts

Photo courtesy of Shah

ESSENTIAL WARM-UP EXERCISE: Warming up the hands with Indian hand gestures called mudras. "It is important to emphasize bharatanatyam and kathak dance techniques, because Bollywood dance utilizes both."

FAVORITE FOOTWEAR: Adidas Ultraboost sneakers. "They are extra lightweight, great for running and versatile in design, so I can get away with wearing them out on the town."

FOR AN ENERGY BOOST: Health shake. "I got hooked on Shakeology by Beach Body. It tastes great and keeps me full."

FAVORITE NONDANCE ACTIVITY: Designing clothing and dance costumes through his company Andaz Costume Design

NEVER LEAVES HOME WITHOUT: MacBook Pro, iPhone and Beats Solo Wireless headphones


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Students need strong feet for pointe work, but few concentrate on their toes specifically. "Fatigue sets in and they start knuckling," says Atlanta Ballet podiatrist Dr. Frank Sinkoe. This puts excess pressure on the nails, causing bruising. The exercises below strengthen the arch and intrinsic muscles, which flex the toes and support the feet.

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What are your non-negotiables? Share on Dance Teacher's Facebook page.

It could be argued that half the battle of owning a dance studio is getting people to follow the rules. To ensure your business will run like a well-oiled machine, it helps to have clear expectations in place for students and their families—and, most important, to make sure everyone knows them from day one. Of course, every school is unique, and behavior that may be acceptable to you might be out of the question for someone else. "There are so many studios out there," says Dana McGuire, a studio co-owner in North Kansas City, Missouri. "Know and stand by what you're about." Here, four seasoned studio directors discuss the issues they consider non-negotiable.

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I have a student who's going through a growth spurt, and I'm wondering what advice I should give her. Is there anything you recommend?

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Dance Buzz

When Sierra McCauley was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma cancer five years ago at age 6, that didn't stop her from continuing to compete with her studio, Sonya's Dance Zone, in Columbus, Indiana. Despite six months of chemotherapy, McCauley even competed in a Nationals. "I remember going onstage without any hair and a bow taped to my head," she says.

During her stay at Riley Hospital for Children, McCauley made several friends, a few of whom sadly passed away during their struggles with cancer. Last year, she performed a special tribute dance to honor those friends. Now, she's created a social media challenge to help raise funds for the Riley Children's Foundation: #dancerbeatingcancer. The challenge's premise is simple, just like the #IceBucketChallenge from 2014—you post a short video of yourself dancing to Meghan Trainor's "Better When I'm Dancin'" and challenge others to do the same, tagging your post with #dancerbeatingcancer. Then, you head to the Riley Children's Foundation donation page to donate funding for pediatric research.

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Teachers & Role Models
"We hire dancers based on more than skill," says Nan. "I ask myself, 'What are they like as people?" Photo by Quinn Wharton

It's no easy task to follow in the footsteps of a legend. It's harder still to not just follow but also take the lead. Nan Giordano, daughter of jazz-dance icon Gus Giordano, has done just that, and she's doing it with unwavering dynamism and a tenacity that has kept her father's company, Giordano Dance Chicago, not only alive but thriving after 55 years.

Gus Giordano, a venerable founding father of jazz dance, traveled the globe teaching his iconic technique, inspired generations of dancers at his school and founded a company that became a staple in the Chicago dance scene and known around the world. Nan has been part of this company for 40 years—as a dancer, a partner to her father and now as artistic director. Today, she has cultivated an eclectic repertoire for its dancers, who have a full performance and tour schedule; she is fostering a growing education-and-outreach program; and she is overseeing the planning of a new home. "We're not just perpetuating my dad's name," Nan says. "We're elevating his legacy and building on the foundation he created."

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Teachers & Role Models
"I had to figure out how Graham technique informs the body in ways that other techniques don't address," says Kim Stroud. Photo courtesy of Stroud

When it comes to teaching dance, teachers often find themselves wishing they had 10 more minutes to fit in that final grand jeté sequence across the floor or the last 16 counts of the hip-hop combination they prepared. In a K–12 environment, a time crunch is even more likely. Between increasingly limited slots for arts electives and the challenges of navigating a block schedule, time is a precious commodity. Here, three seasoned K–12 educators share their strategies for making every minute count.

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Judith Jamison celebrating Alvin Ailey. Photo by Tiba Vieira, courtesy of Ailey Extension

When you're offered a chance to take a class with Judith Jamison, you don't say no.

The company's beloved artistic director emerita rarely teaches open classes. But to celebrate the legacy of Alvin Ailey on what would have been his 87th birthday, she gave a special two-hour workshop at the Ailey Extension on Friday night. I had to try it, even though I was desperately hoping that she wouldn't make us do any Horton coccyx balances. (Spoiler alert: She did.)

So what's it like to take class with the larger-than-life icon?

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