I’ve always had a deep appreciation for the role that dance has played in my life. Some of my happiest memories and most life-affirming experiences can be traced back to the years spent at my childhood dance studio, Agnes Strecker Dance Studio, in Revere, Massachusetts. I made social ties there to girls who are, to this day, my closest friends. It was on a dance studio field trip to Radio City Music Hall that I got my first taste of New York City and decided, as a love-struck 12-year-old watching the city whirl around me, that I would live there someday. And it was my teacher, Agnes, who has been one of the most powerful mentors in my life and in my career.

Dance teachers pass on much more than a love for the arts. I imagine that every dancer, especially those who have built successful careers in the field, can share a story or two about an influential educator who ignited or encouraged his or her passion. But students need not go on to dance professionally to reap the benefits; I certainly didn’t (though I do get to teach and write about it). Rather, it’s the lessons given beyond the physical training that are most valuable: discipline, commitment, self-esteem, respect. Those are the gifts that students carry with them for years to come, no matter the path they choose. Thank you for . . .

Instilling Life Lessons

As a self-described “energetic, hyper kid,” Kristin Sudeikis simply couldn’t get enough when it came to dance. She started taking class at age 3; by 10, she was spending up to five hours a night at the Miller-Marley School of Dance and Voice in Overland Park, Kansas. “I never wanted to leave,” she recalls. “My parents had to tear me away each night.”

By the time Sudeikis was in her early teens, she was teaching classes and traveling to national dance conventions; her teacher, Shirley Marley, awarded her a talent scholarship. Dancing was a life focus. She made close friends, who would later be bridesmaids in her wedding. They would also stay by her side when, after studying dance at the University of Kansas, she headed to New York City to pursue a career in dance.

“There were about four of us, and we came to New York within a year of each other, all with the same dream,” says Sudeikis. “We shared that common bond—a passion for dance and for music.” The entire group went on to enjoy successful performance careers; Sudeikis herself is now a nationally known master teacher, choreographer and performer, both onstage and on TV. Throughout the year, she travels across the U.S. to conduct master classes at various studios, including Miller-Marley.

“So much of who I am is because of Shirley Marley,” says Sudeikis. “She didn’t just teach me how to dance, she taught me about life.” Marley gave Sudeikis the courage to make her aspirations a reality. “She told me, ‘I know you’re going to make it,’” she says. “It meant everything to me. We learned from a young age that if you dreamt and believed it, you could make it happen.”

She also credits Marley, as well as her other instructors at the studio, namely Brian McGinness and Connie Ramos, for instilling self-discipline, respect for others, humility and grace. “I was taught by example. We saw how to conduct ourselves in a classroom or in rehearsal. We learned how to treat others with respect.” Sudeikis carries those values into her own teaching, making sure students feel comfortable and worry-free. “I just want people to dance and to really let go, to get out of their heads for a minute. Everyone can benefit from it.” (For more about Miller-Marley, read “There’s No Place Like Home” on page 82.) 

Providing Inspiration

“Without dance, I’m not sure what road I would’ve taken,” says Michelle Martin, a nationally recognized choreographer and co-owner (with her sister, Melissa Schott) and director of Dance Connection in Indianapolis. Martin began taking lessons at age 2 at Diana’s Dance Studio, a neighborhood school run by Diana Richardson (Moates).

When Richardson was tragically killed in a car accident in 1984, Martin’s mother, Patti Schott, decided to open a studio in Diana’s memory. “I treasure the stories my mom shares about her and the experiences I have had as a result of her as my first instructor. Each teacher after her had a difficult time trying to fill her dance shoes; nobody ever could.”

Today, along with her mother and sister, Martin strives to create a family atmosphere and positive spirit for her own students at Dance Connection. “I still find joy in this job because the satisfaction never changes,” she says. “The teenage students I teach now were once the babies I used to teach way back when.”

Cultivating Self-Confidence

The benefits of dance class go far beyond physical training. “I hope that kids leave my classroom understanding the importance of hard work and determination; that they can see how practice makes perfection possible,” says Martin. “I hope they learn the satisfaction that comes from hearing kind words and praise and understand what it means to be part of a team.”

Writer and actress Tracey Toomey, who appears in several Manhattan theater productions, and is the co-author of The Perfect Manhattan and Cocktail Therapy, says she owes the success of her writing and acting career to a childhood dance education. Her classes at Studio One School of Dance on Long Island, New York, gave her self-confidence—an essential ingredient for success in any field. “I was pretty shy during middle school, and dancing and performing gave me a lot of confidence, which was invaluable,” she says. “If you can get up onstage and perform in front of people, that will translate into your life offstage as well.” Toomey adds that the discipline she learned in dance class (especially in ballet) has helped her develop as a writer and an actor, “since both require a lot of discipline.”

Martin says that, as a teacher, she is also gaining something from her students. “It’s a good feeling to know that kids can benefit in so many ways from the time they spend with you. I knew that my teaching made a positive impact when a parent approached me to express her gratitude for doing such a wonderful job as a teacher, and to share that her daughter had written a report for school on the most influential person in her life, and I was the chosen person.”

Perhaps the best part for Sudeikis, Martin and other teachers is that they’re reaching children who most likely remind them of themselves at a young age—innocent, passionate and excited about the future. “I remember how much my teachers meant to me,” Sudeikis says, “and it’s just so amazing that there are kids who feel the same way about me. It’s awe-inspiring; it’s humbling.”

Adds Martin: “I have seen how my teaching is absorbed when my student teachers get in front of a classroom and start sharing the same information they have learned from me over the years. I get to be a positive influence in many children’s lives, even if only for 45 minutes a week. Is there anything better than that?” DT

 

Debbie Strong is a New York City–based writer and dancer. She teaches dance and Pilates at All the Buzz in Queens, NY.

Former students of Kelley gather around a cardboard cutout made in his honor at the recent tribute. Photo courtesy of Merritt

Every dancer has a teacher who makes an impression. The kind of impression that makes you want to become a dancer or a teacher in the first place. For Mara Merritt, owner of Merritt Dance Center in Schenectady, NY, and countless others, that teacher was Charles Kelley.

Known as "Chuck" to most, Kelley was born December 4, 1936. He was a master teacher in tap, jazz and acrobatics, who wrote syllabuses for national dance conventions like Dance Masters of America. Growing up in upstate New York, Merritt's parents, both dance teachers, took her into Manhattan every Friday to study with Kelley. First at the old Ed Sullivan Theater and the New York Center of Dance in Times Square, then years later at Broadway Dance Center.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo courtesy of DM archives

"It's hard not to get too hurt in this profession."

Ann Reinking got real earlier this month at New York City Dance Alliance Foundation's Bright Lights Shining Stars gala. She was being honored as a 2017 NYCDA Foundation Ambassador for the Arts, and her speech was so moving that we had to share the entire thing with you.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Photo by Grant Halverson, courtesy of ADF

As a soloist with William Forsythe's Ballet Frankfurt and later as his assistant, Elizabeth Corbett got to experience firsthand the groundbreaking choreographer's influence on contemporary ballet. "I find it fascinating and never-ending," she says of his work. "It was a repertory that was constantly changing over time and still is." Now on faculty with the American Dance Festival, Corbett brings Forsythe's repertory and processes to the dancers in class every summer.

Keep reading... Show less
During seated stretches, I encourage my students to sit straight on their sits bones and then fold forward at the hips—even if they don't go forward very far. One student tells me that if she sits as I instruct, she can't reach forward at all. Why?
Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models

In 2011, New York City–based choreographer Pedro Ruiz returned to Cuba after 21 years of dancing with Ballet Hispanico and more than 30 years being away. The experience was so moving that he created The Windows Project as a continuous cultural collaboration between American artists and Cuban dancers.

"I was so overwhelmed seeing all the dancers do Afro-Cuban dance with live music. It was the moment my soul reconnected to Cuba and to my roots," says Ruiz of his first trip back. "I started weeping." He saw that, while Cuban companies and schools have amazing knowledge and passion for dance, they needed access to train with teachers in a variety of techniques, and choreographers outside of Cuba. "Cuba is still struggling economically, so the dancers also don't have good ballet shoes or costumes, and The Windows Project was my way to begin to help," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
How-To
Thinkstock

Midway through every semester at Indiana University Bloomington, contemporary professor Stephanie Nugent notices that her students aren't quite as awake as they were the first week of classes. They're tired from midterm exams and bring less energy to the studio. Nugent, too, feels the lull. "Teaching in academia is an arc with many peaks and valleys," she says, noting that the repetition of exercises can get monotonous. "On days when it feels like we've been doing the same thing over and over, I give students an improvisational prompt, and it reignites all of our interests. It's something to investigate, rather than something to repeat."

Most teachers experience a moment of stagnation at some point. Maybe students aren't progressing as fast as you feel they should, or you feel uninspired by the daily routine. Factors outside the studio, like administrative work, can also deplete your energy reserves. During these low and slow times, consider the following ideas to find inspiration and give yourself—and your students—a boost.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models
Photo by Jennifer Zmuda, courtesy of BalletMet

Long before switching from ballet to Broadway became de rigueur, Edwaard Liang shocked everyone by leaving New York City Ballet to join the Broadway cast of the musical Fosse. Eleven years later, he defied expectations again by taking over as BalletMet's artistic director—without putting his robust freelance choreography career on hold. Liang, it seems, doesn't pay much heed to the conventional approach to a dance career.

In his four years with BalletMet, Liang has sought to challenge his dancers with diverse repertory that goes far beyond the typical confines of classical and contemporary ballet. This month, to celebrate BalletMet's 40th anniversary, the company teamed up with Ohio State University's dance department and the Wexner Center for the Arts to offer a smorgasbord of dance styles: from William Forsythe's singular brand of leggy-brainy dance to Ohad Naharin's exuberant Minus 16, performed alongside OSU dance students. Here, he talks to DT about the effect his choices have had on his career.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored