Dance Teachers Trending

Baltimore School of the Arts Alumni Surprised Retiring Director Norma Pera With a Special Tribute Performance

Norma Pera, center, with current and former students from Saturday evening's performance.

After 39 years with the Baltimore School for the Arts, Norma Pera announced her retirement this year. On Saturday, her colleagues and students gathered to honor her with a night of gratitude and dance.


The concert was packed with touching tributes, a video of her memorable quirks (aka "Norma-isms"), and an impressive lineup of surprise performances. Jacqueline Green (class of '07) and Courtney Celeste Spears (class of '12), both currently members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, performed a duet. Complexions Contemporary Ballet company member Doug Baum, who graduated from BSA in '06, choreographed a piece that was performed by current 11th-graders. Roger Cunningham (class of '90) flew in from Switzerland, where he is the director of Cunningham International Dance Center, to set a piece for the performance.

Former student Jaqueline Green, left, with Aubrey Brown. Photo courtesy of BSA.

Pera has taught dance at the school since it opened in 1979. When Sylvester Campbell retired in 1992, she became the head of the department. Teaching upwards of 2,000 dancers, BSA notes that she's been mentoring young black ballerinas and dancers long before there was a movement to do so.

"Norma's expertise in the field has been shaped by the unique and diverse student population that sets our institution apart from other conservatory-style schools," says Iris Andersen Grizzell, class of '96 and a current BSA dance teacher. "She has gone to bat for students who have had no other support system in their lives and guided them to graduation and success," she adds.

Norma Pera. Photo by Mary Gardella, courtesy of BSA

Pera, who danced with the Radio City Music Hall's ballet company, Rudolf Nureyev and Friends, and the Maryland Ballet, had a "no-nonsense approach," says Andersen Grizzell. Pera had a way of simplifying the ballet vocabulary so that it could be better understood, says former student Courtney Spears, who remembers Pera saying, "If you close your fifth position and actually use your arms, you'll get around in a pirouette twice...what a concept!"

Pera with former student and New York City Ballet dancer Kenard Henson. Photo courtesy of BSA.

Her teaching style had a profound effect on so many of her students outside of their dance training.

"With the pressures that come with the academic and artistic demands of a top-notch performing arts high school like Baltimore School for the Arts, I always felt a balance with Norma between her insistence on excellence and her supportive and fun nature. Norma laughed bigger than anyone…and yelled louder, too!" —Nicole Cornell, class of '95

Cornell (left) with Pera. Cornell is currently a manager with the George Balanchine Trust. Photo courtesy of BSA

"Norma Pera took a chance on me. I entered BSA with no training and no idea what I was getting myself into. She was patient with me, encouraging me every step of the way. I have learned so much from her, artistically and professionally. I don't think there will ever be a teacher with such an epic rond de jambe combo." —Jacqueline Green, class of 2007, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Pera (bottom right) with choreographer Hinton Battle and students. Photo courtesy of BSA

"Mrs. Pera made the studio a safe space to ask questions and a judgment-free zone to try all things. She instilled a sense of confidence and drive in my dancing that I will forever be grateful for. She is my foundation and was more than a teacher. She was family and someone that I trust with anything." —Courtney Celeste Spears, class of 2012, dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Robin Nasatir (center) with Peter Brown and Vicki Gunter. Photo by Christian Peacock

On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I need advice on proper classroom management for dancers in K–12—I can't get them to focus.

A: Classroom management in a K–12 setting is no different than in a studio. No matter where you teach, I recommend using a positive-reinforcement approach first. As a general rule, what you pay attention to is what you get. When a student acts out, it's generally done in order to gain attention. Rather than giving attention to them for inappropriate behavior, call out other students who are exhibiting the positive behaviors you desire. Name the good actions, and all of your students will quickly learn what it takes to be noticed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

For an aspiring professional dancer, an unexpected injury can feel like a death sentence to a career that hasn't even started. The recovery process following an injury can be one of the most grueling and heartbreaking experiences a performer will ever face. In times like these, dance teachers have the power to boost or weaken a dancer's morale.

With that in mind, we've compiled a list of do's and don'ts for talking to a seriously injured dancer.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Last season I had three dancers on my junior team who struggled all year. They've trained with me for years, yet they keep sliding farther behind their classmates. What should I do?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox