Bette White Fernandez first graced the pages of DT—then called Dance Teacher Now—in its inaugural “Spotlight on Successful Teachers” (Summer 1979). And the former Rockette has remained true to her life’s work. Only briefly sidelined after undergoing heart surgery earlier this year, 80-year-old White is now in her 56th year of teaching.
Beginning her dance training at age 8, the Wilmington, Delaware, native relocated to New York City after high school to study with legendary teachers like Martha Graham, Hanya Holm and Luigi. White held several teaching jobs at various studios before founding the Bette White Dance Center in Maplewood, New Jersey, in the early 1970s. (Back then, her monthly rent was only $275 and her ballet, tap, modern, jazz and adult disco classes cost just $3 each!) The studio is still in business, but it is now in the hands of a former student, which White couldn’t be happier about.
Today, the mother of five teaches tap in Long Branch, NJ, where she lives and also performs with the Jersey Shore Seniors Legend Showcase at local charities and fundraisers. Read on as this dedicated teacher shares her teaching joys and some career advice she wishes she’d known three decades ago.

Dance Teacher: After all of these years, what is it about teaching that keeps you going?
Bette White Fernandez: The students are my best friends; they have so much spirit. I’ve always tried to maintain the technique and discipline, but I get caught up with the students’ spirits and just having fun with them. They know I still enjoy it.

DT: What teacher influenced your style the most?
BWF: Luigi influenced me a lot. His style was a segue from jazz to modern, with these flowing movements. Luigi’s whole idea was that you should feel the movement from the inside out, and there was so much expression in his technique. It changed my choreography and the way I was teaching.

DT: Was it a challenge to balance your job while raising a family?
BWF: When my kids were very young, I’d put them on a blanket to play in the corner while I taught; I’d just incorporate them into whatever I was doing. I remember a student once asked why I put a particular kick into a routine, and it was because I had to keep stepping over a Tonka truck while I was choreographing. But my two daughters helped out and both taught when they were older.

DT: Is there anything that you know now that you wish you’d known earlier on in your career?
BWF: I remember when I first began teaching, I’d sometimes put a very shy student in the front row and then they’d drop out. I wish I had known more about human nature and people’s capacity for what they can handle—that took a while.

DT: Do you have any more advice to share with other dance teachers?
BWF: You have to remain excited about dance and not think of it as just a job. And you should really encourage your students and let them lead you. I once showed my boys’ tap class a barrel turn and said, “When you’re older, you’ll be able to do this.” Well, they all went off on their own and started trying it, saying, “Look at me, look at me!” It’s all about listening to your students.

DT: How did you feel about handing over the business you created?
BWF: A former student of mine named Dancette Pratts, who started dancing with me at age 4, is now running my studio (currently called Inspirational Dance). She has danced professionally and always wanted to own a studio, and now she’s there. And that’s the greatest reward we can have as teachers, when our students become teachers. It’s like passing the baton.















Fiona Kirk is a freelance journalist based in New York City.

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Dance teachers have a lot of strengths (communicating corrections, choreographing gorgeous movement, planning excellent recitals, cleaning technique—just to name a few) but when it comes to interior design—talent isn't exactly a given. So when studio owners remodel or build, worrying about the decor can feel a little overwhelming (you've got just a few too many other things to worry about, don't you?).

No need to fear! In 2019 we have Pinterest, which shows us all the latest trends we should know about. To help you make the best design decisions for your studio, we've compiled a list of public Pinterest pins we think you'll love.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Vanessa Zahorian. Photo by Erik Larson, courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet Academy

At the LINES Ballet Dance Center in San Francisco, faculty member Erik Wagner leads his class through an adagio combination in center. He encourages dancers to root their standing legs, using imagery of a seed germinating, so that they feel more grounded. "Our studios are on the fifth floor, so I'll often tell them to push down to Market Street," says Wagner. "They know that they should push their energy down to the street level." By using this oppositional force, he says, dancers can lengthen their bodies to create any desired shape.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

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

After years of throwing summer parties at your studio, you're likely fatigued by coming up with themes and event details. You want your students to have a good time, but you're also up to your eyeballs in choreography and costume decisions.

Never fear! We've come up with party themes and activities to do during the event. Delegate tasks to your teachers and office managers, and voilà! You have a stress-free party ready to go.

Have a blast, people!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I recently returned to a modern dance class after a long absence. While I didn't feel any acute pain at the end of class, the next morning I could barely walk from the soreness in both my Achilles. What can I do to fix this?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Q: I'm trying to think of ways to maximize studio space and revenue during the summer. What has worked for you?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

In 2019, dance parents are more eager than ever to observe their child's progress, and stay up-to-date with the ins and outs of what's happening in the classroom. That means yearly recitals aren't always enough to keep them satisfied—especially if you have rules against visitors observing class from week to week. The solution? Visitor observation weeks. Trust us, the guardians and loved ones of your students will love you for it!

We caught up with Suzanne Blake Gerety, vice president of Kathy Blake Dance Studios and regular contributor to Dance Teacher's "Ask The Experts" column, to hear her tips on how to have a successful visitor observation week.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Adequate dorsiflexion mobility is needed to find a supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely. Getty Images

Dancers are trained to think often about the range of motion, stability and power of their extended lines: the point of the foot, the reach of the penché, the explosion of the sauté in the air. But finding that same mix of flexibility and strength in the flexed foot is just as integral to technique and injury prevention. Without adequate dorsiflexion mobility, it is nearly impossible to find the kind of supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox