Christin Hanna Is Bringing the Dance World Home to Tahoe City

Christin Hanna, artistic director, Lake Tahoe Dance Collective. Photo by Jen Schmidt, courtesy of Lake Tahoe Dance Collective

As the sun sets over Lake Tahoe, a group of young sylphs emerges from a copse of towering fir trees to make a magical entrance onto an outdoor stage. Between the naturally theatrical lighting design and the equally dramatic backdrop of greenery, blue water and the Sierra Nevada mountains, the scene for an homage to Michel Fokine's classic ballet could not be more perfect. The audience watches from lawn chairs and picnic blankets, sipping wine, as the evening's program drifts casually back and forth between student presentations and professional guest artists performing works classical and contemporary, from the repertory of modern dance pioneer Erick Hawkins to the White Swan pas de deux to choreographed improvisations by Christian Burns and Lake Tahoe Dance Festival co-director Constantine Baecher.


After the show, a surprising number of people stick around for an artist talk-back. In an area known for athletic adventure and Olympian training (the 1960 Winter Olympics were held in nearby Squaw Valley), these viewers are curious to know more about the physical prowess they have just witnessed. This is exactly the reaction Christin Hanna has been hoping to achieve in her effort to establish her hometown of Tahoe City, California, as a cultural destination, akin to Jacob's Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts.

Photo by Jen Schmidt, courtesy of Lake Tahoe Dance Collective

"Nothing was handed to me," says Hanna, who is artistic director of Lake Tahoe Dance Collective and co-director of the festival. "There were no theater keys to turn over. Everything had to be built, from the stage to the audience." Hanna has spent the last eight years growing a year-round infrastructure for dance in Tahoe City, which includes the Lake Tahoe Dance Collective (a not-for-profit performing group for top-level students in the area), the Lake Tahoe Dance Festival in the summer (2016 was the fourth annual), a winter repertory show and a guest company in the fall.

For many artists, returning home can be a sign of resignation, a retreat from the world. But in her homecoming, Hanna has given the professional dance world a gorgeous retreat that gives back in myriad ways: simultaneously enriching the arts culture of this small mountain town while also exposing aspiring local dancers to the caliber of teaching usually only found in big cities.

Hanna's own coming-of-age story has been the source of her passion for this project. “I was the only kid who danced in high school, the weirdo with a bun," says Hanna. “I started ballet at the rec center in nearby Truckee, California. And I was lucky to have a great first teacher, but she fell in love and moved away when I was 8."

Photo by Jen Schmidt, courtesy of Lake Tahoe Dance Collective

To continue her serious pursuit of dance, Hanna eventually had to drive to Reno, Nevada—about an hour away—to train with Maggie Banks at Nevada Festival Ballet. After a brief stint with Oakland Ballet Company, Hanna moved to New York City with $200 in her pocket. She made ends meet working as a sales clerk in the ski department of Paragon Sports store and began training with Peff Modelski and Wilhelm Burmann at Steps on Broadway. Modelski eventually introduced Hanna to choreographer Miro Magloire, who was then working on a solo for Deborah Wingert, and from there, Hanna spent several years working as a freelance dancer for Magloire's New Chamber Ballet and learning from Wingert's expert coaching. In 2006, after performing at Jacob's Pillow with NCB and beginning to write grants for the small troupe, Hanna had her aha moment with Magloire: “What if we built something similar in Lake Tahoe?"

She began the transition modestly, first teaching a weeklong workshop at Dee Dee Terzian's Tahoe Dance School with Magloire. But the students were mostly young kids, and Hanna wondered, "Where are the older kids?" The void gave her an idea of the niche she could fill if she moved back, one that would have been a game changer for her when she was training.

Co-director Constantine Baecher is pictured in a duet with Traci Finch. Photo by Jen Schmidt, courtesy of Lake Tahoe Dance Collective

She left a handful of jobs behind, moved into a small cabin on her parents' property and began teaching the 12- to 14-year-olds twice a week at Tahoe Dance School and the rec center where she first learned to plié. When the students started to ask for more classes, she eventually found her own space to host a daily company class for them and rehearsals for what evolved into Tahoe Youth Ballet. “Now kids come from all around," she says of how she forged alliances with local teachers instead of competing. “We all do different things—whether it is teaching different ages, levels or styles—and it is too small a town not to work together. I still help out with Tahoe Dance School's Christmas show."

As the youth ballet's performance programs grew, Hanna faced the large task of establishing a 501(c)(3) nonprofit structure, now called Lake Tahoe Dance Collective, and finding a board of directors, in order to be eligible for bigger grants and funding. While LTDC still does not fund her salary (that comes from teaching), donations are on the rise, with many in the downtown business community chipping in with cash and in-kind offers. "The manager of the building gave us an unheard-of rent deal back in 2008, right after the market crashed," explains Hanna. The studio has since doubled in size to take over an adjacent space, which now allows her small but loyal group of year-round students to really travel in their grand allégro.

Festival performances include both students and guest artists. Photo by Jen Schmidt, courtesy of Lake Tahoe Dance Collective

Yet even with the support and time donated by the community, her parents and husband, who is also a small-business owner, the struggles of being an entrepreneur in the arts have been real, and at times the remote locale can be isolating. When she is not teaching, there is always something that needs to be done: bookkeeping, fundraising, promotion. In the high seasons of summer and winter, Hanna relishes her crazy schedule and the constant flow of guest artists and friends she hosts. But come October, all of the summer tourists are gone and the town empties out until ski season begins. In order not to go crazy during those quiet months, Hanna will drive the four hours to San Francisco to take class at LINES Dance Center, take in a film or go to a museum for a quick shot of culture and see as many friends as possible at least once a month.

The Monday after the summer intensive and weekend of festival shows, Hanna was already back in the studio teaching class and choreographing a new ballet to Haydn for the Lake Tahoe Music Festival, a commission that premiered in August with guest artists Damien Johnson of London's Ballet Black and Elizabeth Brown of New Chamber Ballet performing the lead pas de deux. With her hair up in a classic french twist, spine erect, Hanna playfully coached her corps de ballet though the finer points of a piqué arabesque. "Do we have bent ski poles?" she asked. "No. They are always straight. Your straight strong leg is that ski pole. Plant it and go. Just plant and go." Plant it and go. As she looks ahead to a future of programming bigger companies for the summer, hosting more international artists, developing a bigger audience and teaching more students, Hanna's advice to her class sounds like a personal mantra for her enthusiastic and energetic approach to life and art.

Photo by Jen Schmidt, courtesy of Lake Tahoe Dance Collective


Dance News
Getty Images

Dancers are resilient by nature. As our community responds to COVID-19, that spirit is being tested. Dance Teacher acknowledges the tremendous challenges you face for your teaching practice and for your schools as you bring your offerings online, and the resulting financial impact on your businesses.

Perhaps we can take hope from the knowledge of how we've managed adversity in the past. I'm thinking of the dance community in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I'm thinking of 9/11 and how that changed the world. I'm thinking of the courageous Jarrah Myles who kept her students safe when the Paradise wildfire destroyed their homes. I'm thinking of Jana Monson who rebuilt her studio after a devastating fire. I'm thinking of Gina Gibney who stepped in to save space for dance in New York City when the beloved Dance New Amsterdam closed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of the Academy for the Performing Arts

“Keeping agile" has taken on a whole new meaning for every studio owner and dance instructor since the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shuttered studio doors for safety's sake in March. Now is the time to show parents how you bring normalcy and positivity to their children's lives so you can retain tuition revenue until your doors reopen for business as usual.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Misty Lown delivers a seminar in Austin. Photo courtesy of More Than Just Great Dancing

Business leader Misty Lown convened (remotely) more than 700 dance studio owners to create an action plan in response to COVID-19 studio closures. ICYMI, here are the takeaways:

  • Studios can deliver value to customers with online content.
  • Owners can preserve enrollment with caring communication.
  • The federal stimulus package is a strong short-term safety net.
Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Photo by Jason Hill, courtesy of Disenhof

When dancer Katherine Disenhof found out her company, NW Dance Project, would be shutting down indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic (on Friday the 13th, no less), she immediately went in search of ways to stay connected and in shape.

At that point, a few virtual class opportunities had emerged, so Disenhof decided to aggregate them on an Instagram account called Dancing Alone Together.

She launched the account that Monday, and by mid-week she'd also created a website. Now, just a few weeks later, Dancing Alone Together has 22K followers—and virtual classes are more than just a growing trend, but a phenomenon that has reshaped the dance world at an unprecedented speed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by Kyle Froman
Update March 31, 2020: This article was first published in Dance Teacher, February 2009.

One of today's leading ballet masters, German-born Wilhelm Burmann exerts a magnetic attraction on the professional students he teaches five days a week at Steps on Broadway in New York City. “Taking Willie's class" has become a tradition for many top dancers of both New York–based companies and those simply passing through town.

Standing ramrod straight at age 69, Burmann embodies the authority and skills he acquired during an extensive global career. He was a corps member of the Pennsylvania Ballet and New York City Ballet, a Frankfurt Ballet principal dancer, Stuttgart and Geneva company principal and ballet master, and ballet master for The Washington Ballet and Le Ballet du Nord, among others. After he retired from dancing in 1977, Burmann took up guest teaching and is still in great demand at prestigious American and European companies and schools: This year he will teach in Florence and Milan, Italy.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo courtesy of Courtesy Ahearn

Elizabeth Ahearn never imagined that she'd teach her first online ballet class in her kitchen. Adding to the surreality of the situation: Rather than give her corrections, her student, the director of distance learning at Goucher College, had tips for Ahearn: Turn the volume up, and move a little to the left.

Ahearn, chair of the dance department at Goucher, is among thousands of dance professors learning to teach online in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The internet may be exploding with resources for virtual classes, from top dancers teaching barre to free warm-ups courtesy of the Merce Cunningham Foundation, but in academia, teachers face many restraints. Copyright laws, federal privacy regulations, varying tech platforms and grading rubrics all make teaching dance online a challenge.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Talia Bailes leads a Ballet & Books class. Lindsay France, Courtesy Ballet & Books.

Talia Bailes never imagined that her ballet training and her interest in early learning would collide. But Bailes, a senior studying global and public health sciences at Cornell University, now runs a successful non-profit called Ballet & Books, which combines dancing with the important but sometimes laborious activity of learning to read. And she has a trip to South America to thank.

In 2015, before starting at Cornell, Bailes took a gap year and headed to Ecuador with the organization Global Citizen Year to teach English to more than 750 students. But Bailes, who grew up training at a dance school outside Cincinnati, Ohio, also spent time teaching them ballet and learning their indigenous dances. "The culture in Ecuador was much more rooted in dance and music rather than literacy," she recalls. Bailes was struck by the difference in education and the way that children were able to develop and grow socially through dance. "It left me thinking, what if dance could be truly integrated into the way that we approach education?"

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Choreographer Molly Heller with musician Michael Wall. Photo by Duhaime Movement Project

Love electronic music? Calming notes of a piano? Smooth, rich trumpet? Want music in clear meters of 3, or in 7? This week is the ideal time to check out musician Michael Wall's abundant website soundformovement.com. I myself have enjoyed getting to experience his music over the past five years—whether to use in a teen class, older-movers class or for my own MFA thesis choreography.

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

On Wednesday, March 18, I was supposed to return to Juilliard and teach Pilates after a two-week spring break. Instead, I rolled a mat onto my bedroom floor, logged in to Zoom and was greeted by a gallery of 50 small-screen images of young ambitious dancers, trying to make the best of a strange situation. As I began class, I applied our new catchphrase: "Please mute yourself," then asked students to use various hand gestures to let me know how they are coping and how much space they have for movement. I asked dancers to write one or two things they wanted to address in the sidebar, and then we began to move.

This is our new normal. In the midst of grave Covid-19 concerns, dance professors across the country faced university closures and requirements to relocate their courses to the virtual sphere. Online education poses very specific and substantial challenges to dance faculty, but they are finding ways to persist by learning new methods of communication, discovering untapped pedagogical tools, expanding their professional networks, developing helpful new resources and unearthing old ones.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Getty Images

As Broadway goes dark and performances are canceled across the country, the financial repercussions of a global pandemic have gone from hypothetical to very real. This is especially true in the dance community, where many institutions are nonprofits or small businesses operating on thin margins, and performers rely on gigs that are being canceled. It's a scary and uncertain time.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Courtesy of Wroth

The effects of COVID-19 on college dancers might have been devastating. Performances were canceled, seniors trying to savor every last moment together were left without a graduation ceremony, students were encouraged to go home, and at each moment, a question has sounded: How can a student learn how to become a better performer when they are not allowed to perform?

Here at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, the ballet department rallied quickly and adapted its programming, choosing to see this hiatus as an opportunity to encourage reflection and self-improvement.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: We always seem to lose the most students after our recitals. How do I prevent post-show fallout?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox