Andrea Marks is a writer based in New York City. Beginning in her home state of Connecticut at the School of the Hartford Ballet, she trained in dance for over 20 years. She majored in English and minored in dance at Skidmore College and earned her Master's degree in journalism at Columbia University.
When Brittany Purtell heard one dancer was repeatedly bad-mouthing another on her eight-person competition team in early 2017, she knew she had to take action. "We got word about bullying among the team members," she says. "It started at their school and then carried over to the studio." A dancer was spreading rumors about her teammate: "Something along the lines of 'So-and-so is not trying; she's not practicing; she doesn't deserve to be on the team,'" says Purtell, who directs the Senior Elite team at Open Space Studio in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Concerned the bad-mouthing could lead to a serious rift among teammates, she planned a camaraderie-building session, where students filled poster boards with dance compliments about one another—and themselves—and decorated the studio with hearts where they'd penned why they love dance. She's heard no complaints since, but statistically speaking, she likely will face some variation of this challenge again.
In fond memory of a legendary teacher, we wanted to revive some timeless wisdom David Howard shared with us back in 2001.
We're privileged to honor four extraordinary educators with this year's Dance Teacher Awards in August at our New York Dance Teacher Summit. The awardees include Julie Kent, Djana Bell, Rhonda Miller, Sue Samuels and Stephanie Kersten.
In Rhonda Miller's jazz class at Pace University in New York City, dance majors look audition-ready, with wanded hair and strappy bra tops. Miller, who founded one of the only commercial dance BFA programs in the country, wants them to always be prepared to sell themselves to casting directors, producers and directors. "You never know who will walk in," she says. She works to teach dancers in four years what it took her a lifetime to learn about show business.
Since leaving the stage to become a teacher, Arantxa Ochoa says she's kept in shape by never staying still. A typical workday begins at 6 am when the former Pennsylvania Ballet principal wakes up to drop her son off at school. She gets to the Miami City Ballet School offices early to take care of administrative tasks and warm up briefly (if she's lucky) before teaching her first class at 9:45. Then it's dance and directorial duties until 8 pm. It's typical for her to pull off her ballet slippers and step into high heels for a meeting amid six hours of teaching. Luckily, she's fallen in love with the job. "You get up in the morning, and you're like, 'This is my life." It's not a job; it's a passion," she says. "When you really love it, that makes everything easier."
Passion alone can't fuel you indefinitely, however. Ochoa, a native of Valladolid, Spain, cooks hearty meals in the evenings and is strict about setting aside at least one day a week for herself and her family. She is frank that it's a struggle to care for herself as much as her students. "I have to stop and say, 'Arantxa, you have to think of yourself,'" she says. "The days pass by, and all you think of is your students."
DT caught up with Ochoa about how she takes care of her own body and mind while nurturing students, and she shared some straight talk about the challenge of making time to keep herself healthy.
You know it's essential to cross-train outside the studio as a teacher. "The only times I've had major injuries have been when I'm teaching," says Michele Miller, a Pilates instructor, veteran movement teacher and professor of dance at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. "I think when I'm teaching class, I'm not in my own body the same way. I'm not paying attention to me; I'm paying attention to my students."
She relies on Pilates to keep her whole body strong and safe in the studio. But even with her workout routine, she notices areas of weakness. "When I teach my modern class, I tend to do everything starting on the right side, and I noticed it felt like my pelvis was getting a little twisted in one direction," she says. She began alternating which side she demonstrated first, and it evened out.
Miller isn't alone—specific muscles tend to go undertrained or forgotten in teachers' daily studio routines. Paying particular attention to these parts of your body could be the key to increased strength or even pain-free days at the barre.
As teachers and studio owners, your lives are full of stressors—everything from harried recital weeks to curriculum overhauls to building-maintenance issues, not to mention addressing the needs and concerns of all your students and parents. How you view and cope with a stressful situation can have a direct influence on how you experience it.
You already know it's important to eat right, exercise and get good sleep to keep yourself from feeling run into the ground. You may even use deep breathing to calm or center yourself in tense moments. (If not, check out our breathing-exercise sidebar.) But Joel Minden, a cognitive behavioral therapist who works with dancers in California, says while physical coping strategies can be helpful, they alone aren't enough. It's even more important to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. If you begin practicing psychological stress management as part of your routine, along with relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation, you will be better prepared for the crisis moments.