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.

While dance teachers across the board often find themselves educating parents about the importance of dance and the arts in their children's lives, Djana Bell and her staff at Norma's Academy of Dance in Fairburn, Georgia, have to go one step further. They must teach parents that a dance career is even possible for students of color. "It has started to get better with role models like Misty Copeland, Michaela DePrince and Alison Stroming, who are showing little black girls that they can do this," says Bell. "It's our challenge to help them understand it can happen to them, as well. But that mind-set also has to start with the parents."


Bell has been tackling this challenge for the past three decades. While a sophomore dance major at Florida State University, she learned her mother, the original owner of Norma's, had suffered a fatal heart attack. "I was forced to come home, to decide if I wanted to maintain her business or continue college," she says. "Well, 32 years later, I'm still here."

It wasn't an easy choice. "My mom started the studio in 1972, and it was the first African-American-owned studio in Atlanta. She passed away in May 1985—recital season. Costumes had been ordered; the venue was rented. Parents had spent money. After talking things over with my grandmother—who was the studio's office manager and ballet class pianist—I said, 'This is my mom's legacy, what she was passionate about.' And I just kept going. I did a lot of soul searching after the concert, but I never turned back."

In Bell's hands, Norma's has changed significantly. "My mom operated more of a conservatory for dance, theater, music," Bell says. "I streamlined it to just dance." Today, 125 students are enrolled full-time, and Bell and her six faculty members teach ballet, jazz, modern, hip hop and tap. A small advanced ensemble performs in the community. Alumni have performed with such companies as Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Philadanco, and Bell's students frequently attend summer programs, including Dance Theatre of Harlem Summer Intensive and The Ailey School.

"We don't compete, though we do attend one convention a year—Tremaine—for the workshops," says Bell. "My studio isn't for everyone, I'll admit it." She calls herself a "stickler for old-school dance etiquette," and she's eager for her dancers to pursue dance outside of the confines of her studio. "I want them to have an understanding of the bigger picture," she says.

Sometimes that means bringing the bigger picture directly to her students. In 2016, Bell invited DePrince to lead a master class at Norma's—and DePrince, who was visiting her parents in the area, agreed. "I made all my students buy her book and read it beforehand, and she signed them after class," Bell says. "Afterward, Michaela remarked how professional my students were—they were dressed, prepared and ready to dance. It was such a great experience for them."

The Conversation
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Photo by spinkickpictures.com, courtesy of Mitchell

"Popular music has an overall energy that lends itself to the street-jazz style," says Derek Mitchell. But over the last eight years or so, the choreographer, who also teaches contemporary, jazz funk and musical theater, has noticed a lack of great musicality and interesting lyrics. As a result, Mitchell's music searches often gravitate toward the classic hits from artists like Prince and Janet Jackson. "Rarely do I hear a new song that makes me go, 'Oh, I want to dance to that!'"

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Students in Pulinkala's Cocoon. Photo by Robert Pack, courtesy of Kennesaw State

When Ivan Pulinkala was preparing for his interview at Kennesaw State University to create the school's first dance program, he figured the whole thing would be a lark, at best. After all, the New Delhi–born choreographer had just gotten his green card, which meant he could teach anywhere, and Kennesaw, Georgia (a half-hour outside of Atlanta), wasn't his first choice as a location. But after doing a scan of collegiate dance in Georgia, he began to change his mind. "I thought, 'Wow, if someone starts a big dance program at a public institution, the market's wide open,'" says Pulinkala. "There were some good programs, like Emory University, but they were niche—private and expensive."

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Courtesy Harlequin Floors

Just like your car, your studio needs periodic tune-ups to keep it humming along smoothly. If you take the time to address a few small fixes, your business will stand out. And you don't have to break the bank, either—you might be surprised how low-cost, DIY improvements can make a surprising difference.

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When your students graduate and move to the big city to pursue their dreams, they'll almost immediately discover that there's a void left where your studio once was. Not only will they miss your instruction and daily support, but they'll miss having a physical space to work through challenging movement, polish their technique and improv with no one watching. Help them with their adjustment period by telling them about the studio spaces they can rent out when they need some one-on-one time with the mirror and the music.

Here are five for you to share with them—you're welcome!

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Gabriel Figueredo in a variation from Raymonda. VAM Productions, Courtesy YAGP.

This week, more than 1,000 young hopefuls gathered in New York City for the Youth America Grand Prix finals, giving them the chance to compete for scholarships and contracts to some of the world's top ballet schools and companies. Roughly 85 dancers made it to the final round at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater on Wednesday. Today, the 20th anniversary of YAGP came to a close at the competition's awards ceremony. Read on to find out who won!

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Q: A student of mine recently got a bad sprained ankle, and it's been weak ever since she returned to class. Are there any exercises you suggest to strengthen it?

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A few years ago, Mary Ann Lamb got a phone call from Ann Reinking, who was choreographing a production of The Visit starring Chita Rivera. Lamb was thrilled when Reinking offered her the role of Young Claire without even asking for an audition. "And then she said, 'In the first act, you're going to play Chita Rivera when she's a 17-year-old virgin,'" Lamb says, "and I'm like, 'What am I gonna do? I'm like 50 years old!' I started panicking. My dream was to be in the room with Ann Reinking and Chita Rivera, but I was scared to death I was going to make a fool of myself."

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"WOD" is back for Season 3, and once again, the internet is loving it! How much do they love it, you ask? Well they've watched many of the dances millions of times, so it's safe to say—A WHOLE LOT! We did some research and discovered which dances have been watched the most since Season 3's premiere, and the results may surprise you.

Here are the top-four most viewed "WOD" videos of the season so far! Let us know your favorite over on our Facebook page!

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Q: As a dance teacher, which products do you prefer, Apple or Google?

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When it comes to running a thriving dance studio, Cindy Clough knows what she's talking about. As executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner for more than four decades, she's all too aware of the unique challenges the job presents, from teaching to scheduling to managing employees and clients.

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The one thing that can unite all of us on April 15 is the fact that everyone hates doing their taxes. Though they are necessary, they are exhausting and time-consuming, and just plain no fun for anyone!

To help you cope, we've captured what doing taxes feels like through a series of dancer memes.

YOU'RE WELCOME!

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It's a question that often pops up online in dance teacher forums where studio owners look for creative ways to save money. It may sound tempting to try shower pan lining as vinyl flooring—it's PVC, just like marley, right? Unfortunately, it's not that simple—PVC products are not all created equal.

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