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.

Julie Kent is coaching two dancers from The Washington Ballet Trainee Program on a partnered penché, but she might as well be addressing herself. The longtime American Ballet Theatre principal retired from the stage in 2015, after a 29-year career spent mesmerizing audiences. A little over a year later, she became the artistic director of The Washington Ballet.

Though the ballet world—including, at first, Kent herself—was surprised by The Washington Ballet's push for her leadership, in retrospect, it felt like the prima ballerina's natural next step. Kent's career has been a steady ascension, marked by quiet discipline, easy musicality and an abundance of natural grace. She moved quickly through the ranks at ABT, tackling dramatic roles of the last three centuries—Petipa's Giselle and Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet among them—with focus and agility. The question quickly became: Why shouldn't someone with such a wealth of experience and attention to detail lead an internationally recognized company?


Initially, she herself balked at the idea. After all, she was happily settling into her post-retirement role as artistic director of ABT's summer intensives. Accepting The Washington Ballet position would mean uprooting her two kids—not to mention asking her husband, Victor Barbee, ABT's associate artistic director since 2003, to give up his job. "It just wasn't something I was interested in doing," says Kent, "because it's a really, really demanding, difficult job that I wasn't sure I wanted to tackle."

But at the end of the day, she felt compelled to do it, for both personal and professional reasons. "I wanted to be a role model for my children," she says, "and show their mother in a leadership role."

Now, two years into her tenure, the same warmth she exhibited onstage—making audience members feel like she could be their friend, with her easy smile and ballerina-next-door easy elegance—carries over to the dancers and students of The Washington Ballet.

Kent with The Washington School of Ballet Students Nicholas Cowden and Abigail Granlund. Photo by Rachel Papo

"Make sure she's straight up on her leg," Kent coaches the two trainees on an arabesque balance. Catching sight in the mirror of the pleasing tableau the three of them have formed, she smiles. "Look how nice we look."

If the dancers are in awe of Kent—who they no doubt grew up idolizing not only on the stage but also in dance films like Center Stage (2000) and Dancers (1987)they don't show it. They appear just as eager as Kent to deep-dive into the work. Since taking the helm at The Washington Ballet, she's hired new dancers and taken a thoughtful approach to the repertoire she programs—including world premieres from her fellow ABT dancers, former and present: Ethan Stiefel, Gemma Bond, Marcelo Gomes. Commissioning new work has been a particular goal of hers. "I wanted the dancers to be responsible for realizing what is just an idea in somebody's head into a living, breathing work of art," she says.

Kent with student Nicholas Cowden. Photo by Rachel Papo

Kent has many more plans in store, too. "I'd love to commission some larger-scale works," she says, "whether a one-act or two-act, but with more production value. And I want a choreographic festival, to really take advantage of our situation as the ballet company of the nation's capital."

DT: You've been an idol to many girls and women as a ballerina, and now you're iconic in another way—as a female leader in a male-dominated world. Is that something you're actively thinking about?

JK: One of the reasons we accepted this position and moved here was that I really wanted to be that person who accepts a challenge. I wanted my children to see it and experience it and know that. If they came to me in 10 or 15 years and said, "Mom, I've got this great opportunity to do something, but I'm happy where I am and I'm comfortable," I would say, "You've gotta go for it!" But how could I really give that advice if I don't have the courage to take it myself?

There is nothing in life that is really exciting and incredible and life-changing that is easy. I remind myself that a lot. My children see how hard we're working, and they're proud. My daughter is always patting me on the shoulder when she hears me introduced as the director of The Washington Ballet. Our son always congratulates us—"I read the reviews. That's great, Mom. I loved the performance." Being a good role model is showing that even if it's really hard, if it's something you really want to do, people will be there to cheer you on and help you through it. It's not gonna be easy. And that's OK.

Check out the July issue for Julie Kent's full Q&A.

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 Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo via Claudia Dean World on YouTube

Most parents start off pretty clueless when it comes to doing their dancer's hair. If you don't want your students coming in with elastic-wrapped bird's nests on their heads, you may want to give them some guidance. But who has time to teach each individual parent how to do their child's hair? Not you! So, we have a solution: YouTube hair tutorials.

These three classical hairdo vids are exactly what your dancers need to look fabulous and ready to work every time they step in your studio.

Enjoy!

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
To Share With Students
Via @madisongoodman_ on Instagram

Nationals season is behind us, but we just aren't quite over it yet. We've been thinking a lot about the freakishly talented winners of these competitions, and want to know a bit more about the people who got them to where they are. So, we asked three current national title holders to tell us the most powerful piece of advice their dance teacher ever gave them. What they have to say will melt your heart.

Way to go, dance teachers! Your'e doing amazing things for the rising generation!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

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
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Dance teachers are just as apt to fall into the trap of perfectionism and self-criticism as the students they teach. The high-pressure environment that is the dance world today makes it difficult to endure while keeping a healthy perspective on who we truly are.

To help you quiet your inner critic, and by extension set an example of self-love for your students, we caught up with sports psychologist Caroline Silby. Here she shares strategies for managing what she calls "neurotic perfectionism." "Self-attacking puts teachers and athletes in a constant state of stress, often making them rigid, inflexible and ultimately fueling high anxiety rather than high levels of performance," Silby says. "Perfectionistic teachers, dancers and athletes can learn to set emotional boundaries. They can use doubt, frustration and worry about missing expectations as cues to take actions that align with what they do when teaching/performing well and feeling in-control. Being relentless about applying a solution-oriented approach can help the perfectionist move through intense emotional states more efficiently."

Check out those strategies below!

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
Thinkstock

Since the dawn of time, performers have had to deal with annoying, constant blisters. As every dance teacher knows (and every student is sure to find out), blisters are a fact of life, and we all need to figure out a plan of action for how to deal with them.

Instead of bleeding through pointe shoes and begging you to let them sit out, your students should know these tricks for how to prevent/deal with their skin when it starts to sting.

You're welcome!

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

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox