Five Teachers, Five Venues: Sue Sampson-Dalena

Photo: courtesy of the Dance Studio of Fresno

At any given workshop or convention, you'll often spot Sue Sampson-Dalena taking tap or jazz classes alongside a group of her students. "That's a big mistake a lot of dance teachers and studio owners make—they don't make time to keep themselves in shape," says Sampson-Dalena, though she admits that a blown disc keeps her from dancing as often as she'd like.


It's more than physical wellness that drives the energetic owner of The Dance Studio of Fresno. Her actions stem from a commitment to surround herself and her students with the best in the business. She regularly commissions choreographers like Tyce Diorio, Tessandra Chavez, Dee Caspary and Cris Judd for master classes and more: “I bring L.A. and New York to us," she says. “You have to stay on top of what's out there; otherwise, you get old and turn into Dolly Dinkle."

Sampson-Dalena's love affair with teaching started in her teens when she trained under vaudeville tap legend Jimmy Powell. At 16, she began teaching jazz classes in the back room of his studio during off-hours. Within four years, she'd struck out to start her own studio in a Fresno strip mall with 40 students—thanks to financial assistance from her family and an oversized helping of determination. “It was one room, barely 1,200 square feet," she says.

While launching the studio, she made time to commute from Fresno to L.A. every Monday to take master classes with Doug Caldwell and Jackie Sleight. “I was wise enough at that age [20] to know I didn't know anything, and that I needed to keep training as a dancer," she says.

It took at least seven years before the business took off, and studio growth has steadily climbed ever since. In 2001, The Dance Studio of Fresno relocated to a spacious 12,000-square-foot facility with seven classrooms, parent viewing areas, snack bar and private dressing rooms. With the help of SBA loans, Sampson-Dalena was able to purchase the property and design and build her space from the ground up, a move she highly recommends to others in her position. “I see women who work so hard and all they own at the end of the day is used equipment," she says. “I want to encourage folks not to be afraid of owning property—take the plunge."

Her enthusiasm is somewhat surprising, given the initial challenges she faced. Construction began the summer of 2000, and Sampson-Dalena spent mornings onsite and the rest of her time conducting business as usual at the old location. Though the building process seemed to go smoothly, massive thermostat and flooding issues developed after the new studio opened. The problems were so severe that they required years of litigation and costly repair services. “I put a lot of trust in the architect and general contractor," she explains. “I wish I'd been more educated about the process."

Now that the issues are resolved, Sampson-Dalena has no regrets. She can once again fully focus her efforts on her studio business, where 1,000 students are enrolled and 150 classes are offered every week. Supporting her efforts are 22 dance teachers and six office staff, but the owner herself can still turn in as many as 60 hours weekly during busy periods—whether creating choreography, rehearsing for competition or recitals or teaching class. She accompanies her 51-member competitive company to at least five regional and national events annually, and she's also focused on a growing program that caters to younger girls who compete locally.

“I love my building: its look, its vibe, its energy," she says. “It's such a great place and home to so many young people. Even though there have been ups and downs, I wouldn't trade this for all the tea in China."

Also in “Five Teachers, Five Venues":

Chloe Arnold: Producer

Daniel Lewis: Innovator

Linda Kent: Pioneer

Sue Sampson-Dalena: Builder

Ronald Alexander: Nurturer

Site Network
Alvin Ailey surrounded by the Company, 1978. Photography by Jack Mitchell, © Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, Inc. and Smithsonian Institution, all rights reserved

From 1961 to 1994, legendary photographer Jack Mitchell captured thousands of moments with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Now, this treasure trove of dance history is available to the public for viewing via the online archives of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The collection includes both color and black-and-white images of Ailey's repertoire, as well as private photo sessions with company members and Ailey himself. Altogether, the archive tracks the career development of many beloved Ailey dancers, including Masazumi Chaya, Judith Jamison, Sylvia Waters, Donna Wood and Dudley Williams—and even a young Desmond Richardson. And there's no shortage of photos of iconic pieces like Blues Suite (Ailey's first piece of choreography), Cry and Revelations.

We couldn't resist sharing a few of our favorites below. Search the collection for more gems here.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by CJ Harris, courtesy of PHILADANCO

Each anniversary celebration of a dance company might also be considered a lesson in dance history and a study of endurance and perseverance. Thus the 50th anniversary of PHILADANCO is an opportunity to celebrate the remarkable legacy of founder and artistic director Joan Myers Brown as a source of inspiration for students, dancers and colleagues nationwide.

PHILADANCO is a resident company at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia and kicked off its 50th season on October 5. Brown and the company will participate in the International Association of Blacks in Dance's 32nd annual conference, January 14–19, in Philadelphia. And you can catch the company throughout the U.S. in 2020, including February performances in Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Getty Images

Q: My 13-year-old daughter has always been flexible, but last year she suffered an acute injury to her hip flexor from an overstretch position. Since then I have told her not to participate in over-splits or other extreme positions. Is that the right thing to do?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jacqueline Chang, courtesy of Ailey Extension

Marshall Davis Jr.'s introduction to tap dance began at 10 years old at African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, where his father is director, in Miami, Florida. Training began in sneakers and dress shoes that Davis Jr. did his best to get sound out of. "My father was reluctant to invest in tap shoes, because he thought it was likely I would change my mind about dancing," he says. But it didn't take long before Davis Jr.'s passion for tap became undeniable, and his father bought him his first pair of tap shoes. Just one year later, Davis Jr. became the 1989 Florida winner for the Tri-Star Pictures Tap Day contest, a promotion for the movie Tap, starring Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr. Through that experience, a new tap-dancing future was opened.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: Are there good sources to find replacement dance teachers? When I go through standard employment services, I get people who are not properly trained or lack experience.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Courtesy of Susan Jaffe

Throughout Susan Jaffe's performance career at American Ballet Theatre, there was something special, even magical, about her dancing. Lauded as "America's quintessential American ballerina" by The New York Times, Jaffe has continued to shine in her postperformance career, most recently as the dean of dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. She credits the "magic" to her meditation practice, which she began in the 1990s at the height of her career. We sat down with Jaffe to learn more about her practice and how it has helped her both on and off the stage.

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

Reviewing a simple recording of your voice when you're teaching can help you hear how you sound to your students. Taking the time to play back your instructions, corrections and compliments throughout class will help you find any weak spots as well as recognize some of your strengths. It's a great technique to help you evaluate your instructional ability and make improvements, and pat yourself on the back for things you are doing well. Plus, it's super-easy to do!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Including ballet competition standout Alina Taratorin (photo by Oliver Endahl, courtesy Taratorin)

Congratulations to the 39 talented dancers just named 2020 YoungArts award winners! This year's group of awardees includes several familiar faces from the competition scene.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo by Brian Babineau, courtesy Burghardt

When Alicia Burghardt entered Dean College in Massachusetts as a freshman dance major, it hadn't occurred to her that the Boston Celtics had a dance team. A competition kid with aspirations for Broadway, Burghardt never imagined herself as an NBA dancer. But by the time she was finishing her senior year, she'd not only joined the Celtics Dancers, she was choreographing a number for a major playoff game. And after finishing her rookie year, surrounded on that TD Garden parquet floor by uproarious fans, she couldn't help but stay for another. "It's unbelievable performing for Boston fans," she says. "They're so loyal to their team. It could be third quarter, down 20 points, and they're still cheering."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
"The Greatest Show on Earth." Photo by Brenda Rueb, courtesy of Vona Dance

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending

"No formal training. No dance studio. No mentor," says Erik Saradpon about his beginnings in hip hop.

"I think that's why I'm especially tough on these guys, because I don't take the relationship for granted," he says, referring to his students. "I'm like a dad to them. I had a shortage of role models in my life. I wanted that so badly. I project that onto my kids."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
From Coppélia. Photo by Toshi Oga, courtesy of MOGA

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox