Dance Teachers Trending

Here's What Happened After Houston Studio Hope Stone Closed Its Doors

Hope Stone Dance performs coolest news on planet earth, chapter 1, a work in progress at Moody Center for the Arts. Photos by Sam Gentry, courtesy of Hope Stone

When Jane Weiner and her team walk into Browning Elementary School in Houston, the kids yell, "Hope Stone is in the house." Weiner, founder and director of Hope Stone, Inc., jokes that the school teachers wish they received that kind of treatment. "They call it Hope Stone Day," she says, proud of the learning environment she has built at the school through The Hope Project.

ope Stone founder and director Jane Weiner. Photo by Simon Gentry, courtesy of Hope Stone

Browning Elementary is one of 11 sites that Hope Stone teaching artists visit during any given semester, to offer dance, music, drumming, theater—or any combination. Classes are free of charge for the students; some schools contribute for her services, while others are supported by grants, foundations and individual giving. Weiner is quick to point out, "We are not an after-school program. Our classes take place during the day as part of the curriculum."


Weiner is a Houston arts celebrity—known for her sultry dancing with Doug Elkins; for starting the Pink Ribbons Project, a cancer advocacy organization that was active from 1995 to 2016; and for running one of the busiest studios in Houston for 10 years. As a choreographer, Weiner has a knack for creating dances that have a broad appeal, a wit that operates on more than one level and a full-throttle athleticism.

When she announced the closing of Hope Stone Studio in 2014, it saddened the community and displaced as many as 400 students, including children, adults and professional dancers. But Weiner, facing the loss of her space, had to reconsider her priorities, which meant scaling back and figuring out which of her projects to keep going. Little did she know that she could continue to make an impact even without a physical space.

In January 2018, Hope Stone celebrated 20 years. The organization not only remains intact, but stronger than ever, without the burden of brick and mortar. The Hope Stone mission and reputation moved beyond the limits of a building long before the studio closed.

Hope Stone company dancers Travis Prokop and Jacquelyne Boe. Photo by Simon Gentry, courtesy of Hope Stone

After an emotional time of closing down shop, Weiner needed to rest, regroup and consider what to do with remaining grant money, which happened to be designated for The Hope Project.

Slowly, she began to grow that program. The idea was to offer classes for all kinds of people, including preschoolers, senior citizens, veterans and K–12 schoolchildren. It happened organically, nurtured by community partners and spread by a TEDx Talk Weiner gave in 2012. "I'd like to expand to LBGT and refugee communities," says Weiner. "That's my dream."


Hope Stone company dancers Travis Prokop and Jacquelyne Boe. Photo by Simon Gentry, courtesy of Hope Stone

From 2013 on, Hope Stone was selected as a featured artist for the Discovery Series at the Hobby Center, where schoolchildren come to see a dance show over a period of three days. Never being one to talk down to kids, Weiner choreographs shows that are equally interesting to adults. Each year 3,500 schoolchildren see her show. So it seemed that the city was answering her question about what was next, and she was listening.

Today, she's pared down to a full-time staff of two, including herself, in a home office. It's an operation she can sustain with grants. Her board of directors has stayed on through the transition. "That is a nice feeling to have them stay," she says.

The dance company is still active as a project-based enterprise with many of the same dancers. "The new work, however, is self-produced, and so I allow more time to create, and I move away from the traditional stage for some projects. We also try to do a "pay what you can" ticket as much as possible to help expand to new audiences."

She has grown The Hope Project teaching-artist roster to 30, which includes both teachers and assistants, and offers them classroom-management training along with help with lesson plans and building their syllabus. "Hope Stone's teaching artists have all had professional experience—actors, dancers and musicians who are currently performing or have since retired from the stage. Their passion and energy for their artform is apparent in their classes. Our teaching artists need not put aside their careers to be in the classroom. Rather, that energy and freshness and depth of craft provide the students with a richer learning experience."

Teaching assistant Lauren Lacanlale works with first-graders of Browning Elementary School. Photo by Simon Gentry, courtesy of Hope Stone

Although Weiner considers her methodology to be a work in progress, it does have some core principles. She earned two degrees—deaf (K–12) and elementary (K–6) education—at Bowling Green State University, with a minor in dance, before moving to New York to start her professional career. "The degrees collided in a great way, allowing me to meld the two into the pedagogy I work with today," she says, citing the study of Piaget's Stages of Development and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as major influences for movement lesson plans. Other influences include Mary Seidman at Peridance Center, where she taught for eight years, and Terrence Karn, Weiner's colleague during the years she taught the Bates Dance Festival youth outreach classes. She gives role-model credit to "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," Jacques d'Amboise and Gayle Miller, whom she started the original project with in 2004.

First-graders of Browning Elementary School. Photo by Simon Gentry, courtesy of Hope Stone

Weiner keeps up with ongoing brain science research that emphasizes the role of movement in learning: memory skills, following directions and building phrases are all part of the class, whether it's for seniors or young dancers. "Problem solving and critical thinking are big for us, too, along with compassion, which is an organic part of the arts process," adds Weiner.

Browning Elementary principal Julia Elizondo has witnessed a change in her students. "Hope Stone's approach has brought amazing, engaging experiences that promote the necessary skills in becoming confident leaders and problem solvers," says Elizondo. "Students are more confident when speaking, more inquisitive and eager to share what they are learning. The Hope Stone team brings in a passion for what they teach, and it is evident when watching the electric interaction between the teachers and the kids."

A natural leader, Weiner is interested in creating dynamic relationships in the classroom. Her class combining 10th-grade students from Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and seniors at an independent living facility is a perfect example. "At first, the teens aren't crazy about being there, but then there's this amazing transformation. It's magic, there's this respect, when all of a sudden the teens seem mature beyond their years and the seniors lose their fear. They open up. They create these wonderful duets together." By the end of the eight-week session, the seniors and teens have become fast friends by dancing together.

No two sites are the same, and each comes with different challenges. "Sometimes, we show up and there is no space, or much interest in finding us space," say Weiner. Those kinds of experiences tell her that site is not the best fit for her program. There is a period of trial and error to work out the kinks of every partnership. She also needs to access what works with each particular population and what is needed. At Browning, where the program is well-entrenched, Weiner has plans to offer ballet, a hip hop–modern fusion and an Indian dance class.

Weiner is well-aware that teaching in, say, a preschool, is nothing like teaching in a dedicated dance studio. She's set up a structure where there is fluid communication among her, the teaching artists, and school faculty and administrators. "We are getting better at setting up teaching assistants, so they can work side by side," she says. "We have found the best way to learn, aside from monthly staff training sessions, is to place the aspiring teaching artists in an assistant role for at least a year, being mentored by one of our master teachers directly in the classroom. Some teaching assistants come with lots of teaching experience, and usually within a year they can move into their own lead-teaching position. Some work as assistants for several years before they are ready to teach their own class. I have three teaching specialists—one each in dance, theater and music—and they observe all the teaching artists and assistants and give healthy feedback."

20th-anniversary show, March 2018,Hobby Center, Houston. Photo by Simon Gentry, courtesy of Hope Stone

Former Houston Ballet first soloist Kelly Myernick has been working with Weiner, first as a dancer and now as a teaching artist, for several years. "Her work allowed so much space to interpret, and the environment was just so kind and respectful," says Myernick. "Hope Stone also offers a really unique emphasis on teacher development and dialogue. Meetings revolve around sharing ideas for language that builds trust, exercises that encourage empathy and opportunities for the children to be mindful—to just slow down and breathe. I always said that I wished the whole world operated like Hope Stone."

Today, Weiner is in constant motion, be it teaching, scouting out performance opportunities or developing more meaningful relationships with each education site. Weiner is beginning to see the big picture, in that the work she started in the studio continues. In 17 years of outreach, she's reached more than 1,100 students, ages 2 to 99 years.

She's not necessarily focused on getting bigger—it's more about assessing what works. "Next year, we are considering fewer sites—we were too scattered. I want to go deeper and wider." She adds, with a smile, "But keep a light footprint."

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Lani Corson. Photo by Royce Burgess, courtesy of Corson

Aerial work is growing in popularity in the dance world these days. Don't believe us? Check out this Dance Magazine article! If you're a studio owner who didn't grow up with aerial training (let's face it, how many of us really did?), then you may be feeling a little apprehensive about what to look for when bringing on a new aerialist faculty member. You know exactly what you want from your ballet teachers, your jazz teachers, your tap teachers, heck—even your tumbling teachers! Aerial, however, is a whole other ballgame.

To help you feel confident you're bringing in a teacher who is safe for your dancers, we sat down with Lani Corson, NYC aerialist, circus performer, adjunct professor at Pace University and teacher at Aerial Arts NYC, to get the inside scoop on exactly what you should be looking for.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Dance teachers have a lot of strengths (communicating corrections, choreographing gorgeous movement, planning excellent recitals, cleaning technique—just to name a few) but when it comes to interior design—talent isn't exactly a given. So when studio owners remodel or build, worrying about the decor can feel a little overwhelming (you've got just a few too many other things to worry about, don't you?).

No need to fear! In 2019 we have Pinterest, which shows us all the latest trends we should know about. To help you make the best design decisions for your studio, we've compiled a list of public Pinterest pins we think you'll love.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Unsplash

Is dance a sport? Should it be in the Olympics? They're complicated questions that tend to spark heated debate. But many dance fans will be excited to hear that breaking (please don't call it breakdancing) has been provisionally added to the program for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Vanessa Zahorian. Photo by Erik Larson, courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet Academy

At the LINES Ballet Dance Center in San Francisco, faculty member Erik Wagner leads his class through an adagio combination in center. He encourages dancers to root their standing legs, using imagery of a seed germinating, so that they feel more grounded. "Our studios are on the fifth floor, so I'll often tell them to push down to Market Street," says Wagner. "They know that they should push their energy down to the street level." By using this oppositional force, he says, dancers can lengthen their bodies to create any desired shape.

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

After years of throwing summer parties at your studio, you're likely fatigued by coming up with themes and event details. You want your students to have a good time, but you're also up to your eyeballs in choreography and costume decisions.

Never fear! We've come up with party themes and activities to do during the event. Delegate tasks to your teachers and office managers, and voilà! You have a stress-free party ready to go.

Have a blast, people!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I recently returned to a modern dance class after a long absence. While I didn't feel any acute pain at the end of class, the next morning I could barely walk from the soreness in both my Achilles. What can I do to fix this?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Q: I'm trying to think of ways to maximize studio space and revenue during the summer. What has worked for you?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox