Dance Teachers Trending

University of Memphis' Holly Lau, Dance Advocate

Lau is part of a community outreach project with improv theater, Playback Memphis. Photo by Jenny Myers, courtesy of Playback Memphis

When Holly Lau learned in 2002 that the University of Memphis dance degree program had been cut, she was shocked. “It came out of the blue," says Lau, who had been a professor in the program for 11 years at that point. Though classes would continue (and soon dwindle in enrollment), students could no longer earn the BFA in theater with a concentration in dance.

Fast-forward to today—14 years later—and the dance degree is back and thriving, thanks to Lau. Now the chair of UofM's Department of Theatre & Dance, Lau has spent the entirety of her 25-year career advocating tirelessly for dance at the university.

Against All Odds

Lau has had a firm foothold in Memphis' arts community for more than two decades, but her path there wasn't so straightforward. While working with a theater troupe in Maine in college, she was invited to join a dance company. Though she had no prior experience, she jumped at the opportunity. After a few years she moved to New York City to train with Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis, immersing herself in the '70s avant-garde dance scene.

Dance would serve as a constant in the years to come, as she married, had her first son and then lost her husband to cancer. “It was nice to be able to continue dancing while I was a young mother and then a widow," she says. At 39, she decided to earn her MFA at Ohio State University, where she met her second husband, with whom she eventually had another son.

When Lau was hired as an assistant professor at the University of Memphis in 1991, she tasked herself with making positive changes in the department from day one. “When I started here, the dance program really was all white, and I thought, 'This is ridiculous,'" she says. “So the very first thing I did was reconstruct the Negro Spirituals by Helen Tamiris. My intention was to open the doors to greater diversity." Within five years, the department's student enrollment was significantly more diverse.

Rebuilding from the Ground Up

When the dance degree was pulled in 2002, Lau hatched a plan to keep dance alive at the university. With her colleagues, she created a new dance education curriculum that could be housed in the university's interdisciplinary degree program. Students earned a bachelor of professional studies with a dance education concentration. “So we continued teaching all the classes we'd taught all along, just with fewer majors," she says.

It would be more than a decade before Lau would see the degree program reinstated, but that never deterred her from her mission to provide dance opportunities to UofM students. “We kept it going. We kept teaching. We didn't have any budget. We had no money anymore. Nothing. Zero. And yet we still did concerts," says Lau. “You get costumes out of your closet. You pay for it yourself. We just continued, and continued to have kids who were drawn to it, were inspired and were changed by the experience."

When the Theatre & Dance Department chair stepped down in 2012, Lau, as the newly appointed chair, found herself in the position to make an even greater impact. She made sure to hire faculty who were eager to work with the dance program, like lighting design professor Anthony Pellecchia. “He thinks it's really important for his lighting students to light dance," says Lau. “The whole thing is shifting in a really positive way."

Creativity and Compassion

When she's not teaching or running the department at UofM, Lau does community outreach with the improvisational theater company Playback Memphis. Her most rewarding opportunity with the troupe has been working with police and ex-felons through LifeLine to Success, an organization that reintegrates previous offenders into society. Members of the police force and former criminals are brought together to speak about their experiences while Lau and her fellow Playback Memphis members act out their stories. The experience was so effective in generating dialogue and providing new perspectives during its first run that the Memphis police department now requires officers to participate. “What happens is they really hear each other," says Lau. “It creates this community conversation that's really powerful."

Creative work and arts advocacy are essential for Lau. “It keeps me grounded. It's who I am," she says. “I've been able to reinvigorate this dance program that has had many wonderful years, but just had a little bit of a pause. That's been exciting to me."

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Mitchell Button, courtesy of the artist

Dusty Button prefers music with a range. "There needs to be a beginning, a climax and a strong ending. Like a movie," she says. The award-winning dancer, who joined American Ballet Theatre's second company, ABT II, at 18, has always been drawn to lyric-free tracks filled with dynamic phrasing, rhythms and composition. "Whether it's the violin, piano or cello, instrumental music gives me more inspiration. I want the dancers and the audience to feel something new," she adds.

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

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

When the news broke that Prince George, currently third in line for the British throne, would be continuing ballet classes as part of his school curriculum this year, we were as excited as anyone. (OK, maybe more excited.)

This was not, it seems, a sentiment shared by "Good Morning America" host Lara Spencer.

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.


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
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
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
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
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 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


Get DanceTeacher in your inbox