Lori Axelrod Pays It Forward at Miss Marion's School of Dance

"I want to encourage them to love it. They're going to stay if they love it," says Axelrod. Photo by Jamal Purvis, courtesy of Miss Marion's School of Dance

When Lori Axelrod took over Miss Marion's School of Dance, in 1999, she wanted to maintain the legacy her mother, Marion, had established in Spartanburg, South Carolina. "We're a very community-oriented school," she says. "We go out and do things for other people—perform for nursing homes, schools and different community events. That's what we're known for." Eight years ago, after beating breast cancer, Axelrod created an annual event, "Paint Our Town Pink," in which students perform to raise money for women who can't afford mammograms.

She starts instilling this sense of generosity in her students at an early age. In her preschool ballet and tap combination classes, Axelrod encourages self-confidence and camaraderie through moments of improvisation throughout class. "I'll say, 'It's your turn. How are you going to be a star?' And then they'll show me," she says. One by one, the students will demonstrate their favorite dance steps for the rest of the class. "I don't want to just teach them the shuffle-ball-change," says Axelrod. "I want to encourage them to love it. They're going to stay if they love it."

Amid teaching the 3- to 4-year-olds basic ballet and tap skills, like skipping, passé, walking on relevé and pointing and flexing their toes, Axelrod finds fun ways to make class feel more like playtime. "The other day I had them bring their dolls in, and we stretched with the dolls," she says. "They loved it."

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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