Watching Marinda Davis teach at NYC's Broadway Dance Center, you'd never guess that she's battling eight different autoimmune diseases and taking more than 25 medications a day. And though she's unsure of how many years she has left, Davis never lets it show—her hands-on teaching style is as encouraging as it is enthusiastic, and her passion for dance is evident in her interactions with students.


A famed choreographer, dance educator and the artistic director of her company, marInspired: the storytellers, Davis is a regular on the convention circuit and has been nominated for two Capezio A.C.E Awards. The physicality and long, unpredictable hours that come with this territory can be a tough job for anyone, let alone someone dealing with various illnesses, medications and their side effects. But when Davis was diagnosed with her first autoimmune disease at age 28, and her final one at age 31, she decided that she wouldn't let it stop her career. Instead, she let it fuel her creativity and often shares her story with students in hopes that it'll offer them inspiration.

Growing up, Davis was sick often and visited tons of doctors and specialists in an attempt to figure out the cause. "No one could really figure it out," she says. "Since I was adopted, there was quite a bit of my medical history missing, which didn't help." After moving to Los Angeles at age 28, she saw new specialists who finally began to piece together what was going on. "I always knew something was wrong with my body so I kept advocating for myself and researching," she says. "It was empowering in a sense to finally have that validation from doctors, but the devastation of finding out the diagnoses was tremendously difficult."

Since the diseases affect different parts of her body, Davis deals with a wide range of symptoms everyday, not to mention side effects from the various medications. She's also had to adjust to the unpredictability of it all. "Before I got this sick I was such a planner," she says. "Now I experience a fluctuation of symptoms, so I try to live my life hour to hour."

One of the diseases, vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, was a particularly difficult diagnosis to hear because it has a projected lifespan of age 40. "I obviously plan on beating that, but it's something I live with everyday," says Davis, who is now 34. "I hear a clock ticking constantly, but it's forced me to see life from a different perspective. Everything feels like it might be the last time, so I see the beautiful moments and I try to freeze them. I laugh harder, I cry harder, and I see quickly what's important."

Davis calls managing her medications and doctors appointments "a second job." She undergoes chemotherapy, her roster of daily medications, sees nearly 25 different specialists and doctors, and has to be home in L.A. at certain points every month for appointments and medical testing. Managing all of this, along with constant travel for her teaching and choreography gigs on the convention circuit, can be difficult. She's had to adjust to this new lifestyle by traveling with assistants, managing her workload by cutting down on long hours of teaching, and taking occasional breaks—but her career keeps her going.

Davis recalls one particularly tough time in 2015 after being diagnosed with Lupus, in which she became so sick that it landed her in the hospital for months. She had just been nominated and placed second runner-up for her second Capezio A.C.E. Award for her piece UNbreakable, complete with funding for a full-length performance. While her doctors urged her not to take on the project, she was determined to produce the show on her company dancers and wasn't going to let anything stop her. "I don't know what made me fight for it, except I heard this clock, and I had this story to share, and I had a group of incredible dancers that I just knew could bring it to life," she says. "In an odd way, I think it helped me get better." The show ended up being a great success.

As she's adjusted to face her prognosis, Davis has started to share her story with larger audiences. In November, her choreography was featured on the "Dancing With the Stars" season finale, in which Julianne Hough performed an emotional piece based on Davis' journey and the new perspective gained from a terminal illness. Hough personally requested that Davis create an original work for the show based on her own perspective of what she was going through. "It was difficult at first to create something new for such a huge audience," says Davis, "but I had to trust myself, and it was incredibly rewarding."

Davis is also featured in the second season of "My Last Days" on the CW. Created and hosted by "Jane the Virgin" star Justin Baldoni, the docu-series follows the true stories of people facing terminal illnesses. According to Davis, it took her "a really long time" to agree to do the show. At first, even the title completely turned her off to the idea because she didn't feel ready to face her life expectancy, "but as I got to know Justin, I realized that this was a really incredible story that needed to be told," she says. "Doing the show has made me face my mortality head on and has changed my life a lot. It was a wonderful thing to be a part of."

Most importantly, Davis wants her optimistic outlook to set an example for her students. "I really want to be strong for the kids and have them see that no matter what you're going through, you can keep going. You can always find a way."

Marinda's episode of "My Last Days" aired last week on the CW network.

The Conversation
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When it comes to running a thriving dance studio, Cindy Clough knows what she's talking about. As executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner for more than four decades, she's all too aware of the unique challenges the job presents, from teaching to scheduling to managing employees and clients.

Here, Clough shares her best advice for new studio owners, and the answers to some common questions that come up when you're getting started.

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Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. The list goes on—and you have to decide not only what type of presence you'll have on each platform, but also whether you and your faculty will network with students and family members. How can you set boundaries for yourself and your faculty on social media?

The easiest option may be to prohibit these interactions entirely. At the Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida, staff and faculty may not "friend" or otherwise connect with current students or those under the age of 18 on social media, explains Gordon Wright, Harid's executive vice president and director.

At the Dance Zone in Henderson, Nevada, the handbook states that social media should be handled "in a professional manner." Owner Jami Artiga encourages students and faculty to share photos and tag the studio, but prefers not to "friend" kids from her personal account. "Of course, my son dances at the studio, and we have teachers with kids who go here, so sometimes the line gets blurry," she says.

Robin Dawn Ryan of the Robin Dawn Academy in Cape Coral, FL, also has a few students on her Facebook friend list, "but I don't put a lot about my personal life on the site," she says. She uses the platform more to keep track of what dancers and their parents are posting about the studio. "If they put up something they shouldn't," she says, whether that's a bullying post or an unflattering image, "I'll ask them to take it down."

Ryan tends to keep her social-media shout-outs generic: "So proud of this year's graduates!" and "Our dancers looked beautiful at prom!" That way, she can show support without spending hours online or worrying about missing any one student's achievement.

Dancer Health
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When ballet star David Hallberg sought out the medical team at The Australian Ballet to help him recover from his ankle surgeries, one of the things rehabilitation specialist Megan Connelly had him learn was to jump from his hips. By doing so, he learned to put less stress on his lower legs and feet and access the powerhouse group of muscles surrounding the hips, most commonly referred to as the glutes. While many parts of his rehab were particular to him, understanding how to properly engage the glutes is something many professional and pre-professional dancers can stand to gain from.

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Studio Owners
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Many a studio owner might agree that the idea of maternity leave is laughable. "So many people say, 'I was back after two weeks—we had a competition,'" says Meagan Ziebarth, a former owner who sold her studio two years ago. "If that works for you, and you feel great, wonderful. But I feel passionately that having a baby is one of the most transformational life events, and you don't need to put that kind of pressure on yourself and accept that that's the norm."

So how can you take the maternity leave you want and make sure your studio doesn't run itself into the ground? We asked three who did it for their best advice—including what they wish they'd done differently.

Be OK With Crazy

Suzana Stankovic and Natalia.

Suzana Stankovic
Wild Heart Performing Arts Studio
Astoria, New York
Enrollment: 500 (drop-in)
2 years in business

Suzana Stankovic signed the lease on her New York studio a mere 10 days before she gave birth to her first child. The space she'd been renting hourly for private and group lessons unexpectedly became available for a lease takeover, and, despite the timing, it felt like the right decision. "I said, 'This is happening for a reason,'" she says.

For the first two months after her baby was born, Stankovic recovered (she'd had a C-section). She held a soft opening in mid-November (2 1/2 months postdelivery) for existing students and officially opened her studio—with a drop-in class format—to the public the following January (4 months postdelivery).

  • Figure out your childcare. "It's the most important thing. You've got to figure that out, whether that means visiting daycare centers and finding one you're comfortable with or involving your entire family," she says. Stankovic's parents are retired and live near her, luckily, so they became her nannies. "That's the major reason I was able to do this," she says.
  • Expect to feel different after giving birth. "When I had my baby, and it came time to leave her and go to work, it was very, very difficult," says Stankovic. "I wasn't prepared for that. I was texting my mother constantly: 'Is she OK? Did she have her milk? Is she colicky?' It was hard to be fully present, initially. Be prepared for the effects of sleep deprivation and not eating well and the postpartum blues."
  • Have a support system in place. That's how Stankovic got through the roughest times, postbirth. "Have a friend or your husband or partner," she says. "And know that the very difficult times are temporary. They do abate. And if they don't, there are resources. There's help out there."
  • Be OK with crazy. "I would plan my lesson and do my combos in the shower," she says. "On my way to the studio, I'd finish up my grand allégro in my head. I'd send e-mails in the middle of changing her diaper—I'd write two sentences, change the diaper, write two more, then hit send." The result of so much multitasking? "I realized, 'Wow, I can do so much more than I thought I could,'" says Stankovic. "I'm ready for anything."
Dance Teacher Tips
International performer Joy Womack balances flexibility and strength to maintain her turnout. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.

Turnout is one of the defining characteristics of classical ballet and the foundation of your technique, but the deceptively simple concept of external rotation can be hard to execute. For those born with hip joints that don't naturally make a tight fifth position, it's tempting to take shortcuts in the quest for more rotation, but you'll end up with weaker technique and a higher risk of injury. We asked top teachers and physical therapists to break down the meaning of turnout and offer safe ways to maximize your range.

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Just for fun
Photo via @sparklethetinychi on Instagram

In our not-so-humble opinion, dancers and dogs should rule the world. So, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to hear that we are positively obsessed with all things that are dog and dance at the same time. Namely, puppies dressed up in tutus. OMG—so cute!

We couldn't keep our knowledge of this perfect combination of dreaminess to ourselves. So we decided to share with you some tutu-wearing dogs from Instagram that we will never get over.

You're welcome!

Get ready to experience a level of cuteness that is almost too much to handle, ladies and gentlemen!

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Dance Teachers Trending
FreeVerse photography, courtesy of Quenga

As a hula instructor at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, Hawaii native Kaina Quenga is committed to sharing the traditional dances and culture of Polynesia with the people of the Big Apple. Through training with famed kuma hula (master teacher) Johnny Lum Ho of Halau O Ka Ua Kani Lehua, Quenga developed a respect for and understanding of the artform that has carried her through the nearly 20 years of her professional career.

In spite of her success as a teacher at 92nd Street Y (she also teaches at Concourse House Day Care in the Bronx and Spoke the Hub Dancing in Brooklyn, and offers free classes in various parks around NYC during the spring and summer), Quenga never anticipated becoming an educator. "I really just lucked into it—I'm not a kuma hula," she says. One can only become an official hula master teacher when their own kuma hula bequeaths knowledge to them through a formal ceremonial ritual after years of training. "But when I came to New York, everyone kept asking me if I would teach classes. There was a need for it. So I started teaching the basics."

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Dancer Health
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Q: I'm an older dancer/teacher and have some pain under my heel bone and Achilles tendon. I feel it most in the mornings and when I'm walking down stairs. Would wearing teacher shoes with heels help me?

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Dance News
Carol Channing in the original 1964 production of Hello, Dolly! Photo by Eileen Darby, courtesy of DM Archives

The inimitable Carol Channing, best known for her role as the titular Hello, Dolly!, passed away today at 97.

Though she became a three-time Tony winner, Channing was born in Seattle, far from the Great White Way, in 1921. After growing up in San Francisco, she attended the famed Bennington College, studying dance and drama. She later told the university, "What Bennington allows you to do is develop the thing you're going to do anyway, over everybody's dead body." For Channing, that meant decades of fiery, comical performances, bursting with energy.

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Editor's List: The Goods
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Here at Dance Media, we think everyone's list of New Year's resolutions should include reading more 💁♀️. And aside from reading Dance Teacher magazine (which should, of course, be a resolution in and of itself), we recommend some seriously wonderful dancer memoirs.

Here are three interesting books we think you should check out (or re-check out) in 2019!

Share your favorite dancer memoirs in our comment section! We can't wait to hear what you're reading!

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Dance Teachers Trending

When it comes to Broadway, Becca Petersen does it all. Not only is she a swing learning multiple roles for Mean Girls on Broadway as well as understudy for the principal roles of Cady Heron and Regina George, but she also plays an administrative role as the assistant dance captain. When she's not onstage dancing one of the 10 different tracks she covers, or acting out two of Broadway's most notorious mean ladies, she's in the audience, taking notes in order to clean choreography in the next rehearsal. "Once the show opens and the creative team leaves, the dance captains, stage managers and associates keep things running," Petersen says. "I help teach choreography to newcomers when there is turnover and make sure the dancing looks good from day to day."

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Dance Teacher Tips
Joanne Chapman teaching turns (photo by Dan Boskovic, courtesy Joanne Chapman School of Dance)

Think back to your newbie dancer days. Can you remember your introduction to spotting? It might've involved staring hard at your own reflection in the mirror as you wrestled with your first pirouette. Or maybe your teacher had you put your hands on your shoulders as you attempted a series of half-chaînés across the floor.

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