When Martine van Hamel burst onto the New York dance scene in the 1970s as a ballerina with American Ballet Theatre, she was a bit of an anomaly. At 5' 7", she was taller than most ballerinas at the time, but what really made her shine—in a company already filled with stars like Gelsey Kirkland and Natalia Makarova—was her immaculate technique, poignant interpretations of dramatic roles and extreme stylistic range. She could embody the fragile Odette in Swan Lake as convincingly as the sultry female lead of Twyla Tharp's Push Comes to Shove, a role created specifically for her. Her ascendance was astronomical: After just one year in the corps, she was promoted to soloist. Two years later, after a particularly brilliant performance of Swan Lake, she was promoted to principal.


Despite a wealth of ballet knowledge acquired over her 35-year career dancing with ABT, National Ballet of Canada, Joffrey Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater III, it's only been the past few years that van Hamel has truly embraced her role as a teacher. Today, she translates the unique combination of intuition, musicality and crystalline form that made her a star to the young pre-professional dancers at ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and with the ABT Studio Company, where she is on faculty.


Born in Brussels, van Hamel joined ABT in 1970, after six years with the National Ballet of Canada and one with the Joffrey Ballet. She retired from dancing professionally at 53, after 21 years with ABT and another 6 with Nederlands Dans Theater III (a company created by Jirí Kylián featuring older dancers). Unlike many retiring dancers, who go straight into teaching, van Hamel eased her way into it. “It was a transition that was really tough," she says. “It scared me at the time. I knew I would find it hard as a novice teacher, even though of course I knew a lot about dance and had my points of view."

It took founding the Kaatsbaan International Dance Center in 1990 in upstate New York to convince her that teaching was the right next step. Van Hamel co-founded the center with her husband, Kevin McKenzie, her frequent partner at ABT and now its artistic director. At the 153-acre farm, which hosts choreographic residencies, performances, an academy and a summer intensive program, she helms the ballet component.


Van Hamel takes on the occasional character role with ABT: the queen in Swan Lake (seen here), the witch in La Sylphide or Carabosse from The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of ABT

Now 71, van Hamel still has the impeccable posture, grace and magnetic presence of a prima ballerina. With calm command of the studio, she looks completely at home, illustrating combinations efficiently and effectively, accenting the musicality of the steps with her voice. “You have to let me see what the music is," she tells her JKO students, a large group of teens from around the world. “If the music went away, I should still know what song the accompanist is playing."

Healthy alignment is a priority, thanks to her training with Maggie Black, a beloved mentor of dozens of professional dancers in New York City in the '70s, '80s and '90s. “I think I gained a real understanding of the physical body with Maggie Black," she says. “She was smart on every level—emphasizing how to work most efficiently with your own structure. So that is very much where I'm coming from." For instance, van Hamel isn't a fan of perfectly flat turnout. “I don't think everyone is gifted with 180-degree turnout," she says. “Forcing that hurts the knees and ankles, and a lot of unnecessary physical problems happen that way." She emphasizes to her students that they move in one piece. “When you travel through space," she says, “it's important to realize that the whole body goes through space—not just your legs."

Van Hamel's pure love of moving is apparent even in the way she guides her JKO students through a simple révérence of four grand pliés at the end of class. Former students, like Miami City Ballet principal Simone Messmer and ABT soloist Blaine Hoven, are confirmation of her influence. They experienced her guidance at Kaatsbaan and ABT's Studio Company before joining the ranks of ABT. “You start to go, 'Oh, I can make a difference,'" she says. “This makes sense. I do enjoy seeing them progress."

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Kyle Froman

Darla Hoover was at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's studios running a rehearsal in 2014 with director Marcia Dale Weary. Hoover had just returned the day before from staging a ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. Jet-lagged, she mixed up her words when giving a correction.

Weary took Hoover's hand and gently said, "Honey, you work too hard."

Hoover, and the students, had a good laugh.

"Are you kidding me?" Hoover replied. "You're the one who made this monster. There is no off switch!"

Weary founded CPYB in 1955, and it quickly became an internationally known school that has produced countless principal dancers. Famous for her high standards and tough work ethic, Weary instilled those qualities in Hoover, who served as associate artistic director at CPYB under Weary, as artistic director at Ballet Academy East's pre-professional division in New York City and as a répétiteur for the Balanchine Trust.

Hoover took over as artistic director at CPYB in the spring this year after Weary died suddenly, and while she's committed to continuing Weary's legacy, students have begun to see some of Hoover's vision as well.

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Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix, has been called the Queen of Fundraising by colleagues. A studio owner and high school dance coach with over four decades of experience, Clough is known for her smart and successful fundraising ideas.

Now, Just For Kix has created a new online tool to help everyone tackle their fundraising goals, whether you're raising money for uniforms, extra classes, or to cover the cost of travel for your dance team's next convention.

Clough shared a few of her best fundraising tips, including everything you need to know about the new tool:

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Dance Teacher Tips
Jessica Kubat (center) with her studio staff. Photo by Vincent Alongi, courtesy of Kubat

Jessica Kubat's path to becoming a studio owner wasn't typical or glamorous or the product of a family business, handed down. When she opened MJ's House of Dance in Lindenhurst, New York, this past summer, she had just turned 40, was a mom of three, and had worked at two different studios long-term. Over the last two and a half years, she'd painstakingly saved up $25,000 and had gone to the Small Business Development Center at a local college on Long Island for help creating her business plan. Her area was moderately saturated with studios, so she spent considerable time planning what would set her school apart—live musical accompaniment, for one—and hired a marketing director nine months before the business even opened. It was a methodical, careful approach—Kubat calls it "the old-fashioned way"—to opening a studio, and it's paid off: She started summer classes with 75 students and is well on her way to reaching her first-year enrollment goal of 250 dancers. "When I turned 40, I decided that it was time to do something bigger," says Kubat. "I always wanted to own a studio—it was just never financially available to me."

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Sponsored by NYCDA
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

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Dance Teachers Trending
From left: Daniel Novikov, Alla Novikova and Mishella Vishnevskiy at Blackpool 2018. Photo by NYC Digital Media, courtesy of Alla Novikova

Alla Novikova began her dance training at a ballroom studio called Edelweiss in Saratov, Russia, when she was 9 years old. She was immediately recognized for her natural talent and work ethic, placing third at the Russian Open just three months after beginning ballroom lessons. The lessons she learned at Edelweiss shaped her career and provided the foundation she needed to open her own ballroom studio: Work hard to prove that you're good enough to be here, and give honor to the experiences that brought you to where you are today.

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Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Professions across the globe hold yearly conferences, and the dance industry is certainly no exception. Annual conferences exist for dance teachers, dance medicine professionals, dance educators and more. Taking the time out to attend them can be well worth your while for a number of different reasons. Let's take a closer look at four of them.

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Dance Teacher Tips
Father-daughter dance. Photo by Lisa Lee, courtesy of Dance Academy USA

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.

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Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: How do you approach gender when teaching in 2019? When I was training, male dancers were encouraged to make their movement masculine, while female dancers were encouraged to keep their movement feminine. Today, gender has become much more fluid, and the line between masculine and feminine performance has blurred. How does that impact the way we should be teaching?

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Dance News
Photo courtesy of Z Artists Group

New York City–based pre-professional training troupe Z Artists Group, along with dancers from eight professional companies in the city, are joining together to combat gun violence with, "DANCERS DEMAND ACTION," a performance aligning art with activism at The Joyce Theater, this Monday, November 11, at 7:30 pm.

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Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Infinite Flow

Last week, 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and her partner Piotr Iwanicki brought their boundary-breaking work to the "Good Morning America" stage in a segment highlighting her inclusive dance company Infinite Flow.

Infinite Flow is a Los Angeles–based wheelchair ballroom dance company (the first of its kind in the U.S.) that incorporates an equal number of disabled and nondisabled dancers, as well as a range of styles like hip hop, contemporary and other partner dances.

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Dance Teachers Trending

Since she was hired in 2006 to create a dance program at Washington & Lee University in Virginia, Jenefer Davies has operated as, essentially, a one-woman show. She's the only full-time faculty member (with regular adjunct support). Over the last 13 years, she has created a thriving program along with a performance company—at a school with fewer than 2,500 students—by drawing on her admittedly rare strength: aerial dance.

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Site Network

Savion Glover is one of the biggest names in the dance world, and perhaps the biggest in the tap world. The trailblazing hoofer's hard-hitting, rhythmically intricate style has fundamentally altered the tap landscape.

Glover is also a master teacher. But during his many years on the scene, he's never appeared regularly at a major dance convention. That is, until this season: Glover is now teaching at JUMP Dance Convention, scheduled to appear at approximately 15 more cities on its 2019–2020 tour.

We talked with JUMP director Mike Minery, himself a gifted hoofer, about working with a living legend—and how Glover is already changing the convention class game.

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