My First Year as a Public-School Teacher: "I let them each pick their own partners."

Photo by Hector Leiva, Jr., courtesy of Gabrielle F. Aufiero

In Take the Lead, actor Antonio Banderas wins over a group of reluctant inner-city students with a racy tango performance. While the 2006 film was inspired by Pierre Dulaine, ballroom dancer and founder of Dancing Classrooms, teaching in a public school is rarely as easy as it looks in the movies. From financial challenges to lack of administrative support and parental involvement, public-school teaching differs greatly from the studio environments in which most dance educators began their own training. We asked several public-school teachers to share their passion for the hardest job they've ever done. —Kat Richter

Gabrielle F. Aufiero

KIPP Austin Beacon Prep and KIPP Austin Vista Middle School

Austin, Texas

Middle-schoolers are definitely moved by music that they want to listen to. You need to give them an entry point, so for ballet, I am always looking for new instrumental pop or hip-hop songs. For our first unit, I used of lot of PE-type movement, almost like Zumba, to give them the ability to move in class while learning how to stand in the space, what it means to go "across the floor" and how to travel on a diagonal. In a studio, newcomers can pick up cues from their classmates, but in a public school classroom, everyone is a newcomer.

A lot of my students have experience with Latin dance forms such as bachata or salsa. They really enjoy dancing with a partner, so we did swing dancing for their spring showcase. I let them each pick their own partners, and the awareness that their dancing is going to affect someone else helps to keep them accountable. For me, it's all about building individual relationships with my students. When they come in to class and hand me a note that lists seven songs they want to dance to, or ask me to pull up a dance video on my computer, I tell them, "Thank you so much! I'm so glad you sent me this." The stronger the relationship, the more likely they'll respect you as an educator.

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Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

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Robbie Sweeny, courtesy Funsch

Christy Funsch's teaching career has taken her from New York City to the Bay Area to Portugal, with a stint in a punk band in between. But this fall—fresh off a Fulbright in Portugal at the Instituto Politécnico de Lisboa, School of Dance (ESD), teaching and researching empathetic embodiment through somatic dance training—Funsch's teaching has taken her to an entirely new location: Zoom. A visiting professor at Slippery Rock University for the 2020–21 academic year, Funsch is adapting her eclectic, boundary-pushing approach to her virtual classes.

Originally from central New York State, Funsch spent 20 years performing in the Bay Area, where she also started her own company, Funsch Dance Experience. "My choreographic work from that time is in the dance-theater experiential, fantasy realm of performance," she says. "I also started blending genres and a lot of urban styles found their way into my choreography."

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Courtesy Meg Brooker

As the presidential election approaches, it's a particularly meaningful time to remember that we are celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment, when women earned the right to vote after a decades-long battle.

Movement was more than a metaphor for the fight for women's suffrage—dancers played a real role, most notably Florence Fleming Noyes, who performed her riveting solo Dance of Freedom in 1914 to embody the struggle for women's rights.

This fall, Middle Tennessee State University director of dance Meg Brooker is reconstructing Dance of Freedom on 11 of her students. A Noyes Rhythm teacher and an Isadora Duncan scholar, Brooker is passionate about bringing historic dance practices into a contemporary context.

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