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Our 2017 DT Award Winners: Dawn Axam

Photo by Shoccara Marcus, courtesy of Axam

"I was born doing this," says Atlanta native Dawn Axam of her career in dance. Her older sister wished for a baby sister who danced, and Axam grew up doing just that. She began her formal training as part of her high school's dance program and went on to earn her BFA from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and her master's in art education from Lesley University. For the past 25 years, she's taught at a variety of schools and studios, including the Tri-Cities High School in Georgia, Las Vegas Academy of the Arts and in Senegal on a Fulbright Scholarship. Today, she directs the lower school (grades 4–6) at the Atlanta-based Woodward Academy, where her goal is to foster young choreographers and their creative voices.


"I've seen students transform after training with Dawn. She will take on anyone who wants to learn to dance, including kids who never stepped foot in the studio," says Jenny Gould, Woodward's middle-school dance director. "She will work with them for as long as it takes—as long as they are committed to showing up with a willingness to do the work. Her students go from having hardly any technique to strong, confident, beautiful dancers and performing artists." As part of her mission to shape young dance artists, Axam has launched a new program called "Undiscovered," in which select students from Woodward and other Atlanta-based schools create work to set on her professional contemporary company, Axam Dance Theatre Experience, which she founded in 2005.

Photo by Shoccara Marcus, courtesy of Axam

Her modern classes are based in Horton technique and also influenced by her training in Limón and Graham, and her ballet classes are modeled after her Cecchetti studies with Finis Jhung. Axam also shares Mojah technique (a fusion of modern, jazz and West African dance), a dance style developed by her Dunham technique–trained sister Terrie Ajile, whose studio Axam teaches at regularly.

Though Axam says teaching came naturally to her, she did notice a shift in the way she taught once she became a mother. "I always wanted someone to teach children the way I would teach my own, which means I needed to be just as good of a teacher to someone else's child," she says. "I remember thinking I've got to be a great teacher, because I want my daughter to have a teacher who loves what they do."

Teacher Voices
Photo courtesy Rhee Gold Company

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, there has been a shift in our community that is so impressive that the impact could last long into our future. Although required school closures have hit the dance education field hard, what if, when looking back on this time, we see that it's been an incredible renaissance for dance educators, studio owners and the young dancers in our charge?

How could that be, you ask?

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Teachers Trending
Photo by Yvonne M. Portra, courtesy Faulkner

It's a Wednesday in May, and 14 Stanford University advanced modern ­dance students are logged on to Zoom, each practicing a socially distanced duet with an imaginary person. "Think about the quality of their personality and the type of duet you might have," says their instructor Katie Faulkner, "but also their surface area and how you'd relate to them in space." Amid dorm rooms, living rooms, dining rooms and backyards, the dancers make do with cramped quarters and dodge furniture as they twist, curve, stretch and intertwine with their imaginary partners.

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Music
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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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