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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."

Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

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