Briana Rainey, a senior at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, never dreamed her dance pedagogy course would lead to work with a demolition crew. But to fulfill one of the class requirements, she rode to work for several days in the back of a pickup truck with men who supported their families by performing backbreaking labor without benefits like health insurance or the promise of steady employment. “Many of my co-workers talked about their daughters’ love of dance or about other activities they could no longer participate in due to lack of resources,” says Rainey. “Until then, I always thought of dance as an easily accessible activity because it was always available to me.”

This is just the kind of realization the course’s dance professor, Doug Risner, had in mind. His pedagogy course is designed to take students beyond their familiar range of experiences. Mandatory for all dance majors at Wayne State, the course incorporates readings and class observations to introduce different points of view and approaches to teaching. Students are also required to take on an experiential project, like Rainey’s. Risner’s goal is to develop reflective, empathetic educators able to work in various settings and with diverse populations. “It gets students thinking about their responsibility for other people’s learning,” says Risner.

Since more standard pedagogical fare like teaching methods and classroom management are covered in a separate course, Risner is free to focus on building what he calls personal pedagogies. He begins by asking students to examine their own histories for insight into effective teaching methods they’ve encountered as students. But much of the class focuses on the experiences of others.

Throughout the semester, students explore racial, gender, socioeconomic and sexual orientation differences and how mainstream education sometimes unwittingly adopts assumptions. The students also do field observations in various educational settings—public schools, recreational centers and other colleges—to compare different points of view, teaching styles and students. Students are graded on summary and position papers they write in response to the readings, on the notes they take during observations and for their participation in class discussions.

But to give his students a physical sense of what it’s like to live in another person’s skin, Risner has them step out of the classroom to complete what he calls a social immersion project. His syllabus suggests things like volunteering in a homeless shelter, wearing the same thrift-store-bought clothes for one week or spending just 74 cents per meal for seven days.

Before taking Risner’s course, senior dance education student Felicia Rose did some teaching in the Detroit public schools. “I remember a teacher telling me that it’s hard because you don’t know if these children had breakfast or even dinner,” says Rose. “You can have a perfectly well-behaved student one day and the next day they are angry and emotional. I thought she was crazy.” But after limiting herself to 74 cents per meal for a week, Rose had a physical sense of what such deprivation can do. “It made me realize how much hunger can affect your daily patterns, emotions and behavior,” she says.

Rose also saw how a limited budget affects the quality of diet. “The first day I was buying food, I realized you can’t get all those fresh fruits and vegetables or buy the name brand just because it’s low-fat,” says Rose. “People keep talking about children being obese, but how can we stop it when cheap foods are fattening and full of preservatives?”

Risner says when students first hear of the social immersion project, many worry about whether they’ll be able to do it. He admits that completing it is difficult. “I struggle to help my students digest it and to support them intellectually and emotionally,” he says. To receive a grade, each must submit written reflections on what they learned and present their findings to the class. “They are often brought to tears as they present their work,” says Risner.

And though Risner considers commitment to the project when grading, a student’s analysis of why they weren’t able to complete it to the letter often more than makes up for their straying.

This was true for Rainey. She undertook her project with the help of her father, who runs a construction company demolition department and employs men from his neighborhood as laborers. During her stint with the crew, they did some sewer work and mold removal. “A few times I had to leave the area because my father didn’t want me exposed to unsanitary conditions,” says Rainey. Reflections on the different treatment she received were part of her final project.

Similarly, Rose admits to splurging on a couple of bottles of water after dance class and not counting them in her 74 cents per meal plan. “The saddest thing about it is if I was really in this situation, then I would have just spent my gas money or a part of my mortgage payment,” she says. DT

Janet Weeks is editor of Dance Magazine College Guide and a contributing editor to Dance Teacher.

Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine

When choosing music for tap, Jason Samuels Smith encourages teachers to start with classic jazz music. Improvisation, call and response, and syncopated rhythms embedded in the genre and its history, in general, help students to understand the structure of tap, which is different than other styles of dance. "Tap dancers have the responsibility to be more than just a visual artist," he says. "They're an instrument and a sound."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Sarah Ash, courtesy of Larkin Dance

Ask Michele Larkin-Wagner and Molly Larkin-Symanietz what sets them and Maplewood, Minnesota–based Larkin Dance Studio apart, and they immediately give the credit to their mom. Shirley Larkin founded the school in 1950 and continued to oversee the growing business until she passed away in 2011. "She put Minnesota on the map for dance training and made other local studios step up to the plate to become as strong as we are," Michele says. "A lot of people's lives are better because of Shirley Larkin."

For Michele and Molly, following in their mom's footsteps was a no-brainer. "I knew I was going to be a choreographer and take over the studio," Michele says. To Molly, seven years Michele's junior and the baby out of six siblings, the studio was always a second home. The two sisters trained across genres but had distinct specialties: Michele found her niche in jazz, musical theater and lyrical, while Molly excelled in tap. In the summers, they'd travel for workshops in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles. While Michele was in class with jazz legends like Gus Giordano, JoJo Smith, Luigi and Frank Hatchett, Molly was taking tap classes with the likes of Brenda Bufalino and Phil Black.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Gandarillas

In Macarena Gandarillas' jazz class at California State University, Fullerton, a sign in the studio reads, "Never underestimate the power of determination." This simple mantra embodies what has made this self-described "danceaholic" such an impactful teacher.

When Gandarillas came to Los Angeles at age 6 with her family from Santiago, Chile, the language barrier was beyond overwhelming—until her mom enrolled her in ballet classes. Gandarillas found an instant love. "There were no Spanish-speaking kids at my school," she says. "But with dance I could communicate with my body. I'd finally found my voice."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Is teaching for an after-school program a good way to find a job in K–12?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Inspire School of Arts and Sciences

It was the morning of November 8, 2018, and Jarrah Myles' first-period choreography students were in last-minute rehearsals for their fall dance concert that evening. "All of a sudden my students' phones started ringing like crazy," says Myles, a teacher at Inspire School of Arts and Sciences, a Chico, California, high school whose dance and theater programs Myles helped establish in 2010. "And once they answered, I saw these tragic faces staring back at me."

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

abezikus/Getty Images

"Dancers can do everything these days," I announced to whoever was in earshot at the Jacob's Pillow Archives during a recent summer. I had just been dazzled by footage of a ballet dancer performing hip hop, remarkably well. But my very next thought was, What if that isn't always a good thing? What if what one can't do is the very thing that lends character?

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Courtney Schwartz and Jake Mcauley perform a Talia Favia combination at Radix Dance Convention Nationals. Via Instagram

Summer intensives and Nationals make June, July and August some of the richest dance-video months of the year. There is so much fabulous content out there, we can hardly contain our excitement!

We have spent hours down the rabbit hole of class videos this week and thought you should see some of our favorite findings.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Infinite Flow

While taking class in 2006, Marisa Hamamoto felt a tingling sensation in her elbows, then suddenly collapsed to the floor. She was hospitalized and diagnosed with spinal cord infarction, a rare spinal stroke that left her paralyzed from the neck down. Despite being told by her doctor that she may never walk again, let alone dance, Hamamoto miraculously walked out of the hospital two months later.

Since her stroke, Hamamoto has found a new lease on life. She has channeled her indomitable will to overcome adversity into a dance company that marries her love of ballroom dance with her passion for social activism. Los Angeles–based Infinite Flow is the first professional wheelchair ballroom dance company in the U.S. Over the past four years it has become a torchbearer for social change, performing worldwide and offering workshops and school assemblies to educate audiences about accessibility and inclusion.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox