As our 2014 Dance Teacher Summit approaches, we're getting excited to try out some new dance styles during the three days of classes and seminars. Tony Dovolani's ballroom crash course is always a crowd favorite, even if we can't quite figure out how to move our hips like he does...
An Emmy-nominated choreographer and winner of multiple U.S. and world ballroom championships, Dovolani coaches Latin and ballroom at Dance With Me studios in NYC, Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut. He co-owns the business with fellow “Dancing with the Stars” pros Valentin and Maksim Chmerkovskiy. DT spoke to him about the challenges of coaching nondancers on "DWTS" and how he continues his education as an artist.
Pro on “Dancing with the Stars”
Dance Teacher: On “DWTS,” you work with people who have never set foot in a dance studio before. How do you get them to loosen up and keep an open mind?
Tony Dovolani: The first thing I explain is that walking is dancing. Every single person has a rhythm in his or her body, because it takes coordination to walk. It’s just putting one foot in front of the other, but I try to remove the expectation that they should be able to do it right away. A child takes about a year and a half before she can put one foot in front of the other. Even if she learns to walk at nine months, she’s still waddling back and forth! It takes time, but I 100-percent believe that anyone can learn how to dance, and I actually think it’s the ones who have a hard time learning things in the beginning that tend to stick it out and be a little bit more determined.
DT: Do you think it’s important for teachers to continue their own educations?
TD: Oh, absolutely. Some people stop taking lessons because they think they’re masters. In my opinion, the moment you consider yourself a “master,” you should stop dancing completely because you must know it all! I retired from competing about four years ago, and I think I’ve had more lessons after I retired than before. This is my passion; it’s not my job.
DT: Who do you learn the most from?
TD: I learn from every dancer that I’ve ever watched. I learn from other teachers, from my students, and I ask them all questions. I’m not afraid to tell them I don’t know something. I want to explore their minds and find out how they would approach something. I think people are way too eager to talk about how they do things and not enough to learn from other people. I also go to Broadway Dance Center in NYC, to Alvin Ailey, and I go watch New York City Ballet quite often—I think they’re phenomenal. Pretty much anything that has to do with dance, I’m there.
Photos courtesy of ABC