Dance Teachers Trending

Shana Habel Creates a Model K–12 Dance Program at L.A. Unified School District

Shana Habel (back left, in gray) leads a professional-development workshop for secondary dance teachers at Lula Washington Dance Theatre. Photo by Mesiya McGinnis, courtesy of Habel

"It's amazing that we're still here," says Shana Habel, arts advocate and dance advisor for the Los Angeles Unified School District. "The arts education branch of LAUSD has a lot of support for what we're doing, but that support can't always translate into funding, because the money's just not there. I tell teachers that the best advocacy we can do is to teach well."

In a city better known for Hollywood films than concert dance, the struggle to find funding for dance education probably doesn't come as a surprise. In spite of this, dance thrives in L.A. public schools, due in large part to Habel, the district's fervent champion for dance. As dance advisor for the second-largest school district in the country, Habel supports teachers in providing high-quality dance education and has advocated for the role of dance in a comprehensive K–12 program since her appointment in 2006. "I feel that I have this great opportunity to carry on the tradition in dance education that honors the philosophy that dance is for everyone," she says. Because of Habel's curriculum and professional-development initiatives and her unwavering support for the teachers she oversees, LAUSD stands out as a model for K–12 dance education nationwide.


A Teacher First

Armed with a bachelor's in dance education from Brigham Young University, a master's in dance history from University of Utah and a passion for teaching, Habel moved to Los Angeles in 1998. She was one of the first seven "itinerant" dance teachers hired by the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1999 when the program began. With close to 300,000 elementary-age students at more than 500 elementary schools in LAUSD, the itinerant teachers reached only a fraction of the students, but it was a start. "We'd be at a different elementary school each day," she says. "We developed curriculum, which was something that I loved and I felt I'd been well-trained for through my Utah experience." Habel stayed in the program for seven years until she was asked to become the district's dance advisor in 2006.

Her transition to administrator went smoothly, she says, because she so strongly identifies with the teachers she oversees. "When there are people you've been teaching with for years and all of a sudden you need to speak with them through another lens—it could have been difficult," she says. "But it hasn't been hard for me. It's about maintaining perspective about why we're there—to help and support."

She is one of four discipline-specific advisors in the district's arts education branch. Habel oversees the program's now 41 itinerant dance teachers—hiring them, creating their schedules and evaluating them. She also works closely with the district's 70 full- and part-time secondary dance teachers.

Creation, Support and Advocacy

In her role as advisor, Habel has worked to develop the district's elementary- and secondary-level dance instructional guides, which draw from the very first lessons she and her colleagues created as itinerant teachers. "Everything was standards-based and developmentally appropriate from the beginning," she says. "But there are a thousand ways I can teach you about pathways for third-graders. As it grew, everyone added their own personality and strength to sharing those concepts." Habel preserved that flexibility in the instructional guides. "It's a framework with grade-level benchmarks along the way, so that everybody knows there are certain things we want to hit at each level. We want to make sure our kindergartners are working with opposites and our fifth-graders are talking about simple form and structure. But within that framework, everyone can bring their own magic to it—otherwise it wouldn't be creative," she says.

Habel sees herself as a resource and a support system for the district's teachers, both dance and classroom. She meets with the itinerant teachers once a month to check in. If any teacher gets stuck, Habel will come to their class to help. For the district's secondary-school dance teachers, she holds an annual professional-development program, provides resources on the district's arts website and connects the teachers with the community events. "I really try to be a presence so they know that there's someone there for them," she says.

LAUSD has a program in which teachers can increase their salary by earning "points" through continuing education. Five years ago, Habel designed a course for this program on arts integration in the classroom. It's been so popular that she has held it three times a year ever since. "I work with teachers from different subject areas and grade levels," she explains, "talking about how we can bring dance into the classroom." The next step? Habel is training the district's dance teachers to lead the course.

Keeping Dance Important

Habel is currently working to create partnerships in the Los Angeles community to increase access to the arts and offer more creative opportunities to the students. "By getting everybody together, both our credentialed teachers and our community partners, we're going to keep the arts in the lives of kids," she says.

"I really love my job," she says. "Postmodern choreographer Rudy Perez did a workshop for us. He said to me, 'Shana, you just have to keep dance important.' I want to do my part, to keep it important. And I want the teachers to feel like they are doing something worthwhile and valuable, carrying on a tradition."

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

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
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Q: I'm trying to think of ways to maximize studio space and revenue during the summer. What has worked for you?

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
Studio Owners
Getty Images

In 2019, dance parents are more eager than ever to observe their child's progress, and stay up-to-date with the ins and outs of what's happening in the classroom. That means yearly recitals aren't always enough to keep them satisfied—especially if you have rules against visitors observing class from week to week. The solution? Visitor observation weeks. Trust us, the guardians and loved ones of your students will love you for it!

We caught up with Suzanne Blake Gerety, vice president of Kathy Blake Dance Studios and regular contributor to Dance Teacher's "Ask The Experts" column, to hear her tips on how to have a successful visitor observation week.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Adequate dorsiflexion mobility is needed to find a supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely. Getty Images

Dancers are trained to think often about the range of motion, stability and power of their extended lines: the point of the foot, the reach of the penché, the explosion of the sauté in the air. But finding that same mix of flexibility and strength in the flexed foot is just as integral to technique and injury prevention. Without adequate dorsiflexion mobility, it is nearly impossible to find the kind of supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Irina Kolpakova in the studio with Katherine Williams. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe

Being coached by a treasure like former Kirov prima Irina Kolpakova is an experience most dancers only dream of. But company members at American Ballet Theatre have been the lucky beneficiaries of her wisdom since 1990. Thanks to Instagram, where pros like Gillian Murphy and James Whiteside share snippets of their sessions with Kolpakova, any ballet lover can be a fly on the wall during rehearsals with the famed ballet mistress.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by The Fleet, courtesy of Lion's Jaw Festival

Growing up in New Jersey, Lisa Race trained with a memorable dance teacher: Fred Kelly, the younger brother of famous tapper Gene. "Fred would introduce our recitals," she says. "He would always cartwheel down the stairs." It wasn't until years later, when Race was pursuing her master's degree and chose to write a research paper on Kelly, that she realized there was a clear connection between her own movement style—improvisational and floor-based—and his. "In this television clip I watched, Fred jumps up to the piano, then jumps off it—he's going up and down and around," she says. "I thought, 'Oh, wow, all this time, I've thought of my dancing as my own, but that's where it started!' Moving upside-down and into the floor. There's a thread there. I rerouted it in different ways, but there's a connection."

Now, as a professor at Connecticut College, she concentrates on how to introduce her students to that love and freedom of upside-down work—and how to best prepare them for life after graduation, no matter what dance path they take.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

It's summertime, which means we're all starting to feel HOT! HOT! HOT!

While a warm room is certainly better than a cold room when it comes to dancing, you don't want your students to get heat stroke at your studio. To help you survive this sweaty time of year, here are tips and tricks that will keep your classrooms comfortable for an excellent class.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox