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Morrissey (left). Photo courtesy of Interlochen Center for the Arts

When Joseph Morrissey first took the helm of the dance division at Interlochen Center for the Arts, a boarding high school in Interlochen, Michigan, he found a fully established pre-professional program with space to grow. And his vision was big, with plans to stage the kind of ambitious repertory he'd experienced during his dance career. But the realities quickly set in. During his first year in 2015, the department was denied by the George Balanchine Trust to license any Balanchine ballets—the dancers were not quite ready.

This early disappointment didn't derail Morrissey. In just four years, he has not only raised Interlochen's training standards, he's staged ambitious full-length ballets and been granted the rights to works by Merce Cunningham, Agnes de Mille and, yes, Balanchine. Guest artists regularly visit, and he's initiated major plans to expand the dance department building. Morrissey is only 37, but it should come as no surprise that he's done so much so fast—his entire life's journey has prepared him to be an artistic leader.

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American Dance: The Complete Illustrated History

by Margaret Fuhrer

Voyageur Press; 288 pages; $45

Legendary dancers and choreographers like Fred Astaire, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Martha Graham jump off the pages of this beautiful coffee-table book on the history of American dance, by Dance Spirit editor in chief Margaret Fuhrer.

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Martha Graham (left)

“Great dancers are not great because of their technique. They are great because of their passion.” —Martha Graham

“To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on Earth and it is yours for the taking" —Agnes de Mille

“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.” —Twyla Tharp

“If you dance with your heart, your body will follow.” —Mia Michaels

“Dancers are made, not born.” —Mikhail Baryshnikov

“I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what is too deep to find for words.” —Ruth St. Denis

“Dancing is bigger than the physical body. Think bigger than that. When you extend your arm, it doesn’t stop at the end of your fingers, because you’re dancing bigger than that. You’re dancing spirit.” —Judith Jamison

Photo courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

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Nancy Dow (right) leading class in a La Sylphide shirt; she plans her wardrobe to spark conversations about dance history with students.

Teachers share the philosophies and materials that make them successful in their careers and classes.

At Lustig Dance Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Nancy Dow experiments—almost scientifically—to find the best way to give corrections to each ballet dancer. “It’s based on what I think makes a particular student tick,” she says. “I’ll think, ‘OK, when I touched her last week to adjust something, she kind of recoiled, so I’m going to try something different. Let’s see what happens if I first joke with her to loosen her up, then tell her how well she’s doing something and then explain that the next step is to try to do this.’”

Dow’s approach, honed over 40 years of attention to individual learning styles, is in direct and intentional contrast to how she was trained. She recalls stern instructors in New York City, where there was little sense of fun in the studio. “Correction was often humiliation. It was pretty old-school and extremely strict,” she says. “I teach serious technique, but it’s definitely with a more caring hand than what I grew up with.”

It’s more than simply giving sensitive corrections. Dow believes ballet class should be a supportive community, not a competition. She allows some time for questions and discussions, so dancers hear each other’s voices and opinions. When she assigns groups or partners, she’ll make sure students aren’t always paired with their closest friends. “It’s important to create an environment where kids can work. They learn to respect each other, and the class as a whole tends to progress more,” she says. “It has to be a lab. It has to be a place where they can make mistakes. If they didn’t make mistakes, I wouldn’t have a job!” DT

Footwear: Capezio Brite Lites Dansneakers. “They provide the support and shock absorption I need to get me through long days.”

Conversation piece: Dow wears dance-themed T-shirts, often ordered from CafePress. “If a shirt has an image from a full-length ballet, often it elicits questions from the students, and we can talk about ballets, dancers and history.”

Fashion meets function: L.L. Bean Perfect Fit knit pants. “They are soft, stretchy and durable. The original style has nice, deep pockets to hold the small show-and-tell items my younger students inevitably bring in to share.”

Foot-strengthening moves: Dow asks pre-pointe and new pointe students to practice picking up marbles or “scrunching” beach towels with their toes to strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the feet.

For an energy boost: Dow mixes Jay Robb chocolate protein powder with almond milk and coffee, for a “mocha protein shake.”

Her nondance hobby: “I love to cook, bake and create sweet treats, when time permits. It is relaxing and creative.”

For inspiration: “I remember being really moved by Agnes De Mille’s Dance to the Piper. She was such a passionate, strong and intelligent artist.”

Photo by Aliza Yousey, courtesy of photographer; Thinkstock

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