Dance phenomenon Travis Wall and his mom Denise are no strangers to the spotlight. Travis' success on "So You Think You Can Dance," followed by his own reality show, have propelled him to reality dance stardom. Though he's working behind the scenes as a choreographer these days, you can still catch him performing occasionally with his dance company, Shaping Sound. And Denise is a recognized dance expert in her own right, having taught dance for 38 years, founded her own studio, and produced over 50 dancers who have gone on to pursue dance professionally. Now these two are shining a light on the world of competitive dance with their new documentary "I Dream of Dance."
Spinal alignment is like turnout, says Michael Kelly Bruce, associate professor of dance at The Ohio State University. "It's a mechanism, not an aesthetic." But as with turnout, dancers' visual goals often lead them to force their bodies into unnatural positions. "A healthier spine has to do with acknowledging the structural integrity of what's there, as opposed to changing it to meet that aesthetic," he explains. He compares a spine without its natural curves to winging the foot. "It's gorgeous in arabesque, but you don't want to stand on it. It's not very supportive," he says. Ballet dancers are particularly prone to extremes in erasing the curves from their backs. "People from New York City Ballet dance gorgeously, but in my opinion, their spines are weird," says Bruce.
Dance Teacher editors stand with the 2016 Dance Teacher Award winners at the Capezio A.C.E. Awards. From left to right: Rachel Caldwell, Rachel Rizzuto, Helen Rolfe, Joanne Chapman, Claudio Muñoz, Robert Battle, Karen Hildebrand, Kathleen Isaac and Pamela VanGilder
What a whirlwind weekend! It was my first-ever Dance Teacher Summit, and it was awesome! Throughout the weekend’s classes, seminars, workshops, Capezio A.C.E. Awards and the Closing Summit panel discussion, teachers from far and wide shared their wisdom and passion for teaching dance. Here are five things I learned at the Summit:
1. Studio owners are superheroes. At the studio owners' session on Thursday, studio owners from across the country discussed the challenges they face. My takeaway? These women and men are amazing. Not only do they run a business, teach class, choreograph and manage staff, they deal with problematic parents, fundraising, the repercussions of a constantly changing economy, being a mentor to students and adapting their businesses to the digital age. And that’s not even half of it! I tip my hat to you, studio owners. You are superheroes.
2. Dance really is for every child. Since seeing the documentary P.S. Dance! last year, I have thought a lot about its prevailing message, “Dance for every child.” I felt that concept very deeply when I attended a workshop titled “Special Needs Students,” led by Rhythm Works Integrative Dance teacher Tricia Gomez. She gave a rundown of sensory issues experienced by students with special needs and showed how different types of cuing (visual, auditory and tactile) can help those students dance. It was fascinating and inspiring!
Talent and innovation were abundant at the Capezio A.C.E. Awards! Among the winners were 2nd runner ups Mark Osborn and Justin Myles for their tap number, Long Train Running.
3. The competition scene is immense (and intense!). At both the competition/convention panel discussion and Joanne Chapman and Nancy Giles’ seminar, “Competition Teams: Keeping it Smooth,” I was blown away by just how much the comp scene has expanded since I was a studio dancer. Representatives from 15 dance competitions were present at the Summit to field questions. Meanwhile Chapman and Giles shared how they run their award-winning comp teams. One key to their success? Hold every dancer on the team to the same high standards.
4. Stay positive and good things will come your way. At Kim Delgrosso’s seminar, “Fill Your Cup,” she shared how maintaining a positive attitude and being grateful can impact your life. It’s worked well for her—the mother of 8 and grandmother of 22 has run a successful studio in Orem, Utah, for more than 30 years. From taking the time to connect with the people around you to participating in nondance activities, she had great suggestions for staying grounded and humble in this often chaotic industry.
5. The future of dance education looks bright. The Closing Summit panel discussion last night was truly uplifting. Summit ambassadors Denise Wall, Joanne Chapman, Kim Delgrosso, Sue Sampson-Dalena, Dance Teacher editor-in-chief Karen Hildebrand and faculty member Deborah Wingert talked with teachers about the future of dance education. More job opportunities for dancers, an increased emphasis on health and self-care and more innovation in the choreographic realm than we know what to do with are all indicators of a bright future for today’s young dancers.
From left to right: Denise Wall, Kim Delgrosso, Sue Sampson-Dalena, Joanne Chapman, Karen Hildebrand and Deborah Wingert
Photos (from top): by Rachel Papo (2); by Helen Rolfe
Co-owner, Denise Wall’s Dance Energy
Virginia Beach, VA
At last summer’s Dance Teacher Summit, crowds of participants packed Denise Wall’s seminars on teaching alignment. The 2012 DT Lifetime Achievement Award–winner and 30-year studio owner certainly has a way of communicating technique to her students. Many have gone on to perform professionally all over the world, including her son, “SYTYCD” star and Shaping Sound co-founder Travis Wall.
Dance Teacher: What surprised you most at this year’s Summit?
Denise Wall: When the question of teacher salaries came up at a studio owners’ seminar, it was surprising how different everyone’s answer was. Some people are paying so low, I’m not sure how they get people to work for them. You’re not just paying for the hours of teaching, you’re paying for their knowledge and the time spent preparing for the class. At the same time, I know there’s a wide pay range depending on location. You expect places like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles to have higher salaries, but some other places were paying their teachers at even higher rates.
DT: The age-old question of how to deal with intrusive parents came up during the studio owners’ seminar, as well. What is your solution?
DW: I try to be an open book. In the fall, I did a big open house at the studio for my new parents to let them know what we’re all about. I had all my teachers talk about themselves and their backgrounds. Their resumés are on our website, but having them speak makes a difference.
Then I explained how I place kids in classes. In September the biggest question is always, “Why didn’t Susie move up?” Parents are all about what each level is called, but every year I restructure the school and talk to every teacher about every student to group kids together by what they need to work on at that time, like hip flexibility. I can advance kids more quickly that way. So if they’re in Ballet 1 for three years, parents think they’re not progressing, but they are progressing as a class working on that skill. If I changed the group’s name every year to Ballet 2, Ballet 3, I’d have Ballet 20! I tried explaining the process this time and it actually stopped a lot of the questions. I even had parents there who have been with us for five years.
DT: What is your most memorable experience from the DT Summit?
DW: I met Paula Morgan for the first time at the 2012 Summit. [A popular California-based convention teacher, Morgan has developed her own technique, blending elements of yoga, Pilates and ballet to build long, lean muscles. Former students include Paula Abdul, Tyce Diorio and Ray Leeper.] People kept telling me I had to meet her, and I finally took her class. Within 10 minutes I had tears rolling down my face. When we met, it was like fireworks going off. I was like, “This is my mother of dance.” And being around Judy Rice and Anthony Morigerato—every teacher there is just amazing. It gives me enough motivation to get through a year. —Andrea Marks
Photos from top: by Matthew Murphy; courtesy of Break the Floor Productions