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Hunter ensures that her students work with at least eight guest artists before they graduate. Photo by Angela Zanaglio, courtesy of Mercyhurst University

"When I was 15, my mother decided that I should get a job," says Tauna Hunter. "She said, 'Do what you know how to do.' So I started teaching children in my basement and decided then that dance was going to make me a living."

Now in her 60s, Hunter has never had a job outside the dance field. After receiving two degrees from the University of Utah, dancing as a principal with Ballet West and owning and operating a dance-networking business, Hunter became chair of the dance department at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania. For the past 23 years, she has drawn on her entrepreneurial spirit, vast network and diverse professional experiences in service of one of the nation's hidden gems for ballet-based training. Mercyhurst graduates go on to careers in ballet companies, commercial dance, dance pedagogy and other fields, thanks to Hunter's comprehensive curriculum and unwavering dedication to her students. "This program is really a culmination of my positive experiences in the field," says Hunter. "I've tried to take the best of everything I experienced and implement that here."

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Photo by Bridget Lujan, courtesy of Juneau Dance Theatre
  • Start with a good preparation. Plié in fourth, keeping the hips square and the back knee straight. Arms are in fourth. Texas Ballet Theater School associate director Kathryn Warakomsky encourages students to keep their heels down and use the whole foot on the floor, rather than rolling forward on the arches or letting the front foot slide into the turn first: "You want to go down into the floor and push from the back foot to go up."
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