Teachers’ Tools: Up Close With Nancy Dow

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

Don't miss a single issue of Dance Teacher.

Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.