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

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