The votes are in for the 2004 Dance Teacher Awards! The honorees are Gwen Bowen, Hortensia Fonseca, Nina Marlow, Jo Rowan and Marty Sprague.
With nominations from students, parents, friends and fellow teachers pouring into the DT offices earlier this year, picking just a few teachers for the 2004 Dance Teacher Awards was a difficult task, to say the least. Our distinguished selection panel, which included teachers, professional dancers, artistic directors, convention coordinators and dancewear manufacturers, selected these five standouts for above-and-beyond contributions to their dance communities. (For the first time, we had a three-way tie in the private studio category.) All five honorees were recognized during an awards ceremony at the 2004 Dance Teacher Summer Conference in August.
Bowen’s School of Dance Arts
Seeing her students grow physically and emotionally is what keeps 75-year-old Bowen motivated to teach classes six days a week at her Denver studio. “When you see a student come in who is shy and lacking confidence, and then you see them realize, ‘Hey, I can dance!’ the soul satisfaction makes it worth a million,” she says.
Bowen, who earned a degree in education from University of Denver, taught in Denver public schools and at Metropolitan State College before opening Bowen’s School of Dance Arts 50 years ago, where she continues to teach 24 classes a week in ballet, jazz and tap. Her studio accommodates all levels, from preschool to adult beginner to pre-professional. She has taught at numerous dance conventions and is a life member of Dance Educators of America, among other organizations. She has choreographed more than 120 operas, musicals and ballets. Bowen’s teaching, which focuses on proper alignment and placement across all genres of dance, stems from her own experiences. “My feet were ruined by improper training,” she says.
Bowen is also a regional director of National Dance Week. This year, she created A Day of Dance, a program for local Denver public schools in which students learned and performed dance during class time. She is also creative director of Arts for All, an organization that brings dance into public school classrooms; the group is currently raising funds to establish an arts center to be shared with the Denver public school system.
Nina Marlow School of Ballet
Marlow has been a ballerina practically since birth. She grew up studying at her mother’s school, the Irine Fokine School of Ballet in New Jersey. Her grandmother, Alexandra Fedorova-Fokine, studied at the Maryinsky Theatre in Moscow and trained such ballet greats as Robert Joffrey and Alicia Alonso. Marlow studied at American Ballet Theatre, Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and with Alicia Alonso in Cuba. She has taught for 48 years, starting at age 15 with 3- and 4-year-olds at her mother’s school.
When Marlow first moved to Phoenix, she found a struggling arts scene and no ballet companies. After teaching in local studios for a few years, she opened her own ballet school in 1980 with 25 children.
Marlow’s biggest challenge, personally and professionally, has been dealing with Charchot’s disease, a deterioration of the bones in the feet. When she was diagnosed several years ago, her doctor handed her a wheelchair catalog and told her she’d have to get a desk job. Even though the disease has severely deformed both of her feet, she never considered leaving her profession. “I remember taking class from [Leon] Danielian, who had both hips replaced and walked with two canes when he taught class, and I thought, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’” Because she could no longer demonstrate exercises full out, she had to reform her teaching approach to be more verbally instructive. “I had to figure out another way to make dancers,” she says.
Marlow has taught every level of ballet class offered at her studio from 1980 until 1995, when her daughter began teaching with her. Now Marlow continues to teach advanced and adult classes while her daughter teaches the beginning and intermediate levels. For Marlow, the joy in teaching is “watching my kids grow and mature, loving ballet along the way.”
Maryland Youth Ballet
According to Costa Rican-born Fonseca, “some people are born to dance.” Coming from a family that considered performing onstage indecent, Fonseca spent much of her life convincing them of the legitimacy of dance as a career.
Fonseca studied ballet and Greek dance in Costa Rica and danced with the National Ballet of Costa Rica before arriving at age 22 in the U.S, where she studied and performed with Eglevsky Ballet founder André Eglevsky and Washington Ballet, among others.
She has been teaching for more than 50 years, with her first ballet classes taught in the basement of her home. Decades later, she moved her students to a studio in Bethesda, where she officially established the Maryland Youth Ballet in 1971. Fonseca holds a teaching degree from the Cecchetti Council and won the Pola Nirenska Award for Lifetime Achievement in May 2003.
“My biggest pleasure is putting children into the world with a great education,” she says. Fonseca is known for producing technically proficient ballerinas; notable students of hers include American Ballet Theatre’s Julie Kent, Susan Jaffe and Cheryl Yeager, among others. Although she brings a strict technicality to her classroom, Fonseca’s overarching teaching philosophy involves showing her students kindness in teaching them to love ballet. She hopes every student who leaves her class is instilled with the inspiration to live his or her life taking advantage of every chance to learn.
Oklahoma City University
Oklahoma City, OK
Rowan calls herself a banner-waver for musical theater: “I always felt some righteous indignation that if our society spawned a dance form that was entertaining, why is that any less of an art?” While her background is ballet-heavy, having studied at the School of American Ballet and with American Ballet Theatre and the Bolshoi Ballet, she has taken on an array of eclectic roles, ranging from Broadway comedienne to opera company ballerina. She earned undergraduate degrees from the University of Cincinnati in premedicine and fashion design and went on to complete her MA in dance.
Rowan has taught for more than six decades and is co-founder of the School of American Dance and Arts Management at Oklahoma City University, where she is also the current chairwoman of the dance department. Under Rowan’s leadership, the university began a musical theater dance program in 1981 to train young performers for careers in the entertainment industry. Rowan’s work was revolutionary at the time, as most college programs focused solely on ballet and modern dance; OCU was the first program to offer specialization in jazz or tap dance leading to a bachelor’s degree. The school has expanded to offer degrees in dance performance, dance management, entertainment business and arts management.
Rowan stresses principles of alignment and movement with humor and kindness or, as she says, “a spoonful of sugar.” In the classroom, her rule is, “Everyone must learn something and everyone must feel respected. I don’t want anyone to feel like they don’t have the right to learn from me.” Since 2002, Rowan has also served as the Education Spokesperson for National Dance Week.
Providence Academy of International Studies
Sprague’s motivation to teach is all about “fighting the battle to make sure art is in everyone’s life.” Her 30-year career in dance ranges from performer and artistic director to author and educator at the K-12 and university levels. She has worked as artist-in-residence with preschoolers, at senior centers and with patients at mental health facilities. She currently teaches high school students at Rhode Island’s Providence Academy of International Studies.
Sprague is artistic director of Rhode Island’s Chance for Dance, a statewide, in-school dance initiative for 4th- through 8th-graders now in its 18th year. She created the curriculum and trained teachers for the program, which focuses on dance skills such as rhythm, timing, phrasing and kinesthetic memorization. “I know that dance changes lives, not only through modes of thinking, but by helping children become better observers and develop a strong work ethic," she says.
After receiving a BFA in dance from the Boston Conservatory, Sprague earned an MA in dance education from Teacher's College at Columbia University. Before joining the PAIS faculty, Sprague taught at Brown University, University of Rhode Island and Providence's Hope High School.
Sprague has an extensive performing background, having danced with Boston Dance Theater and Tanagra Movement Theater. She was a member, and then artistic director, of Rhode Island Dance Repertory Company and danced, taught and choreographed with Fusionworks from 1994 to 2002. She currently works with Arabella, a performance company of women ages 45 to 65. Sprague has also co-written four books, most recently Experiencing Dance: From Student to Dance Artist with Helene Scheff and Susan McGreevy-Nichols. DT
Courtesy of Bowen’s School of Dance; Courtesy of Nina Marlow; Courtesy of Maryland Youth Ballet; Courtesy of Oklahoma City University; Glen Fracaza