Get to know this year’s winners—Elizabeth Fernandez-Flores, Kee-Juan Han, Jan Van Dyke and Sanja Korman.

Private Studios and Conservatories

 

•DT_Flores-TischmanElizabeth Fernandez-Flores

New American Youth Ballet

New York, NY

www.newamericanyouthballet.org

At just 13 years old, Elizabeth Fernandez-Flores was a child herself when she founded the Carousel Cities Youth Ballet to provide children in Binghamton, New York, with free lessons and seasonal performances. Although beginnings were tough, holding class in a community center and using two chairs and a pole as a barre, Fernandez-Flores knew it was the start of something big.

She was right. Through donations, fundraisers and grants, the program raised more than $40,000 its first year, allowing for a live orchestra to accompany its productions and a summer program at Carnegie Hall. Five years later, Fernandez-Flores moved her nonprofit to downtown Manhattan, renaming it the New American Youth Ballet. Today, she single-handedly teaches ballet to 120 students ages 2 through adult. Her students continue to perform in full-length classical ballets with live accompaniment, which she feels is a must for all dancers (the program recently presented Don Quixote).

Fernandez-Flores strives to offer a non-competitive learning environment where students can flourish regardless of economic background. Favoritism is not allowed (she breaks up any parental or student cliques) and, instead of auditions, lead parts are chosen based on in-class progress and attitude. With the help of a music therapist, she also developed songs to stimulate learning: “Ballet can be very removed; you feel like you have to sit there and be proper,” she says. “But we all know that if you bring something into the classroom, kids want to see, touch, feel and know what it is. Ballet shouldn’t be any different.”

In addition to running NAYB, she has headed the Summer Dance program at Ballet Academy East and was director of the Harkness Youth Ballet Program.Fernandez-Flores trained at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet before dancing professionally with Ballet America, Brooklyn Ballet and Victoria Ballet Theater. At 21, she was one of six finalists profiled in Seventeen Magazine for winning the Seventeen/CoverGirl Volunteerism award. Her students have gone on to begin similar nonprofits and study at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and American Ballet Theatre.

Fernandez-Flores says it is most rewarding to see “what students feel they are empowered to do in whatever direction they choose. As long as they train well, know their craft and continue sharpening it, they will have a voice they can take forward.”

•DT_KeeKee-Juan Han

The Washington School of Ballet

Washington, DC

www.washingtonballet.org

“I’m very strict: Just ask David Hallberg,” says Kee-Juan Han, laughing, referring to his former student who is now an American Ballet Theatre principal. “He would say, ‘If he wasn’t strict, I wouldn’t be who I am today.’”

Han has been preparing students for professional life for more than 14 years. The former Boston Ballet soloist retired from the stage due to a knee injury in 1993 and went on to direct the Arizona Ballet School before accepting a full-time teaching position at the North Carolina School of the Arts, where he won The Excellence in Teaching Award. In July 2007, he took over as director of The Washington School of Ballet.

Born in Singapore, Han studied under extremely demanding teachers. That, combined with two years of military training, has made him quite the taskmaster in the classroom. “Teaching technique is just a fraction of what teaching is,” explains Han. “To train a whole dancer . . . you need to teach them manners—the way they come in, greet the teacher, greet the pianist and fellow students.”

Students are required to line up in height order and must always come to class with a notebook in which they record every correction given to them. If one student makes a mistake, the entire class is penalized. “You have to know and learn about teamwork before you can become a leader. If you’re in the corps de ballet, you can’t decide to hold your leg a little longer or do another pirouette. That’s not a team player and that’s not going to make a beautiful ballet.”

Han admits he is especially tough on his male dancers, who placed first at Youth America Grand Prix in Torrington, Connecticut, this past January. “People think, ‘Oh, we only have one boy in the whole school, so we should be lenient.’ I think the opposite. They like parameters and discipline,” says Han, adding that parents of his 6-year-old students sometimes jokingly ask him to take their kids home. “[But] I’m just a medium. Teaching is like a tango. It takes two.”

 

Higher Education

 

•DT_jan2Dr. Jan Van Dyke

University of North Carolina–Greensboro

Greensboro, NC

www.uncg.edu/dce

Like many dance educators, Jan Van Dyke, PhD, didn’t imagine she would ever become one. Yet as soon as the University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate started teaching, she found she loved it. Now the head of University of North Carolina–Greensboro’s dance department, Van Dyke has dedicated the past 40 years to teaching, creating and producing work, primarily in Washington, DC, New York City and throughout North Carolina.

After studying at George Washington University as the school’s first master’s candidate in dance education, she opened a DC-based studio where she taught as well as produced and presented local work. For the next two decades, Van Dyke moved back and forth between DC and NYC, studying, teaching, running various studios and dance companies and acting as mentor to generations of young dancers. Eventually, she landed at UNCG, where she obtained first a PhD in education, then a teaching position in the dance department. Van Dyke has been there ever since, intent on helping students discover their own voices. “It’s so rewarding when you see students start to develop skills and ideas that they didn’t have before and learn to think and solve problems on their own,” she says, adding that she sees a lot of herself in her young female students and strives to prepare them better for entry into the professional world. Toward that end, she taught a career-management course last semester, in addition to one in dance and video.

A true advocate of dance, Van Dyke is committed to spreading awareness and appreciation of the artform in the Greensboro community and throughout North Carolina. Twice a year, she runs a “Saturday Series” of performances that is open and free to all area dance artists. Last September, Van Dyke also started running a city dance program in downtown Greensboro that is now booming, with more than 25 classes a week for the general public. In addition, she oversees the North Carolina Dance Project, which has been putting on the annual North Carolina Dance Festival in six cities across the state since 1991.

“As teachers, we really teach a lot more than we think we do,” she says, by way of explaining the draw that education, and her multitude of roles, has for her. “We teach just the way we live our lives. So I try to think in terms of modeling the kind of dance professional that I’d like my students to be.”

 

K–12

 

•DT_SKorman_1966Sanja Korman

Bellaire Senior High School

Houston, TX

http://www.bellaire.org

All too many K–12 dance teachers know the feeling of playing second fiddle to the more traditional school subjects. Just ask Yugoslavia native Sanja Korman, who held class in the school cafeteria of Houston Independent School District’s Bellaire Senior High School before and after regular school hours for nearly seven years. But Korman’s perseverance paid off when the administration had a new dance studio built to accommodate her growing number of students—Korman, an educator for close to 20 years, remembers starting with about 25 students and now teaches just over 100. “They decided that the program is so strong and so well-built that my students deserved to be in a better space,” she says proudly.

In addition to being rewarded with a new studio, Korman’s hard work also won her the title of the National Dance Association's 2008 K–12 Dance Educator of the Year. "I still can't believe it! It's really helping me share my knowledge and...see what other teachers are doing. I'm in a position where I can teach and, at the same time, learn a lot," she says. Korman's community outreach does not sotp there. She founded an annual concert for her students, to which all members of the dance community—including public school dance children, private studio dancers and university students—are invited to participate. In addition to performing their own works, Korman encourages students to use this time to become better acquainted with the university dance programs. Meanwhile, middle school students are introduced to Bellaire's dance program dance troupe, eMotions Dance Company.

Founded on the basis of Korman's personal dance philosophy, "Devotion to motion creates emotion," the company began as an after-school club but has since evolved to include more thatn 100 students, who practice modern dance and/or hip hop and break-dancing. Today, the company has regular school periods scheduled and Korman allows students to create their own routines to showcase their individuality. "My students are everything to me," she says. "I live for this. This is my career, this is my life." DT

Photos from top: by Geoff Tischman; Stephen Baranovics; Steve Clarke; Mia Horvath

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Mitchell Button, courtesy of the artist

Dusty Button prefers music with a range. "There needs to be a beginning, a climax and a strong ending. Like a movie," she says. The award-winning dancer, who joined American Ballet Theatre's second company, ABT II, at 18, has always been drawn to lyric-free tracks filled with dynamic phrasing, rhythms and composition. "Whether it's the violin, piano or cello, instrumental music gives me more inspiration. I want the dancers and the audience to feel something new," she adds.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Courtesy Just for Kix

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

When the news broke that Prince George, currently third in line for the British throne, would be continuing ballet classes as part of his school curriculum this year, we were as excited as anyone. (OK, maybe more excited.)

This was not, it seems, a sentiment shared by "Good Morning America" host Lara Spencer.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo via Claudia Dean World on YouTube

Most parents start off pretty clueless when it comes to doing their dancer's hair. If you don't want your students coming in with elastic-wrapped bird's nests on their heads, you may want to give them some guidance. But who has time to teach each individual parent how to do their child's hair? Not you! So, we have a solution: YouTube hair tutorials.

These three classical hairdo vids are exactly what your dancers need to look fabulous and ready to work every time they step in your studio.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Via @madisongoodman_ on Instagram

Nationals season is behind us, but we just aren't quite over it yet. We've been thinking a lot about the freakishly talented winners of these competitions, and want to know a bit more about the people who got them to where they are. So, we asked three current national title holders to tell us the most powerful piece of advice their dance teacher ever gave them. What they have to say will melt your heart.

Way to go, dance teachers! Your'e doing amazing things for the rising generation!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox