Teachers Trending
Break the Floor Productions, courtesy Meismer

Revered NUVO convention teacher Mark Meismer has made a career out of not compromising his values—and it's paid off.

Take Meismer's practically unheard-of NUVO convention schedule—a weekly Friday/Saturday shift that's allowed him to prioritize time with his daughter and attend church on Sundays.

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Teachers Trending
Christian Hopkins, courtesy Silverio

Commercial dance darling Nick Silverio has taken his talents to TikTok during the pandemic, and his videos (along with the rest of #DanceTikTok) are helping the dance industry laugh through the pain.

His content—which has garnered over 2 million likes—covers everything from stereotypical dance moms, mind-numbing-judging-days, dance-teacher-panic-cams, shameless-compkid-bragging and more. For dance teachers, there's nothing more #relatable.

Silverio grew up as a competitive dancer with Elite Academy of Dance in Shrewsbury, MA. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied business and commercial dance management. One year in, he decided to explore the professional dance world in NYC, and put his formal education on pause.

Silverio signed with Clear Talent Group and started working immediately on opportunities like "America's Got Talent" and Elf: The Musical. Then, in 2015, he returned to school and finished his degree. "It was the best decision ever," Silverio says. "Taking time off showed me I really could have a professional career, so when I returned I felt confident in working hard and having a wonderful collegiate experience. There is flexibility on everyone's path—you don't have to do what everyone else is doing."

Now, he works as a professional dancer (he's appeared on "Saturday Night Live" and "So You Think You Can Dance," and was in Billy Elliot: The Musical at the Goodspeed Opera House), a choreographer, a senior master coach at [solidcore] and a competition judge (at StarQuest International). Dance Teacher caught up with Silverio on going viral, the teacher who shaped his career, and the worst advice he's ever received.

On creating viral content:

"I lost my mind during the shutdown. I always said I would never get a TikTok, but I got one to make people laugh. The experience you have growing up as a dancer, whether it's rec or comp, is so unique. We go through these things that, if you take a step back, are absolutely hysterical. I love sitting in my living room and brainstorming what I did my junior year of high school that could be great on TikTok."

The worst advice he's ever received:

"Once, a teacher told me that if I wanted to work as a dancer I would need to be more strong and masculine. While that does ring true for a lot of gigs in the industry, there is huge power in embracing femininity and masculinity as an artist regardless of your gender. The same goes for body type. My body made me really insecure, and I compared myself to others for a long time. The second I started to balance [femininity and masculinity], I was so much more confident."

His dance education turning point:

"When I was 16 I grew 10 inches in one year. (I grew so quickly that I broke my pelvis.) Dancers and puberty have such a complex relationship—how we grow into our new frame is different for each person. After my growth spurt, I trained much more productively because I was finally in the body I'm supposed to have. That's when I could see results in the studio."

His most influential teacher:

"Lauren Mangano, the owner of Elite Academy of Dance. She is truly the reason why I have been able to pursue a professional dance career. She taught me technique and performance like every other studio owner, but she also taught me how to be a good person, how to take care of myself, professionalism and how to be responsible. I think of her whenever I am in an audition or class."

The most helpful correction he's ever received:

"When I was 16 I was getting really into contemporary and living for it. I would get very emotional and my mouth would open. I got a critique from a teacher to close it. It looked like I was catching flies or eating the air. I see that a lot in dancers as a judge now."

His advice for teachers in 2020:

"Teach your students to keep every option open. There is no set path for a professional dancer. Dancers have ownership of that and it should be exciting. Keep an open mind and go with your gut."

Robbie Sweeny, courtesy Funsch

Christy Funsch's teaching career has taken her from New York City to the Bay Area to Portugal, with a stint in a punk band in between. But this fall—fresh off a Fulbright in Portugal at the Instituto Politécnico de Lisboa, School of Dance (ESD), teaching and researching empathetic embodiment through somatic dance training—Funsch's teaching has taken her to an entirely new location: Zoom. A visiting professor at Slippery Rock University for the 2020–21 academic year, Funsch is adapting her eclectic, boundary-pushing approach to her virtual classes.

Originally from central New York State, Funsch spent 20 years performing in the Bay Area, where she also started her own company, Funsch Dance Experience. "My choreographic work from that time is in the dance-theater experiential, fantasy realm of performance," she says. "I also started blending genres and a lot of urban styles found their way into my choreography."

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Teachers Trending
Evelyn Cisneros-Legate. Photo by Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.

Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.

As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.

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Haruko Photography, courtesy ABT

Gabe Stone Shayer may be American Ballet Theatre's newest soloist, but he never dreamed he'd be dancing with the company at all. Though he grew up in Philadelphia, his sights were always set on international ventures—especially The Bolshoi Ballet and The Royal Ballet.

Even in his early training, he was learning from Russian educators: Alexander Boitsov at Gwendolyn Bye Dance Center, and Alexei and Natalia Cherov, from the Koresh School of Dance. At age 13, he transferred to The Rock School for Dance Education, where he danced until his acceptance to The Bolshoi Ballet Academy at age 14. At 16, Shayer returned to spend his summer in the States and attended ABT's summer intensive—fully intent on going back to Bolshoi to continue his training in the fall. Four weeks in, he was offered a studio-company contract. "I was so surprised," Shayer says. "Having come of age in Russia, I was very Eurocentric. Of course ABT was on my radar, I just never imagined it was for me."

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Teachers Trending
Carolyn DiLoreto, courtesy USC Kaufman

Tiffany Bong has spent her career stepping into unexpected territory and making magic—a skill that's made all the difference in the face of COVID-19. As an 18-year-old freshman at Santa Clara University, she took her very first dance class, which set her on a path contrary to the expectations of her traditional Chinese household. "I was told I could either become a doctor or a lawyer," the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance hip-hop teacher says. "I didn't see myself in either of those, so I majored in psychology and dance without my parents knowing."

Upon graduation, Bong joined the Bay Area branch of the international hip-hop company Culture Shock. One year later, she moved to Los Angeles with $1,000 in her bank account, a car and no game plan. "I dove into classes at EDGE and Millennium, making up for lost training," she says. "But my real training came from dancing at the clubs all night long." Soon, she was progressing enough to join (and eventually win) battles.

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Mattie Love with Dance Impressions students in Farmington, Utah. Photo courtesy of Love

Tara Larsen was seated at her desk, working from home à la the pandemic, when a notification for an Instagram Live from her old dance studio popped up on her phone. Having moved to Bellevue, Washington, to work at Microsoft, it had been years since she had taken class at The Pointe Academy in Highland, Utah. It was the perfect opportunity to both see old friends and get up and move—two things the coronavirus has severely impacted. She hopped on.

"It was so fun to do battements and leaps across the floor, even if my neighbors below might not have loved it," Larsen says. "I got to comment on the killer combo, and hear the instructor (who actually used to dance on my team) talk to me through the screen and say she missed me."

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Teachers Trending
Jason Hill, courtesy Disenhof

On March 13, Katherine Disenhof and her NW Dance Project peers were shocked to learn that their company was shutting down for (an optimistic) two weeks, which soon became an indefinite furlough.

Shortly after walking away from the studio, Disenhof noticed virtual dance classes beginning to pop up on her social-media feed. "I realized this pandemic is a shared, global experience," Disenhof says. "I saw dance as a unifying force that would keep people together."

That's when inspiration struck to bring virtual dance resources to one central place, and Dancing Alone Together was born. The initiative includes a website that curates virtual-class postings from around the world (about 30 per day) that users can search by time or genre. The site also offers dancemaking prompts and opportunities to watch performances online. The best classes of the day are posted on the Dancing Alone Together Instagram, which has 36,700 followers and counting.

"I had no idea what this would become," Disenhof says. "At first I wanted this to only last as long as quarantine, but over time I've realized that everyone will have to rework how they operate. I plan to do this as long as it's sustainable."

Her current class focus: 

"Maintenance, and feeling grounded and normal in a time that is really unhinging. I haven't been taking class super frequently. Striving to keep my body ready for eight-hour rehearsal days isn't practical right now, and it's setting myself up to fail. There's no start date, so I'm trying to be mindful of taking class for me and what my body needs."

Her most helpful correction: 

"During both my ballet and college training, I had a problem with looking down. Honestly, I probably still do it sometimes. Teachers who corrected me on this gave me more than just a physical correction, but an emotional and mental one as well. I was pretty shy and didn't have a lot of confidence. I looked down to divert others' gaze from me. Once I realized the power of looking up, it changed me as a dancer."

Her dance education turning point: 

"A two-week intensive with Nederlands Dans Theater. I was the only one there who wasn't from either a professional company or a conservatory. I felt a little out of place, but it was also empowering to realize I had made it there despite having a different background. Being among those dancers made me feel like I really could do this professionally. I took my first Gaga class and learned rep that was different than anything I had done before. Something clicked, and I realized there was so much more that I could pursue in dance."

Her most influential teacher: 

"Alonzo King. He is a really amazing and loving artist. Anyone can learn from him—dancer or not. It wasn't about the technical training that I got from him, but the growth as a person. I keep learning from him every time I hear him speak."

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