"Fifth! Fifth!" Daniel Catanach shouts during a brisk tendu exercise in his advanced-intermediate ballet class at Steps on Broadway. "That's 'fifth' with a 'th'!" he adds, making several students' tense faces relax into smiles. Watching Catanach in action, two things are clear: He's all about precision, and he wants dancers to enjoy his class. He's a stickler and a jokester, infusing discipline with humor. "What's the worst that can happen?" he asks during a pirouette combination. "You fall?" one student murmurs. "No!" Catanach laughs. "The worst that can happen is that you do it perfectly! Then you always have to do it like that, because you know you can."
Vicky Shick's voice echoes in the cavernous dance space of St. Mark's Church in New York City's East Village. A sinking plié gets a heavy "uhhhhh," while a swing-and-recover movement is accompanied by a joyous "whoo!" It doesn't take long for the students to join in with deep sighs and sharp yelps of their own. This is the only soundtrack for an hour-long, continuous warm-up that Shick has designed to be a neutral entry point into "everything you need as a dancer: strength, flexibility, alignment, shifting of weight, getting on center, using momentum." Rather than walking around, offering corrections, Shick participates in the warm-up, mirroring the class. "I like to allow time for people to get information from their own bodies," she explains. "There needs to be room to listen."
Barbara Bashaw has always been a pioneer. Since kicking off her career in education by building a dance program from the ground up at an elementary school in Brooklyn, she's gone on to become an inspiring force in teacher training. Now, as director of the new doctoral program in dance education at Columbia University's renowned Teachers College and as executive director of the even newer Arnhold Institute for Dance Education Research, Policy & Leadership, she's in a position to effect change nationwide.
"The study of dance education is a young field," Bashaw says. "Music and visual arts are far ahead of us, in terms of the research that has been done, as well as the foothold they have in education. Anywhere education is being discussed, we want to put dance on the table—and that means developing researchers and championing research that will push public policy." In a climate where arts education feels both more endangered and more necessary than ever, Bashaw is ready to blaze a trail.
Photo by Jaqlin Medlock, courtesy of Columbia University Teachers College
Alicia Graf Mack's journey to become director of The Juilliard School's Dance Division—the youngest person to hold the position, and the first woman of color—was anything but a straight line. Yes, she's danced with prestigious companies: Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Alonzo King LINES Ballet. But Mack also has a BA in history from Columbia University and an MA in nonprofit management from Washington University in St. Louis; she pursued both degrees during breaks in her performing career, taken to recover from injuries and autoimmune disease flare-ups.
As an undergrad, she briefly interned at JPMorgan Chase in marketing and philanthropic giving, and she later made arts administration central to her graduate work, assuming that she'd eventually take an administrative role with a dance organization.
Photo by Rachel Papo
When Steps on Broadway founder Carol Paumgarten called Joe Lanteri several times in a row in February 2018, his first guess was that she wanted to get him back on the faculty roster. "For decades, I taught jazz at 4:30 pm at Steps," he says, "but a couple years ago, I had to let go of that class to free up some time."
To Lanteri's surprise, Paumgarten told him she was ready to move away from her place at Steps' helm. He was on her list of possible successors. "When she brought it up, I laughed," he says. "My life was already so full. But it took about 10 seconds for me to know I had to seriously consider it. Steps on Broadway is such an important part of the footprint of New York. It had to continue—and it had to remain recognizably Steps."
Steps Leadership Team
Photo by Kyle Froman
A Sampling of Steps Classes
Photo by Eduardo Patino, courtesy of Steps
If you want to become a go-to dance studio in your local area, the best way to grow your business may still be via good old-fashioned word of mouth—and these days, that happens not just through direct person-to-person interaction, but also over social media. Focusing your energy toward what you, specifically, have to offer clients can raise your profile. To start you down the right path, DT spoke to three studio owners about what works for them.
It could be argued that half the battle of owning a dance studio is getting people to follow the rules. To ensure your business will run like a well-oiled machine, it helps to have clear expectations in place for students and their families—and, most important, to make sure everyone knows them from day one. Of course, every school is unique, and behavior that may be acceptable to you might be out of the question for someone else. "There are so many studios out there," says Dana McGuire, a studio co-owner in North Kansas City, Missouri. "Know and stand by what you're about." Here, four seasoned studio directors discuss the issues they consider non-negotiable.
Katie Langan never intended to teach dance—much less run an entire college dance department. Now, with decades of experience under her belt, including more than 15 years as the dance chair at Marymount Manhattan College, Langan is a passionate advocate for higher education.
How did she get where she is? Following early training at North Carolina School of the Arts, American Ballet Theatre and School of American Ballet, and a performance career highlighted by stints with Ballett Zürich and Twyla Tharp Dance, Langan got her BA in art and design at MMC. While a student at the college, she was asked to teach a ballet class. Part-time soon became full-time—and the rest is history.