What My Teacher Taught Me: Hillary-Marie Michael


Hoofer Hillary-Marie Michael's first audition for the New Jersey Tap Ensemble didn't go well. But it did lead her to NJTE's founder and director Deborah Mitchell--who in turn introduced Michael to another one of her future mentors: Karen Callaway Williams.

"I had a terrible audition. Ms. Mitchell called my house--I was 12 or 13--but asked if she could speak to me, instead of my parents. She said, 'Listen, I don't think you're ready for this company yet, but I see something really great in you, and I want to have you in a couple of years. But I need you to go study with my friend, Karen Callaway Williams.' I started taking her class a couple of times a week. And then I got into the New Jersey Tap Ensemble two years later." 

Michael now directs the annual Jersey Tap Fest August 14-17 at Michele's Dance Studio in Livingston, NJ.



Photo by Ela Wojda, courtesy of Michael

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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