Unless you’ve forsaken every form of media, it’s hard to miss all the news that casts a spotlight on those who have fallen from grace among the rich and famous. Many people ask where all our heroes and role models have gone. Where can the next generations look when they wish to follow in someone’s footsteps?
In the dance world, we only need to glance into our own backyards to see former students who have become successful in their chosen careers.
I’ve seen it happen at my wife’s studio. I remember seeing a little girl named Nonny watch in awe as a boy wearing a jacket emblazoned with “Rocky” performed in their dance studio’s Christmas program. The girl had just begun her life in the world of dance, while the boy was a few years away from earning the title of Mr. Dance of America. Since she was too young to write, Nonny dictated a fan letter to Rocky through her parents. In all likelihood, the young man was her first role model and hero.
In another instance, during a summer dance camp, my wife invited a former student, Abbey, to teach several classes for younger dancers. Many of the girls remembered Abbey as a former senior company member when they were just beginning their lives in front of the dance school mirrors.
Those youngsters sat wide-eyed and in awe of this beautiful young woman who exuded energy and enthusiasm as she led the class. They didn’t have to endure waiting in long lines or pay $40 or $50 for the 30-second experience of getting the autograph of a distant athlete or movie star. Abbey was someone real who had succeeded in a career choice those students could dream of for themselves.
During another class, I watched as tiny dancers surrounded a teenage student assistant. She looked like a female Gulliver standing among the Lilliputians. It seems like only yesterday that this teenager was one of those little ones who admired and envied members of the school’s companies. And here she was, with the little girls looking up to her and calling her name as eagerly as if she were a celebrity. The bond between them brings the younger dancers’ dreams closer, helping them imagine what might be in store for them someday.
In any school, the older students and successful alumni help to bring the dance experience to life for younger students. Their development, so visible to all, provides a perspective that classes can’t offer. Through photos, videos, and old program books, younger students can see their newfound role models in various stages of their dance development. They can begin to grasp the progression from those first steps in “baby ballet” to the final year in the school, and then beyond, when the objects of their admiration stepped into the next phase of their lives.
Many graduates who return to their former schools understand what they are giving back to the school, their teachers, and the children during their visits. They notice how tiny ears hang on every word of advice and little eyes watch their every move. Student assistants who experience that kind of adulation must be helped to understand the privilege they have been given and the impact their presence has on younger students. They serve as extensions of the learning experience for impressionable children.
Our dance school families are blessed to have this natural camaraderie, which can add new dimensions to the learning experience. Little ones learn from true-to-life role models who have walked in their tiny shoes.