Teaching dance can be frustrating, exhausting, and low-paying. So why do we do it?
by Chris Koseluk
You know teaching dance probably won’t make you famous. You’re not in it for the money. And it’s probably safe to say you weren’t lured by the luxurious surroundings, the great hours, or the job security. But every once in a while, you have an experience that makes you think, “Wow! This is the best job ever!” Our readers shared some of those moments with us.
Linda Twiss Gioscia, Performance Dance Center, Weymouth, Massachusetts: Teaching 37 years
One particular moment really made me realize how much of an effect you can have on your students. Years ago, a mom was at her wits’ end with her 17-year-old daughter, who was one of my students. The parents had recently split up and the girl was taking it hard, even talking about suicide. Because the girl looked up to me, her mom asked if I would talk to her. I was nervous, but wanted to help.
My student’s mom arranged for me to drive her daughter home from dance team practice. The girl told me that her dad was being a jerk. I said that adults can be jerks sometimes and that she had a right to be mad at him, but that he did love her even if it didn’t feel like it. I also emphasized that a lot of people cared about her and that she was an important part of the team. (It’s funny; I don’t remember a lot, but I can remember she had great saut de chats!)
Although I am not a therapist, the student’s attitude changed immensely afterward and her mom thanked me profusely. I was extremely happy—and also a bit scared—to think that my words could have such an impact. It made me mindful to always try to build up my students, to encourage them and give them confidence, because they really are listening. Now, many years later, this former student and I are friends on Facebook. She has a fun sense of humor and a beautiful 6-year-old who studies karate and dance and whom she adores.
Vanessa Terrell, The Pointe School of Dance, Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Teaching 8 years
Last summer I took ownership of a studio where I had taught for several years. I decided to do a complete rebranding. One of the first things I added was a dance class for children with special needs. This type of class is unique in our area and we started small.
On the first day of that class in August 2016, 8-year-old Rylie Erbacher wheeled into the dance studio. She was literally squealing with excitement to take her first dance class. That’s when I knew I had the best job ever. Rylie and her classmates performed in their first recital on June 11, 2017.
Nancy K. Dennis, The Dance Extension, Quaker Hill and New London, Connecticut: Teaching 22 years
In 2011, our former student Laurie Kammer fell out of a tree and became paralyzed from the waist down. Laurie grew up dancing at our studio and was in our performing company. Her friend Dana Cohen, a fellow alum, had the brilliant idea to hold a dance concert to raise funds for Laurie’s recovery, and that’s how “Rise Up: Together We Thrive” was born.
“It was very rewarding to see a group of former students use dance to help one of their own.” —Nancy K. Dennis
The concert took place March 23 and 24, 2013, at Mitchell College in New London, Connecticut. Eighteen Dance Extension alumni performed and three more helped backstage. Students who had graduated about the same time as Laurie relearned one of her favorite tap pieces via YouTube and traveled back to Connecticut to perform. Our current company, 20 strong, performed another of Laurie’s favorites. We invited all the local studios to perform. In total, 160 dancers from 13 schools/groups took the stage. Accompanied by her friend Mary Gardner, Laurie sang and played an original tune on her ukulele. She was simply radiant. Tears streamed down her face while she watched her friends perform—but they were tears of joy rather than sadness. She was dancing right along with the other performers in spirit, remembering the past, but so hopeful for her future.
More than $8,700 was raised and donated to Laurie’s account at Help Hope Live (helphopelive.org). The idea of giving back is paramount to my students’ dance education, so it was very rewarding to see a group of former students use dance to help one of their own. To know the bonds they formed at the studio were alive and well many years later was my “This is the best job ever!” moment.
“Rise Up” was a one-time event. Afterward, Laurie moved to Florida and, in 2016, she married. She has since moved to Michigan, where she is a licensed Avatar Master for self-development program The Avatar Course.
Shannon Thomas, The Legacy Dance Studio, Port Orange, Florida: Teaching 10 years
My studio is new, now in its second year. In the beginning, I rented space in a high school. The studio grew to 160 students in two short seasons. In November 2015, I began leasing my own space. I teach all the classes in a one-room studio, where until recently I didn’t have any system for students to store their things.
“I was shocked and almost in tears. It was so thoughtful and kind that the parents did this for me.” —Shannon Thomas
During a crazy, hectic weekend, I was at the Starbound Talent Competition with a team of 15 dancers ranging from ages 8 to 15. Including solos, duos, trios, and group numbers, we performed 20 routines. The team won numerous high scores and special awards.
During the competition, one of my dance dads bought and installed some new shelves for the studio trophy case. To my surprise, he also assembled and installed 25 new cubbies for the kids. All the parents from my competition team donated money and were in on it! They set it up without my knowing while I was at competition. I came in on Monday morning to give a private lesson, and that’s when I saw the new cubbies, decorated with balloons and a special poster. I was shocked and almost in tears. It was so thoughtful and kind that the parents did this for me. We have a great family at Legacy.
And yes, the new shelves are also coming in handy. We’ve been winning a lot of trophies.
Robyn Tedesco, Move With Grace Dance Studios, Cambridge, Fergus, and Woodstock, Ontario, Canada: Teaching 28 years
I recently had a particularly heartbreaking experience, when we lost two of our young dancers to cancer within months of one another. But it showed me how much the performing arts and my school matter to families and kids.
Katie Herron had beaten cancer three times before the age of 6. I must have been on the phone with her mom, Anne Hodgkinson, for almost an hour when she initially called. She asked a great deal about our philosophy and studio environment. When Anne came in for a tour, I learned about Katie’s cancer and suppressed immune system.
Anne and I agreed to enroll Katie in a grade one ballet exam class. It was the first class on Monday, so I knew it would not be very busy. Because of the risk of infection, Katie could not hold hands with the other kids. I came in early to insure the bars were wiped down before each class. Katie wore a mask. If anyone was ill, Katie would forgo the class that week.
Katie had a great year. She grew stronger and worked very hard on her dancing. She took private jazz classes from my daughter, a teacher at the studio. She also started taking a musical theater class.
When Breanna Rego, another girl in the musical theater class, was also diagnosed with cancer, Katie talked to all of us about her experience. She explained what it was like with such grace and wisdom, it would break your heart. She was wise beyond her years.
Katie danced in the spring 2016 recital. She did a jazz duet with my daughter and participated in the musical theater number. Her mom said that Katie felt like a “normal kid.” Breanna, unfortunately, did not perform, although we got news just before the recital that she was in remission.
Katie relapsed in June. I didn’t know what I could do for her; I was just her dance teacher. Then, at 3 a.m., it hit me: Katie had been prepping for her grade one ballet exam. I arranged for her to take the exam four months early. I asked her mom if I could help Katie focus on something positive. For two weeks, Katie’s entire focus was ballet.
I went with Katie the day of the exam. She did amazingly well. Right after she took the exam, we learned that she had passed it. Katie was very proud. She was a ballerina.
Breanna relapsed and died in August. She was 8 years old. Her mom told me Breanna was happiest dancing at Move With Grace.
We lost Katie this past February, just weeks after she received her certificate, at the age of 7.
Move With Grace has started two memorial scholarships: one for a recreational dancer in Breanna’s name and one for a competitive dancer in Katie’s name.
I could not help Katie beat cancer. I could not take this family’s pain away. However, for a while, their thoughts were on ballet. I like to think that I affect the lives of children. That I do was never more evident than the day Katie became a ballerina.
What was your “Best Job Ever” moment? Share it with us on Facebook: facebook.com/dslmagazine
Chris Koseluk has written for The Hollywood Reporter, Mental Floss, Make-Up Artist Magazine, and Variety. Married to a choreographer, he believes he has a leg up on dance. His wife might disagree.