Studio owner, Salinas School of Dance, Salinas, California
NOMINATED BY: Maria Graziano: “Lisa is not only a role model for dancers, but for our entire community. Her studio has strict rules and her classes are full year round. She runs three dance companies, and the studio is home to children with autism and those with handicaps and learning disabilities. I am a stage crew mom, and I have seen and heard Lisa working with students, demanding their best behavior, and encouraging all of them regardless of ability.”
YEARS TEACHING: 36
AGES TAUGHT: 3 to 78
GENRES TAUGHT: Ballet, tap, jazz, Irish dance
WHY SHE’S A DANCE TEACHER: My dance teacher, Ramon Renov, was ready to retire and asked me to take over. I agreed in 1980 to try it for two years. The studio is in its 76th year—I am the second owner.
OTHER CAREER PATHS: I have college degrees in criminology and forensics, am a licensed private investigator, an expert in gang homicide investigation, and the author of six non-fiction books about murder and crime in Salinas.
WHAT MAKES HER A GOOD TEACHER: I have an intense work ethic and still spend hours planning classes and keeping the studio spotless. I demand respect from students and give them the same. Continuing education is a priority.
WHAT IS HER STUDIO’S FOCUS: We have a high number of low-income students dancing alongside others who are wealthy, and our area’s homicide rate is one of the highest in California. The studio is a “safe haven” where they can learn not only about ballet or tap, but how to be team players, how to behave, and how to be respectful. It’s important to me that all have a positive experience that enriches their lives.
PERFORMANCE VS. COMPETITION: My Irish dancers did compete in Ireland over a five-year period, but travel is expensive and the atmosphere cutthroat. My experience has been that constant competition often results in loss of classical technique. At my studio, teams work together, everyone gets to dance, and everyone is happy.
YOUR FONDEST TEACHING MEMORY: Two years ago a 10-year-old boy who was born missing one leg and most of an arm arrived for his first ballet class. I worried what the young children would say or think. I introduced him to the class, started the music, and everyone just accepted him, talked to him, and didn’t ask questions. He now takes ballet and tap and was in his first recital last June.
MOST IMPORTANT LESSON FROM A TEACHER: After I took over, Mr. Renov came to watch me teach and choreograph up until his death a few years later. He had been with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and he taught me staging, connecting steps, and how to properly choreograph classical pieces. His mentoring was invaluable, and I feel one of my strengths is choreography.
TEACHING FRUSTRATION/SOLUTION: I have a T-shirt: “I’m a dance teacher, not a miracle worker.” Some parents have unrealistic goals for their children and try to blackmail teachers into promoting students who are not ready by threatening to change studios. Sometimes I schedule an observation day and make the parents try steps. That gives them new respect for their child and the teacher.
AFTER A DIFFICULT DAY . . . I like to work in my garden. It is peaceful and gives me time to unwind and enjoy the outdoors.
DO YOU KNOW A DANCE TEACHER WHO DESERVES TO BE IN THE SPOTLIGHT? Email your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include why you recommend this teacher, plus his or her contact information.