At the end of a four-day competition, my fellow teachers and I were frustrated with our students’ performances and the competition results. These kids were the nicest in town, but quite honestly, they were rather boring onstage. They were beautiful dancers but not strong performers.
I work with young children almost every day and if you ask me, they’ve got it made. Sure, I might be a bit bitter with the passing of yet another birthday, but as I look into their little stress-free faces I cannot help but feel a pang of envy.
Apparently film studios don’t cater to the interests of dance teachers. The few exceptions stick in our memories—Black Swan held my attention not only because it featured the world of classical ballet but also because it showed how it can completely freak out some of us.
Giving older teens an opportunity to inspire and mentor younger students can help them look outward and teach them important lessons about giving back and being grateful for what they have.
Recently I sat down to watch the new season of The Biggest Loser. I love the first week of shows like this, when the contestants are like blank canvases. They are such a mess, yet so full of hope—not unlike many of the dancers who come to our studios.
I have been an extremely good dance teacher all year. I have been polite when possible to the parents, excused hundreds of absences, have already picked out a recital theme and even a few songs, got my staff lovely gifts, and planned the studio holiday party.
Every class has one—the child who requires more attention than all the other students combined. You know the type—a young dancer who must continually be reminded of the rules and never seems to comply with them. Many of these children misbehave to gain attention, even if it is in a negative way. So how do we, as teachers, keep from tearing out our hair?
When Claire Buffie was crowned Miss New York 2010 by the Miss America Organization, I was more than excited and proud. After all, I had been her dance teacher since she was a young child.
I heard something the other day that scared me to death: a group of scientists studying human evolution said that due to the constant overuse of the thumb for tasks such as texting and gaming, they expect thumbs to become longer and more agile. The actual physical structure of the thumb will change!
Last night in jazz class a male student—let’s call him Jim—got in trouble for being right.
Not too long ago, I finally got around to watching the movie The Bucket List. Watching those two grumpy, confused old men decide what they had left to do before their days ended got me thinking about what I’d put on my own list. Here goes.
I read the magazine from cover to cover; it keeps me in touch with the dancing school world. I especially enjoyed the article on my good friend Jeanne Meixell [“Schools With Staying Power: Doing It Mom’s Way,” November 2010], and Diane [Gudat] continues to write wonderful articles with a great flair for comedy.
So You Think You Can Dance, along with other dance-related reality TV shows, has escorted a new excitement for dance into the American living room. We love to see dance in prime time, with male dancers accepted by a public that’s also getting an education on different styles of dance.
Tap dance is an infant in the scope of dance history. Unlike ballet, which has traveled to us through at least 200 generations of teachers, tap can claim only four or five generations of structured teachers in its history.
One day, after 30 years in the classroom, I realized I was burned out. It was increasingly difficult to relate to anything outside the dance world. It was time, I thought, to expand my horizons and relight my fire.
I have read wonderfully insightful articles about the struggles of children whose dance teacher is their parent, such as “My Life as a Studio Owner’s Daughter,” in the January 2009 issue of this magazine. All children who live in the shadow of a parent with a dance studio experience both struggles and advantages. But what of their non-dancing siblings? What kind of pressures and problems do they face when they don’t share that world?
One day when I was teaching a beginners class, a little ballerina looked at me indignantly and demanded to know why it was only Patty who got to bourrée.
A few months ago a dance teacher sent me a survey asking how our studio produces its Christmastime show. She was considering adding a holiday show to her studio calendar and was looking for veterans’ advice. I should have said, “Don’t do it!” It is crazy enough trying to produce one major show a year—add that December show and all sanity goes out the window. Unfortunately, the pageantry and heartwarming music of the season usually lure us in, and before we know it we are up to our stocking caps in nutcrackers and elves.
I no longer wear what most people would label as dancewear. These days, if my T-shirt in any way matches the stripes on my workout pants, I consider it a Rachel Zoe kind of day. The only possible way I would wear tights would be with a skirt of the same color and knee-high boots. As for a leotard, it would be cruel to subject not just my students but also Lycra itself to my over-30-something (ahem) body. So, frightened by an Oprah episode focusing on the dangers of hoarding, I decided to clear out the storage boxes labeled “Diane’s Dancewear.”
In my years as a teacher and studio owner, I have produced more than 27 year-end recitals and at least 16 full-length story ballets. If I have learned anything about the production part of the dance business, it is that it requires two important attributes: the ability to compromise and the ability to enjoy the humor in the things that can—and always will—go wrong.
It was a Tuesday afternoon, and I was trying to muster enough strength to teach another full night at the studio. I had already put in almost three hours of dance-related work at home and was wondering, “Why do I continue to do this job?”
I often rely on dictionaries to assist me with definitions and spellings of dance terminology. However, my school’s staff uses some terms that do not appear in any dictionary. These words have been borrowed from our peers or have evolved through need or frustration. Although we don’t use most of them openly in the classroom or lobby, many are used frequently in the office and at staff meetings. I’ve listed them here in alphabetical order—get ready to add color to your vocabulary!
As a judge, I have witnessed thousands of competition performances. Many have stood out as examples of how the right song, the perfect costume, a great story, and intelligent choreography can come together to enhance young dancers’ technical performance. Unfortunately, the pressure placed on teachers to excel and to produce impossibly huge amounts of choreography has undercut the quality of what we see weekend after weekend on the competition trail.
I looked in the mirror the other day. I looked tired. I felt tired. I was never one to count wrinkles, but things just looked saggier than usual. It’s a feeling I seem to have often these days.
I just had to say thank you, thank you, thank you for including “Fantasy Comebacks” in your September issue. It put a big smile on my face at the end of a long week during an even longer registration season! It’s good to know I’m not the only one with less than perfect patience for my studio parents.
Last August I attended the DanceLife Teacher Conference at the five-star Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, AZ. For myself, and I am guessing for most of the hundreds of dance teachers there, this was my first experience with a life of complete luxury and bliss.
Honest answers to parents’ questions By Diane Gudat When we are faced with those inane questions from our students’ parents, what we actually say and what we want to say are often as different as Kool-Aid and tequila. Though the dance business requires us to take a deep breath, smile, . . .
For dance teachers, enduring a year feels like being stuck on a warped carousel. Through the ups and downs, there is no way to keep it from spinning or to slow it down. For the most part, the ride is fun and exciting—you never know what is around the next turn. But since dance teachers do not live the same kind of life as people in other professions, why should we adhere to the same calendar? I’ve devised one with a more realistic view of our year, plus some suggestions to make it more suited for our nontraditional needs.
There is a famous book that claims that everything we need to know in life can be learned in kindergarten. I might be slightly biased, but I think there is no better format for presenting life’s lessons than the dance classroom. Dance training and exposure to a good dance teacher can enhance a child’s life in immeasurable ways. We build confident minds, open hearts, and sensitive artists (who occasionally learn to move well!). Here are the lessons learned in every dance class, along with a few old sayings that help to make my point.
While reading Diane [Gudat]’s article [“What Are Parents Thinking?!” Dance Studio Life, December 2007], I was either crying from laughing so hard or cheering! Thanks for the chuckles, and yes, it does make me feel better to know that others are suffering from being subjected to the same parental madness! My office staff wants to change the schedule to read: “Advanced Ballet 1, Advanced Ballet 2, Advanced Ballet 3,” etc. That way [the students] can all be advanced!
Over the years I have become attached to a handful of inspirational sayings that I like to share with my students. I have posted a few of them on my studio walls, where they have remained for years; I write others on the classroom mirrors and rotate them as needed. Since I have been repeating most of them for so long that I can no longer remember their sources, I send a sincere thank-you to their originators.
The life of the dance teacher is much like a never-ending rollercoaster ride. We struggle to climb phenomenal hills only to drop back into the unknown. We travel through countless spirals and loops only to fall through dark tunnels, which then hurl us into blinding sunlight. We navigate twists and turns our entire lives, sometimes hanging on with white knuckles and other times throwing our arms over our heads with reckless abandon.
All dance teachers want to bring out the best in their performing groups. Although many factors are involved, the most important one is to create a nurturing, stimulating working environment. Ideally, you want to establish a family feeling that encourages the dancers to work together toward a common goal. To ensure that, no dancer should be made to feel more important than another. Performance groups that consistently feature one or two dancers or showcase male dancers excessively run the risk of making the others feel less important.
Sometimes I sit in the studio at the end of a particularly long day and think, “Are there other dance teachers out there with the same problems I have with parents?” At workshops and conventions, groups of teachers gather in corners to discuss these nagging struggles. For those of you who feel like you are suffering alone, let me recap a few of my own parental pet peeves. I’ll bet they will ring a bell with a lot of you!
Music is vital equipment for dance teachers and choreographers, both in the classroom and onstage. A basic understanding of music theory is a powerful tool that allows us to get the most out of the music we use.
Whenever I see professional dance performances, I wonder what it would be like to have the luxury of 10 or more hand-selected, well-trained dancers for 8 hours a day, 5 days each week, as well as a professional lighting designer and costumer.
Being a dance teacher is not the easiest or the most glamorous job in the world. It is also not the one with the highest pay or the most consistent rewards. But there are many reasons to rejoice that I chose this field so many years ago.