Chauniece Conner Thompson
Executive artistic director, Ballet on Wheels Dance School & Company, Memphis, Tennessee
NOMINATED BY: Joy Sheffield, friend: “Chauniece opened Ballet on Wheels in 2002 to help build a better Memphis community through dance. Chauniece ensures her students are well-prepared for every dance opportunity. She gives her dance staff full discretion in their classrooms and encourages them to come up with innovative ideas to engage students in the classroom and through community-based dance programs. She’s making a positive impact on her students, staff, and community.”
YEARS TEACHING: 24
AGES TAUGHT: 3 and up
GENRES TAUGHT: Ballet, creative movement, modern, improv
STORY BEHIND THE SCHOOL’S NAME: We have a studio space in addition to running satellite classes in places requested by the community, such as churches, public and private schools, and afterschool programs. We are willing to take our classes wherever there is a need and an interest.
HOW STUDENTS WOULD DESCRIBE HER: Funny, strict, animated, traditional, and fashionable.
ON ENCOURAGING TEACHERS’ CREATIVITY: I allow them to take the lead. I don’t micromanage but encourage their creativity both in class and choreography. I give them a chance, and from there we can all learn from challenges, successes, and everything in between.
A MEANINGFUL HONOR: In 2005 I was named Peace Achiever of the Month by Clear Channel Memphis for our annual community dance projects. It is special to me because it’s about reaching out, trying to make our community a better place to live, work, and dance.
A CLASSROOM CHALLENGE: A student’s autistic sibling expressed an interest in dance, but many obstacles hampered her concentration: the bright lights, the studio door chime, the size of the class. I spoke to her parents and conducted research on autism to better understand what to expect and how to best meet her needs, and we eliminated some issues. During her first class, I had to focus to find her out of the seven or eight students because she looked so beautiful and comfortable and so into the moment of her own dance class.
FAVORITE CLASS TO TEACH: Intermediate ballet. There is so much for them to learn, and I like to work with students as they begin to understand dance artistry.
IMPORTANT LESSON FROM A TEACHER: My dance mentor, Carlton Johnson, would say, “Get your wits about yourself.” For years I never quite knew what he meant, until I asked him. He was saying to pull yourself into whatever you are doing and make it your best.
A MEMORABLE PERFORMANCE SHE SAW: In 1982, I was selected by my elementary school principal to go to a Dance Theatre of Harlem matinee performance. My parents had already purchased tickets for me to attend the performance that night. Seeing them perform twice in one day was quite an experience and impacted the way the arts would shape my life.
HER FAVORITE CHOREOGRAPHER: George Latimer of California [founder of Ballet South and author of My Life Behind Barres]. He has a way of making dance movements soft and beautiful, even for young dancers, and he shared amazing stories along with his beautiful choreography when he danced with us.
A SPECIAL PERSON IN HER LIFE: My mom was my cheerleader. She never allowed me to quit dance classes, despite all the reasons I came up with over the years—a life lesson I share with my students.
DO YOU KNOW A DANCE TEACHER WHO DESERVES TO BE IN THE SPOTLIGHT? Email your nominations to email@example.com. Please include why you recommend this teacher, plus his or her contact information.