Teacher in the Spotlight | Elizabeth Fisk Barriser

Artistic director, Brass City Ballet, Middlebury, CT

NOMINATED BY: Christine Harris, associate director, Brass City Ballet:

“Elizabeth doesn’t run our school as a hierarchy—the teachers of ballet, jazz, yoga, modern, and creative movement all meet to explore ways we can learn from each other. There are several schools in our area, and Elizabeth strives for a sense of community. Never will you hear a negative word from her lips about another school. Elizabeth has kept our school a nonprofit organization because she wants to give back to the community.”

Elizabeth Fisk Barriser loves it when everything she has been telling her students suddenly clicks for them.

Elizabeth Fisk Barriser loves it when everything she has been telling her students suddenly clicks for them. (Photo courtesy Elizabeth Fisk Barriser)

AGES TAUGHT: 9 to 18

GENRES TAUGHT: Primarily ballet, but I also teach a modern class once a week.

TEACHING DANCE FOR: 28 years steadily.

WHY SHE TEACHES: At age 11 I saw Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev perform Romeo and Juliet at the Herod Atticus amphitheater at the base of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. The moment Fonteyn appeared on the stage I sat up on the edge of my seat. From that moment on I knew I wanted to be a dancer. My goal is to convey that feeling of excitement to my students.

GREATEST INSPIRATION: As a young student it was Fonteyn, but there was also the late Ernestine Stodelle, a woman with whom I studied as an adult. She danced with Doris Humphrey, and José Limón was her partner in her early career. She had a great understanding of the physical placement of the body as it moves. She used the English language in a way that I’ve never seen another dance teacher use. Once, while doing a plié in class, she said, “Get a purchase on that leg.” To me, that conveyed the very essence of a plié!

PHILOSOPHY OF TEACHING: I believe in the discipline of dance. I get more and more strict as I get older, but I think I also get more and more loving. My job is to challenge my students without breaking them. Every time we walk into the dance studio, we are there with respect. I can guide my students, demonstrate, discuss, or describe what I want, but ultimately they are the ones who have to experience it.

WHAT MAKES HER A GOOD TEACHER: Through my own years of experience and watching great teachers, I have been able to trust my artistic sensibilities and develop a good eye. I can see a total picture and understand what corrections need to be applied. I also know that I don’t know everything, so I listen to my colleagues.

FONDEST TEACHING MEMORY: I have no one specific moment, but the best is that “Aha!” moment when everything you’ve been telling your students suddenly clicks for them.

BEST PIECE OF ADVICE FOR STUDENTS AND/OR TEACHERS: To students, it’s to show up for class. There are down days and up days, but the cumulative effect is a graph line going up. To teachers: Remember the joy. To studio owners: Take care of business. If you don’t want to do it yourself, find someone who does. Lofty ideas are great, but none will materialize without a roof over your head. My general advice for everyone, though, is to be open and receptive—to ideas, people, teaching methods, dance opportunities, and, most important, self-analysis and critique.

WHAT SHE WOULD DO IF SHE COULDN’T TEACH DANCE: I would work in costumes. Especially at stressful times, I wish I could be a little old lady in the corner of the costume shop, sewing away!

MORE THOUGHTS ON DANCE AND TEACHING: I’ve learned that dance gives students great tools for life—among others, discipline, teamwork, and time management.

DO YOU KNOW A DANCE TEACHER WHO DESERVES TO BE IN THE SPOTLIGHT? Email your nominations to David@RheeGold.com or mail them to David Favrot, Dance Studio Life, 10 South Washington St., Norton, MA 02766. Please include why you think this teacher should be featured, along with his or her contact information.


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