Studio owner/teacher, Dance Connection, Islip, New York
NOMINATED BY: Joseph Naftal, son: “Her studio and her students are her life. She works seven days a week and always makes time for her students, offering mentorship or a counseling ear to anyone who needs it. She is a true teacher.
She was acknowledged in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers after a student nominated her. She is most proud of the best sportsmanship awards she’s won at various competitions and her inclusion in Dancers Inc.’s Hall of Fame.”
YEARS TEACHING DANCE: 35 years and counting
AGES TAUGHT: 20 months to adult
GENRES TAUGHT: Tap, jazz, ballet
WHY SHE CHOSE TEACHING AS A CAREER: I think we chose each other. From the moment I became “Miss Mary,” I knew that teaching was where I belonged. I received a bachelor’s degree in education, then added to that the love of dance—the perfect match.
HER GREATEST INSPIRATIONS: My students have and will always continue to inspire me daily, but my greatest inspiration was my dad. He was a singer and loved putting on shows in the local church basement. Family gatherings always had him directing us all in a song. He taught me to “find something you love to do and make a living doing it, then no matter the salary, happiness is guaranteed.”
WHAT MAKES HER A GOOD TEACHER: I care about every student, regardless of talent. I am passionate about training, so my students will be able to dance as long as they want to with bodies that can stand the test of time. Injury prevention is high on my list. I emphasize respect for one another and the art of dance in my classes and my studio. This is very important to me.
FONDEST TEACHING MOMENT: Years ago, I had the privilege of teaching a tiny dancer who had autism, and I am presently teaching a little dancer who is visually impaired and physically delayed. The experiences will stay with me as long as I live. Their presence at the studio taught us all that no matter what the odds, anything is possible. They may not get all the steps all the time, but nothing can beat their onstage smiles. Another amazing memory has become a holiday tradition. For the past few years, my students have danced at several Make-A-Wish Foundation events. Performing for these children and brightening their day is a reward no trophy can ever match.
ADVICE TO TEACHERS: Never believe you know everything there is to know about dance. Keep learning and keep your dance mind open; take a risk and teach old and new. The history of dance is what brings us to today. Make sure your students know these roots. Don’t be afraid to expose them to it. Students will surprise you with how open they can be to new styles, especially if you are passionate about them. Also, never forget that every dancer is someone’s child. Be a teacher to all, not to some.
ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS: Attitude is a “little thing that makes a big difference.” Strive to create a positive environment in the classroom and in your lobby with your parents. Sure, it might seem like an impossible task at times, but as my dad said, “Never give up!” Positive and negative talk and actions, like dancers, want an audience to thrive. The applause during the positive performance will be worth the hard work getting there. Don’t let the negative make it to the stage.
DO YOU KNOW A DANCE TEACHER WHO DESERVES TO BE IN THE SPOTLIGHT? Email your nominations to Arisa@rheegold.com or mail them to Arisa White, Dance Studio Life, P.O. Box 2150, Norton, MA 02766. Please include why you think this teacher should be featured, along with his or her contact information.