Dance Teacher Resources

An ode to dance teachers: We are forever grateful

Het Nationale Ballet's Remi Wörtmeyer in 'Symphony in Three Movements'. Photo by Angela Sterling.
Het Nationale Ballet's Remi Wörtmeyer in 'Symphony in Three Movements'. Photo by Angela Sterling.

Dance teachers give, give, give. They share their knowledge, passion and joy, which become not only necessary as we grow technically as dancers but also become contagious, as dance becomes such a huge part of our life throughout our training and perhaps into our professional career. And for that, we are forever grateful for those individuals who spend hours in the studio showing us steps, coaching us to make us better and instill lessons we can carry for the rest of our life.

Here are just a few reasons why we are forever grateful for our dance teachers.

#1. They show us how to dance!

Dance is an art form that you can’t learn by studying a book; you need someone to show and instruct you how it’s done. Teachers are the ones who can actually teach us how to dance in the first place!

Maggie Kudirka. Photo by Andrew Holtz.

Maggie Kudirka. Photo by Andrew Holtz.

“A teacher is needed to show the student how to move the body to achieve the desired result,” says Maggie Kudirka, the “Bald Ballerina”. “While videos are certainly helpful, they cannot replace the personal corrections a teacher gives.”

#2. Teachers are so knowledgeable.  

Not only do they know so much about technique and the art form, but teachers are also so generous with their knowledge.

“Each teacher, in his or her own way, has so much wisdom and experience to pass on,” says Calvin Royal III, soloist with American Ballet Theatre. “This is the beautiful part about the dance teacher-student relationship. It never dies. It’s built on a common thread that links the past to the present.”

Het Nationale Ballet's Remi Wörtmeyer in 'Tarantella Pas de Deux'. Photo by Angela Sterling.

Het Nationale Ballet’s Remi Wörtmeyer in ‘Tarantella Pas de Deux’. Photo by Angela Sterling.

“Good dance teachers can elevate the potential and capacity of a dancer,” adds Remi Wörtmeyer, principal dancer with Dutch National Ballet. “A dancer needs to be willing and eager to constantly improve at every level, but they are only as capable as their teacher is educated and generous.”

#3. Teachers teach more than just steps; they show us how to add nuance and style.  

A dancer without quality of movement, expression and stage presence can be boring. It’s not all about the high extension and multiple turns, after all. Teachers can impart their own experience (and that outside expert eye) on to their students to give them that extra something special.

A great dance teacher will mold the dancer and prepare her for a professional dance career; the dancer will learn stylistic nuances that make her dancing come alive,” Kudirka says. “Good teachers encourage students to keep trying and, little by little (as one of my teachers would say), the movement is mastered.”

ABT's Calvin Royal III in Alexei Ratmansky's 'Serenade After Plato's Symposium'. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.

ABT’s Calvin Royal III in Alexei Ratmansky’s ‘Serenade After Plato’s Symposium’. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

#4. Teachers want to see us succeed.

Dance teachers are not only dedicated to teaching dance steps, but they also have high hopes for their students and their success.

“My dance teachers always pushed me to go beyond the limits I set for myself,” says Chase Johnsey, dancer with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. “My teachers always saw in me what I could not see in myself. Even now, I still work with teachers who are willing to help me explore my possibilities. Without this constant creative fuel, my career would be quite boring!”

Royal adds, “My first ballet teacher once said, ‘I’m here to help you grow your wings and here to witness you take flight.’ Dance teachers are essential in helping nurture, push and encourage students to be a true artist and their best self.”

Chase Johnsey. Photo by Costas.

Chase Johnsey. Photo by Costas.

#5. Teachers push us…with love.

Just when we think we “can’t” do a step or are struggling with a solo, our teacher gives us that extra nudge of encouragement. Yes, it comes with corrections and notes, but it certainly comes from the heart, and they’re our biggest cheerleader.

“Dance teachers are incredible mentors and psychologists,” Johnsey says. “They are responsible for finding the right way to push and encourage students at the same time. Also, a great ballet teacher will know that each student needs something different and has to be treated in a unique way in order to flourish!”

“As a child learning to dance, you spend an exorbitant amount of time with your dance teacher,” says Simon Plant, a soloist with Complexions Contemporary Ballet. “In their care, learning from them, striving to impress them, they become almost a guardian of sorts, someone to look up to and someone whom you are able to rely on.” 

#6. They teach lessons that go beyond the dance studio.

Lessons learned in the studio can take us far in life, whether or not you become a professional dancer. Teachers help instill discipline, passion and a strong work ethic.

Simon Plant in Dwight Rhoden's 'Duo'. Photo by Ani Collier.

Simon Plant in Dwight Rhoden’s ‘Duo’. Photo by Ani Collier.

“A very valuable lesson I was taught as a young dancer (and something I use not only in dance but in everyday life as well) is the importance of being adaptable and the benefits of a healthy work ethic,” Plant shares. “Every choreographer is different, you might not necessarily be the best at all styles you are tasked with, but it is the job of the dancer to adapt to the rhythms and movement qualities they are given. And who knows, once you let go and try something new, you might be surprised and really enjoy it – or, better yet, be good at it! For me, the key is to approach my work with equal amounts of energy and enthusiasm.”

“Dance teachers can make a huge impact on the kind of person you become,” Kudirka says. “A negative teacher fosters jealousy and resentment by pitting students against one another in the mistaken belief that rivalry will make students work harder. A better way is to encourage appreciation of another dancer’s ability and to learn from that dancer.”

What’s your favorite memory of a dance teacher?

Remi Wörtmeyer

Dale Baker, the teacher of The Australian Ballet School’s graduating year, would say, ‘Ballet is simple, but it’s not easy.’ When I have struggled with a step, I remember this saying, clean back my technique, simplifying my approach, and move from there. It has been a very useful tool.”

Simon Plant

“I broke my foot during an assessment in front of a panel during my training at The Australian Ballet School. I was not only embarrassed but extremely devastated. One teacher calmed me down by telling me to go home, eat some chocolate and watch a feel-good movie. ‘Your foot will heal,’ he told me. ‘Just give it time.’ And I looked at him and thought, ‘You know what? It will.’ And it did. I enjoyed the movie, by the way, and the chocolate.”

Maggie Kudirka

“In September 2012, Runqiao Du invited me to dance the White Swan Pas de Deux with him in a Ballet ADI show that included professionals from Washington Ballet. This is a very special memory for me because in 2010, Runqiao taught this pas to me for a performance at Towson University. I never expected to perform this pas again, so getting another chance to dance it with my teacher, director and mentor was something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Chase Johnsey

“I was working with Charla Genn on Swan Lake, and she told me that I needed to forget all the Swan Lakes I had seen and feel what the story meant to me. It was an amazing moment, because I realized that I didn´t have to live up to how Swan Lake had been done. I just had to be myself.”

Calvin Royal III

“One of the most memorable moments in my early training came at the end of my first year studying ballet. I wanted to quit. It was too hard, and I didn’t know if I was cut out for it. I’ll never forget the talk I had with my teacher, Suzanne Pomerantzeff. She shared with me that in life there will be many more challenges, but I had a gift the world needed to see. Even if in that moment I couldn’t see it. The next day, I wanted so eagerly to get back in class and learn as much as I could to get better at it.”

By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.

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