Byron Dance Dynamics is a premiere school in the Far-North Coast of Australia located in Byron Bay. It provides excellence in dance and performing arts, and this year celebrates 20 years. The school specialises in classical ballet (Royal Academy of Dance), jazz, funk and hip hop and caters to the recreational dancer as well as the aspiring dancer from three years to adults.
Here, Dance Informa catches up with Kate Behrend, owner and artistic director of Dance Dynamics, to reflect on the past 20 years, her approach to teaching, success stories, and tips and advice for longevity.
Congratulations on celebrating 20 years. Where did you train, and when and how was Byron Dance Dynamics started?
“I was trained predominantly in classical ballet in Newcastle, under the tutelage of Tessa Maunder for 10 years. I then began studying full-time at the Marie Walton-Mahon Dance Academy (now known as the National College of Dance). I loved ballet and dance but wasn’t a student of natural confidence. Rather, I felt more comfortable teaching, mentoring and helping others. Under Marie’s guidance, I transitioned into teaching instead of pursuing a career as a dancer, as this was my strength.
I moved to Byron Bay when I was 19 years old. The owner of Byron Academy of Dance, Sui Blumson, was wanting to retire from teaching and was looking for someone to take over. She wanted me to put them through their Royal Academy of Dance Exams within the next two months. I jumped at the idea and made the move. That was back in May of 2000.”
Reflecting on the past 20 years, how have teaching methods changed from when you trained as a student, your time as a new studio owner, through to this present day?
“As students, we were a lot more disciplined in comparison. The correct uniform was mandatory or no class. That was that. We practised almost every day and danced up to five days a week. It was always encouraged to be very good at one thing, instead of being average at many after school activities. These days, I find parents want to give their children more options with regards to after school activities, which therefore means children become skilled at many things but not specialised in that one thing.
When I was training under Tessa Maunder, we were not allowed to take up any other sport or after school activity. Ballet had to be the priority. It was drummed into us, and Tessa Maunder is renowned for the countless professional ballerinas she developed under her tutelage. One of them was Marie Walton-Mahon (creator of Progressing Ballet Technique).
As a mother, I think it’s healthy for children to find what they are good at and what they love! This may mean trying multiple after school activities. I also think it’s important that when they find what they are good at and love it, for them to stick to it. I often observe parents not instilling commitment in children — for example, preparing for exams where expectations are higher of students. I have seen an increase in parents letting their children “give up” because they find it too repetitive or challenging. In these cases, the child’s immediate dissatisfaction ends with them missing the opportunity to develop grit within themselves — which later in life as an adult becomes a valuable asset. There is a definite shift in the work-ethic of children today as opposed to 10, 20 and 30 years ago.”
Aside from challenging students to use their minds to count, apply corrections and recall and execute steps, the mind can often be neglected on a critical level by teachers. Can you tell us about your training in NLP-Neuro Semantics and The Demartini Method and how you apply this throughout your teaching?
“The Demartini Method in its entirety is complex. I use the fundamentals from the training I had to find the values of the student. In order to teach effectively, I seek to understand the values of the student — what motivates them, what makes them happy, what makes them sad, what inspires them, what doesn’t inspire them, what made them want to take up dance and why they chose our school. This is mainly all observational and based on the dynamics of a class. I observe how certain children connect (or don’t connect) with others and why, what they talk about, what they are distracted by and what commands their focus. Ultimately, I aim to understand what motivates a student to be the best they can be. Everyone has a reason for why they do something. Once I work this out, it enables me to be able to work with the individual and motivate them in a way that works for them.
NLP-Neuro Semantics is a lovely technique that I found is most helpful when students are about to perform, take exams and are basically attempting to step into a higher level of their training. It can help them through their fears and step into their greatness. It is more sensory, as opposed to the Demartini Method, which is more analytical. Both are great and useful.”
Where did your awareness for this need stem from? What prompted you to implement these methods in your style of teaching?
“My two motivating factors for studying this was, first of all, that I was haunted by the ‘fear’-based methods of training I experienced. It became apparent in general; there were many dancers out there who, despite having grand careers, suffered from mental illness. Even within an elite level of training, there was a lack of awareness and importance placed on developing dancers, not just physically but mentally. And not just mentally tough but mentally agile and adaptable, trusting in life, being able to relax and experience the joy in just being. Secondly, I had a stage mum, a lovely mum nonetheless. However, there was a lot of pressure as a child to be a ballerina. In such cases, the dynamic of an unfulfilled dream being projected onto the child — even done unconsciously — can be incredibly difficult for that child. Hence, seeking out what the values of the student are, assists me in working effectively with them. This is where awareness and understanding come into play. In such cases, I will work with the student to find their ‘own’ love for dance, whilst carefully educating the parent on letting their child have their own experience and relationship with dance. Parents can then enjoy being a supporter without them predominantly interjecting.”
As an advocate for developing intrinsic motivation, mentally healthy and well-rounded dancers, what positive impacts have you seen?
“I’ve noticed that students who are intrinsically motivated, have supportive parents, the right training and a level of natural ability, and/or sheer inherent dedication to be the best, are the ones who do really well. Those who have natural ability, yet are not intrinsically motivated, don’t last, and that’s a good thing. No one should be giving their all to something they don’t love. So to answer your question, yes, I’ve seen more students and their families make decisions for the right reasons.”
There are a lot of success stories, with students being accepted into illustrious city-based schools such as National College of Dance, Brent Street, Ev & Bow and more. Tell us more?
“The main point worth making about this is, from my 20 years of experience, those who do go on to continue their training full time, have to because they can’t imagine themselves doing anything else. It’s also a wonderful team of teachers at Dance Dynamics Byron Bay, and all of us have played a part in these students moving on to full-time and professional levels.”
Your business isn’t limited to teaching, coaching and running a successful studio. What other business ventures have you have embarked on?
“I also started Byron Bay Dance Wear, a retail shop for studio wear and costumes. There is also the Elevate Dynamics brand, which is an offset from Dance Dynamics that offers a higher level of training and workshops for students who want to work on their mindset in order to achieve more from their dancing.”
To those considering pursuing a career in teaching and owning a studio, what tips and advice do you have to share?
“Owning a dance school, it’s hard work! To be direct, it’s not something you would do for the money. It’s something you would be drawn to for a higher purpose. It’s a 24/7 gig being a business owner, and unless you’re willing to do that, teaching at a school is still incredibly rewarding and you can switch off at the end of the day.
- Don’t be afraid to delegate. Over the years, I’ve realised I can’t do everything, and I actually don’t want to. My values have changed since I started the school. Family and life balance is so important and takes precedence, even though the school is such a big part of my life. I spent many years believing the reverse was true, and it left me feeling defeated and burnt out on many occasions. For a long while, I was replying to clients’ text messages on the weekend and all hours of the day and night; there were no boundaries. Even though I direct the school as a whole, I have implemented structure, which is critical, and now all calls go through our admin team. This works and enhances good life balance so I can do the best job I can.
- It’s okay to go through patches of wanting to throw in the towel. I’ve had three significant patches over the 20 years I’ve owned the school. All three times have been very valuable for me to let go, step back, to dream of other options, explore them and then come back if/when I’m ready. Every time, I’ve come back with more love, energy and ideas.
- Don’t be frightened to set up your school rules and policies and stick to them. A dance school is a school; rules and structure are needed to function at a higher and more efficient level. Everyone benefits from structure, especially children.
- Keep learning, keep growing or you will stagnate.”
Can you name three keys to success and longevity?
“First, believe you have something of value. When I started the school, I genuinely believed I had something of value to give students. I really loved the feeling of connecting, motivating and mentoring. This has been my driving force from the beginning. I have often had to find that belief again when I’ve at times felt burnt out. The belief that I have something of value to offer has always been there. Over the years, however, it has grown from not just teaching but to training staff, writing, running workshops and educating. It’s not to be mistaken for building up your ego with an affirmation; it’s about being of service to another human, which is a much deeper purpose and intrinsically motivated – being of value to another.
Second, learn from what didn’t work, create a more efficient structure, policy and rule, then implement it. This is evolution. This is how you grow professionally as a school and as a person.
Third, there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’. Just as we expect our group routines to shine and grow and improve, in order for your school to do the same, give credit when credit is due. Your staff and teachers are an integral part of the success — as a school and together, great things can be achieved. A great leader is one who is of service to others and gives credit to their team. Do not be frightened to do this.”
As an observer of the industry, what do you perceive and wish to encourage and change?
“I really despise the over-sexualisation of children; it is heartbreaking to me. Let’s not have children in crop tops and shorts doing the same moves an adult commercial jazz dancer does. Seeing children dance to lyrics they don’t understand and/or shouldn’t understand — let’s work to change this. Acrobatics dominating dance routines is an uncreative cop-out. A little acro is great, but we are dancers, not gymnasts. Let’s steer the emphasis back to dance and the integrity of the art form.”
By Renata Ogayar of Dance Informa.