At the Dance Teacher Summit, held at the Hilton Hotel in Midtown NYC in the first week of August, there were hundreds of dance teachers, studio owners, professional dancers and exhibitors attending to gain some knowledge to better their ability to teach the next generation of dancers. As a first time attendee it was eye opening to see the small world of dance come together to achieve greater things.
Like a choreographed dance, there were fast-paced, crowded moments and magic in the lulls. It was overwhelming, but inspiring and challenging. I guess that’s what most dancers are drawn to, right? So if you’re a dancer, turned dance teacher, here is the number one takeaway I gained from my first-time experience at this summit:
The Difference Between Those Who Can & Those Who Can Teach
Teachers, I know we are all at the summit to learn and go back to remembering what its like to be a student. What better way to learn and understand the experience of your students than to go back in their shoes. But it felt like some were there to gain the fame and start up the competition. I promise I’m not trying to be negative here. That’s not what this content is about; and I promise there is a lesson in this.
Of course it is easy to be star-struck when you have names like Stacey Tookey, Mia Michaels, Wade Robson, Tyce Diorio and Tricia Miranda taking the stage to instruct you. Who wouldn’t be star-struck? I definitely was. But as a first-time attendee myself, I was not in the mindset to try to out-dance the person next to me. Nor did I want to. I was there to learn and I felt like some people were trying to run and be front and center to show off their mad skills (and they really were amazing) in front of instructor, making some of us attendees uncomfortable. I saw some people even decide to sit out the rest of the workshop.
Your body remembers what it is like to want to perform and want show the teacher your potential. It’s only natural, I guess, but when that happened in some of the classes, it felt like the entire dynamic of class changed (depending on the instructor). I felt like there were moments when dance teachers (now students for the day) felt like they had the opportunity to still be discovered, and maybe that was true – but that wasn’t the intent (and we talked a lot about intent at this summit) of these classes.
I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing. But where I saw the real lessons for dance teachers was what happened when this occurred and how someone like Mia Michael’s read her room.
Mia Michaels, author of A Unicorn in a World of Donkeys: A Guide to Life for All the Exceptional, Excellent Misfits Out There, artistic director, choreographer and judge alumnus on So You Think You Can Dance, who literally helps her students achieve greatness in their God-given talent, taught an incredible contemporary piece. Mia Michaels channeled the talent and had the teachers remember what it was like to fall in love with dance, admit what its like to not always love it and how to progress and transition to letting your talents shine through your students and not letting yourself get in the way.
But the difference with Mia Michaels and her workshop, was what she made each of the attendees feel. She created an environment of inspiration and made everyone feel like how she herself defines a unicorn, “being an exceptional person who revels on his or her peculiarity, despite the tremendous pressure – from parents, teachers, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, society in general – to be just like everyone else.”
Michaels made everyone focus on embracing their uniqueness and channeled the energy there. Whether you still have your amazing dance skills, or you have your powerful voice, you have the ability to teach as long as you are able to bring out your student’s uniqueness. Mia Michaels taught a valuable lesson that set the tone for the remainder of the summit: There is a difference between those who can & those who can teach and inspire.
Meghan O’Donnell, Assistant Director of Andover Center for the Performing Arts said, “The information went beyond technical training and into sharing important goals on artistry & passion with our students.” I couldn’t agree more with Meghan (probably for the best since she is my boss)! But in all seriousness, participating at the various workshops held at the Dance Teacher Summit made me constantly go back to the workshop with Mia. She moved past the technical training and rekindled what she calls the “underneath glitter” we possess as dance teachers who need to remember the feelings of falling in love with dance in the first place.
We need to remember that there will always be those who can – can conform to society’s standards of technical, of body image, of the traditional principles of choreography and expectation. But few can inspire with emotional influence and ability to teach from within. Few have the ability to choreograph and teach dance based on unconventional experiences and philosophies that can help in the studio, and also in life.
We, as dance teachers, have the opportunity to shift the next generation of dancers to be “unicorns” and transform them to be influential, life changing contributors to a new society full of embrace and acceptance. What a powerful, literal and metaphorical movement it could be.
Move on, Unicorns! XX,
PS – Uhhh, just going to throw this out there...If anyone has an autographed copy of Mia Michaels, comment below! I am now obsessed. ;)