We get kids who’ve never set foot in a dance studio before, especially in cocurricular classes like Beginning Ballet or Dance for Athletes. In these classes, I do a lot of dancing with the students; I let them see me be silly. I never make students do something I’m not willing to do myself. At the end of every term we put on a show, and we’ve been packing the dance studio theater with 100 people in the audience. For the spring production, students needed to wear orange, yellow, and royal blue. I told them they could find things in the costume room, but they were so excited, they went to a thrift store and found their own materials. They ripped up T-shirts and created costumes that included hats and suspenders. They were so into it.
I love working with the NMH Dance Company. The level of choreography and artistry in that group is amazing. In the senior dance company, kids are making choreography. In fact, most dancers, before they graduate from NMH, have choreographed their own work. That means they’ve also cast it, run rehearsals, worked with our lighting designer, produced the show, and staged it in front of an audience. It’s a big undertaking, but the culture of the dance program here is that kids make dances.
Students who don’t have technical training often surprise me the most, maybe because their ideas about how they want their dance to look are less codified. This year we had a student—a big singer-theater girl—who was new to dance. She created a piece, a passionate tango, about falling in love in the produce aisle of a grocery store. A Korean student who came to NMH as a 9th grader had studied nothing but classical ballet. By her mid-sophomore year, she’d choreographed five pieces, ranging from ballet to hip-hop to modern.
The Rhodes Arts Center is a fantastic facility. The two dance studios are next to each other, so the junior dance company and senior dance company see each other every day. They’re totally gelled. In the studio theater, we rehearse in the space where we perform, so we’re always well prepared. Once a year we get to perform on the big proscenium stage. The students were so excited when we had our show up there last spring. They kept saying, “I feel so professional!”
To renew myself, I take classes as much as I can. I go to New York for classes in tap, ballet, hip-hop, anything. In the summer I’m doing a teachers’ intensive in modern jazz technique. The most renewing thing for me, though, is seeing students perform. That’s the candy.