What makes a good dance teacher “good?” According to dance.about.com, the top qualities of a good dance teacher include dedication and respect. In order to understand where the dedication stems from, you have to look at the background of the teacher.
After dancing all over the United States and internationally in countries like Brazil, Italy, Israel and Mexico, it may seem odd to end up teaching dance Lawrence, Kan., of all places.
For Muriel Cohan, her transition from being part of a nationally and internationally recognized duet company to her position today as the associate professor of dance at the University of Kansas made sense. After transitioning into the academic atmosphere of teaching dance at KU, Cohan and her dance partner/husband still got to perform and choreograph as they did before as a company.
“We were still able to do our touring. We had the chance to enlarge the company, do group work and group choreography and concerts using our students. It was good timing,” Cohan said.
Like Cohan, many dance teachers have had their own inspirations for and transitions into teaching dance. With many different backgrounds and teaching styles, it is important to understand the inspiration behind an instructor’s passion.
Cohan’s inspiration for choreographing and teaching today comes from past teachers. “Just about the style of dance and the way she approached movement. It just touched me from the very beginning,” Cohan said.
“All the things I love to see in dance, I get to bring that into teaching,” Cohan said. She said she loves everything from fluid choreography movements to meeting new people and students.
However, not every teacher had a transition like Cohan. Sometimes, the transition really isn’t a transition at all.
Amanda Clutter who teaches at Dance Because studio in Lawrence, decided later in her life that she wanted to teach dance.
After taking many dance classes independently in her 20s, she found that many of her teachers had a hard time communicating with the students in the class. Clutter stepped in to help the other students understand the steps.
“I’m already here dancing, I’m just going to be a better teacher than they are because of my ability to communicate,” Clutter said.
Focusing mostly on couples with a specialty in wedding dances, Clutter strives to maintain a relaxed, fun environment for her students.
“What I love about my job is that I stay in touch with most of the couples that I teach. They are beyond students and they become friends,” Clutter said.
Inspired by the community of students she creates, Clutter said she couldn’t picture herself with any other job.
“I love that I get to do something that is purely happy,” Clutter said. “I get to add to their happiness. I can help them do something they can feel good about, and it helps them as a couple.”
Sometimes inspiration for teaching comes from a brand-new idea. That was the case for Caryn Oyler, an instructor at Dazzlers Dance in Lawrence, Kan. Caryn and the other founder of Dazzlers brainstormed the idea of a Christian dance studio in Lawrence 15 years ago.
“I had 24 girls signed up the very first day. Today, we have over 150 dancers at Dazzlers,” Oyler said.
Oyler said that Dazzlers provides a moral environment and the girls feel comfortable expressing themselves through the art of dance.
Oyler said the relationships with her students are the most important reason she teaches.
“I love that the little girls will remember Dazzlers. Not just me as a teacher but the studio itself — the experience, the spotlight, the sequins. It’s a place where people were nice to [the girls] and loved them,” Oyler said.
No matter their background and story, each instructor agreed on one thing: They do it for the love of dance. Their dedication to the students and dance itself makes each of them qualified, hardworking teachers.
Muriel Cohan, a nationally and internationally recognized dancer and choreographer, talks about her memories of dancing as a young girl. Cohan is the associate professor of dance at the University of Kansas.
HAYLEY JOZWIAK: Muriel Cohan, the associate professor of dance at the University of Kansas, talks about her experience with dance when she was young.
MURIEL COHAN: I took ballet lessons when I was very young. But I was not a very good ballet student, I wasn’t that interested. I was interested in dancing. My mother had been a dancer, so I wanted to dance, you know? But ballet was so dry – not that it really is – but the way that I was introduced to it. So I kind of would be in the ballet class going on dreaming about dancing.
HAYLEY JOZWIAK: Cohan remembers how she was introduced to modern dance.
MURIEL COHAN: And then I was stricken with rheumatic fever and then I recovered. And when I recovered, there was this modern dance going on. And we didn’t know very much about it. A friend of my family took me to a rehearsal, and I fell in love. It was amazing.
HAYLEY JOZWIAK: Cohan became involved with modern dance through the Philadelphia Dance Theater.
MURIEL COHAN: And I went to this rehearsal and I said, ‘I have to take class here.’ And I started taking class and they put me in the performance. So, I was in heaven. I was 14.
HAYLEY JOZWIAK: Cohan remembers one of the most influential teachers in her life.
MURIEL COHAN: They would bring guests from New York and they would give class, as well. So it was a very intensive kind of training. One of the teachers was particularly influential with me because I just, something about the style of dance and the way she approached movement just touched me from the very beginning.
HAYLEY JOZWIAK: This is Hayley Jozwiak with Get to the Pointe.