by Lucy Vurusic Riner
I Teach, Therefore I Do.
As a dance program director in a high school setting I have always been conscious of staying one step ahead of the game. After all, I have some very talented dance students who are working at a level far above where I was at their age. We live in a society where kindergarten is the new first grade and students are focused on what elite colleges and universities might be within their grasp. So as dance teachers, how do we keep up? How do we continue to be a resource to our young dancers who are looking to us for guidance?
I have always hated the old saying, “Those who can’t do, teach.” I have always thought the opposite. “Those who do, teach others how to do as well.” After all, as teachers don’t we learn that modeling is one of the most effective ways to teach our students what are expectations are of them?
As a dance teacher I am constantly reminding my students that there are a variety of careers in dance. Are they all lucrative? Absolutely not. But can you make ends meet doing what you love while finding ways to supplement your income with other things you love? Absolutely yes.
I had a former student once say to me that she dreamed of dancing for a captive audience each night. I quietly thought to myself that I actually do that every day, for a salary and health insurance. But I did understand her needs because regardless of how many students I touch with dance, my own personal fulfillment has always come from my own professional development.
I have the honor of knowing many dance educators, in my age bracket (which will go unmentioned) that continue to take class, rehearse for shows, and see dance on a regular basis. When I look to hire teachers that work in my program, I expect that their drive come from a place where students look to them as an inspiration and motivation to see all that the dance world has to offer. I want my students to know that they have options. And I want all of the teachers that work for me to understand and model that as well.
The world of dance will always have some constants. I’ll always talk to my students about Doris Humphrey, Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. I’ll always expect them to know how to dress for class and behave in an audience. I’ll always give my speech on the importance of not just performing for yourself, but always allowing your audience into your experience. But in the meantime, I’ll keep taking classes to keep my lessons (and my body) fresh. I’ll keep researching colleges and universities that are forever adding and evolving their dance programs for my potential students and I’ll keep seeing and learning about dance as it constantly changes and offers us new insight.
Over the past fifteen years, I have had the opportunity to work with many different dance teachers and see many different programs. The ones that work do so because they have teachers that are in the “know.” They have a beat on what is happening in their communities, whether that be at the local dance studios, theaters or universities. The ones that remain complacent simply stay the same.
Are we using lesson plans that are ten years old? Do we get out much to see emerging dance companies in our communities or new national companies that are coming in on tour? Do you know about new dance studios and college programs that are in your area?
These are the questions we should ask ourselves each year, as we head into a new school year. Are we one step ahead? Is our commitment to our own professional development as dancers and educators being met?
We need to do and then teach.
Contributor Lucy Vurusic Riner is a native Chicagoan who has been supporting and contributing to the dance community for over twenty years. She received her BS Degree in dance and dance education from Illinois State University. Lucy has been a member of Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak Dance Company, RTG Dance Company and Matthew Hollis’ “The Power of Cheer.” She has also had the opportunity to be part of the community cast of White Oak Dance Project and David Dorfman Dance. Lucy has taught modern, hip hop, and jazz at numerous studios and high schools in the Chicagoland area. She has been the Director of Dance at Oak Park and River Forest High School since 1999. In 2005, Lucy completed her Masters Degree in Education from National Louis University and also received the Midwest Dance Teacher of the Year award and was the youngest of four finalists in the running for the National Dance Teacher of the Year award. Lucy and artistic partner, Michael Estanich, formed RE|Dance in 2010. This dancer theater company investigates humanity in movement through long distance collaboration. Lucy has also begun work on a long-term project entitled, “The Moving Vessel” which explores the impact of motherhood on the professional dancer. When Lucy is not working with independent choreographers and producing her own shows, she is at home with her two great kids, Margie and Luka, and her very supportive husband, Jim.