Today on 10 Questions With… we welcome Melanie Doskocil …
1. How did you become involved with dance?
I think I pretty much begged my mom to put me in ballet classes since I was little. I used to have this lamp when I was a child that was a Degas dancer painting on glass with a bulb behind it. I used to plug it in and dream of being one of those ballerinas.
2. What are you currently doing in the field?
I retired after a 17 year professional career and now am teaching classical ballet and directing a ballet school.
3. Would you share a special moment from your career with readers?
The last job I took was a European tour as part of Mia Michael’s R.A.W. Her company had disbanded and she hired 10 of us to represent her on this 6 week tour. It was tough! She was mean; brutal in fact. She looks like a pussy cat on SYTYCD, but she unleashed her demons on us through that rehearsal period. Everyone cried, everyone wanted to quit. One dancer actually told me he wished he would break something in rehearsal so he could quit with dignity. Dancers came to me (the old lady) and begged me to let them quit. I did more fast talking through that period than I ever had. I motivated, I cajoled, I cried myself and I wanted to quit, but I couldn’t, wouldn’t, let myself or Mia or the tour company down like that. In the end, we all ended up taking our dancing to a new level. Moving beyond our self imposed limitations. Luckily for us, Mia decided not to go on the tour. So we went to Europe without her, danced to packed houses, standing ovations, and shouts for encore! and never had to hear her belittle us again. For some reason I actually remember this time as one of the greatest things I ever did with dance. I feel like I over came major obstacles with that project.
4. What is the best advice you have ever received from a teacher or mentor regarding dance?
Probably what Alonzo King taught me about pushing through your self-imposed limitations. That moment, that lesson, has stayed with me my whole life. I wrote a blog post about it a few weeks ago. The link is: http://balletpages.blogspot.com/2011/09/lines-and-limitations-ask-yourself-this.html
5. What has been your greatest challenge?
My greatest challenge as a dancer was getting over myself. I thought I knew it all and thought I could do it better. Ugh! Those are the worst kind of dancers to work with and I was one of them. Retiring was the best thing for me. I lost my identity as a dancer and had to figure out who I was all over again. It was very humbling. Now that I teach I am still humbled every day. It is a remarkable responsibility to be a teacher of anything. Kids are putting their trust in you to give them what they need to make their dreams come true. I honor those dreams every single day.
6. Do you have any advice for dancers who want to go on to a professional career?
Never let anyone tell you you can’t. My teacher told me I would never make it as a professional dancer because I didn’t have the right body type and I wasn’t nice to look at on stage. I decided to prove him wrong. I was one of only two dancers (both ironically named Melanie) from our studio that went on to be professional dancers. Maybe that was his plan…but there is a lot of dance out there and a lot of ways to earn a living as a dancer. If you want it, go for it, but you’d better be ready to work hard!
7. Can you tell readers a bit about your blog, Ballet Pages, and how you got started on that?
I started writing first to vent. I just needed a place to anonymously spew about all the ridiculous things that happen when you direct/own a ballet school. Then Nichelle from Dance Advantage saw one of my better posts and we started talking. After a few conversations I decided I wanted to have a more productive online identity. I took down my spewing posts and started trying to write things from the perspective of a ballet teacher and retired professional dancer. I decided I wanted to be helpful, to offer up what I am learning and have learned to others. It is tough being a dance teacher in a small town, having very few peers or places to go for inspiration. I went looking online for inspiration and decided to try to contribute some of my own.
8. What advice do you have for new dance teachers?
Don’t let parents push you around! The kids are always great, but sometimes the parents have ideas of their own. Stick to your guns. They are paying you for your expertise. In the long run your biggest parent fans will be the ones that respect that you run a tight ship and don’t compromise on your principles. The second thing would be to never stop learning…the minute we think we know it all, we’re sunk.
9. What do you enjoy most about your life in dance?
Honestly, it’s teaching. I enjoy teaching much more than I ever did dancing (and I loved dancing!) professionally. See number 5…those are my best reasons.
10. What is next for you?
I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface as a teacher. My students that I started with here at Aspen Santa Fe Ballet 7 years ago are now of an age to start looking at pre professional schools. I have a couple of students at Interlochen Arts Academy, one at The Walnut Hill School and now, one leaving in a month to attend the Bolshoi School in Moscow. I think what is next for me is to continue being the best teacher I can be; to keep growing and learning so that I can give my students what they need to reach their dreams. And to blog about it as I go!
BIO: Melanie Doskocil is the author of the blog Ballet Pages and is the School Director for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. She has over 20 years of professional dance and teaching experience. She began her professional dance career in 1989 with Ballet Arizona and continued on to dance with Oakland Ballet, Nevada Ballet Theater, City Ballet of San Diego, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Mia Michaels RAW, and Odyssey Dance Theatre. Ms. Doskocil began teaching in 1995, for City Ballet of San Diego, under the mentorship of Steven and Elizabeth Wistrich. She continued teaching and began directing at Center Stage Performing Arts Studios in Utah, where she created their pre-professional ballet program. Melanie has mentored with master teachers Jean-Philippe Malaty, Tom Mossbrucker, Hilary Cartwright and the excellent faculty of Marcia Dale Weary’s Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. She is thrilled to now call Aspen her home and cherishes every moment she spends teaching the students of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.