Get to know this summer's ballet and modern dance instructors: DeeAnna Hiett, a former dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and Michael Blake, a Bessie Award-winning choreographer. Both are associate professors at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory, and DeeAnna is also the dance program chair.
How did you get into teaching?
Michael: I was just born to be a teacher; it's what I love to do. I just came out that way! It's what I love to do, and I have been doing it for decades.
DeeAnna: I started teaching when I was at Alvin Ailey II. When you tour, they have you teach master classes. I was only 18 or 19 years old.
How is working with young dancers different from working with professional dancers?
M: You have to find a way for them to discover the inroads to their physicality and kind of teach them the physics of their own young bodies. You have to teach them how to use their young bodies that they've just grown into. It's a whole discovery process that makes every day different.
D: I really enjoy pushing young dancers not to be ok and not to feel comfortable because that's how they get better when they get out of their comfort zone and stop worrying about people watching them. Those are the ones usually that really want to dance because the desire is so strong that they don't care what other people are thinking.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
M: Pretty much everything. I love the discovery part of it. When I'm teaching, I have to learn as fast as I'm teaching so that I can help everyone. I have to find new ways to help people that need me in different ways every day. It keeps me learning, and as long I'm learning something, I'm still in it; I'm not just a bystander.
D: Seeing the lights go on. Watching students process and understand and apply, and then actually hold onto it and become better. That's my favorite thing about being a teacher, is just seeing someone mold and shape themselves into a beautiful artist.
What are some of the most important things for a young dancer to learn?
M: Respect for the art form and finding joy in every step that they take. If you start with that nice solid foundation, you're always going to be joyful in your work.
D: Never give up. No matter how you feel, just get up and do it. We can't rely on our feelings; if we did, we'd be in bed all day! I also tell my students not to let anyone body shame you. You want to be in good shape, of course, but don't let anyone tell you that your body's not good for dancing. Don't ever let someone tell you that you can't do it.
This will be the first time at OSAI for both dancer-educators. DeeAnna is looking forward to the synergistic spirit she often finds with her students. Michael is anticipating what he calls the "spirit of summer dance." He says, "Summer dancing is always memorable, even if we have to be socially distanced."