Why I Teach Dance

I was a disaster in my first dance class when I was five. I wasn’t fond of the mats we had to bring with us, nor did I like lying on the floor or having to wear pajamas for the recital. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

I quit.

Twelve years later my Mom signed herself up for a ballet class at Dance Spectrum. Pam Frautschi and Katherine Kersten were her teachers. I liked the leotards, tights and slippers she bought for the class – I tried them on, liked the way I felt in them and decided I would give it another try.

I also had Katherine Kersten for a teacher and was mesmerized by her long graceful limbs. Her classes were really tough but I liked them.

As a college freshman at UW-Madison, I signed up for a Beginning Ballet class with Tibor Zana and was hooked from then on. I forgot about everything except for the movement when I danced. It made me happy.

Dance training came in handy as I followed in my Mom’s footsteps and started to sing at the Skylight Theatre. Claire Richardson had me choreograph a solo for myself in the opera Blossom Time. Then I got a job teaching for the Bay View Arts Project. We worked in the old Modjeska Theatre on KK. I held my ballet classes in the lobby. By now I had transferred to UW-Milwaukee and thanks to a roster of great teachers, I had more than the basics down and loved teaching what I knew.

I visited Bay View High School to recruit students for our project’s workshops and got approached by Coach Wayne Zingsheim to teach ballet classes to the Bay View football team. He had heard that Knute Rockne used it for the teams at Notre Dame. He said, “I want a quick, agile football team.”

Teaching Ballet to Bay View High School football players.

Every Wednesday after school I would meet with the 20-member team and before long they realized that ballet dancers were also athletes and said they saw improvement in their coordination and jumping ability.

I went on to teach the Tar Heel Football and Basketball teams at UNC Chapel Hill and acting students in the Department of Theatre. About this time I made the switch to Modern Dance and started performing with New Performing Dance Company in Durham and Carolina Dancers in Chapel Hill. I was offered a faculty position at the Chapel Hill School of Ballet and began earning a decent salary teaching ballet to kids and adults.  Lots of them.

Ten years after that, after having moved away to New York with 15 credits left on my BFA, I came back one summer to complete it and supported myself with a job teaching at Milwaukee Ballet School.

After being gone from Milwaukee for nearly 25 years, it was an offer to teach for the UWM Dance Department and get my MFA that helped me decide to move back to Milwaukee in 1999. Newly married, my husband Todd and I were deciding between settling in Chapel Hill or Milwaukee. We picked Milwaukee.

Ballet class with Bay View High School football players.

Today, I still teach Beginning Ballet to UWM non majors. I love it because there’s nothing more wonderful than watching someone who always wanted to dance but couldn’t afford it — or someone along the way had said that he or she was not the dancer type — have the opportunity to try. I love sharing the story with others that I didn’t really start dancing until college and if they want to dance, they should follow their bliss.

Whether my students continue in dance or not, though many do, isn’t the point. What I love most is  seeing their confidence soar with improved alignment, flexibility and strength as they too, forget about everything else going on in their lives and just dance.

Danceworks faculty and staff.

Join us for class at Danceworks – whether or not you consider yourself the dancer type. We often say we’ve got every kind of class for every kind of dancer, of any age and ability. Learn more.

“If the interest in giving instruction in dance is to dancers only, dance as a creative and pleasurable art experience, possible to all, is doomed.”  
Margaret H’Doubler

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9 thoughts on “Why I Teach Dance

  1. I didn’t know you started dance in College! Very inspirational and informative. Dance is a foundation that gives confidence and joy in so many ways.

  2. Debbie, you look exactly the same in Ballet class now as you did when you were teaching those football players ~ beautiful! Loved reading this…thanks for sharing.

  3. Debbie, you look exactly the same in Ballet class now as you did when you were teaching those football players ~ beautiful! Loved reading this…thanks for sharing.

  4. Tibor Zana! Now that’s a name! Such a teeny tiny world. Wonderful post! I loved reading about how you got started and knowing you somewhere in the middle of all of that. Those were fun days! Hope all’s well! xo ~ Laurel

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