A Great Teacher is a Great Gift

Whenever I talk Danceworks Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap Program (MHBT) I never get too far before I say the real treasure of it is our teachers. These are men and women who understand that the importance of the program, more than teaching the steps, is valuing the students. The ability to connect to and gain the respect of the kids we have the privilege of working with in our city schools is at the forefront of what we look for in our MHBT faculty. Jacqui Lefebvre is our lead Ballroom teacher and a leader in modeling how to give students a sense of their value and hope for their futures through the joy of dance. –Deb Farris

All About the Dance

by Jacqui Lefebvre

Head shot
Jacqui Lefebvre, Danceworks Faculty/Lead Ballroom Teacher

I have been a dance teacher for many years and a dance student for most of my life. I had always believed that it was “all about the dance.” As long as I could dance, everything would be OK.

My decision to turn pro and teach came solely from a financial standpoint. I knew I had to dance but simply could not afford the lessons! At that time, the only studios teaching Ballroom and Latin were Fred Astaire and Arthur Murray, and both were hugely expensive! I accepted a job at Arthur Murray in Appleton and have never looked back! Teaching was a revelation to me; I couldn’t believe that I could care so much more about someone else’s dancing than my own!

 

Students from Roosevelt Elementary
Students from Roosevelt Elementary

Moving to Milwaukee and finding Danceworks was like coming home. A family I never knew I had. Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap has changed my life. It is the missing piece of the puzzle. These children are awe inspiring. I love getting to know them, discovering their quirks and habits, watching them grow and develop skills far beyond learning the dance steps

There so many wonderful and heartfelt stories I could share–like the young man who on lesson 3 told me, “I hate dancing and I hate you!” He sat out of lesson 4, but before lesson 5 started, he apologized and asked me if he could have another chance. He promised that he would not misbehave anymore, and from that moment, he completely changed his attitude. I saw him making good choices at every lesson, like helping students that could not get the steps or encouraging the others to behave. This boy went on to be an all-star for his school!

Then there is the sad tale of a young lady who would not take her coat off because wearing it made her feel safe. I dread to think of the misfortune that perpetuated this action. Her classroom teacher explained, “She wears her coat all the time.”

 

Students practicing their entrance and exit!

Imagine my surprise and delight when about half way into the program, I noticed that this young lady was not wearing her coat! Our wonderful Mad Hot lessons had become a safe place for this beautiful girl.

Another young man–slightly pudgy, very smart but a little awkward! Of course, the girls didn’t want to dance with him because he wasn’t “cool.” Well, guess what? Turns out this kid was a fantastic dancer! WAY better than the supposed “cool” boys. A few weeks in, and the girls were fighting over him! He gained confidence, social skills and “street cred!” All thanks to MHBT.

About halfway through our lessons, I make a point of asking all my classes, “Who has found that this is way more fun than you thought it was going to be?” Always a resounding positive response! I also ask them to tell me some good and bad things about their lessons. Of course, the bad is always, “We have to dance with a boy/girl”!  Some of the positive answers are great like, “We get to learn cool dances,” or “We are learning to work with people we don’t usually work with,” and “I never knew I could dance before!” My personal favorite was, “When I dance the Samba I feel like I’m in Africa!!”

 

Goofy Golda kids!
Goofy Golda kid

I could go on and on. I am so passionate about Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap because it changes lives. As I said, I had always believed that it was “all about the dance,” but now I know better. I learn so much more from these kids than they do from me. They are strong, brave, smart and funny. These wonderful young people restore my faith in human nature! Teaching for Danceworks and Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap fills a void in my life and a place in my heart.

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Jill Anna Ponasik on Collaboration

Jill Anna Ponasik, Artistic Director of Milwaukee Opera Theatre,  is a favorite at Danceworks. Her bright eyes and contagious laugh make  working together a sheer pleasure. Read on to see what she has to say about Façade, our latest project together.  –Deb Farris

Jill Anna Ponasik
Jill Anna Ponasik

On Collaboration

Some art-making is solitary. The hours in a practice room, or studio, or those spent sitting poised in front of a blank screen, awaiting the first key-stroke. The discoveries made alone are essential to our advancement as artists. This is where we hone our craft and gain mastery over our materials.

But for me, the real excitement, the pay-off for all of the hours alone, is in co-creating with another artist. Having had the privilege of developing two pieces with the extraordinary company at Danceworks (First, Maria de Buenos Aires and now, Façade), I can say with experience that the exhilaration of watching and working as an idea bounces back and forth between collaborators, changing and growing as it goes, is addicting. Scarcely is one project finished before we begin dreaming up the next.

My favorite definition of collaboration belongs to Michael Schrage: “Collaboration is the process of shared creation – two or more individuals with complementary skills interacting to create a shared understanding that none had previously possessed or could have come to on their own.”

Jill Anna doing her best DPC dancer impersonation.
Jill Anna doing her best DPC dancer impersonation.

That last part is key. The result of a successful collaboration is an event, product, discovery or process, that you couldn’t have developed alone. There are some things that we cannot accomplish in the practice room.

When I stand on the balcony and see the Danceworks Performance Company fill the Milwaukee Theatre Atrium with movement, while the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra plays William Walton’s score and our Milwaukee Opera Theatre artists recite Edith Sitwell’s kooky text, I know with certainty that Façade is a piece that none of us could produce single-handedly. We need each other to make this particular dream a reality. And needing each other is a beautiful thing.

When this particular project concludes on Saturday, we’ll all return to the studio, and the practice room, to continue our individual work, that we may be prepared for the collaboration waiting around the corner. I wonder what that will be.  —Jill Anna Ponasik

The Milwaukee Theatre pictured at night.
The Milwaukee Theatre, pictured at night.

Ticket reservations for Façade can be made by calling the Milwaukee Theatre:1-414-908-6035. Walk up tickets at the Milwaukee Theatre are also available.