“Before you can teach technique, you have to teach the love of dance,” says Christy Wolverton, owner and artistic director of Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, Texas. Dance Industry celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2010 and Wolverton’s commitment to training is beginning to pay off at competition. Last year at New York City Dance Alliance, two dancers, Mason Manning and Ida Saki, took home national titles (Saki also won a four-year partial scholarship to University of the Arts in Philadelphia), and the teen company won the highly coveted Teen Critics’ Choice award.
What’s the secret to Dance Industry’s success?
We have very high expectations of our dancers. Each competing performer must take tap, jazz, ballet, lyrical and hip-hop technique classes in addition to their regular schedule of competition classes. This way, we only attract kids who really love to dance. And of course it’s important to expose them to many different styles.
I am also very firm in my role as studio owner. It’s key to be in control and not bend your philosophies. It’s easy to get concerned about whether or not a parent is happy, or worry about a dancer leaving the studio. But I know the kind of dancers I want to produce—true artists. If the dancer wants to be a part of it and take on all the requirements, I want them to jump on board. But if they can’t handle it, maybe it isn’t the right place for them, and that’s OK.
As a teacher, what is the best part about taking your studio to competition?
The best part is watching your dancers succeed, especially the younger ones. They always surprise me. You put these young kids out onstage and you’re so nervous because you’re not sure what’s going to happen. When you get to watch them grow, it’s so beautiful. The dancers are different people onstage than they are in the studio.
What’s your favorite competition memory?
The second year I was in business, I took my dancers to New York City Dance Alliance nationals. Our jaws dropped when we saw how much talent was there. I thought it must have been a joke! We were not up to that level yet. I told [NYCDA Executive Director] Joe Lanteri, “We’re coming back and we’ll be better prepared!”
Seven years later in 2009, we did return just like I said we would, and our dancers won titles, scholarships and overall high score awards. It was so rewarding. To watch your dancers win something so substantial is like watching your child walk for the first time.
How do you handle competition stress?
You have to keep it all in perspective. When I first opened the studio, I was a basket case. But life is too short to be that way. Competition is about personal achievement. Winning isn’t what’s really important. Waking up and doing what we love every day—that’s what’s important. If someone tries to take away your love for dance, turn your back and move on.
What is your philosophy at your studio?
One of my favorite sayings is “leap and the net shall appear.” I try to teach that to dancers: If you want something, you need to go and get it and make it happen. Really put yourself out there.
I also teach openness and love at the studio. It’s important to make the dancers feel safe and comfortable, because that’s when they can really be themselves. No matter what, we’re all family. I tell the dancers they don’t have to like each other, but they have to respect each other. And at the end of the day, we all have each other’s backs.
Photo courtesy of Dance Industry Performing Arts Center