Nika Kljun is tired of seeing dance educators who are motivated by their own interests rather than a love of dance.
“These days, it’s common to find teachers that are not coming from the most authentic place,” says the Millennium Dance Complex faculty member. “Ask yourself why you are teaching. You shouldn’t teach from an egocentric perspective, or because of some personal need to make yourself or your work look amazing.”
With choreography credits like Britney Spears’ Las Vegas residency and the Billboard Music Awards, Kljun knows a thing or two about balancing teaching with a successful choreographic career. But for Kljun, teaching has always come first.
Born and raised in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Kljun trained at her parents’ dance school (which she now co-owns), Bolero Dance Center. “I was a big competition girl,” Kljun says. “From jazz dance to tap dance, to hip hop, to Latin and ballroom, to disco and everything in between—if I knew about it, I was learning it.”
At 16 years old, Kljun began teaching at her parents’ studio. “Teaching was always part of my career plan, but it came a lot earlier than I expected,” she says. Through her early 20s, Kljun taught roughly 100 students, many of whom became International Dance Organization champions. “I often reflect on the fact that I discovered my passion so early and that it came so naturally to me,” Kljun says of teaching. “I’m grateful that God had a bigger plan for me before I could even see it for myself.”
As a dancer, Kljun always dreamed of pursuing “big league” opportunities that could only be found outside of her home country. “Slovenians are very good dancers and the country produces a lot of great teachers,” she says. “But the dance industry there is small, there aren’t a lot of TV jobs, and for the few that exist, the pay is very low.”
So, she moved to Los Angeles, where her career took off as she landed opportunities working with Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull, Justin Bieber, Ne-Yo and Jason Derulo. Her television and awards show credits have grown to include the MTV Video Music Awards, the American Music Awards, “America’s Got Talent,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Dancing With the Stars,” “The Voice” and “The X-Factor.”
Through it all, Kljun has continued to teach: Her current gigs include a weekly hip-hop class at Millennium Dance Complex, and a regular jazz-funk slot on tour with JUMP Dance Convention. Her teaching philosophy is simple: Treat people how you want to be treated. “I believe that there should be mutual respect from both sides between a teacher and student,” she says. “When you can accomplish that, things flow much better and you create a comfortable environment for students that is conducive for great results.”
Here, Kljun shares her must-have teaching attire, her favorite book and more.
Her go-to breakfast:
“A toasted everything bagel with an egg and my special guacamole, which I make at home. I top it off with arugula and a slice of lemon.”
Her nondance hobbies:
“I love being artistic with my hands—painting, coloring, puzzles, cooking. When I was little, my grandma taught me how to cross-stitch, so I still do that. During quarantine, I started learning how to do my own nails properly, and makeup is another big hobby of mine.”
Her must-have teaching attire:
“I’ve always been a Nike fan when it comes to shoes. I go for those when I’m teaching hip hop—I love the vibe. For clothes, I wear stuff that’s comfortable and stretchy. I just want to feel good when I’m dancing.”
The food she can’t live without:
“Freshly baked bread! In my Slovenian culture, there is nothing like homemade, fresh-out-of-the-oven bread in the mornings.”
Her favorite book:
“The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne, was a game changer for me. I know without a doubt that the more self-growth that you do as a person, the better you can be for other people. So as a teacher, I think it’s crucial to invest some time in growth, so you can have the best tools on hand to help educate others. Books happen to be one of my favorite ways of doing that.”
The items she never leaves home without:
“ChapStick. I have dry skin, and Los Angeles weather does not help me with it at all. I also bring floss everywhere I go—I’m really big on oral hygiene.”
Her guilty pleasure:
“In-N-Out Burger. The animal french fries and cheeseburgers really get me. It almost feels impossible to say no sometimes, and the fact that there is an In-N-Out right next to where I live does not help! As much as I always say I am not your typical Cali girl, here I fail!”