Take the Lead, actor Antonio Banderas wins over a group of reluctant inner-city students with a racy tango performance. While the 2006 film was inspired by Pierre Dulaine, ballroom dancer and founder of Dancing Classrooms, teaching in a public school is rarely as easy as it looks in the movies. From financial challenges to lack of administrative support and parental involvement, public-school teaching differs greatly from the studio environments in which most dance educators began their own training. We asked several public-school teachers to share their passion for the hardest job they’ve ever done. —Kat Richter
Academy of Performing Arts at Burlington County Institute of Technology
Medford, New Jersey
I honestly don’t know why I didn’t go home crying on my first day. I was hired to build a dance program from the ground up as the first and only arts teacher. Because our superintendent loves dance, she decided that
this would be the artform required for all students to graduate. The plumbers and mechanics, however, had different ideas.
When I walked into the classroom, a group of basketball players told me, “We’re not taking your f**king dance class.” Then they ran away down the hall. The assistant principal rounded them up and said, “Fine, if you won’t take this class, here’s a telephone. You can call your mom and tell her why you won’t be graduating.”
My students had never had any real exposure to dance, aside from negative stereotypes about male dancers in particular. I told them, “Here’s the deal. You have to get through this. I love dance, and I want you to at least like it.” I’d never played so much hip hop and R&B in my life, but by the end of that first year, those basketball players had become my most enthusiastic students.