In 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
Amy Bramlett Turner
Hot Springs World Class High School
Hot Springs, Arkansas
My school is in the inner-city district, where 100 percent of our students have free lunch, are on food backpack programs and come from low-income, at-risk homes or may even be classified as homeless. Before I started teaching, I saw that the kids had to pay for their costumes at a school concert. The kids who couldn’t afford costumes had to stand onstage in T-shirts and jazz pants. It was really exclusionary, and I knew I didn’t want that.
During my first three years, the school district built a dance studio at every campus (elementary, intermediate, middle and high school), yet I taught without a budget the first two years. I reached out to community organizations and wrote grants. We sold everything from headbands to candy to cookie dough. It wasn’t fun, but we raised $20,000 in the first year. Now we can provide all of the students with real costumes, shoes and tights. We also have money to bring in guest artists or go see professional shows. Between teaching, fundraising, maintaining social-media accounts for our dance programs and sometimes even driving my students from one campus to another, I feel like I work 24/7, but I wouldn’t want to do it in any other district.