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
Henry Longfellow School
Brooklyn, New York
In undergrad, I took a course called “I Have a Dream,” where we would accompany our professor to a public school for an after-school dance program. Each of us would conduct a lesson, but we were teaching in a cafeteria where sometimes there was still food on the floor. This taught me to keep realistic expectations about the space where I would likely end up, once I started teaching full-time.
Longfellow is an older school without a lot of extra space due to high enrollment, so I teach on the stage. We’re crossing our fingers for a designated dance classroom next year, but for the time being, we’re on a concrete floor covered with linoleum tile. I don’t have my students take their shoes off and have to be careful with the sort of movement I give them, since I don’t want them to injure themselves with too much jumping. I’ve learned to be flexible and be ready for last-minute changes, because the stage is a shared space. Sometimes we get bumped to a classroom, so I carry a portable Bluetooth speaker in my bag.