Enlightened. That’s just one way to describe what it felt like to be among some of the best and brightest in the dance education community at the 2023 Dance Teacher Awards.
On Thursday, August 10, at The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture in New York City, five extraordinary dance educators—Ana Marie Forsythe (Awardee of Distinction), Sheila Barker, Hilary Cartwright, Irene Dowd, and Caridad Martinez—took center stage to receive recognition for their outstanding contributions to the field.
Here are some highlights from the inspiring, heartwarming event.
Ana Marie Forsythe
It comes as no surprise that “dance has been a labor of love” for Ana Marie Forsythe, this year’s Awardee of Distinction.
For over half a century, Forsythe has been a champion of the Lester Horton technique and, through it, has shaped the lives and careers of countless dancers at The Ailey School. In her acceptance speech, Forsythe recounted her teaching journey, including how she met her influencers—as well as her husband, who has been her source of encouragement to this day.
Having served as chair of the Ailey School’s Horton department since 1979, Forsythe still teaches there four days a week and even holds an annual two-week pedagogy workshop for Horton teachers.
Affectionately known to her students as “Mama Shi Shi,” Sheila Barker has been bringing dancers into the rich cultural tradition of jazz dance.
In her acceptance speech, she thanked her ancestors, family, and all those who paved the way for her. Barker continues the legacy of her own teachers Thelma Hill, Dianne McIntyre, and Frank Hatchett at Broadway Dance Center and Marymount Manhattan College, where she currently teaches.
“I had a dream of being on the cover of Dance Teacher magazine. In April 2006, that dream was realized,” she said. We’re thrilled to have made another one of Barker’s dreams come true by honoring her with this year’s Dance Teacher Award.
“This is an endless, wonderful journey, and I won’t stop because I can’t,” said Dowd when accepting her Dance Teacher Award.
We were delighted to hear that Dowd is determined to continue her work in the community. A teacher of functional and kinesthetic anatomy and neuromuscular reeducation, perhaps most notably as a member of The Juilliard School’s dance faculty for 28 years, Dowd has influenced generations of dance professionals.
Now retired from Juilliard, Dowd continues to teach at New York City’s Movement Research and at the Hollins University MFA program in dance. She remains a resource to all of her protégés from over the years, and is determined to make the anatomy-teaching world a more diverse place.
“Paying attention to others who enter my life, especially those who are most divergent from myself, teaches me the most,” she said, before ending her speech by encouraging the audience to “go out into the world and dance!”
It’s one thing to know how much Cartwright—a former Royal Ballet dancer who founded Yoga Nerada—has impacted her students’ lives. It’s another to hear it firsthand from one of her own students, and now colleague, Amos Machanic, who accepted this award on her behalf.
“When I think of Hilary I think of grace, I think of beauty, I think of elegance, but most of all I think of generosity,” said Machanic, before going on to specially thank all the dance teachers present in the audience.
“Being an educator is a huge responsibility,” Cartwright said in her video-recorded acceptance speech. “We have a duty to bring a constant awareness to the artform, to the profession that we are in as educators to listen to the questions, to hear the new perspectives that our students bring to us each year as we embark on another set of classes, rehearsals, or performances.”
“When I came to New York, I had to start from zero,” said Martinez, at the start of her acceptance speech.
A former dancer with the National Ballet of Cuba, Martinez has clearly come a long way with the sheer force of her humility and hard work. Having worked at several esteemed institutions, including Ballet Hispánico School of Dance, Harkness Dance Center, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Martinez’s students have gone on to join prestigious companies around the world, including the ABT Studio Company, Houston Ballet, The Royal Danish Ballet, and The Norwegian Opera Ballet. Martinez is currently on faculty at ABT’s JKO School and The Ailey School, teaching open ballet classes at Peridance Center on the side.
“I consider [teaching dance] one of the noblest professions in the world,” she said. “I made a conscious decision to become not just a good teacher but an exceptional one.”
Attendees Enjoyed an Enlivening Conversation With Ana Marie Forsythe
What better way to conclude such an inspiring event than with an enlivening conversation with Forsythe, who delighted the audience with her in-depth discussion about the pivotal moments in her career, including her life-changing encounters with Joyce Trisler and Alvin Ailey.
“I think it’s really important to share this American modern dance technique,” she said when asked about the secret to her teaching longevity. Forsythe also went on to discuss why the wide range of movement potential drew her to the Horton technique and why having a good eye for each student’s potential makes a good teacher. But it was her response to her proudest moment as a dance teacher that truly filled our hearts with joy: “Right here, at the Dance Teacher Awards,” she said.
A Cocktail Reception That Highlighted a Cause
For an evening already jam-packed with joy, guests and attendees were further able to mix and mingle over music, food, and drinks at the event’s cocktail reception.
In fact, proceeds from the ceremony and reception helped support MOVE|NYC|—an organization dedicated to nurturing the dreams of talented young dancers from underprivileged backgrounds. It’s an honor for us to support such a near and dear cause for four years in a row.
Nominations for the 2024 Dance Teacher Awards Are Now Open!
Looking back on the day’s events, we are so grateful to everyone who joined us, and we’re already looking forward to the next time we can gather and celebrate the leading dance educators and role models in your lives.
The 2024 Dance Teacher Awards nominations are now open! Nominate your favorite dance teachers via this form by Friday, March 31, 2024. You can also get in touch with me via email at [email protected] if you have any questions or suggestions. I can’t wait to hear about the extraordinary educators you’d like to see receive next year’s Dance Teacher Awards!