You won’t catch dancers goofing off in Kitty Carter’s jazz class at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas. That’s because Carter has already caught them—and kicked them out. Asking a question that’s already been answered or waving to your friends in the observation window are each as good as a one-way ticket out the door for that class period. “I’m pretty cutthroat as far as class discipline goes,” she says. A former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, Carter learned the tough-love approach from her teachers at Texas’ Southern Methodist University. Though her Graham teacher made her cry on the first day, he turned out to be a favorite professor. “I need to toughen their skin. I’m not mean. I’m to the point,” she says.
Carter’s reputation precedes her, and she says most dancers choose her class for the intensity. She prides herself on wicked across-the-floor combinations and demanding meticulous technical skill. She has dancers prepare for pirouettes in second position instead of fourth to discourage them from winding up the torso before the turn. “I try to help them find their center of gravity,” she says. “Show them you can be a quadriplegic and still turn.”
Though she calls herself a stepchild of Luigi and Matt Mattox and imbues her warm-up with the jazz icons’ signature port de bras and percussive isolations, Carter knows the commercial scene is changing. Even the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders do a lot more “booty-popping” today than when she was a member. Still, she maintains that you can keep any choreography clean and classy if you apply technique—plus a little common sense. “You can either do a développé with your hip hiked like a dog on a hydrant or with the hip down,” she says. “You can do a step with your tongue hanging out or with your mouth closed, smiling. There’s just a tasteful way to perform.” DT
For inspiration: “A Chorus Line had a huge impact on me as a dancer and teacher. Michael Bennett was such a genius the way he spotlighted the life of a dancer.”
To stay fit: “I had both hips replaced five years ago, so I do cycling classes (easiest on the metal hips) three or four days a week.”
Classwear: Nike Shox iD tennis shoes “help cushion my legs and hips when teaching six to eight hours a day.” A baseball cap keeps her hair back.
Favorite food: “I could eat Tex-Mex every day.
Salsa and chips are my cake and ice cream.”
Photos clockwise from top left: courtesy of Kitty Carter (2); bikes and chips ©Thinkstock; others courtesy of manufacturers