The 2021 Dance Teacher Awards United Us With Passion and Purpose
October 7, 2021

If you missed the 2021 Dance Teacher Awards, or want to relive your favorite moments, tune in now to watch on demand here.

Last night, the 2021 Dance Teacher Awards made history—twice! First, for celebrating seven remarkable artists, the largest group ever to be honored. And second, for being the most inspiring virtual room I’ve ever been in.

From the heartfelt speeches by presenters and awardees to the touching tributes, memorable dance performances, and of course tremendous outpouring of love, I was reminded over and over again just how much this year’s stellar awardees have inspired their students, impacted their communities, and enriched our field.

I’m still in awe of the grit and gumption of Eva Encinias; the boundary-pushing work of Antoine Hunter; the abundant joy Karisma Jay brings to her Black and Brown students; the way Dr. Nyama McCarthy-Brown is widening spaces for dancers of color; the creative brilliance of Dr. Doug Risner; the sheer courage and determination of Alice Teirstein; and last but not the least, the wisdom, ingenuity, and “tell it like it is, no nonsense” approach of our Awardee of Distinction, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar.

Here are some highlights from the event:

Eva Encinias inspired us to find our power through energy

Reanne Rodrigues | Dance Teacher

That Albuquerque, New Mexico, is considered one of the world’s hotbeds for flamenco is a testament to the vision, talent, and determination of Eva Encinias.  

Attributing much of her success to her mother, Encinias told us that, “Of all the wonderful skills and techniques I learned from her…the most important lesson was her approach to finding one’s power through energy.” She then went on to add, “The common thread is how to help the students learn, to give 100% of their energy through every class taken—busting through their physical limitations and accessing that fountain of energy that we all have deep inside, just waiting to be tapped.”

We even got the chance to step inside the studio with Encinias and watch how she doles out technique and artistry tips to her students in an exclusive teaching video.

Antoine Hunter (AKA Purple Fire Crow) urged us to speak up and listen

Reanne Rodrigues | Dance Teacher


As presenter and Dance Teacher senior editor Courtney Escoyne put it, “The world would be a better place with more teachers and artists like Antoine.” And I couldn’t agree more. 

Hunter, a torchbearer and advocate for Deaf and hard-of-hearing dance artists, BIPOC people, and the disabled community, proved to us (once again) that you don’t need to be able to hear music to express yourself through movement.

“Dance saved my life,” he said. “Being Deaf, not many people could understand me, and I felt like I had no place in the world…but then I found dance. It helped me communicate with the world.”

Hunter then went on to say: “You are beautiful on a beautiful day, you are beautiful on an ugly day, you are beautiful when you do everything right, you are beautiful when you make mistakes. So go ahead and dance, knowing that you are always beautiful.”

Karisma Jay invited us to tune in to our own ‘abunDance’

Reanne Rodrigues | Dance Teacher

Hearing Jay accept her award was like time-traveling through many genres and generations of dance. That’s because this beloved teacher and owner of the Brooklyn-based AbunDance Academy of the Arts humbly named so many ancestors, mentors and educators who paved the way for her—right from childhood teachers to legends like Ronald K. Brown, Camille A. Brown, Chuck Davis, and…wait for it…Snoop Dogg!

(Well, almost.)

It’s no wonder that with her extraordinary mix of humor, humility, and humanity, Jay’s students and their parents love her and look up to her so much.

Dr. Nyama McCarthy-Brown reminded us to affirm every mover in the space

Reanne Rodrigues | Dance Teacher

McCarthy-Brown’s exemplary work and innovative contributions towards creating dance pedagogy for a diverse world brought in many, many moving messages from several distinguished faculty members, colleagues, and peers from Rutgers University, Minnesota State University, University of Maryland, Ohio State University, the Dance Education Coalition of Minnesota, and more.

Among all the people she thanked in her speech, including her mother and her students, McCarthy-Brown also showed immense appreciation for her first dance teacher, Natalia from the San Francisco Park and Recreation Department: “She taught me to meet students where they are, and make [dancing] fun and relevant to their lives, and affirm every mover in the space.”

Dr. Doug Risner honored the many teachers who have shaped his career

Reanne Rodrigues | Dance Teacher

Even as a first-grader, Doug Risner knew he wanted to teach. Today, he also knows that great teachers are hard to find and impossible to forget. In his acceptance speech, Risner acknowledged the sizeable impact that his teachers have had on his own long, storied teaching career and his forward-thinking approach to pedagogy.

Risner’s current role as the co-founder and director of the master’s degree in dance and theater teaching artistry at Wayne State University in Michigan offers him the best synthesis of his research and teaching philosophy: the pedagogue as artist.

And so, he urged us to ponder upon these two thought-provoking questions: “What kind of teacher do you want to become? And what does it mean to be responsible for someone else’s learning?”

Alice Teirstein showed us that teenagers have something to say to the world

Reanne Rodrigues | Dance Teacher

I can’t even tell you how big my smile was when I heard Alice Teirstein’s  speech. By then, I was already so moved by how her devoted colleagues and students expressed the many ways she has imbued in them such a deep love for dance.

In return, Teirstein expressed her gratitude to the community of supporters who have recognized the vital part that dance plays in the education of teenagers.

By founding the Young Dancemakers Company in 1996, Teirstein has brought creative, tuition-free dance education to public school students in New York City for 25 years. And she’s done all this while continuing to choreograph and perform for decades—a true living legend for her students.

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar invited us to join the movement…with movement

Reanne Rodrigues | Dance Teacher

“Research, do, delve deeper, learn.”

In her own words, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar—our Dance Teacher Award of Distinction recipient—exemplified her revolutionary insight that has exceptionally transformed and expanded the dance landscape.

Zollar took us on an eye-opening journey through her 30-plus years of running Urban Bush Women, in which she cherished both the high points and the lows and showed us all the ways her groundbreaking dance ensemble persevered to build communities by bringing untold and under-told stories of disenfranchised people to light through dance. 

Through her work, Zollar has empowered generations of dancers, cultivated their unique voices, and provided them with a fertile ground to plant the seeds of artistry and activism, which is sure to carry her everlasting legacy forward.

J’Var Martin received the Dance Teacher Scholarship funded by this event’s proceeds

Reanne Rodrigues | Dance Teacher


For the second time, we partnered with an organization whose mission is near and dear to our hearts: MOVE|NYC|. Co-founders Nigel Campbell and Chanel DaSilva joined us to talk about how they are working to create a more diverse and equitable dance field, and their tuition-free Young Professionals Program that fosters the next generation of dance leaders.

Then came one of my favorite moments of the event: MOVE|NYC| student J’Var Martin performed a dramatic and riveting solo, Rebirth, choreographed by Alexander Anderson. It’s evident that Martin has a bright future ahead of him, and we’re so thrilled to be able to support his training with the Dance Teacher Scholarship funded by the proceeds from last night’s event.

And as if this wonderful evening wasn’t jam-packed with inspiration enough, countless tributes, personal stories and well wishes poured in through the live chat on YouTube as artists and educators of the dance world celebrated together in real time. Seeing firsthand the impact our honorees have had on so many lives reminded us why we chose to honor them. And it was enlivening!

Believe it or not, nominations for the 2022 Dance Teacher Awards are already open! Help us recognize and celebrate the leading dance educators and role models in your lives. 

Submit your nominations via this form or get in touch with me via email at [email protected] by Thursday, March 31, 2022. I can’t wait to hear about the extraordinary educators you’d like to see receive next year’s Dance Teacher award.

And finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to say a huge congratulations to all our honorees and a big thank you to YOU—our Dance Teacher family—for everything you do today and every day to unite us all with your passion and purpose!

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