It was a dream come true to host this year’s much-loved and highly anticipated 2022 Dance Teacher Awards in person at The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture in New York City, on Friday, August 19, honoring Ronald K. Alexander, Antonio and Kirven Douthit-Boyd, Kristine Elliott, Ana Nery Fragoso, Yvonne Gutierrez and our two Awardees of Distinction, Kay Mazzo and Risa Steinberg.
Not only did influential leaders from across the dance education community come together to celebrate these eight extraordinary educators for their incredible contributions to the field, but the event—which was made possible with the support from our sponsors Tututix, 92NY Dance Education Laboratory, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Dance NYC—also gave each person in the auditorium the opportunity to experience firsthand the impact that our awardees have had on so many lives.
From the heartfelt speeches and touching tributes to the fond memories, heartwarming stories and tremendous outpouring of love shared by each of the awardees, Mazzo summed it up best when she said, “I know our dance world is in great shape for the future after hearing all of this today.”
Francesca Harper, the artistic director of Ailey II, was our special guest
What better way to kick off such an inspiring event than with an enlivening, hour-long conversation with Ailey II’s artistic director, Francesca Harper. “It’s just really moving. I see so many of my idols here and these beautiful artists continuing to nurture the next generation,” she said. “What a wonderful gathering!”
Harper talked about the legacy that shaped her as an artist, having grown up among incredible luminaries like Sylvia Waters, Judith Jamison, and her mother and mentor, Denise Jefferson, who was the former director at The Ailey School. Imbued with a deep love for dance at a young age, Harper established that “discipline, humility and perseverance” were the most valuable skills she gained from being a beloved Ailey baby.
In fact, life has come full circle for Harper, who has returned to her alma mater to pave the path to a bright new future for the next generation of dancers at Ailey II. For Harper, “reciprocity” is key for dance educators who are continually working to inspire and empower the next generation. “[It’s realizing] how enriching and important it is to listen to young students and artists and how fulfilling that can be,” she said. “Yes, we’re there with our experiences and our education to coach and train, but I’m constantly surprised by how much living [students] have already done at such a young age, and the insight and awareness they have as humans. For me, listening and being aware of how that feeds my life is powerful.”
Here are some more highlights from the event:
Kay Mazzo expressed gratitude for being able to share the storied history of the artform
“When I retired after dancing with the New York City Ballet for 20 years, Mr. Balanchine said to me ‘Okay now you’re going to go to the school to teach.’ And I said ‘Yes, sir!’” recollected Mazzo, who has been preserving Balanchine’s legacy while simultaneously preparing SAB dancers to take on the versatile demands of today’s dance world.
For almost four decades, Mazzo has shaped the lives and careers of countless students at the School of American Ballet as well as some of the ballet world’s biggest stars. A former SAB student herself, Mazzo has carefully passed down the musicality, precision and energy of the Balanchine aesthetic since she joined the permanent faculty of SAB in 1983, becoming its co-chairman of faculty in 1997, and then its chair of faculty from 2018 until this past June. She still continues to teach there even today.
“I thank God for this artform because it defines life, gives our life meaning, and it’s made my life what it is today,” said Mazzo. “I’m happy, I’m grateful, and I’m fulfilled. What can anyone ask for?”
Kristine Elliott inspired us to use dance as a vehicle for social change
“I had no desire to teach at all,” said Elliott in her acceptance speech, “but a friend asked me if I could help her out, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.”
After a successful career with the Stuttgart Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, Elliott, who retired from the stage in 1982, has taught everywhere from the Zohar Dance Company in Palo Alto, California, to the San Francisco Ballet School, ODC San Francisco, LINES Dance Center, Kaatsbaan International Dance Center and ABT.
One of Elliott’s greatest contributions, however, is through her nonprofit Gugulethu Ballet Project, which brings ballet to young dancers in South Africa’s townships and creates opportunities for cross-cultural exchange between the artists there and in the U.S. “The children loved ballet, they loved the music, the rigor, the discipline,” said Elliott. “They loved that somebody was there every day demanding excellence of them and it was a safe place for them to go.”
Through Gugulethu, which means “our pride” in the Xhosa language spoken in South Africa, Elliott continues to give students a chance to dream beyond their circumstances. She ended her speech with an African proverb, “Ubuntu,” which translates to “I am because we are.”
Ronald K. Alexander reminded us that representation matters
Alexander’s exemplary work and innovative contributions towards creating a more diverse dance world was recognized with moving messages from Harper and other distinguished awardees, as well as Dance Teacher’s managing editor, Lydia Murray, a former student of Alexander, who had the honor of presenting this award.
Throughout his speech, Alexander kept coming back to the word “representation”—acknowledging the mentors who gave him guidance that continually inspires him to create opportunities for others today. “Representation matters, because it is imperative that students see themselves in the classroom, in the studio and onstage,” he said. “And as a black gay male, senior citizen, I am proud to be a role model.”
Alexander also shared a quote from legendary dance artist Arthur Mitchell, who he believes changed the face, color and body of classical ballet: “As a teacher, you are in service to others and in service to the artform.”
Antonio and Kirven Douthit-Boyd shared what it means to guide the next generation
As role models for future generations, Antonio and Kirven Douthit-Boyd, the co-artistic directors of dance at the Center of Creative Arts in St. Louis, Missouri, expressed how “privileged [they are] to serve a community filled with brilliant young minds.”
Both having danced at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Antonio, who is currently pursuing his MFA from Hollins University, and Kirven, who is now the artistic director of Big Muddy Dance Company, shared how they “continue to evolve so [they] can show [their students] possibilities.”
In their recent interview with Dance Teacher, the Douthit-Boyds encouraged teachers to continue learning from and working with other instructors. Kirven said, “The most valuable educators are the ones who do it totally selflessly.” To which Antonio added: “Learn from each other, or the dance field stops growing as a whole. Listen to your students—not just their voices, but their bodies and hearts. We want them to know they have our trust and we’re there for them whether they decide to become doctors, lawyers or dancers.”
Ana Nery Fragoso reminded us of the importance of community and collaboration
As presenter and former Dance Teacher editor Margaret Fuhrer put it, Ana Nery Fragoso “is truly a teacher’s teacher.”
Throughout Fragoso’s career—teaching elementary school children, leading professional-development workshops for educators, and mentoring future teachers as the director of the Arnhold Graduate Dance Education Program at Hunter College—her work has been defined by collaboration and community building, which has touched many lives. With her typical humility, Fragoso credited her mentors, Jody Arnhold and Joan Finkelstein, who helped her get to where she is.
“Transformational learning only happens when the not-so-secret ingredients of love, empathy and compassion are at the heart of the educational experience,” she said. We couldn’t agree more.
Yvonne Gutierrez showed us that life is a dance
New York native and flamenco, salsa and Spanish dance teacher Yvonne Gutierrez celebrated the joy of music and movement when she got the audience clapping to the rhythms of her castanets during her acceptance speech.
“Dance is about connections—how we connect to the music, to the musicians and to each other,” she said, while repeatedly asking the question “What moves you?”
From being invited by founder Tina Ramirez to teach aspiring pre-professionals in Ballet Hispánico’s junior company and school, to tailoring enrichment classes for the Henry Street Settlement residents, to serving overlooked communities and promoting HIV/AIDS awareness through dance, Gutierrez’s teaching career models what outreach and inclusion can and should look like in dance spaces.
With her eclectic mix of humor, humility and humanity, it’s no wonder that Gutierrez is so loved and cherished within the dance education community.
Risa Steinberg proved that teaching is the greatest teacher
It’s one thing to know how much Steinberg has impacted her students’ lives. It’s quite another to hear it firsthand from one of her own students—the renowned dance choreographer Brian Brooks, who accepted this award on her behalf.
A longtime Juilliard faculty member and Limón répétiteur, Steinberg is one of New York City’s most beloved educators, and an in-demand master teacher all over the world. In her acceptance speech, she shared that “teaching is a noble profession that carries with it an enormous responsibility.”
In fact, it is Steinberg’s exacting eye and curious mind that has made her such a perceptive educator and established her as a go-to mentor for some of contemporary dance’s most exciting dancemakers, such as Kyle Abraham and Kate Weare.
Steinberg put it best when she said: “Teaching has surely been one of my greatest teachers. It does not lie, it is always demanding, and if done well it always gives back.”
Proceeds from the cocktail reception helped fund the MOVE|NYC| Dance Teacher Scholarship
As if this wonderful evening wasn’t 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, which funded the Dance Teacher Scholarship at MOVE|NYC|—a near and dear cause that we’ve been supporting for three years in a row.
Co-founders Nigel Campbell and Chanel DaSilva, who also joined us for the awards ceremony, are committed to creating a more diverse and equitable dance field—giving exceptionally talented dancers, no matter where they are from, access to the best training.
You can still donate to this important cause now by clicking here.
Nominations for the 2023 Dance Teacher Awards are now open!
Let’s recognize and celebrate the leading dance educators and role models in your lives.
Submit your nominations via this form by Friday, March 31, 2023. 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 Award.
And, finally, on behalf of everyone here at Dance Teacher, I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate our honorees once again and say a big “thank you” to YOU, our Dance Teacher community, for everything you do today and every day to inspire and nurture the next generation!