My mom, Stacy Bills, is easily the most influential dance teacher I’ve ever had. She knows what I really need as both an individual and a dancer. Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
My mom has a rich dance background. She was a gymnast as a child, then began dancing at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio in Orem, Utah (my current dance studio), when she was 13 years old. She was on her high school drill team and won Utah’s Miss Drill competition before joining Brigham Young University’s dance team, The Cougarettes, in college. She also won Miss Utah as a dancer around that same time. As an educator, she’s taught at Prodigy Dance Centre in Frisco, Texas, as well as Center Stage. Beyond studio teaching, she is now the coach of The Cougarettes.
Her teaching philosophy is “If you’re going to do it, do it well.” She often says, “What’s the point of showing up to class if you’re not going to try your best?” She has high expectations and cares that her students are giving their full effort. I have a distinct memory of doing 10 pirouettes in her jazz class and being ecstatic about it. But when I turned to her, she was not impressed. She said, “You may have done 10 pirouettes, but they were ugly.” She knew I wasn’t putting my full effort into those turns, and she wanted me to do better. She doesn’t believe that only naturally talented dancers can succeed. If you are working hard and you want to improve, she will fully engage with you.
In terms of teaching style, my mom strikes a balance between having fun and working hard. Our close relationship as mother and daughter has allowed her to correct me with a clear understanding of what I will respond to. If things aren’t going well in my private lessons with her, she will say, “Let’s just go take a break.” It’s one of the things I love about her. She isn’t just “go, go, go.” We can stop and breathe if we are having a bad moment. We have funny times in class where she will joke around and laugh, but she always brings us back to focus eventually. We all feel comfortable with her, but never too comfortable.
My mom was my very first dance teacher, and when I was younger I had a hard time taking corrections from her. It was difficult to accept that she was right. But as I’ve matured, that’s changed. When we are in the studio with my team, she works hard to not have a positive bias toward me. She treats me like any other student and is hard on me. When we are home, though, she is my mother first and foremost.
The most helpful advice my mom has ever given me is to have fun. For a long time, I got into my head about impressing people and being perfect, and I stopped enjoying dance. We had a talk right before I competed for Teen Best Dancer at The Dance Awards, and she said: “I want you to remember why you even started dancing. When you were a little kid, you had a pure love for it, and nothing else mattered. Go back to that.” Ever since she said that, my perspective on dance has completely changed.
This year I have had many exciting opportunities, and my mom has made a point to remind me to stay humble. “People will respect you and love you so much more for that,” she says. During a recent weekend assisting at 24 Seven Dance Convention, I saw the fruits of this counsel. While assisting Francisco Gella, he told me that he appreciates that I am willing to continue learning, despite being in a sought-after position demonstrating onstage at conventions. He said that there are certain assistants he will choose not to work with because they think too highly of themselves, and he doesn’t like having that kind of energy in class. I appreciate this lesson from my mother, and I know that if I take her advice, it will benefit me throughout my career.
I’m so grateful to my mom for so much, but especially for not forcing me to dance. I’ve always had the choice. If I told her I wanted to quit, she would say, “Okay, if that’s what you want.” She cares enough to give counsel and share her perspective, but she really does allow me to choose for myself. I’m so lucky to have her love and support as both a dancer and a daughter. I love you, Mom!