What My Teacher Taught Me: Twyla Tharp’s George Sanders on Daniel Catanach
November 30, 2023

Daniel Catanach has been in my corner since I was 15 years old. I began working with him at the Virginia School of the Arts in 2006 and felt his support immediately. I was an underclassman at the time and he wanted to put me in a piece with older dancers, so he fought with the school to make it happen. To this day, our relationship follows that same pattern. 

Growing up, there weren’t many dancers in class who looked like me. Having Danny, a man who comes from a large Hispanic family in New Mexico, at the front of the room was really meaningful to me. At the time, I only had discipline in spurts, and Danny would often yell at me to get my stuff together. He’d firmly say, “You are going to listen, and you are going to follow the rules.” He challenged me, and his willingness to do that really pushed me forward. After my time at the Virginia School of the Arts, I went to the Rock School for Dance Education and North Carolina School of the Arts before dancing professionally with six different professional dance companies, including Ballet Memphis, Carolina Ballet, National Ballet of China, West Australian Ballet, and now Twyla Tharp. When that dance journey brought me to New York, Danny helped me break back into the dance ecosystem of the city. I owe a lot of my opportunities, and who I am as a dancer, to him. 

For Danny, nothing is ever enough. I remember dancing for him in his production Nutcracker in the Lower, and thinking I was hot. I had a solo in the show, and after one rehearsal that I thought went particularly well, he turned to me and said, “That’s all?” I was devastated by the comment, but it lit a fire in me. The next day I woke up super-early to take a class that I wasn’t required to take. When Danny saw me, he gave a big speech to the entire class about how proud he was of me for being diligent, coming when I wasn’t required and improving my work. He said that is what is required of us if we want to succeed in this profession. 

He’s taught me many lessons over the years, but one of the most beneficial is to “shut up and take the note.” I used to be someone who would talk back and explain why I made a mistake. Danny would always say, “That’s valid, but nobody cares.” It was a lesson he reiterated to me, not just in dance but in my day-to-day life. If my girlfriend and I broke up over a mistake, he would say: “It isn’t easy or fun, but there is always something to be learned, so shut up and take the note.” That lesson is ingrained in me as a professional. I don’t make excuses for myself in the studio. I listen to the people at the front of the room and take their notes, even if I don’t agree. I try to be silent and not use my voice unless I really need to—especially in my work with Twyla Tharp. It’s not because I’m a robot, but because I have a lot to learn from her, and if I open my mouth less and listen more, I will get the most out of the experience.

Photo by Renee Choi, courtesy Sanders.

Along with Danny, there are many teachers who have gotten me to where I am today, including Bo and Stephanie Spassoff, Tyrone Brooks, Adam Sage, and Miguel Campaneria. Each of these six individuals have shaped me into the person I am today. Thank you all for believing in me, and thank you, Danny, especially, for holding me accountable so that one day I could achieve my dreams.

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