When I arrived at Dana Hall almost 13 years ago, I was fresh off a professional performance career. I’d been teaching dance steadily for about six years, but only in studio settings and never full time. I’d had no previous experience teaching in academic institutions, and I was completely unfamiliar with both independent and all-girls education. Suffice it to say, there are many facets of this experience for which my non-traditional path to Dana did not prepare me. Perhaps the most prominent of these has been witnessing the positive effects of a supportive community like ours on the confidence and independence of young women. It’s been an added bonus to see my students grow in these ways through the lens of the passion we share: dance.
There is a theme that emerges around this time each year – when the annual formal dance concert has ended and students send notes or we share a chat in passing – of home. Girls express their appreciation for the physical space of the dance studio, the friends they’ve made in it, and what these represent in a larger context. Many of them refer to the studio as a home base and to our dance community as family. They share and celebrate successes both small (like mastering a triple pirouette for the first time) and large (like completing a first piece of choreography), and when failure strikes and they fall on their faces – literally or figuratively – they lift each other up. The experience of belonging to a home-like community built on values of non-judgement, safety, and support – through good and bad – affords young women the opportunity to take risks and explore new creative ideas. They are allowed to fail, and they know that with each failure comes growth. It is within this growth where they find their individual voice and the courage to share it.
While these values, along with discipline, accountability, perseverance, and integrity, are essential to the daily success of a student of dance inside the studio, our students say time and again that the development of these values through dance has helped them to navigate all areas of life outside of the studio. Dance is a unique vehicle through which to learn these lessons and through which students become strong, confident young women. What’s not unique at Dana Hall is the palpable sense of community. The themes of home and family that we share in the studio and that allow girls to take risks and grow as a result are omnipresent and celebrated across our campus. Daily, in the studio – but also in the classroom, in the theater, on the fields, and in the dorms – girls are encouraged to explore territory with which they may not be familiar or comfortable. They’re supported through their failures and know that these are opportunities to grow and learn.