Dance Teacher / Choreographer
Mentor – Katie McCall
Katie has over twenty years experience teaching dance in schools and studios and has developed innovative programs for her students that use dance to build self-esteem and promote healthy life styles. Besides teaching, she has been a professional dancer and choreographer for dance companies in Asheville, North Carolina and Austin, Texas and locally for the Tulsa Contemporary Dance Theater and the Harwelden Institute. She also formed Monica Huggins Dance Theatre, a program of the non-profit Oklahoma Performing Arts Organization. Katie began teaching dance and arts management as a certified teacher in public schools in 2010 at the Tulsa Central Fine and Performing Arts High School. Five years later, she moved to the Broken Arrow High School where she is developing a unique program that not only gives students exposure to a variety of dance styles but is also designed to build character in her students. Her dance classes emphasize personal discipline and include studying nutrition and exercise using dance techniques and yoga. She calls her exercise program ‘Movement Training’, which is also used in collaboration with the athletic department where the movements and exercise techniques she teaches in her dance classes help student athletes cross train and rehabilitate from injuries.
Katie says that there are many career opportunities available to people interested in becoming choreographers. Most choreographers first get their start as dancers and later begin working as choreographers once they gain performing experience, inspiration, learn how other artists create, and gain the valuable contacts needed in order to get commissioned. There are lots of many opportunities for good choreographers including theatrical productions, motion pictures and musical productions at vacation venues like Disneyland, cruise ships, sporting events, talent competitions, and setting works for various dance companies.
Besides years of taking dance lessons in studios, Katie’s education includes studying dance at Texas Christian University and earning a Bachelor’s degree in Arts Management from the University of Tulsa, a degree that emphasizes the business aspects of the arts.
My Career Path
I started taking classes when I was four because my ankles and knees were pointing inward and my doctors recommended to my mother that I should take ballet as way to strengthen my legs, ankles and inner thighs. Once I got into dance, I loved it. My classes went from one day a week to twice a week and by the time I was twelve I was going every day to a new studio called Oklahoma Performing Arts, a local nonprofit. There I was introduced to theater, voice, and acting as well as jazz, modern dance and even acrobatics. My OPA teacher was so dedicated to me and her organization that she would pick me up after school so that I could have a private dance lesson before my group classes began, and they usually lasted until 9 o’clock. Then I would still have to go home and do my regular homework. I started assisting the teachers at OPA when I was 14 and was teaching my own classes by the time I was 16. I was going to Broken Arrow High School at the time and wanted to be involved in activities where I could develop leadership skills. I was the student council president and was active in show choir and the theater department and took advanced placement honors courses.
After I graduated from high school, I went to Texas Christian University for their dance program. But it was expensive and there were not a lot of scholarships available for arts programs to offset the cost. While I wanted a career where I was involved in dance, I also wanted to explore other career options that be more likely to provide me some future financial security. So rather than continue with more college dance courses, I decided to enter the arts management program at the University of Tulsa. With an arts management degree, you can be involved in areas such as executive directing, artistic directing, outreach management and marketing. The class work was business focused and I took accounting and finance along with management courses specifically related to the arts. That TU program also included internships during the summer at UCLA where I took classes in their theater department and worked at the Getty Museum. While I was going to TU, I was able to earn money by working for the Harwelden Institute where I went into public schools to teach kids about dance. I also taught grade school teachers how to use dance as a tool in the classroom. During this period, I started dancing and doing choreography with the Tulsa Contemporary Dance Theater (TCD), which was a group of adult dancers. At the time, there was very little performing opportunities for adult dancers in Tulsa besides Tulsa Ballet Theater. TCD stopped after a few years for a number of reasons, but I knew there was still a need for an adult, professional dance company where there was collaboration between dancers, musicians and visual artists. So I started the Monica Huggins Dance Theater, which I named in honor of my grandmother, who was a great influence in my life. She was deaf and much of my choreography stems from American Sign Language or incorporates gestural movements. I approached Oklahoma Performing Arts with a proposal that included Monica Huggins Dance Theatre as a new program under OPA. Oklahoma Performing Arts is a great non-profit organization focused on using dance to develop character in children by giving every child the opportunity to have an education in the classical arts. They have a variety of programs including the Tulsa Youth Ballet, the Tulsa Youth Orchestra, and Imerge, a program for people who are physically challenged. In 2005, I graduated from The University of Tulsa with a degree in Arts Management. One year later I moved to Asheville, North Carolina.
In North Carolina, I danced for Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre and toured with them in Mexico again while also teaching dance in after school programs. Two years later I moved to Austin, Texas where I worked in local studios, became the Outreach Management for Austin Pets Alive, and danced professionally with Ballet East. I quickly learned that Texas offers more dance teaching opportunities in the public schools than Oklahoma. I enjoyed the idea of developing dance curriculum and began thinking about what would be done to increase dance opportunities in Oklahoma Schools. I went through an alternative certification program to get my teaching certificate. As I was getting that completed, a teaching job became available at the Tulsa Central Fine and Performing Arts High School Magnet High School. I moved with my husband back to Tulsa in 2010 and began my new career teaching in public high school.
I had a great time teaching at Tulsa Central. I introduced concert styles of dance, set up lesson plans in nutrition, anatomy, dance history, brought in dancers from outside of Oklahoma to guest teach and perform, and arranged opportunities for the students to perform multiple times a season. My favorite work created to this day is Race Riot Suite, a music score by Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. The classes were for everybody and often athletes not enrolled in the class would come down just to stretch prior to a game. It was a fun, safe and happy place. I stayed at Central for five years. For two years, prior to starting the dance program at Broken Arrow Schools, I worked with BAPS administration on starting and developing a dance program with dance course offerings. I transferred to the Broken Arrow High School in 2014.
My Approach to Teaching Dance
When you see kids in my class you will find they come in all shapes, sizes, genders, races and religions and all with different personalities. I strive to motivate my students and let them know that each one of them is a gift and that there is no better way to grow themselves than to work on their minds and bodies. Here are the things I emphasize in my program
- I start by teaching them self-discipline and to treat each other with respect.
- I also want them to know there is someone who believes in them and that I will help them get from point A to point B and not give up on them.
- I want to build self-confidence in my students. When you first perform before an audience you are scared, but if you push through what you are afraid of, you can work through their fear and achieve beautiful things. Overcoming fear is a lesson that applies to many things my students will face in life. I make sure that everyone in my class has at least four opportunities to perform in front of an audience each year so they can build their self- confidence through repetition and experience.
- My classes also teach my students a sense of responsibility where they must have the appropriate clothes and shoes available and clean for class.
- I also teach them about nutrition and how nutrition affects the performance of the body
- I want the kids to know that being in my dance classes means they are part of something. I always call my kids dancers and I want them to find a special place in the dance program where they can create freely and in abundance. I am just now seeing my students graduate from high school and look for opportunities to dance.
Another part of my instruction involves an exercise program I call ‘Movement Training’, which is also used in collaboration with the athletic department. Pound for pound, dancers are some of the strongest people in the world. The things that dancers can do while making it look beautiful and effortless is a result of the strength they have gained from exercises that are learned in their dance classes. These same exercises can also help student athletes cross train and rehabilitate from injuries. For example, I have worked with the tennis players, football players, dance teams, and volleyball teams. A coach may say that the players are having trouble with their coordination or they can’t get up from the ground quickly enough. So I will then work with them on movement activities that help them with these problems. I take some of the dance moves and add more repetition and we work in place with less movement than in a dance class. They often don’t even know the moves they are doing are part of dance technique class. I also work with people individually. I have a cross country runner who was hit by a car and experienced severe trauma to the brain. I guide him with his movement at the dance bar where we use ballet and tap dancing exercises in order to increase strength, flexibility, stamina, and coordination. Looking in the mirror and doing the movements is good for his brain and limb connections, nervous system, and overall development.
One of the other great things about public school dance programs is that they give people without the financial resources an opportunity to study dance. Right now our BA program is for students in the 10th, 11th and 12th grade. I often get kids in their senior year because it is the only time they have enough electives. But there is always something you can achieve in a dance class even in just one year. For example, you see that everyone else is learning and pushing themselves in a dance class. You too can learn to push yourself and do one more turn or move your leg higher. I also require that the kids do two periods or block scheduling every day. So instead of having one 45 minute class where they would just get started before they would have to quit, teaching for two hours in a row gives me the time to do dance instruction in ballet, modern, jazz and tap as well as teach supportive content literacy subjects. If you are going to be a dancer, you have to be able to do it all and learn to take care of your body while doing it.
Here are some links to my students performing:
- https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HYiNTgVgm2I&feature=youtu.be (I choreographed Anything Goes at Boston Avenue UMC this summer)
- https://vimeo.com/170967180 (Spring Concert 2016 at BAHS)
- https://vimeo.com/152735312 ( Overview of BAPS Dance Program)
Careers in Dance and Choreography
It is important to understand that while there are a lot of opportunities in dance, they are at different levels. While only one percent of dancers will ever go on and dance as a performer with a major ballet, many can go on and dance with regional companies and those with dance experience will have the opportunity to move into choreography. For example, the better-known theaters are in New York and there are opportunities for dancers and choreographers in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. A lot of the dancers and choreographers you see on the television program Dancing with the Stars work in the entertainment industry in LA. But you don’t have to go to New York or LA to be successful in the arts. There are a lot of other opportunities in smaller cities and on cruise ships and in resort towns, and sports venues. Locally, choreographers design dance routines for the Thunder Girls who perform at OKC Thunder basketball games the same as they do for all the girls who perform for other professional basketball and football teams. Beauty and talent competitions also need choreographers to create their programs and there is good money in these areas.
If you decide to major in dance in college, make sure that the school you choose has connections with the outside performing world. The best colleges have good connections that can get you started right after graduation. This is important because it is hard to get started. You have to be willing to do most anything and layer your jobs. For example, you might have to work a few hours at an entertainment venue and also teach dance classes and choreograph pageants when you are getting started before you are able to work in larger theaters or entertainment venues. Once you become recognized, people will start contacting you. But developing a reputation where you will be able to get well-paying jobs is a process. You have to know how to market yourself and network in order to get these bigger jobs in choreography.
If you want to teach dance, you can become a Dance Pedagogy major. With these classes you can teach in dance studios or for a company like the Tulsa Ballet. But if you want to teach in a public school, you will still have to go through a certification process to get your teaching certificate. Some in state programs include the following:
OU has Pedagogy and Performance major programs, UCO has a Dance Certification Program as well as Performance, and OCU has a Dance Management, Performance, Dance Teacher, and Entertainment Business Major.
US Bureau of Labor Statistics – Dancers and Choreographers
The median hourly wage for choreographers was $22.09 in May 2015. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.24, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $45.72. More than 80 percent of all choreographers work for dance schools and other alternative educational institutions, according to the BLS.
The median hourly wage for dancers was $14.44 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.56, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $33.03. The highest salaries for dancers are in colleges, universities and professional schools where they are instructors.