In celebration of her twentieth consecutive year as a dance educator, Leslie Berman interviewed Anabella on her teaching career:
LB: How did you first get into teaching?
AL: I was thrown into teaching at the age of 15 in Argentina to substitute for a teacher who was going on a maternity leave. After she returned, I was offered a position at that dance school teaching children ages 6-9. I was surprised to be offered such a position since I did not yet have my pedagogy degree, which is considered very important in Argentina.
LB: Did you identify as a teacher even though you were only 15 and still working towards your own career as a performer?
AL: For me it was very easy to transmit my joy for dance as a teacher, since I was young and still in love with dancing. I had such a strong background in ballet and flamenco, dancing for hours each day after school since the age of 5, I felt I had so many tools that I could integrate to teach my students. I immediately knew that I loved teaching and I went on to complete my certification in the psychology and methodology of teaching by the time I was 18.
LB: When you were 18 you went on to open your own dance school. How did that come about?
AL: My grandmother passed away when I was 18 and had just completed my teaching certification. My father encouraged me to open a dance school in her home. We began renovating her 120 year-old house. We opened the school in March 1994 with 8 students. After a year we had 150 students and by the end of our second year 300. I still remember working with my family and friends to renovate the house. We would put sand paper on our shoes and dance all over the pine floor to make it smooth and even for dancing. Refinishing the floors alone took us two weeks!
At the beginning, I was in charge of everything. I did the office work, student registration, and taught all of the classes. I strove to be a strong point of reference for my students and their parents; to be an example of the kind of dancers they could grow up to become. After a year, my school, L’Atelier, became officially licensed by the government as a private educational institution where students could train for eight intensive years to get a certificate as a teacher. Out curriculum included music, anatomy, repertory, dance history, and French. The school was connected with faculty from universities in out town. Soon I found myself operating the second biggest dance school on my hometown of Bahia Blanca.
LB: How did you develop the teaching curriculum you used to run L’Atelier?
AL: At this time there were only 3 books that concentrated on dance pedagogy in Argentina so I really had to work to develop my own methodologies from research through other arts disciplines. Eventually our school connected with three satellite schools where I would teach workshops and methodology and the schools would follow the systems we had developed. I wanted to create and environment of learning for my students and I worked to develop a library of books and videos that would be free to the students. We created a monthly series of workshops for people to come and dance. Soon we collaborated with visual arts schools and invited them to collaborate for different shows. Last year was our 15th anniversary. Looking back it was certainly a lot of responsibility, but I did it with so much pleasure.
LB: You shouldered a lot of responsibility running L’Atelier. In retrospect are you glad you took on such a huge undertaking?
AL: Running the school was a very big undertaking, especially for someone so young. I devoted so much time to the institution and became a very public figure in my hometown. Looking back I can’t believe I did it all, but I feel that I learned so much and left with a strong foundation for the rest of my life. Whenever I return to Argentina I return to my school, now run by my sister Pamela, and am so proud of all we continue to accomplish.
After devoting so much time to others through my school, I needed to find a direction for myself once again. In 1999 I arrived in New York hoping to discover the roots of modern dance and learn more about choreography. I decided it was time to come to the U.S. to grow individually after giving so much to building my school. It was a big shock to go from teaching 5-6 classes a day, running a school and a small dance company, presenting a weekly dance series on TV, touring, and traveling, to become unknown in New York. But I knew the time and come to take this risk.
LB: You have taught in Argentina, New York, and Italy. What are some of the big differences you have found teaching in such diverse locales?
AL: Every time you arrive to teach in another country you encounter different mentalities. It is an ongoing learning process. In 2005, teaching here in New York, I found it so different from teaching in South America. In New York every person has their own diverse background, and their own set of morals and values. If I give a correction, it might be hysterical to one student and offensive to another. Another huge difference I noted was in students’ interaction with the teacher. Since Argentina is run by a military government, we grow up from childhood with a very different understanding of authority, which is evident even in the dance studio. In Argentina if a student misbehaved I would send her outside the class where she would wait quietly for her parents to arrive. In the U.S. there are so many different ways one can study dance—in open classes, in universities, in dance academies. In each setting students relate to the authority of the teacher differently. There is so much diversity in the education system in New York.
In 2005 I taught for 2 months at the Atlanta Ballet School. There the students had grown up in such a strict ballet environment, they didn’t smile or look the teacher in the eyes. It was almost as if they’d lost the human aspect of their dancing. Teaching at the university level is also unique from any other dance class setting I’ve taught in. Every university is a different world in and of itself. Every time I return to Argentina I lead a methodology workshop and the teachers have weekly meetings to discuss how they address their classes. This kind of community of teachers doesn’t seem to exist in New York. Often I miss the community of Argentina. Here in New York there are so many good dancers who teach without having developed a system for translating their physical knowledge to their students. Teachers must think hard about how they will relate to their students, and what particular population they are dealing with.
It’s a completely different thing to teach in an institution where you are familiar with all of your students and see them consistently versus teaching in an open class setting. For me though, regardless of classroom setting, the bottom line is to give a feeling of security to the people you are teaching, and to build self esteem. At the same time a teacher must be aware of each individual student and their personal potential to master this craft. Yet mastery has to be tempered by a strong sense of artistry. It is the job of any good teacher to remind students of this duality inherent in dance.
LB: What are some ideas that you think are important for any teacher?
AL: Teachers must constantly read to learn and re-learn the concepts they are teaching. Every teacher should know their reasons for teaching and their philosophy as a teacher. A teacher has to be the student’s second eyes beyond the mirror, helping them to connect with the feelings they have when they do something right. As a teacher it has become my wish that more people teach. The joy of teaching is incomparable. For me it’s like having children; you don’t expect anything from it you just enjoy that you are able to give. It is this communication with others that keeps me going. There is just something inside of you that makes you a teacher. Sometimes you start casually as a teacher, and suddenly realize that it’s your life.
LB: Are there any teachers or types of teachers that are role models for you?
AL: My “real teachers” are those people who teach me in and outside of the classroom– the ones who go for coffee with you, call you, recommend you, see your shows, are always in you life. While these people my teach you tendus, they also teach you something much greater. These teachers who don’t just teach, they stimulate. These teachers inspire me and force me to work harder. I believe it is possible to teach passion, to touch the darker areas students struggle with to bring them to a different place. That’s what is really fun! I have one student who is fifty years old. She hated my floor barre class, but she kept coming back and six months had made enormous changes in her body. A real teacher will change your body and your mind and help you to bring your mind, body and spirit all together in the exact moment you dance.
Look forward to more interviews with Anabella on choreographing, dancing, and teaching.