The more I do these Backstage blogs, the more I realize how often I troll the Internet... but, my trolling works, because I find the most amazing people, doing the most amazing things!
Enter Olivia Mode-Cater, who is the Mastermind behind Dance Ed Tips, an organization that's dedicated to helping dance teachers hone their craft, forging connections, and providing tools and resources that make teachers the best they can be.
I was thrilled when Olivia agreed to this interview, because her tips are amazing, her vibes super cool, and I know she's doing some amazing things. Read on, and be sure and check out all Olivia's work here!
KC: What's your earliest memory of dance?
OMC: I come from a family of movers. My mom is a dancer and has always taught dance at local studios. My paternal grandmother Nicole Mode owned her own yoga studio for over 20 years. She opened the yoga studio the year I was born so I basically grew up there. My mom would also take me with her when she would go teach and I would sit on the side and watch. So, I’ve always been in and around movement or dance. It’s always been part of my daily life.
KC: What's your background with dance? Was it love at first plie?
OMC: I’ve been taking dance classes ever since I can remember. As I got older I began to take more and more and began training in various styles. This led me to studying dance in college at Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University. Dance was definitely love at first plié. Even now, whenever I don’t dance for a while, I always really miss it. It’s a big part of my life.
KC: How did you get into teaching? What's your favorite thing about it?
OMC: When I was a teenager Debbie Coury, the owner of Yvette’s Dance Studio where I grew up dancing, invited me to be a teaching assistant. As I grew older and more confident she gave me the opportunity to teach classes independently, which I really enjoyed. I really fell in love with teaching at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. While I was there they started a program where you receive your BFA in dance performance along with your Masters in Dance Education within 5 years. I was part of the first cohort to do that program and that’s where I really became an advocate for dance education.
I feel really strongly that every life skill I have I learned through dance. The best part of teaching is knowing that I’m not only sharing an art form that I love, but I am also creating a safe space where students can develop the skills they need to succeed regardless of the career path they choose.
KC: Who are your dance heroes, and why?
OMC: My dance heroes are Barbara Bashaw and Michele Stevens. Barbara Bashaw created the dance education program at Mason Gross School of the Arts. She was and still is an incredible mentor for me. She helped me discover what dance teaching meant to me so that I could develop my own philosophy and vision as a dance teacher. Her methods challenged every preconceived notion and misconception I had about dance and teaching. She created a safe space where I could develop and grow into the educator I am today.
Michele Stevens is another mentor and hero of mine. She was my cooperating teacher during my student teaching internship in graduate school. This woman is so incredibly patient and selfless. She teaches between 600-800 second to fourth grade students every 6-day cycle. She teaches every child with the same amount love and enthusiasm and what she is able to accomplish with them is remarkable. Whenever I am having a bad teaching day I try to channel her calm energy into my work.
KC: Tell us about Dance Ed Tips. How did it come about?
OMC: Dance ED Tips is a company that is dedicated to helping dance teachers refine their craft, so that they can create the most well-rounded and skilled dancers. Through my social media handles, website, workshops, and services I help teachers develop themselves quickly and effectively using research-based strategies.
After working with many dance teachers there’s one thing we all have in common: we all want to constantly improve our teaching methods. Unfortunately, our busy schedules don’t always give us the time (or money) to professionally develop ourselves the way we want to. The last thing dancer teachers want to do after teaching 8 classes in a day is read a lengthy article or book on pedagogy, and yet we still want to improve so all of our classes can be really effective and impactful.
Last summer I began researching to see if there was anyone who was providing dance teachers research-based, effective tips in a quick and easily accessible way. I found lots of resources for studio owners trying to improve their businesses and for teachers who only teach ballet, but there wasn’t really anything out there for people like me who teach all styles of dance along with choreography, improvisation, dance history, etc. There also wasn’t a place for people who teach in studios, K-12 schools, and higher education to all come together in a quick and easy way to discuss solutions to common issues that are happening in their classroom. When I realized that there was no place like that for dance teachers I was inspired to create Dance ED Tips.
KC: How do you describe what you do for a living to people you're just meeting?
OMC: I had someone ask me once to describe what I do in 6 words and I came up with: “Sharing movement through performing and teaching.” I think it works!
KC: What's one of your favorite funny or heart warming stories about teaching dance?
OMC: During my student teaching internship, I had the incredible opportunity of teaching a self-contained children with autism class with Michele Stevens (one of my dance heroes! ☺). Those children broke every stereotype and misconception I had about dance for individuals with disabilities.
There was one day in particular that will stick with me. We were doing a lesson where we danced out a winter-themed story. I had one student who, in general, I had a hard time engaging in the material. In most classes, she stayed emotionally detached to what was happening in the class and from what I could tell she was nonverbal. On this day, though, as we were dancing out the story she looked at me and clearly said: “snowman.” I was so surprised and excited that she had finally found an entry point into the content! For that whole class, she was really invested in the work. She created her own dance that represented a snowman’s large, round figure and she shared her creative interpretations of ways snow whirls, melts, and falls. That day proved to me that dance is absolutely for everyone.
KC: Are there any cliches or preconceptions about dance you try to correct in your work?
I think dance teachers, unfortunately, are really isolated in their profession. Dancers who don’t teach label them as “teachers only” and try to discredit their artistry because they have chosen a path in dance other than performing. Then, teachers in other content areas try to discredit them as educators because “they only teach dance.” This big misconception is something that I try to combat in my work. A dance teacher is not one thing or the other. A dance teacher is beautiful, rich, complex, and nuanced mix of these worlds, where both sets of values work synergistically to improve and inform the educational and artistic side of the individual. There is scholarship in dance and there is art in educating others. Trying to label dance teachers in one way or another is futile and, honestly, ignorant.
KC: What's next for you and Dance Ed Tips? Do you have any exciting projects on the horizon?
OMC: Dance ED Tips is growing, which is really exciting! I’m beginning to offer my own workshops where people can work with me to refine their craft. My workshops are packed with a lot of useful material that dance teachers can take back to their studios and implement right away, which I think is really important. I’m having one in New York City on July 28th! Dance teachers can sign up at https://danceedtips.ticketleap.com/dance-ed-tips-workshop--how-to-improve-students-technique/
And now, just for funnies....
KC: Burritos or tacos?
OMC: I usually eat burrito bowls! ☺
KC: Legwarmers or ballet skirts?
OMC: Definitely legwarmers.
KC: Disco balls or rainbows?
OMC: Disco balls
KC: Center Stage or Flashdance?
OMC: Can I say “Save the Last Dance?” I was obsessed with that movie as a teenager. ☺
KC: Absolutely! Such a great pick! How about one word to describe yourself?
AH-mazing. Thanks so much for your time Olivia! If YOU want to be featured in the next Backstage blog, or know someone who you think should make an appearance, holla at me here! Then be sure to share this interview with a dance teacher you think would love it! Have a great week everyone!