Wholeheartedly Teaching the Whole Child with Maria Hanley

I remember when I was first getting my entrepreneurial toes wet doing ballet birthday parties and I’d scour the internet for others to look towards for inspiration, tips, and tools. One of those people is today’s Backstage Blog guest - Maria Hanley.

I’ve been a reader of Maria’s blog, Maria’s Movers for years, so it’s especially cool that I’ve gotten to connect with her more over the past few months and get to chat with her here today! If you’re an early childhood dance teacher, or have aspirations to be, keep reading!

KC: What's your earliest memory of dance?

MH: My earliest memory of dance, is when I was picked to be a leader to a babies class on stage! I was 6 and I remember being so excited to be able to take care of the little ones. Looking back, I think this might have been the start of my love for teaching young children.

KC: What's your background with dance?

MH: I grew up dancing in a small town in Pennsylvania. I danced from age 3 through high school. My studio only offered ballet, jazz, and tap. When moving on to college I chose Slippery Rock University for dance. They are known for modern so that was a new style for me. This is also where I learned about creative movement and fell in love with it. After I graduated from SRU I moved to New York City to pursue a masters degree in Dance Education. At the time it was the only college offering a masters degree in dance education but now it’s offered almost everywhere! It was a wonderful decision as I got a deep dive into being a creative dance teacher and kinesthetic learning.

KC: Was it love at first plie?

MH: Yes, although I really loved tap when I was young dancer. And now that I teach creative movement/creative ballet, I wish I would have had that dance education when I was young.

KC: How did you get into dancing/teaching?

MH: My mom put me into dance when I was three because I was painfully shy. She thought it would help me come out of my shell and make new friends. She was right! :)

KC: What's your favorite thing about it?

MH: My favorite thing about dance is that everyone can do it. Everyone can go and watch it in a theatre and enjoy it. Dance can be a part of your life without it having to be your career. You don’t need an instrument, the instrument is your body and it’s with you all of the time! I have always loved teaching dance to young children, but once I had my own children and saw how much they love to dance, I loved it even more! Anyone is capable of dancing and it can be done anywhere. That’s my favorite thing.

KC: Who are your dance heroes, and why?

MH: I think hands down Anne Green Gilbert. She is such an inspiration for creative dance teachers like me. I met her once but I would love to go to her studio in Seattle someday. I also have a lot of dance friends who have created wonderful programs, blogs, and services in dance and I have to say they are so inspiring that they are my heroes too!

KC: Tell us about your business, Maria’s Movers.

MH: I started my blog Maria’s Movers, 10 years ago. I was a freelance dance teacher in New York City and felt so alone. So I started blogging about what I was doing every day with my creative dance students and it turned into a wonderful community of dance teachers doing the same thing! It has brought me many opportunities in the dance world, like presentations at major dance conferences and amazing friends in the field.

I sell curriculum and teacher tools on my website and my most popular one is for toddlers ages 18 months - 3 years. I love to help and inspire teachers to be creative with their young students.

KC: What's one of your goals in working with your teaching?

MH: Offering my students and their families the love of movement and dance is a huge goal of mine. I know many of my dancers will not be professional dancers and that’s ok. I want to offer a creative and safe environment that will instill dance as parts of their lives forever.

KC: What's one of your favorite funny or heart-warming stories about dance/teaching?

MH: When I lived in NYC I created a dance celebration for my students who were all 5 and under. I offered them a stage experience and it was so magical every year. It’s one of the things I miss so much about NYC. I loved that show so very much, I will never forget the memories it brought me. I created the dance celebration for 6 years before we moved. This year I will try to recreate the show in my new home! I know it will be different here, which is why I hold the memories of the the NYC show so dear to my heart.

KC: Are there any cliches or preconceptions about dance you try to correct in your teaching?

MH: Yes, I think when I tell people I am a dance teacher they think it is “cool” but don’t really understand what it is. I think the preconception is that I’m a teacher like in dance moms. There are so many types of dance teachers and especially working in early childhood it’s important to educate what it is I do everyday. It is the furthest away from “dance moms” as you can get. :)

KC: Is there one thing you think the dance community needs more of, less of, or to get better at?

MH: I think the dance community needs to work harder at being creative with kids. Recently a dance teacher friend told me that she saw a three year old on stage at a competition. She was still wearing diapers and competing in dance a competition. I was floored. This is not what three year olds need. Three year olds need to dance like falling snow to let it go, and skip around a big open room until the music stops. They need to sing nursery rhymes and spin with ribbons . I could go on and on about this. For me, as a dance educator it is important to educate the whole child, give them whole body learning so they can take it into the world and use it beyond just dance for their entire life.

KC: What's next for you and your business? Do you have any exciting projects on the horizon?

MH: To be honest, I am still trying to figure this out. A major move and a few kids will really throw a wrench in your career dreams. :) I want to continue writing and selling curriculum on my blog and writing for the community of dance teachers that I have built. I have thought about writing a course to share more of my toddler and grown up ideas so maybe that will be up next! I have a lot of post its on my wall right now of projects I want to accomplish so there is no lack of ideas, it’s more just the lack of time to execute the ideas!

And now, just for funsies…

KC: Burritos or tacos?

MH: Tacos!

KC: Legwarmers or ballet skirts?

MH: Ballet skirts!

KC: Disco balls or rainbows?

MH: Rainbows!

KC: Center Stage or Flashdance?

MH: Hard to choose but if I have to I will go with Center Stage, not for the drama though ;)

KC: One word to describe yourself?

MH: Intuitive

I’m totally down with teaching the whole child, just like Maria, and if this sounds like you’re jam, I’d love for you to share this post with someone who you think would enjoy it! You can also stay in touch with Maria on Instagram and Facebook. Have a great week and happy dancing!