This summer I celebrated my 26th year as a member of the Chicago National Association of Dance Masters. 26 years ago Miss Deb gifted me with my first workshop at CNADM as a birthday gift. While I was thankful, I was also nervous. I didn’t grow up going to conventions as a student but had been to several as a teacher. But the Chicago National Association of Dance Masters was in a league of its own.
You see, not all conventions are created equal. Some are just about packing the rooms with as many students as possible and throwing routine after routine at them. CNADM is about education. It is about making you a better teacher and your students more successful by helping them become well-rounded dancers. They focus not just on what the choreography is but on how it is executed. That “how” is called technique and it matters.
I would be attending my first CNADM Training School with my fellow teacher, Amy Clay. You see our birthdates are only 8 days apart and it had been Miss Deb’s gift to her also. But there was one catch… Miss Deb told us we would be taking our CNADM membership tests that summer as well. My first reaction was WHAT!?! I am a reserved person when it comes to new experiences and I prefer to see how everything works before engaging in something like the written and demonstrative testing she was talking about. But I had to be honest and admit that Miss Deb had known me since I was seven years old and knew me well. Given the opportunity to delay being vulnerable through that testing and I would avoid it for as long as possible. Miss Deb believed in me much more than I believed in myself and didn’t let me procrastinate.
This led to a month of studying, creating flashcards, and Miss Amy and I drilling each other on terminology, technique, and so much more! I knew I was going to be nervous and had to prepare myself so well that my memory would break through my nerves! As you may have guessed, we both passed the tests for all three styles of dance and were accepted into membership. We took our pledge in front of the attending members and Board of Directors as my knees knocked and my hands shook. Did I mention I don’t like to be the center of attention? I know, dancers usually love the spotlight, but I have always been much more content behind the scenes.
As the years went by I attended the summer and fall workshops. After required hours of additional training and another test, I received my certification through CNADM. Each year I enjoyed the variety of faculty that CNADM brought in to teach. The previous conventions I had attended always repeated the same teachers every year and I found they often recycled their lesson plans and choreography. But with CNADM I was always learning something new. I would leave each workshop feeling inspired to share new teaching techniques and combinations with my students. I found it was my way to recharge my creativity.
Many people are surprised to learn I am actually an introvert. While I may seem bold and confident in front of my students, the dance school is my comfort zone. When surrounded by others at places like a convention I tend to be quieter. But that didn’t stop members of the board and fellow teachers from reaching out with a smile or a kind welcome. I will always appreciate the warm hellos from Faye Willet and Julie Bodle. They took the first steps to make me feel seen. I valued this so much because I know how important it is to my students. I never wanted to take them to a convention where they just felt like a number. I wanted them to feel as inspired as the faculty left me and as welcomed as those ladies made me feel. Again, CNADM proved why it was different.
After completing more hours of training, I was eligible to test for my Master Dance Educator certification. But that also required I submit a teaching portfolio filled with my teaching philosophies and approaches, as well as an interview with a committee asking me questions. Yep, you guessed it, the nerves were back. As Miss Deb encouraged me once again, I took a leap of faith and put myself out there. By this time CNADM had started offering a Student Honors program where the students completed written and demonstrative testing for five different levels, three disciplines per level. How could I ask my students to have the courage to take those if I wasn’t going to lead by example? We all were growing through the opportunities CNADM offered.
After receiving my MDE, I was congratulated by Lori Bowen. Her kind spirit spoke to me and I soon learned what a beautiful person she was. Once again showing me that CNADM was more than a convention, it was relationships started by a shared love of dance and built year by year by sharing that love with each other and our students.
I have gained new friends like Terri Sinani, Laurel Soderstrom-Davis, and Bonnie Cagle, who I look forward to seeing at each workshop. I have been inspired by an endless number of choreographers and fresh choreography, which I joyfully bring back to my students. I have been so proud to see our dancers attend the Ballet Forum, where they learn two original works of choreography in four days and then perform them at the Ballet Gala. I have been amazed by our dancers that participate in the Pre-Pro program, geared toward dancers exploring a career in dance. They are taught professional-level choreography that they perform at the Annual CNADM Banquet and the Ballet Gala. It stretches them but also shows them many possibilities ahead for them. Then our youngest dancers through teens learning all styles of dance through the Weekend Workshops. The energy the faculty brings to each room is infections. In the fall they also get to take advantage of the CNADM College & Career Fair, where our students have received numerous college scholarship offers.
So you see, in 25+ years of CNADM, I have learned more than teaching techniques and choreography. I have learned that as dance teachers we are always evolving and there is always more to learn. I have learned that dance teachers from all around the world find connections through our shared passion. I have learned that the world of dance is much smaller than we realized. I have learned that seeking a convention that offers opportunities far beyond their workshop is crucial to my students’ development. I have learned that CNADM is different from other conventions in the best possible way and those differences are from the members that created the CNADM vision and those that continue to carry it out.