An interview with Robin Fisher
Director/Owner of Fisher Dance Center in Wilmette, IL
|Quick facts on Robin Fisher|
|If a student walks away having learned just one thing from you, what would you want that one thing to be?||That they can do anything.|
|What are the essential items that never leave your dance bag?||My phone (because I video everything), paperwork, iPad, sometimes my computer. I think, I’m only going home to sleep, why should I lug all this stuff?! [Laughs]|
|Fill in the blank (mad libs-style):||When I dance I feel energized and happy. Teaching is inspiring. A good class is when energy and joy is within the classroom.|
|Give a couple of words that illustrate your personality:||Outgoing, strong.|
|What stretch feels great on your body?||Any stretch to the floor from standing, and rolling up through the spine.|
|What is the biggest “no-no” for a student to do in your class?||Show disrespect.|
Allegro Dance Boutique: How many years of dance training have you had?
Robin Fisher: I started at the age of 6, so many, many years. [Laughs]
ADB: What styles have you studied?
RF: I’ve pretty much studied them all: jazz, tap, ballet … I was trained in Cecchetti method, studied modern in college. I danced at Lansing Community College in Lansing, MI, then moved to Florida to attend Edison Community College. I went to New York shortly after, because I couldn’t find a dance program I liked in local colleges that I could afford. That was the first time that I was out on my own.
ADB: Do you have a favorite style?
RF: Jazz. I came to New York and ran into Gus Giordano. When I was 8, Gus came to our little town in Michigan and taught a workshop at the Y. He picked me out and I danced to the song Nadia’s Theme. That was my first introduction to lyrical. Everytime I knew he was going to be in Michigan, my parents took me to his conventions. He would pull me onstage. He was my idol. He saw me grow up. So when I saw him in New York he said to me, “What are you doing here?” When I said that I was studying he said “study with me” and he offered me a 2 year scholarship.
ADB: Who was your most motivating teacher and why?
RF: Gus. He was so kind and I loved his style. He remided me of Gene Kelly as a tapper and a jazz dancer. His style still carries through me when I do choreography.
ADB: How many years have you been teaching dance?
RF: I started teaching in high school when I was 16. From there I taught until I graduated. Then in Florida I taught at a local studio. In New York I studied at Steps but I didn’t teach during that time. After that I came here, taught at a lot of local studios, subbed tap classes at Gus’, and then opened my studio in 1987. We’re celebrating our 25 year anniversary this year! One of my goals was to open my own school. Currently I teach privates for the students that want to attend Interlochen, want to prepare for auditions, want to prepare to move to a higher level, etc..
ADB: Give a few words to describe your teaching method/philosophy.
RF: Motivational, high energy, passionate, technique. I help the students focus a lot on their performance and help them understand the story they’re trying to tell with their bodies. If the audience doesn’t understand what you’re saying then you’re not performing it. You have to open your soul to be a good dancer. You also have to show compassion and respect, and hopefully you’ll get that in return. If not, well, you’re the teacher so you have to find a way to reach them through dance, soul to soul.
ADB: Can you speak a bit on the non-profit sector of Fisher Dance Center, The Dance Foundation? [TDF is an organization that brings a wide range of opportunity to girls ages 5-17. TDF’s Mission Statement: We will provide for the future of our youth. We want our children to realize their full potential regardless of their economic situation. One way to inspire children is through the art of dance. Dance not only provides a vital educational opportunity, but also is a positive outlet for creativity. Our Dance Foundation students develop new friendships, self-esteem and discipline.]
RF: Why I started TDF: I know what dance gave to me. I was a shy, chubby kid with zero self confidence and I got teased in school. My mom put me in dance and I loved being onstage, that’s where I felt confident. When I had been recently divorced I started volunteering my time in the city, in southside libraries. I’d dance with the kids and we’d sit down and talk. I’d ask them what their dreams were, and they’d say “I want to dance.” I’d encourage staying in school, and tell them that I make my living dancing so its possible. We’d have these Q & A sessions afterwards and we’d spend more time talking than dancing, because they were excited that you could make a living dancing. They were empowering talks, and I’d receive letters and pictures afterwards. I then decided to volunteer for Horizons for Youth. One of their co-founders was an attorney, and I told him I wanted to make a lasting effect through dance. He helped me become 501(c)3, I had my first benefit at the studio and then that got the ball rolling. This was in 1993. A lot of kids I worked with were at Cabrini Green, so I got a space at the Pulaski Park District for a few years. We then did it at Joel Hall’s for a bit, and then I bought the [current] studio on Ridge so public transportation was easier. The group of kids began to change and then a lot started coming from Rogers Park. We’ve grown into offering assistance for girls struggling in public schools; we help with tutoring, work with Sylvan, help them move on to college. One girl needed braces so I went to my dentist and asked if he’d pull her teeth, and then I went to a local orthodontist for braces donations. It’s all about, financially sound or not, empowering women. I want to help them. I have 3 teachers on staff that have trained with me, have gone off to study, then have come back because this was such a comfortable, positive place where they could escape through dance and grow as young women. 2 of them were TDF dancers. We also travel with TDF, because TDF believes travel inspires the mind and soul. To go to Italy [TDF was invited to perform and teach in Italy in the summer of 2012, showcasing an orginal story that Fisher wrote and produced], it was life changing. Just the experience to go over there and dance with Italian kids. They made Facebook friends, they received so much love from the Italian people. The teachers and the students were all given an open invitation to come back. We have an Italian teacher coming October 29 and staying for 6 months, and in January and March we have two of our teachers returning to Rome to teach workshops. We were able to travel to Italy this year due to the many friends and business connections I have established over the past 16 years. Italian travel inspired me as an artist to write for the first time, after my initial trip in 1996. That’s when I started writing my shows and my book [Perseverance of a Dream, written by Fisher and published in 2009], it changed my outlook. We’ve also been to Miami with 24 Fisher Dance Center and The Dance Foundation students and performed at the Orange Bowl halftime show with the band Train.
ADB: Do you have a favorite age group to teach?
RF: I’ve always loved to teach the teens, and now the teens and the professionals. Sometimes I think they need the most help, need someone to talk to, to guide them. It’s more fun to see my work on older dancers because the improvement goes faster and they motivate me.
ADB: What would your students say your best quality is?
RF: I empower them to set their goals through dance and acheive them. They see me setting ridiculous goals for myself and no matter what, I try to give my everything to make them happen and they see that.
ADB: Give an example of a moment when you, as a teacher, were most proud.
RF: Our 20th anniversary performance. That night I had just come back from China with [my daughter] Jade, and I was able to get up and dance and do it well still. So many alumni came back to dance with me one more time.
ADB: What’s your response to a student with a “can’t-do” attitude?
RF: I get in their face, “Why don’t you believe in yourself? You’re beautiful, you can do this!” I scream because I get so wapped up. [Laughs] I say, “ Let’s take it slow because I know you can do this.” And then “See, I told you!” Then we do it again and again.
ADB: Teachers often say that they learn just as much from their students as their students learn from them. What is something valuable that your students have taught you over the years?
RF: They’ve taught me perseverance, and their young energy keeps me going. Their perseverance and passion and stories either humble me or encourage me. The Fisher Dance Center and The Dance Foundation dancers are truly special kids and I feel blessed to have had a positive role in their lives.
ADB: If you weren’t teaching dance, what other field could you see yourself involved in?
RF: When I did the book I started speaking at colleges, insipring young people. Then in Italy, people saw how narrations, projections and music helps to tell a story. [The show has] characters, they can hear it and see it, the costumes are bright and flashy. They had never seen anything like this. I think I’d like to go and talk to students about production and putting it all together. A friend has said that I should start marketing my shows as a package, to format it with a playlist and create notes that break down everything for the teacher. [Moving forward] I want to be reinventing myself, and still staying with the school and TDF of course. I’m not one to just sit in an office.
ADB: What is the best thing about owning Fisher Dance Center?
RF: It makes me proud, the kids make me proud. I look at all the accomplishments. I’m so busy working all the time, and then there’s those moments, like when we did a story on 190 North. To hear the parents speak about what the school means to them and what it means to the kids, because of the way I look at life they know they can conquer their dreams. I think “I inspired all of this?” I just do what I know how to do.
Fisher Dance Center is currently accepting ongoing fall registration. Go to www.fisherdancecenter.com for Fisher Dance Center and TDF events.
See the Fisher Dance Center dancers perform at Allegro: Evanston on Saturday, October 13, as a part of Central Street Evanston’s Community Day Event. Performance times are 11am, 12pm, 3pm & 4pm.
Allegro will be participating in The Dance Foundation’s Holiday Bazaar fundraiser on Sunday, November 11. Stop by the studio from 10am-5pm to peruse a variety of local vendors!
Fisher will be presenting a 25th Anniversary Workshop Series on one Sunday per month November 4- March 10. Featuring instructors Betsy Herskind, Robin Fisher, Joel Hall, Frederica Ciavadini and Jarret Brown. Call the studio at 847-920-9121 to register!