An interview with Lynnette VanDien
Founder & Co-Director of Lynnette’s School of Dance in Park Ridge, IL
|Quick facts on Lynnette VanDien|
|Fill in the blank (mad libs- style):||When I dance I feel fulfilled. Teaching is wonderful. A good class is when they all “get it.”. My love for the business is almost as strong as my love for the performing arts!
|What are the essential items that never leave your teaching bag?||Jazz shoes, and if I have tap shoes I’ll have a screwdriver with me too … bandaids and probably extra socks.|
|Give 3 words that illustrate your personality.||I’d say warm, friendly and honest.|
|What stretch feels great on your body?||2nd position sitting on the floor. That’s probably my favorite stretch. I do that with everything.|
|Give an example when you, as a teacher, were most proud.||Probably to see my daughter dance, when she was very young.|
|What type(s) of music “moves” you?||[Music for] tap. Musicals.|
Allegro Dance Boutique: How many years of dance training have you had?
Lynnette VanDien: I started at age 3, and joined the Chicago National Association of Dance Masters (CNADM) at 17.
ADB: What styles have you studied?
LVD: Ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical … I even took belly dance for a while.
ADB: Did you have a favorite style?
LVD: Tap. I still like tap the best. I think everyone needs the training of ballet, and I don’t think you can be a good tap dancer unless you have some ballet training.
ADB: Schools or programs studied?
LVD: I’m CNADM certified. I started as a child with Geri Mroz (who still teaches; Geri’s School of Dance in Chicago, and in fact, this is her 61st year of teaching!) and as I got older I studied with Gus Giordano, Anita Sedala, and for tap Tommy Sutton and Jimmy Payne.
ADB: Who was your most motivating teacher and why?
LVD: Tommy Sutton, he just drew everything out of me. When you were dancing he’d say “Stop thinking, stop thinking, just do it. Feel it.”
ADB: How many years have you been teaching dance?
LVD: [Before opening the studio] I taught for the Chicago Park District for a little while, and then I assisted with classes over at Geri’s too around the age of 15, 16.
ADB: When did you open the studio?
LVD: Sepember 1971. We just celebrated 40 years!
ADB: What was the motivation to do so?
LVD: I just really enjoyed teaching kids. I was at Second City and modeling and always looking for a job, and I was teaching part time and just really loved it. I took a chance and opened my own, and it’s been wonderful. The best thing I ever could’ve done.
ADB: What styles do you currently teach?
LVD: Adult jazz and a little bit of adult tap.
ADB: If a student walks away having learned just one thing from you, what would you want that one thing to be?
ADB: What is the biggest “no-no” for a student to do in your class?
LVD: Talk. Or chew gum. Or not try. We don’t have much of the [not trying] though, we really don’t. You try to make them really comfortable so by the time they come in and meet you, by the time they get to the class, they feel comfortable. Maybe it’s the way we treat them too, but we just very seldom get that. It’s a big “family” type of thing in our dancing school. Everyone says it feels like a big family. Judy, my secretary, I’ve known since kindergarten, and her daughter teaches for us. All of the girls that teach for me were my students. Lorena [Associate Director] is my niece. She’s doing more and more of the work. You know, I’m getting older too, and I’m enjoying a little bit of retirement so I know she can take over things. I don’t want to get out of it completely though, it’s too much fun!
ADB: Give a few words to describe your teaching method/philosophy.
LVD: Being kind. Presenting something in different ways; if someone’s not catching on then present it another way. Encouraging.
ADB: Do you have a favorite age group to teach?
LVD: 4-5 year olds. They can listen real well, they follow directions real well and they love you. You come in the door and they’re jumping on you, it’s great. If you ever have a down day [I say] just go to the school and see the little ones!
ADB: What would your students say your best quality is?
LVD: Honesty or friendship.
ADB: Name a performance you have attended that took your breath away.
LVD: Well lately, I was at the Marriott’s “My One and Only” [Gershwin musical]. That was fantastic. [It had] a lot of tapping of course.
ADB: What’s your response to a student with a “can’t-do” attitude?
LVD: Let’s try, I’ll do it with you, we’ll break it apart. “If I can do it, you can do it” is usually my reaction.
ADB: How do you challenge your students mentally?
LVD: With terminology, so they know the names of the steps and the choreography.
ADB: How do you challenge your students physically? I don’t give them a lot of down time, because that’s when you sit and relax and you get lazy. Myself included [laughs]. I always had class after class after class! Pushing them a little bit past what I think they can do, telling them that they can do it. And they usually can. “Get that leg up higher, you can get that leg up higher.” I think it’s just being enthusiatsic too. If you’re enthused, they’re enthused.
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?
LVD: That not everyone has the same encouragement and support that I had from family growing up. That pushes me to be their support, and by the time you find out [that they need support] you already are their support system usually. This girl that had [danced] with me, and now her daughter dances with us, there was an incident where one of her girlfriends got lost somewhere and no one was there to pick her up and she didn’t know who to call. [My student’s mom asked] “what if this happneed to you, if you couldn’t get ahold of dad or I, what would you do, who would you call?” And she said, “I’d call the dancing school!” [Laughs] That’s really nice to hear, the best compliment ever really.
ADB: If you weren’t teaching dance, what other field could you see yourself involved in?
LVD: I do take art classes, though I don’t think I’d be that good at that or anything. That’s really hard… it would have to be in the arts somewhere I think. I love teaching, so probably, if I didn’t have the dancing school, I’d be teaching high school. But in the arts department!
ADB: Your preferences (boxers or briefs- style): CD’s or Ipod? LVD: CDs, but a lot of my teachers use iPods. At least I’ve gotten to the CD! [Laughs] ADB: Repetition or surprise? LVD: I have a standard of what I do, I try to change things every week. Even when I taught ballet, I only taught the same barre a few times maybe, I’d change it up. ADB: Morning class or evening class (if you’re taking it)? LVD: Evening. Most of the classes I always [used to take] were in the morning, but now that’s hard to find. ADB: Small class or large class (if you’re teaching it)? LVD: I’d rather teach to 8-12 students, otherwise it’s too many to watch. ADB: Fast movement or slow movement? LVD: Fast.
ADB: What are your thoughts on improvisation?
LVD: Yeah, I think its good, good for the students to see what they can come up with. “Here’s 32 counts, show me what you can do with it.” It gets them to think a little and be creative. Once they get into it they really like it. It is intimidating most of the time and can be at first. At first I’d [put] two of them together, pair them up and it would be easier for them.
ADB: Do you make corrections during an exercise or after an exercise?
LVD: I usually try to do it during because then they can correct themselves. If it’s after we’d have to repeat the exercise again so I do try to do it during, but sometimes you can’t. [Sometimes] if you wait until after, it’s gone already and they don’t know what they did. That’s what you learn afterwards too, as a teacher, who you can [give corrections to during] and who you can’t. Usually if it’s just an exercise or a step and not a whole routine it’s ok.
ADB: What do you most look forward to at recital time?
LVD: Seeing it all put together. I’ve gotten better, I’m starting to really enjoy it, but I have less responsibility now too. [Laughs] You haven’t taught every class and feel responsible for every class.
ADB: What other performances take part during the year for your school?
LVD: We do Taste of Park Ridge, we were in the Memorial Day Parade. This year we did Dance Fest at Navy Pier and [performed at] Daley Center. We did the Winter Fest at Navy Pier too; it was amazing, I never knew it was that big of an event. We have 4 performing groups but we take a lot of our little ones too, the 2nd year classes.
ADB: What is the best thing about owning Lynnette’s School of Dance?
LVD: The whole family that it’s become, definitely. And just seeing the improvement with the students; seeing them through the years and seeing that improvement, and seeing that a whole lot of them are doing dance related things now as adults. They’ve been “the ones” in my life just as much as I hope I’ve influenced them.
Lynnette is curently affiliated with the foundation F.A.M.E., the Foundation of Artists Mentored in Entertainment. The organization is holding an open call audition for dancers and musical artists ages 12-26 on February 16, 2013. Visit www.fame-chicago.org for more information.