by Nicholas Cunningham
Part of The Ensemblist's "What I Teach" Series
As I sat in the car with my Mum, we drove to the south side of Brisbane (we live on the north side) because I wanted to join one of the best dance schools in Queensland, DLDC, The Davidia Lind Dance Center. I saw them perform at competitions in Australia and the school, to me, was all inclusive. A variety of performers, all shapes and sizes, and ages, and aesthetics. The numbers I saw were creative, interesting and most of all inspiring. So we arrive at the school and we enter the building through these giant glass doors, purple walls were surrounding me with graffiti of dancers and trophies, upon trophies, upon more trophies. If I remember rightly, there were even trophies sitting on the floor waiting to be displayed as they had run out of room in the foyer. I knew that I had walked into a school that was not only the real deal, but coming from only a small amount of dance training, a school that was very intimidating.
As I wait patiently, the silence is broken and I hear footsteps coming down the hallway, and this statuesque woman with black hair and piercing eyes introduces herself as Davidia Lind, the woman who owns and runs the school. We went up a flight of stairs and walked into the biggest studio this 15 year old boy had EVER seen. Sat in the middle of the room with her and my Mum, we spoke about why I wanted to come to the school. I will never forget the moment I knew how much I wanted this because Davidia said to me, “It’s not about how talented you are, it’s about how much you want it. You could have the facility to be the most successful performer, but if you don’t live, breathe and want it, you won’t succeed.”
It was at that point I knew I was exactly where I needed to be - as a late starter - but as someone who had never wanted anything more in their life, what she said was the catalyst for my career. At that point I knew I wanted to be a performer and would fight every step of the way to be the best I could be.
Teaching is a gift. I am so humbled from what I have learnt from my students and am grateful for them turning up and producing some of the best dancing I’ve ever seen, often surprising themselves. It inspires me to create new work for them. I try to bring an energy to my studio/classroom where my students will be pushed beyond their own perception of what their potential is. I encourage them to drive themselves to places they think they aren’t capable of, often breaking down walls, beliefs and preconceived ideas. I encourage all my students to be the best possible versions of themselves, as we are born into the package that the universe has given us so we must nourish it to the best of our ability. The complicated/challenging world of the arts as we know is not easy, and we must be the most authentic version of ourselves to succeed.
I am Head of Dance at The Institute for American Musical Theatre. I teach technique classes, jazz, and musical theatre at the school. I also oversee all of the dance teachers that come and teach for our school. Every single one of my teachers has in common is that they are to be encouraging, insightful, creative, but firm. All of our teachers have experience in the business so they are teaching from first hand experience which we pride our school on.
I teach my classes almost as a masterclass every time, delving into the minds of my dancers/students, trying to bring out stories, emotions and their own connection to movement. I drive them to learn how to let go of conformity and to embrace what they have been given, all while throwing intense technical aspects of dance at them. Whatever level they are at, I will always challenge my students to have courage and be willing to make mistakes and learn from them. Because this is the truest way we succeed, is through failure. Sometimes this ends in emotional out pours, but I never leave my students feeling like they have failed, I encourage them that what they have experienced is a success. They pushed themselves beyond what they were ever capable of. This is where the work starts. This is where the extraordinary is made. As the trailblazer and power house singer Celine Dion sings, “It’s the moment that you think you can’t, you’ll discover that you can.” - this WILL bring you closer to the power of the dream.
Without going all “Soul Sessions with Oprah” on you all, I have in the past been made to feel worthless, stupid, and insecure. It has carried through my life and I still fight on a daily basis to connect with my heart and know I am enough. From this feeling I teach purely from a source of love and encouragement no matter where my students are, their background, their aesthetic, their ability. I make sure that each and every one of them is made to feel none of those things I felt, as I would never want to put that weight on any gift of life.
My main goal as a teacher is to make a difference in the world, to change a person's life, to encourage the defeated that they are capable of anything.
I had a student ask me once, “Why do you dance?” - my response was, “It began as an escape for me, from reality, it was the one place I knew that I could think of nothing else but dancing. I found after years of training, my passion, artistic input and time, it grew into something much deeper. It became a place of peace. When I am dancing I am most at peace, the noise stops, my soul soars and begins to dances euphorically. This is why I dance.”
I hope my students will find that place in their lifetime. That is a gift we mustn’t take for granted. So to all my budding students out there reading this, listen to your heart and follow your dreams, nurture your gift and put the extra in extraordinary.