I moved from Alaska to Harlem when I was a teenager to train at the School of American Ballet. I started dancing at the age of four, danced professionally with the Ailey 2 Dance Company, the Complexions Contemporary Ballet and, for more than five years, I had my own dance company called Ballet Noir. For the last 12 years, I have also been a ballet, modern, jazz, and contemporary teacher. Today I split my time teaching at the Dance Theater of Harlem and the Harlem School for the Arts where I am the Resident Choreographer of the Dance Department.
TEACHING IS A CALLING
For me teaching is a calling. It allows me to give back. For many of the kids I am more of a big brother or a fatherly figure. So many of them come from broken houses or were abandoned. I really want to help them reach their full potential and find who they are and what their passion is. I want to help them develop a sense of purpose. It’s so easy to get side tracked. As teachers, we need to keep these kids going and on the right path.
THERE IS NO REASON STRUCTURE HAS TO BE OPPRESSIVE
I work with kids between seven and 18 years old and they all have so much energy. My role is to help them canalize it. I try to be fair, not too soft, not too stern. It’s not easy to find the right balance. You don’t want to be cold and harsh to the point where they are so scared of you that they don’t want to come to class anymore. Children need structure and limits, but there is no reason structure has to be oppressive.
WE DON’T WANT TO CREATE DUMB ARTISTS
Kids need to be good academically, to have good grades in order to continue their training at the school. The academic strength brings so much more to the art. We don’t want to create dumb artistes. We want our kids to figure out and create their own path in life. A lot of the kids I worked with are now really successful. It’s a wonderful experience to watch them grow and to be able to help shape their future.
For more info visit Leyland’s website.