Copyright Marcel Von EsNichelle Strzepek has already been featured on this blog, as the author of one of my Top Ten blogs, DanceAdvantage.net. Nichelle joined me for an interview to discuss writing, teaching, performing and creating in the field of dance!
Nicole- Why did you create DanceAdvantage.net?
Nichelle- I talk about this in detail on my About Me page and a bit here as well. But the short story is that as early as 2003 I had the idea I wanted to create a site which provided useful tips and information for dance students. I thought it would help teachers to have a place online to send their pupils for quality content that accompanied and supported what they were learning in classes. I felt such a thing would help ME as it seemed I just never had enough time in class - too much talk, not enough dancing! I tried my hand building an early version of DA with HTML but it was slow-going and I was super busy teaching. Right after my son was born in 2007, I hit on blogging as a much easier format for pumping out and sharing the content I had in mind. Dance Advantage was born during naptimes.
Nicole- You have a large, varied content. Why did you choose to present it this way, rather than focus on 1 niche- say modern for teachers, or ballet for students?
Nichelle- Honestly, when I started the site in 2008, there were few dance blogs (that had enough traffic to be discoverable anyway) and even fewer were dealing directly with dance training or teaching topics. There were forums offering sometimes questionable advice or what felt like time-wasting message board drama, and the sites focusing on education were generally boring, static, and rarely updated. Dance blogging has since grown in popularity but I still often feel like I'm carving a path in uncharted territory. Occasionally I wish I'd had the foresight to narrow my topic but the vast range of content ultimately stems from a desire to fill the gaping hole that existed, and perhaps still exists to a degree.
Nicole- In addition to the varied content,you have a varied audience- teachers, parents, students. Did you consciously make that choice, or is that something that just happened?
Nichelle- I think initially I just found it hard to express ideas that didn't address more than one of these groups at a time. Something meant for students seemed perfectly applicable for use by teachers and increased understanding for parents, too, so I found myself "talking" about a topic as if all three were in the room. If there was a conscious aspect to the decision, it was simply that it made sense in my mind to have one site that met all of these needs (see my previous answer).
I've gotten better at directing a topic to just one of these groups at a time, but it's a shift I've made based on audience response. To me, someone who has been a student, teacher, and now even a parent, one take on a topic has applications on many levels. I can see the big picture. But I find that most readers don't know what to do with the information unless it's addressed to them specifically - they need one puzzle piece at a time. In other words, I discovered I can write the same post three different ways and be better off than if I try to speak to everyone at once. It's still a struggle for me though, to take what is in my experience a big, juicy subject and scale it down to bite-sized yet comprehensive pieces. Maybe this will always be the challenge.
Nicole- Would you say one group visits and/or uses the blog more often than another?
Nichelle- I think my writing style has appealed to teachers most, followed by parents and students really serious about their training. Most students have a low tolerance threshold for big topics. So I'm learning to adapt my collegiate writing style to students. It's not about dumbing it down, just making it super easy to digest, skim, and apply immediately. That kind of writing is harder than it looks, especially if you're not willing to just regurgitate but make it your own.
Nicole- What is your favorite feature on DanceAdvantage.net, and why?
Nichelle- I'm not good at sticking to set features like Music Fridays or Technique Tuesdays. I've tried. It works for some people but I get bored and start to feel trapped by the itinerary. And as you've observed, there's just too much to cover on DA. Boiling it down to features that work has been challenging. My Sunday Snapshot dance photography feature has been the only one I've managed to maintain over time because it's so straightforward. I have an editorial calendar but it focuses on broad topics suited for the time of year. The articles I most enjoy are the ones that really help people. I usually know when I've hit that goal squarely on the head but some posts surprise me.
Nicole- You and I are both musical theatre lovers and choreographers! What, to you, makes musical theatre worth the love?
Nichelle- That's a tricky question actually because much like dance, musical theatre has never not been present in my life. My mom is a vocalist and some of my early memories are of attending rehearsals with her at 'The Barn', which happened to be where the local community theatre housed itself every summer - an historic barn that had been converted into a theatre in the round. I've just always loved its combination of all my interests - dance, music, acting, and watching or making something come together from nothing but raw elements. That's what I like about choreography, too, come to think of it.
Nicole- What was your favorite show that you choreographed and why?
Nichelle- Fiddler on the Roof. It's not a dance musical per se but the movement is such an integral and rich part of the show - I was not the director of our production but, that it was originally directed and choreographed by the same person is inherently obvious once you dive into the script. I loved researching for authenticity and exploring the maginificent work Jerome Robbins had done on the show and then making it my own. It helped also that I saw the New York revival with Harvey Fierstein just months before we began production. It was so inspiring. I remain proudest of the work I did on that one.
Nicole- What is your favorite genre to teach and why?
Nichelle- My experience lies most heavily in teaching ballet, jazz, and modern. I've had less opportunity to teach modern than the others, even though that's the base of my professional training. More than genre, I think my favorite is teaching beginners in anything. I get excited and encouraged by a beginner's enthusiasm and openness. I like seeing that sparkle of desire when they achieve and become eager to learn more.
Nicole- What is your favorite genre to perform and why?
Nichelle- I think I enjoy the process of modern/contemporary dance performance even more than the performance of it. So, maybe those big, entertaining jazz numbers are my favorite! I don't know. I just like to perform.
Nicole- Are you still performing?
Nichelle- Minimally. After my son was born I performed in a full-length dance work but the schedule is challenging - I like being at home with him in the evening which is why I took a while to go back to teaching, too. Lately, I've been doing some work in dance film with a new company called Frame Dance. It's a lot less rehearsal and though you need only show up for the shoot, the work can live on. It's very different from live performance but the process is largely improvisational, which I like. I think eventually I'd like to focus a bit on doing some acting as a performance outlet. I just don't have time right now but my husband occasionally does some amateur theatre and it would be nice to work with him again on something down the line. Performing has never really been my professional focus but I'm happy when I'm working on a project.
Nicole- Do you think it is important for dance teachers to continue performing and training, or does past experience suffice?
Nichelle- Performing and training does taper off with time and age. The important thing is to keep learning and growing. Not just continuing to seek and understand more about dance but remaining curious and willing to discover, period. Resting on past knowledge and experience is a very dull way to live and it is no good for my students either. If I'm not putting stuff in, or if I don't have a personal outlet for creativity, my teaching well starts to run dry.
Nicole- Is there are anything else you would like to share with us today?
Nichelle- I've probably talked your ear off enough. :) Thanks for your interest in highlighting me and what I do over at Dance Advantage!
Nichelle Strzepek has already been featured on this blog, as the author of one of my Top Ten blogs, DanceAdvantage.net. Nichelle joined me for an interview to discuss writing, teaching, performing and creating in the field of dance!