To look at how dance mentoring works for National Mentoring Month, we've asked a few of Leap 'N Learn founder Beverly Spell's mentees to give us insight into what it's like having her as a mentor.
Meet Sarah Padgett. She's been dancing with Ms. Beverly since she was six, and she still takes lessons as well as teaches at The Ballet Studio now. She will be following another calling in life, but knows that the lessons learned from ballet are lessons that will stay with her for life. She's even given us her own forward to this interview:
To start out, any time I have the chance to brag about Ms. Beverly, I take it and run. She is one of the most hard-working, devoted teachers I have ever known. So to be able to sing her praises is one of the greatest gifts and honors I could be given. She goes beyond her role of being just a teacher. I remember thinking one day as I witnessed her fixing a girl’s pointe shoes for a performance so that she could dance and not be in extreme pain. She knew how important dancing on pointe was for this girl and how hard the young lady had worked. I thought to myself, “Wow. I am so incredibly lucky to have this teacher.” I even went to my mom and said, “Ms. Beverly is just amazing. What teacher would do for their students what she does for us?” No kidding — those were my words.
- Tell us a bit about your history with Beverly Spell. How long have you known each other? How did your relationship grow over time and how did the mentoring aspect develop? What’s your current connection to each other?
I first started ballet when I was about six-years-old, so I will have known Ms. Beverly for approximately fifteen years this upcoming August. As a kid, I took what Ms. Beverly taught me at face value. I saw the surface of what she was teaching, not the underlying, hidden lessons that she very cleverly implanted. Lessons that would later help me not only become a better dancer, but a better person. Over the years I have wondered: why do I have such an immense love, admiration, and respect for Ms. Beverly? What makes her different than all of the other teachers I have ever had? I have come to conclude that Ms. Beverly is not only an excellent teacher in the world of ballet, but also a tremendous teacher in the arena of life itself. Her firm, yet gentle guidance throughout my years in ballet have truly helped to shape me into the person that my parents were praying for and raised me to be. Ms. Beverly will always be my teacher and role model, and it is a great privilege to now be able to work for her and with her as a teacher on her Ballet Studio staff. As her student, I had no lack of positive encouragement and support, and, as her employee, I have no less of that same support — only more. I know that at any time I need assistance in or have questions about my job, she is willing to be at my side, coaching me and still teaching.
- How has your involvement with dance and having Ms. Beverly as a dance teacher shaped your life?
During my years of ballet training, I have definitely had to step out of my comfort zone, which helped me gain self-confidence and self-worth. Dance has brought me to places like the International Ballet Competition workshop in Jackson, Mississippi and New York City for training. Ms. Bev was always, and is still, providing countless ways for her to students to learn and grow at home and away. She has also brought in a good number of professional dancers from all over for workshops at the studio. These experiences always humbled me because I was nervous dancing in front of such unfamiliar, yet remarkable people. However, they were always great learning experiences for me because often times, a new culture was introduced and different viewpoints were taught. Whether at home or away, Ms. Bev was always mother-protector to her little ballerina chickadees. I always felt safe in her capable, loving hands, and as her students, we always knew to have our manners and Southern hospitality at full throttle.
- What are some of the most valuable things you’ve learned from Ms. Beverly?
There are literally countless things in ballet that I have learned from Ms. Bev. In fact, I feel like if I meet a ballerina somewhere who hasn’t trained with her, I want to say, “You are missing out. Big time.” Many of the things I learned in class from Ms. Bev I have been able to bring with me to the outside world. Perseverance, patience, determination, respect, and how to be okay with making mistakes are just a few of the virtues and lessons that have been strengthened in my life because of my knowing and studying under Ms. Beverly. One of the things I am most grateful for is learning to have a positive outlook and attitude. I cannot even express how much positive energy has affected my own improvement in ballet and in my own life in general, not to mention the effect it has had and still has in the classroom atmosphere when I teach or take class.
- What are your upcoming goals and plans? Are there ways that your relationship with Ms. Beverly will help you in these future endeavors?
For some time now I have been discerning entering into the religious life (becoming a nun) and now believe that it is my calling to do so. Ms. Beverly has been so supportive of whatever decisions I make along the way, and I know that I am in her prayers. The perseverance and dedication that I have gained over my years of dance and study with Ms. Beverly are great tools that I can use as a sister because prayer and spirituality also require these virtues, as well as patience and learning how to be okay with making mistakes. Even one of the sisters who saw the interview of Ms. Beverly in the opening of the Anne in Rhyme Land DVD said that my training under Ms. Bev at The Ballet Studio was such a blessing and a great preparation for a life devoted to Christ.
- What do you seek in a mentoring relationship? What qualities do you find most helpful or inspiring in a mentor?
In a mentoring relationship, I seek trust, encouragement, respect, and a genuine caring nature. Ms. Beverly always had the ability to have fun in the classroom while maintaining a balanced sense of order, discipline, and learning. I find this to be one of the hardest qualities to maintain in a mentoring relationship. As most people know and have experienced, a teacher can tend to be too soft and silly with her kids or too harsh and rigid. Ms. Beverly has always fascinated me when she walks into a classroom; I remember it as a kid, and I can see it now as a teacher: she steps into a room and immediately all of the kids straighten up taller and quiet down — not out of fear, but out of respect and admiration. We want to please Ms. Bev; we want her to be proud of us because we hold her in such high regard.
- What advice would you share to help other dance students or teachers foster a mentoring relationship?
Oddly enough, the advice I would give to teachers who are fostering a mentoring relationship is to just love all of your kids where they are. They just want to know that they are loved no matter if they can do a perfect plié or not. To dancing students, I would suggest practicing humility and respect in the classroom, outside of the classroom, and wherever else you may go because it will not only help you in your mentoring relationship, but in all relationships that you develop through life.
- You've also been on the other side of mentoring by teaching dancers. Can you explain a little bit about those experiences? What do you strive to do when guiding young students? What is your teaching and mentoring style like? And what is your favorite part of being a mentor?
As a teacher who has had the great privilege of training under one of the best mentors in the world, I have tried very hard to shadow Ms. Beverly’s technique of mentoring. I want the kids to be responsive and have fun, but I also want them to learn classroom etiquette and all of the wonderful lessons/virtues that I have gained from ballet. In guiding young students, I really try to remember what is best for them, not just in ballet class, but in life — a quality I gained from Ms. Beverly. She always wanted the best for her students, supporting them in all of their endeavors. My favorite part about being a mentor is seeing a student who is so excited to be in class, a student who can’t wait to see me and their classmates and is eager to learn. The most powerful words a teacher can hear are, “I love you.” The first time I heard those words from a student, I realized how important my responsibility as a teacher is. I’m impacting these children’s lives.
A big thanks to Sarah for sharing her stories, insight, and advice about mentoring. She brings out the best in everyone around her, and we are in awe by the amount of compassion and love that she gives her dance students. We know she will only continue to inspire others as she leads a life of example in her religious path.
Tell us your favorite part of Sarah's interview — or just comment to tell her hello and thanks for being so inspirational!
Do you have a similar dance mentor story? Feel free to celebrate these stories by sharing them with our dance community below or on Facebook!