The Happy Dance Podcast: Episode #3

Read the podcast transcript below or click HERE to download the PDF!

Hi there! My name is Saumirah McWoodson, and I’m the founder and CEO of Dance Daze, Inc. and Dance Daze in Schools, and I’m also a dance education researcher and business consultant at And I’m the host of The Happy Dance Podcast where we talk about all things related to dance, education, and cultivating a life of happiness. So, let’s dance!

Hello! Again, my name is Saumirah McWoodson, and you are listening to Episode 3 of The Happy Dance Podcast! So thank you very much for tuning and I’m so excited that you have decided to join me either for the third time or perhaps for the very first time. So again, in this podcast, I will be talking about all things related to dance, education, and cultivating a life of happiness. So, In Episode 2, I talked about community and about surrounding yourself with fantastic, great, wonderful people who will enhance and inspire your life in a positive way. So today I’m going to switch it up a little bit and I’ll jump into that in a second.

I don’t want to forget I actually want to first tell you why I’m doing a happy dance.

So today, I’m doing a happy dance because I’m having a wonderful summer. I’m keeping busy, and I’m getting a lot of things accomplished, but also, tomorrow is my birthday. And I absolutely love birthdays, I love holidays, and I love excuses, to spend quality time with great people, like I mentioned in my last podcast! So I’m very excited that tomorrow’s my birthday and I have plans with friends tomorrow evening and for later on this weekend as well. So that is why I am currently doing a happy dance.

Okay, so now to dive into what I wanna talk about today. I previously mentioned that I’m researching dance educator preparation and pathways to long-term careers for dance educators in the United States.

Okay, so today I’m actually going to comment on an article about service learning practice in higher education in dance education.

Okay, so I’m gonna give you a little bit more of my background in dance education, and how I came to essentially teach dance and to start some dance education organizations. So I pretty much grew up as a competition dancer. I studied at a large school for the performing arts in Daly City, California. So, you can read this in my bio on my website, at I studied at Westlake School for the Performing Arts in Daly City, California, from when I was about four or five years old, until I was about 13 years old, and then my family moved and I started dancing at a different, a few different other studios in the East Bay of California.

As far as my teaching experience, although I studied dance as a student at the pre-professional level and had experience competing in dance for several years, I didn’t really get any teaching experience until I was in my very early 20s and I went to study abroad in Marburg, Germany. So the summer before I was in Germany, I actually was a participant in a program called Camp Adventure or Camp Adventure Youth Services, so we basically ran really awesome summer programs, or year-round programs depending on what track you were on, for the children of United States service men and women. So I spent a summer in Brussels, Belgium, with Camp Adventure then I went right into studying abroad in Marburg, Germany. And somewhere in that time I had my first experience teaching dance. So I taught, I believe one class at United States Army Garrison Bamberg, I believe, to a small group of students, which was really fun, just kind of as a camp counselor type of person. I did that as part of my internship. I wasn’t paid for it. And then when I studied abroad, I taught a couple of classes, I substitute taught some classes, at very Fairy Tale Dance Studio, which is just outside of Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.

So that was… Those were pretty much my first two experiences teaching dance ever in my life. And so, that’s interesting in my opinion, because I know a lot of people who work as dance educators or who start their own dance companies and their own dance studios, they have different tracks toward becoming professional dance educators, and so I think a lot of people do have that similar experience of, they are students and then they teach.

However, I did not have the experience of studying dance as an undergraduate student. I did spend one year studying dance education at the graduate level, and completing some graduate work in the Dance Education Master’s Program at New York University and that was during the same time that I earned my American Ballet Theatre Teacher Certification in Primary through Level 5 of the ABT National Training Curriculum. So I basically had almost no experience teaching and then I jumped into a graduate program, in dance education so that I could learn how to teach. I always felt I was very… Again, I was in my early 20s then, but I felt like that experience as well, set me aside from a lot of people who were in my cohort in that program because many of them had undergraduate degrees in dance, or something related to the arts. There were a couple of people who had some degrees in Biological Sciences and things like that, but I kind of always felt a little bit of an odd ball out because I was a competition dancer, which I felt was a little bit looked down upon and I had been a varsity cheerleader in high school. So I felt like I definitely wasn’t coming from this–even though I had studied the Vaganova method of classical ballet and I had trained at the pre-professional level–I didn’t feel like I had this ivory tower training, when I entered my graduate program in dance education. Anyway, I came back to California, and I essentially started Dance Daze, Inc. and Dance Daze in Schools, sort of right away, with only teaching a couple of classes in my early 20s, and then doing a year in a graduate program in dance education and becoming an American Ballet Theatre Certified Teacher.

Okay, so I want to talk more about my background and tell you what Dance Daze in Schools has done. So the reason I’m interested in this article that I was reading (and I’m going to grab it here) . . . So this article is in the journal of Dance Education in Practice Volume 5, Number 1, and it’s from this year, 2019. The article is called Developing a Service Learning Project Within a University Choreography Course. It’s by, I believe this is how you say her name, Ali Duffy. She’s an associate professor of dance at Texas Tech University.

So that’s the article that caught my eye and the reason it caught my eye is because I really love service learning. And I’m not quite sure at this moment where that interest and passion began for me, but I know with some of my earliest work with Dance Daze in Schools, that’s exactly what I was doing, I was working to create service learning opportunities for college students, even though I was not in any way a university professor, a college professor, and I was actually doing this both before and while I was earning my Master of Arts degree in Education from the University of the Pacific.

So if you want some examples of what kind of stuff I was doing, you can go ahead and go to Again, that’s And there you’ll find a couple of blogs that I wrote myself, but you’ll also find blogs that were written by my service learning interns that were working for or volunteering for Dance Daze in Schools.

And so there are two particular experiences that I helped to facilitate or took the lead on with Dance Daze in Schools, and one was with UC Berkeley with their Chan Fellows Program, so that was really awesome. I was able to work with an extreme student from China who was a Chan Fellow and she helped to start a dance program at a Mandarin immersion school in Oakland, California, as part of her fellowship requirements, but also as part of being a service learning intern with my organization, Dance Daze in Schools. So that was really awesome. And she worked with dances and schools for an entire year.

And again, if you go to, you’ll be able to find some photos. And she has a couple of posts up there that she wrote herself, and so that’s really great. And then the other service learning program that I was able to develop was in partnership with St. Mary’s College of California which is in Moraga, California, and there, the leadership program or the service learning internship program, that I partnered with on their campus was called the Bonner Leaders program with the Bonner Leadership Program.

It was a little bit similar to the Chan Fellows program, in that my interns had to complete a certain number of service hours giving to the community each week. There had to be some sort of reflection each week, that sort of thing. They were different because these students at St. Mary’s College of California, they were not extreme students, they were just getting their degrees from St. Mary’s College. So those were some of my, I guess my most streamlined experiences with developing and partnering with other organizations to help design this service learning experience with using dance as the medium. And so basically, I used to spend a lot of time emailing people and calling people for hours every day, essentially, and that’s how I found these programs and how I got in touch with these, these two individuals. One was named Ryan and one was named Sunshine. I got to partner with them and participate in these great programs. Then I got these interns matched with Dance Daze in Schools, and then I personally went out and I found schools for the interns to work with, so schools that were in typically, they were under-served communities or they did not have a dance program already, things like that. I was able to find public schools each time. So even though I personally as an academic, as a classroom teacher, I’ve only personally taught in private and charter schools with Dance Daze in Schools, I’ve actually worked with a lot of public schools and a couple of charter schools as well.

Okay, so, so now I wanna dive in. So that’s kind of my background in developing these service learning internships. I also wanna say that I was fortunate that in partnering with these programs that the interns were paid and so that’s something that’s always been important to me. I know that when I was a college student, there were tons of opportunities that were available but a lot of them were free.

And I’m a big advocate of volunteering, I’ve been a member of several volunteer organizations in my life, including as an active member, formerly, of Alpha Phi Omega National Co-ed Service Fraternity, which I joined when I was an undergraduate student.

So service is a big part of what I do, but I also think it’s important, when possible, to pay people for doing quality work.

And so I am proud that Dance Daze in Schools has always been able to pay our interns even if they are completing more of a service learning project, even if they are working as interns, they are paid interns. So I’m very proud of that. That I’ve been able to do that. Whether it was just through Dance Daze in Schools or whether it was in partnership with other community organizations, colleges, and educational foundations and that sort of thing.

Okay, so in this article, again, I’m not sure if I’m saying her name correctly, but I believe it’s Ali Duffy. She talks about basically how she started to incorporate a service learning component into her university choreography course. She talks about how she just wanted to sort of restructure the class that she had been teaching for a couple of years, and how it coincided with her recently founding a non-profit dance company and forming partnerships with community organizations and that sort of thing.

She talks about how she re-worded the description of the course, how she supported the college students in leading the courses for their partner organization, which happened to be a school that served middle school-age children.

And then the article goes on to talk about some different aspects that they incorporated it into their teaching, so a lot of elements of dance, a lot of improvisation, a lot of choreography techniques, the college students were teaching to the middle school students, and so I thought that was really great. The college met with their students that they were teaching, the younger students, twice per week maximum and they had to, after each day of working with the students, they had to write a reflection paper and reflect on questions such as: What did you observe? How is your experience similar or different than you expected? What impacts the way you view this experience? What did you learn about the people or this community? How can you apply this experience to other experiences now or in your future? How do you sense our class and the Talkington class are affected, impacted or experience experiencing each other? What surprised you about this experience?

One thing I really liked about this article is that she pretty much lays out how she supported the college students. There was a lot of debriefing. There was a lot of reflection, which is a core part of a core component of service learning. She talks about how she made sure that her university students had a bit of a background in classroom behavior management, and they talked about different ways to approach more challenging situations in the dance classroom. And so I think that that’s really awesome. I think that’s a piece that’s missing for a lot of newer dance educators who don’t necessarily have a background in teaching in the classroom already.

And so, one thing I really liked that’s mentioned in this article is that she says, Duffy states that the teacher of the students with the community organization with whom the university partnered, at the end she sent an email and told Duffy that she appreciated that her students were “exposed to elements of dance, improvisation, and choreography as a communicator of meaning as opposed to a series of steps to replicate and perform.”

And so I thought that was just… If you’re interested, you can go through read the article you can find it in online if you have access to this journal. Again, it’s in Dance Education and Practice, Volume 5, Number 1, 2019. But anyway, I just found it really awesome the way that she describes the way in which she helped her students teach dance, or use dance to teach, I guess, sort of life skills or ways to kind of observe or take in information and to act and react in different life situations. I think that’s what’s important about teaching dance through a service or community-based opportunity, instead of the traditional either studio dance classes or professional or pre-professional dance classes. There is definitely, with the service learning component, there’s so much of an emphasis on giving back as a citizen and helping to create responsible and engaged and empathetic citizens, I believe.

So that’s all of interest to me.

So I wanted to say, for my personal take-aways I think that this is just absolutely great and I’m interested personally in going out, and I’m sure I will, again, (I’m not sure if you listen to my previous podcast, but I am a doctoral student at the University of the Pacific, so this is all within my realm of research) but I really want to go out and look more into what kind of educational opportunities, dance programs, either undergraduate or graduate-level dance programs in the United States are providing for their students.

And I also, as part of that, I would love to know more about which of those programs are providing specifically service learning opportunities and I would like to see how those differ or when students leave the program, how does that I guess their next steps after leaving college and the university, what’s the difference between the students who had a little bit of service learning experience through dance and those who did not? So that kind of interests me after looking at this article, and then it makes me curious as well. So I went in a lot about, I went into a lot about my background in dance and how I kind of I didn’t rush into teaching. I was definitely someone who I could have taught. There were a couple of studios in Stockton. If you know Stockton–yes, there are nice dance schools in Stockton. There are lots of awesome things in Stockton, actually, but some people don’t realize that I think because of rumors.

But anyway, I didn’t jump at the opportunity to teach, I was a little bit shy, but I was also kind of . . . I’m someone who definitely learns from observing, and I like to take things in and I never want to do anything until I feel prepared. So as I get older, that’s changing a little bit. And I think that’s also coming with accepting, realizing, claiming ownership of my experience, of my knowledge, of my education that I’ve had so far, but definitely when I was in my late teens, early 20s, just entering adulthood, I was not someone who was very much like… “Yeah, I know what I’m doing. Let me teach this class!”

So with that, I didn’t have a lot of teaching experience I was a student of dance for a very long time, and so, anyway, getting back on track, reading this article makes me curious about how the majority or what are some other ways that people are getting training to become dance educators?

So I think it is common that people, they start studying at studios and then they get an opportunity to teach and they jump at it and suddenly they’re dance teachers.

So for me, I think it’s different because I have that studio background and then I also have some pre-professional training experience in classical ballet as I mentioned, and I also had the great fortune of being able to observe and learn about dance in a professional environment at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, School at ABT when I was completing the certification there and studying in New York. And then also for me, which I think is really important and unique about the way that I view dance education and the way that I view my classes and the way that I view all of the teachers with whom I work, especially the college students, is that I have my Master of Arts Degree in Education so specifically in Curriculum and Instruction. And also with that, before I taught a class on my own, I participated in and completed an intensive teacher residency program while I was earning my Master’s degree, so every week, I had a full day of theory and discussion and debate and reading articles and reflecting on articles with my cohort, and then for the other four days in a week, I was in a classroom studying, under a master teacher. So I had that unique experience where I was not just thrown into a classroom of second grade students. I had a year of intensive training where I got to sit back and observe, and I got critiqued every day, and I got recorded, and I got to watch myself teaching and to comment on what mistakes I made, and I got to reflect on why I was not able to certain students, and why some students were not learning, and how could I make the information more accessible to all of my students. I had a year of that, a solid year of that. And so as a classroom teacher, I think that makes me different from many of my peers who were just kind of thrown into a classroom and said, “Okay this is your internship year while you are earning your Bachelor’s or your accelerated Master’s! You’re just gonna teach this class all on your own because you have a substitute credential!” or something like that.

And so I’m also curious as to what… What are kind of the common ways that most people who end up having a long-term career in dance education, how do they come to that? Is it common that most people who become dance educators or professional dance teaching artists I wonder if it’s common that they do participate in university courses, that they attend college to obtain these positions.

And so those are some of the thoughts that came into my mind as I was reading this article. And then finally one of my final thoughts or questions is: Where can people who don’t go to college, but who want to teach dance, where can they get this kind of learning and teaching experience in dance? So I guess I just, if you wanna comment on this, tell me how did you become a dance educator? How did you come into a space of opening your own studio? Those are the kind of questions I have because, like I said, I have my own experience but when I’m go out into the world now to continue my learning and my training in dance so far, I’m doing that with people who are at the university level, studying dance.

So when I went to participate in the Dance Education Lab’s program in Los Angeles, we were at a university at Loyola Marymount and we were with most people there were dance majors, or they were already professional dance educators, and so we were in that again, that kind of ivory tower world and the students were getting that awesome dance training.

Or last summer when I studied at the Sacramento Ballet and participated in that summer intensive, well, all the students there clearly are getting that professional level of training already. So what about the people who aren’t studying in these professional schools of dance? Or what about for those who are not attending college, and getting degrees in dance, or in choreography or in performance, dance education? I’m wondering is there still space for those individuals to become professional dance educators and to make a career out of it, and if so, how are they doing it? And then if not, why?

So, those are my thoughts. And I just wanted to bring it back to dance a little bit. So again, I was reading from or I had some little excerpts that I read from this article in the Dance Education in Practice journal, Volume 5, Number 1. And the title of the article, again, is “Developing a Service Learning Project Within a University Choreography Course.” And if you are interested in continuing this conversation with me or sharing with me your background in dance education or maybe it’s separate kind of like me, if you wanna show your background in dance and your background in education with me, feel free to email me. My email address is

So you sell that “s” as in “Sam,” a-u, “m” as in “Mary”, i-r-a-h at, and I will put that in my show notes! But thank you so much for tuning in to Episode 3 of The Happy Dance, and I really look forward to chatting with you again, next week. And let’s see . . . I think that I’m going to leave you with these words this time, so that you can continue cultivating that life of happiness.

I think that something that was emphasized in this podcast, in my opinion, is just that lifelong learning. So if you love something, challenge yourself to keep learning about it, keep diving in.

I’ve been saying it a lot lately, but . . . YOLO! Which means, “You only live once.” I respect you if you believe something different, but that’s kind of an expression that sort of reminds me to keep pushing forward and to keep learning and experiencing as much as I can. So definitely just keep diving in and keep seeking opportunities and experience in the things that you love.

Okay, so thanks again for listening and I will catch you next time.


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