Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Dance is much more than pirouettes, tutus and tap shoes. At least it is to Tanya Adkins.
As owner/instructor/competition team director at Life Dance Academy at 1212 Plainfield Ave., Janesville, Adkins sees dance as an inclusive, friendship-building activity, and she strives to make her studio a safe haven for all who wish to pursue it. A dancer herself, Adkins also understands the individual commitment required to find one’s voice through motion, and the desire to find others who speak the same language.
Born in Madison, Adkins grew up and graduated high school in Milton. She received her dance teaching certification in 1991 and began Life Dance Academy’s competition team shortly after. An award-winning dancer, she has been recognized regionally and nationally for her choreography and has worked with choreographers from “So You Think You Can Dance,” the MTV Music Awards and various music videos. As a teacher, she has led competitive dance teams to several national titles and good sportsmanship awards.
Away from the studio, Adkins enjoys spending time with her daughters, Kallisty and Taytum (who both teach at the studio), and “the softest cat in the world,” Cozette. In her spare time she enjoys going for walks, swinging on her swingset and watching movies with family and friends.
1. At what age did you become involved in dance, and what led you to this art form? I was 8 years old. My mom simply asked me if I wanted to try dance, and I said “yes.” I started with private ballet lessons.
2. Professional dancers make the process look so effortless. What goes into making it all look so easy? Lots of hard work. Hours of different classes, training in different genres and working with different teachers and choreographers. Every teacher brings a different perspective to help you grow and manifest artistry.
3. Aside from hours of practice, what else goes into becoming a dancer? Stretch training, proper nutrition, sleep, as well as a healthy social life. All of this combined helps to maintain longevity in dancers. Finding balance in your life helps keep your passion for dance going so you don’t get burned out.
4. Many professional sports team enlist dance instructors to help their athletes improve flexibility. What can a 320-pound NFL lineman gain by taking dance? Dance training works different parts of the muscles as well as the heart for endurance. Dance trains for lean muscle, while sports train for bulky muscle. Keeping the muscles stretched helps in preventing injury in your joints. Flexibility helps you understand how different muscles work and move.
5. In how many different disciplines of dance are you trained? Are there any in which you wish you were better versed? I am trained in six forms of dance: ballet, pointe, lyrical, contemporary, jazz and hip-hop. I have always wanted to learn Argentine Tango. To me, it is the most articulate form of ballroom.
6. What do students gain from dance even if they are not interested in pursuing a professional career? Students learn work ethic, teamwork, leadership qualities, emotional expression and creativity. I would say the thing they gain most though is a sense of social acceptance. Everyone in the classroom is there for the same reason. Economic, racial and gender barriers are broken down when kids are there because they share the same passion. There is a sense of complete respect for each other, which in turn, grows confidence inside and outside the dance studio. The classroom is an all-inclusive space for kids to express themselves.
7. Do you find it more gratifying working with younger students or older students? What were the ages of the youngest and oldest students you have ever worked with? Honestly, there is no favorite age group. Every age brings something special to the class. The younger groups bring a sense of energy and fun. Watching the little ones grow from season to season is gratifying because I get to see their development as children—meaning how to count music, learning right and left, large and fine motor skills and understanding how to work together and encourage each other. My older students are gratifying because I get to watch them grow as artists and express themselves through the hardest years of life. Being a teenager is hard. The studio is a place where they can feel things without ever saying a word. They also not only grow as dancers but grow into beautiful humans, encouraging one another, challenging one another and working as a unified unit within a classroom.
8. Are shows such as “Dancing With the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance?” positive or negative influences on the general perception of dance? They can be both. They can be positive in the sense that they bring dance into the mainstream of life. These types of shows also inspire dancers, teachers and choreographers to push themselves and learn from one another. The shows bring the beauty, creativity and athleticism of dance into every home. But they can be negative because dancers compare themselves to what they see on TV, and they want to skip the hard work and just learn things that take years to achieve. Sometimes, there can be a lot of unnecessary drama around dance that makes for good TV but puts dancers, teachers and parents in a very negative light. One of our most frequently asked questions when new people join the studio is “Are you like (the TV show) ‘Dance Moms?’ Let me assure you, the answer is always “no.”
9. Explain what ‘No Limits’ is and what led you to include it in your class offerings at Life Dance Academy? ‘No Limits’ is a specifically trained class through Rhythm Works Integrative Dance that allows for a wonderfully balanced rhythm and dance class for kids and adults with autism, Down syndrome, sensory processing disorder, cerebral palsy and other individual learning differences and physical challenges. It has always been the vision for Life Dance to have an all-inclusive dance program. My daughter has autism and sensory processing disorder, and she has been dancing since the age of 4. I have seen her not only grow but flourish though dance. Doctors have said her entire life that there is no way she could dance at the level she does, but she proved them wrong. My daughter is on my senior elite competition team, she is teaching this year, and she is now a mentor in our No Limits program. She is proof dance can change lives.
10. Your daughters, Kallisty and Taytum, are instructors at Life Dance Academy. What is it like being your kids’ boss both at work and at home? They have grown up in the studio and have taken classes from me their entire lives. They are both on the competition team and learned early on at the studio that I’m the coach, not mom. They work hard and have the same love and respect for the studio that I do. They look at it as their second home and extended family.
11. Of all the dance disciplines you cover at Life Dance, which would you say is the most popular and why? Definitely hip-hop. It is the most fun for kids because it is high energy, has great music and takes the least amount of discipline. There is no flexibility, extreme jumps or turns that have to be mastered to take the class.
12. When you go to the grocery store, what always goes into your shopping cart whether you need it or not? First of all, I hate grocery shopping, and my children are complete strangers to a home-cooked meal. They are in school all day and we are at the studio all night, so my stove is neglected. If I had to choose the one thing that is always in my cart, it is turkey sausage. We all eat them, and they are low fat, high protein and can be microwaved.
13. There was a time when dance classes were aimed specifically at young girls. Has that changed? If so, how? Oh yes, it has changed. TV and social media have preteens and teens more interested. Don’t get me wrong though; we still have a flood of adorable babies in pretty tutus running around.
14. What is the most common misconception about dancers? That we are all flexible (LOL).
15. Conversations about body image are prevalent these days. As a dance instructor, what steps do you take to make sure students of all body types get the most from dance? Dance is a form of exercise and expression. Social media has opened a door of acceptance and broken down stereotypes of what you must look like to dance. Kids can see accomplished dancers of all shapes and sizes on social media, which has helped with kids feeling confident enough to walk through the door. We are always very careful and mindful of how we costume kids at the end of the year show so all feel comfortable while dancing and being in front of an audience.
16. You have two hours of free time. What would you do? What’s free time? I usually clean my house. You would think with us never being home it would stay clean. On the contrary, we are home just long enough to drop everything where we stand to run out the door again.
17. People would be surprised to find out I: Do most of my choreography while swinging on my swingset.
18. If you weren’t teaching dance, what do you see yourself doing for a living? Dance has literally been my job since I was 16. It’s all I know. But I would probably customize rhinestone dance costumes (which I do on the side).
19. Chicken dance or hokey pokey? Chicken dance. I can get down with my bad self.
20. Talent aside, what are three things critical to having any success in the world of dance? Connections get you in the door; passion gets you noticed, and a tough skin keeps you going. You WILL be rejected at times, and you have to know it is not that you’re not talented. It just might be you’re not what they are looking for at the time.