CNADM’s Member of the Year is a dance educator who strives to instill skills that extend well beyond the studio.
Kristina Crane Collier, MDE, is celebrating her 17th year as instructor at Debra Collier’s School of Dance in Warsaw, Indiana, where she began as a student. She’s a devoted member of CNADM, attending every workshop since 1998. Says nominator Sue Girten, MDE, “You will always find Kristina on the dance floor where she shows respect to our faculty and assists those around her who may be struggling with a step. And she does it with a smile!”
Kristina began ballet lessons at Collier’s at the age of six. She describes her childhood self as “a typical girl who wanted to be a ballerina.” She later switched to gymnastics for five years. When she came back to dance in her preteens, she really became serious about the craft.
“I really wanted to be in musical theater in New York,” she explains, “but I hated auditioning.” Not one to let moss grow beneath her pointe shoes, she embarked on her teaching career at Collier’s at the ripe age of 16. She started by teaching a tumbling class, a natural choice given her gymnastics experience. Her relationship with the school quickly grew. By her third year, her class load grew to 11 classes covering ballet, swing and many other styles. In her fourth year, she started teaching full time.
In the intervening years, her responsibilities have continued to expand. Says school founder (and mother-in-law) Debra Collier, MDE, “She’s invaluable. She’s an excellent teacher, very versatile and students just love her.” Kristina is the co-director of the school’s dance troupe, Class Act Dance Troupe, as well as director of the studio’s community outreach programs. She facilitates pre-school field trips, salsa workshops at area high schools, and swing classes at proms and college events. Says Debra, “We started calling the schools to offer the dance workshops. Now they call us.”
Each summer Kristina conducts a unique class for girls aged three to seven called Princess Camp. To make the experience truly immersive, Kristina dons full regalia of nearly every princess from lore including Jasmine, Tinker Bell and her signature character Cinderella. “The girls adore it!” says Debra. Adds Kristina, “There was one little girl who actually thought I was Cinderella. She came up to me and said, ‘I was just at your house!’ because her family had just come back from Disneyworld.” She even shows up in the community dressed as Cinderella.
Kristina’s range of students proves that dance is a lifelong activity. She says, “I love the utter excitement of little kids, as well as seeing older students challenged and mastering something new.” She teaches children as young as 18 months in her “Mommy & Me” class. Her oldest student was an 83-year-old grandfather who wanted to impress his great-grandson at his wedding. “I got more out of it than he did,” says Kristina.
Several of her pupils have gone on to major and minor in dance. And to all of her adolescent and teen students, dance affords her the opportunity to instill confidence, and impart skills that will help them through life.
Teaching at Collier’s led Kristina to one special relationship in particular, meeting and eventually marrying the owner’s son. “It’s made things fun and interesting,” jokes Debra, her mother-in-law and employer.
Along the way, Kristina has realized the ultimate reward of dance education is seeing the “a-ha!” moment in a student’s expression. “We can plant that seed and instill that passion in our students,” she says.
The studio has five total faculty members and teaches ballet, jazz, modern, hip-hop, ballroom, tap, movement and a class for adults with developmental challenges. Students range from professional aspirants to novices looking for diversion and exercise. “If someone is interested in the performing arts, we don’t exclude them because of lack of experience.”
The studio is also doing its part to break gender stereotypes, creating a dance curriculum just for boys, called Boys Jam. It’s a boys-only jazz-based class to give participants a place where they feel comfortable and accepted.
However, Kristina has seen the biggest change among their fathers. “It’s really opened the dads’ eyes about how much dance can help with athletic skills,” she says.
The school’s curriculum focuses on the steps, but they also teach the related vocabulary, history and method of the dance. “That way, students learn more than just following our movements,” Kristina explains.
In addition to the traditional facets of dance instruction, she says our wired society has created new challenges. “We’re living in a very instant society with the Internet and social media. We have to teach them that there’s a process to learning something and doing it well.” However, the Internet has brought one invaluable resource for dance teachers – iTunes. “Now you just type in a genre and you find it.”
Kristina has been a member of CNADM since 2000. She earned her CDE in 2003 and her MDE in 2005. She’s a strong believer in the organization as a place for educators to feel welcome and learn techniques to make their studios their best. “I’ve met a bunch of great people who’ve helped me greatly,” she says. “I do all I can to provide the same help for others.” In recent years, she has gotten involved in CNADM committee work and has been most instrumental in securing prizes for the President’s Welcome Party.
Her passion for helping others through the language of dance is as strong as ever. “Dance has helped me through a lot. And I want to pay it forward,” she states. “I’m so fulfilled in what I do, and I feel very fortunate that I have a career that I love. I’ve worked outside of the dance world, but with dance, you’re surrounded by those with the same passion, which makes it easy to do your job.”
CNADM congratulates Kristina, our well-deserving Member of the Year! We also extend heartfelt thanks for her years of service, and her passion for dance and all the ways it enriches those who pursue it.