New Alston dance teacher finding her place

  • Thursday, October 10, 2013

Michael Quirk/Journal Scene Alston Middle School dance teacher Amanda Nelson instructs students at the beginning of class.

In 1926 a real estate classified ad in Chicago coined the phrase “Location, location, location.” The locution “Location, location, location” is part of every day speech that ranges from real estate agents to Disney World. For Alston Middle School dance teacher Amanda Nelson it has been a theme of her budding career.

A graduate of the Charleston School of the Arts, Nelson enrolled at the University of South Carolina where she earned a degree in dance education. The West Ashley native looked to return close to home to Charleston but found herself without an opportunity.

“I taught in the SMAART program the last four summers and looked for a job in Charleston County but there weren’t any,” she lamented. “Luckily there was a job opening here and I’ve really enjoyed the district. All the teachers are supportive of each other and the district really values fine arts.”

If you weave through the halls of AMS and go through the double-doors you will eventually find your way to her classroom. The ideal capacity of the trailer is 15, she said, despite housing 19-30 dancers at any school hour. Once again Nelson found herself in a more alternative location than expected.

Freshly out of college, Nelson is closer in age to her students than many of her peers. A fan of shows like “The Office,” “Community” and “Psych,” she feels that her young age has its advantages.

“I can relate to them more than some other teachers can because (Nelson and the students) use some of the same lingo and listen to some of the same music.”

She admits there are also disadvantages to coming in as a new teacher.

“Experienced teachers are a lot less stressed than me,” she laughed. “They tell me not to take my work home with me and that has been a huge challenge. They give ma lot of advice and that has been really great.”

Students in studio classes tend to be more receptive to criticism according to Nelson, but the kids she teaches now are generally more eager.

“You can see the excitement here and they’re ready. If the kids are looking at me while I’m teaching or they’re remembering to dress out everyday, that’s how you know who wants to get something out of the class.”

At age 3 Nelson took up ballet and took part in summer intensives, the Governor’s School and the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. In high school she began performing in competition dance such as hip-hop, jazz and tap. She still had a passion for ballet, but developed a new appreciation for the contemporary dance.

“Ballet has always been important to me and I grew up with it. Modern dance is a new love, you move your body easier. It’s easier to express yourself with less structure.”

After school lets out Nelson finds time to give private lessons, allowing time to get to know her students better. She will be taking two groups of students to Myrtle Beach next month for the SCAHPERD conference.

“A friend of mine and I each have a piece we’re going to do so we’re splitting the kids up. It’s a big honor to perform there and we’re all very excited.”

Two years ago Nelson found a stray dog on the side of the road. After realizing he could open doors on his own, she named him Houdini after the famed escapist. Like Houdini, Nelson has found a new door opened for her at AMS.

“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I love working with kids and dance is my passion. This is exactly where I want to be.”

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