Please Wait a Moment

Behind the Curtain Blog

NDEO's "Behind the Curtain" Blog features articles written by NDEO members about dance and dance education topics as well as periodic updates on NDEO programs and services. This is a FREE resource available to ALL.

NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a post by Gina D'Antonio-Spears, Dance Educator, Portage Park Elementary, Chicago Public Schools.  Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please click here.

When I first began teaching in Chicago Public Schools, dance positions were few and far between. One day, I was at a conference and I met this amazing elementary dance teacher. I latched onto her like a lost puppy, asked if we could have lunch together, and *boom* I had a mentor. Suddenly I was not alone in my work, no longer teaching dance in a bubble. Over the years she advised me and inspired me, and if I am being honest, she kept me from giving up on myself. She introduced me to dance organizations, shared her teaching strategies, and shared how she grew her dance program from the ground up. I felt like I could take on the world because she lifted me up and helped me see the dance educator I could be.

Photo of Gina standing in front of a group of kids with large hats on.  She is wearing all black and standing aginst a black curtain.

Over the years, dance programs were added into our schools, but there were still very few of us across the district. Every time I met a dance teacher at a workshop or conference, I immediately introduced myself and made sure to swap contact information so we could be friends. I was determined to feel connected to others so that I wouldn’t feel alone in my work. As time passed, I transitioned from an inexperienced teacher to a veteran, and colleagues began to look to me for that mentorship I so desperately needed at the beginning of my career.

I have been mentoring dance teachers for more than ten years. It began with leading workshops for arts educators and hosting study groups for dance colleagues. I shared my strongest strategies with participants, such as differentiation techniques for the dance classroom, close reading a work of art, or dance integration techniques. After the workshops, teachers would send me pictures or video clips of their students taking part in the lessons inspired by my workshops. It was so inspiring to see the impact my work was making on students at other schools. I was hooked!

Then I became a mentor in our district’s New Teacher Cohort. We received some training, then began to mentor teachers in their first year of teaching. I supported not only dance teachers but other “specials” teachers, and I really started to become passionate about mentoring others. I applied to become a mentor for the NDEO mentorship program, and I am proud to say that I have been a mentor in every cohort. I absolutely loved working with new teachers and found the entire experience to be so rewarding. I spent as much time mentoring teachers as I did planning lessons for my classroom, but it never felt like extra work because I was so passionate about it.

Over time I mentored dozens of dance educators through workshops, study groups, virtual meetings during COVID, the dance community of practice, and online forums. I have received nicknames such as “The Dance Whisperer” and the “Godmother of CPS Dance.” I lovingly call my dance colleagues my Dance Squad and encourage everyone to support one another and share resources. What began as mentoring has grown into a wonderful group of not only colleagues, but close friends.

A few years ago, I was in a virtual meeting with a colleague who works in the CPS Arts Department. We were talking about my teaching practice, areas of strength and opportunities for growth. I started talking about the teachers I am mentoring and how much I enjoy that work. They said to me, “Your mentees are so lucky to have you, but who mentors YOU?” The conversation really stuck with me. Do I still need a mentor? I had so many dance educators who were close friends and provided me with support and encouragement, but would I call any of them mentor? (No, they probably looked to me as the mentor.) Should I be seeking out a mentor? After more than 20 years of teaching, is this necessary?

A small group of young ballet dancers circles around another dancer demonstrating a step with a teacher helping her at the barre.

Then I was asked to be on the CPS Arts Scope and Sequence writing team. The Arts Department brought in “experts” for each discipline to help guide our work. Our team was fortunate to work with a veteran educator from another state. I had many of her books and was excited to meet her in person. I was starting to think about the next phase of my career - should I write a book, become a consultant, work in higher education? - and I was eager to tap her brain for some ideas. At the end of the writing team’s work, I asked her if I could connect with her and ask some questions, share my ideas, and hopefully receive some advice. She was happy to do so….I had a mentor! We connect every few months to talk about life and careers, and it has been so nice to have someone to talk to about my goals and aspirations. I realized how much I still needed a mentor, an advisor, a cheerleader.

I believe that in all chapters of our careers (and maybe our personal lives, too), we need a mentor. We need someone who has experienced the same things as us and can be an empathetic listener, an advisor, and a support system. In the beginning of my career, it is likely I would not have pushed through the tough times without my mentor. In the middle of my career, I needed the validation that comes from colleagues looking upon me as the mentor, which reminded me not to give up on myself. In this later phase of my career, I still need a mentor to help me find perspective, see life beyond the classroom, and discover my passions. I consider myself lucky to have both mentors and mentees in my life, and recommend that everyone finds that special person who can be their guide, their supporter, and their coach.

This blog is dedicated to Eddie, Amanda, and Marty…who have influenced the teacher I am today. Thank you for helping me grow.

NDEO currently offers two Mentorship Programs for dance teachers in PK-12 Schools and in the Independent Sector:

  • The PK-12 Mentorship Program is currently seeking Mentors, Mentees, and Mentorship Supporter for Cohort #7.  The deadline to apply is April 22nd, 2024Click here to learn more and apply
  • The Independent Sector Mentorship program will open their call for Cohort #2 Mentors and Mentees in May 2024. Click here to learn more.
headshot of Gina, a white woman with light brown hair.  She is smiling at the camera, is wearing a silver necklace and brown shirt.

Gina D'Antonio-Spears has been teaching dance in Chicago Public Schools for more than 20 years. She is currently developing a new dance program at Portage Park Elementary, a PreK through eighth grade school. Gina is a teacher-leader in a variety of capacities, leading professional development, co-facilitating the dance community of practice, and mentoring new teachers in her district. She has also presented workshops for IAHPERD, IL-DEO, local arts organizations, and NDEO. She has been a mentor for all six cohorts of the NDEO Mentorship Program. Gina recently co-authored an article in Dance Education in Practice on SEL in the dance classroom. She has a BFA in Dance Education from Shenandoah University and a MEd in Educational Leadership from American College of Education. Teaching students is her joy, teaching teachers is her passion.

Photo Credits (in order from top to bottom): Featured photo courtesy of The Joffrey Ballet Community Engagement, Gina D'Antonio-Spears,
Courtesy of Lisa Geger at Columbia Ballet Summer Intensive by Brett Geger, James Spears

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