Zsófia (Zsófi) Németh ’16 conducted a series of interviews with SBS faculty as a member of the Multimedia Club. She is an ASSIST scholar from Budapest, Hungary. Zsófi has been interested in creative writing from an early age. She has been conducting interviews and writing articles for her Hungarian school’s newspaper and website since her middle school years. In addition to being a member of the Multimedia Club, she is co-president of the Literary Society. In her freetime she enjoys dancing, horseback riding, and skiing.
Ann Sorvino: Of course!
ZN: Let’s get started! What do you consider your primary motivation while teaching?
AS: I think that dance can change everybody’s life. If a student has success in the dance studio, she will have success in other walks of her life; for example, standing up and being in a debate or having a job interview. The skills you learn in a dance studio, like presenting yourself, can apply across your whole life experience. The other thing is that I love teaching young students the discipline of dance. Even if they don’t become dancers, they will understand what hard work is, and that it takes a lot of grit and determination to become a dancer. Also, I believe that I am creating a whole generation of dance audience. Even if many of my dancers don’t become performers themselves, they might choose to go and see a ballet or modern dance performance and would have an understanding of what they are seeing on the stage.
ZN: So you do not necessarily wish to train your students to become professional dancers?
AS: I like to do that, but I don’t think that my role at Stoneleigh-Burnham is always to train professional dancers. There might be a couple of them who go on to dance as dance majors. I have a number of students who are dancing for their profession, but I think the majority of my students are just learning the art of dance and finding ways of applying it. For example, I have had students who wished to become movement therapists or established their own dance studios.
ZN: Do you have any role models? If yes, why do they inspire you?
AS: My mother was a tap dancer, and she took me to my first dance classes, so she would probably be my first role model. Also, the head of the Julliard Program, named Martha Hill. She danced with Martha Graham when she was young. Martha Hill established the first dance program at Bennington College and she came to the Julliard School. She was somebody who I have always looked up to. She was a person who never made lists. Instead, she would just do what needed to be done at the moment.
ZN: What are the most challenging parts of teaching for you?
AS: It is to come up with new ideas all the time. But it is what I like the most about it. The challenge is always the next dance, the next performance. I have read a book written by Johanna Lerner about creativity. Is it the light bulb that goes off or is it just hours and hours of work and the idea comes out of that? I think most of the time it is the hours of work. This writer also said that daydreaming is really important to the creative process. Sometimes, we should just let ourselves wander and new ideas will come.
ZN: Do you have a favorite part of teaching?
AS: I just like being in the dance studio, and I love teaching technique. But probably my favorite part is when my students take my suggestions and apply them to their own movement vocabulary. I know that there are different ways of explaining things and people have different learning styles. Some people understand it when you say it and others understand if you show them what to do, so I try to adapt to the needs of my students.
ZN: Do you think that you also learn from your students?
AS: Yes, definitely! Last time, a 6-year-old little girl in my community class told me about the Holiday of Lights in India, which I have never heard about before. It was so interesting! Also, when I am on breaks, I try to go to dance classes because I don’t want to forget how it feels to be a student and, for example, not be able to pick up a combination as fast as you would like to.
ZN: In my opinion the bodies of the dancers play a crucial role during classes and performances, so it is really important for the students to feel comfortable with their own bodies.
AS: Absolutely. It is something we try really hard to achieve at Stoneleigh-Burnham. It is very challenging for dancers, singers and actors because you are who you are. Your body is your “instrument.” I believe that one of my primary jobs here is to make everybody comfortable in their own skins. Everybody can dance and there are all types of bodies. That is why I always loved modern dance because it was formed by people who didn’t have the traditional ballet body. I think that our students feel comfortable with sharing their own movement styles, which is great.
ZN: When and how did you first learn about SBS?
AS: We were living in New York City and we often came up to visit friends in Conway, Mass. My kids were getting a little bit older and we were planning to leave New York because it is hard raising kids in the city. So, we bought a house, but we were still travelling back and forth. Later, someone mentioned to me that there is an all girls’ school in Greenfield, which has a big dance program, so I came to visit. It was about 30 years ago. I remember turning down the driveway and thinking, “Oh, I’ve made the wrong turn. It is a country club, not a school.” I grew up in the Midwest where schools looked like schools. I thought, “It is too fancy, where people play golf or something.” Well, it happened that I started teaching just on Mondays and Fridays. Then, the dance teacher retired and a full-time job opened. It was a good time for us to move here. My daughter went to school here and graduated from here. That has been a nice perspective. I have been a parent and a teacher at the same time.
ZN: In what ways do you think SBS is different from other schools?
AS: It is very different. I grew up in Quincy, Illinois, where I went to a big, public high school. My graduating class had 600 people in it. It was enormous compared to this. There weren’t a lot of private schools at that time. My sister had a friend who went to a private school and we were like, “What?” So moving to the east coast was a real eye-opener for me. What I really like about Stoneleigh is that girls’ achievements are celebrated. My co-ed experience was that it wasn’t “advertised” if you were outstanding at doing something. In our school, during Housemeetings, we celebrate everybody’s accomplishments and we cheer for everyone who is successful. It is really nice!
ZN: So you do find that Stoneleigh-Burnham has a supportive environment?
AS: You know, there is competition in different ways, but people are celebrated for their strengths and if you have weaknesses you are helped. Here, it is okay to ask for help. There is a peer-tutor program and we also have extra-help time. I think it is unique of us.
ZN: If you wouldn’t be a teacher, what would you be?
AS: Well, I think I would be a therapist, but in some ways that is teaching too. I’ve always said that I do not really know what I would do if I could not teach. I love listening to people. After I graduated from Julliard School I took a lot of psychology classes at UMass.
ZN: My last question: Are you happy with your life?
AS: Yes, I think I am very blessed. I have found out long time ago that I like being in the dance studio. I just can’t sit behind a desk all day and look at a computer screen all day. I like jumping around (laughs). I’ve always said to people: Find what your passion is and then find out how to make money at it. Make sure that you love doing whatever you do.
ZN: Thank you Ann!