When Kenny Pearl first starting teaching dance in the 1970s he said it was a trial by fire, but he quickly found that he enjoyed sharing his knowledge and experience with others.
At the time Pearl, who got his start at the National Ballet School of Canada in Toronto, was a performer for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in New York City. Pearl said Ailey “very generously” selected him to be one of the few dancers at the company who taught master classes while the group was on tour.
“He had a good feeling for me as a teacher and sort of pushed me into those situations so I could develop and I just always really enjoyed it,” Pearl said.
“Teaching is a mutual collaboration between teachers and students and requires a lot of mutual respect and … I love the eagerness and the high energy and high spirits and intelligence of the young dancers. It’s always there. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a class that just wasn’t terrific and filled with inspired, eager, intelligent people really striving to do something they really love to do.”
Pearl returned to Toronto in the early ’80s, joining the Stratford Theatre Festival in 1981 and the Toronto Dance Theatre in 1983, where he served as artistic director and later as an instructor. He has taught at the School of Performance at Toronto’s Ryerson University since 2002.
Although he mostly works with adult dancers, Pearl will be turning his attention to a younger demographic for a pair of classes at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre on Oct. 14. Once class is open to students 13 and up, while the other welcomes more experienced dancers older than 16.
Pearl said he goes into a class with a plan in mind, but adjusts his approach as he gets to know his dancers.
“With modern dance training, there is a basic sequence of movements to warm up the body in an organic way,” he said via email.
“And although some exercises are more complicated than others, the exercises have great similarities whether the dancers are elementary, intermediate or advanced. As class goes on, the movement will develop in a more complex way for the more experienced dancers.”
As a dancer who began his training in his late teens, Pearl said he looked to his teachers as role models and said their guidance was of “the greatest importance imaginable.”
“I needed to find people that would inspire me in all the right ways,” he said. “My good teachers just meant the world to me because they were the ones that I trusted to lead me down the path of something I dreamed of doing and knew I couldn’t do unless I had great advice and great guidance.”
Pearl said being a teacher himself is a huge responsibility that he doesn’t take for granted. With only two hours to spend with each of his two classes at the conference centre, Peal is aiming to build a trusting rapport with his students and nurture their love of dance.
“I’d like to leave after my classes and know that the dancers had a great time,” he said, later adding, “The most incredible thing, I think, is to really enhance their imagination.”
WHAT’S ON … Kenny Pearl dance classes at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre on Oct. 14. First class runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is open to students age 13 and up. Second class runs from 1:30 to 3 p.m. and is open to dancers age 16 and up. Classes are $25.