MADISONVILLE, TEXAS: Walt Disney once said, “All of our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
After hearing Emma Mae Duke, age 19, talk about her dream of becoming a dancer, you will see an image of the dance teacher at Suzann’s School of Dance in College Station.
Number six in a line of eight children, Emma was home-schooled from pre-kindergarten through high school, and is currently a teller at the First State Bank of Bedias in Kurten while teaching dance at the school.
Emma enjoys working outside, as well as dancing.
Her love of dance began when she was five years old.
“I read a book about a little mouse who loved to dance … ‘Angelina Ballerina’ … and soon borrowed the movies from the local library to copy her dancing,” Emma said. “I wanted to love ballet just as much as she did.”
She said, “My teachers influenced me the most. They are the reason I wanted to be a teacher. Because every time I walked in the dance room my teachers always challenged me and pushed me.”
“Looking back over the years I see now how each different teacher taught me something that I will never forget. One taught me to dance soft as if you were a cold sharp snowflake, or a flower in the breeze. One teacher taught me the importance of artistry in my dance,” Emma said, and continued, “and how it wasn’t just the steps that needed to be performed, but also my face and upper body, how I smiled, where my eyes were looking.”
Emma said, “One teacher said,’Show me the movement and not the effort behind it.’ All was important to my dancing. I only did ballet and pointe. I couldn’t resist the tutus. It wasn’t until my senior year I did all genres to better equipped me as a teacher.”
She teaches about five hours a week at Suzann’s School of Dance. “At the beginning of the year, I set a plan for how I want each semester to go, as well as things to achieve in the dancers. It usually takes a 10 minutes to decide how I want each class to follow that set plan, while following the curriculum given to me by the studio.”
“My class schedule needs to be as flexible as it can be in case students need an extra week or two to grasp a step or even if multiple students are having an off day, and freeze dance is needed instead of a work, work, work day,” Emma stated.
She said, “Each class is different. Sometimes, I will have advanced little five year olds, who can take on harder steps, or eight year olds, who have never taken a class, before I need more help learning the basic steps.”
“It’s a blessing to witness both sides of the Nutcracker, as a dancer and as a teacher. My first years participating as a dancer I was cast as a party girl, and the year following a party teen,” Emma said. “The last two years I performed multiple parts … I was in the waltz of the flowers followed by being a snowflake in the corps de ballet.”
Emma said she also participated as an Arabian demi-soloist one year, and a marzipan the following year. “Out of all, I loved the marzipan the most … that was my first time to get to perform in a tutu.”
“As a teacher they gave me a role, I had never been in – angels. It was interesting to see and rehearse with the girls something I had never preformed,” she explained. “Yet, I had the most fun with them and with the other teachers. I did my best to pour on each dancer everything that inspired me, and push me in my dancing. I truly want to influence my dancers just as my teachers influenced me.”
In reflecting on her life as a dance, Emma said, “The two hardest things I had to overcome as a dancer was flexibility and comparing my dancing to others.”
She stated, “Dance teaches you so much about yourself in ways you wouldn’t think. As a dancer from day one, you were told and expected to reach for perfection, while remembering you cannot be perfect.”
“This was hard for me when it came to my flexibility. I learned very quickly that God has not given me the body or the muscle as those around me. The majority of my time in the classroom I had teachers encouraging me to reach my leg higher,” Emma continued. “My last year of dance my leg extensions had barely hit 90°.”
She said, “While everyone else, their legs were almost touching their heads. I was able to accomplish that much by talking to my teachers and asking how can I work on them at home … that leads to the next struggle, comparing.”
“From the moment you walk in you see other girls doing more turns then you, holding a longer balance, pointing her toes harder etc… it feels almost as if you’re battling everyone in the room to be the best,” Emma said. “You don’t realize you do it at first until you’re stuck. I overcame this by praying that God would search my heart and remove anything that would hinder my joy in the classroom.”
She continued, “One day God revealed to me, I was different, but in a good way. It took me a while to realize the second I looked at everyone, and not myself I started to fail.”
“I had to put blinders on to help focus looking at my goals and what was in front of me. Each dancer has their strong points and their weak ones. The struggle is to not look only at others strengths and your weakness but only your strengths and weakness.”
In looking at advice she could give someone interested in dancing, Emma paused. “I can’t remember or find the person who said this, ‘Stop dancing for your teacher and your audience and start dancing for yourself.’”
She said, “I love this quote because it reminds me that I started dancing because it made me happy. As a teacher I see so many dancers struggle and push to make the teacher happy that soon they lose their smile when they dance.”
Emma concluded, “Keep smiling, keep dancing for yourself and keep dancing for God!
What a good news story – don’t you think? Keep dancing for God!
(c)EMMA DUKE PHOTOS