LAC’s School of Dance director proves being passionate about dance isn’t just for girls.
| 2017 Q3 | story by Sarah Bishop, Chief Communications Officer, The Lawrence Arts Center
The Lawrence Arts Center might not be the first place you’d look for athletes. But, in fact, it’s got plenty. And some of them are wearing pointe shoes.
The man in charge of these artist-athletes is Hanan Misko, director of the Lawrence Arts Center’s School of Dance. Growing up in a Missouri farming community, Misko started out like most young boys, playing T-ball then moving on to baseball, horseback riding and, when available, skiing. He got his start in dance when his mother suggested he try gymnastics in order to build strength, flexibility and balance. Soon, Misko was stuffing his ballet shoes into his backpack right next to his catcher’s mitt.
“Growing up in rural Missouri, some sports were not an option,” Misko says. “We didn’t have swimming or soccer, but we did have dance. It was in the dance studio that I learned about flexibility, balance, strength training and momentum, and this helped me in all the other sports I was involved in at the time. I could run faster, jump higher, because of dance.”
Eventually, Misko would decide his passion was dance, going on to pursue a degree in dance at The Juilliard School, in New York. Misko’s training led to opportunities to dance with internationally renowned dance companies, including Ballet Hispanico, Martha Graham Dance Company and Nimbus Dance Works, as well as to perform with well-known organizations such as Störling Dance Theater, Mark Morris Dance Group, Jessica Lang Dance and even The Metropolitan Opera.
In 2014, Misko stopped dancing professionally full-time and moved back to the Midwest to share his passion for dance education and training with others. As the director of the School of Dance at the Lawrence Arts Center, Misko oversees classes in ballet, jazz, tap, modern, contemporary, hip-hop and cultural dance for students of all ages. For Misko, dance has just as much to offer students in terms of health and strength training as any other sport; and sometimes, he says, it has special benefits.
“One of the most important things about dance is that, unlike some team sports, it seldom results in a loss. In some sports, if you win, you’re excited, but if you lose, you might feel bad for a little while. In dance, we hope it’s different,” Misko explains. “The curtain goes up, and the curtain is going to go down no matter what. You get out there, you perform, and even if you fall, you come back at the end of the show, take a bow and feel proud of what you have accomplished. That is success in dance. You just hope that the audience has a good time, and you focus on doing your best.”
It’s this sense of community and collaboration that makes Misko so motivated to ensure dance is accessible to all ages, races, genders and income levels. “Our goal at the Arts Center,” he says, “is to illuminate multiple pathways for each student. Not all students are going to want to pursue dance in college or become professional dancers. We’re trying to balance pre-professional training with an environment conducive to anyone who wants to find simple joys and a healthy lifestyle through dance.”
Misko is especially committed to ensuring that boys know dance is a viable athletic activity—both a great way to build strength, flexibility and hand-eye coordination, and a practice that can help students succeed in other sports. Aware of the stigma sometimes associated with boys taking dance classes, Misko acknowledges that boys can sometimes feel like they shouldn’t dance or don’t fit in at the dance studio.
Misko believes that stigma is lifting as the athleticism of dance receives increasing attention in mainstream culture. “More and more,” Misko says, “people are recognizing that the athleticism of dance is equal to that required by other sports. Dance gets you doing cardio, building strength, muscles, coordination and flexibility. And, it can be a great way to cross-train for sports like football, basketball and soccer.” With money from a Bill Self’s Assists Foundation grant in 2015, Misko started the Lawrence Arts Center’s scholarship program for boys with financial need who show both interest and promise in dance.
For Misko, dance is a sport, and the dancers at the Lawrence Arts Center, both men and women, are real athletes, training just as hard as any football or basketball player. “The only real difference between sports and dance,” Misko laughs, “is you’re probably not throwing a ball—instead, you’re throwing a ballerina. I’ve done a lot of that.”