Potts teaching a class. Photo: Jessica Cosentino

Portrait of a dance teacher

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By Jessica Cosentino

She’s a ballerina, a wife, a mother and a teacher. Nadia Potts became a principal ballerina at 21, married a clarinet player, danced until she was five months pregnant and is now Artistic Director of Ryerson’s dance program.

After retiring from the National Ballet of Canada in 1986, Potts began her teaching career, taking all the teaching jobs she could get. She taught at George Brown College, part-time at Ryerson, guest taught and coached one of the ice dance teams for the Calgary Olympics in 1988. Many retired dancers want to coach young professional dancers, but Potts likes teaching.

“Give me a dance students and I will teach them,” Potts says.

Potts performed with the National Ballet of Canada for 20 years. She danced her first performance of Giselle with Rudolf Nureyev in 1976 and danced opposite Mikhail Baryshnikov in hist first performance of Swan Lake at Places des Arts in Montreal. “I can use my performing career and my knowledge as a research base to teach from,” Pott says.

When she was seven, Potts began dancing at the dance studio on Sherbourne Street. Her teacher, Betty Oliphant, founded Canada’s National Ballet School, and was Ballet Mistress. Oliphant has been as Associate Artistic Director for more than a quarter of a century and Potts says she practices many of Oliphant’s teaching techniques in her classes at Ryerson.

“I write down all of my classes, I think I was inspired by her so I am very organized and well prepared for all the classes I teach.”

The most difficult challenge Potts faces as a teacher is her students’ previous training. She says she is “trying to move the students into a more professional approach, self-generating from themselves and becoming their own teachers.”

She wants to persuade the students “to open up and show their deep inner emotions.”

Potts said the program allows the students to “open their eyes to everything they are learning — the anatomical, the historical, the musical and the practical side of dance.”

Pott’s students in both the performance and teaching streams get jobs. Performance students in past years have gone on to do musicals such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Raincoat, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and Showboat.

Potts’ goal is to establish a degree-granting dance program at Ryerson.


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