If you are a dancer in the Saugerties area, the chances are good that you’ve heard of the Saugerties Ballet Center and of Scarlett Fiero. Fiero, a native of the Malden neighborhood, has been dancing for over 50 years. She started teaching in 1984. While her role has evolved from dancer to teacher to business owner, her heart and passion has always been shaping the lives of her young dancers. Fiero currently resides in Kingston with her husband.
How did you get into this line of work?
I started dancing when I was about four, and when I was about eleven or twelve I decided I didn’t really like it. I used dancing, in part, as a therapy for my scoliosis. When I told my mom I wanted to stop, she asked what I was going to do about back therapy, so I decided to stick with it and it seemed to really hit me then. I started to fall in love with it.
But I sort of fell into teaching. It wasn’t something I always set out to do. When I first started teaching, in 1984, I was actually still working down in the city. I had nothing going on in the summer, so I came and decided to give it a try.
I had never done this before and I didn’t even know if I would like teaching. I had three students, a six-year-old, a 17-year- old boy and a woman in her 30s. They were all beginners.
I started in a tiny, shared space on Main Street right above the old Bank of America. I had a record player, and that was it. I liked it, so that fall I kept going and had 15 students. The next year, it grew to 45. I was still working in New York City and in New Paltz.
I’ve been in a few different locations around the village since then, and I’ve been in the studio on First Street since 1997.
What sort of person makes a good ballet teacher?
You have to be patient. All the teachers at the Center are on the same page, but we are all different. I’m very organized and orderly, which might not sound too creative but it works for me. We all have different ways of doing things. A dance teacher needs to have a good knowledge of the curriculum. and if they have performance experience themselves that is certainly helpful. With the older kids, a teacher with performance experiences is most helpful.
With the younger kids, you have to use different methods and teach different techniques so they don’t get hurt. It’s a balance, especially with the younger students, to let them be kids but to also rein them in and teach them. I’m strict, but I don’t think I’m the strictest out there.
How are the hours? Does the job provide for a good work/life balance?
It’s basically a second-shift job because you are working with kids who are in school. My first class is at four and sometimes we are there until 9:30 or ten, especially when we are rehearsing. You get used to it, though. I am also the administrator at the school, so I have other things I have to do in the morning in that role.
What makes for a good day?
When the kids are in a good mood and we are connecting. Also, when they are all doing the right things at the right time. Sometimes it’s just like popcorn popping around there with the younger students. With the older students, [it’s] when we get a lot accomplished or we have a light-bulb moment when there is a breakthrough and someone can master something they’ve been working on. That makes for a great day.
A bad day?
If someone were to fall and hurt themselves. That doesn’t happen often, but on occasion it does. Also, if they are just in a bad mood. It’s rough.
How has the job changed since you started teaching?
Teaching itself hasn’t changed too much, but bits of the job have. I use analogies to teach, and sometimes those change. My teaching has grown with my experience as well. Also, technology has become an asset in teaching. I can use my phone to videotape my students while they work on a challenging routine or combination. I can post it privately on YouTube and they can see themselves in action and use it to practice and improve. The music media have changed, too. We’ve gone from records to CDs and MP3s.
How’s the pay?
It’s a living, but it’s not as good of a living as people may think, owning a small business. There is a lot of overhead. I am not in it for the money.
As someone who has taught hundreds of young people in the area, what do you see as the value of incorporating the creative arts in the developing minds?
I believe it’s been documented that kids that study dance or music or any other creative form do much better in school. They learn how to commit to something, they learn how to focus and how to stick with something and follow through. That’s important in school and life. In order to accomplish anything in dance they really have to stick with it. Some of my older kids are at the studio every day.
Do you see yourself at the same job ten years from now?
Well, I don’t see myself doing anything else. I love what I do. Like any type of teaching job, when you work with parents and children, there are challenges and bumps in the road. Sometimes those bumps in the road are hard to deal with, but I am happy with what I do.