Denise Wall Inspires Generations Of Dancers In ‘I Dream Of Dance’
Updated: May 22
If you've been paying attention to So You Think You Can Dance since Season 2, the name Denise Wall is a familiar one to you. As a well-known dance educator and mother of Travis Wall, Denise is about to step into a bigger spotlight with the new documentary, I Dream of Dance.
The film follows Denise's journey with her students over a year-long quest to compete at the nationals at The Dance Awards. It showcases her struggles as a single mom to five boys, her battle with breast cancer and the incredible impact she has had on the lives of all of her students.
The dance industry has grown tremendously since Denise began teaching almost four decades ago. If there's one thing Denise knows, it's that she's had to evolve just as much as the art form has.
"I do not teach the same way I did five years ago, fifteen years ago. I'm constantly changing. When I was growing up, they told what you to do and you just did it," Denise explained to Dance Dish in a recent interview. "If you weren't naturally talented, you wouldn't go on in the business. We can now take kids who don't have that natural talent — and it does take years — but that is what gives me the most joy. We can make this happen for them if they really want it and work hard."
In addition to different approaches to teaching, Denise knows that the growth of technology has helped and hurt her students.
"Across the board, everyone is complaining the kids do not have the attention span anymore," she said. "Even just training Travis, his generation of dancers was completely different than training my youngest son, Shannon, who is 20. I always say, 'Dance will always be done the old-fashioned way, you can't Google it.'"
Which brings us to the dreaded topic of social media, which is a blessing and a curse for young dancers.
"The kids are looking at the final product — no one shows their failures. These kids don't realize that and so they start comparing themselves," Denise continued. "They start settling and they give up. And parents do the same thing."
On the flip side, there is some benefit to dance-history education. Denise loves that aspect of technology because "they can research the old masters." She appreciates it when her students put in the hard work in and out of the dance studio.
One particular student of Denise's, who is featured in I Dream of Dance, has an incredible arc of a story. Wyeth Walker is the underdog in the film because viewers see a kid, who didn't make the Top 20 at The Dance Awards the year before, have the most incredible Rocky ending ever.
"When he came home from Nationals after not making the Top 20, he was going into his junior year of high school," she said. "He asked for a meeting and I thought it was going to be a discussion about planning for his college dance auditions. It wasn't his mother who had called the meeting, it was him. He was disappointed with his Nationals results and wanted to know what he needed to do to make the Top 20 this year."
Denise knows the drive has to come from the student and not from her or a parent, so she had some sage advice for Wyeth that day.
"Every class matters. Every tap class. Every hip-hop class. Every ballet class. I don't care what class it is. He also had natural adversities in his body," Denise shared. "He didn't have the flexibility and I gave him exercises to do outside of class. Travis didn't even want to choreograph a solo for him until he could get his leg up. And you know what? Wyeth did it. He didn't make excuses for himself like this younger generation often does. He said, 'I needed to work harder and I know that now.'"
Even one conversation with Denise is a master class in how to inspire kids to be the best version of themselves. It's easy to see why so many parents are drawn to her studio, Denise Wall's Dance Energy, in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
"I take my kids to the hardest dance conventions. I want them to be around other talented dancers because when they grow up, those kids will be at the same auditions with them," she explained effusively. "I want them to be inspired by people who are better than them. It's not about comparison, it's about learning from them. We teach way more than dance here, we teach life lessons."
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