Charla Genn, who teaches ballet technique, joined the dance faculty in the fall of 2009. Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Charla attended the University of Cape Town Ballet School and currently teaches company classes at Cedar Lake Contemporary Dance, the Metropolitan Opera, Ballet Hispanico, and Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Previously, she was the artistic director of Ballet Manhattan and the rehearsal director of the American Repertory Ballet.
When did you first know you wanted to be a dancer and how did you come to know it?
I decided that I was going to be a dancer when I was 8 years old. I loved going to dance performances more than anything in the world and determined that I wanted to be a dancer one day too.
Who was the teacher or mentor who most inspired you when you were growing up and what did you learn from that person?
There are two teachers who inspired me immensely. The first was my mother, who was an outstanding children’s ballet teacher. Most importantly, she employed me at the age of 13 to begin teaching young children ballet at her school and I continued to do so throughout high school. Her standards were very high and I had to deliver. The second was Faith de Villiers, my Cecchetti method teacher who also directed Johannesburg City Ballet, which I performed with during my high school years. From both of these uniquely inspirational ballet teachers I learned the artistry of performing and to master difficult technical feats without fear. Most importantly, I also learned the craft of teaching.
What dance performance have you attended that changed the way you think about dance?
Several performances had a profound effect on me and made me realize that I wanted to learn different techniques of dance. The brilliant Natalia Makarova performing Giselle, Yuriko performing Martha Graham’s Errand Into the Maze, and the fantastic jazz dancing of Liza Minnelli. Also, when I was 14 I saw the two contemporary dance companies that exposed me to modern dance and inspired me to learn it—Netherlands Dance Theater and Ballet Rambert.
What’s the most embarrassing moment you’ve had as a performer?
When I first came to New York I was dancing the Nutcracker with the Eglevsky Ballet. During the snow scene my pointe shoe ribbons came undone. Luckily I had glued the shoes onto my tights so they remained on, but the ribbons flew everywhere. I was mortified.
If you could have your students visit any place in the world, where would it be, and why?
I would want my students to visit the dance capitals of the world such as London, Paris, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. Not only would they attend classes and performances but once there, I would want them to explore that place thoroughly—learning and experiencing the culture, food, art, and music. All these life experiences will make them better artists of dance.
What are your non-dance related interests or hobbies? What would people be surprised to know about you?
Biking is my hobby. My most recent adventure was biking down Mount Haleakala, a 10,000-foot volcano in Maui. I am also an avid basketball fan and enjoy attending games at Madison Square Garden. I am fascinated by how agile the tall players are and how they move through the air.
What is your favorite thing about New York City?
My favorite thing about New York is that it is the most diverse and cosmopolitan place in the world. Many people in New York City come from someplace else so it is hard to feel like a foreigner. In a sense, it is a place where everybody belongs and nobody belongs.
If you weren’t in the career you are in, what would you be doing?
Since I am hard of hearing and have quite a significant hearing loss, I would most definitely be a speech therapist working with hearing impaired children.
If your students could only remember one thing from your teaching, what would you want it to be?
I would like my students to remember that I inspired them to have the courage to believe in themselves as dancers and to commit to their art, which leads to a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem. I hope that my students always remember that it is not just about putting steps together, but also about the joy of dancing.