417 Magazine: You are a native to Springfield and a Springfield Ballet alumna. Where did ballet take you, personally and professionally?
Maria Hall: After I graduated high school, I moved to Kansas City and furthered my training and education at University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory for Music and Dance. Being in a bigger city, the conservatory exposed me to music and artists from around the globe. I performed nationally and internationally while in college, and after graduation, I performed professionally with a contemporary ballet company.
Every experience, from Springfield Ballet to UMKC and my professional track, I learned so much. When I was offered the job at my home ballet school, I was so excited to bring back everything I learned to younger dances where it all began for me.
417: Away from the stage, you teach classes at Springfield Ballet and also teach dance with Dance Chance, a nonprofit dance program that brings dance education to under-resourced students. As an artist, what changes come with the transition from performing to teaching?
M.H.: At the beginning, this was a hard shift to make. Being the one performing, the one training on my own artistry and growth, I developed a passion for moving and inspiring audiences through dance. So while I’m teaching, I find myself wanting to get up and dance with the kids and do the combinations with them. I see this as a positive thing, because it shows that I’m still just as in love with the art as I was when I was a little kid. For Dance Chance, I am continuing to discover new ways to teach and make even the simplest ballet steps exciting for kids that are new to the arts.
417: Many of the young performers in The Nutcracker are your students. How does it feel to perform with the students you teach?
M.H.: When I was a senior in high school, I was an assistant teacher in a Ballet 1 class. Now, a decade later, some of my students who were young kids are now performing right next to me and even graduating high school this year. I am currently teaching and rehearsing all of the dancers in The Nutcracker, so performing with the students who I pour into as an educator is incredibly rewarding. I feel so blessed to be teaching and inspiring the future artists of the world.
417: What advice do you have for young performers?
M.H.: When I was a senior in college, I heard a quote that is now one of my life mottos: ‘The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away.’ With dance, it’s an extremely giving artform. You train your technique and artistry every day to be able to get on stage and tell a story to audiences. As dancers, we work to better ourselves as artists, dancers and humans. We love the artform so much, and that’s why we want to share that love with others. We get to transport audiences to a different world for two hours, make them feel all of the emotions. It’s a gift.
I’m never going to give up performing until I physically can’t do it. I’m going to dance for as long as my body will let me.
417: The impact of the arts is often underestimated. How does 417-land thrive with outstanding arts programs for its youth?
M.H.: I am so passionate about this. I’ve been a part of the arts in Springfield since 2003. People don’t realize how beneficial the arts are and the impact that it has on the next generation. Being able to use your imagination and express yourself is critically important, and our community does a great job funding the arts around Springfield. All of the Springfield Public Schools second-graders getting to see a live ballet performance isn’t just a field trip, it can be transformational for them to experience arts. When we invest in the arts, we invest in the future of our community. My students aren’t just ballerinas and artists, they’re the future nurses, doctors, business owners, leaders in our community. The arts provide so many experiences that can change a life and a community for the better. We just have to make space and provide funds for the arts to thrive.