In most cases, sports tend to be in the limelight of typical high school experiences. Jessica Tenbusch, La Porte High School dance instructor, strives to gravitate students’ focus toward performing arts by creating a brand new dance program at school.
Before coming to Northwest Indiana, Tenbusch received her bachelor’s degree in dance from Western Kentucky University and moved to Chicago to dance professionally after graduation. In Chicago, Tenbusch was an apprentice with Chicago Tap Theatre, under the direction of Mark Yonally, for three years, and later began dancing with Tristan Bruns and his company TapMen.
Tenbusch decided to move to Northwest Indiana and became involved with a non-profit dance program in Griffith called South Shore Dance Alliance. Tenbusch still teaches tap classes at the non-profit organization. Through this experience, she created connections with people in the Northwest Indiana dance scene and soon found her way to La Porte High School through these connections.
At the high school, the performing arts and theater program were already trying to build when Tenbusch became part of the picture in August 2018. She says that she is thankful for such a supportive school board who understands the importance of the arts.
“Some kids aren’t able to afford taking dance classes outside of school and I think that is why creating this program at the high school level is so great. It gives kids who are super talented and artistic the opportunity to further explore the art of dance,” Tenbusch said.
Tenbusch says not all of her students are on the same level of difficulty, but being able to watch them continue to excel and learn is her favorite part about her job.
“Some students I have in class haven’t danced before. Being able to see students’ confidence increase over time makes it all worth it to me. By the time the final exam comes around, I notice that their mindset has changed from thinking they can’t do it to realizing they are capable,” Tenbusch said.
Currently, Tenbusch teaches three dance choreography classes at La Porte High School and hopes to offer more in the future. She stresses to her students that it’s not about being an amazing dancer, it’s about learning, moving, and exploring during class time.
“It’s not necessarily about how good what you’re doing looks, or how good of a dancer you are, but it’s about experimenting in class. This is where you learn what does and what doesn’t work and it’s okay because what’s most important is learning how your body responds to different exercises in class,” Tenbusch said.
The movement aspect of dance is just as important to Tenbusch as the cultural side of the art form.
“I feel that this type of artistic expression is important for kids to experience. Especially today, we still need to connect to culture, and this art form is culture. To bring it back this way into the schools is huge because they aren’t just learning to dance, they’re learning where dance came from and how it originated from so many different cultures,” Tenbusch said.
Tenbusch hopes to show her students where dance can take them in the future. She is trying to plan a field trip to Chicago to experience a live performance, and bring in professional dancers she has worked in the past to talk to her students.
“I set up this program to prepare my students to go into a college dance program or even dance professionally one day, so it’s important for me to show my students all of the opportunities that dance can bring. Sometimes all they see is what’s on TV. In contrast, seeing a whole ballet or dance performance in real life could easily spark excitement and interest. There’s a plethora of opportunities just two hours away from them in Chicago,” Tenbusch said.
Aside from teaching, Tenbusch continues to dance professionally in Chicago. She is part of the Chicago Human Rhythm Project under the direction of Lane Alexander and Dani Borak. Juggling the two can be hectic at times, but Tenbusch wouldn’t have it any other way.
Now, taking dance classes at La Porte High School counts as a fine arts credit, but Tenbusch hopes that her classes will count as a PE credit sometime soon as the new department continues to grow and gain attention from students. Tenbusch urges La Porte High School students to try some of her classes.
“You get to get up and move for a whole class period instead of sitting down in another desk. So I just think, ‘What harm can be done in trying something new out?’ You never know, you could possibly find something that you are truly passionate about,” Tenbusch said.
Tenbusch said she feels as though she is living her dream every day since creating the new dance department at La Porte High School.
“It’s an absolute dream come true. I couldn’t have dreamed up this position if I tried. I’ve always worked in dance studios and have worked under people, but I’ve always felt this passion to create something on my own someday. This new dance program means the world to me,” Tenbusch said.
Tenbusch would like to thank her childhood dance instructor, Ginny Mount, for instilling in her the love of dance and a love for students. Tenbusch also urges the community to come out and support the dancers of the new high school program in their summer musical, The Wizard of Oz.