Bringing It Full Circle: Turning Fear into Excitement

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Me as a young lad with my mother, brother, and sister

In August, I will get to do something I have secretly dreamed of for years: to go back to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and teach for the children’s program,  where I first learned to dance twenty-one years ago. When Dayna Fox, my teacher and director of the program, sent me an invitation to teach, I didn’t hesitate to accept. There are some opportunities in life that don’t need questioning. If those doors open, you barrel through them excitedly. Then, you freak out.

I have been teaching now for well over a decade. My style in the classroom is simple, clean, and serious. I stay true to the demands of classical ballet. However, I also try to mix in an element of humor, for I believe we as dancers often take ourselves too seriously. As a ballet teacher, I feel it is my duty to impart my love and joy for this art form. Throughout my training, both at UNCSA and elsewhere, I had the privilege of studying with many well-known teachers who each gave me incomparable pieces of my technique. While I am grateful for all of them, there are also a couple teachers whom I resent for the negative manner in which they saw fit to coach. Therefore, in my role as a teacher, I want to spread joy into the lives of my students.

But back to my “freak out”.  As I said before, teaching is not something that is new to me. I am proud that I have never received a legitimate complaint about my classes. I haven’t been nervous to teach a class since the age of twenty. And then, I received my schedule for UNCSA. Day one: Placement class: Matthew Donnell and Dayna Fox. There it was: my name beside my teacher’s, scheduled to appear in the studios where I first learned to dance. I fought back tears as I saw the past twenty-one years of my life flash before me in an instant. For a second I reverted back my ten years old self when I simultaneously knew nothing, felt insecure, and yet completely confident in myself. What a paradox! I was a skinny kid who couldn’t yet touch his toes, let alone lead an entire class of future dancers. Aaaaaahhh!!!

Jose Limon’s The Moor’s Pavane courtesy Kansas City Ballet Photo: Steve Wilson Photography

Then I floated back down to reality. The memories flashed again, and in them I saw my true self and what I have to offer. UNCSA boasts a bevy of amazing dancers who have come from other schools, trained for a few years and then gone on to grace the stages of such marvelous companies worldwide. But I am different, I am home grown. I am a complete product of the school. My body fought me every inch of the way, and I overcame it. A famous teacher once told me, “Honey, you’ll never make it as a dancer,” and later I returned to hear the same voice say with pride, “Honey, we made you!” I was one of the lucky few who went on to dance for a beautiful company, and I never once took what I did for granted.

Teaching the next generation of bunheads.

With these memories, I had a revelation, or as I like to say pun-ily, a “relevation.” (ballet humor). I am ready for this job. Of course, there is some anxiety because it is in my nature as a human to desire to please the people who put so much into my development. But, I am turning these nerves into excitement. I am excited to teach, share my passion, and take the next step to add my name to the long list of teachers who have had the opportunity to teach for the School of the Arts.


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  • Dyan & Paola

    We are already inspired by your passion and joy you have brought to our studio. What you have given our students in the short time you have spent with them is a gift they can hold onto forever! We are so excited to follow you in any journey you take. Hats off to you Mr. Matthew! Follow your dreams! We have no doubt you will be a success!!

    Can’t wait to have you back in CT!!
    Dyan and Paola

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