This was her fifth trip to northern South Africa as a member of the American Dance Awards staff and as a master teacher and founder of the United States to South Africa Teachers Training Seminars.
Her daughter, Caitlin Haywood, also a nationally recognized dance teacher, accompanied her to the University of Pretoria as a member of the awards staff. They are spending this week exploring Kruger National Park with their hosts.
“The dancers in South Africa are truly amazing,” said Gudat. “Their technique is strongly based on contortionist acrobatics, which gives them an extraordinary amount of flexibility and strength. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and they absolutely love to perform.
“I was honored to be there in June to coach the dance team D.A.N.C.E. International as it prepared to travel to the United States to participate in the American Dance Awards National competition in Boston in early July. They did extremely well this year and brought a real joy to everyone who had the pleasure to work with them.
“They are wonderful hosts. In my past visits to South Africa I’ve been able to hold a baby lion and a white tiger, walk with the elephants, pet four female white lions, touch a zebra and kiss a cheetah. I have also had a monkey ride on top of my head,” said Gudat, who has gone on several safaris, zip lined through the rain forest and visited Table Mountain in Cape Town. “My relationship with the dancers and teachers in South Africa has been magical.”
Gudat is no stranger to the airport. She travels as often as three weekends a month to take her combination of dance knowledge and humor to studios, conventions and competitions all over the world.
Whether sharing her award-winning choreography, teaching classes, judging competitions or working with teachers on their classroom techniques, she remains in high demand and savors each trip, said Stephanie Annandale, who owns The Dance Company, which Gudat opened in 1978. Gudat, a member of the first graduating class of Perry Meridian High School, still teaches ballet and modern dance there.
Once Gudat opened her studio, it gave her a home base to hone her skills and to train her many highly successful students, including Annandale. There she developed her much sought-after tap training program detailed in the books “Step by Step: A Complete Guide to Teaching Tap, Volumes 1 and 2,” as well as her six-level acrobatics program.
“Diane is pretty amazing,” said Annandale. “In the dance teacher world, she is kind of a rock star. I am so lucky that my mother signed me up for ballet for my seventh birthday at her studio because I had the pleasure of Diane’s guidance as a youth. Now I call her a dear friend.”
Gudat said dance is a living, ever-changing art form. “It requires constant continuing education and a passion for working with students and the learning process. I never tire of visiting new places and sharing what I’ve learned with students and their teachers. It’s great that I can do what I love on the road and then come home to work with my own students at The Dance Company. Witnessing all types of dance all over the globe and learning something everyplace I go keeps my work fresh and helps me hold the highest standards for my own dancers.”
This time of year her work is about creating new choreography and helping to stage and perfect competition routines, she said. The spring semester usually finds her behind the judges table all over the United States and Canada. Early summer will find her traveling back to South Africa for her seminars. The remainder of the summer she will be on staff at numerous teachers training schools in Arizona, Florida, Edmonton, Canada, Chicago and Boston.
Gudat said one of her proudest moments was serving as the VIP judge representing the U.S. Dance Federation at the International Dance Organization’s World Tap Championships in Riesa, Germany, in December. She served as a coach to the 2002 U.S. world tap champion team and was thrilled to return as part of the international judges panel. She became a member of the IDO and was certified to judge international tap and jazz events.
She recently traveled to Boston to complete the remainder of her performing arts exams, including the disciplines of modern, ballet and show dance.
As a contributing writer for “Dance Studio Life Magazine” for more than a decade and as a comedic correspondent for “DanceLifeTv.com,” she touches studios and dance teachers everywhere. Her website, dianegudat.com, gives teachers access to dance videos and blogs and alerts them dance events.
Gudat said she is looking forward to another new dance season at home and on the road. “The best people are dance people, and no two days are ever alike in the life of this dance teacher.”