Resilient. That was the first word Robbie Walker, owner/director of Idaho Rhythm School of Music and Dance in Nampa, Idaho, used to describe dance student Emma Locklear. When Emma came to the studio at age 7 she had little self-confidence and major anxiety. Emma even told her dance teachers that she had no friends. Still, she gave her all in every class. Robbie recalls: “Isn’t that the definition of resilience: consistently showing up and giving 100 percent even when things aren’t going well?”
Emma says she quickly felt at home at Idaho Rhythm. Two years later, performing with the team at competition, Emma’s parents pulled Robbie aside. Speaking through tears of gratitude, they told Robbie that Emma had lost much of her self-confidence due to bullying at school and become reclusive, shy, and afraid of getting picked on. Dance, they told Robbie, helped her come out of her shell and find confidence and joy in life.
Emma credits Robbie for this transformation. “He’s always been there to help, listen, and guide,” says Emma, now 18. “He teaches me right and wrong without making me feel less when I mess up. He’s shown me how to be kind, hold myself accountable, problem solve, speak up for myself, and work for what I want.”
The young dancer’s newfound confidence came into play a few years back when the studio experienced an abrupt staffing change mid-year and was suddenly in need of a teacher for 17 classes. Emma, then 14 and only a class assistant at the time, stepped up to be the lead teacher for several of the classes in need.
“Emma rose to the challenge and created a positive ending to the season,” Robbie says, believing that many of the 40-plus dancers she taught during that time continued dancing for several years “as a result of her leadership.”
This past year, Emma was approached by a teacher five years her senior who was struggling with a class of 2- and 3-year olds, some of whom cried a lot or didn’t fully participate. The teacher was discouraged, but what’s more, discouraged parents were beginning to withdraw their children from the class. Emma went in to observe. The teacher implemented some of her suggestions for class content and structure, and within a few weeks, the crying ceased, parents relaxed, and the teacher actually looked forward to teaching that previous problematic class.
Where did she find the strength and knowledge to advise a veteran teacher? Robbie says Emma’s skill set includes the ability to grasp and absorb lessons when watching other teachers. “She always finds something to learn from them; things that she wants to implement or do differently,” he says “She approaches every situation with that in mind.” That, coupled with her natural ease with children, is what makes her a good teacher, he says.
In 2021, Robbie says, it would have been especially easy for Emma to quit on herself and the studio—her mother, a huge supporter of her daughter’s dance career, died. In those dark days, Emma says, she found the studio a “safe space.” “I could create movement to express how I was feeling without talking to anyone,” she says.
“She continued to show up to give herself to the team she danced with and the teams she taught for,” Robbie says. “She once again proved her ability to fight through the odds that were against her and continue pursuing greatness.”
Emma graduated from high school last season and is now teaching full-time at Idaho Rhythm, working as the preschool curriculum coordinator and coaching her first competition team, the Level 2 “Spotlight” dancers. This young woman, who has been an inspiration for her peers, teacher, and parents, hopes that others will find the same happiness in dance that she has.
“Dance has helped me find who I am, while being a safe place whenever I need it,” Emma says. “I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the love and support” from Robbie and all the instructors at Idaho Rhythm.