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Danceworks Blog

From the Does’ Hoops to Mad Hot Taps

Posted on by 10Web Support

We all like being around people who focus on the positive in life—in others and in themselves. They impact how we feel about ourselves and the places we live, work and play. Joanne E. Smith is a teacher who has been doing just that for more than 30 years by helping students grow the positive in themselves and stretch beyond what they thought possible. We’ve been fortunate to have her as a tap teacher in Danceworks Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap teacher for the past three years!


Joanie was a basketball player at Arizona State when she was recruited by the Milwaukee Does in the 1980s. With her extraordinary energy and athletic ability, not to mention height, there’s no wonder she was hired to play pro.

Growing up in Indiana, her brother taught her a lot about the game, and they shot many hoops together as kids. When Joanie’s bad allergies opened up a door for her to transfer from the cold wet climate of home to the hot, dry air out West, her parents were the ones jumping at the opportunity for her. She explains:

“My mom and dad were high school teachers in Indiana—Dad taught math and Mom taught English. Every time I teach I feel like I’m honoring them. I learned early that if you get your numbers and words in order there’s a good chance you will turn out to be a useful citizen. I’m trying; I’m working on that part!

“I went out to Arizona to visit a friend and toured the campus. I was running with some not so healthy people in Indiana at the time. I thought I needed to get out of there. My brother George died too young, but he was my hero growing up. He helped me hone my athletic skills. We played street ball. He was a very talented guy, an artist, but he just didn’t find his way in life—he liked to ‘party.’ I thought if I wanted to live long enough to teach, I needed to get out of there. I ended up living with a cop out in Arizona. That was the healthiest move I ever made. There went my party!

“They (college administration) didn’t allow you to transfer from one four-year college to another unless you had a medical reason. I had bad allergies, so we gathered information from doctors who said I needed to move out there. I got accepted on a scholarship. I wanted to be a teacher, so I majored in elementary education.”

Joanie was prepared with a “Plan B” when the Does folded after two years—along with the whole league one year after that. She did a lot of substitute teaching for MPS that year and she was given a lot of Special Education classes. When the supervisor noticed how gifted she was with the students, she told Joanie to go back to UWM to get a Masters in Special Education. So that’s what she did, and they hired her.

“I subbed for three years in MPS when the Special Ed teacher at Elm Creative Arts left. I landed a job there.  I didn’t have the arts credits I needed, so I went back and got my degree in Curriculum and Instruction in Creative Art.

“I was the fourth Special Ed teacher that year. The kids said, ’We’ll get rid of her!’  But they didn’t. I stayed for 29 years and ended up teaching the kids of the kids I taught!

“I just love the kids. They’re wired differently and I accept that. I like to get in there and connect the wires. I love bringing fun into teaching—you learn the hard stuff then have fun at the end.

“My Dad passed away the year I planned to retire, and then my mom the next year. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. But then Amy [Brinkman-Sustache, Danceworks’ lead tap teacher and education director] came to Elm after ‘Mad Hot’ started and taught tap to the teachers. I loved it! When she told me about Danceworks MHBT, I no longer had a question about what I was going to do after retirement.

“I still think I’m a kid. I don’t want to lose that. This program keeps me young at heart.”

Joanie is showing the students (and many others) that there is always a reason to find hope for a day—for yourself and somebody else. With people like her around, we don’t have to look far.  Join Joanie and be a part of spreading joy throughout Milwaukee.

Joanie's joy

 Danceworks Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap Competition, May 16 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Dancworks Friends Section 215. You’re welcome to stop by anytime!

About Our Blog

Welcome to the Danceworks blog, where we're hoping to share a little bit more about the heart and soul behind Danceworks… what made us join the dance and keeps us dancing, what keeps us inspired, and where we can share some of the stories worth telling.