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Meet Elizabeth Cantine of 4Arts Education in Palos Verdes Peninsula

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elizabeth Cantine.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
It all began at age 4: my mother took me to church, Kindergarten, and my first dance lesson after weeks of my begging. I was inspired to dance after attending my first ballet of Swan Lake. It became easier for her to acquiesce after the disappointing outcome of my first eye surgery on my cross-eyed right eye, which was extremely myopic. I was only four and can’t remember ever seeing anything out of that eye except the bright light the surgeon shined in my eye. I wasn’t even hospitalized before or after the surgery! Needless to say, my parents found another eye specialist who advised my mother to take the books out of my hands. I was a real bookworm despite vision only in one eye and very thick glasses which I began wearing at age 3. That challenge for me then and still now, certainly resulted in positive outcomes. I was able to seriously study all genres of dance with Burch Mann who became my second mother and her studio my second home until my high school graduation. I joined Burch Mann’s professional dance company called American Folk Ballet. I became a modern dance major at UCLA my sophomore year and then was given the unbelievable opportunity to study abroad in the land of my roots at the American University of Beirut Lebanon.

At that time, there were 4,000 students from 58 foreign countries. It was an incredible experience, and I remember everyday as those it was yesterday. They had a strong extracurricular dance program. In addition to meeting many cousins from both sides of my family, I met my husband Richard Cantine, a junior year abroad student from Kenyon College in Ohio. We returned to our respective campuses and after graduation (UCLA Cum Laude History Major, French Minor) were married. I began my teaching career with Los Angeles Unified School District. My husband and I started our family in 1969 with the birth of our one son Tom. He met his wife Miranda at Swarthmore College and now have three children, my treasured grandchildren! My oldest granddaughter Sophie is a student athlete at Princeton, my grandson Aidan is a student athlete at Swarthmore, and my youngest granddaughter Maya is a junior in high school. They all danced with me at one time, but they are elite runners now!

At Dana Middle School in San Pedro where I was Dance Drill Team Coach, I discovered the talents of Misty Copeland and knew just from the way she was standing, perfectly poised and with a magnetic aura, that she would be the one in a million. Because of the support my husband and I gave her during those years, she fondly refers to us as her godparents. We feel that we are family… Also during this time and for some years after, I was performing in musicals and plays with the Norris Theatre Primetime Players. I also had the opportunity to be dance captain, assistant choreographer, and choreographer. In addition, I performed with the Aerospace Players in two of their yearly musicals. Professionally, I choreographed a few musicals, partnered with male tap dancers, and was cast in the Norris Theatre production of Singin’ in the Rain.

After retiring from Los Angeles Unified School District, I worked as outreach coordinator for the Carpenter Performing Arts Center and then at the Norris Center for the Performing Arts. I was employed by the Palos Verdes Unified School District as a dance educator and then BTSA Dance Mentor. I had the opportunity to teach dance to Adaptive P.E. and consider that a huge blessing. The students with special needs, mentors, and staff taught me so much. From this experience, two mothers encouraged me to begin an after-school dance program. My first students were Dahlia Abuyounes and Elena Ashmore (a performer in the Emmy-award winning show Born This Way). I was given studio space by the Norris Theatre and called the program Ready, Willing, and Able (RWA). It began with six students and three high school mentors and has grown to 33 students with autism, Down Syndrome, and other challenges. This was life-changing for all involved and a rewarding way in which I never thought I could share dance. I retired as a full-time director a couple of years ago and left the program in the very capable hands of Julie Hast.

During the solo spotlights by students in the bi-annual showcases, I was able to discover the giftedness in each student. I always wanted to publish a teaching unit I began over 32 years ago integrating art, poetry, and dance. I taught many classes and presented in-services on ways to implement the content into the K-12 curriculum. After studying each famous artist, completing a hands-on art project, playing museum games, and learning to read a picture just as the way we read a book, I would compose a poem about the artist and a selected work of art. The students and I would choreograph movement to the poem, practice, and perform the poems in class or for parents and assemblies.

I was just looking for the perfect illustrator to publish my unit. I found that in Heidi Dong, a young woman with autism and one of my RWA and private ballet students. I titled the book Brush of Giftedness, a collection of 18 of my original poems and artistic interpretations of famous artwork by Heidi. This is my second self-published book. My first book was my poems called Graceful Gratitude – A Book of Holiday of Graces, which I composed over 20 years at family holiday gatherings.

My current book is a dream come true thanks to the expert technical assistance by Michelle Yamakawa, a former RWA mentor. In addition to showing the giftedness of famous artists and instructing readers about them through my poetry, my main goal of the book is to further awareness of the gifts of those with special needs. We hope to continue marketing the book to the general public, schools, libraries, art museums, as well as donating to organizations which support those with special needs.

I continue to teach, choreograph, and perform with my Quotable Quartet (four of my dance students with special needs who dance to my poems) and my senior adult group Tap Happy. I also dance with Anne Destabelle’s Pennyroyal Players who donate all proceeds to charities. They were a huge supporter of the Adaptive PE program and Ready, Willing, and Able. Since I am passionate about sharing dance and community outreach, RWA performs at the Norris Theatre twice a year. Palos Verdes Performing Arts offers the stage and staff for these two free performances to the community. My Quotable Quartet and Tap Happy groups perform at senior residences and other community venues to experience the reciprocal joy of the performing arts.

Going back to that significant age 4 when my mother opened those three doors for me, I wanted to become a nun, a teacher, or a dancer. I realized I did want to marry and have children and still be religious. Fortunately, I was able to become a teacher and a dancer. What a blessing that my avocation of dance became my vocation and as a dance educator, my career goals were realized. Being an educator, mentor, wife, mother, Nina, godmother, sister, aunt, niece, and cousin have filled my heart, soul, and mind. I thank God for all He has given me: my cup runneth over…

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
There have been some struggles along the way in my career path as an arts educator and creator:
– Fighting for arts education and dance education in every school district.
– Convincing people that dance is not just fun – it is a discipline of art and a core of knowledge.
– Those with special needs need to be given opportunities to explore and demonstrate their giftedness and that is greatly lacking.
– Overcoming vision in only one eye, the aesthetic imperfections in the wandering eye, and lack of depth perception.

I had to do many presentations and integrate academics into my dance programs to convince school districts that the arts are essential and worthwhile to develop a whole human being. I was able to convince Kindergarten through 8th grade teachers to implement the arts into their curriculum by combining academics and other arts.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the 4Arts Education story. Tell us more about the business.
4Arts Education is my business and I am sole owner and director. I am a dance educator in schools and dance instructor in studios. I am also a former professional dancer and former professional choreographer. I have taught and consulted in various school districts, and I present in-services in the fine arts. My senior adult dance group “Tap Happy,” my former RWA students, and the Quotable Quartet perform at community outreach events. I am also a published author and love to write, especially poetry.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I consider myself a very lucky person. I had loving and supportive parents and siblings, husband, son, daughter-in-law, grandchildren, and goddaughters. I am so lucky that I was the youngest of four in my family so that my parents somehow could afford dance lessons for me. I also was an extra and dancer in movies when I was a child. High school were fantastic years and studying at the American University of Beirut was an incredible experience. I am lucky to have a close family, caring friends, and students. Yes, I feel like so much of life has been showered with good luck. These are just a few examples:

– Lucky to have been born with such caring, loving parents and three older siblings that helped raise me
– Lucky to pursue and study dance at age 4
– Lucky for a strong high school and college education
– Lucky to have gone to American University of Beirut
– Lucky to have spotted a young man in the library at Beirut and knew I was going to marry him even though I didn’t know his name
– Lucky to have given birth to a baby boy- I always wanted to have a son
– Lucky to have such a caring son, daughter in law, and three grandchildren
– Lucky to have a rewarding teaching career
– Lucky to teach dance in the APE program
– Lucky to have started RWA
– Lucky, I ran into Michelle Yamakawa, former RWA mentor and ballet student, and to ask if she could help mentor Heidi in dance. I knew of Michelle’s technical skills and hired her to become my book assistant and consultant – she did everything to make the book a masterpiece for publication. She is genuinely a gem to my students and me! I am so grateful and honored that she referred me to your engaging, contemporary, and vibrant magazine.


  • Brush of Giftedness $25.99
  • Graceful Gratitude- A Book of Holiday Graces $12.99

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