Dance is a springboard out of poverty at The Wooden Floor
By Jennifer Kaplan
Melanie Rios Glaser is nothing if not bold. Bold enough, in fact, to say, “Dance can help end poverty in this country.” She points to the successes she’s seen and instigated at The Wooden Floor, an organization where dance remains at the foundation—the floor, so to speak. But it has become far more than a place to learn pliés, tendus, and jetés. The Wooden Floor is an essential community resource and support system for hundreds of low-income residents of Santa Ana, California.
“I don’t think of dance as inherently good or bad,” Rios Glaser explains, “but there’s an approach to how we use dance at The Wooden Floor that makes it particularly valuable in translating into other areas of life. I think it’s dance, but I also think it’s our approach to dance and how we apply dance to learning.”
The organization has come a long way from its founding 29 years ago as Saint Joseph Ballet. Sister Beth Burns, a Catholic nun and former member of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Orange, was a trained dancer. She was supposed to teach English for her order but instead rallied to open a ballet school. While her order didn’t balk, it took some convincing before the Mother Superior OK’d the plan. Even then the classes weren’t offered in a Catholic church, but in the basement of a local Episcopal one.
The program Sister Beth instituted featured low-cost or no-cost ballet classes for the city’s poorest children, many immigrants or children of immigrants from South America, Southeast Asia, and other regions. She believed that dance would help struggling youths gain self-confidence, self-discipline, and a sense of accomplishment.
By 1999 the dance school had opened a 21,000-square-foot educational center with a state-of-the-art theater, a stunning glass wall, and spacious studios with soaring ceilings. The $6.8 million in construction costs was raised largely from private individuals and corporations. (The Wooden Floor’s annual budget of $2.3 million is covered largely by foundation, corporate, and individual contributions. City and state aid amounts to 2 percent of the budget.) Joining the beautifully appointed dance studios are a fully equipped library, meeting rooms, an academic tutoring center, private counseling rooms, a computer center, and a comfortable lobby where students, their families, and visitors feel welcome to relax.
In 2005, Rio Glaser became the organization’s second artistic director and under her leadership Saint Joseph Ballet rebranded itself as The Wooden Floor in 2009. Although the name changed, the founding principles remained. “While faith might have influenced [Sister Beth’s] approach,” Rios Glaser says, “it was never really a faith-based organization. Religion wasn’t something forced. The values on which the organization was founded could be considered religious, but they’re also universal.”
Each fall Rios Glaser holds auditions for a new class of dancers. “The word has spread throughout the community that coming through these doors might just change everything,” Rios Glaser says. About 300 hopeful children and their parents begin lining up around the block as early as 3am for the 70 spots. “We’re looking for extremely low income and that the kids seem to enjoy dance as a medium for growth. That’s about it,” she says.
Once the students are in, though, The Wooden Floor makes a 10-year commitment to its 375 students, ranging in age from 8 to 18. In exchange for attending classes, participating, and good behavior, the students and their families receive a range of services that include academic tutoring, college prep beginning in seventh grade, family counseling, a full-time on-site social worker available for crises, and opportunities to work with the nation’s best contemporary choreographers and perform both at the on-site black box theater and in renowned venues like REDCAT.
If it hadn’t been explained to him, Seattle-based choreographer Mark Haim says, he would never have known that the students at The Wooden Floor all come from extremely low-income backgrounds. (In Orange County, that means a family of five living on less than $32,000 a year.) A majority of the students are Hispanic immigrants or children of Hispanic immigrants, so often English is not their mother tongue.
Rios Glaser, a proud native of Guatemala, points out that since 2005, 100 percent of alumni have enrolled in college, which is three times the average for graduating high school seniors nationwide from that socioeconomic level. Aside from the excellent state and private colleges and universities in Southern California, The Wooden Floor graduates attend schools like Wellesley, New York University, and Boston College and, due to the intensive college prep program, they have few qualms about applying to Stanford, Harvard, and MIT.
Fernando Sosa, 19, first learned about The Wooden Floor when it was still Saint Joseph Ballet. His third-grade teacher told his mother about the program. “At first I didn’t want to go,” says the UCLA freshman, “because of the stereotype that ballet was for girls. But my mom convinced me that it would help me do better in school.” At 10, he auditioned and was accepted. Last June he graduated from Santa Ana’s Middle College High School and received enough credits at the local community college to enter his freshman year with sophomore standing.
“Dance helped me to express myself and helps me with my self-esteem,” says Sosa, who describes himself as “really shy.” By high school he was spending time at The Wooden Floor nearly every day; he relied on the tutors for help with algebra, the counselors for support, and the annual backpack giveaways for basic school supplies. “It’s just my mom, my sister, and me,” he says. “We live off one paycheck, so The Wooden Floor really helped us out.”
Each student has a mentor—either a staff member, faculty member, or counselor—to offer whatever support is necessary to get kids into the studio to dance.
That dance is what makes a difference has become a no-brainer for Rios Glaser. The kids are not simply learning and performing dances, she’ll tell you, they’re making art. The students’ first year is a combination of Anne Green Gilbert’s brain-compatible dance education and improvisation; they might also learn a dance or two from other parts of the world. The year is a preparation for lessons to follow as well as a chance to discover the joy of dance. Ballet continues and modern and improvisation, among other dance styles, are introduced as the students mature. Improvisation and creative problem solving are always emphasized.
The program has seven university-trained dance teachers. Hours of instruction vary depending on students’ age and level of involvement. Younger children attend once or twice a week at the outset, while the most involved older students show up every weekday—and on Saturdays for rehearsals.
Aside from Juilliard-trained Rios Glaser and Haim, the choreographers commissioned by The Wooden Floor to create new works on the students have included Seán Curran, John Heginbotham, Donald McKayle, Susan Rethorst, Sally Silvers, and Scott Wells. Dance companies in residence teaching master classes and repertory have included José Limón Dance Company, Eliot Feld’s Ballet Tech, and Elizabeth Streb’s STREB. Plans are percolating for a major postmodern choreographer to set a site-specific work on the kids in 2012.
The first time Haim was commissioned to create a piece on the student dancers back in 2002 he was intrigued—but wary enough to bring along an assistant, having never worked with teens before. “I wasn’t sure how it would go,” he says. “I just went in with the intention of doing what I normally do. I get a certain allotment of hours to make a piece, so I just treated it like a normal commission.”
What surprised him at first was that he didn’t need to adjust his methods to work with the teens. It took a day or two longer with the kids, he says, to see what he was envisioning, but otherwise, he treated them like professionals. “And I could,” Haim says, a tinge of amazement in his voice. He has made and restaged three original works on The Wooden Floor dancers over the past nine years.
That the students were ready to work, focused, and able to contribute to the choreographic process is due to the intensive behind-the-scenes support. Each student has a mentor—either a staff member, faculty member, or counselor—to offer whatever support is necessary to get kids into the studio to dance. That could mean finding temporary housing for a suddenly homeless family, helping a kid who lost his bus pass get a ride home, or finding lunch and a snack for a hungry dancer at the end of the month when food stamps run out.
“With all the problems these kids have, I never, ever had a kid act out,” Haim says. “And, if I didn’t want to, I never had to know what was going on in their lives outside the studio.” That is important. “For those kids, it’s a safe place. They come there and forget about what’s going on at home, all the problems. The very best thing I could do for them was to say, ‘OK, we’re here in the studio; we’re going to make art, have fun, play, and enjoy what we’re doing.’”
“We have a theory of change,” Rios Glaser says. “And one of the things we have found that needs to be true is that [we encourage] young people to form long-term, healthy relationships with mentors. So they’re making sure kids arrive on time, that they have everything they need, and try to spot any possible problems or crises ahead of time.”
Rios Glaser’s other fundamental belief in her continuum that dance changes lives and eliminates poverty is that even children, or especially children, can be creative artists. “In the same way children are asked to become proficient in math over the years, whether they’re good at it or not,” she says, “here they’re asked to become proficient in dance over 10 years, whether they’re good at it or not.” In the end, if they stick with the program, they become proficient dancers and creative artists.
That means mastering improvisation is as important as mastering ballet or modern technique. “Improvisation is very important to us starting in the first year,” Rios Glaser says, “because we want to make sure that the students understand that all movement is valid.” That includes their own. By not forcing them into a specific style or technique early in their training, they become more open and able to explore with the professional choreographers. “Improvisation stays with them throughout the organization as a philosophy, because they’re going to work with choreographers who are going to be adventuresome and will draw from their own movement language and from movement language that the kids invent themselves.”
In addition to encouraging physically healthy children, creating a sense of well-being and purpose, building community, and supporting self-awareness, Rios Glaser is most interested in process-oriented choreography that includes the children from the early stages of creation through performance. “We commission people whose work is very much based on inquiry, finding multiple answers to the same question, thinking creatively, gaining self-awareness, seeing the world in a broader light,” she says.
These critical-thinking skills are as desirable in 21st-century business schools and science, math, and technology fields as they are in the dance studio. “That,” Rios Glaser says with a note of finality, “is the argument about why dance is such a winner, especially in leveling the playing field for low-income youth. But I can’t emphasize enough that it’s our approach and it’s also our 10-year immersion” that make the difference.
Sosa agrees. “The Wooden Floor really helped me grow into the person I am today. I wouldn’t be here [in college] without their help.”
For the first time this year, The Paul Taylor Dance Foundation’s Winter Intensive classes will be held in the evening to allow dancers working full-time jobs or with other daytime commitments to attend.
“This Winter Intensive is unique. Students do not have to ‘quit their day jobs’ to learn the Taylor style,” said John Tomlinson, executive director. “Over half of the current members of both the Paul Taylor Dance Company and Taylor 2 attended Taylor Intensives, which is a testament to the exceptional training offered at the school.”
The intensive will run December 26 to January 6 from 5 to 10pm at The Taylor Studios, 551 Grand Street (the Lower East Side of Manhattan), New York City, and allow students an opportunity to learn Paul Taylor’s modern dance technique through instruction by faculty members—dancers of Taylor 2—and personal attention.
Ruth Andrien, a Taylor alumna and Taylor 2 rehearsal director, will serve as intensive director. The classes will culminate in a final showing at the Schimmel Auditorium at Pace University on January 6. Following the showing, Taylor 2 will perform at Pace on January 6 and 7.
Cost is $600, with a $30 registration fee. To apply, students must complete and submit the registration and teacher evaluation forms at http://www.ptdc.org/wi/2011-registration.
The National Museum of Dance’s School of the Arts will offer classes in hip-hop, Irish step, and jazz this fall for dancers from beginner to advanced beginning September 12.
In addition, classes in creative movement, pre-ballet, ballet, modern dance, pointe, belly dance, Zumba, and private instruction will be available for all levels and ages 3 and up, including adults.
Online registration is now open or students can register at open houses set for September 10 and 11 from noon to 4pm. Participants can pay for a whole session or drop-in rates for single classes. A complete schedule, registration, tuition information, and calendar are posted on the school’s website at www.dancemuseum.org/school.
The School of the Arts is situated behind the National Museum of Dance in the Lewis A. Swyer Studios, 99 South Broadway, Saratoga Springs, New York. The School of the Arts is a not-for-profit organization with a focus on teaching professional-quality dance technique. For further information, contact Raul Martinez, the school’s director, at 518.581.0858 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Mark Morris Dance Center will hold an open house with free activities for all ages on September 10 from 10am to 5pm at The School at the Mark Morris Dance Center, 3 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.
- Free children’s dance classes
- Free adult dance, fitness, and wellness classes
- All-day bazaar
- Dancing with MMDG company members
- Light refreshments
- Free performance by Mark Morris Dance Group
Registrations will also be accepted for children and teen classes, which begin the week of September 12. View the complete open house schedule at http://markmorrisdancegroup.org/ and check in on Facebook for special offers and details.
One of Miami’s oldest dance companies will soon begin offering low-cost classes in Miami Gardens, according to the Miami Herald.
The Thomas Armour Youth Ballet dance company will offer kids ages 5 to 10 an opportunity to learn ballet and tap dancing starting Tuesday at the Betty T. Ferguson Center, 3000 NW 199th Street. Classes are $10 per month.
The non-profit dance company, whose students have gone on to perform in top-notch troupes such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, will provide kids with leotards, tights, and ballet shoes. The company offers similar scholarship programs in Coconut Grove, Homestead, Little Haiti, and South Miami.
The dance classes will be led by tap dancer Natasha Williams, a graduate of New World School of the Arts who also teaches ballet and jazz, and ballerina Kareen Camargo, who was a rehearsal instructor for the Miami City Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker.
The Thomas Armour Youth Ballet dance company was founded in 1951 and provides training to 1,000 students each year. The company is named for ballet dancer Thomas Armour who was trained in Paris by world famous ballerina Olga Preobrajenska.
To see the full story, visit http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/08/18/2365090/youth-ballet-to-offer-low-cost.html#ixzz1VUEMtqqN. For more information on the Thomas Amour Youth Ballet, call 305.667.5543 or visit www.thomasamouryouthballet.org.
Anahid Sofian, a performer and teacher of Oriental dance, will hold August classes at the Sofian Studio, 29 West 15th Street (just west of Fifth Avenue), New York City.
The schedule includes:
- Mondays, 6 to 7:30pm, finger cymbals and rhythms for dance
- Tuesdays, 6 to 7:30pm, Intermediate I
- Wednesdays, 6 to 7:30pm, Beginner
- Thursdays, 6 to 7:30pm, Intermediate II
- Fridays, 6 to 7:30pm, Advanced Beginner
- Saturdays, 12:30 to 2:30pm, Advanced/Professional
All classes (except Wednesday beginners) will be taught by Sofian. For information call 212.741.2848 or visit www.anahidsofianstudio.com.
It was 10am on a Tuesday. My project for the day was to work on ideas for growing enrollment, but with evenings and Saturday mornings booked, where could I put new classes?
My class schedule was a logjam of 140 classes. I hunted for a way to open up several 30-minute sections in the evening for more preschool classes. “Why can’t they just come during the day?” I groaned to the empty studio.
Driving home, I saw the answer to my problem marching down the street: 10 kids from a nearby daycare center on a neighborhood walk with their teacher. That was it! I would fill those empty daytime hours by offering classes to daycare centers.
I drafted a brochure and registration form stating that Misty’s Dance Unlimited was offering a six-week session of dance classes on Mondays from 11 to 11:30am for $49. I included a parent release form, asked about medical concerns, and gave my business address and contact information. “Come join the more than 750 students taking dance lessons at Misty’s each week!” the brochure read.
Next, I called the center director to introduce myself and my new program. My approach was simple and business oriented—my studio would offer an activity for the daycare kids, one that would add value to their program but at no cost to the center.
I explained how the daycare kids would have fun dancing to our upbeat curriculum and get their energy out and their teachers would enjoy being a part of something that breaks up the day. I predicted that parents, who would pay for the lessons, would appreciate an extracurricular activity held during the day so that they would not have to spend evening hours rushing to another activity. Another plus: the center could advertise that it offers dance lessons.
To seal the deal, I gave the daycare center the option of bringing the children to the studio for lessons or having the dance teacher go there. As an added enticement, at the end of the six-week session the students could participate in our Christmas Social, held at a local theater. Not only could the kids perform, I said, but the daycare center would get some great advertising if the kids wore T-shirts sporting its name and logo during the event. I got an immediate commitment over the phone and I emailed the registration form to them to send home with the kids that same afternoon.
My approach was simple and business oriented—my studio would offer an activity for the daycare kids, one that would add value to their program but at no cost to the center.
Energized by this success, I called two more daycare centers near my studio. One never returned my calls, but the other one signed up right away. Of the two centers that agreed to this partnership, one chose to have our teacher teach at their location and the other walked the kids over to our studio. The daycare centers were in charge of collecting the tuition and paying the studio on the first day of class.
With 13 children from one daycare and 7 from another signed up for lessons, this was the easiest and fastest increase of 20 students my school has ever had. Since the kids performed in our Christmas Social we were able to show their parents the caliber of our program, so when I offered a six-week spring session it was an easy re-sell.
This relationship allowed me to fill empty studio space during the day as well as advertise the school’s offerings to the daycare centers’ clients.
Here are some tips:
Keep it easy. A short session with a simple registration form and one-time payment is best and will encourage both new parents and daycare owners to give it a try.
Keep it simple. Daycare centers cater to both boys and girls in a range of ages, so gender-neutral, dance-activity songs built around holiday or seasonal themes work well. You can introduce elements of ballet through this format, but packaging the session as dance instead of ballet will widen your audience.
Above all, keep it positive. The unique thing about partnering with a daycare center is that your task isn’t to sell dance to them. Instead, you’re selling the value of a partnership with your studio. Focus on the positives of what a relationship between your organizations will bring to the daycare, their teachers, and their clients.
Making the most of your once-a-weekers
By Julie Holt Lucia
Recreational dancers make up a huge part of many dance studios’ enrollments, and they often bring in the top dollar per class in tuition. Most teachers see these dancers only once a week, for an hour or less at a time. Since we’re trying to give them as much instruction as possible over the course of a school year, that’s a very limited amount of time.
Not only are we introducing these students to new skills and teaching them to master old ones, we’re also trying to reach them personally. We want to seek out those students who might have a future in dance and coach those who struggle into success—all while not losing sight of the middle-of-the-road kids, most of whom just want to have fun in class. We want all of our students to come away with a well-rounded dance education because you simply never know who will be the next Sarah Lane or Rennie Harris.
With such a short amount of time to work with, though, how do we take these recreational classes beyond the dance steps? How can we keep these dancers engaged for the long term? There are ideas and tools we can use to reach every child, as long as we remain flexible with our strategies and continue to communicate a passion for dance.
Just like our counterparts at academic schools, we dance teachers need to realize that different teaching approaches work for different students. Although dance is largely taught by demonstration, we all know there is much more involved than having students copy your movements. We want them to learn and retain the material—a challenge in one short class per week. But by using easy-to-implement, practical ideas periodically throughout the year, we can squeeze in as much learning as possible. These methods will become like little surprises for your students and add little jolts of energy to your teaching process.
A whiteboard is a great addition to any dance classroom. You can spell the names of steps, write out the counts or musical phrasings, draw figures and shapes, and explain patterns and formations. With vocabulary terms, using the whiteboard throughout the year helps the students get into the habit of recognizing the steps in words; even young children who are just beginning to read will catch on quickly with repetitive use. It’s a great way to help the dancers grasp tricky vocabulary words, particularly French terms. When you show your jazz students that “chaîné” looks like the word “chain” and also means chain-linked, you make it easier for them to remember the step the next time they go across the floor.
Another great classroom tool is a TV or laptop computer. Using it takes up too much class time to do it frequently, but occasionally showing a clip from a famous ballet or musical can be awe-inspiring for students who aren’t exposed to much dance outside of the classroom. For example, after the first semester or so of classes, when some of my beginner ballet students are getting the hang of the basic terminology, I will take a few minutes out of class to show them a clip from Swan Lake, a ballet many of them have never seen. (Barbie of Swan Lake, which most of them have seen, isn’t the same, but they’ll recognize the music.) I ask them to watch for steps that look familiar, and inevitably, they pick out arabesques, pas de chats, and pas de bourrées. Watching the video clips helps us discuss how even the professionals practice the basics over and over again and then continue to use them in more complex ways. And of course, the young students are always wowed by the dancers on pointe.
Watching routines from Broadway shows and other performances can be just as exciting, and as with ballet, they can lead to a discussion of familiar dance steps as well as dance history. You may find yourself explaining about Fosse or Robbins or the Rockettes to your older students. With younger students, you may simply help them compare and contrast two show routines.
Although you can’t show video clips too frequently for fear of taking away from actual dance time, doing so is a fun way to change up class time during a lull and a great way to inspire your dancers. For this reason, in addition to keeping a small collection of dance DVDs on hand, I have a Netflix account with a queue of dance videos ready to go.
Lesson plans are invaluable for our classes, but sometimes deviating from them is the best way to teach class on a particular day. Maybe a student asks a thoughtful question about the style of ballet you’re teaching, which leads you to explain some of the differences between the Cecchetti and Vaganova methods. Or maybe someone has to sit out due to an injury, and that leads you into an informal chat about why dancers warm up the way they do and what they should do if they think they are injured.
You never want to stray too far off track since class time ticks by so quickly, but there are always moments with your recreational students when you’d better take advantage of an opening. After all, you might not get another chance.
Sometimes spending 5 or 10 minutes on a productive game is well worth stepping away from the lesson plan. Especially when the dancers’ eyes begin to glaze over, a dance game is a fun way to keep the lesson going while energizing the atmosphere. You can make a game out of almost anything, and it doesn’t have to be long or complex. In fact, it’s usually more exciting if it’s simple.
A whiteboard is a great addition to any dance classroom. You can spell the names of steps, write out the counts or musical phrasings, draw figures and shapes, and explain patterns and formations.
From guided improv using a step or phrase you were working on that day, to Jeopardy or Pictionary-style quizzes on the whiteboard (have students take turns demonstrating the step you write out or draw on the board), just about any off-the-beaten-path activity can be presented as a game. You don’t have to have a winner or loser; the satisfaction of accomplishing the task should be enough.
Outside of class
Recreational dancers might look forward to class and show off around the house, but most probably don’t think too much about dance when they’re at home or school. Still, it can be beneficial to urge your students of all ages to seek out dance information in places other than the studio.
Encourage them to look for dance books or videos during library trips and attend performances. Tell them to write down comments about what they see or find or jot down questions for you about the dance world. Then you can designate special sharing days, like a dance version of show-and-tell. You can share too. For instance, let your ballet students pass around a pointe shoe while you explain what it takes to dance on pointe. Or share with them your favorite dance book or story, pointing out familiar words or photos.
By encouraging them to look for dance outside of class, you may pique a greater interest in dancing in your students. But not all children—even the ones who are interested—will have the opportunity to do extras like this outside of class, and we need to be careful not to make anyone who isn’t interested or cannot participate feel left out. A good way to manage this is by offering everyone the chance to share (when appropriate) but clearly stating that simply listening is fine.
Try a new dance
All of the students at my school get the chance to try a new style of dance during their regular class time, usually once a year. Because our recital date can vary year to year, we usually try to slip this time in toward the end of the school year, either to alleviate the stress of recital time or to wind down afterward. The recreational kids love it, and often it leads them to try something new in the summer or the following school year.
During the designated week, the teacher picks another style of dance to introduce during class (sometimes taking into consideration student suggestions). It’s always a style that the school already offers and that is age-appropriate.
The dancers don’t need to have the proper shoes or change their dress code since it’s just for one day. The class is usually structured like a short version of any other: warm-up, across the floor, combination, stretch. It’s enough to introduce how the new style feels different from what the dancers are used to and why it might be interesting and challenging.
Finding a happy medium
You may not want or need to use every trick in the book while working with your recreational students, but it’s worth experimenting with those classes to see what small things you can introduce that might serve as an extra incentive. Incorporating one or two of these ideas into your curriculum may help your school keep those trusty recreational students hooked on dance.
The Taylor School, part of the Paul Taylor Dance Foundation, will offer dance classes for children and young adults for the first time at its new Manhattan studios, beginning in September.
Classes will be taught by Raegan Wood, a former member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company and a dance instructor for many years. The weekly classes will be divided by age groups: ages 4 to 6, 7 to 9, 10 to 12, and teenagers.
An open house for registration and a preview of classes will be held July 31at the school, at 551Grand Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Classes will be offered at $300 for a 16-week fall semester of a one-hour class per week.
“The Taylor School is committed to excellence in the training of aspiring dancers of all ages in the Taylor style, and furthering dance as a source of meaning and expression around the world,” said John Tomlinson, executive director of the Paul Taylor Dance Foundation, in a news release.
The Pulse and New York’s Broadway Dance Center will offer more than 50 classes in three days at the 11th annual BDC Teacher Workshop from July 29 to 31 at the Grand Hyatt in New York City.
The faculty will include Desmond Richardson, Cris Judd, Wade Robson, Mia Michaels, Laurieann Gibson, Tyce Diorio, Dave Scott, Holly Kerr, Kelby Brown, Germaine Salsberg, and Toni Noblett. They’ll be sharing their expertise in ballet, hip-hop, jazz, tap, and theater dance, as well as Bollywood, yoga, music editing, and much more. For the full class schedule, visit https://docs.google.com/View?id=dg4bb4d_11g5f69sd8.
Stephanie Herman, a former ballet dancer and fitness advocate, has several July classes and workshops lined up in Palo Alto, California.
Herman will offer The Barre Workout from 1pm to 2:30pm at the Jewish Community Center on July 10 and 17, as well as Muscle Ballet, a cardio dance workout for teachers and students, from 1pm to 2:30pm at Equinox in Palo Alto. Also, Stephanie Herman’s Fitness Camp will be offered from 1pm to 3pm July 31 at NoXcuses in Palo Alto.
To sign up for The Barre Workout or the fitness camp, call 650.328.4909 or email email@example.com. For Muscle Ballet, email Kirsten Johnson at Kirsten.Johnson@equinox.com.
The power of ballet/tap/jazz and other sampler classes
By Karen White
Combo classes. The words are enough to strike fear into the heart of many a studio owner. For students and parents, the idea can be tantalizing, fun, and affordable—a little bit of everything, like an appetizer sampler.
But how do you, a studio owner with high standards and a reputation to protect, provide top-quality instruction in what is basically a package deal? Is it even possible?
It is, says Leslie Nolte of Nolte Academy of Dance in Coralville, Iowa. “When I started [my studio], I knew combos were the way I had to get the young, unmolded dancers. Combo classes help give shape to those dancers,” says Nolte, who believes teachers shouldn’t expect students to completely change their attitude and discipline habits when moving from a combo to a technique class. “They’re not looked upon as second-rate classes. The first thing I did was make my combo classes as tough as our other classes.”
Students who start at age 2 with Nolte will spend the first eight years of their dance education in combo classes. Everyone at her studio takes either a ballet/tap/jazz combo, or a tap/jazz combo with a full ballet class, until the fifth grade. It’s a system Nolte has slowly put in place since founding the studio in 2000.
“When I first opened I tried to do a little of what I believed. We changed the length—Kinder was 45 minutes, now it’s 60. Second-level combo was 60, now it’s 75. I felt I had to do that to give them a full syllabus, and I have zero problem retaining students,” she says.
And it seems to be working. Fourteen of her students attended summer 2011 intensives at schools such as Pacific Northwest Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, Houston Ballet, and Milwaukee Ballet, and two former students danced the lead role in Billy Elliot this year (Alex Ko on Broadway and Marcus Pei with the Toronto cast).
Sticking to standards
At Dance Reflections in Flower Mound, Texas, owner Shelly Pershing has offered combo classes since she opened the school 13 years ago, and that distinguishes her school from other studios that only offer technique classes. “I don’t think people look at our program as just recreational or playtime,” she says. “I honestly feel I could put my kids up against any others, and they’d do just as well.”
Combos work for Pershing because she sets and sticks to standards—such as keeping her combo students in each level for one or two years, not moving them up until they’ve mastered the material. All of her students take ballet/tap combos until age 7, when jazz is added. Even after students move on to technique classes at ages 11 to 13, they aren’t allowed to take jazz without also taking ballet.
Sometimes a child will excel at one combo subject, but not the others. In this case Pershing will mix and match the student’s classes, keeping her in her current combo for the problem subject, but allowing her to jump to the next level combo for the rest. Since the student is basically still taking one combo (but with the subjects split on different days or times), she would still be billed for one combo class, she says.
In rare cases, Pershing might move the student up a level if she believes the student will work hard to bring herself up to speed on the subject or subjects she finds challenging. “Some parents have even invested in private lessons to help further dancers in the skills they lack,” she says.
Even with a combo format, Pershing says, it’s important to “stand your ground” with educational requirements. “You have to be confident enough in your own program to be able to define to a parent why Jane is not moving up.”
At Karen’s Dance Studio in Joplin, Missouri, Nicole Drouin is continuing with the combo format long favored by her late mother, Karen Drouin. The studio follows the Cecchetti curriculum, so every combo offered includes ballet. “It’s the same discipline, the same technique” she teaches in the combo classes as her Saturday Cecchetti technique classes, Drouin says. “Ballet is ballet. Combo classes wear tights and leotards. The same rules apply. Nothing is different except that we don’t have as much time to learn things, so progress is a bit slower.”
A taste of every style
Her mother, who opened the studio in 1971, found that combos were a good way to expose her students to more than one style of dance while also keeping their attention, Drouin says. She herself grew up in combo classes and has danced professionally in Las Vegas and overseas. “I think they give kids a little taste of different styles of dancing,” she says.
Because all of her students come through a combo format, Nolte believes they have a well-rounded background. That means that when it’s time for them to choose technique classes, they can make a more educated decision about what they want out of dance. Starting in fourth grade, serious students can add a class in modern to their ballet/tap/jazz lesson plan.
Once past the combo system, they can decide to drop tap or jazz, but many don’t. “Once they’re good at something, of course, they like it,” Nolte says. “There’s a vested interest, and they’re less likely to quit it. That’s what combo classes have done for us.”
Nolte recognizes that dance students fall into two tracks—serious and fun. Beginning at level 2, serious students can switch to a tap/jazz combo and a separate ballet technique class. This way, she says, she can “make both tracks feel accepted and appreciated.” And all students (aside from those who only take hip-hop) must take ballet.
“My [students’] parents have come to accept that this is the way you start,” she says. “The way we sell it is that even if you’re going to be a ballet dancer, there is no ballet dancer who can’t benefit from knowledge of other kinds of dance.”
Finding the right faculty
Nolte has worked hard to make her combo classes as tough as her technique classes, not only to grow strong dancers but to gain the respect of her students’ parents. “If parents felt the classes were second rate, we would lose students who otherwise would develop into amazing performers,” Nolte says.
She’s done this by insisting that all her faculty members—even those with advanced degrees in dance or professional performing backgrounds—teach combos. Some studios, she believes, undercut their combo program by passing off the classes to high-school-age or beginning teachers. “Even a very inexperienced teacher can come up with 25 minutes of jazz, but at my school we decided not to do that a long time ago,” she says. “Who better to teach my first- and second-graders but my staffers who teach the most advanced levels, and so know exactly where we’re going with this.”
She admits that not all teachers are thrilled with this notion. Nolte sells her concept by insisting that it places the students and their education as the studio’s top priorities, and that students adjust more easily as they move into more demanding upper-level classes. It also connects teachers and students throughout the entire studio. (She also continues to pay faculty members their full hourly wage, whether they’re teaching advanced-level pointe or beginner combo.)
A flexible format
Whether combo classes are taught by one instructor or several teachers who switch as subjects change seems to be a matter of preference. Drouin, who has been running her mother’s studio for about a year after a professional dance career, prefers to handle the combos by herself, just as her mother always did, with the help of student assistants.
Nolte’s faculty members also handle all subjects within a combo. That way, if students appear to be bored with one subject, the teacher can jump to another, or mix things up, like doing ballet to jazz music, or adding jazz arms to a ballet combination. They can also flip-flop subjects—one week they might spent 45 minutes on ballet and jazz, leaving 25 minutes for tap; the next week tap will get the lion’s share of the time.
Pershing, whose specialty is tap, teaches the youngest students in ballet/creative movement and ballet/tap combos. When students advance to ballet/tap/jazz combos at age 7, she handles the tap and hands off the ballet and jazz to another teacher. Working with a co-teacher allows her, as the studio owner, half a class to wander about and see what’s going on in the rest of the studio. Children are excited to advance to that “two-teacher” level, she says, and parents feel they’re getting more for their money.
“When I started [my studio], I knew combos were the way I had to get the young, unmolded dancers. Combo classes help give shape to those dancers.” —Leslie Nolte, Nolte Academy of Dance
She feels it’s important to set goals for her combo students, such as waiting until age 7 to start jazz. Only combo-class students who have achieved a certain level of technique are allowed to participate in the Dance Reflections recital finale. “I constantly give them little things at the studio to work for,” Pershing says.
Combos allow studio owners to create fun new classes, or mix ages and levels, to please a customer base. Last summer Drouin stared a combo called “dance team tech” and allowed in friends of her team members, some whom hadn’t danced in years. The class—a 15-minute barre, 10-minute warm-up, jazz progressions across the floor, and a combination—proved to be hugely popular, with ages spanning from 15 to 26.
She kept it on the schedule for the school year, calling it “Teen Combo.” Several students who want more ballet also attend Cecchetti classes on Saturday. “It was a mixed class I wasn’t sure what to do with, and now it’s one of my favorites,” Drouin says, adding that she usually runs well over the official one-hour length. “It’s a really fun class to teach, and it’s more than full.”
With only one dance space in Karen’s Dance Studio, combos also proved to be the best scheduling option. Drouin is now making plans to open a second room, which would allow more space for additional combo classes as well as more technique classes. Right now, only weekday pointe and jazz technique classes are available for advanced seventh- and eighth-graders and up.
Nolte also believes a schedule made up of large-block combo classes is more efficient than a “Rubik’s cube” of half-hour technique classes. She staggers the start times of combos with other classes, which helps with traffic flow because customers aren’t exiting and entering all at the same time. The one-hour-plus blocks are long enough for parents to run errands.
“Financially, it’s a dream,” Pershing says of combo classes. Parents with kids who want jazz but might balk at paying for technique classes in both that and ballet, see the jazz/ballet combo as a deal. She offers combos up to age 13, so as the students get older and want to add another class (such as hip-hop), they get three subjects but pay for only two classes. “There’s an element of psychology to it,” she says.
Use limited time wisely
Because time is limited in combo classes, Drouin makes sure she has a well-thought-out game plan for the entire season where each lesson plan builds upon what was learned the week before. If the students are struggling with a skill, she will present it with a slight variation or change up the music until they are ready to move on.
“My advanced kids all come through the combo system,” she says. “It all goes back to the class plan. With combos, your time is limited, so there has to be a rhyme and reason for everything. You have to plan your classes very strategically and carefully.”
The key to quality dance education, Nolte says, is not the format of the class but what the teacher does within that format. It’s a lesson she learned after growing up in one-hour combo classes and thinking she could dance—and then finding out in college how far behind she was. She’s also seen plenty of 45-minute jazz technique classes that consist of little more than stretches and leaps across the floor.
Her advice is to make the combos long enough—beginning next year, she’s adding another 15 minutes to her level 1, 2, and 3 combos—and to set as high an educational bar for those classes as for any others.
“We all go into class and close the door. What we do inside is the reason for the success or failure of our mission statement,” she says. “Failure, to me, is discontented children and not giving the service we promise, and what we promise is dance education. I think studio owners forget that.”
A program of new workshops and classes, from modern to salsa, are underway at The School at the Mark Morris Dance Center, 3 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.
This week saw the start of beginning modern on Wednesdays, and beginning/intermediate modern on Thursdays. Other classes include intermediate/advanced tap on Wednesdays (starting July 6), beginning/intermediate salsa on Thursdays (beginning July 14), and intro to ballet on Mondays (starting July 19).
Classes in intermediate and advanced modern with Mark Morris Dance Group company members Teri Weksler, Kraig Patterson, Elisa Clark, and David Leventhal will also be offered.
Visit https://markmorrisdancegroup.org/the_school/adults/class_schedules#workshops for exact dates and times. Pre-registration recommended. Register online or call 718.624.8400.
National Dance Week-NYC, a yearly festival that advocates dance conditioning and wellness, will offer more than 100 free dance, fitness, and wellness classes over the course of 10 days, starting June 17.
The New York City chapter of National Dance Week encourages everyone to participate in dance at any level and in any capacity. Catering to New Yorkers’ interests and the city’s diverse arts community, classes include Latin, ballroom, tap, ballet, swing, hip-hop, aerial acrobatics, and Zumba for all levels and ages.
Participating studios include: The Ailey Extension; American Tap Dance Foundation; Astoria Fine Arts Dance, Ballet Basics; Bridge for Dance: Brooklyn Ballet; Covenant Ballet Theatre of Brooklyn; Dance Manhattan; Dance New Amsterdam; Dhoonya Dance; Dokoudovsky New York Conservatory of Dance; Fit, Fab, and Sexy; Fit, Fab, Teens; Flamenco con Magdalena; Forces of Nature Dance Theatre; and Fred Astaire (West Side).
Also, The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory; Joffrey Ballet School; Kat Wildish at The Ailey Extension; LA Dance; Mark Morris Dance Center; Marie-Christine Giordano Dance; Nika Ballet Studio; Peridance Capezio Center; Pushing Progress; The Queens Dance Project; Sandra Cameron Dance Center; STREB Extreme Action; Tropical Image NY; and Yoga Works (Downtown).
A schedule of studios, offerings, and instructions can be found on NDW-NYC’s website, www.ndw-nyc.org/free-classes.
Choreographer Ohad Naharin, in collaboration with Peridance Capezio Center, will offer a Gaga Summer Intensive program complete with Gaga dancers classes and Gaga Methodology classes August 1 to 13 at Peridance, 126 East 13th Street, New York City.
(Gaga, if you were wondering, isn’t part of pop diva Lady Gaga’s ever-expanding media universe; it’s Naharin’s own movement language.)
Open to dancers 17 and older, the intensive will run Mondays to Fridays from 10am to 5pm, and Saturdays from 10am to 2pm. Dancers may register for the full two-week session or for either of the one-week sessions. The faculty includes former and current Batsheva Dance Company members, including Danielle Agami, Yaniv Avraham, and Bobbi Smith.
The intensive is open to only 50 dancers. Cost is $600 for one week or $1,000 for both weeks. For registration details, visit www.peridance.com/wsdetail.cfm?WSID=347. Questions can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 212.505.0886.
The Deborah Mason School of Dance and Cambridge [MA] Youth Dance Program is beginning a serious exploration of possible spaces where the organizations could hold classes and programs, with the ultimate goal of becoming the Performing Arts Center of Cambridge.
With this in mind, school officials are asking the Cambridge community for assistance in identifying foundations or organizations that could help the dance school and youth program apply for grants for programs and/or space. The school is also appealing to the community for any help or advice in locating and identifying spaces of between 4,000 and 6,000 square feet that would be available for occupancy by the school in January of 2012.
The Deborah Mason School of Dance, directed by Deborah Mason Dudley, offers a variety of performing arts classes and levels in ballet instruction, modern dance, hip-hop, tap, jazz, and musical theater. Advanced students can participate in the Cambridge Youth Dance Program, a pre-professional dance company.
To help, please contact the studio at email@example.com or call 617.497.1448.
Free classes in African, salsa, gymnastics for dancers, samurai sword, and other kids’ programs will be offered as part of the Peridance Kids Fair, January 23 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Peridance Capezio Center, New York City.
Participants can meet teachers from the center’s PeriChild program while enjoying refreshments, kids’ performances, and other activities. Appropriate for children ages 6 to 15. Kid-based businesses from the community, such as camps, schools, and vendors, will also be on hand.
The PeriChild Program, which seeks to instill proper dance technique in its students through positive and supportive teaching methods, was established in 1986 and has become an integral part of the Peridance Center. Each spring semester culminates with a PeriChild performance in a Manhattan theater, featuring all PeriChild students involved in pre-ballet and up. The program’s youngest dancers, in creative movement, creative ballet, and young tapper classes, have the opportunity to perform in a “Creative Concert” held in the Peridance studio.
Peridance is located at 126 East 13th Street. Call 212.505.0886 or visit www.peridance.com for more details.
A new slate of classes for teens, children, and adults has been set for Fridays at The School at the Mark Morris Dance Center, 3 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.
New classes for 2011 include creative dance level 1 and 2 (children) and modern dance level 3 (teen), as well as adult classes in advanced ballet, beginners and intermediate tango workshops, and an intermediate jazz/hip-hop workshop. Full schedules for children and teen and adult classes are available at www.mmdg.org. Registration is now open for children and teen spring classes, beginning January 31. For questions, call the school at 718.624.8400.
Dance students from across the country will learn about the New York dance scene from the artists who are currently creating it when the American Dance Festival’s January Intensive takes place.
The intensive, with nine days of classes, panels, and performances, will be held December 28 to January 7 at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music, Art and Performing Arts and The Juilliard School in New York City.
Past faculty included Robert Battle, Rodger Belman, Michelle Boule, Brian Brooks, Trisha Brown, Donna Faye Burchfield, Martha Clarke, Sean Curran, David Dorfman, Eiko & Koma, Bill Evans, Miguel Gutierrez, Mark Haim, Gerri Houlihan, Ishmael Houston-Jones, John Jasperse, Yangkeun Kim, Nicholas Leichter, Paul Matteson, Meredith Monk, Jennifer Nugent, Pamela Pietro, Lisa Race, Elizabeth Streb, Shen Wei, Doug Varone, Janet Wong, Andrea Woods, Abby Yager, Ming Yang, and Jesse Zaritt.
For more information call 919.684.6402 or visit www.americandancefestival.org.
The Joy of Motion Dance Center of Washington, DC, has announced an extensive listing of adult dance offerings for the winter months.
- A new Vegas Jazz drop-in class
- Muevete, Zumba, Afro-dance styles, Revolution, and stretch classes
- Intro to House, Intro to Funk, and Soul Dances
- Hip-hop, tap, modern, and jazz for beginners
- New couples-only ballroom and slow dancing classes
- New level 2 and 3 social dance classes
- Workshops including Rock Star, Intro to Turns and Leaps, Dance of the 7 Veils, Drum Solo Choreography with Finger Cymbals.
- Studio to Stage classes in Madonna, Pop Video, and Bollywood
Visit www.joyofmotion.org for dates, times, and locations of the full adult schedule of classes. The JOM Dance Center is located at 5207 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington. Call 202.520.3692 for information.
Project Motivate: small in size, big on ideas
By Karen White
The studio owners and teachers filling The Gold School studio had a million questions—about marketing techniques, dealing with problem personalities, balancing work and family, providing quality education, and making money.
One new owner admitted she’s worried about dealing with it all and not losing her mind. “What should I do?” she asked.
Rhee Gold’s answer was short and sweet. “Quit!”
The teachers laughed, but they also learned plenty during the three days of Gold’s latest Project Motivate, held at his home studio in Brockton, Massachusetts, last July. Unlike Gold’s DanceLife Teacher Conference, which attracts upward of 600 studio owners and teachers, Project Motivate (DLTC’s precursor) is cozy, with more than 60 attendees at the event. The long weekend included lectures on web-based marketing, Q&A sessions, discussions of revenue-generating and recital ideas, sample dance classes taught by Gold School instructors, and a performance by Gold School intensive program dancers. And, of course, lots of encouragement from Rhee.
“I’m really liking this intimate atmosphere,” Gay Barboza, owner of AMJ Dance Center in Attleboro, Massachusetts, said. “I like the juxtaposition of the classroom and the business ideas. People are willing to share; there’s no stress here; and it’s close to my hometown. Could this be any more fabulous?”
Owners from 15 states and Canada mingled and chatted, traded marketing materials, and commiserated about the frustrations of running a dance studio business. “I love that we get to choose the topics,” said Ann Marie Frank, president of AMA Dancers & Co. in Des Plaines, Illinois. “I find comfort in learning that so much of this happens to all of us—that it’s not unique to my studio.”
The weekend was laced with Rhee’s brand of tough love—nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams, he said, but it’s going to take a lot of work. “Know that everything you do has a piece of you in it. You have to give a bit extra to get the job done. We have the ability to say, ‘I am not going to leave any stone unturned.’ ”
Certainly no stones were left unturned—and nearly no topics unmentioned—by the studio owners. They asked about inspiring dance team members and firing inefficient teachers, satisfying parents and protecting quality, increasing revenue and reducing gossip. Many shared their secrets for success. Others lamented hurdles they can’t get over or goals they’ve yet to reach. One studio owner admitted that her seemingly great success—930 students—is overwhelming her life.
While “you can make a darned good living” owning a dance studio, Rhee said, it won’t make you a millionaire. Instead, what connects dance teachers is their lifelong desire to dance. Teachers should fully appreciate the impact they have on the lives of students. A studio’s best dancer, he said, is not always the most advanced team member, but “the preschool kid with the enormous smile on her face.”
A dance studio is about more than just training dancers, according to Rhee—it’s about what goes on in the heart and soul of your students. “Look at every kid who walks in the door and say, ‘I can make a difference in this kid’s life.’ Even if they have a size 13 foot, or weigh 300 pounds, or have a mother who’s a maniac.” He added, “This stack of money will grow because you are [touching kids’ lives] so well.”
Owners also heard plenty of solid business pointers. One seminar covered communication and advertising, with Rhee describing how to use e-newsletters, Facebook pages, and websites to keep in touch with current clients as well as attract new ones. Websites should be inviting and arranged in an easy-to-find-information format, especially for parents whose children may be new to dance. Pictures should illustrate the studio’s personality but also emphasize fun classes and happy students.
One of the biggest advantages of social media, he said, is the ability to track viewership—to tell almost instantly, for example, whether a Facebook advertisement is gathering any attention. A communications program such as Constant Contact will keep you updated about who is opening (and hopefully reading) notices or monthly newsletters.
There’s power in positive advertising—such as an ad showing a grinning toddler. Those scenes happen every day in every studio, he said. Rennie Gold, Rhee’s brother and owner of The Gold School, said he keeps a camera in each studio and takes snapshots when students are changing shoes or at other downtimes. Occasionally he walks around the studio videotaping class or rehearsals. He uses the images in advertisements or “commercials” found on the studio website.
“I’ve been listening to Rhee and Rennie for years. They’re teachers’ teachers. I came here hoping to network, but this is just so inspirational.” — teacher Barbara Ostromecky
Even if your school has an excellent record training top dancers, Rhee said, it’s not always wise to show images of advanced dancers on pointe, emphasize competition awards won, or rave about teachers’ professional qualifications. Most parents want a once-a-week, fun dance experience for their children. Intimidating customers is never a good idea.
Nicola Kozmyk, owner of Pure Motion Dance Co. in Calgary, Canada, said learning about marketing tools is one of the top reasons why she enjoys Rhee’s conventions and workshops. “After the Orlando [DLTC] convention, I went home and revamped my studio website,” said Kozmyk, who has owned her studio for three years.
Katie Hignett, owner/director of Dance Innovations Dance Center in Greenland, New Hampshire, said she was also on the lookout for marketing and advertising tips. “I started with 69 students. Now I have 150, and I’m putting in the floor in my second room. I’ve doubled my clientele by word-of-mouth, but now I need to advertise.”
In-classroom expertise was also on display. Kathy Kozul, a former member of Boston Ballet and current Gold School ballet instructor, ran through a detailed description of how to encourage proper alignment through floor barre exercises. If the exercises strengthen the back and abdominals, she said, they will improve turnout. Teachers need to make sure that students use correct muscles and proper hip placement when doing floor exercises such as développé à la seconde or rond de jambe.
While several studio owners took to the floor to feel the alignment for themselves, the next day’s classes were for viewing only. Rennie Gold taught sample classes to two levels, preteens and advanced dancers. He explained the finer points of his method (one point is calling all students “dancers” to create a professional atmosphere) and how he allows even the younger dancers to contribute to the choreography with small sections of improvisation.
The studio owners seemed most amazed by what happened at the end of each lesson—all the students surrounded Rennie to say a personal “thank you” before exiting the class.
It’s common practice at his studio. “If it’s a bad day, [that personal contact] gives you a moment to look that child in the eye so he knows you’re not mad at him,” he said. “Parents love the fact that their children are so respectful.”
That comment was indicative of the weekend’s theme—that the personality of each studio reflects its owner. When the discussion turned to dealing with negative comments from disgruntled moms or sullen students, Rhee asked his audience to consider their own in-studio attitude. “Everyone will dance to the same beat. If you walk into the studio depressed, upset, or not into it, that will be the atmosphere of the entire building,” he said. “Your parents and kids will be just like you. Instead, make sure the energy you bring into the classroom is positive.”
Forget about that one negative comment after a stellar recital, he said. Believe you are smart enough to know what to do in every situation. Have confidence in your own abilities. “If you fear losing students, your fears are holding you back. If you’re not doing well financially or you’re not happy, that’s a lack of confidence,” Rhee said. “It all starts with the person whose dream it was to start this studio. Have the guts to go for it, and run your school that way.”
This sort of talk is what brings Barbara Ostromecky back time and time again to Gold’s events. “I’ve been listening to Rhee and Rennie for years,” said Ostromecky, who runs a dance program for Girls Inc. of Worcester, Massachusetts. “They’re teachers’ teachers. I came here hoping to network, but this is just so inspirational.”
Also inspirational was a performance by The Gold School Project Moves intensive dancers, which ended with a lyrical piece inspired by the passing of a beloved local dance teacher who urged dancers to “come to the edge.” As the piece neared its end, one dancer spoke: “They came. He pushed. And they flew.” Many of the studio owners in the room were in tears.
The weekend ended on a high note, with several teachers describing creative ideas for recitals or finance-generating performance teams. Rhee started the conversations but always handed off the microphone to the studio owners, asking what they do well and what works for them.
When Rhee chipped in, it was to offer solid advice earned over his lifetime as a studio owner’s son, title-winning dancer, master teacher, convention director, and motivational speaker: Dance is evolving faster now than ever, and studio owners need to be on top of it with innovative ideas and a willingness to change. You need to find your strength—perhaps it’s preschoolers or recreational kids—and “go ballistic.” Work hard if that’s what makes you happy, and if you reach a goal, take time to savor your accomplishment.
Some advice may be tough to hear (“If you can’t take a kid peeing on the floor, you’re in the wrong business!”), but it always comes with Rhee’s full understanding of what it means to be a dance teacher.
“The day when that little girl comes up and says, ‘I love you’—you will never remember much about the money, but you will remember that. If you’re not surrounded by people who believe [in what you do], get rid of them,” he said. “Give it all the passion you’ve got. Know you are going to make a difference and that you are going to be remembered because you made a difference.
“How cool is that?”
Artists Simply Human, a new workshop program that strives to connect emerging dancers with working choreographers and directors, will hold four days of classes and events from December 27 to 30 in Philadelphia.
The program, scheduled for the Crowne Plaza, includes more than 25 hours of instruction, Q-and-A sessions, autograph and photo sessions with faculty, a solo competition, teacher cocktail party and lunch, and scholarship awards.
Faculty includes Braham Logan Crane (contemporary), Sonya Tayeh (jazz funk), Sascha Radetsky (ballet), Dee Caspary (contemporary), Joey Dowling (musical theater), Tovaris Wilson (hip-hop), Tony Medeiros and Melanie LaPatin (ballroom), Toyko (improvisation and jazz funk), Wes Veldick (contemporary), Christopher Huggins (modern), and Jim Keith (“The Working Dancer”).
Discounts are available for groups of five or more. For information, call 610.348.7577 or visit www.ASHProductions.com.
The José Limón Dance Foundation class schedule for October 18 to 24 includes:
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday: 10 a.m. advanced classes with Raphael Boumailia; 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. intermediate with Jim May; and 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. intermediate with Alan Danielson.
Tuesday and Thursday: 10 a.m. advanced with Risa Steinberg (Tuesday) and Sue Bernhard (Thursday); 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. intermediate/advanced with Alan Danielson; 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. slow/intermediate with Becky Brown.
Weekend classes include Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. intermediate, and Sunday noon to 1:30 p.m. intermediate, with Becky Brown. All classes are held at the Peridance Capezio Center, 126 East 13th Street, New York City. For more information, visit www.limon.org.
Miami City Ballet School will hold auditions for students for its winter 2010-2011 program starting September 7. Classes range from preparatory levels for 7-year-olds to pre-professional levels for 16- to 18-year-olds.
Auditions will take place Wednesday, August 25, at 5:00 p.m. for ages 7 to 12 and at 6:00 p.m. for ages 13 and over at the school, 2200 Liberty Avenue, Miami Beach. No audition is required for students ages 5 to 6.
For further information, visit www.miamicityballet.org/school or call the school at 305.929.7007.
The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, one of the city’s leading presenters of contemporary dance, will hold a free, daylong celebration September 25 to mark 10 years at its current location, 1306 S. Michigan Avenue.
The event, 1306 – Ten Years Later, will feature performances, workshops, classes, media installations, and multidisciplinary programs throughout the three-story building. Specific participants will be announced later this summer.
The center’s 2010-11 season continues with Emily Johnson/Catalyst Dance (October 7–9); Sankai Juku, presented with the Harris Theater and MCA Stage at the Harris Theater (October 20); Yasuko Yokoshi (October 28–30); Joe Goode Performance Group (February 3–5); Robert Moses’ KIN (February 24–26); Same Planet Different World (March 10–12); and Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group (March 31 to April 2).
For more information, call 312.369.8330 or visit www.colum.edu/dance_center.
The first annual Jersey Tap Fest will offer classes, a jam session, and a concert finale July 14 to 17 at the South Orange Performing Arts Center.
The festival is the brainchild of Hillary-Marie Michael, a New Jersey-born tap soloist, choreographer, and teacher.
The faculty, in addition to Michael, will include Harold “Stumpy” Cromer, Karen Callaway Williams, Maurice Chestnut, Nicki Denner, DeWitt Fleming Jr., Jeffry Foote, Yvette Glover, Jason Janas, Logan Miller, Deborah Mitchell, Sarah Reich, Jenne Vermes, Dorothy Wasserman, and Kyle Wilder.
Master classes are $30 for the first class and $25 for subsequent classes; tickets to the jam, student showcase, panel discussion, and the history and music theory classes are $10. Package deals are available, from $195 for a youth package for 8- to 12-year-olds to $325 for an “ultimate package.”
The festival-ending performance on July 17 will include Cromer, Williams, and many of the other faculty members, as well as Tap Con Sabor, the New Jersey Tap Ensemble, and other acts. Tickets range from $30 to $20.
To buy tickets or learn more, visit www.jerseytapfest.com.
By Suzanne Martin, PT, DPT
Got an aching back? You’re not alone. It’s estimated that 80 percent of people will experience low back pain at some point in their lives, and why wouldn’t dancers be included? They endure long hours standing in classes and even longer hours delegating, directing rehearsals, and doing grunt work during performance crunch times. Most teachers have reveled in their back flexibility, perfect pull-up, and posture, but how long can those nobly acquired attributes hold up? Here are some tips to help tame those aches and pains.
One of my favorite dance books—it has gone in and out of publication since 1937—is Mabel Todd’s The Thinking Body. Todd invented something called “constructive rest” for dancers. Clinically, I find this is a great exercise for the back in general. Todd claimed that dancers overuse the hip flexors and jump around all day in asymmetrical positions, which can torque the pelvis and back.
Try this for an end-of-day reliever. Lie on the floor with your legs elevated at a 90-degree angle at both the hips and the knees. Then tie the knees together with a bathrobe belt or yoga/stretch strap. Just getting into this position for 10 minutes lets gravity release the muscles and straightens out the pelvis and spine.
Heat, or what we call “neutral warmth,” can be a yummy treat for the back at the end of the day. Just a bit of warmth, not too hot, is enough. For an at-home spa experience, try heating your jammies in the dryer before putting them on at night. For a special treat, try lying in constructive rest with a heated hand towel folded flat beneath your waist. If your back is seriously tweaked or inflamed, then treat it with the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) formula instead.
Motion relievers include sacral circles and knee rocks. Lie on your back and lift your knees up over your hips. Hold onto your knees and make a circular motion, as if you were tracing the rim of a saucer with the back of your pelvis. If you have soreness on only one side of the back, try rocking the folded knees gently toward the side opposite the discomfort.
Doing daily duty
It’s important to nip back discomfort in the bud whenever possible. The rationale is that the back has deep structures that have a high threshold for discomfort because the spine is a big structure like a tree trunk that can endure lots of stress and strain. The downside is that when the pain threshold is achieved, it can take hours for the ache to subside. That’s why preventive steps are so important. You’ll have to summon up a little discipline to turn this exercise drill into an automatic routine, but you’ll become addicted before you know it. Try this series of three maneuvers when taking a bathroom break or getting up from your desk.
First, roll your shoulders up and back 10 times. (Don’t repeat in the other direction because most of us already round our shoulders into a slump really well.) Be sure to feel like you’re moving the collarbone up and off the rib cage, the primary purpose of the roll. Next, make a fist with each hand and press them into your low back while you also roll the fists upward, making a rolling, arching motion. Imagine you’re trying to knead bread dough upward toward your head. Do this about five times, starting from the lowest point at your pelvis and ending up around where you feel your ribs. This motion literally moves the soft disc material back into proper position. Then, reach one hand up straight toward the ceiling and the other down by the side of your thigh. Find your form. Lift the groin muscles toward the head and squeeze your ribs together in front, while also squeezing the shoulder blades together. Really pull the hands away from each other, one up, one down. Breathe three times and repeat to the other side.
One great daily barre exercise is the daily double (squat and arch). Face the barre, placing your toes to meet the wall. Lean back and straighten your arms. Then tuck your chin to your chest and round your back as you squat, bringing your hips toward your heels. Exhale and press your feet down (toe, ball, heel) and tuck your pelvis under to start rolling up the spine, and end with an arch while you’re leaning away from the barre. Tense your abdominals, then gently lift your head and tuck your chin into your chest to start reversing the arch. Look at the wall in front of you and repeat two more times.
If your back is regularly sore by the end of a long teaching day, consider wearing split-sole, padded jazz shoes.
Another great daily exercise is done while seated. Sit forward toward the edge of your chair, with feet about hip width apart, or a small second in parallel. Turn to the left and hold the back or seat of the chair with your left hand. Take your right hand, place it on the outer side of your left thigh, and pull with the left hand to intensify the back rotation. Go easy. Turn your nose to the left. Now, turn your eyes to the right (yes, the right) and breathe three times. Then, without moving your head, look toward the left and breathe three times. Untwist back to the forward facing position and repeat to the other side. This twist is actually more effective if you first rotate toward the easier direction of rotation and then do your harder side. One set of rotations will do.
Another method for relieving pain is vibration. Physical therapists use a technique called TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Neuromuscular Stimulation), in which electrodes are used to send pulsing stimulations into bodily tissue. TENS diverts the brain away from unpleasant sensations.
In lieu of TENS, you can do your own vibrations. One of my favorite exercises is meant to imitate a happy dog—the one whose leg moves when you rub his tummy. I do this one every morning. Lie on your back and press your back into the floor. Bend one knee and place the sole of the foot on the floor, and then lift the other leg with the foot sole flat toward the ceiling. Tightly vibrate the lifted leg by pushing the heel repeatedly toward the ceiling. (This takes practice.) Then do the other leg. Follow this exercise with the flops: Reach both feet and hands upward and loosely shake them in an easy motion for eight counts. Next, relax your limbs and let the hands and feet flop downward for two counts (this involves bending of the shoulders, elbows, and wrists, and optimally the hips, knees, and ankles as well) and then reach to the ceiling for two counts (flop, flop, and stretch; flop, flop, and stretch). Repeat this once more. Feels good!
Another useful technique is bracing. Any joint—and your back has many—loves bracing when it’s feeling tired and cranky. If your back is regularly sore by the end of a long teaching day, consider wearing split-sole, padded jazz shoes. You’ll be surprised how extra padding in the shoes can help an aching back. Also, check whether your legs are getting enough support. Wearing Supplex tights, or even double tights, or a Spandex unitard can brace you in from the waist down. Sometimes outerwear such as bike shorts can help under a skirt if the very low part of your back (where the pelvis starts) tends to get sore.
End-of-the-day attention also can pay off. Try wearing a generic back brace, available at most drug stores, during the ride home—or when you get there. Even elastic ankle braces, the generic kind that you slip on like a sock with the toes and heel exposed, can provide back relief. It’s surprising how bracing the ankles—bolstering the foundation—can give stability to the sacroiliac joints at the back of the pelvis. If your back is really cranky, consider the intermittent use of Kinesio tape in an X pattern on the low back.
Take control of your back. By applying relievers, giving daily attention, making use of simple techniques, and lessening back stress through bracing, you, too, can enjoy a long-lasting, functional back. And when the inevitable strain does happen, you can have confidence that you have tools to transition out of it.
I have faith in you.
80 years of making dancers feel special
By Sophia Emigh
Eleven-year-old Bernice Miller stood on a chair to teach her first ballet class to neighborhood kids with as much authority as she could muster. It was the fall of 1929, and her “studio” was her parents’ two-level garage in Pensacola, Florida. Eighty years later, Bernice’s daughter, Starr Burlingame, carries on her legacy as director of Bernice’s Starrstep Dance Studio. Starr chalks up the longevity of the school to her mother’s zeal for her work and treatment of her students with respect and acceptance.
When Bernice fell ill with typhoid in 1925, her doctor prescribed ballet to heal her legs, which had borne the brunt of the disease. She took dance classes in Pensacola and, starting at age 11, spent her summers in Chicago, where she lived with family friends and took advantage of the city’s broader range of dance classes.
Back home, meanwhile, Bernice had launched what she dubbed “Bernice’s Dance Studio.” Says Starr, “She never thought about going out and performing at all. It was her passion—a word she used quite a lot. She really wanted to teach.”
The studio blossomed as word of mouth drew neighborhood kids. Expanding her repertoire beyond ballet and tap (her favorite discipline) during World War II, Bernice, then in her early 20s, started teaching ballroom classes, primarily to military personnel from Pensacola’s naval base. Her mother would make home-cooked meals for the military men who came in for classes, many of whom kept in touch with the family until they died, even corresponding with Starr after Bernice’s death.
During the war, Bernice met Jim Burlingame, a drummer who had left his home in Ohio at 17 to travel with big bands and play for the Marine Corps. Traveling through Pensacola, he played for a USO show Bernice was dancing in. After corresponding with Bernice during the war (years after her mother’s death, Starr found a stack of letters Jim had written to Bernice), Jim returned to Pensacola to marry her. They named their daughter Starr after Jim’s favorite song, Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” which also happened to be the tune Bernice had been dancing to when Jim met her.
Starr says that Bernice taught at several iterations of her studio “until she absolutely couldn’t anymore,” finally succumbing to the last in a series of cancers in 1989. Starr speaks with reverence about her mother’s strength and gifts as a teacher. “She absolutely loved what she did. She had a real knack with the younger children; teaching the little tiny ones, you’ve got to have the right person. She always made it fun. She treated both parents and students with total respect.”
Carrying on her mother’s vision was a natural progression for Starr, who had essentially grown up in the studio. She started teaching there at 13 and was on the books by 16; her mother wanted her to learn the business of running a school, not just how to teach. Starr decided not to tour as a performer because of her mother’s failing health, instead earning a BFA in dance at Florida State University. She taught at Pensacola Junior College (PJC) for 21 years and served as artistic director of PJC Dance Theater for seven years, where many students from her studio ended up dancing.
Starr assumed leadership of what became Bernice’s Starrstep Dance Studio, now Pensacola’s oldest school for dance, in 1989 upon her mother’s death. She teaches classes daily and runs the show in a studio she built nine years ago. Although she has kept up with the times in terms of class offerings, she has made no radical changes to her mother’s mission or philosophy. Whenever someone had a hardship, Bernice would say, “C’mon, let them take dance.”
“The core of the business is the same,” Starr says. “It’s not about making money, especially in the past few years; the important thing is to make it possible for students to keep dancing in these hard times. We do as much as we can [to help]. I think people respect that.” She is humble about her role in continuing her mother’s legacy and creating her own: “It’s just what I was meant to do.”
“[My mother] never thought about going out and performing at all. It was her passion—a word she used quite a lot. She really wanted to teach.” —Starr Burlingame
Yet it’s Starr’s dedication to forging lifelong relationships with her students that carries the studio forward into its ninth decade. “We truly care about our families,” says the school owner. “There’s no partiality. If some child is extremely talented and another has two left feet, they’re both treated equally.” The school’s 200-odd devoted students are a testament to its warm and unconditional welcome. “With third- and fourth-generation students in the studio, every day I have someone tell me what a wonderful person my mother was and how respected she was,” Starr says. Even outside the studio, she constantly runs into people who say, “Oh, I took dancing from your mother!”
Juanita Glass is one such person. “I am now in my 70s, but I took dance from Bernice from the first grade on for some years,” recalls Glass, now of Lexington, South Carolina. “Also, my granddaughter took dance from Bernice when she was in grade school. Bernice was my idol and the person whose standards I always tried to meet.”
Even as her illnesses took their toll, Bernice returned to the studio as a source of strength to help her keep going, teaching as often as her poor health allowed. Starr is grateful for the people who supported the family through those difficult times and attributes their presence to her mother’s investment in the sense of community fostered there. “She had a lot to do with [the kind of people at the studio]. Good people draw good people.”
Starr emphasizes this sense of valued community throughout the year, sponsoring parades, parties, and other gatherings for students and families outside of the classroom. She cherishes the resulting bond between dancers that she hasn’t found anywhere else and feels like she’s been part of raising many of the school’s students. When they leave the studio, she describes feeling like she’s “losing a child,” a blow that is softened when children of previous students begin their own cycle of dance education.
Like Starr, her teachers count themselves lucky to be part of molding the lives of young people. And like the school, all of them have proved to have longevity, studying there before coming on board as teachers. One of them, Dee Dee Dunn, has danced at the studio for 38 years and taught there for 20.
“When I talk about the studio I am telling about my family,” says Dunn. “I have taught my niece, my dad, my brother, my great-nephew, my daughter, my son, a few cousins, and many friends’ children. The students I have taught over the years are all my ‘kids.’ ”
The Burlingame commitment to nurturing each child has continued into the new millennium. The school’s longstanding reputation for teaching excellent technique in a family atmosphere has obliterated the need for advertising. With students ranging from toddlers to octogenarians and classes that run the gamut from hip-hop to ballet, Bernice’s Starrstep Dance Studio is a well-rounded, family-oriented school, not a specialty competition-focused studio.
The studio’s online mission statement emphasizes that making learning as enjoyable as possible is equal in importance as high-quality dance training. A Starrstep education is less about learning technical tricks than “dancing from the soul,” says Starr. “That’s what it’s really supposed to be about, the joy of it. It’s not just about how flashy you can be.” Beyond classes for kids, the school also boasts a popular seniors program with a focus on tap. “They don’t just get out there and look cute, they really do tap,” says the school owner. “We have three 82-year-olds in the program, and two of them are men. They dance in the recital every year, and they steal the show!”
Ultimately, Starr wants students to leave her school feeling that they’ve received high-quality dance training, had a good time in the process, and felt supported the whole way through. “[Bernice] started that, and that’s what we’ve continued. You can make people feel special when they come in the door.”
With the 80th-anniversary recital coming up in June, Starr is planning a dance production involving several generations of dancers, a photographic tribute to her mother, and a solo performance for herself—not just as Bernice’s protégé but as her loving daughter. “She was truly a one-of-a-kind person, one of the strongest women I’ve ever met,” says Starr. “I only hope I can be half as strong as she was. She was a phenomenal woman.”
Want good rapport with your clients? “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” is always sound advice.
By Rhee Gold
Treating students and parents with respect is a must if school owners want to have a successful classroom or school. In the business world this kind of courtesy is called customer service. Being approachable and patient is the way to go in any client interaction, and professionalism is key to making your students and their parents feel like they made the right choice in signing on with your school.
Customer service takes various forms. It’s an attitude of helpfulness, a respectful mode of communication, and a nonverbal message that you value your customers and want to make your students’ dance training experience a positive one. Customer service happens in the waiting room, on the phone, in meetings, and in the classroom. There are appropriate and inappropriate behaviors for all these arenas, and the tables in this article give you some specific examples of what will earn you respect and what won’t.
Let’s look at verbal interactions first. Although the content of what you say to your clients is important, equally (or more) so is the language you choose or attitude you convey when communicating. Self-doubting teachers or school owners look at parents’ inquiries as insults or as questioning their abilities or policies. Most of the time the truth is that they actually want information. You have the chance to educate them—and increase their respect for you as a professional—if you handle their inquiries correctly.
Some teachers complain that they’re sick of answering the same questions year after year. Forget about it and realize that to them it’s a new question and you’re the expert. It should be easy to give a clear and informative answer; after all, you probably don’t even have to think about your response because you’re so familiar with the question.
The following are a few examples of improper (“oops”) responses that show neither respect for the person involved nor understanding of an appropriate way to handle each situation, along with win–win responses that will get results. Make these kinds of winning responses a habit and you’ll enjoy more pleasant, respectful relationships with your clients.
Although words and tone are important aspects of your presentation to the public, so are actions. School owners are leaders who set an example for their faculty and staff, which then trickles down to the students and their parents. The impression they make—on their faculty and staff, and students and their parents—colors the school’s reputation and can mean the difference between a successful business and a failed one. Which side of the following chart do you see yourself on?
Teachers create the atmosphere in a classroom, and what gets accomplished during class time depends completely on their attitude or personality. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that good behavior matters only when parents are watching; students take home stories, praise, and complaints about their teachers, and the impression they pass on will shape their parents’ opinions of the instruction offered at your school. What happens in the classroom is more than merely dance instruction—how your instructors teach is as important as what they teach.
In conclusion, by periodically reminding yourself and your staff about the value you place on your clients, you’re sure to make treating them with respect standard operating procedure.
Young dancers can enjoy a panoramic view of New York City on April 17 as they take class with three members of American Ballet Theatre’s ABT II company at the Top of the Rock observation deck at Rockefeller Center, 850 feet above street level.
Wes Chapman, ABT II’s artistic director, and the three dancers will demonstrate an excerpt from Le Corsaire and teach “pirate” technique from 9:30 to 11:00 A.M. to dancers from ages 5 to 10.
The class is free. Admission to the Top of the Rock is $21 for adults, $19 for seniors, $14 for children between ages 6 and 12, and free to children 5 and younger. For reservations, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Cara Reichel at ABT at 212.477.3030, extension 1064.
Coyaba Dance Theater, the resident company of Dance Place in Washington, D.C., presents a cross-generational showcase concert May 14 at THEARC in the nation’s capital.
Coyaba Dance Theater, founded in 1997, presents traditional and contemporary West African dance and music. Joining in the performance will be Coyaba Academy of the Arts, students in the Dance Place repertory and performance classes, THEARC Seniors, and the Dance Place Step Team.
General admission tickets to the performance at THEARC, 1101 Mississippi Avenue SE in Washington, are $22, with discounts for seniors, artists, students, teachers, and children 17 and younger. To buy them, visit www.danceplace.org or call 202.269.1600.
The early application deadline is April 15 for the Mark Morris Dance Group’s pre-professional summer intensive for adults at its center in Brooklyn, New York, where Morris and current and former company members will teach modern, ballet, and Morris’ own repertoire.
Class will be held June 14 to 18 and June 21 to 25. Early applicants get a reduced rate of $300 for one week or $550 for both weeks. The price thereafter (until the final application deadline of May 21) is $325 for one week and $600 for two.
To register online, visit https://markmorrisdancegroup.org/special_program_registrations/new. For more information, call the Morris school’s director, Sarah Marcus, or its administrator, Diane Ogunusi, at 718.624.8400.
There are many successful school owners across North America. Some are making an impressive paycheck each week. Many others are just squeezing by.
Often, we’re comfortable within the classroom but we tend to feel a little “on-edge” when it comes to collecting tuition or other fees owed by our clientele. Some school owners don’t want to create “waves” that could result in losing a student. Others are simply too shy. Or, deep down they don’t want to be perceived as “only after the money.” The result? A lot of school owners end their season with clients who have large balances and who sometimes make the decision that dance lessons aren’t a bill that they have to worry about.
Remember show business is two words. Never neglect the business side. ~Melanie Hedden-Perron, Rising Star Performing Arts, Waterdown, Ontario
The following is based on a true story . . .
You’ve come to mid-season with three of your students’ accounts are several months overdue. You know the parents are having a hard time financially. The child loves to dance and is very talented. You think to yourself: I don’t want to pressure anyone, so I’ll let it go a little while longer and I’ll hope for the best.
The next month ends with the same three accounts past due. But the amount has doubled. Each set of parents now owes for costumes, a convention fee that you laid out already, and the tights the children needed for class. You know this financial situation isn’t good for you or the families that owe the balance. Still you feel a little shy to make a phone call…you’re so nice and, of course, you don’t want to pressure anyone. You send the bills and, again, hope for the best.
No one from the school does follow-up on the bills (and neither does the parent). The next month-end, all the balances are still due and getting out of control. Finally, you get up the courage to make personal phone calls to the parents. After all it’s now a couple thousand dollars and you know you’re going to need that money to get through the summer.
The first call goes well. The dad answers and explains that he wasn’t aware. He apologizes and lets you know that he’s sending a check on Monday. You think, “That went well.” And now you have the confidence to make the next two calls.
The second call, your student answers the phone. You ask for her mom and she responds, “Hold on. I’ll get her!” The child comes back and tells you her mom is in the shower, but you overheard them talking in the background. You hang up knowing that the parent is trying to avoid you. She knows why you’re calling and she doesn’t have a solution.
The third call is everything you feared — and more. A very defensive and stressed-out mom turns the situation into your fault. Before long she starts to yell, “You charge too much for your lessons.” Then she adds, “Do you think you should be making so much money off of little children?” Followed by (the real kicker), “Why don’t you get a real job, like the rest of us!”
Meanwhile, you’re thinking to yourself, “I have sacrificed, my children have sacrificed and I’m working twenty-four/seven!” “What the bleep is this woman talking about?” Not only that, but you’ve given her child lots of extra time working on her solo, letting her use the studio to rehearse, offering her extra ballet classes and tons of other stuff! You’re hurt, the blood is boiling and you end up losing it with this mom. Things get out of control and one of you abruptly hangs up on the other.
You’re stressed out and you can’t get her comments out of your mind for days!
The next week the child doesn’t show up for class. You’re insecure about the whole situation, so you don’t call to find out what’s going on. Again, you hope for the best.
The next week you send another bill and wonder if the kid is ever coming back. The Mom finally calls the studio to tell your secretary that her daughter isn’t returning to your school and she adds, “You’re going to have to take me to court if you want your tuition, costume money, convention fees, etc.”
The balance due is well over a thousand dollars. Plus, a big chunk of the costume, convention, supplies, etc., is money you laid out for the child: It’s not just the lessons! Now you have to re-choreograph all the pieces that the child was in; now you have to get a lawyer or go to a collection agency to get your money back; and there’s this innocent little girl out there who wants to dance but can’t because her mom is irresponsible and both of the adults in the situation lost their cool. Although you do have a right to collect your tuition and the mom knew what the financial commitment was when she registered her child, the situation is still a mess for everyone.
If you go through this kind of situation every year, for several years, there will come a time when you’re going to feel burn-out, unappreciated and not so enthusiastic about owning a school!
How do you fix it?
1) Start with confidence. Believe that you have a right to make a living at what you do. Know that you work just as hard, if not harder than the nine-to-five “normal” person does!
3) Mail or email a professional bill the week before tuition is due. Don’t hand them out to your students. Half of those statements (or notices) never make it home. Most will land in the bottom of a smelly dance bag and no one ever sees them again.
4) Create school policies related to late tuition or balance dues and then stick to your policy. Never allow a late account become more than two months overdue. If it happens without any previous arrangement between the parent and your school, someone from the school must call the parent to request that the student does not return to class until the balance is paid in full. This policy may seem harsh, but it would be the same for karate or pre-school, etc. Dance training is no different.
5) Don’t “front” your students by paying workshop or convention fees, competition fees, costumes, dance supplies, etc. Be organized and create a due date for all payments. That date should be one month prior to the event or the time you’re ordering costumes, etc. It then becomes policy that you don’t register the child for the event, or order the child’s costume until the parent has paid the appropriate fee. No questions asked.
6) All balance dues for the entire season must be paid in full before distribution of the costumes for the year-end performance or recital. You explain the “books are closed” for the season the day after the show and your accountant turns all balances due over to a collection agency.
I like to use the analogy that nobody goes into McDonald’s, orders a Big Mac, then tells the cashier they will pay for it next time they come in. The same should be true for dance lessons. Have a tuition deadline and stick to it! ~Mary Beth Dawson, Dance Etc., Kinston NC
We invite you to share your thoughts below –Rhee
I am one of the lucky dance teachers with a husband who supports what I do. He has dinner waiting on the table when I come home and he takes on as much responsibility with our three children as I do. For years he has been encouraging me to buy a building for my school because he calls the rent that I pay “highway robbery.” Together we have been saving for three years to come up with a down payment for a piece of land that we know is a fantastic location for the dance school of our dreams. We are ready with a down payment, building plans, and the financing to make it a reality.
The problem is that I am not sure that I want to continue teaching dance. After having my school for 11 years, I feel burned out. I’m scared that if I build this building, I may never be able to get out. This doesn’t mean that I would stop teaching now, but paying rent makes me feel that I have an out when I’m ready. I really don’t see myself doing this for another 10 years. Probably I would teach for someone else, and then later I would like to go back to school.
The problem is that my husband is so obsessed with this building that I am nervous about telling him that I don’t think this is what I want to do. I am confused because this is what I wanted when I married my husband, but my priorities have changed. I’m afraid my husband is going to be disappointed or not support my wish to continue paying rent. What would you do? —Elaine
Right about now, we have many readers who are thinking, “I will take her husband and the chance to build my own building any day!” But the reality is that you can’t move forward on building this school if you are feeling burned out before you ever lay the foundation.
I am a big one for going with your instinct, especially when you have to make a life decision like this. I’m sensing that yours is telling you that this is not the right move at this point in your life. If your husband has dinner waiting on the table and is so supportive of what you do, then I have a feeling that he will also support your decision not to move forward on this project.
Maybe it’s time for the two of you to decide whether there might be another business that you could go into together. Or maybe your burnout will not last and five years from now you’ll decide that building your school is something you want to do. Whatever the next chapter is, it sounds like you are very levelheaded and that you are extremely lucky to have the husband that you do. Go with your instinct and don’t be afraid to share your feelings with your husband. All the best to you. —Rhee
Dancestudiolife.com is happy to announce that it is setting up a home, DSL Dance Wire, for all dance-related news. Send us your press releases about company performances, conferences, seminars, and master classes; new programs and products; significant awards and accomplishments; and other news of widespread interest.
Please note that we can’t commit to running every release we receive, and we reserve the right to edit any that we do use. Email your news to David@rheegold.com and include email and phone contact information so we can follow up if we have questions.
If you send photos, please provide the photographer’s name (if known) and some basic information that identifies who is pictured and what the event is.
We look forward to receiving your news and sharing it with the dance community. Thanks! Rhee
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More from Rhee Gold Company
By Rhee Gold
As I travel the country presenting my Project Motivate seminars, I’ve discovered a trend. It’s a growing disconnect between what’s said and what’s done. The frustration that arises among teachers and school owners stems from students and parents who feel that they don’t have to abide by the policies or rules set forth by their dance school, that they, or their situations, are exceptions to the rules.
Sandra Waite is a school owner and teacher with a large group of intensive dancers who are involved in local performances and competitions. Her students go through a professional audition process, and then they receive a handbook, which includes all the policies pertaining to participation in the program. In an effort to keep the lines of communication open and experience organized, Ms. Waite hosts a meeting with her intensive dancers and their parents to go over every aspect of the handbook. It covers all expenses and due dates for tuition, and explains the time commitment required. All intensive dancers agree not to miss more than three rehearsals or classes during the season and are required to be at every performance. Ms. Waite’s handouts explain that dedication and discipline are the keys to a successful experience. After going over all the information, Ms. Waite encourages her students and their parents to ask questions to better understand the responsibilities of both the child and parent. At the end of the meeting Sandra explains that she would prefer the dancers did not register for the program unless they agree to all the policies and commitments. She asks parents and the students to sign a document that confirms that they agree to the requirements.
All went well for the first month of rehearsals and classes but then Ms. Waite received a call from a parent of one of her best dancers. She said, “My family will be leaving for vacation and so my daughter will be out for more than a week.” The parent admitted that, yes, her daughter would miss all classes and rehearsals, including a session with a choreographer Ms. Waite was bringing from out of town. Ms. Waite reminded the parent about the meeting, the policies, the handbook and their understanding that the parent and the child had made a serious commitment to the program and to the other dancers in her group. “There are exceptions to every rule and sometimes you just have to accept that,” responded the parent. She added, “I’ll pull my daughter from your school if you don’t make an exception for her.” Ms. Waite pointed out the child’s responsibility to the other children in the group, to which the parent replied, “I’m not concerned with the other students. My own family is my priority.”
Sandra saw that she had two options: to follow through with her policies, which stated that missing more than three rehearsals or classes would result in removal from the program, or to allow the child to miss classes and rehearsals and to justify to others why she had excused the student with no repercussions.
Ms. Waite chose option two. She decided that she didn’t want to lose the student. After all, the dancer was one of the most talented in the group and she didn’t want to lose the monthly income from the tuition.
During the child’s missed week, she was absent from a costume fitting, four classes, and two rehearsals. When other dancers and parents asked Sandra about the missing child, she explained that she had excused her for the week; a total contradiction to the policies of participation. The other members of the group and their parents became progressively more disgruntled and began to discuss their views in the school waiting room. Some of them had missed family functions and other personal activities that conflicted with dance and they had taken their commitment seriously. The negativity concerning the subject spread like wildfire. By the end of the week, two more dancers were missing from the choreography session, and others started to miss classes. But Sandra’s hands were tied; she couldn’t say or do anything. She had diminished her power to enforce the policies when she made the exception and even worse she allowed the parent to pressure her into violating her own agreement with the group.
The situation continued to worsen; spotty attendance and commitment became roadblocks that affected rehearsals, choreography, and the overall morale of her entire intensive program. As the season wore on, Ms. Waite found herself setting choreography with only half of her dancers in attendance. She would then have to go over the new choreography at the following rehearsal for those who had missed. By the time her students were scheduled for their first performance, the group was far behind where it should have been. Everyone was stressed out. Most rehearsals had been dedicated to catching up, rather than focused on cleaning the choreography.
Sandra put the blame for her dilemma on her students and their parents, saying, “They’re not the same as they once were.” She contemplated whether to discontinue the intensive program. After all, her dancers didn’t seem to want to dedicate the time needed to create a solid program. She wanted to work with dancers who wanted to be the best they could be. Sandra never realized that she had created her own problem when she began making exceptions to her policies.
When first confronted by a student’s parent demanding exceptions, Ms. Waite should have stood up for her policies and she might not have landed in such a powerless position. Instead of worrying about losing one of her best dancers and the monthly tuition, she should have enforced the rules, explaining that everyone had to make choices. This one was to go on vacation and give up a place in the intensive program or to honor the commitment both dancer and parent had made. Whether or not the child continued at the school wasn’t the issue. Setting an example would’ve meant that all her other dancers and their parents knew that policies were to be taken seriously. Attendance would not have diminished; there wouldn’t have been gossip or hard feelings, and the end result would’ve been much better. By the end of the stress-filled season, Ms. Waite lost five students from her intensive program, including the one who had gone on vacation.
I’m not pretending that choices are easy or without risk. But as educators and school owners, we must have the confidence to stick by our policies, without regard to whether or not we might lose a student. The negativity generated by not respecting our own rules will almost always backfire on many fronts because word travels far beyond the school waiting room. Be strong enough to stick to your beliefs, policies, and respect your understanding of what it takes to have a successful school. Resist being intimidated by parents who are actually setting the wrong example for their own children. Trust your knowledge and stick to your policies. In the end you’ll be glad you did—that’s why you made them in the first place.
Yes, you’re the best! Does that make you a success?
Do you know four- to twelve-year-old children and their parents are your market? If you do, how do you draw this group to your studio?
Although there are some well-educated dance parents out there, they are certainly the minority. When enrolling children in dance class; most parents are in the novice category in the search for quality dance training. A huge majority understand a once-a-week dance lesson and a recital at the end of the year. They don’t know a whole lot about strong technique or turn-out, nor do they grasp the concept that their child could someday become a ballerina, professional dancer or a high score winner.
Actually, numerous parents would prefer their child didn’t pursue a serious dance curriculum. Many have a perception that their child can’t create a successful future as a dancer or teacher.
So you ask, “Does that mean I have to lower my standards?” Not at all! Continue to strive to make the best dancers possible. Just don’t flaunt it.
Consider this: A mom is looking through the newspaper for a dance school for her six-year-old daughter. There are several options. A variety of ads proclaim, “We’ve won more awards than any other school in the state!” Another exclaims, “We have the most professional faculty in the community.” The more serious ballet school writes, “Our students are performing with the San Francisco Ballet!” Granted, all are very good credentials—definitely accolades that the school owner should be proud of. But: are those ads really focused on the market that will attract the clientele who will make their school a financial success?
One school with a history of producing professional dancers, choreographers and numerous awards for decades also places an ad in the same newspaper. It features several smiling eight-year-old children at the ballet barre. Each is in a leotard and tights with huge smiles on their faces. Their ad tagline proclaims, “Step #1 Happy Dancers, Step #2 Motivating young minds to be the best they can be.” They simply include their website address, a telephone number and their registration dates. No “most professional.” No “we’re the best.” Nothing about winning the most awards or the professional ballet companies their dancers are performing with!
The novice dance mom glances at all her options and makes the decision to take her child to the school with the happy young dancers at the ballet barre, as do many of the moms (or dads) who are looking to register their child in dance class. Why? you ask.
- The happy school portrays itself as a fun place for children to be. A priority for most parents!
- Parents feel a bit intimidated by the extremely professional image of the other ads.
- The more professional or competitive schools look complicated and more expensive (even if they’re not).
- The happy school appears to be a neighborhood sort of place that welcomes all children, not simply those interested in serious training.
I am all for every teacher and school owner being as qualified and professional as they can be. However, I think a lot of excellent schools are actually scaring off potential clientele because they want to proclaim that they are the best! Even if you are the best (by a long shot), be humble and be smart by realizing that we need to get them in the door. Then we educate both the children and the parents to better understand what quality dance education is all about.
A dress code lends a professional look to classes and sends the message to students and observers that the school’s staff takes the training they provide seriously. A dress code creates an added sense of discipline in the classroom and equality among the students. The focus stays on taking a good class rather than comparing dance wardrobes. Plus, baggy sweatshirts or sweatpants make it difficult to observe the dancers’ bodies well enough to offer the technical corrections needed to build strong dancers. Straight knees and proper body alignment are hard to see underneath layers of baggy clothing.
Another advantage to having a dress code is the additional profit for the school if it sells basics such as leotards and tights. If your school has one, say so in the brochure, on registration forms, and on the web site. But whether or not the school has a dress code, proper shoes should be required for all classes.
If your school has never had a dress code but you are considering implementing one, the place to start might be with the ballet classes. Often I hear teachers complain that their students don’t take ballet training seriously. If the teacher and students look like ballet dancers, they will probably take their classes more seriously.
There are legitimate reasons not to have a dress code. Teenage girls who are self-conscious about their bodies may feel inhibited in a leotard and tights; if they feel too uncomfortable, they may choose not to dance. And many boys struggle with our society’s negative stereotyping about males wearing tights. It’s OK to start the boys out in a pair of sweats and a solid-color T-shirt. However, once they move on to a more advanced level of training, they should be willing to wear a pair of black tights for ballet classes. Boys who take their dance training seriously need to understand the discipline of a dress code as well as its importance to their technical training. Those ages 10 and over should be encouraged to wear a dance belt.
Hip-hop and adult classes should be exempt from a dress code. Hip-hop dancers often come to the school expressing no interest in other dance forms, so a dress code might intimidate them. However, they frequently segue into other classes once they’ve been exposed to them, and they can be introduced to the idea of a dress code in those classes. Adults may feel the need to cover up more and variations in dress don’t distract them, so permissiveness in attire is generally the rule.
Tracie Stanfield, artistic director of Synthesis Dance, other company members and outside teachers will lead classes in contemporary, lyrical, ballet, jazz, and progressions. Master classes in partnering, theater performance, improvisation and more are scheduled throughout the week.
The intensive is meant to bridge the gap between dance student and dance artist. Audition is via DVD, online video submission or live audition in Stanfield’s class at New York’s Broadway Dance Center. Tuition is $600. Application information and further details are available at www.SynthesisDanceProject.com.
Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington, is including adult programs for the first time in its menu of summer offerings. The college’s Kerry Hill campus on Capitol Hill will offer classes from July 6 to August 27 in ballet, pointe, modern, choreography, Pilates, ballet vocabulary, musical theater, and jazz. For details, visit Cornish.edu/summer. For summer registration, call 206.726.5069.
From street to studio: What the rise of hip-hop means to North American dance schools
By Michael Wade Simpson
Ever wonder why the kids of America are rushing to the nearest dance school to sign up for classes? The answer is hip-hop, and it’s a genre that poses a particular set of challenges for school owners and teachers. It can make older teachers feel out of touch and uncomfortable. Sometimes the students are undisciplined. Sometimes the lyrics are dirty—profanities aside, the words can be a minefield of innuendo. Much of the content is sexual, and some of it is demeaning to women. The lyrics can be hard to decipher, and it doesn’t help that the slang and the catchphrases change at a dizzying rate. It can make you doubt yourself: Am I being prudish here?
But handled properly, hip-hop classes can be a smart addition to your curriculum. As well as boosting your enrollment, the sheer fun of the movement might lure your ballet, tap, and lyrical students to try a new class, and the cross-training will broaden them as dancers.
How can you approach hip-hop without fear? Go to YouTube.com and type in “Kids Hip-Hop Team” and check out the entry posted by “justbry.” More than a million viewers have already watched this minute-long video of four preteens getting their groove on to Missy Elliot’s “Lose Control.” This is not MTV—this is a shaky, homemade rehearsal video shot at someone’s dance studio. And typical among the thousand-plus posted comments include many voices using the special language of the young: text talk. “i think that they wer gd!!” “hey justbry, can u teach me?” “u did a gd job, well dun.” In their baggy sweats and mismatched leotards, the four girls show exactly why hip-hop has taken over the dance world. They’re not doing pole-dance–inspired, late-night street moves to some slang-laden rap anthem; they’re moving with precision, lightness, and energy. The music is pop, catchy and rhythmic, and the dance offers striking amounts of variety. What they’re doing isn’t terribly technical—these are talented 11-year-olds having fun. Dancing hip-hop.
From the streets
With its origins in New York’s predominantly African American–populated Bronx district in the 1970s, hip-hop brought us rapping, graffiti, b-boying, DJing, and beatboxing, not to mention a new way of dressing, carriage, and even talking (“dis,” “homie,” “what the dilly, yo”). The movement is now a nearly middle-aged phenomenon. And it’s homegrown. Orlando Patterson, a sociology professor at Harvard University wrote, “Like jazz, and all music created by African Americans, hip-hop is one of the few musical genres seen as thoroughly, entirely American” (see “Global Culture and the American Cosmos,” World Policy Journal, Vol. 11, 1994).
What began as folk culture, however, has been transformed by the entertainment industry. Mass communication has created a global cultural hip-hop scene, and today there are professional hip-hop artists in every country, from Senegal to Poland to China to New Zealand. Among the events slated for 2008 are the World Hip-Hop Championship, Battle of the Year, and B-Boy Championships. Will hip-hop become an Olympic event? Nothing seems to be able to stop the global excitement about this merging of dance, music, lifestyle, and image.
To the studio
“Hip-hop is always evolving,” says Tracé Francis, owner of the 7-year-old Spirit of Soul Dance Studio in Wyandanch, a working-class, African American neighborhood on Long Island, NY. “It’s not just dancing; it’s a culture. My background is in ballet and modern, but so many students were asking for hip-hop, I had to go out and find a teacher.” She reports that since starting her program four years ago, all of her classes have increased in size by 300 percent.
“If I didn’t have hip-hop [in my school] it would hurt me,” says Rocky Duvall, who runs Dance Arts Conservatory with his wife, Dorie, near West Palm Beach, FL. “It’s super-popular, a big moneymaker.” At the beginning of a summer session in June he reported, “We’re having hip-hop camp. We had 16 kids last week and 15 this week. If it had been a jazz-ballet class, we would have gotten zero.”
“Hip-hop classes are growing by leaps and bounds,” says another young studio owner, Mia Spicuzza, a professional dancer who has performed with Jessica Simpson, Taylor Hicks, and LeeAnn Rimes and has now settled in Semmes, AL, a community between Mobile and Pensacola. She opened Southern Edge Dance Center a year ago. “In four months we tripled the attendance at the studio.” She was lucky enough to find a great teacher who had recently moved into the area from New York, and even introduced an all-male hip-hop class. “Hip-hop is so high-energy, ” she says. “You can feel the movement in a freer way.”
Trying to manage all this enthusiasm has its downside, however, says Diane Horvath, who owns Strongsville Dance Company, in a suburb of Cleveland. While the hip-hop classes bring in lots of new dancers—enough for her to be able to offer sections for grades 3 to 6, 7 to 8, and 9 to 12—there were challenges at recital time. “The new students had some problems with the studio policies. They didn’t want to wear the capri pants and tights everyone was wearing, and a few of them wouldn’t stay backstage for the entire performance.
“It’s a great boon for the studio,” she continues, “but I feel like some of the girls are not as dedicated. They have poor attendance. When you’re working on a routine, it’s hard to count on everyone being there. Last year we had 17 girls in the hip-hop class and some quit the day of dress rehearsal.” Horvath attributes the girls’ lack of dedication to the fact that they didn’t grow up at the studio. “They’re there because it’s cool, because their friends are there. They watch it on TV and then sign up for class, but then they don’t want to spend the least amount of effort. They find out it’s a lot harder than they thought.”
Horvath admits she feels somewhat behind the times with the hip-hop phenomenon. Early last summer she sighed in relief when she began to describe the Princess Camp she was running that week, in which the little ones get to be a different princess each day. “Tomorrow is our Cinderella day,” she said.
Keeping up with the times takes a diligence that requires new resources, especially when it comes to the sexual content that is often related to hip-hop music. Horvath laughs when she tells the story of a popular song she had heard, “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” by rapper Soulja Boy, which she was envisioning as a number in the spring routine. “Some of the little kids knew the dance from TV,” she says. “I was going to do a boys’ number.”
But the youngsters warned her that the innuendo in the lyrics might not go over well with their parents. “I use lyrics.com, where you type in the name of the song and print out all the lyrics. I study every song, or make sure that my teachers do,” says Horvath. In this case, however, it was all about the hidden meaning. “So I found another website, an urban dictionary,” she says. That’s where she discovered, to her great embarrassment, how inappropriate the song really was.
“You have to keep it appropriate,” says Duvall, “but in the case of almost any hip-hop or R&B music, there is going to be a sexual connotation. Britney Spears is on the news every day. The kids see it; they see the videos; they listen to the music. But as a parent and an educator, I have to keep things appropriate.”
Duvall took a group of dancers to a recent event, The Pulse, a mini-convention where judges from So You Think You Can Dance critiqued student performances in the same manner as on the TV show. “There was one group of little girls who came out bumping and grinding, and the judges called them on it, slapped their hands. ‘How could you allow 10- to 14-year-old girls to move like that?’ they said. I was so happy. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
“I’ve seen hip-hop numbers to the theme from Star Wars and [Michael Jackson’s] ‘Ease on Down the Road,’ ” says Francis, who shares Horvath’s and Duvall’s concern about the age-appropriateness of both music and movement. She offers several solutions to the problem of inappropriate music. “I try to filter all the music at the studio. There are hip-hop and contemporary R&B artists who have songs with non-suggestive lyrics, such as Ne-Yo, Chris Brown, Beyoncé, Common, and many of the ‘old skool’ artists like Will Smith, Heavy D and the Boyz, Hammer, and De La Soul.” In addition, she points out that gospel artists like Kirk Franklin, Tonéx, and Tye Tribbett have songs that are considered “gospel hip-hop” and have more of an inspirational message. Plus, she says, “with technology advancing the way it has, it is easy to change the tempo of many of the older songs, which often tend to have a slower beat than today’s music. Hip-hop dance is not all about booty shaking, which unfortunately we see a lot of at some dance competitions and in the media.”
Francis sets limits on classes as well as music. “We don’t offer hip-hop until age 11,” she says. “In my opinion, children younger than that are not mature enough to handle all that comes with it.” For the younger students she offers alternatives like jazz and a stepping class she calls “Stomp the Yard.”
Gearing the dancing to the age group is key, according to Francis. “Our hip-hop choreographers always have a story behind every dance. It may be along the lines of ‘I don’t have a lot of money, but I’ll accept you the way you are,’ or ‘Things that happen in life are only going to make you stronger when you get older,’ or ‘When you get older, you are going to take over the world.’ ” You have to be ready to tell that story in your hip-hop, she says. “It’s different when you’re 8 versus 11 or 12, or a teen. You’ve been through more in life.”
With all the kids walking in off the streets in their baggy clothes, will anyone want to wear tights and leotards anymore? Will they only want to stomp in their sneakers and street shoes and refuse to put on a pair of tap shoes or ballet slippers or dance in bare feet? Will there still be room for technique? According to Duvall, yes, no, and yes. “Look at So You Think You Can Dance,” he says. “You have to be able to do ballroom. I can’t see a hip-hop dancer winning, but the other night they told a ballet dancer he was too stiff, had to loosen up a little and get down into the floor.” That’s how hip-hop helps, he says.
“Hip-hop definitely helps with [the kids’] overall stage performance,” agrees Horvath. “You have to hit everything hard and sharp. That’s not easy for a ballet dancer.”
“I tell the girls who want to get better that everything comes from ballet,” says Spicuzza.
Duvall, who performed for years in regional theater and met his wife during his “gypsy” period of dancing on cruise liners, says, “These days you have to be a triple threat plus—you have to be able to act, sing, and dance—and within dances, you have to know a lot of styles.”
Francis, who just sent a dancer off to join the cast of The Lion King, says the goal, ultimately, is not becoming a professional for most of her students, technique aside. “They want to be teachers or doctors, but they are good at dance as well. Dancing contributes to their well-roundedness.” At her studio, she has shown how hip-hop can be inspirational. On occasion, she will offer hip-hop class with gospel music. “There are ways to provide a class,” she says, “without sacrificing what you believe in or losing your integrity.”