Why offering employee benefits is a smart move in building your school’s stability and strength
By Misty Lown
There are countless intangible benefits to being a dance teacher, including being a mentor, having a positive influence on students, creating, expressing yourself through movement, and introducing children to the joy of dance. But there are practical issues to contend with when choosing this path—a traditionally low-paying one that offers few full-time, benefited opportunities—as a career.
But studio owners take note: it is not only possible, but also advantageous, to provide benefits to your employees. Let me explain why.
I started my dance studio when I was 21. I was a college student and so were most of my employees. As we moved toward graduation, I began to see that as a studio owner, I had a career path—but most of the teachers I employed just had a job, so they began looking for careers as well. I realized that I was going to experience a continual revolving door of talented teachers if I didn’t provide them with the same opportunities for stability that I was creating for myself.
My desire to keep teachers long-term went much deeper than trying to merely avoid costly turnover, however. More important, I realized that continuity in staffing would have a positive impact on studio morale, our reputation in the community, and student development as well. The dance studio world is built on relationships, so providing consistency for students was a must for me. Nobody wants to work, or study, in an environment where you never know who will be teaching from year to year.
Continuity in staffing would have a positive impact on studio morale, our reputation in the community, and student development as well.
Conversations with employees revealed that having access to benefits, even more so than premium wages, was a “big rock issue” (a term I affectionately use to describe a business obstacle that has to be resolved before moving on with the mission at hand).
And the biggest rock? Health insurance. In our society, having health insurance offers security, so this is a big deal for employees and the first benefit barrier I chose to tackle.
After much discussion with an insurance agent, I decided on a group plan and made it available to the three employees who met the eligibility requirement. Eligibility was defined as having been employed for 90 days and maintaining 30 hours of work per week (full time at my school). I contributed half of the premium and my employees paid the other half.
Soon, however, I sensed trouble. With only three people on the plan, it didn’t take very many doctor visits for everyone’s rates to rise. Group plans work on the premise of spreading the risk and expense of everyone’s care across the membership. With so few members in our group, this wasn’t a sustainable model for us.
I sought the advice of my accountant, and with her help we restructured the health insurance benefit as a “bonus.” In the new model, I still paid for half of the premium, but only up to a certain amount, and the employees chose their own individual health plans. The advantage to me was immediate. I was now able to predict and control expenses and employees were able to choose their own providers and premium levels—a win–win setup that we have had in place now for more than 10 years.
I stumbled into my next benefit offering by accident. It was April 15, 2005, and I was in my accountant’s office discussing ways to mitigate a tax liability. She suggested that I could reduce my taxes by making a contribution to a retirement account. I set up a retirement account immediately.
However, in my haste, I set up a different kind of account than I had been instructed to do. I got a surprise when I received paperwork from the bank telling me it was time to make matching contributions for my full-time employees. But I decided to run with it and announced that we were offering a new retirement benefit for our full-time teachers. The response was appreciation and renewed dedication—and I had another win–win for our team. In fact, eight years later, three of the five employees who were eligible for this benefit are still working for the studio. (The other two have since married and moved away.)
As a dance teacher who has taught through five pregnancies and subsequent recoveries, I have real compassion for those trying to balance work and being a new mom. Over the years six teachers, including myself, have worked through a combined total of 12 pregnancies. Offering maternity leave benefits has been a great opportunity to help young families at a very important time in their lives. Each teacher who is expecting receives four weeks of paid maternity leave and the option to take an additional two weeks of unpaid leave. The benefit is available regardless of how many hours per week the teacher works.
This is my personal favorite and one that we have offered our employees since the studio opened in 1998. Each teacher is eligible for $250 to $1,000 per year in tuition reimbursement, depending on how many hours they work per week. The reimbursement can be used for college classes, conferences, conventions, master classes, or other continuing-education opportunities. As with paid time off, requests must be approved 45 days in advance. An additional requirement of this benefit is that the educational opportunity must apply to the employee’s work; documentation of registration must be provided before reimbursement will be made.
This benefit has given many of my employees opportunities they would not have been able to pursue otherwise. Over the years, teachers have taken part in master classes, conventions, dance workshops, and even college classes. Recently four of my performance company teachers went to New York City to take classes, see shows, and get fresh ideas for the season. They came back excited to share their experiences with students.
In another win–win example, my enrollment coordinator went back to school part time this year to pursue a business degree. Not only will she eventually complete a degree that she is proud of, but she will also be learning accounting, which will help her in her role at the studio.
Paid time off
I recently added another level to my school’s benefits program for full-time employees. They receive two weeks of paid time off (PTO) per dance season that can be used to cover vacation, sick days, or personal time. PTO, with the exception of sick days, must be approved in writing 45 days in advance and the employees must make plans for subs to cover their classes or for another employee to cover critical tasks if office work is involved.
This benefit has added a real sense of professionalism to our team. My administrative director has joked that PTO “makes the studio feel like a ‘real job,’ because it is a ‘real job’!” What a true statement. Your employees face the same demands at the studio as they would have at other jobs—timeliness, knowledge, problem solving, producing results, customer service, courtesy, respect, and communication. Plus, they are caring for and inspiring children. Teaching dance is every bit a “real job.”
As studio owners everywhere are grappling with how to attract and retain great employees, benefits are becoming an increasingly important part of the conversation. Jennifer Ness, of Dance Elite and Music in Lynnwood, Washington, is one studio owner who added benefits this year. She decided to offer health and dental coverage to all employees who have been employed for at least 90 days and work at least 35 hours per week.
“This is our first year, and I wish I’d looked into it sooner. I always thought it was out of reach for me because we’re a small business, but it really makes a difference to the employees,” says Ness. And she is just getting started with what she plans to offer. “I would love to have more dedicated teachers, ones who can see a future in teaching and not just a pass-through job while trying to find a ‘real’ job,” she says. She hopes to implement a 401(k) program and a maternity leave policy in the future.
Ness’ comment about the difference having benefits makes for employees is echoed by one of the teachers at my school, Amanda Schams, a former dancer with Madison Ballet. “When I was in search of a teaching position seven years ago, I was pregnant with my first child,” she says. “I did not expect to find a job where pregnancy was not [considered] an inconvenience to the studio and where a paid maternity leave was included. It was a ‘no-brainer’ for me to take a position in a studio that was family friendly—not just for the students, but the staff, too.”
But benefits for teachers are still far from the norm at most dance studios. Because of this, Kayla Wegner—a lifetime dancer and recent college graduate living in Dallas, Texas—is trying to figure out how much of a role teaching dance will have in her future. “It would be much easier to continue teaching if I had access to benefits. Then not only would I be working on my passion, but I’d be working on my future as well.” She adds that if she didn’t have to get another job in order to have benefits, she “would be able to give more focus to teaching. I would view it as more professional.”
Janell Larson, a dance teacher from Plainfield, Illinois, agrees. “In a profession where most of the time you are paid an hourly wage but the time you put in highly exceeds the time you are actually at the studio or face to face with children, benefits are necessary,” she says. “I have been teaching for 14 years in studios across the country, and unfortunately benefits don’t usually come with a studio teaching job. If I did not have a husband who provides health benefits, I would most likely not be in this profession.”
Consider it an investment
At a time when many studio owners are struggling to find and retain good teachers, giving experienced, talented employees a compelling reason to stay at your school is a goal worth pursuing. You don’t have to offer every benefit and you don’t have to do it all at once. Talk to your teachers, prioritize their needs, and then work toward adding at least one benefit to your budget for 2013.
Offering benefits is also a way to professionalize our industry and counter the image of dance teachers as people who just have a hobby or can’t do anything “better.” Access to benefits gives those who choose to teach dance—even though they could very well pursue other professional tracks—the professional respect and compensation they deserve.
With some know-how and a good digital camera, school photo opportunities abound.
Honing your photography skills can be a great add-on for studio owners or instructors. Even if you’re a point-and-shoot photographer, the sophistication and user-friendliness of digital cameras make capturing everyday events and even special moments at your school possible.
A typical dance school year provides a feast of opportunities for images that you can use to convey the personality and professionalism of your school. And who’s better positioned to record them than yourself? Because you’re a familiar face, your young subjects may be less self-conscious than if they were being photographed by an outsider. Also, you’re there every day, which improves your chances of recording the kind of wonderful, unscripted events that arise around the studio or the beauty captured in a formal photo shot.
Best of all, you know dance. You can anticipate the moment in a leap that will make an optimum photo. And you can explain to your photo subjects what you’re looking for in precise terminology that they understand.
Generally, parents are thrilled to receive images of their child regardless of small flaws. If you’ve captured little Jane’s ear-to-ear grin, they probably won’t fret that you forgot to level out the background.
I’m not suggesting that you can or should do without a professional photographer for certain needs. The ability to obtain specific results, on time and on budget, is what defines a professional. If any of these conditions is a consideration, stick with a professional to ensure a smooth process from beginning to end. Creating a lavish color brochure that you’ll be mailing out for years, for example, is the kind of project for which you’ll want the production savvy of a pro.
That said, it still makes sense to integrate photography into your work routine at the studio. Digital photography has made it easier to obtain good images without years of training. Better cameras, lower prices, plug-and-play technology, and the ease of sharing pictures online all spell out the obvious—opportunity. Of course, it’s important to understand at least the basics of the technical aspects of taking photos. A good place to start is “Digital Photography 101” by Theresa Smerud in the July 2008 Dance Studio Life (available at dancestudiolife.com).
If you feel the need for deeper knowledge, consider a photography course. My advice here is aimed at the intermediate photographer: someone with a basic understanding of lighting, composition, and the technical aspects of a particular camera, as well as an interest in photo-editing software.
Here’s how my wife, Kehree Lacasse, and I handle photographic projects at Vanleena Dance Academy. Kehree co-directs the school, in North Vancouver, British Columbia, with her mother, Eileen Vanneck, and I’m in charge of school operations.
How to prepare
Before any photo shoot, communicate your plans in advance to students and parents, explaining how the images will be used and when they will get to view them. We strive not to oversell our abilities—it’s better to have customers pleasantly surprised by the quality of the finished product. Generally, parents are thrilled to receive images of their child regardless of small flaws. If you’ve captured little Jane’s ear-to-ear grin, they probably won’t fret that you forgot to level out the background. Most defects can be corrected with photo-editing software, but your goal should be to get it right the first time. Our approach is limited post-production changes and no cost for the parent—just a souvenir.
In preparation for your photo shoot, you have to choose between natural or studio lighting. Natural lighting seems like the easier choice and certainly can give exquisite results; the drawback is that sunlight can be unpredictable. Generally speaking, the midday hours are not the best for natural-light photography because the sun creates harsh shadows as it beams over the nose and eyes. Our studio has a beautiful window that brightens morning classes, and we’ve used that classroom many times for photo shoots, but usually with a backup plan in case the quality of light isn’t what we want. Try experimenting with taking pictures using only natural light in a classroom at different times of day. Once you have discovered a room that works well, you can build around that knowledge.
However, most studios don’t have the right lighting conditions for photography, producing dull skin tones and poor exposures. Studio lights will solve that problem and most important, create the same lighting conditions over and over. The trick is the setup.
Kehree and I discuss a shoot a week in advance, each arriving with our own checklist. Hers includes the theme, communication with the students, and camera-related tasks like ensuring that the batteries are charged, memory cards are empty, and costumes are brought out of storage. She will also decide on the backdrop, which can be a simple colored paper or cloth product (owned or rented). On my end, I set up the studio lights and rig the backdrop the day before the shoot. I usually do this at night with our maintenance man and it’s worth the cost; coordinating free help with parent volunteers or students is an extra step and involves too much time on my part that could be better spent.
Once the setup is done, we do some test shots. Some people do the tests on the day of the shoot, using the first student, but that usually means a reshoot for that student and is a waste of time.
The shoots, which are optional for the students, are scheduled with availability and age-appropriateness in mind. We avoid early morning because students have that “sleepy” look. Teenagers love to do shoots later in the evening. Preschoolers should be scheduled after a good meal. A typical shoot for 20 students will take three to four hours with an additional hour at each end for setup and strike.
On shoot day the photographer has to be upbeat, creative, and adaptable to the many students. We use a studio large enough to accommodate the equipment and all students. Costumes are brought to the room beforehand and students are expected to have their hair and makeup done. When we do ballet exam pictures for 5- to 19-year-olds (just before or after the examination), makeup is very light and can be done in the lobby.
The room buzzes as students warm up and practice their poses. We set the lights on the first student (typically not in costume), look at the images, and double-check the camera settings. Once the settings are locked in, we shoot the first student’s portraits. We typically redo that student at the end of the shoot to ensure that she benefits from having seen the others and is more relaxed.
Capturing the moment with your camera will take practice—some cameras have delays that make capturing fast action difficult, but better cameras are much more responsive. (We use a Canon EOS 5D and are happy with it, but other choices abound.) Finding the right camera for your needs may require several trips to the store.
Your best efforts won’t yield the best results if you haven’t prepped your students. Before headshot sessions, for example, discuss your expectations and offer guidance on makeup and hair styling. With portraiture, posture is very important. Have students lean slightly forward and avoid looking down or pressing a hand into the chin, which creates creases in the skin.
At the beginning of the year each student enrolled in our Pre-Professional Day Program is provided with a large, blank hardcover album. Prints of the students, generally 8 by 10 inches, get added to the album as they participate each month or so in photo shoots with varying themes: modeling, headshots, class pictures, location shots, and of course dance photography. After each shoot, each student receives one or two 8-by-10 prints free of charge to be included in the album. We typically have extra prints made and displayed in the studio lobby.
The albums stay at the studio and are handed out at the holiday season to be shared with family and friends. They are returned to the studio in January and given to the students at the end of the year. Each album contains 20 to 30 images, usually including a portrait of the whole group. Extra copies can be ordered for $10 each. Students love to receive low-resolution images (at no cost to them) to post on their Facebook accounts.
Summer camps offer a good environment for practicing your photography in a relaxed atmosphere. We try to use natural light as often as we can in the summer for camp shots; the children respond better than they do in front of intimidating flashes. We typically go to a park for lunch or breaks and we sometimes plan for pictures while we’re there. (Bring along another teacher or teacher assistant to keep an eye on the group so you can concentrate on getting great shots.)
Camp students may be new to the studio or unfamiliar with you. Be patient and expect the unexpected. We find that parents and siblings are usually available as well, so the opportunity is there for candid family portraits. We offer each student an 8-by-10 print without charge as a souvenir (extra copies can be ordered) or incorporate the image as part of a craft project.
Candid publicity shots
Candid images are fun and bring back memories of a class or an event. These images can be used, with permission, for publicity purposes in pamphlets, posters, or on the studio website. Candid images taken during our preschool dance classes have been a big hit with parents. No special setup is required; these are just images of students having fun. We give prints to each child’s parents.
For sharing candid shots, we use a password-protected Flickr account. If a picture would be great for marketing we ask the children’s parents for permission to use it.
At a recent fair, we set up a photo booth where children could pose with one of our young ballerinas. The setup was very simple, with a typical display board and table. Our students were radiant and the children beamed with excitement. We emailed a souvenir photo to each child’s parent. It was a fun event and a simple way to make new contacts.
Recital program cover
For images for your recital program’s cover or other times when high quality is essential, I suggest hiring a professional photographer. Why? Because the task is time sensitive and requires a specific result. However, should you attempt such shoots on your own, give yourself an early deadline so that if your images don’t pan out, you can call in a pro and still meet your printing deadline. Remember, the more you know about photography the more effectively you can communicate with a professional and understand the limitations encountered—which ultimately produces a better product.
Owner and instructor, For A Dancer Inc., Warrenton, Virginia
NOMINATED BY: Kristy Stumpf, parent: “Rachel is the most caring individual I have ever met. My girls started going to her when they were 2 and a half and 3; they are now 8 and 11. Both are on her competition dance team. Rachel gives up so many of her hours for her students. Her class for special-needs students gives those kids the opportunity to dance and perform in our annual dance recital.
My children have learned to embrace dance and how to put it to use in their everyday life. The studio is their second home. I am happy knowing that is where they want to be in their free time; that is all because of her. She is dramatic—aren’t all dance teachers?—but at the same time she recognizes when a child needs to be given a hug because maybe her day did not go so well. She knows each and every child and all of their quirks.”
YEARS TEACHING: Approximately 19 years
GENRES TAUGHT: Jazz, tap, ballet, lyrical, modern, and hip-hop
AGES TAUGHT: 3 to adult
WHY SHE CHOSE TEACHING AS A CAREER: I have loved dance since I was introduced to it at age 3. I have always wanted to share my passion and love of dance with my daughters and others. I really think dance chose me. Dance is my life, my passion, and my love. There was no other career for me.
HER GREATEST INSPIRATIONS: The art of dance inspires me. Buffa Hargett was the dance instructor who inspired me to open a studio of my own. My college professors filled me with passion and inspired me to dance outside the box. Today, my daughters and my students inspire me to always do better, learn more, love life.
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY: Have fun; learn technique. Live life with passion, love, and kindness. I teach my students with respect and love. They show me the same, and I am pleased to say that they grow to show others.
WHAT MAKES HER A GOOD TEACHER: I listen to my students. Hearing their wants and desires for life and dance helps me to teach them the art of dance and also life lessons. Watching my students grow into amazing leaders in their schools and communities lets me know that I have been a good influence in their lives.
FONDEST TEACHING MEMORY: The first recital my special-needs students participated in. I was unsure how they would handle the pressure of being in front of such a large audience, with the bright lights and loud sound system. I was also not sure how the audience would react; I prayed for them to be positive for my kids. In the end, it was amazing! They performed beautifully, with innocence and passion for dance and life, and received a standing ovation. They love to perform and count down the months until their next recital.
ADVICE TO TEACHERS AND STUDENTS: Teachers: you will never please everybody. You must be yourself; don’t get lost in the business. Keep your passion and love for dance alive through your students. Students: you can do it! Love what you are doing and always try harder. You are successful because you are who you are.
IF SHE COULDN’T BE A DANCE TEACHER: In some way I would have to be involved with dance and children. That is what I live and breathe. It is what I know and love. I hope I never have to know the answer to this question.
DO YOU KNOW A DANCE TEACHER WHO DESERVES TO BE IN THE SPOTLIGHT? Email your nominations to Arisa@rheegold.com or mail them to Arisa White, Dance Studio Life, P.O. Box 2150, Norton, MA 02766. Please include why you think this teacher should be featured, along with his or her contact information.
Words from the publisher
This month we zero in on creativity, which immediately brings to mind the artistic aspects of dance education. But creativity is a state of mind that can flow into all areas of life, including our attitudes toward our businesses. Being creative means being open to possibilities and exploring options. So let’s look at how that mind-set can play out in these imaginary scenarios involving two studio owners.
Mary Jones knew early in life that she was going to be a dance teacher. At 5, after her first pre-ballet class, she told her mom she was going to have a dance school someday. After years of training she went on to college, earning a degree in dance. She launched her school 20 years ago, the first one in her town, confident that she would offer her students a quality dance education.
And she did. Her success could be measured over the years, as she expanded from one teacher and a single classroom to a faculty of seven and three classrooms. But now, although Mary continues to enjoy the loyalty of those in the community who have longtime ties to her, the newer schools in the area are attracting the next generation of students.
Mary believes her school is the best, and she’s threatened by the competitors who have moved into her territory. She’s angry, but she has dug in her heels and resisted change. Her faculty has suggested that she expand the school’s curriculum with hip-hop or contemporary to attract the students who want to train in those popular dance genres. But Mary refuses. “We teach real dance here,” she says.
Susie Smith’s story is similar to Mary’s, except that two of the new schools in her community are owned by her former students. Like Mary, she was unhappy. But since she believes hers is the best school around, she decided that she certainly could keep up with the competition—after all, she had more than 20 years of experience that her competitors did not. So she hired some hip-hop and contemporary dance teachers and became more active in her community, volunteering her students for performances and benefits and choreographing a high school musical. She decided to put her years of experience front and center in her community, where her potential clientele could see them.
Susie also revised her marketing strategies and became more organized. She explores new program concepts to attract new students and attends as many continuing-education opportunities as possible. Facing the challenge of her competitors has motivated her to stay on top of the evolving dance scene.
The difference here is in perspective. We are not beaten unless we allow ourselves to be. Mary isn’t open to change, while Susie is growing and learning in her quest to stay on top. Susie faced a problem with an open mind and looked for ways to overcome it. It’s not choreography. It’s not a brilliant stage concept. But you could say it’s yet another way to be creative.[add signature file]
By Bill Evans
Challenge the core. To build students’ core strength in each class, have them do the yoga “plank” with weight on the forearms. Tell them to hollow the abdomen (exhaling to bring the navel closer to the spine) and maintain this form for at least 30 seconds. As they become stronger, encourage them to place one hand at a time behind the back and then to lengthen one leg at a time until the foot leaves the floor. Incorporating these into longer movement phrases with music allows students to experience them as dancing rather than exercises.
Liquid breath. Oxygen comes into the system as a gas but travels through the body in liquid form (in the blood) to nourish each cell. The heart’s contractions move oxygen from the lungs into the blood and gather carbon dioxide so it can be expelled. While the lungs play a vital role in this process, every body cell is involved. Within the body, then, breath is a liquid experience. My students respond well to images of “liquid breath” and “cellular respiration,” which bring them increased elasticity, resilience, and flow.
Advice for dance teachers
I teach for an amazing woman who built a big school with the help of her mother, who worked in the office until she died over a year ago, at a young age. It was stunning to all of us involved in the school because she really was the one who prepared and had everything organized for everything that happens outside of the classes. She died in the spring, so all the teachers and friends jumped in to help get through the rest of the year. It worked out fine and everyone bonded, feeling like they were part of the team. It was very rewarding. When the next season started my boss had hired a new studio manager to replace her mother.
When I met her I knew that it was going to be a big change because she didn’t have much personality or enthusiasm about her new role. As the year went on, I started to hear the other teachers say they didn’t like her either—she never smiles and she isn’t nice to our customers. Then a mother of a student told me she was leaving the studio because she couldn’t handle the new secretary. She had just been yelled at because her daughter was loud in the lobby area. She said three other people had not come back this year because of how they were treated last year.
I asked the mother to talk to my boss, but no one seems to want to speak up. I want to say something to her. Is it my place to do it, or should I let her figure it out for herself? —Anita
As far as I am concerned the office manager plays one of the most important roles in a successful school. Often that person has more contact with the students and their parents, and the faculty, than the owner does. She must be friendly and always treat the customers with respect; otherwise it is better to have no one at the desk at all.
Your boss is lucky to have you on her team because it is obvious that you have a great deal of respect for her and her business. I would want to speak up if I were in your position. I advise you to do so, not only for your boss’ sake but because this situation is obviously troubling you. I would do a little research to determine which clients left because of the office manager, and then document that, along with your own observations and anything else you’ve heard.
Go to your boss with your thoughts and then back them up with the research. Yes, she might get upset, but my guess is that it will be because of the situation her office manager has put her in, not because you spoke up. Chances are good that she will appreciate you for being honest. You may find that she is already aware of the problem but hasn’t had the confidence to do something about it. Your input might be the motivation she needs in order to make a change.
Whatever happens, you should feel confident that you did what you could. You just might be the catalyst to get someone with a better demeanor sitting in that office chair. Good luck, and hold your head high for being such an awesome employee. —Rhee
For the past five years I have taught six days a week at three studios, and for the most part my employers have been very good to me financially and seem to respect my work.
I can’t keep going six days a week and I keep telling myself that I will make a change, but after things slow down during the summer, I end up repeating the same cycle the next year. I planned to cut my schedule down by quitting teaching for the studio that is more than an hour away from me, but when I approached the owner she was very upset. She said she couldn’t replace me and offered me a raise; plus she started paying for my gas. I felt like I couldn’t walk out on her because she is so generous. So I am still going, but the money isn’t worth my sanity, and I don’t feel like I am giving my best to my students. I am feeling burned out.
I can’t let someone down who has been so kind to me without feeling guilty. Got any advice? —Marla
Yes I do have advice for you! It is time for you to put yourself first, forget about feeling guilty, and have the confidence to speak up about what you know is best for you and your students. The generosity of the school owner is commendable, but if you have told her that you can’t continue working six days a week and her only solution is to pay you more, then she’s thinking more about herself than you. To show that you respect her generosity, you could ask to cut your schedule down to one day for the rest of the season and offer to help her to find a replacement for you. However, you have to let her disappointment be secondary on your list of priorities right now.
Teaching dance must be something that you love to do in every class, otherwise you shouldn’t be teaching. My guess is that you will suffer exhaustion and end up losing your passion for teaching. It’s time to do all you can to leave this school owner in a good place while taking the time you need to rejuvenate your dance spirit. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
I own a school that has never competed because I don’t want my students to focus on winning trophies. We perform at community benefits, produce a Nutcracker, and have performed at Disney many times. I have always thought my way works for the type of studio that I want to run, but I just lost one of my best students because she wants to compete. I am so distraught that she’s gone and now I am not sure if I have made the right choice by not competing. I worry that other students will follow her and I can picture this huge exodus from my school to all the competition schools around me.
I thought all the parents and students were behind me because we have talked about competing, and they told me that they do not want the commitments or expenses that go with it. Now I am not sure if they have changed their minds, but I am afraid to bring it up because I know they will ask me about the student who left and I am too embarrassed to discuss it. What should I do? —Elaine
I appreciate the sentiment behind your letter, but I feel like you need more confidence in yourself. All of our readers have lost students to other schools, for many reasons. Of course it hurts, but we can’t let such occurrences change our philosophy and practices. You are fearful about things that haven’t happened yet. Think about this: you may have the clientele you do because you have chosen not to compete. Also, how will you find out what’s on your clients’ minds if you are embarrassed or afraid to talk to them? With the performance opportunities you offer, you are already doing a lot for your dancers. If you can overcome your fears, you might discover that the majority of your students and their parents really appreciate the fact that you don’t compete. If anyone brings up the student who left, say, “I wish her all the best,” and leave it at that. Attack your fears head-on. I have a feeling you’ll learn that you have less to worry about than you think. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
By Mignon Furman
Please trust your students. If you are clear about what you expect from them and they understand and know their dances, there is no need to stand in the wings and vigorously perform the dances. This distracts the dancers and makes it hard for them to concentrate, which prevents them from performing at their best.
In rehearsals, after teaching a portion of the dance, sit and watch without saying a word. Offer lots of praise when the young dancers remember the combination. In this way they learn to remember the steps and dance with self-confidence.
A ballet class needs pacing and rhythm. The teacher should not talk so much that the pace lags, the rhythm is lost, and the dancers get cold and bored. Dancers want to dance! Corrections should be given clearly and succinctly. Children cannot absorb and process too many corrections at once.
DanceLife Teacher Conference contemporary teacher Derrick Yanford has been lending a helping hand this month to his fellow New York City citizens struggling with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
According to his Facebook page, Yanford has been handing out food, working in assembly lines, sorting clothing, even helping out with demolition efforts on Staten Island, and volunteering with the American Red Cross headquarters in midtown Manhattan. “Wonderful to see a community come together like this,” he says. “We are all so fortunate.”
Yanford attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, has danced with several professional ballet and contemporary companies and well as on national Broadway tours, and has worked as a choreographer, master class teacher, and adjudicator for major dance organizations throughout the United States and Canada.
To see Yanford in action at next summer’s DLTC, visit http://www.dancelifeteacherconference.com/.
In the November issue of Dance Studio Life magazine, SUNY Brockport professor Don Halquist shares his thoughts on teaching students how to layer their own passion, their own emotions, and their personal uniqueness on the choreography they have been taught in class or for performance.
Halquist, a member of the Bill Evans Dance Company for 20 years, will expand on these and other modern-dance concepts when he serves as a faculty member at next summer’s DanceLife Teacher Conference. Set for August 1 to 4, 2013, at The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona, the DLTC features some of the top motivational minds in the dance education world.
Halquist has performed as a guest artist with the New Mexico Ballet and in the companies of Nora Reynolds Daniel, Licia Perea, Debra Knapp, and Jennifer Predock-Linnell; and has taught dance at the University of New Mexico, Santa Fe Community College, and the New Mexico Ballet Company school.
“We should encourage reflection on the part of our students,” Halquist says in his article. “Ask them to think about what the movement phrases mean to them, and encourage them to bring their own images to the material they are learning and performing.”
For more information on the DLTC faculty, visit http://www.dancestudiolife.com/dltc/dancelife-teacher-conference-faculty/.
Dance Studio Life magazine wouldn’t be filled with all the insightful and inspirational stories it is without the generosity of teachers and studio owners from across the country who agree to share their stories with DSL and its readers.
This is particularly true of the monthly Thinking Out Loud (TOL) feature, written by studio teachers, owners, professional dancers, friends of dance, and even students. The stories—sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant—might feature the re-telling of an experience or hard lesson learned, reminisce about a mentor, speak about a challenge fought and overcome . . . or even air a gripe!
The editorial staff is always on the looking for new TOL columns, about 700 words spoken from the heart. Submitting is easy: just email the column with your contact information to Cheryl@rheegold.com. We hope to hear from you soon!
By Kerry Ring
Auditions can be harrowing, whether dancers are trying to get into professional companies, pre-professional training programs, shows, or colleges. But my years of experience teaching in the University at Buffalo Theater and Dance Department—and conducting auditions for prospective students—have shown me that teachers can help prepare students to put their best selves forward when auditioning.
The key is understanding that what we teach an advanced student in technique class is the preparation they need for a successful audition. We simply want our students to feel secure in their technical skills and so rooted in their confidence that they can really shine in an audition. Learning combinations quickly, recovering from mistakes with grace, and maintaining performance quality in transitions are skills for both advanced dancing and auditioning.
It’s possible to prepare students for auditions during regular classroom time. One effective method in advanced technique classes is to replicate the audition scenario. Here’s one idea: have half the class perform a rond de jambe exercise at the barre. While the first half of the class does the exercise—on both sides, including transition—assigned partners observe. They switch places and then discuss what they saw. Both groups repeat the combination, keeping their partners’ comments about technique and performance quality in mind. The improvement is often dramatic.
Another way to introduce the kind of pressure that comes with auditioning is to teach a long center combination and have the students perform it one at a time. Have the students face away from the mirrors, place a table in front, and sit there, as an adjudicator would. Students enter the studio one at a time (the other students are not allowed to watch) and perform the combination. But instead of making an audition decision about the dancers, write helpful personal notes for each one. Afterward, you can have a conversation with each student about some of the strengths and weaknesses you observed.
I advise against telling students to constantly imagine being in an audition situation. That type of self-imposed pressure makes it difficult for students to explore new ideas and may rob them of the joy they experience in class. But the kinds of exercises I just described, employed once or twice a month, can help dancers begin to address the issues of dancing well at auditions and allow them to practice their auditioning skills.
It’s important to explain to students that auditions for college dance programs aren’t like those for a Nutcracker—the goal isn’t to fill certain roles (like 12 short dancers who will fit into the mouse costumes from the previous year). Nor are they like the 20 seconds of showy tricks everyone has seen in the auditions for So You Think You Can Dance. College dance faculties will be spending four intense years with a student, not 12 weeks. They need to see that a solid foundation is there.
More than the dancing
Teachers are also responsible for educating their students about proper audition etiquette, such as arriving early, dressing appropriately, and saying thank you at the end of the experience. At UB auditions the faculty scans the studio before the audition officially begins, because so much important information can be gained from how the dancers prepare in the moments leading up to the first plié.
Audition qualities such as punctuality, attention, effort, concentration, proper attire, and polite decorum are actually the expectations I have for my students in class every day.
Maintaining consistently high standards of presentation in all technique classes will prepare students for most audition situations. At UB we expect dancers to look the part. That means solid-color leotards and tights, proper shoes for ballet, and hair up. And a gentle reminder might be in order for students who are excited about a new leotard: no matter how good they look in it, it won’t hide the weaknesses in their technique. It’s worth stating the obvious: that makeup, leotard color, and hair accessories are not as important as the dancing and the smile on the face.
In preparing students for auditioning, I emphasize learning how to “sell” their dancing, starting at the first ballet barre exercise and continuing throughout the audition. By “sell” I mean clear, confident preparations and full, committed endings to each combination; eyes up and out, “inviting” the faculty or adjudicators to watch and learn about them; and transmitting a sense of enjoyment. Dancers who save their best dancing for the modern and jazz segments of the audition put themselves at a disadvantage. First impressions matter. Only rarely can prospective students turn the faculty around based only on a jazz combination. Dancers who demonstrate consistency in technique and confidence from the first plié through the final improvisation exercise are the ones who typically capture the adjudicators’ attention.
The barre and beyond
The ballet barre is a critical part of the audition process at UB, as it is in many auditions. Although not all auditions will include a ballet component, at UB we stress the importance of ballet as a means to better overall dancing. We believe that making real-life connections about how ballet enhances students’ jazz, hip-hop, lyrical, and modern dance is simply good teaching. You may well bring success to your students by reinforcing the concept of “selling” their dancing at the ballet barre, regardless of their strength in a different genre.
Opening an audition with a ballet barre offers faculty or other adjudicators a significant amount of time to observe dancers as they perform basic barre combinations that demonstrate their technique. Much is learned about the dancer during this part of the process: physical form, range of motion, technique, and musicality. Also, the time at the barre is an opportunity for the dancers to introduce their sense of confidence and individual style.
A traditional ballet barre sequence (combinations in pliés, tendus, degagés, rond de jambes, port de bras, and grands battements) also allows the students to be fully warm before going on to combinations in modern, jazz, or improvisation as well as in ballet. Many auditions are organized similarly to the way we run ours at UB, so we think it’s important for instructors to teach dancers the skills necessary to successfully “introduce” themselves through their ballet barre.
At UB, the dance department slogan is “Versatility Matters.” We seek undergraduate dancers with interest and training in jazz, modern, tap, and ballet. Most other college dance departments are also looking for students who have experience and training in a variety of styles.
For prospective incoming freshman at UB, we begin with a full ballet barre, followed by ballet combinations in center including adagio, pirouettes, and petit allegro. We sequence from ballet into a modern combination to assess the dancers’ ability to pick up a different movement style and their ease in floor work and simple inversions. Improvisation exercises highlight the dancers’ natural movement patterns and their ease in spontaneous creative problem solving.
We conclude the audition with a jazz combination that includes time for improvising so that the dancers can show off their strengths and reveal their personality. The entire auditioning process takes about two hours and no one gets cut. The faculty consistently reminds the students throughout the audition process that it is just a class, so they should do their best and enjoy it.
Planning for the day
Not all auditions follow the blueprint we use at UB, but dancers should be prepared to make both aesthetic and practical transitions from genre to genre. Students should wear convertible tights so that as the audition class progresses to modern dance, their feet can be bare. Jazz shoes should be quickly slipped on during the transition from modern. No major “costume changes” should occur. Students should feel comfortable dancing in a leotard and tights with no excess layers. Another practical note: having a water bottle nearby is always smart.
Dancers who plan to audition for undergraduate dance programs should consider calling ahead and touring schools during their junior year of high school, because programs can vary greatly. At UB, students can set up a pre-audition observation day during which they can watch regular classes and get a tour of the department facilities. This is when a student can “audition” the school, to get a sense of whether it’s the right fit for them.
Most college dance or performing-arts departments offer prospective students an opportunity to get to know the department better. After an audition at UB, students and parents meet in the performance space to gain more knowledge of the program by chatting with the department chair, director of dance, and current dance majors from various geographic areas. While the students are auditioning, parents can meet with the program’s academic advisor to answer questions regarding tuition, admissions, and academic requirements. There are many opportunities over the course of the day for prospective students to ask questions and get a sense of the department.
Teachers can also help their students prepare by guiding them to needed information. Most registration information for incoming freshman auditions is posted on the schools’ websites. In addition, portfolios are suggested. These may include a head shot, a full-body shot, and a brief resume.
The real work of dance teachers, whether at the collegiate level or at the local dance studio, is to instill confidence in their students and cultivate both individual style and technique that can be used in any situation—onstage, in class, or at an audition.
By Megan Donahue
When something goes wrong with your recital venue, it doesn’t just seem like a problem; it seems like a nightmare. In addition to the usual recital stress, you may find yourself with no access to the wings, no lights, or locked dressing rooms. Sometimes, because of scheduling snafus or disasters like floods, fires, or auto accidents, your venue suddenly isn’t available at all. Still, the show must go on.
A change of plan
Camille Parsons had booked the Cotton Auditorium in Fort Bragg, California, for Second Story Studios’ June 2002 dance concert the previous fall, just as she had for years. Everything progressed as usual until the auditorium was damaged when a car crashed into it in March. When a resulting inspection found significant dry rot, the building was closed for repairs. Parsons had to find somewhere else to have her recital.
“After majorly freaking out—all the costumes were already ordered and we were in rehearsals—I managed to get all my ducks in a row to hold it in the only other building here large enough to hold an audience and a stage: the local high school gymnasium,” says Parsons.
With the help of a local “theater wizard” with whom she’d worked on many shows, Parsons ended up constructing an entire stage inside the gymnasium, complete with a dance floor and proscenium. The gymnasium had to be rewired to accommodate the lighting system (something the school agreed to do since it owns the Cotton Auditorium and Parsons had proven she was trustworthy) and the audience sat on bleachers. The cafeteria served as a backstage area.
Because the repairs and remodeling of the Cotton Auditorium took four years, Second Story Studios held four recitals in the gymnasium space before returning to its original venue. In the interim, the auditorium was completely redone and now has up-to-date sound and lighting systems—a welcome change for Parsons, after having to build a stage four years in a row.
Nobody ran a car into Sarah Beth Byrum’s usual recital venue. She had a much more common problem—a school district booking issue that bumped her studio from its spot. Byrum, the artistic director of All That! Dance Company of Eugene, Oregon, found herself getting closer and closer to her recital date without a venue lined up. “I was stressed, panicked, nauseated. I desperately contacted every venue in town with no success,” she says.
So she started to think creatively. “On a whim, I connected with a local high school cheer coach and asked her if she had any pull at the school to get us a spot,” she says. “This particular high school did not have a facility manager and was not typically used for outside concerts.” Staffing changes at the school confused the process, and Byrum wasn’t positive she could use the space until the week of her recital.
Nobody ran a car into Sarah Beth Byrum’s usual recital venue. She had a much more common problem—a school district booking issue that bumped her studio from its spot.
Finally she got the go-ahead. “We were able to partner the event as a fund-raiser with the school’s cheer squad. The cheerleaders ran concessions, played with the young dancers backstage, helped the dancers do hair and makeup, and kept everything running smoothly,” Byrum says. The school’s staff was also supportive. “The drama/choir teacher volunteered to open the auditorium for us, let us use the choir room for quick changes, and connected us with a student tech.”
Byrum’s brother hung and focused the lights, most of which weren’t even directed at the stage. “[He] was up on what they call ‘the ladder of death’ until an hour before the show,” says Byrum.
While some high school auditoriums have state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, others leave a lot to be desired.
Deborah Mason of Deborah Mason School of Dance in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has plenty of experience with inadequately equipped spaces. Over the years she’s held recitals in high school auditoriums and small theaters, a necessity after rising costs at her usual large, well-equipped theater space became prohibitive.
The first alternate venue she tried was a local high school, which did not have much in the way of sound or lighting. Mason rented equipment and hired technicians to operate it. In addition, for the first year “the school wasn’t really on board,” she says. The use of the space was strictly limited and did not include the dressing rooms. “The older kids changed backstage in the dark,” says Mason. Still, from the audience’s perspective, “that show went off without a hitch,” she says.
In following years, Mason held recitals in theaters with little to no wing space. To solve the backstage overcrowding problem, she split her recital into two one-hour shows.
Mason recommends using trusted technicians to operate rented equipment. “It’s good to make friends in the [theater and dance] community,” she says, noting that you’ll know who to call when you need that kind of help.
Linda Deitrich Wong of South Jersey DanceWorks in Pitman, New Jersey, has held her recital in the same high school auditorium for 20 years, and the experience hasn’t been without its challenges. Lighting is one of the big ones. For several years she has rented lights to supplement the equipment at the venue, not all of which is in service.
In 2011 a circuit blew during the first half of the recital. In order to have the ability to use dimmers, she had rented a lighting control board. When the circuit blew, “we went searching for the [theater] manager to tell him, only to find out that he did not know where the breaker box was,” says Wong. With the problem unresolved, none of the rented equipment could be used, and the second half of the show was performed in the sparse light of the auditorium.
This year no circuits were blown, but Wong had a new problem—the lighting technician left before the show was over. Wong’s niece was running sound, and she was left on her own for the recital’s last four numbers. Fortunately she had six years of experience and a take-charge attitude, because “she had to run lights and sound,” says Wong. Having a trusted person in the booth saved the show.
Wong ran into a completely different set of problems with her venue the following year. When she arrived at the high school auditorium on recital day, things were already not quite going according to plan. Due to a local ordinance about using the auditorium on Sundays, there were new time constraints that prevented the dance school from getting into the building until noon—and the recital was at 1pm, an hour earlier than usual, to accommodate some students who had a church function later in the day. Wong had learned about the change only two weeks before the recital. Usually she arrives three hours early; this time there was no time for that.
Wong was prepared to rush around for the one hour she had to get everything ready, but the only person there when she arrived was a substitute custodian. The auditorium manager was nowhere in sight. So not only was no one in charge, no one knew where things were, such as tables for the lobby vendors. The custodian found a single table, which the concession team and florist had to share.
Then, 20 minutes before curtain, Wong’s son, Jacob, informed her that he couldn’t get into his dressing room. All of his costumes were inside. Though the door had been unlocked when they arrived, it had locked automatically when shut. Without the auditorium manager there, only the custodian could help her get that door open, and he was nowhere to be found. She was trying to figure out how to outfit her son from pieces of other costumes when a parent managed to pick the lock, just in time. “We made it through,” Wong says.
Dance programs that reside in schools or parks and recreation facilities or studios on very tight budgets may not use traditional venues at all. Non-traditional performance spaces take all the potential problems of traditional spaces to the next level: no lighting, no backstage, and no clear lines between the audience and performers.
Design Dance is a community-based Chicago dance program that offers on-site arts partnerships with local schools and parks. Before 2012, the annual showcase was always held in the gym at a local park. The gymnasium is a giant space, especially compared to the tiny preschool dancers who comprise the majority of Design Dance’s students.
To define the space, executive director Debra Giunta used a freestanding rectangular frame provided by the park, covered in black, as an upstage “wall.” She clipped lights to the frame, and taped out a “stage” on the gym floor. It was a little rough-and-tumble, but Giunta sees a benefit to the stripped-down space: “The focus is on just the dancers,” she says.
This year, when she used an elementary school auditorium for the showcase, the fact that the wings were tiny and completely inaccessible on stage right didn’t seem like such a big problem. At least there were wings—and an actual stage.
Liane Fisher of Fisher Academy of Ballet and Dance in Westwood, Massachusetts, planned to present her first recital in the gym of a local sports facility. She was skeptical about using the gym at first since the show included a theatrical production of Peter Pan, which required wings and a crossover. But then she noticed several folded-up Ping-Pong tables. About five feet high, “they made great wings,” she says. She covered them with matching curtains, pinned up a backdrop to make a crossover space, borrowed a couple of hot lights from her photographer fiancé, and used shop lights as footlights—and voilà! A theater space was created.
When it comes to presenting live theater, even the best-laid plans can go awry. But as Parsons says, “Anytime you put up a show you have to be adaptable, because things happen.”
By Holly Derville-Teer
We’ve all experienced it: feeling exhausted and overwhelmed to the point where we can hardly bring ourselves to care anymore. Burnout.
Difficult parents, staggering work loads, and long hours can put even the most enthusiastic studio owner at risk. And when it hits, this sense of weariness, unfulfillment, and apathy can be a temporary state or a flashing sign pointing toward change. “We need to listen to our truth and choose a way forward that will get us and keep us healthy and reconnected to ourselves and to life,” writes Dr. Dina Glouberman in The Joy of Burnout: How the End of the World Can Be a New Beginning. Three studio owners share their stories of first-year, annual, and total burnout.
Claire Dye bought All Star Dance Academy after teaching there for a year. Although she had directed a smaller studio before moving to Portland, Oregon, her first year as owner of All Star almost made her want to turn her back on the whole enterprise.
Dye got off to a rocky start. Parents responded skeptically when she chose to keep her baby in a swing in the classroom while she was teaching. They met her overall relaxed approach with uncertainty. “I was a lot more easygoing than the previous owner and I think a lot of people liked the stricter version better,” she says.
Learning to administer a 250-student studio without training proved overwhelming. Teaching six hours a day, six days a week, Dye also tackled 12 to 14 hours of administrative work daily. The most exhausting part, though, was teaching every one of the 3- to 6-year-old classes.
Midway through the year, Dye began to lose her motivation. “I was 25 and I felt young and vibrant, but I was tired all the time. Everything seemed so hard. It almost didn’t seem worth it.”
Dye made two key changes before beginning her second year. Hiring an office manager enabled her to cut her administrative workload to three to five hours per week. She also hired an instructor to teach all the 3- to 6-year-old classes. And after the first year, parents became more accepting of the changes she had made. Everything began to fall into place and Dye’s enthusiasm returned. “I was able to wait it out. Since then, I definitely have said, ‘I can’t do that!’ multiple times, but eventually I come out the other side. It’s easier to get through those moments now.”
To new studio owners experiencing burnout, Dye suggests the following strategies.
• Wait it out and don’t make any rash decisions.
• Try yoga. “Yoga can teach you how to turn your mind off and relax when you need to,” she says.
• Pay attention to your school’s financial health. Although her studio’s eventual financial stability wasn’t a factor in Dye’s rally from burnout, she believes it helped keep further burnout at bay. “Being debt free, running a business where everything is paid for with cash, and turning a profit I can live on gives me peace. Understanding how the finances work and having a budget is a big part of it.”
• Read The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber. Dye says the book taught her to spend time growing and perfecting her studio as a whole rather than letting daily demands consume her. “The more time I spend teaching and dealing with the day-to-day stuff like answering phones, assisting customers at the front desk, filing, and cleaning, the less time I have to work on building the business with marketing, staff training, communications, policies/procedures, putting systems into place, and molding the business to need less of my personal input.”
• Take on outside ventures with caution. While outside projects can help stave off burnout, Dye recommends making only short-term commitments. In her fourth year of coaching a high school dance team, Dye says, “If I weren’t doing anything else, I’d feel stagnant.” But, she adds, “If I could do it over again, I’d be a choreographer rather than the coach.”
After surviving a difficult first year, Dye has learned to love the freedom that comes with creating her own work environment. “I’m always open to suggestions, but the power to do it my way is a great thing for me,” she says. “There’s no red tape other than my own.”
Annual creative burnout
Molly Kaleikilo opened Innovative Dance in Wilsonville, Oregon, in 1998. The studio has grown to include 200 dancers.
Every year as spring break approaches, Kaleikilo faces what seem like monumental creative demands. This is when she begins to plan the following year’s competition routines so she can incorporate those rehearsals into the school’s summer schedule. While she is trying to summon her creative powers, she is also taking her performing company to competitions, finishing recital routines, distributing costumes, and planning the June recital. “I start to feel like I just don’t have anything left in me, especially creatively.”
The ideas just start coming. . . . [E]very song makes me think of an artist or a genre or another song. The more I listen, the more excited I get. Suddenly I feel like I can do it all again. —Molly Kaleikilo
This is when she hits the gym. Kaleikilo stumbled onto this method during her 12th year as a studio owner. One day she went to the gym to clear her head and on a whim began listening to all the songs she had accumulated on her iPod. Soon, choreographic sparks began to fly. Now, when inspiration proves elusive, Kaleikilo gets on the treadmill and sets out to generate new material and ideas. “I start going through the 1,200 songs on my iPod. I go in alphabetical order and just listen. It’s like magic,” she says. “The ideas just start coming. I don’t have to use the exact song I hear, but every song makes me think of an artist or a genre or another song. The more I listen, the more excited I get. Suddenly I feel like I can do it all again.”
Kaleikilo credits dodging yearlong burnout to a good office manager, a file full of thank-you letters from former students, and a strong family/work balance.
To maintain this balance, Kaleikilo adheres to the following strict guidelines.
• She does not teach during spring break or on Sundays.
• She makes time to do things with her family. “It’s important to disconnect, even if it’s just a weekend at the beach.”
• Although she spends six days a week at the studio, she arranges her schedule so she can make dinner for her family two nights a week.
• She attends all of her daughter’s school events even if it means finding a substitute teacher.
• She puts her cell phone away when she arrives home from the studio and doesn’t look at it until the next morning.
Although she struggles annually against creative depletion, Kaleikilo loves directing her studio. “Second to my family, the studio means everything to me. It’s who I am,” she says. “There are people and situations that hurt me, but those things are small in the scheme of things. I have been a major influence on hundreds of young lives. The love and appreciation I feel far outweighs the negative.”
After a performing career that included playing the role of Mistoffelees in the first East Coast tour of Cats, in 1981 Danny Black opened The Dance Shop in Tigard, Oregon, with his wife, Gail. Black had always wanted to own a studio, and he and Gail looked forward to working together. For a long time they were happy, and they both treasured the family environment they had created. “I loved it,” Black says. “It felt more like a family than a business.”
Fifteen years in, the studio had grown to 250 students, with Black and his wife teaching most of the classes. “It was a 7-days-a-week, 18-hours-a-day venture,” he says. “I was teaching three to four classes in the morning and five classes at night. It wasn’t the kids. I just got tired. Really tired. I got tired of choreographing because I was doing so much of it.” In addition, Black was still dancing professionally, teaching at other studios, and choreographing for the first Portland Trailblazers dance team.
Black began to dread teaching his classes. Some evenings he felt like he would “give anything not to have to go to the studio. I’d never felt like that before. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to. I’d never been like that, so I knew I needed to do something about it.”
Shortly after that, Black was hospitalized with pneumonia. “That was a life check. After that I cut back my hours.” He began limiting his teaching hours to three and a half hours a day, a rule he still adheres to.
Although the change in hours helped, Black continued to notice a drastic shift in his overall attitude. “I didn’t want to talk to the parents and I felt depressed and trapped. I felt like there was no way out. I was very surprised because it was my whole life. I lost myself for awhile.” After tremendous soul searching, he and Gail decided to close the studio.
Black recommends that studio owners consider a career change if depression and negativity begin to set in. “If you feel really burned out, it’s time to sell your studio. Go back to the passion of wanting to teach your classes and being excited about it. If you don’t do something about it, you’ll end up hating what you do.”
To ward off burnout, Black recommends the following strategies.
• Find time to take class to keep connected to your own passion for dancing.
• Set boundaries limiting your work hours.
• Find teachers to take over for you when needed.
• Hire teachers you believe in and make changes when necessary.
• Don’t give anything away. After hearing many of his students’ stories, Black helped students purchase dance shoes in addition to giving them free classes. As a result, he often had to give up his own paycheck.
Since closing his studio, Black teaches at several studios in and around the Portland area and also manages Dance Togs, a local dance-apparel store. “I still love dance. It’s still my passion. It always will be, and I want to spend the rest of my days teaching people who feel the same way.”
By Jennifer Kaplan
Studios use guest teachers for a dance bag’s worth of reasons.
Sometimes the director notices that her students have gotten far too comfortable with their classes and brings in a guest teacher to offer them new challenges and ways of thinking about movement, performance, and technique. Others use guest teachers to reach out to the greater dance community and bring in new students—and earned income. Some studios find that guest teachers are a cost-effective and efficient alternative to attending conventions. And others want to prepare their developing dancers for the reality of auditioning and company life where a style, technique, or approach might be foreign, but the dancers are still expected to finesse it. Finally, some studio owners, especially in less populous or more isolated areas, bring in guest teachers to emulate what big-city dancers already have: variety and choice.
A 40-year teaching veteran, Leslie Baumberger noticed over the past decade that her students were becoming far too comfortable in their home studio setting and hesitant in unfamiliar surroundings. “When we would go out of town to conventions or to L.A. to take classes at the big studios, my dancers weren’t as courageous” as she wanted them to be in a new situation, says Baumberger, co-director of CORE Dance Studio in San Luis Obispo, on California’s central coast. “They seemed to be holding back. I wanted to figure out a way to help them get out of that comfort zone of their own tiny studio box, where they’re used to the same teacher year after year.”
Baumberger turned to a guest teacher program to broaden the training she and her three co-directors offer the 100 dancers on their school roster, approximately 50 of whom participate in CORE Dance Company. “I want to constantly challenge our dancers,” she says. “They’ve got to learn to adapt to different styles, not only teaching styles but choreographic styles. I also wanted to broaden their dance horizons by bringing in different teachers.”
It’s one of the best things we do. It produces great results. It brings the best people together for the best reasons: working with young dancers who are our future. —Lorraine Spiegler
The studio is about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco and, interestingly, rents space from a larger adjacent dance studio, The Academy of Dance. The schools differ in emphasis and clientele, so the proximity hasn’t been a problem. In fact, it’s a plus, according to Baumberger, who sometimes even invites guest teachers from next door.
Jeff Boss, who co-directs Dance Arts Centre in Suwanee, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb, has found that inviting guest teachers to instruct his mini, junior, and senior student companies is better than bringing 50 to 100 children to a dance convention. There they might be in a class of up to 600 in a hotel conference center or ballroom, frequently dancing on carpet to muddy sound systems. With 350 students, 90 of them on the competition teams, and 11 teachers on staff, Boss says bringing in guest teachers gives his dancers more bang for their buck.
“I have nothing against the conventions,” Boss says, “but our students are such technicians and we’re so into training these kids that we felt that the money would be better spent inviting teachers to come into the studio.” And when they do, usually about six to eight times a year, he says, he or his partner, Jamie Wardrop, both former professional dancers, informs the guest that they’re interested in more than just the latest combinations. “We tell them, ‘Hey, we’re all about the latest style, but we definitely want a proper warm-up and an emphasis on technique with the kids.’ ”
At Cherry Creek Dance in the Denver suburbs, Stephanie Prosenjak says bringing in guest teachers provides a good break in routine for both students and teachers. “Our teachers and staff here are the best of the best,” she says, “[but] it’s a nice break for the teachers to be able to take a class or sit down and see how another teacher would teach. From a business standpoint, it’s also great to see how [another teacher] leads a class and get some new ideas.”
Prosenjak, whose school has 2,500 students and more than 25 teachers on staff, draws guest teachers from national touring companies that come through Denver, as well as from the professional connections she and her teachers have built up over the years. “For a kid to take class with someone on TV or on a national tour is huge,” she said. “It gets them reinspired and rejuvenated to take from different people.”
Lorraine Spiegler calls the guest teacher program at CityDance Center in Bethesda, Maryland, one of the cornerstones for creating a high-level conservatory. The 15-year-old nonprofit center just began to ramp up its conservatory training five years ago when Spiegler came on board. Now it has 1,000 children and adults on its roster, 500 of whom train in the pre-professional program.
“I wanted to build a cadre of dancers who could work at a high level and become our future [dance] leaders,” she says about her motivations for creating the three-tier program: recreational, pre-professional, and conservatory. It includes a weekly guest teacher for the Saturday conservatory master class, guest artist workshops by professionals visiting the Music Center at Strathmore or other performance venues in the Washington, DC, area, and longer-term guest residencies in which professionals spend a few weeks teaching and setting works on the highest-level dancers. Those students might perform the pieces at CityDance concerts, or sometimes with professional companies.
“The idea is that the best possible training is a mixture of tried-and-true good teaching, which great dance schools already offer through their dedicated faculty, and new experiences,” Spiegler says. “Their regular teachers give them their daily bread and the guest teachers bring different things to the table.” Students learn to quickly acclimate to a range of styles and genres, and with a different teacher coming in each week to teach new material, those in the studio’s select and conservatory programs become adept at what is basically equivalent to auditioning. “The demand to learn something new every week,” Spiegler says, “forces students to become fine tuned. It refines their focusing and learning new movement. It’s a learning and brain tool.”
At CityDance, students register in the fall for the weekly master class program and outsiders are not invited to the classes. Conversely, at CORE Dance, Baumberger tries to offer a guest ballet teacher for her intermediate and advanced students at least once a week, and she does open up the classes to those not registered at her studio. She sees the guest-teacher program not only as a way to market her studio, but, more important, as a way to promote collegiality among local dance studios and teachers.
Zheila Pouraghabagher, one of Baumberger’s partners and director of the adult program at CORE, echoes that sentiment. “We really want to establish a connection with other studios and dancers in the area,” says Pouraghabagher, who rarely teaches in the program herself because she has so many guests coming in to lead the adult contemporary, ballet, and hip-hop classes. “I want to provide the experience you might have in a more urban setting like Los Angeles or New York, where people can train with multiple teachers.” Most of her adult students pay per class or buy class cards; adult company members work with the guest teachers in their regularly scheduled classes.
At Boss’ Dance Arts Centre, the guest classes are offered in addition to the regular tuition-based classes, so students are charged on a per-class basis—$15 to $25, depending on the length of the class (the younger students’ classes are shorter) and the expense of the teacher. Boss neither markets nor accepts outsiders into these classes because he feels doing so would defeat the purpose of giving students in his competition program a unique experience.
Having a large studio, Prosenjak has the flexibility to offer guest teachers on the spur of the moment, and when an opportunity arises—for example, when a dancer or touring company arrives in town and is available on a Monday evening—she does. Sometimes she opens the classes to outsiders, sending out email blasts and Facebook messages; other times, especially last-minute classes, are only for her registered students, because “bringing guest teachers into our studio offers a controlled environment,” says Prosenjak. “Here you’re in a studio as opposed to going to a convention ballroom on carpet with no mirrors and not really the personal attention. These master classes allow our students to get the personal attention and really benefit.”
Cherry Creek Dance typically charges an additional per-class fee, ranging from $17 to $25 for students; outsiders pay a higher rate.
Like Boss, Prosenjak tries to use guest teachers who work well with students of all ages and levels. “I try to do a younger kids’ class, say beginning and intermediate level, ages 7 to 11, and then I do an intermediate and advanced level,” she explains. “And if it’s someone I want to work with our professional company, I have them come in during the day.”
That means her guest teachers are expected to teach at least two, sometimes three, classes for 25 to 30 students each. Her largest studio can hold about 50 dancers and she’s had that many in class for some guest hip-hop teachers and for a class when Tap Dogs came through town.
Arranging guest teachers takes concerted effort. With CityDance’s weekly program, Spiegler says she’s constantly on the lookout for master class teachers and relies on her contacts around the country and the world to expand her roster. She does use local professionals as well, those who work easily with children and teens and exhibit commitment and passion for their own artistic development.
Boss relies on his connections in New York and Los Angeles, but he says he uses his time attending and judging competitions as an opportunity to check out new guest teachers.
Prosenjak has built connections with local presenting organizations and professional dancers—she danced with the Denver Broncos and Nuggets cheer and dance teams—which help her in finding guest teachers. And Baumberger and Pouraghabagher use dancers in their community as well as inviting visitors from L.A. and San Francisco.
Baumberger, Boss, and Spiegler all say they’re often willing to try out developing dance artists as guest teachers and, if they have the right stuff, nurture them. Boss did that a few years ago with a contemporary dancer who had never taught anywhere, Cooper Zamorano. These days he is so busy, he has no time to return to Atlanta for guest classes.
Most studio owners who use guest and master teachers for single visits don’t work through the visiting artists’ agents, preferring to line them up personally with a telephone call and an email, for example. Boss won’t write contracts and deal with agents; he wants the personal touch. Spiegler says the same thing; however, for extended stays when a guest artist is setting a work on her student company, she’ll draw up a contractual letter of agreement that stipulates who controls casting, expectations for the finished work, how long the company will perform and retain rights to the work, and other items.
While some studios won’t divulge amounts they pay for guest teachers, Prosenjak says she caps her rates at about $150 an hour. Both she and Boss refuse to pay what they call “outrageous” fees of $500 to $600 an hour. Far from an urban center, Baumberger says her typical rate for a guest teacher is about $40 an hour, though it can vary with the teacher, the class, and other factors. Spiegler declined to discuss what CityDance pays because the rates vary so widely depending on the level of the teacher’s experience and demand.
Sometimes guest teachers require housing and food, and often that means the teacher stays overnight with a studio director or a dancer’s family and eats home-cooked meals, say Boss and Spiegler.
These school directors have seen improvements in their students as a result of their interactions with guest teachers. “We’ve noticed a big difference in our kids’ abilities to adapt to different styles and to pick up [steps] faster. It definitely helps them,” Boss says. “It’s also nice to watch them respond to someone else; seeing them show respect for another teacher is really nice. Once we had a bad teacher—the one bad apple in 18 years—but our kids still gave it 110 percent.”
Baumberger says the program gives her small-town students a world of experience: “You can see the kids becoming more confident in their ability and in themselves as they become successful learning from different people.”
While Prosenjak says her dancers work very hard throughout the year, she does see them step up their efforts when a guest teacher comes in. “They definitely want to prove that they’re really good. Then when [the teachers] leave, we say, ‘Remember when they said do this bigger,’ and they remember.”
A guest teacher program takes work and organization, but it reaps rewards. As Spiegler says, “It’s one of the best things we do. It produces great results. It brings the best people together for the best reasons: working with young dancers who are our future.”
By Karen White
The five wild turkeys were in no rush, scratching their way methodically across the DanceLife Retreat Center lawn, looking up and loping into the woods when a car crunched across the gravel drive.
If they were seeking a spot in southeastern Massachusetts where they could reflect and relax in quiet seclusion, they found it. So did the 32 dance teachers, studio owners, and spouses seated inside the center. During this two-and-a-half-day weekend, friends were made, advice shared, and tears shed, all of it happening inside an oversized, rustic-style cabin so new that the freshly hewn woodwork seemed almost to glow. Everyone left sneakers and flip-flops at the door rather than risk scuffing the spotless floors.
This is a setting that Rhee Gold had dreamed about for years, and now this group of retreat participants—only the third of the summer—was living his dream firsthand. “This is all about building a community,” Gold said. “What’s going on with all this communicating and going back and forth is just what I wanted this to be. This is how the whole dance community needs to be, and we are starting it here in Norton, Massachusetts.”
Despite the new facilities, Gold hasn’t thrown out everything old. All the elements that have made his touring Project Motivate seminars a success—from the in-depth discussions on marketing and making a profit to the “I know what you’re going through” atmosphere—are still present. Former Boston Ballet dancer Kathy Kozul gave her always well-received floor barre class, and longtime DanceLife Teacher Conference lecturer Melissa Hoffman ran through her successful setup for teaching 2-year-olds.
Far overhead, hanging from the main hall’s cathedral ceilings, fans churned lazily. The wall of mirrors and gray marley floor gave it away as a dance studio, but during this weekend, round banquet tables were spread throughout the space. Teachers propped laptops on tables or stretched out on the floor, quickly becoming comfortable enough to leave a lecture for a little leg stretching or to help themselves to water and snacks.
At the DanceLife Retreat Center, common ground, creativity, and wisdom make for good times and lasting connections
As always, Gold was generous with advice. “I’m an advocate of short shows,” he said during a discussion on recitals, then proceeded to explain how to cut minutes off a show’s running time by saving solos and duos for a separate performance, organizing entrances and exits without blackouts, and combining numbers into mini-productions.
“What you don’t want to happen is for Daddy to be bored to death, then turn to Suzie on the car ride home and say, ‘Isn’t there anything else you’d like to do?’ ” Gold said, and chuckles rippled through the room.
But he also put his guests to work. Gold threw out theme titles—“Imagine That!” and “From Diapers to Diplomas”—and charged the eight guests sitting at each table to dream up an entire show. Each person was urged to contribute ideas about songs or fun visuals, such as a slide show, PowerPoint presentation, or skit, that would fit the theme.
As guests searched for songs online or debated ideas, the room buzzed with chatter. When Gold called time, one representative from each table detailed what just a few minutes of brainstorming had produced. One group wanted to decorate a scrim with images of what the dancers would be “when they grew up.” Another would dress up dancers as a mom and dad, and after they mimed rushing off to the hospital, the audience would hear the sound effect of a baby crying—introducing a preschool dance to “Isn’t She Lovely?” A third would use the Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory version of “Pure Imagination” with little dancers and segue into the Glee version for older kids.
Teachers at other tables nodded and scribbled down thoughts. One teacher jumped up and presented an entire preschool dance, complete with catchy lyrics and easy hand motions, generating loud applause and laughter.
Fun, perhaps, but the exercise provided a point: a fairly common theme can still lend itself to endless ideas—especially if creative minds are willing to work together.
“This is awesome,” Gold said. “You should be doing this at your studio. Make your staff a part of the process. Give your customers more than what they expect. Look at what you did last year, and give them something better. It doesn’t cost more money—all it takes is a little more time and creativity.”
As the work went on, the room’s oversized windows were thrown open. A rainstorm had passed through the night before and the fresh air flowed into the center’s open spaces. Inside, teachers scribbled down Gold’s suggestions for summer camps and Facebook advertising; outside, someone’s husband dove into the sparkling pool and paddled about, enjoying a solitary swim.
On the open-air porch, Bob Cibulskis settled down in a rocking chair with his iPhone. His wife, Kathleen Cirioli, had opened Kathleen Academy of Dance of Hillsborough, New Jersey, in 1971, just before they got married. He was enjoying the “interesting perspective” of the retreat, where his experienced wife could sit beside a rookie studio owner and both could learn from each other.
“This is a beautiful setting. People can come here and it’s like a vacation from their lives, and they can discuss things that maybe they can’t usually discuss,” he said. “She usually burns herself out at a teacher convention, dancing four or five days. This is different—she’s more relaxed and less tired. Plus she knows what Rhee has to offer her and her colleagues in this business.”
Between chats about how to be a better boss or whether intensive dancers are a financial drain, participants crowded cheerfully onto picnic table benches to munch on barbeque or veggie pizza as they talked shop. Aleisia Ashlaw, executive artistic director of Beaufort [SC] Academy of Dance, said she was purposely sitting at different tables for each meal so she could hear everyone’s ideas.
Ashlaw was thrilled to be there. She had mentioned to her office manager how much she wanted to attend a DanceLife Retreat Center weekend and so in lieu of giving her a traditional recital gift, her faculty and students raised the money to send her off on the retreat. “I want to see what I can do to improve my studio,” said Ashlaw, a school owner for 15 years. “The minute I heard Rhee speak I was inspired. I realized some of the things he was suggesting I had already implemented, but he has even more ideas to make it better.”
With 22 years under her belt, Carolyn Nelson-Kavajecz was describing how she runs her Sterling Silver Studio in Superior, Wisconsin, to two Illinois studio owners. Trish Rowley of Illinois Dance Academy in Joliet and Neala Dunn of Dance Alive! Dance Studio in Manteno asked Nelson-Kavajecz how she deals with rule breakers on her staff, how she balances a life and a business, and how she runs her 501(c)3 nonprofit scholarship foundation.
“I used to feel about my studio just how you guys feel—that I love it so much, I would do it for free,” Nelson-Kavajecz said. “Then I started treating it like a business, put together a business plan, and run it as any business would run.”
Studio owners sank into plush couches or sprawled on the Great Room’s rug for a session with certified life coach Sandi Duncan. “I’m actually going to let the role of dance teacher go and talk to you as normal people,” she said, lightening the mood before an hour of soul-searching generated by a host of thoughtful questions. “Are you moving forward?” she asked. “How do you celebrate you? What in life are you thankful for? What inspires you? Besides dance, what in life makes you happy? What would you do if you couldn’t fail?”
You can complain about things, she reminded her listeners, or you can change. “The choice is yours. You are CEO of your own life,” she said.
And what would a dance convention be without vendors? Costume Gallery president Ellen Ferreira showed up with a kitchen bowl full of colorful flash drives containing next season’s costume catalog and a touching video about how her company and others helped a young woman whose studio in Joplin, Missouri, had been destroyed by a tornado.
Joe Sclafani, vice president of sales for Discount Dance Supply, discussed the profit margins to be made from selling the company’s brand of dancewear, Theatricals, in a studio. As the owners examined the sample shoes and leotards he passed around, one expressed disappointment that he didn’t bring any tights. Without missing a beat, Sclafani offered to send some to her—and to everyone in the room.
Rather than making a presentation, International Dance Challenge vice president Joe Martin asked the teachers a question: “What are your needs and what are your wants?” That spurred a spirited back-and-forth about medals and scoring, age divisions, and generic critiques from uninspired or inadequate judges.
Martin said the honest discussion was just what he wanted to hear. He and IDC president Randy Coleman (who purchased the company in 2011 from founders Art and Nancy Stone) jumped on the retreat center’s sponsorship opportunities. “We looked at our budget, and as an organization under a new owner, we felt this personalized the process—to be right in front of these people,” said Martin. “From a business perspective, to get to meet owners, this is a very rewarding experience.”
On Saturday evening, Gold broke out the good china and served a formal, candlelit dinner with entertainment courtesy of 93-year-old studio owner Georgia Deane, a friend who had dropped by to sing a song. After dessert, all retired to the great room for an informal gabfest with Gold. One owner’s tirade about a breast-feeding situation in her school lobby elicited gasps (“The kid is 7!”) and laughs. Deane shared how she keeps from stressing (“I sing!”) and what she does when she gets tired (“I go to bed!”).
When 9 o’clock hit, new friends wished each other a pleasant night. “Bring your T-shirts tomorrow for a group photo!” Gold called after them.
The final day was short and sweet. The few owners who had to scoot out early to catch flights were ushered out with hugs and loud goodbyes. Most stayed to hear Gold’s final encouragements and best wishes for continued success.
“This dance thing—that’s your freedom. Get lost in the music; get lost in the movement. If you haven’t felt that in a long time, you need to get that back,” he said. “Say to yourself: ‘This is my chance to let go and share my passion.’ ”
Facing a long trip home to Kilmarnock, Scotland, was Margaret Bunten, who said she had thoroughly enjoyed the retreat—particularly for its intimate size and the personal attention showered on the participants. A one-woman show (she holds classes for 300 kids in various rented halls and community centers four days a week, doing all the teaching and paperwork herself, and even making the costumes), Bunten said she was leaving the center with renewed faith in her own abilities.
“It’s so good to hear that dance teachers all over have the same problems,” she said. “This gives me lots of confidence that I’m running my dance school, and I’m doing it right.”
By Julie Holt Lucia
For many people, the word “marketing” drums up colorful images of advertising: print and television ads, brochures and flyers, websites and blogs. But that’s not all marketing can be. For dance teachers—and studio owners in particular—marketing must go above and beyond common, passive forms of advertising to showcase the value of our skills and services and build and sustain positive relationships.
Relationships are key in the small dance world. The relationships that create such connections as word-of-mouth recommendations or referrals for jobs or auditions are priceless. And one of the most effortless ways to maintain those relationships is networking.
Networking in person, with handshakes and smiles and business cards, can be refreshing and productive. But we dance people are so often bound to our work that we rarely get out to networking events. So instead of going out, we can go in—to LinkedIn, a professional networking website.
If Facebook could be considered the cocktail dress of social networking, then LinkedIn is the pantsuit.
Like Facebook, LinkedIn allows users to share personal information within a network of colleagues. But unlike Facebook, LinkedIn is strictly business. Once you are a registered user, your profile becomes your customized resume and professional portfolio—you won’t find any vacation photos or mind-numbing memes here.
LinkedIn’s main purpose is to “connect” professionals to other professionals, across industries. That means we can connect with (and market to) anyone: other small business owners, co-workers, customers, employees, friends—as long as we already know the other person in some capacity. (LinkedIn’s security features do not allow connections between random strangers.) Think of LinkedIn as your newfangled, online Rolodex: a collection of contacts with whom you may have done business in the past or may do business in the future.
Once you’ve registered, LinkedIn guides you through the first steps of becoming a user: you set up a profile and begin connecting to other users. Your profile includes your current and past work experience, education, special skills, a single photo, and any links you want to provide (such as to your choreography). You can offer as much or as little information on your profile as you like and can update your account settings to match your comfort level.
For dance teachers, your profile is your marketing tool, essentially becoming a central place where you can contain and control your professional identity online. For example, LinkedIn allows users to choose whether their profiles can show up on search engine results. (You may like this feature if you are job hunting and want your profile to display when you are Googled.) You can also use your profile to post status updates about any jobs you hold now or about the type of job you’re looking for. Other users can write recommendations on your profile, which serve as instant references.
In addition to connecting directly with other users, you can join alumni groups and industry-specific groups to find new contacts. Your network may include hundreds of users, any one of whom could potentially play a part in your next career move.
Studio owners who become LinkedIn users can create a company page in addition to a personal profile. A company page allows you to market your school with a customized business profile that any LinkedIn user can view. As a page administrator, you can post information about your school (such as an overview and link to your website), as well as a description of services and a list of LinkedIn users who are current or former employees. Prospective or current customers or employees can “follow” your page, which means that by posting company status updates and photos, you keep them engaged in your marketing efforts. (You can update the page as often as you want to.)
For a fee, LinkedIn also offers unique company page features, allowing administrators to post job openings, analyze page views by other users, and customize the page for specific LinkedIn audiences (such as users within a certain location, age range, or industry).
So give the word “marketing” new meaning. LinkedIn can cultivate your professional network, offering more opportunities to build and sustain the relationships that make your studio—and your dance life—tick.
Owner and teacher, Thelma Showman School of Dance, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
NOMINATED BY: Paula Showman Bridges, daughter: “I would like to nominate Thelma Showman. An extraordinary woman and teacher, she has touched thousands of lives. She officially retired two years ago but, at 96, still teaches her Showman Showoffs class for adult ladies and classes in tap and ballet.”
YEARS TEACHING: I have been teaching for 62 years; my studio opened in October 1951. I also taught and owned a second studio in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for four years in the 1960s.
AGES TAUGHT: 4 to 65 years old
GENRES TAUGHT: Tap and ballet
WHY SHE CHOSE TEACHING AS A CAREER: Teaching was never a conscious thought with me. I came out of the womb dancing. It was instilled in my heart before birth, so a dancer and teacher I became. It was as natural to me as a river flowing to the sea.
HER GREATEST INSPIRATION: The Muse Terpsichore. She called and I followed. I have loved each class I’ve taken, and each instructor has been an inspiration to me.
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY: I instill in my students an appreciation for dance and a work ethic to last through life. I teach them to work hard to reach each goal, and I encourage them to try harder when their ambitions are unfulfilled. I teach them discipline, cooperation, focus, and to overcome their mistakes and grow from them. We must love the joy of movement, live the journey.
WHAT MAKES HER A GOOD TEACHER: My creative ability and my imagination. I have never stopped studying dance, and have attended seminars, workshops, and conventions throughout my career. I have traveled to 15 countries on dance-related trips and taken extended courses at six universities and colleges, passing my Cecchetti exams. Every week for 30 years, I drove 300 miles round trip to Oklahoma City to attend classes with Ballet Oklahoma.
HER FONDEST MEMORY: Opening Day. My husband had built a studio for me and I asked seven of my daughters’ little friends to come learn to dance. I also ran a small ad in our local paper in hopes of getting one or two more girls. When I opened the door at 9am, instead of seven there were 75 girls, lined up and ready for class. I taught straight through from 9am to 4pm that day. It was the happiest day of my life. And it continued to get better. My earlier training kept me in good stead. From that day forward I was always so happy to be referred to as “Miss Thelma” from the Thelma Showman School of Dance.
ADVICE TO DANCE STUDENTS: Don’t try to be anyone else; be your own unique self. When you find what you love, stay with it. Step over every bump. Continue your education. Learn something new every day. Find something fun every day. Persist, persist, persist—you will reach your goal and become the little masterpiece God intended.
IF SHE COULDN’T BE A DANCE TEACHER: I would be writing children’s books. I have a head full of delightful stories with good lessons to be learned woven through them—and I am good at make believe.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT MISS THELMA: In 1997, Dance Magazine and the National Restaurant Association chose her to testify before a congressional subcommittee hearing in Washington, DC. She represented 13,000 dance teachers who objected to unfair classroom license fees and poor treatment of small business owners by ASCAP and BMI. Her testimony helped lower music licensing fees and stop the poor treatment and threats.
In 2005 she was inducted into Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, 9th edition, Volume VI.
DO YOU KNOW A DANCE TEACHER WHO DESERVES TO BE IN THE SPOTLIGHT? Email your nominations to Arisa@rheegold.com or mail them to Arisa White, Dance Studio Life, P.O. Box 2150, Norton, MA 02766. Please include why you think this teacher should be featured, along with his or her contact information.
By Suzanne Martin, PT, DPT
How do dance teachers stay sound and healthy enough to demonstrate safely after they stop dancing full time? It’s tricky business. We take for granted the flexibility and strength acquired throughout our performing and early teaching days. But all too often our bodies let us know that after all those years, they need more attention.
My rude awakening came when I stopped teaching about 20 classes per week in order to go to physical therapy school and subsequently, to begin the well-being program for Smuin Ballet here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since I’m short in stature and the company was short on funds for things like massage tables, I agreed to work on the dancers on the floor. My flexible ankles became so unstable (from sitting on my feet and overstretching them) that they hurt when I went down stairs. I resolved to use my newly gained education to figure out what was wrong and what I could do to remedy the situation.
After X-rays ruled out arthritis and serious injuries, I set out to figure out the best way to strengthen and stabilize my ankles and came upon the wobble board, a flat, circular platform resting on a semi-sphere. It has kept me dancing (and walking), and a regular workout regimen on this piece of fitness equipment might help you do the same.
Types of balance boards
There are a few different types of balance boards, including the wobble board. All are essentially platforms resting on top of a smaller, raised surface that functions as a fulcrum. The user tries to balance on the platform as it rocks or swivels on its fulcrum. This forces the ankle to react quickly and mobilizes the important stabilizing muscles of the ankle and foot. Some balance boards resemble seesaws—long flat platforms placed perpendicularly atop cylinders or rectangles.
Because our ankles move in a circular fashion, I like the circular type. The one I have works for me because it has a wider base on the bottom side. Some have very high balls beneath the platform, which might result in a sprained ankle for people who are quite flexible. My wobble board has a small dot on the center that helps my clients and me line up the axis where the foot points and flexes. (It’s called “The Rock,” and it’s available from optp.com.)
A strengthening routine
Try this sequence to keep your legs shipshape. Even though the wobble board is meant for the feet and ankles, done properly, you’ll feel this set of exercises up into the pelvis.
• Stand squarely in front of a ballet barre or a piece of furniture with a high back. I use my Pilates trapeze table and hold onto the upright poles for easy support.
• Start with both feet placed on the farthest side points of the standing plate. Then rock side to side, allowing one knee and then the other to bend to create the motion, like a stair-stepper at the gym. Next, swivel the plate by pressing the edges of the disc down into the floor. Do about 6 clockwise and 6 counterclockwise actions. Again, allow one knee and then the other to bend to make the motion. These simple exercises loosen the muscles and tendons and oil the joints. As I like to say, “Motion is lotion.”
• Next, move on to single-leg work. Use your strong leg first; it will help the weaker leg to do better. First, find the axis point on your foot where it flexes and points. Place the web of your hand over the top part of the foot with your thumb on the inside of the foot and your fourth finger wrapping over the outside. Slide the arch you’ve made with your hand up the foot until it rests against your tibia. This is your axis point.
• Place that axis point across the inner dot (or, if there is no dot, the center of the pivot point), bisecting the circle evenly. Make sure the pelvis is over the foot; do not allow the hips to fall back behind the axis point.
• With the free leg, take a parallel coupé position. In this sequence, keep the knee as straight as possible. Perform the whole sequence on one leg first and then repeat it on the other leg. Begin by tipping the standing plate front to back, concentrating on making an up/down motion. Be careful not to pull yourself with your arms if you are holding onto furniture. Do about 10 repetitions. If your feet feel OK, then do some “pseudo-jumps”: rock forward, lifting the heel a few inches and rock back to center. Repeat 10 times. Next, make very small circles with the ankle. I call them “drills” because the circle is very small. I aim for making a swivel around the circumference of the small yellow inner dot on my platform. Perform these very briskly, doing 2 sets of 10 clockwise, and 2 sets counterclockwise.
• Next, do a passé sequence. Turn out both legs and passé front with the free leg. Place the little toe underneath the knee, pressing the thigh backward and tensing the rotators to intensify the position. Then rotate to parallel with both legs, pressing the parallel passé (inside of the foot) against the support leg. Continue alternating the passé, outward and inward, for 10 sets and end with passé turned out.
• This is the best part. Engage the inner thigh on a turned-out support leg (adductor magnus use) as you extend your free leg to a straight-knee, small fourth position on the floor in back, behind the wobble board, as in a pirouette preparation. Then press off the back foot and spring up, using the inner thigh to lead to passé (turned out) in front—pirouette position on a flat foot. Repeat 6 times, 10 if you are buff. When you’ve finished your reps, hold and intensify the passé position for 10 seconds.
Strengthening your legs, or maintaining their strength, will reduce fatigue, make demonstrating pain free, and help prevent injuries. You worked hard for those legs. Now preserve them.
I have faith in you.
Retrain Your Brain
If you want to be successful, says Chade-Meng Tan, retrain your brain.
It’s as simple as this: if we let our emotions rule us, we are, Meng (as he’s called) says, letting the horse drag us instead of being in command. Meng, an engineer and the author of Search Inside Yourself, is now Google’s official “Jolly Good Fellow,” and the book is an evolution of a course he taught there. (Look for him on YouTube, giving talks at Google and TED on this topic.)
By developing self-awareness and confidence, learning to remain calm, and creating optimism and resilience, we will be more successful in any of life’s arenas, personal or professional. Meng equates these qualities with emotional intelligence, and getting there, he says, isn’t all that difficult. “What we do and what we think and what we pay attention to changes the function and structure of the brain,” he says. Those changes come about through mindfulness, which Meng defines as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.”
Of the three steps to achieving emotional intelligence—attention training, self-knowledge and self-mastery, and creating useful mental habits—let’s look at what step two can do. Here’s Meng, mostly quoted and sometimes paraphrased:
Mindfulness training makes your attention sharp and calm. You become able to see changes in the emotional process and to recognize an emotion as it’s arising. You begin to see yourself and your emotions objectively.
This creates two possibilities: one, being able to see an emotion the moment it arises gives you the power to turn it off (if you want to). You have a choice.
Two, emotional awareness translates into self-assessment. Once you know your deepest values and motivations, then you can recognize opportunities.
We like to think that our emotions are existential experiences, that the emotion is us (“I am happy; I am sad”). But as the power of your mind increases, you go from existential to experiential. This emotional experience is not you; it’s an experience in your body. This change in perceptions can change your life.
And now it’s back to me: it’s certainly something to think about. —Cheryl A. Ossola, Editor in Chief
Elephants Are Easier
There they were, tiny tykes in fluff and sequins, spread across the stage at awkward intervals and not sure what to do. Their teacher was gesturing discreetly, and a few of the tots, at least, seemed to understand her frantic sign language and tapped their toes or wiggled their rears appropriately. Others, lost in toddler-land, caught every third step or so. One just stood, immobile but adorable.
Oh, I thought along with the audience, aren’t they just the cutest? And when one refused to take her partner’s hand and caused a pileup of pink tutus, I laughed out loud and realized—this is entertainment!
It was a light-dawning, fog-lifting moment for me. For years I had been responsible for my own sets of babies, a responsibility I took very seriously. Every lesson was 45 minutes of eyes-in-the-back-of-your-head stress, sweating through frog hops with crossed fingers and burning thighs, relieved when we made it to stickers without tears or trauma.
And when it came to choreography, Balanchine with his circus elephants had it easier. Skip, turn, hop, wave your hands, blow a kiss. Forget about counts—can we get from entrance to bow without Sarah taking off her shoes? Will Hailey stop on the line or fall off the stage? A two-minute dance with 3-year-olds was a landmine-strewn nightmare, and I was the general responsible for seeing them safely home.
So at recital’s end, if some well-meaning grandma commented on how funny it was when all the bumblebees buzzed in the wrong direction, I would fume. Teaching babies is damned hard work, I thought, and it’s no laughing matter!
But it’s both. It is a lot of work, but it’s also OK that the audience enjoys the delightful unpredictability of a babies dance. More important, it’s fine for the teacher who cared about them and their educational growth all year long to let go and enjoy it as well. After all, they’re babies for such a short time. —Karen White, Associate Editor
By Rhee Gold
Words from the publisher
Henry Ford once said, “If there is one thing which I would banish from the earth it is fear.”
Some people believe that fear is experienced only in dramatic or scary situations, but in reality it can linger in the subconscious, creating a constant state of inhibition. Fear holds us back from achieving our lifelong dreams. Instead of stepping out of our comfort zone to get ourselves where we want to be, we talk ourselves out of taking action by focusing on the “what ifs,” which are more powerful than our desire to dance down that instinctual path.
The dancer who goes to every audition thinking she is not good enough will probably not be good enough at that moment. Her fear will show as a lack of confidence, obvious in her movement and demeanor. She’ll answer questions with her head down, in a voice that can hardly be heard. She might in fact be a good enough dancer to get the job, but someone who has total confidence (and maybe even less skill) will be offered the contract.
The school owner who would like to buy a building sees a perfect location but tells herself she could never afford it and doesn’t investigate further. Yet someone else does, and that person discovers that with some creative thinking she can afford that building.
The dance teacher who wants to expand her knowledge is afraid to take a class because she’s worried that her potential classmates will think she isn’t good enough to be a teacher. And so she never allows herself to improve.
Fear leads to frustration, which usually sabotages true happiness. Self-confidence is never gained because we continue to believe, and send the message to others, that there’s no way we can do what we dream of. Sometimes, when a dream does manage to squeeze past all our fears and inhibitions, we squelch it prematurely. Because we didn’t believe such happiness would come to us, we panic that it might end. And thus we sabotage ourselves.
Most of what we desire is attainable if we allow ourselves to leave the safety zone we’ve built in our own subconscious. Each time we fight off our fears, we nurture self-confidence. Over time we eventually will live life with more confidence, more self-respect, and more happiness. Our dreams may not evolve exactly as we’ve pictured them, but if we find the guts to go for them, we will land in a place that turns out to be the right fit.
If Henry Ford had chosen to live in fear instead of taking action, we all might be riding horses to our studios instead of driving cars. It is time for you to set fear aside and pursue your dreams. I believe you can do it.
By Geo Hubela
Homework! Understand the history and the styles. Studying old films is a great way to pick up moves and understand where they came from. Wild Style, a movie about hip-hop pioneers, is a must. Beat Street motivated me to breakdance and battle. Breakin’ is more of a commercial film but has some great popping—Turbo and Ozone rocked it out! The Freshest Kids, one of my favorites on hip-hop history, is an essential hip-hop tool.
I love gliding, the illusion of floating. Transferring the weight from leg to leg with a push-and-pull movement is essential in perfecting this move. Have students rise onto the right toes with a forced arch, then push off the right foot while the left leg slides away. Transfer the weight to the left foot and pull the right foot in to the left; raise the right heel and transfer the weight back to the right toes and repeat push-and-pull. Check out Usher; he loves this crowd-pleasing move.
By Bill Evans
Yield and Push. By studying developmental movement patterns, which take place in utero and during the early months of life, we have discovered the necessity of yielding to and bonding with gravity and then pushing through every point of contact to the earth. Yielding establishes an active give-and-take relationship with gravity and a readiness to move. Pushing sends energy from the earth along open pathways of flow through the joint centers to the body’s core.
Reach and Pull. When the energy of the push reaches the body’s core, it is reaching that sends that energy to the body’s edges to create an integrated gesture and/or shift of weight. We can then pull ourselves to a new body form and/or point in space. If we think “lift” rather than “reach,” we treat the body part as if it were an inanimate object, rather than as a constantly reorganizing component of the whole. Reaching and pulling allows the energy of the yield and push to travel from the body’s core to its edges, creating clarity of form while maintaining open pathways of resilient elasticity.
By Stacy Eastman
When dancers reach the advanced level, it is always helpful to introduce a “show and tell” exercise that gets them used to adding 8 counts of their own steps to small pieces of choreography. For example, one student might do flap flap cramproll, shuffle step heel stomp, shuffle step heel stomp; another might add riff back flap heel tap heel stamp, stomp back flap, stomp back flap stomp. Keep this going in a group with four or five kids and they will have made a dance in no time.
Student choreography can be such a positive experience for the kids. I have a student choreography program in my school, in which all of the students submit their choreography for a showcase and the top pieces are allowed to do competitions. They are in charge of choosing the music, casting, costumes, and rehearsals. The program started small and keeps growing.
Do you know about all the ways you can keep in touch with Rhee Gold and all that’s happening at the Rhee Gold Company?
By visiting www.dancestudiolife.com and clicking on Welcome, you can sign up to receive Ezines featuring articles from Dance Studio Life magazine with everything from classroom tips to business and inspirational features. You’ll also get the scoop on events and activities coming up at the DanceLife Retreat Center and DanceLife Teacher Conference.
To get the best in dance education articles at your fingertips, Dance Studio Life magazine is available through the Apple Newstand, accessible via the iTunes App Store. Dancers, dance teachers, and dance enthusiasts worldwide can now subscribe annually or download a single issue onto their iPhones and iPads (iOS 3.0 or later). The free app opens to a complete library of back, current, and future issues. Visit https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dance-studio-life/id524932942?mt=8 to learn more.
Or subscribe to the daily DanceWire feed to read the latest news from the dance world, from what’s going on at professional companies to hot happenings at local studios across the country. Check it out at http://www.dancestudiolife.com/dsl-dance-wire/dsl-wire-rss-feed/.
Now that the hectic registration rush is done and kids are settled in their classes, many teachers turn their attention to competition season—and Dance Studio Life is here to help.
Our annual Competitions and Conventions listing is a comprehensive guide to what’s happening on the team scene, from friendly old favorites to cutting-edge newcomers. We’ve done the work of collecting contact information and descriptions of more than 150 competitions and conventions, and presented them in an easy-to-read format illustrated with energetic photos. Whether it’s a multi-day intensive workshop or a top-notch competition, you’ll find it here.
Look for the DSL Competitions and Conventions listing in our jam-packed December issue. To subscribe, visit www.dancestudiolife.com/subscribe/.
Dance teachers and studio owners know the DanceLife Teacher Conference is about more than technique and studio talk—it’s also coming face-to-face with the business and service people who keep the dance studio industry rolling.
DLTC vendors representing a wide range of industry products are more than happy to answer questions and discuss options with attendees. Many, such as costume companies, bring along actual products for teachers to peruse or purchase, while others offer “conference specials” or provide free samples. Special “Meet the Vendor” seminars allow attendees to learn about new products or special services in informal, chatty sessions where everyone—vendors and teachers—get to know each other a bit better.
Vendors already lined up for next summer’s DLTC include: Art Stone/The Competitor, BA Star, Celebrity Dance Competitions, Cicci Dance Supplies, Contest of Champions, Costume Gallery, CostumeManager.com, Curtain Call, Dance Era, Dance the Magic, Dance the World, Dancers Inc., Dansco, Express Payroll, Four Seasons Tours/Rock The Boat Cruises, International Dance Challenge, Jackrabbit Dance, Jay Distributors, Magic Kingdom of Dance, M & I Dancewear, Markel Insurance, Not Just Great Dancing, Pacific Floor Company Inc., Revolution Dancewear, Stagedoor Connections, Stagestep, Statler Music, Theatricals Dance Footwear, Twinkle Star Dance, Weissman Costumes, and Yofi Cosmetics Inc.
The DLTC is set for August 1 to 4, 2013, at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. To register, visit http://www.dancestudiolife.com/dltc/dltc-fees-info/. To learn more about becoming a vendor, visit http://www.dancestudiolife.com/dltc/dltc-vendors/.
Roni Mahler learned some of her first lessons in ballet from the renowned Madame Maria Yurieva Swoboda, then expanded her knowledge as a dancer with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, American Ballet Theatre, and National Ballet of Washington (DC).
Since then, Mahler has become known as a “teacher’s teacher,” displaying wit and warmth in master classes and workshops all over the globe as she gets into the nitty gritty of teaching ballet technique to young students.
Teachers looking to refresh their classroom strategies with some of Mahler’s creative and insightful methods can do so at a November 3 and 4 ballet technique intensive at the DanceLife Retreat Center, Norton, Massachusetts.
Topics to be addressed include: ballet technique for ages 6 to 9, 10 to 12, and 13 and older; pointe work (beginner through advanced); molding beautiful feet; crafting variations; stretching concepts; successful methods for improving turnout, strengthening relevés, and teaching perfect pirouettes; and more.
The weekend also includes business and motivational sessions with Rhee Gold, including Selling Ballet, Making Ballet a Prerequisite for all Students, Dress Code Makes a Difference, and others.
For more details, visit http://www.danceliferetreat.com/#!fall-2012/vstc3=ballet or call 508.285.6650 to register.
Misty Lown has the optimism, enthusiasm, and imagination to handle 700 dance students, five kids, several businesses, and a side job as a writer—and do it all successfully and with a smile.
Lown, the owner and director of Misty’s Dance Unlimited, will be sharing some of her successful business ideas and advice at next August’s DanceLife Teacher Conference, August 1 to 4, at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Along with running her studio in Onalaska, Wisconsin, Lown is also the owner of a dancewear store and founder of the Chance to Dance Foundation, and tours as a dance teacher and business consultant with Dance Revolution.
For a taste of what Lown might talk about next summer, check out the December issue of Dance Studio Life magazine. Her Bright Business Ideas article discusses the advantage of providing benefits for employees, and explains ways to offer tuition reimbursements, health insurance, maternity leave—even retirement plans—for your valuable teachers and office staffers.
Check it all out on www.dancestudiolife.com.
Every month in Dance Studio Life magazine, master modern teacher and esteemed educator Bill Evans shares his insights on dance, movement, and motivation in “2 Tips for Modern Teachers.”
Next summer, teachers and studio owners will be able to share his wisdom first-hand at the DanceLife Teacher Conference, August 1 to 4, at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Evans, who has earned the Guggenheim Fellowship, numerous fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts, will be teaching technique classes and leading seminars at DLTC.
Evans has choreographed more than 200 works for professional dance companies and as a guest artist in almost every college department of dance in North America. He is artistic and executive director of the Bill Evans Dance Company (founded in 1975), the Bill Evans Summer Institute of Dance (founded in 1977), and the Bill Evans Rhythm Tap Ensemble (founded in 1992).
For more information on DLTC faculty, visit http://www.dancestudiolife.com/dltc/dancelife-teacher-conference-faculty/.
This week Rhee Gold received a personal letter from Marilyn Caccamise, secretary of Dance Masters of Western New York Chapter 8, expressing the excitement that she and her fellow club members felt after seeing their chapter featured in the October issue of Dance Studio Life.
Each month, DSL’s Strength in Numbers feature pays tribute to a dance teacher organization. Through pictures and illustrations, the feature explains why the group was founded and by whom, how it has grown over the years, and what sorts of services and education opportunities it affords members.
Some of the organizations featured recently include Michigan Dance Council, Colorado Dance Alliance, Canadian Dance Masters of America Chapter 38, Massachusetts Dance Educators Organization, and RI Dance Alliance. Any organization that would be like to be featured can contact associate editor Karen White at Karen@rheegold.com for more information.
Choreographer and dance teacher Peter Chu will participate in the 24 Seven Dance Convention, a tour of two-day workshops for aspiring dancers ages 5 to 19 that will visit 15 cities across the United States in 2012-13, culminating with a national dance competition in Las Vegas from July 14 to 19, 2013.
Launching next month, the brand new 24 Seven Dance Convention will present classes, choreographed routines, and an adjudicated competition over the course of a weekend, under the tutelage of a faculty that includes Sonya Tayeh, Danny Wallace, Lauren Adams, Brooke Pierotti, tWitch, Anthony Russo, Jess Hendricks, and Francisco Gella.
Chu, a 2002 graduate of The Juilliard School, has danced with Montreal’s BJM Danse Company, Crystal Pite’s company Kidd Pivot, Celine Dion’s Vegas spectacular A New Day, and was the lead character in Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts” music video. His choreography was featured on Season 9 of So You Think You Can Dance. His company, chuthis., will tour Nothing Sticks, inspired by the vaudevillian era, across the United States this spring.
The 24 Seven tour begins in Chicago on November 9 to 11 and will make stops in Phoenix, Denver, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, Orlando, and Washington, DC, among other cities. Visit www.24sevendance.com for more information.
The Tap ‘n Arts Dance Studio in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is lending a helping hand to nearly 200 Louisiana dancers who lost their homes and belongings, including dance shoes, leotards, tights, and dance wear, during Hurricane Isaac.
Director Kristin Foltz Petrou read on various online dance forums and social media sites how many students of Aimee’s Dance Academy in Laplace, Louisiana, lost belongings in flood waters caused by the hurricane. Petrou went through her dance store inventory and boxed up nearly $1,000 worth of dance shoes, slippers, sneakers, dance wear, leotards, and tights, to be sent to the Louisiana studio.
“Tap ‘n Arts has been extremely blessed over these past 23 years that we’ve never experienced such vast devastation amongst our students,” Petrou said in a press release. “We’re extremely fortunate to be able to give our students a safe haven and nurturing environment to be creative, original, and express themselves through dance and the performing arts. We simply want others to be able to continue doing the same for their students.”
According to the Aimee’s Dance Academy Facebook page, other businesses from around the country responded with donations of shoes and clothing as well, including Jaclyn Carol’s Dance in North Tonawanda, New York; Studio for the Living Arts Dance Center, Portland, Maine; Expressions in Motion Dance & Gymnastics Studio, in Bay City, Michigan; and Muse Dancewear Movement.
Dance Studio Life contributor Misty Lown has created a non-profit scholarship foundation called A Chance to Dance at her studio, Misty’s Dance Unlimited, in Onalaska, Wisconsin.
Since 1998, Lown said, her studio has given away more than $135,000 in combined cash and studio scholarships. This year, to celebrate the studio’s 15th anniversary, Lown established the new foundation to “provide even more individuals with the opportunity to experience the beauty and power of dance.”
Scholarships set for the 2012-13 dance season are the Ashley Lee Memorial Scholarship, the Kaitlin Mahr Memorial Scholarship, and the Sara Rose Hougom Memorial Scholarship—all named for former studio dancers who have since died—and The Opportunity Fund Scholarship for Diversity, Financial Need, Special Needs, and Excellence.
For more information, visit http://www.chancetodancefoundation.org/.
Dance Studio Life, a magazine with a back-to-basics approach, is a division of the Rhee Gold Company, whose mission is to be at the forefront of dance and education by promoting the highest possible standards in teaching. Dance Studio Life understands the soul of the teaching field.
Ask Rhee Gold
Advice for Dance Teachers
2 Tips for Ballet Teachers by Mignon Furman
2Tips for Hip Hop Teachers by Geo Hubela
2Tips for Modern Teachers by Bill Evans
2 Tips for Tap Teachers by Stacy Eastman
A Better You | Fighting Fatigue by Suzanne Martin, PT, DPT
How to cope when you’re toast
EditorSpeak by Cheryl Ossola and Karen White
On My Mind | Rhee Gold
Words from the publisher
Thinking Out Loud by April Spisak Nelson
The lost art of theater etiquette
Teacher in the Spotlight | Cosmin MarculetiuTeachers who make a difference
Schools With Staying Power | Alzine’s Vision by Roger Lee
Love, caring, and respect add up to 50 years at Cuppett Performing Arts Center
Bright Biz Idea
To Fee or Not to Fee
Mindful Marketing by Julia Holt Lucia
Create interest with Pinterest.
Classroom Connection by Jeanne Fornarola and Mary Beth Marino
Ideas to incorporate into your curriculum
Strength in Numbers
Dance teacher organizations
Ballet Scene | Classical in Connecticut by Karen White
Ballet competition puts classics, and classes, front and center
A Dancer’s Mind by James Careless
Using psychology to improve physical performance.
No-Touch Zone by Kay Waters
How to cope when using a guiding hand in the classroom.
Making Magic With Music By Brenda Bufalino
In Tap and beyond, variety, volume, and interpretation make music meaningful.
An Excellent Option by Gina McGalliard
For dance convention seekers, an international event in L.A. might be just the ticket
Fast-Track to the Past by Maureen Jenson
Dance “webinars” give online listeners a weekly dose of dance history.
Handle With Care by Karen White
Put props to work for fun and impact
SPECIAL COMPETITION AND CONVENTION EDITION FEATURES
Competition Directors Tell All
What they think about solos, video streaming, scoring, and more
Give It a Gold by Julia Holt Lucia
Parents talk about the realities and rewards of the competition experience
From Ho-Hum to Knock ’Em Dead by Diane Gudat
How to turn good-enough dancers into performers with power
From Studio to Shining Sea by Karen White
Onboard with Celebrity Dance Competitions
Playing by the Rules by Eliza Randolph
Conflicts, no-shows, and too-frequent illnesses? Make commitment a competition team mandate.
Former Rockette and longtime dance instructor Alzine Straub Cuppett died August 24, just months after students and family members celebrated the 50th anniversary of her founding of the Cuppett Performing Arts Center in Vienna, Virginia, according to the Sun Gazette.
Cuppett, who was 85, had taught classes as late as this June and was featured in a story, “Alzine’s Vision,” in the current September issue of Dance Studio Life. Her death was unexpected and occurred during her afternoon nap at her home in Haymarket, said Amy Cuppett Stiverson, her youngest daughter.
Cuppett was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and studied dance in that state. Her first teacher was fleet-footed Hollywood legend Gene Kelly.
After high school, Cuppett moved to New York City by herself and danced in a musical called Marinka and also as a Rockette. When World War II ended, her boyfriend returned from the war and they married. The family later moved to the Vienna area, where Cuppett taught physical education to kindergartners at Our Lady of Good Counsel School.
Cuppett initially taught classes out of her home on Frederick Street in Vienna, but later had a house built on Old Courthouse Road that included a basement dance studio she had custom-designed. It was in this house that she founded the Cuppett School of Dance.
As the business grew, Cuppett in 1980 obtained space at 135 Park Street, SE, and incorporated the company as the Cuppett Performing Arts Center. The studio still is located there and now occupies four dance rooms instead of the original one.
So You Think You Can Dance Game
Observing students with a critical eye and responding with thoughtful feedback is something dance educators do in every class. You can let your students practice these skills as well by using So You Think You Can Dance as a format for a role-playing exercise for 10- to 13-year-olds.
Hostess: Responsible for introductions and keeping the show moving. Learning outcome: develops public-speaking skills and poise.
Contestants: Each chooses a genre from a hat—ballet, jazz, tap, or lyrical—and must improvise to music chosen by the sound designer (probably you). Learning outcome: helps students overcome the fear of being “wrong” and become comfortable with improvisation.
Judges: Each has a card labeled with one dance concept to discuss when “judging.” Learning outcome: introduces various elements of dance.
Judges must use dance vocabulary and talk about how the contestants expressed the element being judged. Discourage default comments such as “That was cool!”
Assign an older student to design fun, colorful cards that illustrate a concept or term. The designer will benefit from reviewing the material as she creates the cards. Review cards at the beginning of the exercise so that everyone understands each concept. Concepts may include:
• Shape: how the body forms lines (straight, curved, angular)
• Levels: high, medium, low; vertical, horizontal, oblique
• Floor patterns: patterns and pathways a dancer covers onstage
• Time: slow, fast, varied (encourage description)
• Rhythm: organization of beats; use of accents
• Dynamics: quality of movement
• Weight: strong/light, sense of groundedness
There are many ways to customize this exercise to suit your teaching agenda, but one of the most valuable aspects of this lesson is discussing why judges on TV, in an audition, or at a competition may not agree. Students can begin to understand that dance is an art that leaves interpretation up to each individual.
Keeping Tappers on Their Toes
Keeping your students interested and motivated in tap class can be a challenge. Here are five suggestions to keep you, the students, and your class moving.
Rhythm games: Two students stand back to back. One student creates and taps out a 4-bar phrase. The other student, using only her listening skills, tries to tap out the same rhythm. Each student takes a turn listening to and creating a rhythm.
Tap trains: Teach a 4-bar phrase to your students without music. Once they have learned the rhythm, have them stand side by side. The students tap the phrase one at a time, keeping time as they pass the combination down the line from dancer to dancer. Depending on your philosophy, you can make it a contest. Students who don’t hold the time have to step off the train. The remaining students stay on the train and do the combination again, increasing the tempo until only one dancer remains.
Call and response: Have students watch and listen as you tap out a 2-bar rhythm to music. The students should then echo the rhythm back, staying on time. Repeat the cycle but change the rhythm pattern. It is an effective warm-up that keeps both students and teacher on their toes.
Exercises: Choreograph an 8-bar tap exercise. It should focus on one step—such as shuffles, heels and toes, paddle and rolls, or pullbacks—and be a familiar pattern. Teach a new tap exercise every month. By the end of the year, you will have a repertoire of warm-ups. They are excellent learning tools and the students can enjoy doing something they know each week that will help them with clarity of sound and memorization.
Nursery rhyme tap: For young students, create a tap combination to nursery rhymes. Have fun with your students singing and tapping out the songs. “This Old Man” is a great example.
—Mary Beth Marino
By Julie Holt Lucia
Remember your childhood bedroom or college dorm room—it was full of dance things, right? Trinkets, posters, leotards, programs, pointe shoes—you name it. And the centerpiece was probably your bulletin board, covered with photos, bumper stickers, and magazine pages. There were things you wanted to buy (those cute legwarmers), things you wanted to see one day (the Paris Opera!), and things you wanted to remember forever (that inspiring note from your teacher). Now that old-fashioned bulletin board has gotten a modern makeover, and it’s called Pinterest.com.
Like all social media sites, Pinterest is about sharing—in this case, virtual bulletin boards. Here’s how it works: users create a profile with “pinboards” (commonly referred to as just “boards”) where they can organize and “pin” things they like from other websites. A pin is a representative photo or image from a website that, when clicked, leads you to the source. To make the process easy, Pinterest has a special button called the “pinmarklet,” which you place on your browser so you can pin at any time. Users “follow” other users to share pins, so you can browse various profiles and “re-pin” accordingly.
So what exactly does this mean for your studio? A marketing opportunity! Although most Pinterest users are individuals, companies and organizations are now using it too, and they’re not just promoting their products. Businesses create boards that educate and inspire, attracting new customers and keeping current ones talking. For dance studio owners, that means using Pinterest to display anything that your current and potential clients might find entertaining or informative.
Creating pinboards is as simple as typing and clicking, so put your marketing smarts to work. How about a board for dancewear, with links to retailers? Or a board to recommend dance books? You could have boards dedicated to dance history, dance places, beautiful photos, motivational quotes, healthy snacks, hairstyle ideas—any subject is fair game. Pinterest can be a practical way for your customers to get advice or suggestions from you without even having to ask, at any time of day.
There are a few challenges to using the site. First, it is “invitation only,” which means that you must request an invitation to join or have an existing user invite you. Also, you must be a Facebook or Twitter user. Once you have an invitation (sent by email), the profile setup process requires you to log in using your Facebook or Twitter account. This allows you to share your pins with friends or followers—optional, but another way to reach your customers.
You can update your Pinterest profile to show as much or as little information about your school as you like. Keep in mind that all Pinterest user profiles and their boards are publicly viewable, but Pinterest does not display any personal information beyond your username, image, and description.
Promoting Pinterest with your customers is a snap: just let them know you have a profile. People who already use the site can search your username and follow your boards, or you can find and follow them first. For people who don’t use Pinterest, you have two options: invite them to join, or give them the direct link to your profile (e.g., pinterest.com/dollysdanceacademy).
Since your Pinterest profile represents your studio, it’s a good idea to verify that the things you pin come from legitimate sources—say, an online magazine article, blog, or retailer. If you re-pin from another user, be sure to click through to the website source to make sure you’d feel comfortable leading your customers there. You’ll also want to give proper credit to your sources whenever possible.
Marketing tools that are free, simple to learn, and have the potential to reach all of our target markets—potential customers, recreational customers, and intensive customers—are rare, but Pinterest is one of them. And it can do much more than promote your studio’s existence. What you share on your boards can help to shape your business image. And you can educate your customers about the varied aspects of dance and inspire them with beautiful pictures and quotes.
How pinteresting is that?
The results are preliminary, but they’re a no-brainer to anyone involved in arts education. A study has found that “children that partake in music activity in a group setting are more prone to developing one of humankind’s noblest traits: empathy.”
The ramifications of this research are discussed in an article on San Francisco Classical Voice (sfcv.org) called “Is Music the New Social Media? ‘Empathy’ Entrainment.” The yearlong study at the University of Cambridge (UK) explored the effects of group music activities on 52 children ages 8 to 11, roughly half boys and half girls. They were divided into two groups, one of which was given group music-based games and the other activities that involved texts and drama only. The children in the music group scored higher on a test that measured empathy.
The experiments didn’t involve dance, but the correlation is obvious. The music activity stressed what lead researcher Tal-Chen Rabinowitch called “entrainment,” in which the children had to become “rhythmically attuned to one another” and “[i]mitation and the sharing of musical goals were also stressed.” Although the imitation games were largely improvisational, “[e]ach child playing a musical instrument had to attend to other children in the group.” Sounds like a dance class, doesn’t it? In effect, teachers are sowing the seeds of empathy.
If the study’s results prove significant and valid, the data will serve well those who argue for arts education. As Joe Landon, executive director of California Alliance for Arts Education, says in the article, “Quality arts programs have the potential to empower and engage students in ways that can promote learning across the board. Students who have a positive sense of themselves are more likely to embrace learning new things and find success in school.”
The article points out that the study raises the issue of individual versus group music education, since most music instruction “is geared toward private performance.” In dance, the opposite is true. So, dance teachers, take note: if group activities in which children are rhythmically attuned to one another promote empathy, your students will have it in spades.
Just one more reason why dance education matters. —Cheryl A. Ossola, Editor in Chief
Did anyone catch that episode of Bunheads where Michelle discovered Fanny’s hatbox filing system? The one where her bills were deemed “should be paid” or “might be paid” and stored in oversized, decorative boxes? So funny—so true! I wished I had all your numbers so I could mass text, “Turn on your TVs right now!”
But the episode got better when Michelle (the amazing Sutton Foster) found out that Fanny (my hero, Kelly Bishop) had precious little money to pay even the “have to be paid” bills. But the studio is crawling with kids, Michelle says (or something along those lines), forcing Fanny to admit that all but nine of her 75 students are “on scholarship.” Michelle is stunned—“Only nine kids pay? Nine? Nine?” Fanny counters that times are tough, and someone’s father lost his job, and what is she going to do? She can’t deny these kids their ballet!
Still funny—but ouch! I was torn between feelings of delight that the show so cleverly exposed our secret little catch-22, and feelings of despair for the very same reason.
I can’t begin to recall how many conversations I’ve had with studio owners about parents who have cancer or mortgage woes. So sometimes the studio owners just “forget” about a bill or two. Sometimes they use their precious little time off to organize fund-raisers or quietly spread the word in the hope that other parents will cover some costs. They eat the costume charges, or dig deep to pay their staff when the tuition is overdue.
What else are they going to do when they’ve watched a child grow up, shared her smiles and her struggles, given their hearts away?
On the show, Michelle demands that everyone pay up and then has to beg for forgiveness when all the trees and flowers in Fanny’s “environmental ballet” quit. She’ll learn. It’s not that studio owners are bad businesspeople or sentimental pushovers or just plain dumb. It’s just that, like Fanny, they can’t deny these kids their dance. —Karen White, Associate Editor
Advice for dance teachers
I have the chance to buy a building that has been foreclosed on. Is someone who is closer to age 60 than 50 nuts to buy? I couldn’t teach for three weeks this spring when I had surgery, and I discovered that there is no way I am ready to retire. I still love it too, too much!
From my estimates, it looks like it would cost $200 to $300 more per month to own rather than rent, but I’d build up equity while doing so. I’m thinking I would have a semi-viable dance studio and building to sell when I do retire (about 30 years from now!). Otherwise, all I have is a class list that is worth about nothing in a small town. —Mary Ann
Hello Mary Ann,
No, I don’t think “closer to 60 than 50” is too old to purchase a building. There is no age limit on improving your circumstances or doing something you’ve dreamed of for a long time. And since the sale is a foreclosure, it’s probably a good deal. I do think the economy will recover (ever so slowly) and you just might be making a great investment in some retirement money if the value of the property goes up. (I don’t think it would drop lower at this point.) If the difference between rent and mortgage payments is only a few hundred dollars, I say go for it.
But before you do, have someone inspect the property to give you a realistic concept of the cost you’ll incur in making repairs and remodeling this space into what you need it to be. Also, do inquire about an estimated monthly cost for utilities, insurance, and any other potential costs. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
My entire life has been all about dance. In my early 20s I opened the school of my dreams, and with the help of a loyal faculty and staff I have built a successful business with more than 500 students. Now I am 37 and beginning to see that I have missed out on some things because my focal point has always been dance and my students.
The father of one of my students has asked me out. He is single, but I turned him down because it has been 15 years since I’ve dated. I just haven’t had that on my mind because I am committed to my school, and I don’t know if it is appropriate to date a parent of a student. He has sent me cards and flowers for the recital, my birthday, and the first day of classes. Sometimes when he is at the studio he takes out the trash and helps my office staff.
I was uncomfortable with it at first, but he is so nice and sincere that I have grown to appreciate his kindness. My staff knows that he would like to take me out and they are always telling me that I am nuts not to do it, but I’m scared of what people will say if they know I’m dating a dad from my school. Also, I wonder what his daughter would think. Another thing that makes me nervous is that everyone who works for me knows about this and I’d like to keep my personal life private.
I am thinking of saying yes to the date, because I would like a life outside of the studio. This man’s attention has opened my mind to the things that I have missed out on. Is it appropriate for me to do this, or is it out of line? —Happy But Confused
This is the first time I’ve felt like “Dear Abby,” but I’m going to tackle it with my honest opinion. Your dedication to your studio and students is a testament to your passion for dance, but we all need a life outside of dance and you deserve the chance to explore the world outside of your business. Although I would be discreet about it, I think you should go out with this guy.
You can determine how much you want to share with your employees. I do think you should keep your personal life separate from the business, but don’t let that stop you in this situation. This guy obviously appreciates who you are and what you do, and that tells me he is sincere in his respect for you.
Speaking of his daughter, there is no reason that your proper teacher–student relationship should change unless things get more serious. And if that becomes the case, I have a feeling you can handle it.
Stop coming up with excuses and do this for yourself. You have worked hard, and that dedication has obviously worked to your benefit and the benefit of your dancers. Pat yourself on the back for that, but don’t eliminate the outside possibilities that could also make you happy. Go on the date and have a blast. Good luck! —Rhee
I teach many children who love to dance but who will probably never get past an intermediate level because of all the other commitments they have or because they just like to dance for fun and exercise, which is totally fine with me. But about two years ago a student entered our school with something special. She always picks up the movement really quickly and instinctively knows body lines and technique. I see an innate quality that shouts out that she could be a great dancer.
My problem is that she is in classes with students who are not that serious or who do not have a similar level of natural talent. I’m feeling like my school is holding her back and that I need to send her to a more serious school. However, when I discuss this with her other teachers at my school, they all tell me that it would be embarrassing to send her somewhere else. They think I would be making it clear to the parents at our school that we can’t offer training to really good students.
I see the teachers’ side of the argument, but I feel guilty that I am not pushing this student to the next level, which I can’t give her at my school. She loves to dance and works very hard, and I try to give her special attention after class is over—but I know she could do so much more.
I don’t want my students or their parents to believe that I am not offering them the best training I can, but I know they are getting from my school what they need. And I know this girl should move on. Are my teachers right? —Lori
You are an admirable teacher and school owner, and the teachers who are telling you that you should be embarrassed need to think long and hard about what is right for this child and not their egos. Please send this child to a school that can give her what she needs, and stay in touch with her so you can proudly follow her on the dance journey you inspired.
Don’t ever second-guess yourself when you know you are doing what’s right for a child. Your heart is in the right place. Brava to you for having the confidence to know what you do best and the understanding that we all must do the right thing. —Rhee
By Rhee Gold
Words from the publisher
As I’m writing this, I’m heading into my fifth week of seminars at the DanceLife Retreat Center. And what I’ve discovered is that not only can dreams come true, but they can exceed our expectations.
Here’s what I’m talking about. At one seminar, a dance teacher from Scotland became close friends with a teacher from Pittsburgh. Through the seminar process they were inspired to continue sharing ideas about music and business after they went home—and of course they’ve had plenty of trials and tribulations to talk about too. They have so much in common that they’ve decided they really need this friendship.
And here’s another example: some of the teachers have brought their non-dancing husbands with them to the seminar, and they’ve headed home with a renewed sense of support for each other. The seminar helps the husbands better understand that “this dance thing” really does make a difference and that their significant others are changing lives for the better through their dedication.
Then there are the teachers who are on the brink of giving up everything related to dance because they’re burned out. Some are tired of teaching in isolation, surrounded by those who mean well but don’t understand their passion; some are worn down by difficult parents or the challenges of business competition. But something happens to them over the weekend. I’ve seen some of them become confident enough to make the changes that will bring them happiness, and I’ve seen others leave with a renewed fervor to begin anew.
Balancing out those burned-out teachers are the enthusiastic ones who come to the seminar to gain new ideas for their classroom or business. Their gusto seems to rub off on everyone around them as they send the message that teaching dance can be an utter joy.
I’ve watched teachers work together to develop ideas and concepts for future recitals. They laugh and pat each other on the back for their good ideas, overflowing with creativity and energy. They’re sharing ideas, creating together, and realizing how much they have in common.
When I saw registrations coming in from across the United States and Canada but also from Mexico, Australia, Italy, and Scotland, I wondered whether such far-flung people would have anything in common. But as it turns out, all dance teachers have similar needs and desires. School owners in Scotland have to deal with parent issues and teachers in Italy struggle with self-confidence, just as those in Connecticut or California do. No matter where we come from, we all need to communicate with other dance people. Those who come to the DanceLife Retreat Center go home with a sense that they are not alone.
For me, witnessing these life-changing moments is a special gift that I cherish. It reaffirms my belief that those who teach dance are some of the best people in the world and that the key to success and happiness is sharing what we love with those who understand it.
And that’s what it’s all about.
By Suzanne Martin, PT, DPT
It’s no secret that dance teachers often have long, grueling hours. Handling your own fatigue when you’re faced with a barrage of personalities, minor emergencies, and classroom challenges isn’t easy.
Dancers are human, and humans have finite resources. Accepting that reality can be hard, but it isn’t all bad. Understanding your limitations can help you regulate your physical and emotional responses.
One way to cope on days when you’re foggy-brained and desperate for a nap is to make sure you’re ready for those days. How? By having a well-planned, well-regulated system in place. Think ahead. Know what to expect. Planning ahead allows us to mentally prepare for the stressful parts of our lives, which means we can summon the extra grit and discipline it takes to handle them as well as we possibly can. And then, once the difficult tasks are behind us, rest, sustenance, and emotional management can work wonders. Endurance comes when there is a balance between periods of stress and rest.
Choosing wisely when you’re considering which actions to take to make the day go better is key. That means making good choices about what you fuel your body with. Eating whatever is on hand and succumbing to junk-food–induced mood swings is not likely to benefit you or anyone around you. And we all know about the countless quick-fix survival products that claim they’ll propel us through our busy, exhausting days.
Take energy drinks, an increasingly popular “solution” to fatigue and overbooked schedules. These drinks work in the short term, but their energy boost comes with a price (see “A Better You: Super-Charged Caffeine,” July 2010). Excessive amounts of caffeine aren’t good for your body, and neither are the up-and-down swings that result, similar to a sugar rush. There are healthier options now, so instead of revving up on drinks containing mostly caffeine and sugar, boost your energy with drinks made of organic and natural ingredients, such as ginseng and ginger. But none of them is effective in the long run. Even “naturally” elevated energy levels are destined to come back down again, often with a thud.
Dance teachers can’t afford such volatility. Coping with long days and juggling an array of personalities and tasks take our full concentration—and discipline—to not only survive but actually enjoy the ride.
If you can’t break away from class or office tasks, do refresh yourself. Water is essential. According to the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (October 2007), foggy thinking starts at just 2 percent dehydration. Thirst makes concentrating more difficult and can deceive us into thinking we’re hungry. If you are truly hungry, stave off the accompanying crankiness with smart choices that will give you an energy boost with staying power. Low-glycemic foods such as blueberries, strawberries, and apples can give a quick pick-me-up; with a high water content, they will keep your blood sugar even until you can get to a meal.
One of the best ways to get through a seemingly endless day is to simply set your mind to “coping mode.” Most people don’t realize that they actually have a choice about how they approach the day, meeting, class, or whatever it is. You can dread it, or you can take a “can-do” attitude.
Some strategies for managing this emotional obstacle include tackling the most difficult tasks early in the day, or whenever you’re at your best, if possible. Avoid difficult situations or decisions that could be done on another day, when you’re fresher.
And delegate. If you can’t reschedule something that’s challenging, or if a difficult situation such as a parent acting out arises unexpectedly, ask a trusted staffer to handle it. If you can’t delegate whatever it is, remove yourself mentally. Being too wrapped up in a situation we can’t control adds emotional fatigue on top of physical exhaustion.
Here’s how: attend to the parent, but make an effort to remove yourself, as if you were watching the scenario from another physical viewing point. Imagine that you’re looking through a one-way window at the environment. Note the positioning in the room of the key players as well as body language. Who is involved and who seems to be holding back? Note whether anyone’s personal space is too crowded, or if the other person adopts a retreating stance. Is there a sense of dominance, such as a touch or a strong forward stance? Simply stepping back a few inches can deflate a charged situation. Plus, changing mental perspectives can help you see something new about the person or situation you’re dealing with. And people often solve problems more creatively when they imagine they’re solving it for someone else.
Distancing yourself without appearing to be inattentive, apathetic, or condescending takes practice, but is a highly effective negotiating and coping tactic. To avoid appearing disinterested or condescending, be subtle (a simple, non-dramatic step back will do), maintain soft eye contact, turn a listening ear, and nod your head to show that you’re still engaged.
When you’re exhausted, allow yourself to stop, slow down, turn the switch to off. In my 24/7 practice, I’ve learned that the work often doesn’t end, even after a big event or deadline. You might rejoice that it’s done, but more is just behind it. Going the extra mile is what creates success for most of us, but prioritizing what can wait is what keeps us sane and physically healthy. Take a cue from Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind and say, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
Also, set reasonable time limits for routine activities; doing so might just buy you time for a quick nap or an earlier going-home time. For example, a meeting will last as long as you schedule it to. Often we can accomplish the same thing in a 30-minute meeting as in one that lasts two hours if we stick to the agenda and act decisively.
Even bedtime needs to be approached deliberately in order to maximize the chances of a good night’s rest. For example, when I come home at 11pm from a performance, no matter how tired I am I take 15 or 20 minutes to bathe, sip some tea, and do some light reading. That transition time helps me get some true rest and good sleep.
The take-home message here is really one about knowing our personal boundaries—our physical, emotional, and mental limitations. We don’t need to please everyone. It’s taken years of trial and error for me to understand that certain people will not like my style, my office setup, or the fact that I have multiple clients and jobs. And that’s OK. You want to care for your clients, but you also need to care for yourself. It’s a reality.
Fighting fatigue means investigating your sleep habits, work routines, and emotional coping style—and the options you have. Being truthful about what works for you, devising strategies that incorporate these realities, and sticking with them will help make your life, and those of your family and clients, a lot happier.
I have faith in you.
By Stacy Eastman
To introduce students to the advanced level, give combinations that involve intricate footwork and coordination skills. I often use a combo that is tricky yet fun for the kids to figure out. Starting with the right foot, dig the ball of the foot into the floor on 1. Then, with the left foot, do a heel drop, toe drop (& a) twisting the toe out. Have them do four sets of that (counts 1 through 4 & a); stamp on right (5). Reverse ball left, heel toe right (& a 6). Stamp on left (&). Ball on right (a), heel toe left (7 &); jam side of right foot (8).
Another exercise that’s great for rhythm and coordination is a flap and clap exercise across the floor. It’s good for all levels, but I use it as a warm-up for advanced students. Add heel drops to make it more challenging. Flap R and clap; flap LR clap; flap LRL and clap; flap RLRL and clap 3 times. It’s lots of fun and keeps them learning at the same time.
By Bill Evans
Muscular strength is not the same thing as stability; flexibility is not the same as mobility. Clarity of form without resilience leads to rigidity; flexibility without grounding creates formlessness. Dancers achieve a balance of mobility and stability when moving by releasing surface tension, establishing a give-and-take relationship with the earth, and allowing breath to happen freely throughout the body. When we yield to gravity with an open body wall, we become grounded, claiming power without sacrificing fluidity. When stabilizing ourselves by connecting to gravity and mobilizing ourselves by breathing fully and releasing unnecessary tension, we become integrated and adaptable.
Today’s modern dancers are expected to execute a variety of inversions—movements in which the weight is supported by the hands, arms, and shoulder girdle with the pelvis, legs, and feet reaching upward. To prepare for them, include upper-body strengthening patterns in your warm-ups. I have borrowed from yoga inversion postures to create some of these. Starting with Downward-Facing Dog, I have explored variations that avoid shoulder girdle injuries and help students feel confident being upside down.
By Geo Hubela
Tell your students not to wait for the 5-6-7-8 to move. I always encourage my students to freestyle or groove to the music before a combination begins. When they’re standing still, it’s my mission to get them moving. Some students have trouble doing their own thing for fear of looking silly. I always encourage them to let the music move them. Freestyle is the biggest hurdle for hip-hop dancers to overcome.
During the last five minutes of class, let the kids freestyle one at a time. You won’t be able to drag some dancers out of the circle and you’ll have to force others to go in. This is a great time to let your dancers express themselves and develop their own style—vital for hip-hop dancers. At higher levels, I stress that they shouldn’t mimic the moves of other dancers. I say, “Do something different. Stand out and you will be noticed!”
By Mignon Furman
Ballet vocabulary is often neglected. It helps to have young dancers understand the meaning of the French words because it gives them an image of what the step should be; for example, glissade (to glide), jeté (to throw), and assemblé (to assemble or bring together).
The theory is also important. The dancer must understand that for an assemblé you spring off one foot and land on two, while a sissone is the exact opposite: two feet to one foot. This can be a fascinating subject for young people.
For older dancers vocabulary is also very helpful. Students aren’t always aware of the English translations of terms even though they know what to do physically. Knowing the difference between devant (in the front) and en avant (moving forward) is just an example. The English translations, of en dehors (outward) and en dedans (inward) and élancé (to dart), for example, enhance students’ understanding of the movement.
Owner and teacher, Concord Dance Center, Aston, PA
NOMINATED BY: Jamie Carr, daughter: “My mom has owned and operated her studio for 40 years. She has shared her passion for the art of dance with thousands of students and has always gone the extra mile for everyone. She was raised in an abusive household and dance was the one thing in her life that brought her true happiness.
She started out with a cassette player, a small room in her basement, a few students, and an undying love for teaching dance. Two of her former students left and opened a studio together down the street from her. Despite the hurt, my mom made it through, and this year she has more students than she has ever had.
Mom has thyroid cancer and it has spread to her lymph nodes. She was back at the studio a few days after surgery, against her doctor’s advice. She just can’t be away from her one and only true love in life—dance.”
YEARS TEACHING: I recently celebrated my 40th year. My former students threw a gala for me. They also got together and performed in my recitals. It was very special.
AGES TAUGHT: 3–18 years
GENRES TAUGHT: Jazz, tap, ballet, preschool, combo, cheer dance, and lyrical
WHY SHE CHOSE TEACHING AS A CAREER: My grandparents were very involved in the arts. I spent a lot of time with them, and they opened the door to my interest in dance. I saved money from a part-time job and took dance lessons; I was hooked from the beginning. Dance became an outlet for me to express my emotions and forget about my problems at home. From the moment I took my first class, I knew that dance would become my life and that I wanted to share that passion with others.
HER GREATEST INSPIRATION: Michael Lopuszanski, my Russian ballet instructor. I trained under him while I was performing with Philadelphia Civic Ballet. He was extremely strict and made me cry every week, but he taught me about self-discipline and respect. I am a better person and dancer after having trained under him.
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY: I used to only care about competition. I based everything on how many awards my students brought home. When a former student opened a school down the street from me, most of my competitive teams went with him. I was devastated, but after time healed my wounds, I chose to look at my school from a new perspective. I am here to instill the love of dance in every student. My philosophy is to offer quality dance education, raise self-esteem, and let these kids enjoy every minute of class.
WHAT MAKES HER A GOOD TEACHER: I go above and beyond for everyone. I serve as a teacher, mentor, psychologist, surrogate mother, doctor, and friend. I hit my pillow every night exhausted, but I truly love what I do.
FONDEST TEACHING MOMENT: When my 3-year-old preschool student told me that I was the best teacher in the world and that she is going to be on Broadway someday.
HER ADVICE TO TEACHERS AND STUDENTS: Never forget the passion you have for teaching and for dance. Sometimes this can be a thankless job. It seems that all you hear are complaints because people rarely give compliments anymore, but the one compliment you do get, you cherish, and that gets you through the next year. It’s also great to see the huge smile a student gets when she finally gets that step she has worked and worked on and you say, “Great job.” To students: keep working hard! No one is ever a “perfect” dancer, including your teachers, so continue your studies and be the best you can be.
IF SHE COULDN’T BE A DANCE TEACHER: I would work with dogs. My 8-year-old yellow Lab is recuperating from an injury. I have been his physical therapist for the past few weeks and will have to continue until he heals.
DO YOU KNOW A DANCE TEACHER WHO DESERVES TO BE IN THE SPOTLIGHT? Email your nominations to Arisa@rheegold.com or mail them to Arisa White, Dance Studio Life, P.O. Box 2150, Norton, MA 02766. Please include why you think this teacher should be featured, along with his or her contact information.
NOMINATED BY: Andrea Mawson, instructor: “Jen opened Northampton School of Dance in September of 2005. While working a full-time job she managed to teach 12 classes a week as well as run the studio. Twelve classes soon became 15, and then 19, and so on. Through all this, she never misses a day at the studio, never forgets to return a phone call or respond to an email, and never has she given up. I haven’t met anyone with so much passion, dedication, enthusiasm, and determination in my life. She loves dance more than anyone I know and she loves teaching dance even more.”
YEARS TEACHING: More than 10
AGES TAUGHT: 2 1/2 to adult
GENRES TAUGHT: Ballet, pointe, lyrical, tap, jazz
WHY SHE CHOSE TEACHING AS A CAREER: I’ve taken dance lessons since I was 2 and a half. After college I started teaching for one of my former dance teachers who had taken over my old dance school. Each year I kept teaching more and more classes. Three years later, the studio closed and I ran into some of my former students’ parents and they said, “Jen! What are we going to do? Where are our kids going to dance?” I responded with, “Well, I guess I could open a dance school.” Six years later, here I am!
HER GREATEST INSPIRATION: My first dance instructor, Carol Butler Watelet. She always called me her “little ballerina” and was very supportive of my decision to transfer from her dance school to a ballet school. She knew how much I loved ballet and how seriously I wanted to study it. I know how hard it is to lose students, but it is important to do what is best for each dancer. Carol taught me that. She is so supportive and inspirational. She still comes to my performances and recitals. It means so much to me that she is still a part of my life.
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY: I believe in teaching students proper technique in a fun, loving environment. I understand that some students want to study dance seriously and competitively, but I also know that other students want to dance just for fun. I try to teach each student the way he/she wants to be taught. If they want to be pushed, I will push them. If they just want to have fun, I will teach them how fun dance can be.
WHAT MAKES HER A GOOD TEACHER: I truly care for all of my students. I treat them equally, whether they choose to dance recreationally or competitively. They are all there because they love to dance, so it doesn’t matter to me if they want to dance for fun or if they want to make a career of it.
FONDEST TEACHING MOMENT: Recently I called my husband onstage at the end of our dance recital to thank him for being so supportive. He gave a beautiful speech, which made me tear up. As if that wasn’t enough, when he finished talking, all of my students gave me one huge bear hug. It was a wonderful way to end the school year.
ADVICE TO STUDENTS: Don’t get down on yourself because you didn’t get first place or are having trouble mastering a step. Remember that we dance because we love it and that is what is important.
Fremont resident and longtime Newark [CA] dance instructor Betty Gentry died May 6, family members confirmed this week to the Newark Patch.She was 87.
Gentry, born and raised in San Francisco, ran her own studio for 15 years. Afterward, she moved to Fremont, and in December 1963, started teaching dance in Newark. Forty-eight years later, in June 2011, the Newark City Council commended her upon her retirement.
“You’ve just created such a legacy here in Newark. You’ve touched so many lives,” said former mayor David Smith during the council meeting. Gentry told the audience that night that she was thankful for being a part of the Newark community.
“I’ve always been very, very happy. And [my] classes were good because of you,” Gentry said. “Thank you for letting me be a part of your lives. It was not a job. It was a joy.”
A celebration of her life will be held May 12 at 1pm at the Chapel of the Roses, 1940 Peralta Boulevard, Fremont. To read the full article, visit http://newark.patch.com/articles/dance-instructor-betty-gentry-dead-at-87.
Director of Dance Academy at Grandview Preparatory School, Boca Raton, Florida
NOMINATED BY: Jacqueline R. Westerfield, head of school: “I am consistently amazed at the enthusiasm and determination Katie brings to every goal she envisions for the dance program. Her approach is student-centered, but with a keen understanding of the importance of the entire school community with regard to advancement of the arts. This year, Katie established chapters of the National Junior Honor Society for Dance Arts and National Honor Society for Dance Arts here at Grandview. This past year, students performed at Grandview venues and around the South Florida area. Under Katie’s direction, our first dance concert featured 98 students in preschool through grade 12 and a performance from the basketball team. It was a wonderful event.”
YEARS TEACHING: More than 10 years
AGES TAUGHT: Pre-kindergarten to adults
GENRES TAUGHT: My elementary program is based in jazz dance, while the basis of my secondary program is musical theater. However, within both of those, I also expose my students to creative movement, modern, ballet, African, choreography, and yoga.
WHY SHE CHOSE TEACHING AS A CAREER: During my senior year of college I was teaching at a studio and realized I could not imagine doing anything else. Shortly after, I applied and was accepted to the dance education program at New York University.
HER GREATEST INSPIRATIONS: My friend Lillie Kae Stevens; my ballet teacher at Ithaca College, Eugenia Wacker-Hoeflin; and Barbara Bashaw, former head of department for the New York University Dance Education program. However, my parents are the thread that weaves my inspirational mentors together; without their encouragement, love, and support, I would not be the person I am today.
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY: I approach teaching with the belief that each of my students can find success in dance. I utilize many methods of explaining movements, steps, and concepts in order to reach all of my students. I once heard the saying that “a dance teacher helps students find the song in their heart, the beat in their feet, and a passion for life.” I hope to continually inspire my students to reach for their dreams and use the skills they learn in my dance class throughout their lives.
WHAT MAKES HER A GOOD TEACHER: First, I not only have a passion for teaching and dance, but I have extensive performing experience and a strong educational background. Second, I am very good at differentiating instruction for my students. I meet the students where they are and help them to grow from there. Third, I believe that dance is for everyone, and everyone should be given the opportunity to dance.
FONDEST TEACHING MOMENT: My favorite teaching moment is when a student who has been struggling with a step or a phrase can finally execute the movement. I get really excited, the student gets really excited, and it’s a really special moment.
ADVICE TO STUDENTS AND TEACHERS: Success in dance is a personal endeavor, and the key to success is hard work, discipline, patience, and teamwork, along with positive thinking. I find that each student can be successful, but the process is highly individualized and varied. Positive words and positive thinking give my students the encouragement they need to be successful.
IF SHE COULDN’T BE A DANCE TEACHER . . . I would advocate for arts education within the elementary and secondary school programs. I believe that offering the arts in schools is vital to the success of students today. Having a balanced educational environment, with the inclusion of dance, is not only beneficial to the development of a child but can aid and support a healthy, successful academic experience for all students.
DO YOU KNOW A DANCE TEACHER WHO DESERVES TO BE IN THE SPOTLIGHT? Email your nominations to Arisa@rheegold.com. Include why you think this teacher should be featured, along with his or her contact information.
Presidio Dance Theatre will celebrate the spring season with 2012 Dancing Across Cultures™, featuring a cast of multi-generational international artists and young dancers performing classical and folk dances from all corners of the globe, on June 1 at 7pm at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, 3301 Lyon Street, San Francisco, California.
Under the guidance of artistic director Sherene Melania, the performance features Presidio Dance Theatre’s Young Artists who have now toured in Russia at the White Nights Festival (2008) and TRT’s Turkish International Festival (2010), and will participate in Europe’s largest children’s festival—the Sziget Festival in Budapest, Hungary—this June.
Presidio Dance Theatre (PDT) is a program of Presidio Performing Arts Foundation, a nonprofit public benefit corporation that has been serving the San Francisco area since 1997. An acclaimed multi-generational performance company, PDT is ballet-based, specializing in international dance from many regions around the world.
Tickets for the 2012 Dancing Across Cultures range from $40 to $120 and can be purchased at www.presidiodance.org.
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