American Ballet Competition’s guest master teacher for 2014 will be Francesca Zumbo, professor of dance for the Paris Opera Ballet School and a former Paris Opera première danseuse.
Classes with Zumbo will be held during the competition, set for June 11 to 14 at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, Massachusetts.
Born in Paris, Zumbo graduated from the National Conservatory of Paris with highest honors before joining the Paris Opera Ballet. She’s performed with companies including the Bolshoi, Kirov, London Festival, Winnipeg, and Tokyo Ballets, and since 1995 has been delegated by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs to teach for the Institute Central of Dance in Peking and the Shanghai Ballet in China.
For more information, visit www.americanballetcompetition.com.
Kim Gibson’s dance class for students with cerebral palsy has been taking place on Monday nights for almost 13 years. “Oh, it’s a highlight of his week,” says one parent of Gibson’s classes, held at the Brentwood [MO] Community Center.
“I love to change lives. I love to make people happy,” Gibson told KSDK.
The idea for the class began in the Cerebral Palsy Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital where parents come from all over the world to have their children treated by Dr. Jan Brunstrom, who has cerebral palsy herself. One day Brunstrom asked Gibson about her goals for her daughter, Gracie. “And I said, ‘Well, I’ve always danced and I really want Gracie to be able to dance,’ ” recalls Gibson.
Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects a person’s ability to move their limbs, maintain posture, and in some cases communicate, but none of that seem to be a problem in this class. “I think in dance class they’re kind of free to be whoever they want to be and dance the way they want to dance,” explains Gibson.
To see a video report on this story, visit http://www.ksdk.com/story/news/health/2013/11/24/dance-class-for-kids-with-cerebral-palsy/3694979/.
UNITY, a nonprofit coalition of dance education organizations, associations, merchants, and others, has several $500 scholarship and grant opportunities available for dance teachers and school owners.
They include: two Studio Owner Scholarships (sponsored by Cicci and DanceWearCorner, Inc.), one Teacher Professional Development Scholarship (sponsored by UNITY), and one Community Outreach Grant (sponsored by Curtain Call). Deadline for submission for all scholarships/grants is January 1.
Applicants must be a member of any of the following UNITY member organizations:
Chicago National Association of Dance Masters, Dance Alliance of Rhode Island, Dance Masters of New England, Dance Masters of Wisconsin, Dance Teachers’ Club of Boston, Florida Dance Masters, More Than Just Great Dancing, National Dance Education Organization, National Registry of Dance Educators, New York State Dance Education Organization, Southern Association of Dance Masters, or Tennessee Association of Dance.
Applications are now being accepted for more than $38,000 in scholarships to be awarded through Catch A Rising Star: The 2014 Dance Council of North Texas Scholarships.
Over the past eight years, DCNT has awarded scholarships totaling $244,000 to outstanding dancers from ages 13 through graduate school. There is no residency requirement. DCNT scholarship recipients receive funding, tuition waivers, or both to attend prestigious summer intensives and workshops that encompass every dance style.
Recipients have attended nationally renowned summer programs such as School of American Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet (Seattle), Kirov Ballet, Alvin Ailey (NYC), Jacob’s Pillow, American Dance Festival, Miami City Ballet, the Arathi School (to study bharata natyam), to attend technique and choreographer intensives, dance critique studies, among other programs.
Teachers have been awarded scholarships for continuing education programs with American Dance Festival, Debbie Allen Dance (LA), Third Coast Rhythm Project (San Antonio, Texas), and the Katherine Dunham Workshop. Choreographers have attended the Glenda Brown Choreography Project in Kansas City, Missouri. The Margaret Putnam Dance Writers Scholarship provides funding to attend a dance writers’ workshop.
Deadline to submit application is midnight on Saturday, February 9, 2014. Recipient notification is March 15, 2014. Apply at www.dancecouncilscholarships.org.
Ballet students and teachers can view the library of Finis Jhung instructional videos for $9 a month when purchasing a full year of streaming services in advance. (Streaming is also available through a monthly or quarterly subscription).
Almost 30 titles are available for streaming; including favorite Jhung DVD titles such as The Art of Pointework, The Ten-Minute Stretch Break, The Boy Ballet Dancer, Use Your Arms & Dance, The Art of Teaching Turns, as well as lessons that illustrate several levels of barre work, center work, jumps, turns, turnout, and extension.
Since 1972, Jhung has been a mainstay of the New York dance scene. He has taught dancers of New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, The Joffrey, Ailey, Taylor, Graham, and Cunningham companies, as well as star gypsies from Broadway, aspiring professionals, and amateur adult beginners.
For more information, visit http://finisjhung.com/Streaming/.
Advice for dance teachers
I have worked as an instructor at the same studio for seven years. A year ago I was promoted to manage our recreational department; it has suffered over the past few years. I raised the numbers a bit, but our studio’s company has always made up the bulk of our enrollment.
Now we have experienced a mass exodus. Since the company is small, when a few decided to leave, the rest wondered who they’d be grouped with for their numbers and they all went to a larger studio. I will be assuming the company director’s responsibilities if we have a new team at some point.
How do I rebuild? How do I cope with the loss of my beloved students? I also should mention that the studio is not a traditional one; we are part of a large facility that provides gymnastics and cheer on recreational and competitive levels. Many parents who bring their kids to our facility for gymnastics go elsewhere for dance. Our owners are frustrated with the loss of these accounts. I need their support to advertise and rebuild, and we are in a very oversaturated market, with three of the city’s most popular studios on our street. Thanks for any advice. —Defeated and Heartbroken
I am sorry you’re dealing with a mass exodus. Students and their parents don’t always realize that most dance teachers consider their students their “kids.” When they lose one student, let alone many, all kinds of emotions go along with it.
With that said, it is time to concentrate on building flourishing preschool and recreational programs. It’s a fact that when school owners focus the majority of their energy and time on the company or competitive dancers, inevitably they have a hard time maintaining the “bread and butter” enrollment, which consists of the once-a-week students who dance simply for the joy of it. Those students pay full tuition, unlike the company dancers at most schools, whose classes are discounted. In many cases, schools cannot sustain themselves when their most advanced students move on, which is exactly what you have described.
You need to rethink whether you want to rebuild what you had. If your market is oversaturated, it’s probably time to determine what you can offer the community that the other schools can’t.
Also, and this is important, let the students who left know that your door is always open if they want to return. Wishing them the best in whatever they do maintains a feeling of mutual respect. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
My 10-year-old daughter has been dancing at an amazing school and has been a company dancer for five years. She has always had solid spots in routines, but this year she was moved to the back in everything. Granted, she is the tallest in the class, but there is a definite difference in her placement. She was also removed from her small group and was not given anything in place of it. Every girl in the small group was given a special role (duo, trio, etc.) except her. Also, this year there was a switch in teachers.
My daughter has trouble lifting her leg and holding it and stretching, but all in all she’s a really good dancer. Every year there is solid improvement. She does not have that “kill or be killed attitude,” and I think she feels she let herself down. She became withdrawn from her class, as did I. I felt very hurt for her and removed myself from the studio, whereas before I was their biggest cheerleader.
With all the time, money, and energy my family puts into dance, I want to make sure everyone is happy. The teacher had promised me this would be a better year for my daughter. How can I approach her to ask about my daughter’s future in the class? —Rosanne
Class placement is one of the hardest tasks for dance teachers. The placement itself isn’t the problem; expertise guides those decisions. What’s difficult is dealing with the parents’ reactions, especially when a child doesn’t progress as much as her classmates.
If I were teaching a child who I believed would lose her joy for dance if the material was beyond her capabilities (at that time), I would keep her where she was. The goal would be to allow the child to keep up and still enjoy dance. Often, if we push children to do what they aren’t ready for or what is too difficult, they quit dancing altogether. Children gain confidence when they are on top of the class rather than struggling. However, if parents don’t accept a teacher’s decision, the children are caught in the middle. Who should they believe when their teacher and parents argue about what’s best for them?
You say you think your daughter feels she let herself down and became withdrawn, as you did. But is that what your daughter truly feels? Is it possible that she knows where she belongs? Could it be she knows she would have a hard time keeping up with the group if the choreography included “lifting her leg” or stretching? Kids know more than we give them credit for.
My advice is to have an honest talk with your daughter about where she believes she belongs, based on her capabilities. I hope this helps. —Rhee
I worked for a studio for seven years. I loved where I was and felt like an integral part of the studio, but things changed when the director gave more responsibilities to her daughter. Enrollment dropped drastically and morale was low, and the competition director resented me because I was often requested for private lessons. The studio became a haven for gossip instead of dance, divided between teachers who were structured and teachers who taught haphazardly.
When I quit (which I did in plenty of time for the owner to find new teachers), I got a few nasty emails and phone calls from her. I quit only after years of being called anorexic (because I don’t eat animal products), being harassed for my political beliefs, enduring sexual harassment by the owner’s husband, and being accused of favoring my students from another studio because they were “spoiled rich” like me.
That was a year ago. I love the studios I am currently with; they couldn’t be more different from teaching for my old boss. They’re professional, fair, and dedicated to the art of dance and the artistic growth of students and teachers alike. However, my former employer is still saying untrue things about me. She speaks negatively about almost everyone; if you are anything besides white, Christian, straight, and middle class, rest assured you’ve been trashed.
Because of that, I wasn’t taking her badmouthing personally, but now I’m moving. I feel dishonest not listing my employment at her studio on my resume, but I’m afraid of what she might say about me. Months back I asked her to stop saying untrue things about me and apologized for anything I could have handled better. I heard nothing except more gossip about myself and my husband.
I don’t understand this. I’m here to share my knowledge about dance and the wonderful values attached to it, as well as give kids a place to express themselves and accomplish artistic goals. I thought that’s what the studio was for. I never signed up for this type of nonsense. Please advise. —Glenda
It sounds like you have a level head on your shoulders. If this woman has time to waste on untruths and gossip regarding her former employees, then you have less to worry about than you think. Her unethical behavior will catch up with her.
You need to move on and ignore her negativity. She probably knows that what she is doing breaks your heart, and you can’t give her that satisfaction. Use her negativity as your motivation to be the best dance teacher you can be. In other words, turn her negativity into your reason for always being a positive dance teacher and person.
As far as your resume goes, list only the schools you’ve taught at since you left your former employer. If someone asks about your prior employment, speak positively about the students and how much you loved teaching there and say you had professional differences with the owner. It’s likely that potential employers will be more interested in your most recent experience. Good luck! —Rhee
By David Arce
During performances the audience looks at the dancers’ faces first, and then moves on to the choreography and technique. To encourage students to explore facial expressiveness without feeling embarrassed, try this between barre exercises: have them close their eyes and then call out expressions for them to try.
One major element that separates students from professional dancers is the quality of the connecting steps in choreography (such as walking and running), as well as non-choreographed stage movements such as bows. These must be done with confidence and are as important as the turns, jumps, and other technical steps; therefore they should be given equal attention in rehearsals.
By Geo Hubela
There are many kinds of drops: the sweep, coin, and thread drops, and more. One of the simplest is the knee drop, which gives the illusion of collapsing one leg with a kick.
From standing (“toprock”), the left leg lifts back and cross-kicks into the back of the right knee; as the leg collapses, you drop forward. Instead of dropping to the right knee, land on your bent left toes. The right knee never hits the floor. From here, move into floor work (“downrock”) or hit a freeze.
One of the easiest dynamic stops is the baby freeze. (Use caution when teaching all breakdance moves.) In a squat, place both hands on the floor to the right of the body, fingers angled outward in opposite directions. With arms close to the body, press the right elbow into the right side and shift to the right until the right knee is resting on the bent left elbow. With your weight placed on both elbows, rest the side of the head on the floor and lift both legs off the floor.
By Bill Evans
Most students learn longer combinations more efficiently if you follow a whole-part-whole strategy. First demonstrate the whole phrase as clearly, musically, and qualitatively as possible, so that the students get the big picture or context. Then, unpack the various parts and teach portions of the phrase. After each part has been investigated, it is time to put the whole pattern together again: whole (oneness), part (differentiation), whole (integration).
I often hear teachers talking about what they “covered” in their classes. I prefer to focus on what I can help students “uncover.” Dance class can be a process of discovery in which each student participates. Pouring information into our students is less useful to them than structuring opportunities for them to participate in investigations of movement concepts.
By Gregg Russell
Teaching tap slides can be trickier than you think. Most students like to lift their heels off the ground and straighten their legs when they slide; however, doing this makes it harder to control the slide and maximize its length. Three rules to guide them: feet flat (helps maintain balance); plié (makes sliding on a challenging surface like marley easier); and weight evenly distributed (helps with connecting the slide to the next step).
Most teachers start class with a warm-up designed with technique and coordination in mind. Consider incorporating a rhythm warm-up as well, to get students in tune with the music and improve their ability to retain steps. With younger students, it can be as easy as having them sit down and drum rhythms you give them. For older students, teach a short progression without counts that requires them to follow you.
Words from the publisher
Nothing in the dance education field provokes as much passionate debate as the pros and cons of dance competition. Some teachers live for competitions, while others enjoy the experience but consider it only a part of what they offer their students. Others are disgusted by it.
As a former “competition kid” and competition director, I understand the diverse opinions on the subject. At my seminars, I’ve heard hundreds of teachers express their views on the competition experience, and I have agreed with all of them at one time or another.
Here’s what I think about competition. When I was a kid, nothing was more inspiring than working my butt off to become the best dancer I could be—and I had to be better at each competition. In those days, though, my school went to only one competition each year; it was easy to see the improvement in the dancers and their teachers.
I’ve seen the days when 20 groups would compete in one category with all styles of dance, and only one would win. Yes, there would be second- and third-place awards, but the other 17 groups went home with nothing—and they didn’t quit dance, or decide to move to another school hoping they’d become a winner there. Instead, the teacher and the dancers worked harder so that when they went back they might be one of the winners. But it was OK if they didn’t.
Today kids who win super-titanium medals aren’t satisfied because they weren’t the big winner. And yes, you might think, “That’s why I hate dance competitions,” but remember, dance competitions aren’t the only places where this happens. You’ve probably smiled when your child won a trophy at camp simply because she participated. You felt awesome when your school was voted the best in town, even though you know you got every friend, relative, and former and current student to vote for you, and the other school owners didn’t. Everyone likes to win, and most of us are attracted to those we perceive as winners.
Whatever our opinions about competition are, they’re not something we can transform overnight. But we can start by changing our outlooks. I don’t think it’s a pipe dream to believe competition doesn’t have to be about winning. We, the adults in our children’s and students’ lives, teach them how much they should value the trophy.
Begin by letting the kids know that you love them no matter what score they achieve and that you appreciate the dancers who score high because they help to raise your standards. More important, you need to be honest. Tell your students (and their parents) that gold, high gold, and platinum are merely new names for bronze, silver, and gold medals.
To me, teachers are true winners when they influence the next generation to live in a realistic world. Do your part to reinstate the value of a healthy work ethic, which seems to have gone missing in today’s society. Simply showing up doesn’t make someone a winner; hard work and determination do. When you participate in competitions for the right reasons, their value becomes obvious.
Acting in the Interest of Dance
Musical theater class can involve far more than choreography done to Broadway tunes. Here’s your chance to work weekly with your students on one of the most difficult skills to grasp—how to create and sustain emotion and/or character.
Set aside 15 minutes or so of every class for acting study. Exercises don’t have to be detailed or complex—the simpler, the better. Have students do something physical, like playing an imaginary game of soccer or pretending to keep a balloon in the air. They can mime walking a dog, baking a cake, or building a sandcastle. Any familiar movement will do.
Since you are basically asking the students to improvise—and some may be uncomfortable or uncertain—be sure to prompt them to be as creative as possible. Ask questions rather than give instructions: “What other steps go into baking a cake?” or “Where did you walk the dog? What else could you do once you got there?”
In future weeks, add an “emotion.” They are going to walk the dog, but this time they’re exhausted, or stressed out, or bored, or elated. Allow the students to suggest new emotions to try. Encourage them to create and share an imaginary scenario that explains why they are so stressed out or so happy.
Keep changing the scenarios. One week, let them pick their own action but specify a location—underwater, perhaps, or on top of Mount Everest. Make sure they change their movements accordingly—smooth and slow for underwater and with lots of shivers for the mountaintop. The next week, change who they are—toddlers or senior citizens, cheerleaders or cats.
Finally, apply one or more of these conditions to a piece of choreography they’ve been working on in class.
The Three Hs
If you are looking for a sendoff ritual, I highly recommend ending your classes with one of the Three Hs: a high five, handshake, or hug.
I encourage my teen dancers to thank me after class. I appreciate having this time to congratulate them on a job well done, to give personal encouragement about their goals, and to let them know that I care. I wanted the same opportunity with my younger dancers, but they rarely approached me after class—mostly because they didn’t remember they were supposed to. Sometimes I had to remind them to clap, too. I needed a fun sendoff ritual that allowed me to connect with them like I did with the teens.
I found it when my son told me that his second-grade teacher asked the students for a high five, handshake, or hug as they entered her classroom. I thought the idea was brilliant because it let the student decide on the kind of contact, yet provides the personal connection I was looking for.
I tried it in my ages 6- to 12-year-old jazz classes with great success. The kids loved having the choice of farewell. The girls mostly wanted hugs, although a few reserved types opted for handshakes. All of the boys wanted high fives. One girl gave me a high five, thought about it, and then went through the line again and asked for a hug. Some of the kids loved it so much that they got into line several times. Some started giving me their own made-up handshakes. I did have to set aside three minutes at the end of each class for the new ritual because of the students’ enthusiasm, but the results made the slightly shorter class worth it.
The best and most noticeable change has been in the students who are new this year and in the dancers who are generally more reserved. Both groups have become more open and responsive, and they seem more comfortable in class.
Words from our readers
I just received the issue of Dance Studio Life that includes the “Teacher in the Spotlight” feature with Dede Miles Burger [August 2013]. The feature is just wonderful and I was proud to nominate Dede! Thank you so much for honoring her; she truly is a mentor and inspiration to our kids—especially mine!
Winter Park, FL
Congratulations on the ninth anniversary of Dance Studio Life. You and your staff are to be highly commended! The magazine is in my studio for all to see.
Beaumont Ballet Theatre
Owner/teacher, Chris Collins Dance Studio, Alexandria, VA
NOMINATED BY: Tiffany Hopper, teacher: “Chris is a wonderful role model and a wonderful boss. He has been an inspiration to so many over the years. We’ve danced at Disney World, on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, performed for special-needs friends, participated in March of Dimes walks, and attended countless workshops and competitions. Although we participate in competitions, our primary focus is on education.
Chris started the Awesome Dancer Button Project years ago to help make competitions a more positive experience. Each company dancer receives an Awesome Dancer Button before each competition; it’s the dancers’ job to find someone from a different studio to give it to. Our dancers have made great friends from other studios, and we’ve found that competitions are more enjoyable when everyone roots for one another.”
YEARS TEACHING: 38
AGES TAUGHT: Ages 4 to adult (I have a couple of tappers in their 70s.)
GENRE TAUGHT: Tap
WHY HE CHOSE DANCE AS A CAREER: I always loved being around the dance studio, although in my day it was very unusual for a male. I was a student teacher when I was a teenager and loved working with young students.
HIS GREATEST INSPIRATION: Many former teachers have been great inspirations to me, as was Tony Grant, who produced Tony Grant’s Stars of Tomorrow, a children’s talent show in Atlantic City. Ironically, now my young teachers (including my daughter) and former students inspire me. It’s exciting to teach second-generation students and see people who got their start with me, like Andrew Nemr, doing so well.
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY: I want classes to be fun so that children will want to continue to dance. I also want them to learn proper technique and, most of all, to become confident performers. Even if they do not pursue dance, I hope their time at my studio gives them confidence in life.
WHAT MAKES HIM A GOOD TEACHER: As a studio owner I surround myself with an excellent staff. As a teacher, I try to stay in tune with the kids. They keep me feeling young! Even though tap steps are the same as they have always been, I try to relate to the students I work with. My studio is a second home to many people.
FONDEST TEACHING MEMORY: My favorite recent memory is the many alumni visits and messages on my 35th anniversary, including a very special video presentation from Andrew Nemr. Many students who came back to visit are no longer dancing, but it’s gratifying to know I made a difference in their lives. Often I get wrapped up in the studio-owner side of the business and its frustrations. That’s one reason I like to work with some of the youngest students—so I’m reminded of why I first started teaching.
ADVICE TO STUDENTS AND TEACHERS: Enjoy dance at any age. For teachers: owning a studio might age you, but teaching and dancing will keep you young! For students: you only get out of it what you put into it. I believe that dance training gives students much more than dance. The confidence built and long-lasting friendships formed at my studio make me proud.
ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS: Teaching dance is like no other career. There will always be some unhappy students—and you go home thinking about them. However, in the last 38 years, I know how many people have been extremely happy expressing themselves through dance at my studio, where our motto is “We measure success in smiles!” I started from the ground up, in rented space in a church basement, without soliciting students from other studios. Looking back, it’s amazing how far the school has come.
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 Beverly Byrd
Body size is a controversial topic for dancers and dance teachers. As a dancer for 53 years and a teacher for more than 30 years, I have seen changes in attitude and expectations. Most have been good. Dancers today fly higher and jump farther, with stronger bodies than those of their predecessors. The trend toward larger, more athletic dancers is obvious on So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars.
I like the fact that there is less demand for dancers who are rail thin. Being too thin is unhealthy and can cause lifelong problems. As a dancer with Pasadena Dance Theater, I was weighed in each week, and it caused me a lot of worry. I was petite but very muscular, and I found it hard to stay at the weight expected of me. I starved myself to avoid gaining that one or two pounds.
For a ballet dancer, a lot of extra weight can be harmful and sometimes make pointe work impossible. A heavy physique can lead to injury of the ankles and feet.
Among the students in my ballet school, I see all kinds of body types. I have never wanted to address the issue of weight because I believe it can be harmful. The problem has usually taken care of itself; those not suited to dance tend to weed themselves out. But as our nation’s population becomes heavier, I see more and more young children who have weight problems.
Often parents want their children to dance for the physical activity. Those students usually don’t last long. Jumping is hard for them and they tire easily. It breaks my heart to watch a youngster who can’t move well. Children don’t play outside as much as in years past, and they seem to have lost the natural ability to run, jump, and climb. As for getting sweaty, many of them don’t like the feeling of their body heating up during exercise. When they say, “I feel a bit sweaty,” my reply is, “Good, you are a real dancer then.”
With people becoming increasingly larger, a real problem has developed—dancers who are too heavy to go on pointe. Dancing on pointe requires excellent alignment and very strong ankles, feet, and legs. Other forms of dance are less demanding; they can handle dancers who have larger frames. But for a ballet dancer, a lot of extra weight can be harmful and sometimes make pointe work impossible. A heavy physique can lead to injury of the ankles and feet.
Diet and weight are touchy topics that need to be handled carefully. Teachers will lose some dancers who are heartbroken when they’re told they can’t go on pointe. We can direct them to other forms of dance that they’re more suited to, but they may not want to go there.
So now I have to talk to my students about the issue that for so many years I was able to avoid. I have had to tell students who are too heavy that they need to watch their diet and eat healthy foods. At times, I’ve had to confer with the parents about their children’s diet. It is a health and safety issue that I don’t waver on. Being large and strong is quite different from being overweight. Parents who don’t respect my decisions usually go to another studio.
Costuming is another problem. Sometimes we have to put children into adult sizes because their girth is too large for child sizes. This can be tricky if a costume only comes in child sizes. I choose costumes that come in larger sizes and would look good on all types of bodies.
It’s a dance teacher’s calling to love all children equally—but how do we help children in our classes who cannot perform at the level expected because of their size? The world is changing, and so are our students. Teaching is a different world than it used to be.
United Dance blends students from three schools at competitions
By Jennifer Kaplan
If two heads are better than one, can three studios competing as a unified team also be better than one? Ask Mary Plein, proprietor of Fusion Dance in Red Wing, Minnesota, and she’ll say yes. Sometimes collaborating rather than competing with other schools, she says, reaps greater rewards for dance students, their teachers, and their studios.
For the past two years Plein has joined with Victoria McNamara of Victoria Dance Productions in Edina and Kris Stein of Dance by Kris in Cottage Grove, about 25 minutes from Minneapolis, to create United Dance, a successful competition team using advanced dancers from all three studios. In 2012 the team earned a platinum at a regional competition.
While the three school owners aren’t exactly neighbors, they have forged a neighborly relationship. “We’d see each other backstage all the time,” says Plein, a dance mom who founded her 150-student studio 11 years ago. “We sometimes get together for coffee and visit other people’s studios. We call each other when we need somebody to lean on or cheer and celebrate with us.”
Victoria, Mary, and I get along so well at competition . . . that I thought it would be so much fun to work with them. I was scared to ask because I thought they would laugh. —Kris Stein
For several years, when Plein, McNamara, and Stein saw each other at BravO! Competitions, they shared successes and commiserated on failures. Then they started to brainstorm about fielding a competitive dance team together. “Victoria, Mary, and I get along so well at competition—going out for lunch, sharing news—that I thought it would be so much fun to work with them,” Stein says. “I was scared to ask because I thought they would laugh.”
When she finally broached the idea, Plein and McNamara agreed that it would be beneficial to create a combined team of experienced students. And so United Dance, a team comprised of about two dozen dancers from the three suburban Twin Cities studios, was born. Teachers enjoyed being able to work together, with new partners, by collaborating on a fresh dance.
Bringing three studios together to compete was simpler than any of the owners thought it would be. Each season they selected dancers they knew could pick up steps well; they then devised a piece that showcased those dancers’ talents and each studio’s individual strengths. The studios were far enough away from one another that none of the directors worried about losing students to one of the others, yet they were close enough to make rehearsing together possible.
Testing the waters
Many competitions have rules that prevent studios from competing against themselves or allowing dancers to compete on opposing studio teams; for that reason, Stein called BravO! director Brendan Buchanan to clear the idea with him. (United Dance competes only at BravO! because it’s close to home. As individual teams, the schools attend other competitions.)
Buchanan responded with enthusiasm. “It shows excellent sportsmanship to come together as one troupe from three different studios, and I think it sends a great message to these young performers,” he says. “It shows a positive perspective on the competition world—that ultimately what matters most is the performance and the experience of being onstage.”
Pulling it together
Launching United Dance became a matter of logistics, planning, and execution, not unlike what’s involved with any competition dance team. However, this effort came with the added challenge of finding time to get the dancers and their teachers—all with busy schedules in disparate cities—in the same room at the same time.
Stein took the lead in the project, allowing opportunities for everyone to contribute. She did the bulk of the choreography, structuring it so that sections were left unchoreographed so that the other studios could add to it. Each studio had its own section or phrase; specialty moves and phrases went to the best turners or leapers, regardless of studio affiliation.
“I broke down the music and gave each studio its own little section to do,” Stein says. “I said we’re doing a turn section here, we need another section here, and we’ll finish all together here. When we got together, we chose a few of our dancers to fill in each of those sections and worked together. I by no means did it all myself. Each choreographer [from the participating studios] contributed their section. It made for some really interesting dances because our styles were so different.”
In United Dance’s first year of competing, the dancers performed to The Beatles’ “Come Together,” covered by Michael Jackson, which felt like an appropriate choice. Earlier this year it was “Work Me Down” by Laura Hunter.
The result of the studios’ efforts was a winning team; however, the larger outcome was a feeling of unity among the students and staffs—and even those from other studios. “The first year United Dance competed with us, the audience gave them a standing ovation,” Buchanan says. “It was so great to see such a positive gesture.”
Friends and benefits
For Plein, the biggest bonus of United Dance is being able to expand the scope and reach of her students’ experience.
McNamara sees the team’s joint nature as another way to instill respect in her students, by providing opportunities to work with studios that might also be their competition. “We try to provide dance education and life education, especially for these kids who do competition teams and are together so much,” she says. “They’re at competitions for 20 hours a weekend; if you don’t have camaraderie, it affects competition results and they don’t work so well together.”
Stein, who says she started her studio at 19 “by accident” and has about 120 students on her roster, wanted to build a partnership with other studios because a few of her students were having a hard time with kids from nearby studios, who picked on them at school about beating the Dance by Kris team at competition.
“When I was going to competitions, I always admired the students we would see from different studios,” she says. “I’d think, ‘I want to turn like that someday.’ I felt like that was missing for my students,” because the nature of the competition had gotten more intense.
United Dance’s first meeting in 2012 was electric. Even the carpooling parents were excited, Stein says. “The first thing we did was get all the kids in a big circle and have them introduce themselves,” she says. “To strengthen the fact that we were coming together as one, they weren’t wearing their respective studio uniforms. Dancers are dancers no matter which studio they come from. From that moment, kids started talking, and once they started working on the dance, it wasn’t ‘the kids from my studio,’ ‘the kids from Victoria’s studio.’ ” In an instant, Stein says, they came together as a team.
Sharing more than the stage
In the past year United Dance met twice at Victoria Dance Productions and twice at Dance By Kris; Red Wing is a little farther away, and due to time and logistics, the three owners couldn’t swing a rehearsal there. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try next year.
On competition day in Minneapolis, the three studios become each other’s biggest cheering section. And at the award ceremony, Fusion Dance, Dance By Kris, and Victoria Dance Productions come together onstage and sit in a huge circle. The dancers cheer when United Dance teammates receive prizes for their respective studios, and when United Dance isn’t on the competition roster, the team kids continue their outsized cheers for their friends from other studios.
All three owners note that while audiences are encouraged to be supportive during competitions, the outpouring of enthusiasm among these three studios has been unique. “It has been a wonderful experience,” Stein says. “The electricity coming from the auditorium when United Dance was dancing was phenomenal.”
Because Plein, McNamara, and Stein decided the team is important to their individual missions, they do not charge the dancers who participate. Their motto is “Three studios, two rehearsals, one dance.” (The first year, they had time for only two rehearsals.) They proudly wear the slogan on T-shirts and continue to hold it in their hearts.
“What we did in coming together,” Plein says, “brings [competition] back to the love of dance. Yes, we do compete against others. But what you’re actually doing is sharing a passion that you have a deep commitment to: the love of the art of dance.”
How to avoid or fix dance-team troubles
By Debra Danese
If you’re one of the thousands of dance school owners who take their students to competitions, you understand the benefits of having a competition team, or several. But headaches come with the territory, and dealing with them can drain a studio owner’s time and energy.
Previously well-behaved dancers become mean and catty; formerly supportive parents accuse you of favoritism; you’re assaulted with complaints about the time commitment and costs—sound familiar? Maybe you’re beginning to regret your decision to send your students to competition and wonder why you ever thought it would be a good idea. What was supposed to be a positive aspect of your school is threatening to become a constant strain.
Previously well-behaved dancers become mean and catty; formerly supportive parents accuse you of favoritism; you’re assaulted with complaints about the time commitment and costs—sound familiar?
You’re not alone, and it’s not too late to get things back on track. Here’s how a handful of school owners—including myself—turned difficult situations around to make the dance teams an important part of their students’ education and a viable aspect of their business.
Create a handbook
It’s important for students and their parents to know upfront the expectations and level of commitment required to be on the competition team. Before auditions, hold an information meeting for interested dancers and parents. Clearly state how many competitions you’ll be attending and the cost and time commitment necessary to participate. Be as detailed as possible about the expected expenses, including registration fees, travel expenditures, and costumes.
One director, Neala Dunn, artistic director of Dance Alive! Dance Studio in Manteno, Illinois, says that some of her students’ parents checked the registration fees for the competitions and were upset at the discrepancies between the amount listed online and what the studio would charge. Dunn explained that the school’s fee included having instructors travel with the team. She now includes this information in her handbook and the issue hasn’t come up again.
It’s also important to state the attendance requirements for rehearsals. Outline your policy clearly and include what’s needed in the event of an absence, such as a note from a parent.
Tabitha Andrews-Colmary of KMC Dance in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, says the progression from recreational dance student to committed team member can be “a tricky transition for students and parents alike. We do have a stricter attendance policy for [competition team] dancers. To be fair, we have to stick with the same rules for all. We don’t allow parents to talk us into making an exception for their child. Of course, situations may occur where a reasonable compromise is the answer.”
Provide a copy of your handbook at the information meeting. Have the dancers arrive at the audition with a signed agreement stating that they and a parent have read, understood, and agreed to the rules and policies. This kind of agreement often allows you to handle problems before they escalate. Andrews-Colmary says she has resolved several issues by referring the parent or student to the handbook. She says, “Sometimes a friendly reminder was all it took.”
When competing for roles or solos, dancers sometimes succumb to negativity and criticism. Self-doubt and envy can lead to negative behavior that affects the entire team. Rather than allowing the positive and professional atmosphere in your studio to give way to the insidious creep of rivalry and resentment, instructors and studio owners can take steps to promote a supportive environment.
Dunn says she keeps unhealthy competitiveness at bay by putting the focus on training rather than competition. Dancers who are placed front and center or given prominent roles are there as a reward for hard work. She takes into consideration their attendance and work ethic in their technique classes in addition to team participation. She openly communicates this with parents and students who accuse her of favoritism. In her program, dedication is as important as talent.
When I directed the dance team at Villa Maria Academy in Malvern, Pennsylvania, I incorporated bonding activities and motivational tools into rehearsals. Team members were required to keep journals and reflect on their goals. This policy helped to remind my students of why they loved to dance and de-emphasized the competitive aspect.
Kimberlee Jo Kups-Benson, director of Dance Konnection in Marshalltown, Iowa, also relies on bonding activities to redirect the focus of her teams. After repeatedly seeing her dancers come offstage crying and screaming at each other, she realized something needed to change.
She held a meeting and talked about how the dancers were only as good as the group. She then started a Big Brother/Sister program among the school’s teams, in which “younger students have support from the older dancers and older dancers take on a role-model position. They assist in skill building and often work together during open studio time,” Kups-Benson says.
Kups-Benson or her office assistant choose the pairings and announce them at the first practice of the competition year. “They get really excited, even the older dancers,” Kups-Benson says. “It’s a big deal if they’re lucky and get ‘twins’ ” (two younger dancers matched with one older one due to uneven numbers). The students fill out a questionnaire about their family, birth date, favorite dance class, food, TV show, and color, and give it to their “sibling.”
The students carry this role into the studio and beyond. They watch their “sibling’s” dance classes and rehearsals, and have even showed up at soccer games and school plays. Some become babysitters for the younger dancers’ families. Parents of the older dancers help out the parents who are first-timers to competition.
Kups-Benson says she doesn’t have a formal process in which the “siblings” work together; however, if young dancers struggle with choreography, she will ask their older “sibling” to work with them during open studio time. During big production rehearsals, she groups them by “families” to work on various sections. The younger students love the encouragement from the older ones and the older students enjoy being looked up to.
Another way Kups-Benson builds camaraderie is to start or end rehearsals with a fun relay or game. She says, “All of our relays are silly and everyone ends up laughing. Nothing is competitive in them. The students try their hardest to win, but the stuff we do is goofy. One example is leapfrog. Nothing will get a whole class laughing more than seeing a five-foot-nine-inch dancer try to leapfrog a four-foot 8-year-old.”
It’s also important to teach your dancers proper competition etiquette (see “If C Is for Competition, E Is for Etiquette”). Instill in them the importance of being courteous to everyone involved in the event. This includes applauding for other schools, remaining in the auditorium during performances (to show support and minimize disruption from frequent comings and goings), and being gracious. Have students say “thank you” when receiving an award and “congratulations” when someone else does.
Enforce common courtesies at the studio so that they become habits. This kind of behavior reflects well on your studio and team and imparts standards of behavior for everyday life.
Handling dance moms
In some cases, it’s the parents who stir up unnecessary drama. You may receive unsolicited input on why a child should be moved up a level or another child should be moved down. Darlene Giordano Cummings, owner/director of American Dance Academy in Hockessin, Delaware, says she never lets a parent discuss any child’s placement. “It is in our handbook and it’s a policy I adhere to. I am happy, though, to discuss the placement of a parent’s own child.”
When parents ask her what their child can do to move up, she says to have the child write a letter to their teacher(s) about how they can improve in a particular class. If children want something badly enough, Cummings believes, they should take the initiative to act. “In today’s society, children need to learn how to work hard and to develop skills on their own,” she says.
Melanie Boniszewski, owner/director of Tonawanda Dance Arts in Tonawanda, New York, remembers when her team won an honorable mention. Happy with their ribbon, the children asked what it was, and a mom said, “It means thanks for coming, but you lost.” The kids were devastated. Boniszewski addressed this by telling the parents that her goal was to teach students how to be part of a team and to continue to improve. She said, “If it’s about the trophy, I’ll purchase plastic trophies to give out. There are more lessons to be learned from defeat than from success.” Attitudes changed, and those families are still with her today.
Another suggestion for minimizing unwanted parental input is to not allow parents to observe rehearsals. Many studios have a closed-door policy for classes, and the same rule can benefit a dance team.
Keeping the team motivated
At today’s competitions it’s common for all entrants to leave with an award. Some studio owners say this practice has made it difficult to motivate dancers to work hard. To offset this, try sharing the judges’ score sheets with your team. Critiques and, in some cases, audio recordings of judges’ comments help dancers improve technique and routines.
I use the feedback as a learning tool and motivator to set new goals. Before reading the judges’ comments, I ask the students to explain the difference between a critique and criticism. The students give examples of both, which illustrates that the judges’ comments are opinions and suggestions that we can take or leave as we see fit for the benefit of our team.
My dancers bring their dance journals to rehearsal after a competition. In reflecting on their performance individually and as a group, they are instructed to include three aspects they felt they did well with or improved on and three that need more improvement, along with how they can improve. This promotes self-awareness in themselves and the team. They share what they wrote and compare their self-evaluations to the judges’ comments. We finish by setting goals for the next competition.
Tara Falcone Pizer, owner/director of 8 Count Dance in Green, Ohio, invites soloists and their parents to meet with her to discuss the judges’ comments and scores. “Many times the judges see things we do not,” she says, “or they will give a correction to the dancers that we have been giving. When they hear it from someone else, they actually apply it.”
Falcone Pizer also uses online video comments when available. She sends them to the dancers, who are required to watch them three times, taking fresh notes each time. They then bring their notes to the next rehearsal, where they discuss improvements to the piece.
It’s important to present the comments for what they are: a point of view, says Jennifer Oldfield, a freelance choreographer and the former owner of Steppin’ Out Academy in Kimberton, Pennsylvania. She says she often struggled with team morale after competitions. “My dancers felt discouraged if they didn’t receive high scores after working hard on a routine. They compared themselves to other teams who they felt were better dancers.” This resulted in a “why bother?” attitude.
To avoid such low morale, emphasize that the critiques are the opinions of a single set of judges for a single performance on a particular day, and that changing any of those factors might have resulted in a different outcome. These realizations can be teachable moments that will help dancers prepare for the reality of auditions, college admissions interviews, or job opportunities.
Leading by example
Boniszewski says she has become friends with many neighboring studio owners who also attend competitions. “We take classes together and are very friendly at competitions. It’s shown my students that even though you’re competing, you can be friends, enjoy each other’s talents, and cheer each other on,” she says.
If she or her students encounter negative behavior at a competition, they walk away. “I tell my students and their parents that we will not promote negative behavior and will remove ourselves from any situation that we are uncomfortable in.” She says the school owners she is friendly with do the same.
One time, though, Boniszewski’s team was not able to avoid a negative situation; parents sitting behind them were making negative comments about a dancer’s size and costume. “One of our guests told these people she was sure they could find something more positive to say about the beautiful dancer onstage,” Boniszewski says. “While I do not promote confronting someone, I was not disappointed that this person spoke up.”
In order to make a dance team worth the effort, focus on the educational benefits. Define your principles and goals for your team; outline and stick with your handbook policies and procedures; and keep true to what you believe in. Parents and students will come to rely on your consistency. Talking with colleagues about their dance team experiences can often provide a fresh perspective when facing challenges. Obstacles can be overcome, making the benefits of a competitive team worthwhile. In most cases, a strong camaraderie will develop between team dancers, their parents, and you.
E is for etiquette
By Karen White
Big competition coming up? Let’s make sure your students have everything they need. Costumes and makeup, eyelashes, bobby pins, extra tights, water. Is anything missing? Yes—good manners!
In this world of “anything goes” reality TV and social media, where people behaving badly often generate “likes” and high ratings, good manners matter more than ever. Competitions and conventions—where kids from rival studios are often thrust into a single cramped dressing area, or feel under pressure to excel in a challenging class—can potentially bring out the worst in parents and students alike.
“That’s all the more reason why you, as a dance teacher, have to grab control and set a standard by which you are going to have your people behave when they go to events like this,” says Rhee Gold, publisher of Dance Studio Life. “If you never sit down and talk about what you expect, the only source of reference is what people see on TV or at Little League.”
Statements like, “If this gets below a high gold, there is something wrong with the judges,” sets students up for both personal disappointment and the feeling they let the teacher down, Gold says.
Don’t underestimate the importance of taking the time to prep your team—and your team parents—before any out-of-studio activity. Gold advises spelling out expectations and rules in a handbook given to all team members. Include a commitment line (such as: “I have read and understand all policies in the team handbook”) in all team members’ contracts.
Then, call a meeting and go over the handbook page by page. “Put it in writing—that’s the key. I’d take the handbook with me, and if students misbehave at the event, show them how they are going against the policies they agreed to stand by,” he says. “And you are probably going to come home after every event and have something new to add for the following year.”
Here are some behavior areas Gold advises school owners to address.
Politeness counts. At a convention, students should always thank the teacher at the end of class and be courteous to all event staff (for example, when signing in with the stage manager backstage).
Any problems or concerns should be brought to the attention of the school director—parents and students should never approach competition or convention staffers with complaints.
Dancers need to maintain a professional attitude throughout the event. At competition, all dancers should be backstage, warmed up and ready to go, four or five numbers before their scheduled stage time. Parents should keep an eye out for students in need—for example, the team member with the perpetual messy bun—and offer friendly assistance.
If something goes wrong onstage, dancers need to “dance a little harder” and not make any reaction that would signal a mistake to the judges. Anyone who forgets the dance and runs offstage will not get a “do over.” Let soloists know “they had their shot,” Gold says. “Tell them to let it go, move on to the rest of their numbers, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Stress that students should show enthusiasm for all dances they are in—from solos to small groups to productions of 50-plus members. “Sometimes I see kids and parents who are only into their solos, and not respecting that they are part of a team,” Gold says. “Group numbers are as, if not more, important because there are so many dancers involved.”
Competitions and conventions can be held in less-than-optimal facilities, with dancers stepping on each other’s toes in a contemporary class or crowded together in a basement dressing room. Let your dancers know what it means to act professionally, Gold says. That includes not touching another dancer’s costumes, dance bag, or makeup to make room for yourself without permission. “You could be messing up their setup for a quick change, and now they’re freaking out,” he says.
Remind your students that professional dancers and entertainers often face similar challenges. “Learn how to adjust to the circumstances around you,” Gold says. “Never do anything that could be interpreted by another school as disrespecting them.”
Parents should refrain from talking negatively about other students, whether on their own or another team. Comments such as “I don’t like that choreography,” or “That teacher likes so-and-so better because they gave her a better dance,” show a lack of respect for the teacher. “Parents give kids a signal about how to act,” he says. “If you’re disrespectful, you’re teaching your kids to be the same way.”
Competitions and conventions often run for several days, but even single-day affairs can be hectic. Go over the schedule and be sure that everyone understands which classes and activities you expect them to attend. Gold advises traveling as a group. For distant venues, “put somebody in charge of booking the airfare so you all arrive together, like a team, on the first day,” he says.
When traveling and at events, have your students wear team apparel. This public display of unity and school spirit also helps faculty keep track of everyone. Encourage parents to wear studio apparel as well.
Expect the older dancers to support the team’s younger or newer dancers by helping them backstage and explaining how the day will unfold.
Team members must wear the assigned costume—from shoes to headpiece to earrings—and fix their hair and makeup as instructed. “If I’m the teacher with 80 numbers, and one kid tries something different in each number, that adds so much to my stress by the end of the week,” Gold says. “This way, if I’ve said exactly what I expect, then that’s exactly what will happen.”
All team members need to be on hand to applaud and support each other, even if they aren’t competing at that time. “That $350 or $400 parents are paying in entry fees is not just so their kid can dance onstage for three minutes; it’s to be at the event the whole weekend,” Gold says. And they are there not only to support the school, he says, but “to watch what’s going on so they can be inspired when they get back to the studio.”
At awards, team members should be friendly and interact with dancers from other teams, pay attention to the entire award ceremony, and applaud for everyone. Remind them that despite any disappointments, they must remain polite and respectful. “If students think they didn’t get an award they thought they deserved, no one should see that on their faces,” Gold says. “Dancers and entertainers have to remain professional in circumstances that are not easy. This experience is part of learning how to do that.”
A teacher’s words in the studio play a role in her students’ expectations as well. No one can predict how a judging panel will score on any given day, nor can anyone predict how the competing schools will perform. Statements like, “If this gets below a high gold, there is something wrong with the judges,” sets students up for both personal disappointment and the feeling they let the teacher down, Gold says.
Instead, explain that there is no set standard for competition judging and that two judging panels might score the same number very differently. Don’t focus on the score—instead, pump up your students with positive statements such as, “Give me a performance like that, and I’ll be happy!”
Remind dancers and parents that they will be guests in the venue/hotel/conference center, and they need to follow the venue’s rules. All of them.
“If food and beverages are not allowed in the auditorium, then no one should be caught doing that; there are no exceptions,” Gold says.
Be discreet and respectful when entering and exiting the audience area, he says, and never walk down the aisle or chat loudly during a performance. Beware of unintentional rude behavior—if 50 parents stream up the aisles after a large production number, they will block the view of audience members who are eager to see the next dance. Screams of “Go ABC Studio!” or “Shake it, Suzie!” are unbecoming and unprofessional, while enthusiastic applause is always welcome.
The backstage area at a competition can be cramped and crowded, and students who are new to the experience might not realize how best to navigate this area. Explain the unwritten backstage rules to your dancers—performers should never hang out backstage, sit or stand in the wings where they can be seen by the audience, or in any way impede the movement of other teams, who might have quick entrances and exits or need to move large props.
If staying in a hotel, keep in mind proper behavior at all times. Both parents and students should be aware of noise levels in both rooms and hallways, polite to other guests and staff, and conscientious of any situations—such as screaming or overly boisterous behavior in the pool—that would reflect badly on the team.
Rules for best behavior apply to teachers and studio owners, as well, Gold says. If a team or a number underperforms despite hours of rehearsal time, save any comments and corrections for back in the studio—especially if your team still has 10 numbers left to go. “Lambasting them won’t get you a better performance the next time. They will be more stressed out and will go out on the stage in fear,” Gold says. “And if you’re overheard or seen by dancers, teachers, or parents from another school, you’re not making a good impression.”
If personality issues or other tensions between team members threaten to get out of hand, gather the involved parties (students and parents) in a private area for a talk. Settle the issue, then “go back in as a team,” Gold says.
Studio owners should never use competitions and conventions to solicit students from other schools, and they should make sure that none of their actions—such as chatting with parents from other studios—could be interpreted that way. “If your objective is to get more dance students out of dance competitions, you should either stop attending competitions or do such an awesome job that your reputation helps your school grow,” Gold says.
During his years as a competition director and studio owner, Gold saw plenty of bad behavior—from the unhappy student who threw her special award at a judge, to rival schools who refused to applaud for each other, to coolers filled with beer in hotel hallways and loud, partying parents.
“I can’t tell you how many times teachers tell me they don’t have control of parents or students,” he says. “If you don’t have control, something is wrong. It’s up to you, as the school owner or director, to create the personality of your school.”
Allen Fields was just having fun with his students when he slipped into a tutu and began dancing in Times Square on Halloween. The impromptu performance by the Minnesota Ballet’s former artistic director attracted hundreds of bystanders—and the eye of a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, whose image from the scene has popped up on websites from around the world, reported the Duluth News Tribune.
“It’s just amazing,” said Fields, who recently opened Allen Fields Classical Ballet & Training, a Rochester, Minnesota-based company that focuses on elite dancers. “The public was all around me.”
Fields was in New York City with his students for a trip that included viewing live performances and visiting with his mentors. Fields’ show in Times Square, in front of a reported 400 bystanders, lasted more than an hour and called for maneuvering by traffic police, according to Linda Pagnano, Fields’ program coordinator. “The people just loved him,” she said. “They took pictures and they were asking him to dance. It just spiraled into him providing good-hearted fun entertainment.”
Pagnano can also be seen in the image by Reuters’ photographer Adrees Latif, who won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography in 2008 for a photo of an injured Japanese photographer, who later died, during a violent clash between troops and protesters in Myanmar.
Fields said the best part is being part of this photographer’s catalog. “It’s really the most important thing, as a person, is to have a picture that will go down in history by a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer,” he said. “I think that’s really cool.”
To see the full story, visit http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/article/id/282636/.
In the dance studio at Lower Richland High School, chances are you’ll hear dance instructor Monessa Salley motivating her students by saying, “Just try it. You never know if you can do it until you try it.”
Salley, the newly named 2013 South Carolina Dance Educator of the Year, will be formally recognized as state Dance Educator of the Year in November at an awards luncheon hosted by the South Carolina Dance Association, reported The Columbia Star.
The organization was impressed by her dedication to her students. Salley said she believes it’s important to have a strong relationship of mutual respect and creativity with her students. She often allows them to add feedback on the choreography and on how they can help each other learn and perform the routines.
“I believe that each child is a unique individual who needs a secure, caring, and stimulating atmosphere in which to grow and mature physically, emotionally, intellectually, and socially,” said Salley. She sees dance as an outlet for expressing feelings and ideas and enjoys helping students get in touch with their emotions, thoughts, and artistic impulses.
The Sumter native, who fell in love with dance at a young age, earned a bachelor of arts degree in dance performance from Winthrop University. She went on to pursue a master’s degree in education/divergent learning from Columbia College, allowing her to teach dance in the school system and eventually in Richland One.
To see the original story, visit http://www.thecolumbiastar.com/news/2013-10-25/Education/Richland_One_teacher_named_SC_Dance_Educator_of_th.html.
The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS) is conducting a public review of substantive portions of draft high school (grades 9–12) national core arts standards for dance, media arts, music, theater, and visual arts.
The National Dance Educators Organization (NDEO) is urging dance teachers to help out by reviewing the dance standards and providing feedback before the October 21 deadline. (Dance teachers do not have to be high school dance teachers to participate.)
More than 160 teachers participated in the June/July review for pre-K to grade 8 dance standards, with more than 3,000 educators in all arts disciplines providing feedback. Once completed, these standards will serve as the model for arts education in the U.S. According to NCCAS, there are more than 250,000 certified dance, music, theater, and visual arts teachers working in U.S. K–12 schools.
To participate, visit the NCCAS public review page at http://nccas.wikispaces.com/. To stay updated on the standards review, visit https://www.facebook.com/NationalCoalitionForCoreArtsStandards.
Misty’s Dance Unlimited, owned by Dance Studio Life contributor and DanceLife Teacher Conference speaker Misty Lown, has received one of 15 “The Most Amazing Company” designations by the motivational/business development company Evoloshen, and a feature in the new business book Engage! by Karin and Sergio Volo.
Other companies to receive the designation include TOMS Shoes, Zappos!, Whole Foods, Ben & Jerry’s, Southwest Airlines, Puma, Virgin, and others.
Lown said the nominee vetting process included a review of the studio’s work and interviews and surveys of its leadership team, teachers, clients, and community partners. “Most Amazing Companies” are described as ones that are dedicated to a higher purpose, have employees who are passionate and productive, and are not only profitable but have a positive impact on employees, customers, and the community.
Lown, her family, and her studio administrative director plan to travel to Stockholm, Sweden, next fall to attend the honorees gala. More information on the book Engage! Your Step By Step Guide to Creating a Workplace that You, Your Co-Workers, and Your Customers Will Love! can be found at http://theengagebook.com/.
Advice for dance teachers
I recently learned that my landlord has leased the space next to my school to a tattoo parlor. I’m devastated. I recently expanded my school, but I’m sure future business for me will be grim because people will see what’s next door and drive down the street to the next dance school. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. —Donna
I’m not sure that the tattoo parlor will deter students from coming to your school. However, if you panic over the situation and tell everyone how upset you are, then you might find yourself living the grim future you fear. If I were you, I would ignore the fact that there will be a tattoo parlor next door to the school; instead, spread the word about how excited you are that you expanded your business and can offer more for your students.
Many years ago, a liquor store opened next door to my mother’s school, and my mom feared it would hurt her business. She assumed the store would attract shady characters; instead, the store became a convenient place for her clientele to pick up a gallon of milk, and the dance students often went there to buy candy. More than 20 years later, the liquor store has closed, and everyone misses the convenience.
My advice is to keep your concerns to yourself. Chances are everything will work out fine. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
I’m wondering where I could find more information concerning dance schools and going nonprofit. We are signing a new lease with our landlord and expanding into the space next to us. The landlord is a lawyer and has asked us if we would consider becoming a nonprofit in order to gain community support for the school.
I am a registered teacher with the Royal Academy of Dance, which is a nonprofit organization. I know some schools are nonprofit and some aren’t, or they have a company that is nonprofit and the school is not. I would appreciate any suggestions or guidance. —Rachel
Your question is timely, because our July 2013 issue has two stories that will give you plenty of information about nonprofits and a related topic, grantwriting (“Nonprofit Nuts and Bolts” and “The Fine Art of Finding Money.”)
A nonprofit organization associated with your school provides opportunities to do some wonderful things for your students and business. You would be able to help families who are unable to afford lessons by giving them full or partial tuition scholarships. One business-related benefit is that nonprofit schools often receive discounted rates on auditorium rentals, printing, and so on.
However, nonprofit status requires you to take on new responsibilities. You’ll need to establish a board of directors that meets at least annually. (I believe the minutes of those meetings must be recorded with your state.) You would have less control than you have with a for-profit business because decisions would be made by the multiple people involved in the organization. The IRS might scrutinize your tax returns more carefully than they would those of a for-profit business. If you establish scholarships, you may be required to offer those opportunities to children who dance at other schools.
I do think it is worth discussing the details with an attorney and an accountant to determine whether a nonprofit is the right move for you. Good luck! —Rhee
I have a teacher who works for me and at another school, which participates in competitions. My school doesn’t compete. This teacher announced on Facebook how proud she is that her sons are a part of this school because she believes in competition. (Her daughter is 3 and takes class with me.) I never respond to anything on Facebook, but I feel like saying in a separate comment, “I usually love Facebook, but I worry for our children because even I, a confident adult, can get hurt on Facebook.” What is your opinion? —Kelly
If we analyze posts on Facebook, we all could find ourselves hurt by someone’s comments. This teacher is entitled to her preferences and beliefs and probably had no idea that her post would bother you. I say ignore her comments and move on. Being a confident adult who has made the decision not to participate in dance competitions should give you the self-assurance that you have made the right decision for you and your students. I hope this helps. —Rhee
Recently my daughter was in her first recital. Cutest thing ever—except one of the dances done by the young teens was set to the song “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy).” I’m not a prude by any stretch; however, had my 12-year-old daughter been dancing to that song, I would have flipped my lid. Should I let it go, or should I bring up my concern with the dance studio owner?
If you think it’s appropriate to bring it up, how can I do it without causing problems? I don’t want my daughter labeled as the kid with the uptight parents. I loved 99 percent of the recital; I’d never been to one and was impressed with everything they did and how efficiently it was run. I figured you’d have some insight about how to handle this respectfully. —Dancing Dad
Dear Dancing Dad,
Good for you for noticing. The issue of inappropriate music comes up lot in our field. It’s one of my peeves, because I believe kids should be kids for as long as we can keep them that way. With literally millions of choices for music, I often wonder why some teachers make the choices they do.
You might want to drop a note to the school praising them for what you liked about the show and then mention that you felt uncomfortable with the “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” piece. If they appreciate your comments and say they will consider your opinion when determining appropriate music, then you have helped them out. If they become defensive or critical of your opinion, you might learn that the school is not the right place for your daughter. Good luck! —Rhee
By David Arce
In arabesque, often dancers do not place their working leg behind them in a closed position, and then they try to correct it. Ample time should be given at the barre for students to feel cross-body tension before attempting higher arabesques. Balancing in dégagé on flat and then on relevé after the first tendu exercises works well.
Have your students visualize the pinky toe of their working foot connecting with the opposite ear while in arabesque, both legs spiraling outward, and lengthening the standing leg. The feeling should be the same from tendus to grand battements. Arabesque is a closed position, not an open one.
By Geo Hubela
As hip-hop is evolving, I see more urban styles that convey emotion. Lyrical hip-hop, which combines the nuances of lyrical dance with the vocabulary and foundational movements of hip-hop, is more interpretive than standard hip-hop. There are still isolations, gliding, smooth movement, and waves, but they are more fluid and less hard-hitting. And, as in lyrical dance, emphasis is placed on storytelling and conveying emotion. But stay true to the foundations of hip-hop or else call it lyrical.
The foundations should always remain true to the art. A pet peeve of mine is seeing elements of jazz in hip-hop routines. Double pirouettes, kicks with pointed feet, and jazz poses compromise the integrity of a hip-hop routine. Get creative and transform technical elements into hip-hop. Instead of lifting and elongating the body, bend the knees more and hunch over; instead of pointing a foot, flex it. Show your dancers the differences in movement and placement so they know each style must stay true to its foundation.
By Bill Evans
When straightening the knees is over-emphasized, students can learn to stand with the body weight back on the heels. This pattern causes rigidity throughout the body and misalignments of the pelvis, spine, and rib cage. Encourage your students to experience each foot as a tripod, placing equal amounts of weight on the first and fifth metatarsals and the calcaneus (heel bone). This will direct the line of gravity in front of the heel and distribute the weight where it needs to be for a resilient feet-to-head connection.
The bones in the feet need to continually reorganize. As they plié, students should allow the feet to “melt”—spreading and sinking into the floor. As they rise from plié, they need to allow the arches in the feet to create resilient “domes.” As the hips and knees fold and unfold, the lower leg bones change their relationship to the tarsals. Changes in the tarsals then create changes throughout the rest of the foot. Trying to “lift the arches” or otherwise hold immobilizing tension in the feet will lessen shock absorption throughout the body.
By Gregg Russell
Challenging your dancers to tap to different time signatures and meters will help develop their musicality. (Often simply finding count 1 can be tricky.) This challenge will allow them to understand and master more complex rhythms and patterns. It can also expand a teacher’s creativity with choreography. Some suggestions for popular songs in various meters include “Hey Ya” by Outkast (11/4), “Dreamworld” by Robin Thicke (6/8), and “15 Step” by Radiohead (5/4).
Improvisation in tap is an important tool in developing a dancer’s individual style and rhythm. Here are a couple of exercises for students new to improv. Callbacks: students turn away from you and repeat a four-count rhythm that you give them—not matching your tap steps, but using their own steps to match your rhythm. Trade-offs: tap four counts in front of the students and have them follow with their own four counts. Vary this by having the students start their four counts with the last step you did. For example, if you end with a wing, they start with one.
Overuse injuries are a reality for any dance teacher. Here’s how to avoid them.
By Suzanne Martin, PT, DPT
How many tendus do you think you’ve done in your lifetime? Hip circles? Battements? Scary, isn’t it? Dance training requires countless repetitions of the same movements, and performing and teaching careers often follow. And all those ronds de jambe and arabesques add up. Tack on the number of times a teacher demonstrates a step, and we’re looking at some potentially serious overuse issues.
The body is extraordinarily strong and resilient. No artificial hip, knee, or foot has ever been able to reproduce the durability of the human anatomy. But as strong as the body is, dancing takes its toll, and teaching can be responsible for much of the accumulated damage.
So what can you do today to lessen the wear and tear teaching inflicts on your body? Making mature and wise decisions about your body and your work ethic takes willingness and practice, but it will serve you well. Those decisions include when to demonstrate and when it’s time to delegate.
The three main tools that will help you keep moving are staying fit, taking good care of your joints, and taking time to heal after any injury.
In the dance world, “rest” can actually mean “relative rest”—and is better by far than nothing.
A strategy regarding demonstrating is a critical part of this toolkit. Keep in mind your studio’s overall philosophy regarding how much demonstrating is expected from teachers, and tailor your teaching style accordingly. Additionally, have a plan in place in case injury, a condition such as pregnancy, or simple fatigue drastically curtails your ability to show steps.
Think ahead about which types of exercises or combinations you can talk through, which you can mark lightly, and which you’ll have students demonstrate. Know which students you’ll use, and where their particular strengths lie. It’s not only the most advanced dancers who can be useful in your classroom; the best technicians aren’t necessarily the best teachers. Dancers of lesser ability who are good at teaching and monitoring can be very helpful in a large class, sparing you from doing all the hands-on work. In younger children’s classes an aide can help keep order and correct as directed, as well as demonstrate simple steps.
Remember that finding a good demonstrator takes time and patience, since the arrangement can be a potential mentoring relationship. Selecting a demonstrator can either be helpful to the student or detrimental to their performance progress. Pointing out a student’s poor execution of a step or phrase could prove devastating for a dancer with low self-esteem, while being made a positive example might cause a dancer with perfectionist tendencies to stop taking risks for fear of falling off a perceived pedestal. Choose wisely and responsibly.
The first tool, staying fit, is essential for teachers who hope to stay happy and healthy teaching for any length of time. An all-too-common mistake teachers make is assuming that demonstrating alone will keep them in prime teaching condition. Although demonstrating one’s whole class is a way to maintain muscle tone and flexibility, repetitive motions over time can cause overuse problems such as arthritis, nerve injuries, or meniscal (knee) injuries.
For this reason, all athletes, even dancers, need cross-training. Much dance emphasizes weight-bearing and hyperflexibility in the lower legs, with the result that most reported injuries occur in the feet and legs. So it’s best to focus your cross-training on strength exercises done off your feet, such as cycling, weight training for the arms and upper body, Pilates or similar core training, and re-coordination classes such as Feldenkrais. It is true that if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. But while keeping your demonstrating skills fresh is important, showing steps and combinations in class shouldn’t be your only physical program.
Taking care of the joints doesn’t always come naturally for those who are trained to display dance-over-nails toughness. Find an approach that doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You don’t have to act like a fragile flower, but do acknowledge that you only get one anatomic set of joints per lifetime.
One sign that our joints are in need of relief is when we begin to notice cracks and pops in joints that were previously silent. Overly tight musculature pulls on joints and often makes them crack and pop as the bones are pulled into improper mechanics.
In addition to paying attention to joint overuse, it’s important to remember that muscle tightness can put stress on joints and that reducing emotional or work stress reduces muscle tensions.
I sometimes recommend—only half in jest—that clients try to live as if they’re on vacation. This can be as simple as indulging in a warm bath with Epsom salts, taking that ferry ride you save for out-of-town visitors, or sunning in a park every once in a while. Indulging in such mini-breaks, along with allowing more demonstrator and/or aide participation, can work wonders to reduce the amount of damage caused by joint strain.
Taking time to heal
The last tool—taking time to heal after any injury—may seem daunting to most teachers. Do strive to make it doable. The reality is that due to the long-term overuse issue, teachers must address chronic flare-ups, injuries, and other ailments so that they don’t turn into potentially disabling problems.
Again, don’t think all or nothing. Notice the use of the word “heal” rather than “cure.” And in the dance world, “rest” can actually mean “relative rest”—and is better by far than nothing. So while regular dance training, performing, and teaching mean continual activity even when you are faced with physical issues, modulate your level of exertion by using aides and demonstrators.
Teachers are in dance for the long haul. In the San Francisco Bay Area, a 95-year-old recently retired from teaching a dance class at the senior center. Where will you be at 95?
Make today the first day of the rest of your teaching life. Stay in shape. Delegate. Organize a team of demonstrators and aides. Give yourself and your body a break.
I have faith in you.
Word from the publisher
I have always believed that attitude has everything to do with success. School owners who have a bad attitude—even when they have a huge marketing budget, the best faculty, and a school that offers excellent training—will not achieve the same level of success as do those whose love for dance shows in everything they do.
Dance Studio Life recently sent a survey to school owners that gave them the option to leave a comment. Hundreds did, and many of them, even those who are not doing as well financially as they would like to, expressed joy in teaching dance.
One very unhappy school owner’s response reminded me of a comment I had received the year before; it turns out that the same person wrote both of them. I understand that the dance-education business is not always easy, and that dance schools must compete with the many activities available to children. But why not compete with those activities with a constructive mind-set?
That teacher wrote: “Our baby classes are no longer viable; their retention is two or three years at best. Their moms pull them as soon as they start doing musical-theater shows or sports in their local schools. Entire classes are crammed onto the stage because it has become a free after-school babysitter service/homework hall, a boon to stressed working parents. However, they’re not allowed a single absence, so the kids can’t come to my studio once a week for an $11 dance class. The parents consider swaying on a stage, in three shows per year, dance training.
“My dance recitals and Nutcracker are no longer a draw,” she continued, “thanks to these ‘Broadway’ shows, which the local schools have discovered are big moneymakers. The program books are overflowing with parents’ ads.”
She ended on a note of despair: “I have tried everything to stay solvent, but my costs go up while my enrollment goes down. I may have to close my school; my dream dance career has turned into a nightmare. I would appreciate your addressing this in future issues.”
The same survey brought a very different response from another teacher: “I am living a dream every day! I wake up thinking I have the best job and business ever. The babies’ smiles and innocence make my heart melt. The older ones are not as easy, but they teach me how to be a better teacher; I learn new ways to break through with them. The music makes me happy too. My studio is growing and I know it’s because we are so positive.”
If you were looking for a dance school for your child and read these comments, I’ll bet I know which school you would choose.
Some people spend their lives wallowing in the negative, which often deters others from wanting to be a part of their world. No matter how hard the struggle may be, those who have the right attitude and who grow and learn from their circumstances are often the most successful. We all have choices in life. Enjoy the journey.
Look Around and Learn
It is important for students to understand that one of the greatest resources they have in the studio is the other dancers. Teachers can provide strategies that allow students to really use the dancers who surround them for their benefit.
In my college classes I start by asking students to write a one-page letter identifying which dancer(s) they most like to watch. For studio classes, I ask dancers to fill out one side of a 3×5 card. They don’t name the other student; instead they list qualities and actions that make him/her appealing to watch.
Next, I return the card or letter with notes indicating which qualities I feel are most important for the student to follow up on. Then, during class, I direct students to take action, incorporating those attractive qualities into their own dancing. I encourage them to “steal” the inspiring moments they observe and to make them their own.
Students should place themselves where they can absorb another dancer’s positive qualities—behind someone at the barre to emulate his timing, next to the person who travels confidently through space, or in the opposite group in order to study an admired classmate’s choices. Focusing the students’ attention away from body type, I encourage them to observe qualities or actions that they can try to develop in themselves, such as lightness, stability, and timing.
I’ve used this letter-writing technique for many years, and I’ve seen that it has helped students to see examples of how confidence, risk-taking, a strong work ethic, and a thoughtful approach to taking corrections contribute to other students’ development as dancers.
The goal is not to make students feel pressured or competitive but to elevate the positive energy in the classroom. The letter-writing technique can help create an environment in which dancers are aware and engaged in the process of witnessing and sharing with one another.
Chalk It Up
Struggling with order and behavior in your preschool class? Tackle that terror with simple sidewalk chalk.
There are endless ways to use under-your-feet art to grasp attention, instill discipline, and introduce a sense of fun and whimsy. Even students as old as 7 or 8 will respond positively if you bring out the chalk on an attention-challenged day, while younger children never seem to tire of it.
In the transition time from ballet to tap, I draw two rows of evenly spaced, staggered circles, facing the mirror. Students who put on their shoes quickly and quietly pick which circle to stand in. This encourages good behavior and saves time—everyone finds a “dance space” without fuss.
While sticker dots can serve the same function as chalk circles, the latter can also be used for teaching purposes—“Let’s march around the circle,” for example, or “Hop inside; now jump your feet outside” (to teach jumping from first to second). On classes near holidays, instead of circles I draw (very basic) shamrocks, Christmas trees, hearts, or ghosts.
To teach diagonals, I draw gigantic matching flowers in two corners and smiley faces in the other two. “Now when it’s your turn, skip from flower to flower, then from smiley face to face.” No more cutoff corners!
For first position, I draw hearts that just fit their feet. “Now, stand in the heart and ‘kiss’ your heels together.” V shapes help older students who are struggling to find the diagonal tendu in croisé devant.
On special days, I break out the whole box of chalk and let everyone draw. This results in a wild mess of shapes and patterns—plus lots of smiles. We all dance in our own shape for a bit—pliés and bourrée turns, perhaps—then skip around the room before returning “home” to our own shape.
Cleanup is easy too—hand out tissues and have all the little Cinderellas “scrub” the floor before the final curtsy of class.
Director, Orlando Ballet School, Orlando, Florida
NOMINATED BY: CeCe Wilck, parent: “Dede Miles Burger is a strong but accessible leader. She encourages team mentality among her teachers and faculty, all of whom are passionate about developing well-rounded and technically superior dancers. Dede works directly with her students at all levels—her door is always open to discuss students’ dance-related and personal questions. Dede is not only a mentor to her students, but a guiding force in their lives.
Under her direction, Orlando Ballet School has received top competition honors. Dede also works continually to develop and support outreach programs such as S.T.E.P.S (Scholarship Training for the Enrichment of Primary Students), which targets at-risk children. Last spring Dede introduced the Adaptive Dance program, designed to foster a love of dance and creative expression in children with Down syndrome.”
YEARS TEACHING: 37
AGES TAUGHT: Primarily ages 10 to adult
GENRES TAUGHT: Ballet, pointe, variations
WHY SHE CHOSE TEACHING AS A CAREER: I was a professional dancer for more than 20 years. I always had an interest in teaching and began to teach in my early 20s. I realized I was interested in the mechanics of dance technique and the fine points of how a dancer improves their ability. I also love the art form and feel a responsibility and calling to share my experience. I try to foster the love for dance that has given me such inspiration through the years.
GREATEST INSPIRATION: Throughout my performing career I studied with Maggie Black. Maggie’s thorough, thoughtful approach taught me to think about how I was working and to want to pass that knowledge on. Anna-Marie Holmes was a mentor and the greatest guiding force in my becoming a teacher. She helped me tremendously in learning and growing my teaching skills. She gave me my first significant teaching opportunity.
TEACHING PHILOSPHY: I like to call it “dancing from the inside out.” In order to master technique with a clean, effortless appearance, you must have a very strong core, a command of proper placement, and a physical understanding of how to control turnout. A dancer who understands her body can achieve a great deal. I also believe in a positive approach and that the connection to music and expression must always be present.
WHY SHE IS A GOOD TEACHER: I am pretty analytical and I think I am able to help dancers understand the technical aspects of ballet. I also enjoy helping dancers with their work as artists. Most of all I love dance and enjoy my work. Dance training is hugely beneficial in ways beyond the physical activity of it. I want every student’s life to be enriched by the challenge and joy that dance can provide.
FONDEST TEACHING MEMORY: I love seeing my students perform and improve. Seeing students master material they have worked on tirelessly is always rewarding; seeing them go on to professional dance careers always makes me proud and happy.
ADVICE TO TEACHERS AND STUDENTS: Don’t give up! If you want to achieve something, give it your whole heart, mind, passion, and effort. Stay positive and keep your sense of humor.
IF SHE WASN’T A DANCE TEACHER: Every time I’ve ventured away from dance I’ve always returned. Perhaps I would explore something else in the art world or work with dogs. I love dogs!
ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS: The many people in the dance world I have worked with have given me so much over the years. Passing it on to the next generation of young dancers is a huge privilege.
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 Jackie L. Smith
Some of us spend a lifetime looking for “our” place. I have known since my first class that dance would always be the love of my life. Ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop, vaudeville, ballroom, square dancing, Irish step dancing, lyrical, modern, interpretive—it doesn’t matter. I love everything about it: the music, the leotards, the smell of new ballet shoes, the pain of the first pointe shoes, the excitement, the applause.
As I was growing up, I tried to grow tall. I mistakenly thought ballerinas had to be tall (was I thinking of Vegas showgirls?), and I longed for long, graceful dancer’s legs. I ate all my bread crusts and, as a teen, never took up smoking because I was told it would stunt my growth. I never made it past five foot two, but this did nothing to deter me from dreaming of becoming a prima ballerina someday.
I never had to be told to practice; that’s all I wanted to do. I had a brief stint in the Girl Scouts, but had no desire to kill snakes with a hoe or canoe 30 miles or sleep in a cabin filled with daddy longlegs and mosquitoes. When I was in the sixth grade my father bought me a violin and enrolled me in the school orchestra. I loved the music, and if I had been allowed to dance while I played, it might have “stuck.” But my feet could not be still while I sat sawing with my bow. Music stands were in danger of being knocked over if placed too close to me.
Volleyball, basketball, badminton, baseball—what fun were they without music, without choreography?
We got to square dance in PE one year, the only PE class I did not hate. Volleyball, basketball, badminton, baseball—what fun were they without music, without choreography? Without costumes and makeup, lighting and a stage?
I danced because I had to, not because my parents wanted me to or because I had friends who did. My friends could tell you who Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe were, but my childhood and teen years were spent attending the ballet and seeing the musicals that were so popular at the time. Movie stars were not my heroes, dancers were—Anna Pavlova, Vera-Ellen, Betty Grable, Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rogers. In my mid-30s, I practically worshiped Baryshnikov and Makarova.
I exercised, stretched, and tried to eat healthily. When my peers were sneaking smokes in high school, I haughtily informed them that dancers didn’t smoke. When I found out some did smoke, or even drank alcohol, I was disappointed to find that dancers had very ordinary human habits. It broke my heart to read about famous ballerinas who had developed eating disorders.
There were, of course, benefits from this physical, emotional, and mental addiction. I learned to memorize almost anything, rapidly and forever. (All that chorography!) I learned an eight count before I learned to subtract. My flexibility is extraordinary even now, at 75! I learned the value of teamwork and of seeing the big picture as well as the importance of the individual. I learned to manage my time (and a schedule), to appreciate the talents of others, and to understand the passions of others through my own love of dance. I learned that effort was as important (or maybe even more so) than natural talent and that practice can, indeed, make perfect.
As the years passed, I realized I was not destined to be onstage dancing. Because my second love was children, I decided to teach. I went to college and ended up with a PhD in education and psychology. After teaching for years and becoming a school principal, I finally realized my real dream, which was to combine dance and education. I now own and operate a private school in which dance and music are paired with an accelerated academic curriculum.
I am 75 and have no immediate plans for retirement. I am still having way too much fun. Did I mention I still love dance? I will consider myself a success if I light that kind of fire in any of the students in my school.
Encuentro Internacional de Academias de Ballet and Cuba’s influence on the international ballet world
By Toba Singer
At the Encuentro Internacional de Academias de Ballet (International Ballet Academies Encounter), a yearly event held in Havana, teachers and students from the network of ballet academies in Cuba meet to compare best practices in teaching. Guests include students and teachers from other countries, mostly in Latin America; students participate in classes while teachers observe. At this year’s event, held March 23 to April 6, visiting participants came from Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, and South Africa.
During Cuba’s “grey period” (from around 1970 to the mid-’70s), when certain programs ceased due to scarcities and political shifts away from projects initiated in the wake of the revolution, the National Arts School, Cubanacán, in Havana’s Miramar neighborhood, closed. After several years, the ballet school that was very much the backbone of the National Arts School reopened in a turn-of-the-last-century mansion in downtown Havana.
In 2012, in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the national ballet academy, massive repairs began on the building. Now, sporting cream-colored walls with yellow ornamental detail, freshly painted columns, and periwinkle-blue accents, the school looks more stunning than ever. According to Ramona de Sáa, director of the Cuban National Ballet School, the immense studios were originally large ballrooms. Although the ballrooms were subdivided, their ceilings and glass domes, original to the 1903 building, were left intact.
Workshops covered a range of topics: Technique from the Curriculum Designed by Fernando Alonso, led by de Sáa and José Candia, the Cuban National Ballet School’s physical trainer; Dance Review Writing, by Pedro A. González of Cuba and Carlos Paolillo of Venezuela; and The Contribution of Fernando Alonso to Dance Pedagogy, by Dr. Miguel Cabrera, a Cuban dance scholar.
As Ramona de Sáa asked her student to demonstrate degagé, she explained that the foot should stop at a 25-degree angle to the floor—the angle, she says, that allows for maximum speed and coordination for related steps that travel.
Mornings began with technique class, and throughout the day there were men’s, partnering, and character classes taught by Cuban National Ballet School faculty. Three evenings were devoted to major gala student performances—seven in all—at the National Theater in Revolution Plaza.
Leading the first technique workshop, de Sáa opened a discussion on the pirouette. Seated next to her was Cuban National Ballet principal dancer Viengsay Valdés. Teachers and a smattering of students who had finished class filtered into the classroom to join others who were learning how to best teach the Cuban style. They took notes or held up iPads to film the presentations.
“Remember the dynamic of the head and eyes,” says de Sáa. “Go straight to sous-sus. Open both arms at once. Resist arranging the arms after opening them. How you block the turn is as important as the pirouette itself. Pay attention to coordination of head and feet. Cou-de-pied prepares you,” she says, for the muscles to later assume a pirouette’s proper passé position.
“Most important,” de Sáa continues, “is the rotation of the hip in passé. Use your navel as your center. When in en face, plié to gain a sense of blocking to stop the temptation to just keep going. The purpose of spotting is to fix your gaze on where you are going to stop. Injuries result from failing to do this! It’s the action of the head, not the back that keeps you on your leg. You want weight on both legs, with a bit more on the front one.”
Valdés offered another example of the ways in which the Cuban system emphasizes solidity on the leg. “Though this isn’t emphasized by other schools, here one must be able to hold a balance in all positions,” she says. “How do we learn to do this? Piqué is a step meant to help you sustain balance or exploit it to do a multitude of choreographies. It also stabilizes the dancer, because wobbling is not desirable.
“In Don Quixote, it isn’t easy to balance in passé,” Valdés continues, “but our goal is to help students find this, because to be able to do it successfully in attitude, you must first learn what it feels like in all positions. Our students think, feel, and think again about this balance. We don’t all have it naturally, but the good thing is that we all do share the ability to work at whatever it takes to get it. Ask yourself, ‘How can my arms help my torso?’ You are struggling against gravity, and to look for that balance is to look for an ally against gravity. It’s a counter-force that we must discover. It starts with the importance of feeling very solid on one’s leg.”
Valdés demonstrated how to hold a balance in attitude for five minutes, first with one arm raised and then with both in high fifth. The five-minute balance is a requirement for graduation from the school’s professional program.
During a break in the Encuentro’s schedule, de Sáa described taking on the directorship of the National School of the Arts in 1967, when Fernando Alonso stepped down. Shortly thereafter, in 1980, she became director of the national network of ballet schools.
In 2001, at Premier Fidel Castro’s request, says de Sáa, “I returned to direct the school at this location. Among my students were Lorena Feijóo [a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet] and Carlos Acosta [a principal guest artist with The Royal Ballet]. They were very special, both very intelligent, and once they made up their minds that they wanted a ballet career they worked very hard. Like Alicia [Alonso] and Fernando, they were exemplary in their singular commitment to ballet.”
The Encuentro was established by de Sáa and the Center for Arts Schools—CNEART—during the 1994–95 school year, in order to exchange experiences and ideas about dance among teachers from different nations.
For logistical reasons, de Sáa explains, including doubled airfare during Easter Week and Mexicana Airlines’ cessation of flights into Cuba, the Encuentro’s enrollment was down this year. Instead of the close to 450 teachers and students who normally attend, this year’s participants numbered around 150.
“Paula Castro is here with 70 of her students,” de Sáa says, “but Amparo Brito [a former prima ballerina with Cuban National Ballet, now ballet master at Panama National Ballet and director of its summer program, Bravissimo] didn’t come, and she usually brings at least 15 students.”
The size of the 2013 Encuentro was an anomaly for an event that has been growing in prominence and attendance. “At the beginning,” de Sáa says, “only 100 came from a few countries. Then our reputation grew and attendance increased. The reason we’ve gained prestige is very interesting to me: there is more and more concern about methodology, and we are the specialists in this.”
The hour-long workshop discussions focused on particular steps, such as pirouette, cambré, or tendu, and used the steps as templates for teachers to explore related questions. For example, as de Sáa asked her student to demonstrate degagé, she explained that the foot should stop at a 25-degree angle to the floor—the angle, she says, that allows for maximum speed and coordination for related steps that travel, such as glissade or assemblé.
Later, de Sáa pointed out that the raised arm in cambré stretches back more than it drops, and that the precise moment when one uses the arms to “break” centrifugal force and substitute centripetal force must come early and be done consciously and not as an afterthought; it is key to not falling out of the pirouette.
In each workshop session, José Candia, who teaches kinesiology, explained muscular interrelationships. During one workshop he pointed out that auxiliary muscles often get overstressed and injured when dancers use the larger ones incorrectly. Using diagrams, Candia illustrated the point that injury prevention requires strengthening of all muscles, not only injury-prone ones. Firing the muscles in proper alignment, he says, is the best defense against a localized injury.
Cuban National Ballet School delivers
Sharing the theory and methodology developed over 50 years in Cuban studios and schools doesn’t happen only once a year. “We are teaching in other locations,” de Sáa says. “We teach and offer lectures on our methodology as part of Canada’s National Ballet School summer programs.” And Cuban National Ballet School faculty and students participated, as they have in the past, in the Assemblée Internationale at Canada’s National Ballet School.
“Last December, in Italy,” de Sáa says, “we were given the Prix Rome Jia Ruskaja 2012 for our teaching style and method. I received it as director, and Alicia Alonso, as artistic director of the Cuban National Ballet, was also given an award. [American Ballet Theatre’s] Jacqueline [Kennedy] Onassis School also received an award. It was accompanied by a big gala event at Rome Opera Ballet. I was invited to give master classes.”
Among the guests at this year’s Encuentro was Dirk Badenhorst, CEO of South African Mzansi Ballet; the company was formed in 2011 by merging South African Ballet Theatre and Mzansi Productions, both of which Badenhorst founded.
With South African Ballet Theatre, his goal was to give ballet a chance again in post-apartheid South Africa, “this time without the privileges and discrimination based on race.” After attending the 2008 International Ballet Festival in Cuba, Badenhorst invited a group of Cuban dancers and teachers to South Africa.
Also in 2008, with input from the Cuban teachers, Badenhorst inaugurated Mzansi Productions, which does contemporary work based on classical ballet.
“That was the beginning of a close relationship between the Cuban ballet and the company and school in South Africa,” says Badenhorst. Since the merger, he says, “the Cubans have been teaching on an ongoing basis. They set Don Quixote on us. They also have been training dancers to teach. We hope to have a Cuban-style school in South Africa within five years.”
Since 2010, three Cuban teachers have traveled to South Africa every year, each time giving classes in schools throughout the country for three months. Badenhorst says that the more the South African dancers are exposed to the Cubans, the higher their level of achievement becomes.
At the end of 2013, the South Africans will initiate a five-year “learnership” program. “Dirk Badenhorst has invited me to go there in October to establish the Cuban teaching system in their school,” de Sáa says. “The idea is for me to teach a course for teachers, and then there will be a Cuban teacher there on a three-month rotation for six months of the year,” for the foreseeable future.
“We hope to do the same in Italy and Brazil,” de Sáa adds. “The goal is to implement a program that corresponds to each country’s own stylistic characteristics. With support from the Mexican government, we began this in 1975 in Mexico City and then went to Monterrey, Mexico. We still give them technical assistance and achieve excellent results.”
An evolving model
As ballet continues to evolve, so does the Cuban school. “We are not a rigid school,” says de Sáa. “We make changes so that students may grow and improve. We are perfecting and upgrading our standards and opening our workshops to a broader selection of subjects as we train a new generation of teachers from among these students. They are working with our most experienced teachers so that we can give the youngest teachers more responsibilities to guarantee the continuity of our methodology.”
School owners, faculty members, and independent contractors offer perspectives on teacher compensation
By Debra Danese
A dance teacher and studio owner meet for an employment interview. Most likely they discuss education and experience, teaching philosophies, class schedules, and expectations. If they decide to move forward, they will agree on a salary or (if the instructor will work as an independent contractor) an hourly teaching rate, in which case issues such as health insurance, retirement plans, or other employee benefits might not arise.
But what about compensation for non-teaching hours spent attending meetings, traveling to competitions and conventions, and participating in dress and tech rehearsals? Should studio owners pay teachers for work done outside of class that benefits the students or school? This question raises a debate in which opinions and practices differ enormously.
Should studio owners pay teachers for work done outside of class that benefits the students or school? This question raises a debate.
Rules and regulations regarding employment are set by the Department of Labor, but most of these govern the relationship between employee and employer. For independent contractors, most states have few set wage and hour laws regarding overtime, minimum wage, or meal periods and rest breaks. Furthermore, anti-discrimination and retaliation laws protect employees, but not independent contractors.
To explore the varying perspectives on this topic, I contacted colleagues I have worked with throughout my career, professionals who have been in the business for a minimum of 10 years. I asked them to address the question of compensation for non-teaching, work-related hours, making sure they understood that there are no right or wrong answers.
What follows are their perspectives.
I spoke with 11 studio owners, each of whom has been in business for more than 15 years. (Some requested anonymity.) The number of teachers on their staffs ranges from 4 to 17. Employment practices among them vary significantly. Neither the size of the studio nor the number of faculty on staff seemed to be a factor in determining compensation policies.
Six out of the 11 owners require teachers to sign a contract or agreement upon hiring. Those who do not use one reason that contracts can be broken. However, only three of those who do use contracts include language that addresses their payment policy for work outside of class hours.
One owner says she doesn’t have her instructors sign an agreement but tells them what they will be paid outside of class as each situation arises. Another says, “I pay my teachers for everything they do for me. When they walk through my door, they are on my time. They get their hourly teaching rate for all studio-related tasks. If a circumstance comes up where I need to pay less, I tell them beforehand how much that will be.”
Janice Brougher-Roos, owner and director of Studio ‘91 in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, agrees. “If teachers are giving me their time, I believe they deserve to be compensated for it,” she says. “I treat my studio as what it is—a business. When making decisions regarding my faculty and staff I ask myself, ‘How would they do it in a corporation?’ ”
An area of particular note is the work involved in recitals. Most school owners believe the teachers’ presence and work at recitals falls under the umbrella of their overall responsibilities and that the payment they receive for class time covers recital duties.
One owner takes a different approach. “I don’t pay for recital hours,” she says, “but I do give an end-of-year bonus to all my instructors after the final performance.” Another owner says she pays a flat fee to cover all recital-related hours. One other owner shows her appreciation by hosting a party for the faculty and staff after the last performance of the season. She says, “This is my way of saying thank you.”
Payment for attending meetings is another topic that yielded a range of answers. Most school owners who pay teachers as independent contractors believe meetings do not require compensation. However, one says, “I pay instructors half of their hourly teaching rate for attendance at meetings. They are self-employed and this is time they could be making money at another studio.”
Another owner pays half the hourly teaching rate for meetings but began doing so only after a new hire asked to be paid. The owner says, “It wasn’t my policy to pay my teachers to come in for a meeting, but this individual made a good case. She pointed out that in addition to the meeting time, she had to travel 30 minutes each way in the middle of a Saturday afternoon that she would normally have free. I thought that was a fair point and changed my policy across the board.”
I asked the other owners if they would consider making a policy change if a teacher approached them with a convincing argument to do so. Most said no, stating that they thought the agreement already in place was reasonable.
In general, the studio owners believe they have established a fair work relationship with their faculty. Aside from a few adjustments made to accommodate the growth of their schools, they continue to implement the same policies they set when opening their business.
Sounding a somewhat different note is founder and president of the National Registry of Dance Educators, Elsa Posey. One of the criteria for Registered Dance Educators (RDE) is the demonstration of high standards in both teaching and business, and Posey believes pay rates that reflect a teacher’s education and experience help to maintain these standards. Posey, who owns Posey School of Dance in Northport, New York, and who is known as a strong advocate of dance professionals, thinks many studio owners do not fairly compensate the individuals they employ. “If [school owners] are making a profit,” she says, “employees should be paid for their work.”
Another studio owner added, “We all know the realities of budgets, salaries, and funding in the arts. We can, however, make it better for ourselves and our employees by giving and asking for what is reasonable.”
I spoke with six teachers who have years of experience in the profession. Each teaches at one or more studios where they say they feel respected for their work. Four of the six report that it took working at a few studios with compensation policies they regarded as unfair before they found employers with fair-minded employment practices. All have encountered studio owners who believed that teachers should show loyalty to the school by working outside of class without compensation. This philosophy extends beyond the times when they need to work together for the greater good of the studio.
Along with actual pay, on-the-job duties are topics of complaint among some teachers. “I have been asked to do everything from sew recital costumes to clean the studios,” says one. “This was considered part of my job and covered under my hourly teaching rate. I was not told upon hiring that these tasks fell under my responsibility.”
Another instructor recalled a time she was asked to call more than 50 students in the event of snow closings. She asked for administrative pay and was refused because, she was told, she would make the calls from home. In addition to the time she was asked to put in, she would suffer a financial loss on the snow days since the school does not pay teachers in the event of weather-related class cancellations. When the teacher refused to make the calls, her employer told her not to return to the studio because she wasn’t a “team player.”
Although frustrated at the time, the teacher came to believe the parting was for the best. “If teachers agree to low standards,” she says, “they diminish the very profession they are trying to succeed in. If we do not show respect for the work we do, others will not either.”
Carolyn Mitchell, a self-employed dance instructor, says she had a few bad experiences before she found a studio whose policies and protocol were a good fit. She now visits studio websites to get a sense of how potential employers operate. Mitchell says, “I always look at a school’s current faculty before submitting a resume. I check to see what their levels of education and experience are. Some studios also state the number of years their instructors have been on staff. It is a red flag to me if a dance studio has frequent turnover of instructors.”
Regarding salary, the teachers expressed some flexibility in their expectations, agreeing that there are times when they’re willing to forego compensation. One says, “I don’t mind the occasional meeting without pay. I do know some schools that hold them monthly, and in that case I might feel differently.”
Some, however, were straightforward in condemning the lack of compensation for work hours outside of the classroom. Three of the six teachers work as full-time instructors with no other source of income. For them, working without pay is not financially feasible. “This is not my hobby. This is my profession,” says one teacher.
Devon Porter, another self-employed instructor, works at three studios to accumulate enough hours to make a living. “As an independent contractor,” Porter says, “I am my own business. It’s not smart business nor economically viable to provide my services without being compensated.”
How can balance be found in a field in which compensation varies so much? Dance teachers and studio owners—no matter which position they might take on compensation issues—share a desire to feel respected and appreciated for what they contribute to the work relationship. And they agree that sometimes negotiation and compromise are needed.
The possible solutions must come from an established groundwork of open communication and professionalism. Networking at conferences and utilizing forums offered by national and local dance organizations are a few places to start.
Dance educators are engaged in ongoing discussions about these important issues. Fiona Brown, who holds a Cecchetti Associate Diploma, would like to discuss determining the equivalency of specific qualifications such as hers to a university degree. She says, “While it would be difficult to set a standard remuneration package nationally, it would be good to discuss such equivalencies as a basis for deciding a salary or hourly rate at a market-related value.”
Another instructor says he would like to hear what others consider reasonable duties that might be expected of them as teachers. Others express interest in exploring topics such as standard employment contracts and differentiating employee vs. independent contractor status.
Even the largest dance-education organization in the United States, the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) offers no regulations regarding compensation. It is affiliated with federal and state agencies working to support dance education at local, state, and national levels. Nevertheless, we can advance our profession by being upfront in work relationships. Helene Scheff, RDE, says, “There’s such variety of expectations from the studio owner to the teacher. Although not easy, I find that talking about what is expected at the beginning of a working relationship is the key. There’s always a personal investment. However, knowing what is mandatory or expected beforehand leaves room for doing extra for the general good.”
We can assist the process by continuing to educate ourselves. Attend workshops, read publications, join a discussion, or start one yourself. Know what others in the industry are doing and at what rate of pay. Walk into a job interview ready to be fair and open. Talk candidly about the terms of the job, including what is and isn’t paid. Whether or not you leave having reached an agreement, you will have shown courtesy and respect to another dance professional.
Leading the way in dance education in Louisiana
By Mary Ellen Hunt
It could be the warm family atmosphere and sense of camaraderie, or perhaps the strict discipline and rigorous training. Or maybe it’s the dedication of teachers who have been with the school for decades—whatever the reason, the 70-year-old Giacobbe Academy of Dance in Louisiana is an enduring success story. The school has built a reputation for quality training and has become a veritable dynasty of dance education in the Bayou State.
When the Giacobbe family held the first classes back in 1943, it probably would have been hard for anyone to imagine the longevity the small school would enjoy. At the time the school looked more like a pet project of two teenaged girls, Georgie and Maria Giacobbe, bolstered by the indulgence of their parents, Leona and Lawrence Giacobbe.
“When I look back on it, the story is like a novel,” says Joseph Giacobbe, younger brother to the enterprising founders of the academy and now co-director of the school. “But it’s absolutely all true. That’s the way it began.”
Then 13 and 14, Georgie and Maria had studied dance from childhood at the New Orleans studio of Gerry Fenasci. After 10 years of training, both received teaching certificates.
“Our teacher put the bug in our ears and said, ‘There are no studios out there where you live—why don’t you start one?’ ” says Maria, who at 84 continues to teach ballet and tap.
Joseph remembers his father as something of a traditionalist who wasn’t about to allow his daughters to move away from home to pursue a career. To keep them happy at home, he and his wife instead helped the girls open a dance studio in the space behind the family supermarket in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans, located in Jefferson Parish.
You get out of your students what you expect to get out of them, and they have always expected the best from us. —Richard Rholdon
“My mother and father had this passion for dance,” says Joseph. Now 75, he directs the academy with his sister Maria. “They were involved every step of the way. They’d get neighborhood people to help, my mother would do the books, and her cousin would paint our scenery for recitals. My mother and father never studied any dancing, but it was in their blood. My parents would polka, waltz, jitterbug. It was a natural instinct, a gift that we all inherited.”
Joseph was one of the first to enroll in Maria and Georgie’s classes, which included a mix of ballet, tap, and acrobatics. The school’s first students included friends and neighborhood children—some older than the young teachers—who would show off their new skills in homegrown revues devised by Georgie and Maria.
From the beginning, Leona Giacobbe encouraged her children to consider dance as more than an amusing diversion. Each summer she sent them on trips to New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago to study ballet, tap, and later jazz with master teachers. Maria went on to earn a BS in physical education from Loyola University.
While Georgie left teaching in 1973 to raise her family, she continued to make costumes for the company for many years. Maria, however, has been teaching for seven decades. “To this day, her passion is just unreal,” says Joseph. “There’s an old-world discipline instilled in her. She doesn’t fancy the word ‘retire’—she’s at the studio every day. Maria has no ego about herself—always it was about the students. And that’s the way it should be.”
The school became a permanent fixture in 1948 with a new building on the original site behind the family market, later moving in 1970 to its current location in Jefferson Parish. Now, with the Metairie studio and another located across Lake Pontchartrain in Slidell—a third studio, in Mandeville, closed in 2006—the Giacobbes center the core of their training around classical ballet, but also offer jazz and tap classes.
As enrollment expanded, so did the faculty. Many of the teachers say they felt like part of the extended Giacobbe family, and indeed many of them are members of that family.
Joseph began teaching while in high school, and his wife, Gwen Delle Giacobbe, joined the staff in 1963, later taking over a satellite studio in Slidell in 1985. The youngest sister in the family, Lee Giacobbe Facenda, turned the training her siblings gave her into a career in theatrical dance. After running her own studio in New York for many years, she returned to New Orleans and the studio where she grew up, as did Maria’s daughter Toni Alessandra Lovejoy.
“The Giacobbes have spent their lives perfecting the art of teaching,” says Mary Monteleone, who started studying at the studios when she was 10 and now teaches ballet and tap at the academy. “They are dedicated to making sure their techniques and methods are working.”
“Our mother instilled in us this desire to keep learning,” says Joseph, who danced flamenco and other ethnic styles in addition to ballet, tap, and jazz. “And I loved it. I studied the Cecchetti method, went to Bournonville seminars. At Harkness House, I watched David Howard teach, because I feel you really gain from seeing what other people do.
“Besides wanting our students to have good technique, we want them to be able to move,” Joseph continues. “It’s important they have a good mix of styles, that they can think Italian and move Russian. It doesn’t make much difference if that position is perfect if you don’t enjoy watching the person move.”
Ballet classes, Monteleone says, have a Cecchetti base, but much of what the Giacobbes teach has been refined by the experience they’ve accumulated over the years, buttressed by discipline.
“My own training with Miss Maria, Gwen Delle, and Joseph was very detailed and exacting,” Monteleone says. “I was only 10, but I remember that they were breaking down how to pointe your foot and how to do a glissade. Later, I came to appreciate that detail.”
Monteleone says the Giacobbes taught her to be a patient teacher and to pay attention to the building blocks of technique, but also instilled self-discipline. “They are very demanding,” she says. “They teach self-discipline. When there’s rehearsal, very few excuses hold up as a reason to not show up. I think younger students see that in older students and it reinforces it with each group.
“A good teacher has to know technique and method,” Monteleone continues, “but you also have to be able to motivate people, get the kids to commit and be there. The Giacobbes have that ability.”
The Giacobbes have helped many students move on to professional careers, among them Rosalie O’Connor, a former American Ballet Theatre dancer and now the company’s associate staff photographer; Aubrey Morgan, a former New York City Ballet dancer; and Janie Taylor, a NYCB principal dancer. In 1979, Giacobbe student Gretchen Newburger won a bronze medal at the first International Ballet Competition to be held in Jackson, Mississippi, before she joined Zurich Ballet (and later became a principal dancer).
Cincinnati Ballet principal Janessa Touchet started with the Giacobbes at age 3 and went on to be a semi-finalist at the IBC in Jackson in 2002. Her sister Jessica danced for many years with San Francisco’s Smuin Ballet.
Like many students, Laurie Volny, who trained with the Giacobbes as a very young child in the 1960s and ’70s, laughingly remembers being a little frightened of Mr. Joseph.
“My first teacher was Miss Maria,” Volny says. “As a little kid, she was like your grandmother. She taught us the basic positions and helped us put our hair in a perfect little bun. My first pointe classes were with Gwen Delle, who was so beautiful in her pink tights and chiffon skirts. She never wanted to be in the limelight, but she was the one who paid attention to the details, your ribbons, flattening out your hair. Once you got to the intermediate level, you got Mr. Joseph. He was a taskmaster, but he wanted you to do your best. He knew more about how far you could go than you did.”
Volny says her relationship with Joseph has evolved in the years since, but notes that the discipline he instilled served her well as a soloist with Houston Ballet and later as dance captain for Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.
“You learned to work your hardest so you could do well, not just for him but for yourself,” Volny says.
In the late 1960s the Giacobbes founded a professional ballet ensemble, which became Delta Festival Ballet in 1969. The list of guest stars for the company is a who’s who of ballet in the 1970s and ’80s, including Patrick Bissell, Karen Kain, and Gelsey Kirkland. Natalia Bessmertnova and Mikhail Lavrovsky performed with Delta Festival Ballet, marking the first guest appearance by artists of the Bolshoi Ballet with an American company. In 2009, the company’s Nutcracker season at New Orleans’ Mahalia Jackson Theater included appearances by American Ballet Theatre’s Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky.
Delta Festival Ballet, which is still directed by Joseph and Maria, sees around four dancers a year join the company from the academy, with about 20 of the top dancers from the New Orleans Youth Ballet performing smaller roles.
Even as the academy grew in numbers and reputation, the family atmosphere and camaraderie remained important parts of the studio’s appeal. Former student Jerel Hilding, who danced with Joffrey Ballet and is now a professor at the University of Kansas, says he remains in touch with Joseph.
“I was almost adopted by the [Giacobbe] family,” says Hilding, who was one of the founding members of Delta Festival Ballet. “They showed you that you could have a professional attitude but also be a human being, and they had the knack of knowing when to push you and when to lay off the accelerator. Some of my fondest memories are from after a rehearsal, going to their home above the grocery store for dinner and to talk shop.”
Each milestone anniversary has been a chance for the family to reunite. Like the 50th-Anniversary Gala in 1993 and the Diamond Gala in 2003, the 70th-anniversary plans last June included a gala performance that put current students onstage with many alums, including Hilding, Volny, and Janessa Touchet. The milestone represents a bittersweet moment for Joseph because Gwen Delle passed away in February of this year.
Like any school, the Giacobbe Academy has had its share of ups and downs. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 hit Jefferson Parish hard, taking a toll on the academy. There was physical damage to the studios and the storage warehouse, and in the wake of the disaster many people moved away or lost their jobs, resulting in decreased enrollment. A few months after the hurricane, Georgie Giacobbe passed away, and in summer 2006 the Giacobbes decided to close a satellite studio in Mandeville.
In the year that followed, many long-standing connections to families in the area—some of whom had sent several generations of dancers to train with the Giacobbes—were broken. At its peak the academy enrolled more than 500 students. Today, the main studio in Metairie has an enrollment of 250 students, while the Slidell location, where classes are held four days a week, sees around 115 students.
Success despite obstacles
Unfazed by the post-Katrina challenges, the studio continues to bring ballet to new generations of students. The secret to the Giacobbes’ continuing success is not rocket science, says Richard Rholdon, who joined Delta Festival Ballet in 1986 and is now the 20-member company’s ballet master and resident choreographer. He is also a régisseur for the New Orleans Youth Ballet, a pre-professional troupe of about 60 young dancers that the Giacobbes founded in 1988.
“They do the right things, teach strong classical technique the right way—and the process works,” Rholdon says. “Ultimately, you get out of your students what you expect to get out of them, and they have always expected the best from us. That foundation in dance and discipline stands you in good stead the rest of your life. The students who come out of our program are valedictorians, doctors, attorneys, scientists.”
With such a successful recipe, the plan for the future, Maria says, is simply to continue. “I enjoy what I do; I love the children,” she says. “I intend to keep doing what I’m doing as long as I can and as long as I know I’m doing a good job.”
Merry Lynn Morris is a dance professor at the University of South Florida, and more recently, an inventor of a chair that would allow her students with spina bifida and cerebral palsy to dance. Not pretend to dance, not be pulled by a dancer, but actually dance.
The Rolling Dance Chair has taken seven years and $150,000 of grant money to get to this point, and in October, Morris will present her invention at the Smithsonian Institution during a conference for innovators, reported the Tampa Bay Times.
The chair is stately with a synthetic round seat that’s clear, designed to almost disappear under the dancer. It is sturdy enough for a second dancer to stand on, spinning, leg extended in full arabesque. The most important feature of the chair is the person sitting in it. He is in control. When he leans, the chair moves. The wheels can propel the chair in any direction using the slightest movement of a body.
It’s an extension of dance, Morris said, not an obstacle, and inspired by her father, who, after a car accident, was mostly confided to a wheelchair with physical and mental limitations, but who reacted positively when treated to therapy sessions featuring ballroom dancing.
Morris has long been drawn to “mixed ability” dance, kinesiology, ways to combine dance and science, and for years, worked with REVolutions Dance, a company for dancers with and without disabilities. After viewing a performance by wheelchair dancers and noticing how they had to pump the wheels, she and her mother began taking apart her father’s old wheelchairs in search of a better option for dancers.
Morris wants the chair to be used for more than dance. “What my mom and I discovered when we were caregivers were the challenges of what disability means,” she said. “Just navigation through a space that was designed for a 20-year-old able-bodied person, it has really opened my eyes in how we design things, how we make those choices, and why. Who are we thinking about?”
To read the full story, visit http://www.tampabay.com/features/humaninterest/from-the-mind-of-a-dancer-a-new-kind-of-wheelchair/2143164.
When hip-hop/contemporary dancer Kenichi Ebina won America’s Got Talent last week, no one was less surprised than Christine Titus, owner of The Conservatory of Dance in Wilton Center, Connecticut, reported the Wilton Bulletin.
Ebina taught hip-hop, street jazz, and contemporary dance at the studio from 1999 to 2010, leaving when he moved back to his homeland, Japan. “He was very creative, very artistic, very sweet and humble,” Titus said. “He was a great performer, a great teacher, very nurturing. The kids loved him; adored him. They brought him birthday cakes for his birthday.”
Ebina always used creative props in the studio’s shows—just as he did on AGT. “One year he used a big, billowing scarf that would float above the dancers. He did one piece with 12 stools for the girls to dance with,” she said. “He would try to add different elements to each piece.”
Nicki Duggan, 19, of Weston, a student at Boston College, studied dance with him for five years. She said his modern dances were “out there” and students had to do things like lie down on their backs and try to get up without using their hands. “No one thought they could ever do it. He made us push our limits with his amazing choreography,” she said. “You had to work hard but his dances were some of the best at our recitals.”
Titus said she did not know Ebina would be on the show until her husband called her in to watch. “I said, ‘he’s going to win the whole thing,’ ” she said, adding Ebina had won Japan’s Got Talent a few years ago. “He’s such a humble guy. He doesn’t know how good he is. Hopefully he knows now. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”
To read the full story, visit http://www.wiltonbulletin.com/8983/former-dance-teacher-has-talent-for-sure/.
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 | Weight and Balance By David Arce
2 Tips for Hip-Hop Teachers | Dressing the Part By Geo Hubela
2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Spine Flexibility By Bill Evans
2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Adding and Enhancing Sounds By Gregg Russell
A Better You | Perk Up With Perfect Posture By Suzanne Martin, PT, DPT
EditorSpeak By Karen White and Lisa Okuhn
FYI What’s Up In the dance community
On My Mind | Words from the Publisher By Rhee Gold
Classroom Connection By Carol Crawford Smith and Kerry Ring
Ideas to incorporate into your curriculum
Mail Words from our readers
Mindful Marketing | Guerrilla Stategies By Julia Holt Lucia
Teacher in the Spotlight | Diane Moore Abraham and Susan Moore Edson
Teachers who make a difference
Thinking Out Loud | Miracle Girl By Sara Brown
A Different Lens By Rita Felciano
Three dance professionals and their unique relationships with the world.
Aging Boomers, Dance Boom By Elizabeth Zimmer
Serving senior populations from coast to coast.
Ballet Scene | Passing It On By Joseph Carmen
As a teacher, former NYCB ballerina Kyra Nichols draws on Balanchine and more.
Bright Biz Idea | New Take on Networking By Lois O’Brian
How one school owner turned to the community for a business boost.
Dancing Toward Peace By Mary Ellen Hunt
Move This World’s international approach to empathy through movement
Decades of Dance By Holly Derville-Teer
3 later-in-life teachers offer a long view of teaching.
Higher-Ed Voice | College Bound By Eliza Randolph
Educational consultant helps high schoolers and parents.
Project LIFT By Eileen Glynn
How New York Theatre Ballet helps children soar.
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 | Barre Basics By David Arce
2 Tips for Hip-Hop Teachers | Muscle Memory By Geo Hubela
2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Joy of Teaching By Bill Evans
2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Bombershays and Counter-Rhythms By Gregg Russell
A Better You | Sniffles & Sneezes By Suzanne Martin, PT, DPT
When to push them and when to stay home.
EditorSpeak By Karen White and Lisa Okuhn
FYI What’s Up In the dance community
On My Mind | Words from the Publisher By Rhee Gold
Classroom Connection By Misty Lown and Nina Koch
Ideas to incorporate into your curriculum
Mail Words from our readers
Mindful Marketing | Blogging Basics By Megan Donahue
Teacher in the Spotlight | Michelle Freiburger Nicholson
Teachers who make a difference
Thinking Out Loud | Shut It Down? Think Again. By Lori Weil
Ballet Scene | Bringing in the Boys By Joseph Carman
From ballroom to hip-hop to ballet, Manatee School for the Arts knows how to draw young men.
Bright Biz Idea | No Money, Many Hands By Julie Holt Lucia
How volunteers helped a studio grow.
Business Owner’s Toolkit By Lisa Okuhn
Part 1: Practical solutions to everyday problems.
Collective Mentality By Julia Holt Lucia
Group-run schools take a different approach to running a business.
Nonprofit Nuts and Bolts By Karen White
What it takes to change your school’s financial status.
Nutcracker Variation By Mary Ellen Hunt
New England Ballet and special-needs kids put on a show to remember.
Tempting Twists on Tradition By Julia Holt Lucia, Larry Sousa, Holly Derville-Teer, Diane Gudat, Misty Lown
Five choreographers cook up a holiday show with must-use ingredients.
The Company Route By Holly Derville-Teer
3 teachers, 3 companies, 3 goals.
The Fine Art of Finding Money By Julie Kanter
Everything you need to know to get a grant.
The Healthy Dancer: ABT Guidelines for Dancer Health is a comprehensive, easy-to-follow manual that provides sound advice for dance teachers, parents, and students while addressing the needs of young dancers and athletes, both pre-professional and recreational.
Compiled by medical professionals from the fields of sports medicine, nutrition, physical therapy, and orthopedics, the focus is on ballet training, but the advice is applicable to all types of dance and sports.
• Part 1 presents an overview of anatomy and kinesiology with a particular focus on injury prevention and recovery. There are clear diagrams that relate anatomy to dance and illustrate common dance injuries. Turnout and introduction of pointe work is also discussed.
• Part 2 offers advice specific to the development and health of the young dancer, addressing phases of development; the role of the teacher and parent for each stage; psychological and emotional factors of dance training; nutrition; and recommendations for healthy strength and flexibility training.
• Part 3 focuses on risk management and recommendations for teachers to create a healthy training environment, outlining recommended safety policies and practices for dance studios.
The Healthy Dancer: ABT Guidelines for Dancer Health is published by Macfadden Performing Arts Media and is available for purchase for $19.95 at http://www.abtgiftshop.org/.
A good way to make sure your students are properly aligned at the beginning of any barre exercise is to have them demi-plié in first or fifth. Make sure their shoulders are over their hips and their backs are long and not tucking or hunching. Then have them slowly straighten their legs while keeping their turnout.
When students are at the barre, the supporting arm must always be in second position with only the palm turned down to touch the barre lightly. Often students forget that when their torso moves forward or back (in temps liés, arabesques, etc.), so must their supporting side. A properly aligned supporting side is the foundation for doing exercises correctly at the barre.
As you walk from your office or dressing room to the studio, take a moment to check in with your breath, ground yourself, and remember that you love to dance and teach. Sometimes the difficulties of managing a business or interpersonal conflicts with colleagues or students’ parents deprive us of the joy that is waiting for us if we remember who we are and why we chose to become teachers.
We never know when something we say or do to help a student in a dance class might have an impact that will last for the rest of that child’s life. By making a positive difference in the life of a child, we help to make the world a better place.
When your students are trying to do a bombershay (left step, right toe tap, right heel dig), tell them to be careful not to force their turnout. The best rule of thumb is to have the students stand naturally and start the step from that position of the feet. Also, to build speed, they shouldn’t have their feet too far apart, and they should try not to force the right foot to swivel like a jazz Suzy-Q. Less movement leads to a faster pace.
A counter-rhythm is two or more different but complimentary combinations done at the same time. Teaching your students to do these will help them do two things: listen to each other with more intent, and not rush the music or over-accent certain steps. An easy combination to start them with is to have one dancer do a traditional mambo (right stamp, left ball change, reverse), and have another dancer do the opposite (right ball change, left stamp, reverse) at the same time.
When to push through them and when to stay home
By Suzanne Martin, PT, DPT
One thing is certain in the dance world: the show must go on. It’s all about delivering the product. But sometimes your body doesn’t cooperate; like everyone else, dancers and teachers do get sick. And sometimes this means having to make a decision about whether it’s time to stay home.
As we come out of one of the worst cold and flu seasons ever recorded, it’s a good time to think about how to handle illness in a way that’s best for your colleagues, your students and their families, and yourself.
You’re facing competing sets of concerns. You don’t want to disrupt your students’ training, create scheduling difficulties for other faculty members, or suffer financial losses by staying home sick. At the same time, teaching when you’re ill can spread germs that might easily fell a good portion of the studio population. And those classes you’re staggering through are probably not going to earn you any teaching awards.
A good rule of thumb is to take a whole week off for a flu outbreak, but with a simple cold you might be able return to the studio after a few days.
For the most part, dancers have a high threshold for physical pain and discomfort, plus a killer work ethic. But sometimes these qualities make it difficult to make wise decisions about our own health and the health of others.
I never once missed a day of grammar school. At the same time, I know that during that time I had the mumps, measles, and colds. Was my perfect attendance really necessary? In retrospect I can see that I was probably spreading germs like a junior Typhoid Mary.
Here’s a guide to help you sort out when to stay in, take your ibuprofen, and eat your soup, and when you should stick it out, put on your game face, and teach.
Dance teachers are often hired as contractors and often don’t have insurance policies that encourage them to see health care practitioners when necessary. Not only that, but they don’t usually have paid sick days that allow them to feel that they can take needed time off. So although studio owners are sometimes willing to find substitutes or cover classes themselves, teachers may suffer unexpected income loss, even if they’re out for just a few days with the flu.
It’s important to understand your organization’s policies on illness and injury as well as its contingency plans for covering absences. It’s also important to understand the studio’s ethos and attitudes regarding these matters.
Obviously, a person who continually calls in late or sick quickly earns the reputation of being unreliable. And even if someone has legitimate reasons to call in sick, one too many absences may push her to the bottom of the scheduling totem pole or even endanger her job.
But before you consider whether it’s a good idea to take a day off in terms of your boss’s impression of you, whether the teacher competition is too stiff to take time off, or whether your bank account can handle the loss, consider the ethics of the issue in terms of contagion.
You may not look sick. Most performers know how to fake it. Even if you’re so tough that no one can tell when you’re really ill, look at the telltale signs. Vomiting and diarrhea will make teaching inadvisable, if not impossible. But even less severe—and less obvious—symptoms such as headache, exhaustion, chills, dizziness, or a persistent cough will interfere with your reflexes, level of patience, and decision-making ability.
Most important, though, is the possibility that you’ll make others sick. A dance teacher is in a position of responsibility. So while many students, parents, administrators, and staff personnel are counting on you to show up and do your thing, contagion can ripple out exponentially in a school program. Also, keep in mind that many students are picked up and dropped off by grandparents, and seniors can be especially susceptible to flu and colds.
Many people erroneously believe that once the symptoms of a cold or flu have subsided, all is clear for contact. According to the Centers for Disease Control, most adults may be able to infect others one day before flu symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children can infect others for longer than seven days.
A good rule of thumb is to take a whole week off for a flu outbreak, but with a simple cold you might be able return to the studio after a few days. But don’t come back until your fever is gone. While normal body temperatures vary—from about 98.6 for most people up to 99 for others—fever occurs when the body is contagious. That means you should stay home until your temperature returns to your normal baseline.
Remember too that illness can recur if antibodies have not fully eradicated the assaulting virus. The infection hits you hard at first, and it can resurface in another couple of days, before your body has built up full immunity.
Although there is no known way to shorten the duration of colds and flu, symptoms can be alleviated with over-the-counter pain relievers. Vitamin C provides energy, and chicken soup really can be relied upon to offer relief. It’s soothing, provides rehydrating fluids, and is easy to digest.
If you feel you are truly no longer contagious, but minor symptoms are lingering, consult your doctor, advice nurse, or even a pharmacist for help. Most pharmacists can offer great advice on which over-the-counter medications will alleviate residual symptoms. If a child’s symptoms don’t seem to be going away, by all means call her pediatrician. And consult your health care practitioner if you display persistent symptoms, which could become dangerous infections.
First, try to stay healthy. It’s not always possible, of course, but eating right, getting rest, and washing your hands often can help. If you’re not allergic to eggs, I recommend getting a flu shot to immunize you against the three most virulent flu types. It takes a couple of weeks to build up immunity, so it’s best to get one as soon as vaccines are available.
Encourage your students to wash their hands, and teach them to sneeze and cough into an arm or shoulder rather than their hands. Wiping down barres with disinfectant can also help prevent the spread of germs.
You should also prepare backup plans before illness strikes. Talk to your studio owner or employer and see how they cover absences. If necessary, find teachers who might be available to fill in for you—and be willing to return the favor.
Find a doctor, nurse, or other healthcare practitioner. If you are out of the medical healthcare loop, find low-cost or no-cost clinics or other alternatives before you get sick. Many exist. Learn what resources your county health department provides; ask friends and colleagues, and do some research on the internet.
Be smart, be considerate, and plan ahead. You can’t prevent illness, but you can help prevent it from getting the upper hand.
I have faith in you.
Irish Dancers Unite
When I attended the World Irish Dancing Championships, I didn’t realize what a world I had stepped into. Even when I left three days later, having made friends with a former world champion, a band of mothers from Colorado who were flattered by my endless questions, unpretentious professional dancers, charming competitors, and practically an entire studio from Ireland, I still had no clue. It wasn’t until two weeks later, when the horrific Boston Marathon bombings maimed a young Irish dancer, that I began to understand the shared pride that binds Irish dance studios separated by miles, languages, even oceans, into one community.
Jane Richard, a bombing victim who lost a leg, wasn’t a champion, or a revered teacher, or a famous name. She was an adorable 7-year-old who had practiced her hops and skips every Tuesday at Clifden Academy of Irish Dance in Milton, Massachusetts. But her suffering was a call to action. A Boston “Dance Out for Jane” fundraiser of Irish dance and music sold out (all 1,080 seats), and was copycatted by Irish enclaves in New York and Kansas City. Dancers at feises (competitive events) in California and Ohio took up collections. One donation would get you a pair of traditional Irish dancing knee socks—dyed red (in honor of the Red Sox) by dancers in New Jersey.
A Wisconsin dancer and her mom thought it would be nice to collect about 20 T-shirts from Irish dance studios and make Jane a small quilt. In a little over a week they had 495 shirts from schools in Australia and England, Ireland and the U.S. with more arriving every day. And 18-year-old Drew Lovejoy, who won a World Championship in Boston a few weeks before the bombing, said Jane could have his gold medal.
“The Irish dance community is so tight,” one teenage dancer told me at Worlds. “We give up so much, but here you are with people who really understand. We are competitive people, but we talk to everyone.” After what I’ve seen in the wake of the bombing, I believe her. —Karen White, Associate Editor
Pay, Not Play
I recently helped edit our upcoming story about teacher compensation, which addresses the thorny question of whether teachers should be paid for doing work outside the studio, such as attending meetings, traveling to competitions and conventions, participating in tech or dress rehearsals, and so on.
I agree that dancing, teaching, and running a dance studio all require dedication, sacrifice, and love—and that the rewards don’t often make it into the bank. But I also believe that one’s love of dance and commitment to one’s students should not mean all of us—teachers, performers, and studio owners—shouldn’t be paid fairly for the work we do. Working for nothing or next to nothing because we love our work and think it’s important denigrates its very importance.
This is a profession, not a hobby, an act of devotion, or the playing out of some (one else’s) romantic notion of “Dah-nce.” Those outside the dance world will continue to devalue our work if we continue to operate like amateurs or slaves of love. We need to create a system that looks and operates like a functional and vital cog in our national culture—and one that compensates all of us justly.
That means dancers performing in a play should not be expected to set and put away the actors’ props. Teachers who are paid by the hour for their in-studio time should not have to clean, sew, make phone calls, rehearse, or babysit backstage for free. (Attending meetings is a little trickier.)
It’s all too easy for those outside the dance world to simultaneously reap the rewards of and undervalue the work we do. Everybody loves So You Think You Can Dance, but how many viewers know or care how much a dance education costs? Or how long it takes? Or how few dance teachers have health insurance?
We should stop playing our parts in the myth that casts us as a bunch of besotted devotees who don’t know how to take care of ourselves. Dance is a serious enterprise, and we all deserve fair pay, respect, and a place at the grownups table. —Lisa Okuhn, Associate Editor
Say It With Silence
When I woke up with laryngitis one day and had to teach tap, I thought, “Oh great. No voice, no class.” But I was able to teach and it turned out great! Since I couldn’t rely on the power of projection or the rhythm of my voice, I had to use other tools to command the students’ attention.
First I clapped out a “call to order” rhythm: clap, clap, clap-clap-clap. The students and I repeated the pattern, back and forth, until I had their attention. I then whispered, “I don’t have a voice today, but I have ears, eyes, feet, and hands. Pay attention and follow along!”
Using hand signals and facial expressions, I led the class through warm-up, using thumbs up or down to let the students know how they were doing. I got a little silly with the tempos to make sure they were paying attention. The kids were laughing, but the message was clear: “Pay attention or you might get lost.”
Then, to teach new material, I used the time-honored “call and response” method. I started by stamping four times and the students copycatted it back to me. When there was no lag between call and response and the tempo was established, I moved into new material, four counts at a time. Each time I called out the steps with my feet and they mimicked me. When their response matched my call, I moved on to the next four counts; we eventually progressed to eight-count phrases.
These strategies got me through class without saying a word. Furthermore, the students were rapt, using 100 percent of their observational skills to keep up with me.
Teaching without a voice forced me to find another way to communicate. I’ve been weaving these strategies into my tap classes ever since, because doing so always mixes things up and helps keep students tuned in.
Focus on Feet
A group of my 8- to 10-year-old students was having a hard time remembering to point their feet while doing their dance. So we started to play a game. I put the names of all the dancers on a blackboard at the beginning of class. If they were caught not pointing their feet, their name would be erased.
They always had the chance to redeem themselves; if I saw some great pointed feet their names would go back up on the board.
At the end of the class all the dancers whose names remained on the board wrote their names on a small ball and put it in a mason jar. I then drew a name and that dancer would get a prize.
The next week, as other dancers kept their names on the board, we would add more balls to the jar, and each week I would draw a winner. When the jar was full I rewarded the entire class with a pizza party.
This is a fun way to encourage students to think about pointing their feet. It eventually became a habit, and they did a much better job pointing their feet while onstage.
By Megan Donahue
School owners, like anyone who owns a business that involves “face time,” understand the importance of good communication, and most of them put it at the top of their priority list. But if you’re like most school owners, you probably don’t have a chance to talk with every person who walks into the studio, and you might not have time to have a long conversation with each new parent. You certainly don’t get to chat with every person who clicks through your website. But there’s a work-around: blogging gives you the opportunity to have these conversations virtually.
If you’d like your blog to attract new customers and help retain current ones, it must be relevant, fun to read, and show the personality and life of your studio.
A blog can be a warm, informative, personal way to converse with everyone who clicks on your website. If you’d like the blog to attract new customers and help retain current ones, it must be relevant, fun to read, and show the personality and life of your studio. Here are some tips to make your blog shine.
Heather Fortier started her studio blog in January 2013, for her new studio, La Petite School of Dance, in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s a great way to add a personal connection to our site,” she says. The majority of students at La Petite are very young, and Fortier uses the blog to educate their parents about the educational goals behind the fun activities the kids do in class. Even before they meet her, potential clients can read Fortier’s posts about the creative theme of the month and observe that she’s very child-focused. Fortier emphasizes her enjoyment of children on her website, Facebook page, and blog, and seems to have succeeded in conveying her studio’s mission across these platforms. “I have had people come in saying, ‘Your studio seems student-friendly,’ ” she says.
Update, update, update
Posting regularly can be a challenge, but doing so is important. Remember, you don’t have to write an essay each time. You can post pictures, videos, students’ questions with your answers, and quick recaps of the studio’s happenings. Frequent updates freshen your website, which may make it more prominent in internet searches. A blog that’s updated regularly will draw more traffic to your website.
Make it relevant to customers
A blog can be a convenient way to deliver news. “I try to use as many modes of information as I can,” says Shereen Daly of In Motion School of Dance in Watertown, New York. She uses a general studio blog to keep everyone up to date on what’s going on at the studio and has separate blogs for her Nutcracker production, recital costumes, and competition information. Instead of wading through numerous emails, parents can check the relevant blog. “When I don’t update something on the blog,” and parents call to ask for the information, Daly says, “that’s when I’m reminded that they do check it.”
Get students and parents involved
Sometimes what someone else has to say about your business is more interesting than what you say.
Tricia Bayer of Richard’s School of Dance in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, might not be able to provide each new parent with a “dance mom” mentor, but she’s given them one via her studio blog. At the beginning of the 2012–2013 season, she invited the mother of a longtime student to write a “Veteran Dance Mom 101” post, providing a parent’s perspective and a testimonial.
Showcasing your students is another way to draw their attention to your blog, and make them feel special. Collect funny quotes from your baby ballerinas, ask older students to write about their best dance experiences, or ask how adult students feel about coming back to class after all these years. Student posts can give potential clients an idea of what your studio’s community is like.
Social media works together
Make sure to advertise your blog via the rest of your social media. Every time you update your blog, link to it on your studio Facebook page and send out a tweet. You can use Facebook and Twitter to solicit topics for your blog, asking friends and followers for input about their experiences as school owners, dancers, students, or teachers.
Owner/director, Emotion Dance Company, Guelph, ON, Canada
NOMINATED BY: Candace Occhiuto, parent: “Michelle is one of the most amazing dance teachers I have ever met. She treats all of her students, both recreational and competitive, with the utmost respect. She teaches technique and choreographs with skill. She brings the best out of all of her dancers. My daughter is blessed to have met Michelle and to have joined her dance team. She is going to learn so much in the wonderful years to come.”
YEARS TEACHING: 19
AGES TAUGHT: 2 to adult
GENRES TAUGHT: Lyrical, jazz, contemporary, and tap
WHY SHE CHOSE TEACHING AS A CAREER: Since I was a little girl, I’ve never looked at dance as a career but as a passion. It’s what I breathe, what I live. Before I settled into teaching as a career, I pursued dance performance. At 20, I moved to New York City. Like many other Canadians, including my former roommate Stacey Tookey, it’s not easy to work as a Canadian. After two and a half years, I injured myself severely and moved back home. I focused my energy on choreography and rediscovered the passion I had for teaching in my younger years. I haven’t looked back.
HER GREATEST INSPIRATION: My students. Their growth, hunger, and passion inspire me to be my best and push further than I thought possible. They motivate me to not only challenge them as dancers in class but to create choreography that is more artistic, exciting, and visually beautiful than the previous year. I love seeing them grow and mature as dancers and as people. Receiving a message from or having a conversation with a past student who has moved on either with or without dance is a wonderful reminder of my influence and how I’ve given them so much more than dance training.
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY: To teach by example and be a positive role model for my dancers. Teach with passion, warmth, and compassion. To help each dancer realize her individuality, full potential, and dreams. To give students more than just the gift of dance—to also instill in them confidence, poise, perseverance, and a love for the arts.
WHAT MAKES HER A GOOD TEACHER: The ability to connect and relate to dancers on a real level; to have mutual respect, understanding, passion, and energy. It’s about having fun in the classroom and allowing the dancers to explore their true selves, all the while knowing when to draw the line. Sometimes what’s required is tough love and firmness with a smile.
HER FONDEST TEACHING MEMORY: When a dancer leaves the stage after having performed just as we’ve discussed—having breathed life into the choreography and given it purpose. The pride and joy we feel is immense. It makes the journey and all the hard work in the studio so worth it!
ADVICE TO STUDENTS AND TEACHERS: Forever be a student. Continue learning, growing, and evolving.
IF SHE COULDN’T BE A DANCE TEACHER: First, I can’t imagine not being involved in the dance world! If I weren’t teaching, I would stay active by freelancing as a choreographer and spending time with my two beautiful daughters. I would celebrate every moment with them as a gift and share with them so much joy!
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.
3 teachers, 3 companies, 3 goals
By Holly Derville-Teer
It’s a dream for many dance teachers—having a company of their own, a way to visualize their own creativity. Three dance teachers based in or near Portland, Oregon, created student companies with different goals in mind. They told us about their dreams, their hard work, and the personal rewards they gained.
Brad Hampton: NW Fusion
Brad Hampton, 37, grew up dancing at Westside Dance & Gymnastics Academy in Tigard, Oregon, and performed with a local amateur dance company. His professional career included dancing on tour with Glen Campbell, in the Broadway revival and tour of 42nd Street, in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, and in the movie The Producers. He eventually returned to Tigard to teach at the studio that trained him.
Five years ago, Hampton sat brainstorming with Westside owner Melanie Heniff and several staff members because their pre-professional dancers “were seeking other ways of performing” besides competitions, says Hampton. “I thought, why can’t we offer that?” He suggested starting a student company in which concert-style performances would be the primary focus. Heniff gave him the green light.
Beyond the performing opportunities, Hampton’s goal was to offer training in a variety of dance styles and expose the students to working choreographers. He settled on the name NW Fusion, he says, “because I wanted to fuse all types of dances.” He invited 17 dancers ages 15 to 18 to join the company.
The company, which Hampton spends 15-plus hours per week administering on top of his teaching, choreographing, and mentoring duties, is structured as part of the school: the dancers pay tuition to Westside and Westside pays Hampton. Funding for costumes, choreography, and concerts comes via the fundraising efforts of a nonprofit called Friends of NW Fusion, which the dancers and their parents are required to participate in. By attending those meetings, says Hampton, he hopes the dancers will pick up budgeting skills that will help them when they graduate.
I feel that it is important for the families and dancers to know how much it costs to run a company. I want them to be involved so they feel that NW Fusion is their company too. —Brad Hampton
During the meetings Hampton goes over the company budget and helps the group set fundraising goals that will generate enough income to pay visiting choreographers. “I feel that it is important for the families and dancers to know how much it costs to run a company. I want them to be involved so they feel that NW Fusion is their company too.”
Hampton’s dancers take five required 60- to 90-minute classes weekly: two ballet, one jazz, one contemporary, and one tap. (Many dancers take additional classes.) The company also holds four-hour Saturday rehearsals.
Hampton and other teachers from Westside choreograph for the company, and Hampton routinely flies in guest choreographers. In the last year Hampton brought in two out-of-town choreographers and commissioned work from four local choreographers. Each guest sets one piece during a weekend of rehearsals, using all of the dancers. Anyone who misses a rehearsal with a guest choreographer is pulled from the piece. Before they leave, the choreographers speak to the dancers about professionalism, which Hampton hopes teaches the young company members how to conduct themselves well in a professional environment.
Hampton’s dancers learn 12 pieces, which they perform approximately seven times a year at festivals like Groovin’ Greenhouse, with Portland’s Gay Symphonic Band, and at Westside performances. In addition, NW Fusion puts on an annual concert. Participation in competitions is minimal (one dance, twice a year). “I teach it; we perform it; we get back to work,” Hampton says. “As much as I love competition, it’s not the be-all, end-all.”
To nurture budding choreographers, Hampton allows company members to create pieces on each other. He observes rehearsals and guides the dancers as they develop ideas for choreography, costumes, and lighting. Three of the pieces, chosen by Hampton, are included in the annual show.
That concert, Hampton says, is “a celebration of dance and hard work. I know they will be proud and not feel judged. The dancers take ownership of their work. And there’s nothing better than seeing them smile at the end of the show! Those kids are on a high. I’m blown away.”
April Robinson: Portland Tap Project
April Robinson, 31, began her 15-dancer tap company, Portland Tap Project, in 2004. In June, with the graduation of one of her last two original dancers (who joined her company at age 8), the company disbanded after nine years.
After graduating with a teaching degree from the University of Washington, Robinson taught tap briefly at several studios. A schoolteacher at heart, she landed a job teaching high school social studies but was reluctant to give up tap. With the idea of a tap laboratory in which learning was the primary purpose in mind, she rented studio space on Sundays and began Portland Tap Project. Since many of the dancers attended studios that didn’t offer tap, the owners of those studios allowed the students to participate in the company.
Robinson’s first goal was to provide instruction and performance opportunities for the tappers. Her second was to hone the group’s intellectual abilities. “With dance, and tap in particular, you can learn how to learn,” Robinson says. “I’ve tried to use the art form to make smarter people. They’ve learned to be focused, methodical, and not afraid of a challenge. All my company dancers got straight As in school. I talk a lot about success being a choice.”
In addition to an annual group routine, every dancer had two to four hours of private lessons each month, which included learning a solo. The dancers paid hourly for solos and divided the hourly fee when rehearsing their group routine.
The solos were within the dancers’ reach, but Robinson always included something difficult to master. Some dancers practiced for more than a year, and some solos never saw the stage. This did not faze Robinson, who emphasizes the value of the learning process. “I wanted them to feel motivated to practice,” she says. “I could have asked for less and had them ready sooner, but they wouldn’t have gotten as good.”
Robinson says parents accepted that their kids might not compete their solos because “the primary reason for the lesson was for the training. Competition was just a bonus. Some students would simply never care about the dance enough to practice choreography, and that was fine; the goal was to develop excellent tap technique, not a winning competition routine.”
The company performed approximately 15 times per year, attending 10 competitions and dancing at Portland events. Robinson says performing at county fairs helped the dancers learn to engage an audience. They loved doing tap flash mobs, done on beach boardwalks, in restaurant lobbies, and while walking down the street.
Robinson, who started Portland Tap Project with the intention of folding it when the initial group of students moved on, is now director of the tap program at MVP Dance Elite in Beaverton, Oregon. She has fond memories of her company, such as the time a competition judge told her troupe, “You are so in time with one another, it’s like you’re beating with one heart.”
Robinson took those words to heart and had T-shirts made for the dancers. They read “ASTBWOH” for “A successful team beats with one heart.”
D.J. Rayley: SNAP
D.J. Rayley, 40, started a mixed-ages company in southeast Portland, Oregon, in 2000. Recruiting from students who took classes from her at various studios and through the Park and Recreation adult dance program, and from dancers who performed hip-hop with her at Portland clubs, she invited 15 people ages 16 to 35 to join the new company, which stayed together until 2008.
Rayley’s reasons for starting a company were to explore her creativity, contribute to her community, and continue performing herself. “I knew early on I wanted to do my own shows,” she says. “There are some things I can’t touch at a studio because I feel the kids are too young.” Issues she tackled in her choreography included slavery, domestic violence, and racism. The teen dancers danced lighter pieces.
Rayley’s dance teachers had told her that she didn’t have the right body type for a professional career and that dancers don’t usually perform past 30. Rejecting those limitations, she started a company she could perform with in which age and body type weren’t considerations. “There are so many amazing dancers 35 and up who can truly rock it,” she says.
The company began informally. “We would gather on Sundays and I would teach a tap piece, a hip-hop piece, or anything else I was in the mood for,” says Rayley. After the group had been performing for two years, Rayley made it official by giving it a name. She asked the dancers for suggestions and drew the name SNAP out of a hat. And so the group became D.J. Rayley’s SNAP Performing Arts Company.
As the group began to perform more often (hip-hop, tap, African, contemporary, and hula) and the members became more serious, Rayley invited other dancers in her classes to audition. If dancers were willing make the required effort, she reasoned, they were more likely to approach company membership seriously. Prospective members had to provide a headshot and letter of recommendation and complete a questionnaire about availability, interest, background, and handling peer conflict. The final step in the process was taking company class so that Rayley could assess the dancers’ skills and ability to interact with others.
The dancers attended four hours of class on Friday nights and six hours of rehearsal on Sunday nights. The company guested at two recitals (at studios where Rayley taught) and produced a concert twice a year. It also performed five times a year as backup for local hip-hop artists and at nonprofit events like Portland’s Good in the Hood street fair, and participated in conventions and competitions. SNAP even performed at Rayley’s wedding, preceding her entrance with a dance down the aisle.
Every so often Rayley had to let company members go, usually because they stopped consistently attending rehearsals or classes. “As a businessperson you have to put your foot down, even though it’s tough. I handled it kindly, and several years later the dancers came back to my adult Park and Recreation classes or to workshops I was teaching,” she says.
For Rayley, working with the company “wasn’t about the money; it was about giving something back. I had the means to offer the dancers something of value that could bring joy into their lives.” For that reason, she did not charge tuition or charge admission to the shows. She paid for rehearsal space at a local studio, for insurance, and for two annual concerts. (The performance space was donated.) She did charge the dancers a fee for guest choreographers, and they purchased their own costumes during group shopping trips.
After eight years of directing SNAP, Rayley was ready for a break. Between running her company and teaching, she had worked seven days a week for seven years. “I finally decided something had to give. It became clear that the company was what I had to let go. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done.” Today she teaches at nine venues, including schools, studios, colleges, and Portland Park and Recreation.
One particularly rewarding aspect of her company, Rayley says, was making a difference in the dancers’ lives. One teenage boy who had been in trouble with the police and had dropped out of school turned his life around during the time he was with SNAP. “I think the consistency of immersing himself in something he loved and having older members who held him accountable gave him the support [he needed] to straighten out,” says Rayley. Today that young man has his GED and is happily married and working.
Rayley is grateful for the artistic growth she experienced while directing SNAP. “It taught me the importance of trying things. Without [risk] you can’t grow; you stay stagnant or miss an opportunity to learn something. I found this calmer confidence, a stronger voice.”
She also credits SNAP with helping her grow as a person. She learned to accept help and input from others and how to handle stress better. “Roll with the punches and it will work itself out,” she says.
A special 90th birthday celebration for one of the brightest and most beloved stars in the North Texas dance community, tapper Buster Cooper, will be held August 31 from 2 to 4pm at the Musical Hall at Fair Park, Dallas, Texas.
The event is sponsored by Michael Jenkins, Dallas Summer Musicals, and the Dance Council of North Texas, and will include light refreshments, a look back at Cooper’s professional and personal milestones, and a short performance of his choreography.
DCNT said that as a dancer, teacher, and choreographer—an authority on tap and jazz—Cooper is held in high regard as a faculty member of many dance organizations. At one time, Cooper had six former students appearing simultaneously on Broadway, in shows such as A Chorus Line, 42nd Street, and Cats. He has taught more than 200,000 students in his 55-year career, and has choreographed more than 1,700 dance numbers.
Tickets are $20 until August 23; $35 after. Visit http://www.thedancecouncil.org/content.aspx?page_id=22&club_id=752324&module_id=141089 for more information. Proceeds will help fund DCNT Buster Cooper tap and jazz scholarships.