How-To
Dance Gallery Festival founder Astrid von Ussar (center) leading a class. Photo by Sharon Bradford, courtesy of von Ussar

Last year The Dance Gallery Festival celebrated 10 years. Since the beginning, co-founder and artistic director Astrid von Ussar has been in search of ways for the festival to make a real impact on the dance community and support up-and-coming choreographers. Here's how she's doing it.

This year's Dance Gallery Festival, November 3 at Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center in Brooklyn and November 4–5 at Ailey Citigroup Theater in New York City, will feature 21 choreographers.

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Dear dance teachers,

As I gaze at my daughter's first tiny pair of ballet shoes and reflect on all the memories that come with them, I'm flooded with mixed emotions. Choosing to put her in dance was one of the best decisions I made. At the time, we didn't know it would become her second home and bring with it a lifetime of warm, wonderful and joyous memories. As she takes the stage for her last recital, her smile will tell the world how much she loves to dance. There are not enough words to express my gratitude, but I'll try.

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Teachers & Role Models
Photo by Rick Decker, courtesy of Lauren Frazier-Gebhart

In Take the Lead, actor Antonio Banderas wins over a group of reluctant inner-city students with a racy tango performance. While the 2006 film was inspired by Pierre Dulaine, ballroom dancer and founder of Dancing Classrooms, teaching in a public school is rarely as easy as it looks in the movies. From financial challenges to lack of administrative support and parental involvement, public-school teaching differs greatly from the studio environments in which most dance educators began their own training. We asked several public-school teachers to share their passion for the hardest job they've ever done. —Kat Richter

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Two seasons ago, Francisco Gella, choreographer and 24 Seven Dance Convention faculty member and judge, witnessed a group of tiny dancers shaking to "Money" from Cabaret, complete with fake currency attached to costumes that included bustiers and garter belts. "It did affect their score negatively; we consider appearance, costumes and confidence, all of which come together in a situation like this," Gella says.

"Some teachers thank me for my remarks, while others just never come back," he says. "We may have become desensitized about overt sexuality, because we can get lost in the process." But it can be a reality check, he says, to watch the reaction of the general public when they see these tiny tots parading around in their skimpy attire at the hotel or a nearby Starbucks.

Scoring, of course, involves a variety of factors, and judges must weigh their decisions. "It depends on whether it's only an issue of costume or only inappropriate content—or the combination of both," says Gella. "If the dance is executed phenomenally, it will still tend to score high, based on the performance. But as judges, we do point out why we feel a costume may be inappropriate or if the choreography is too graphic for the age of the dancer."

But when music, moves and costumes are all inappropriate, Gella will judge the number harshly. "I would go as far as penalizing it one award category lower," he says. "Things get a bit tricky, because if that inappropriate dance wins, it sends a message that judges condone those types of dances."

As dance teachers, we have a powerful influence on the dancers with whom we work, and it is important to remember that we are the ones who set the standards, not the dancers. Here's what five judges and one studio owner had to say about where to draw the line on costumes, music and moves that are age-appropriate.

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Teachers & Role Models
Photo by Tim Trumble, courtesy of Arizona State University

Many parents discourage their teenagers from majoring in dance because of fear that their child will become a struggling artist in an unforgiving city, only to end their career in injury. But a dance degree can lead to other corners of the profession, such as marketing, physical therapy and arts administration. "Parents always say their children need something to fall back on," says Daniel Lewis, former dean of the dance division at New World School of the Arts. "They only see the stage time, applause and flowers. But there's choreographing, teaching, PR—the careers are endless."

Others are more concerned with disappointment. "Your daughter doesn't have to be a major ballerina with ABT to be successful," says Lewis. "If she wants to be a dancer, she'll find the work. There's a certain amount of training you have to achieve before you even get accepted into a good college, so if you have the talent, and the drive, you can make it."

As mentors, teachers can be monumentally influential on students' college decision processes. Read on to hear from three dance majors who feel grateful they chose this path—and share their words with your students!

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If you run a dance studio, you know it's a 24/7 commitment. It's a tough and rewarding job, but like everything in life, there comes time for a change, a chance to slow down or move on to the next life venture. If you're like Danie Beck, who owned Dance Unlimited for 40 years, a former student may want to take over your business—and need your advice. Or, if you're like Deborah Riley, who co-directed a nonprofit dance school, you'll want your school to have a long life beyond your tenure.

Whatever your retirement scenario, your legacy and financial security may well be affected by the successor you choose and how smooth a transition it is for your staff and students. Three studio directors who have recently gone through the succession process offer their stories and advice.

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Teachers & Role Models
Photo by Elizabeth Byam, courtesy of Tina Philibotte

In Take the Lead, actor Antonio Banderas wins over a group of reluctant inner-city students with a racy tango performance. While the 2006 film was inspired by Pierre Dulaine, ballroom dancer and founder of Dancing Classrooms, teaching in a public school is rarely as easy as it looks in the movies. From financial challenges to lack of administrative support and parental involvement, public-school teaching differs greatly from the studio environments in which most dance educators began their own training. We asked several public-school teachers to share their passion for the hardest job they've ever done. —Kat Richter

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models
Photo by Aaron Brewer, courtesy of Amy Bramlett Turner

In Take the Lead, actor Antonio Banderas wins over a group of reluctant inner-city students with a racy tango performance. While the 2006 film was inspired by Pierre Dulaine, ballroom dancer and founder of Dancing Classrooms, teaching in a public school is rarely as easy as it looks in the movies. From financial challenges to lack of administrative support and parental involvement, public-school teaching differs greatly from the studio environments in which most dance educators began their own training. We asked several public-school teachers to share their passion for the hardest job they've ever done. —Kat Richter

Keep reading... Show less

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