How do you turn out such technically trained dancers?
I teach more ballet than most competition studios, so when my kids win, it’s because of their technique more than anything. I don’t care what the latest trend is in choreography or on the convention circuit—I care about keeping the kids in ballet class.
For four months, starting in August, I teach solid technique. We don’t even begin learning the choreography for our competition routines until the last week in December. Then, as soon as competition season ends in May, we get back into the serious technique classes—including a ballet camp—before we go to Nationals.
What do you do with an exceptionally gifted dancer—like Jakob Karr—to keep him or her challenged and growing?
If you want them to grow, you as the teacher have to continue to grow. You have to challenge yourself in order for your studio to prosper. I do that by taking classes whenever I can. Over the summer I go to NYC to take classes at Broadway Dance Center and Steps on Broadway. I also bring in guest teachers for my students, so we can all stay on the cutting edge.
The reason I first got into competition was to make my dancers more serious so I could take them to a more experienced level. Competitions teach the students discipline and focus, and, if you handle your team correctly, they help form tremendous friendships.
What are the biggest mistakes studios make at competition?
They can let it become too competitive and, as a result, lose their focus. You can’t let go of your technique. So many studios also focus on following the latest trends and suddenly everyone is wearing the same thing, performing to the same song and looking identical.
What is your advice to teachers for their first competition?
Don’t go in expecting to win. Sit, learn and watch the other dancers at each event and really keep your eyes open. Get a feel for what competitions are like and understand that hard work will pay off. Competitions are also subjective. The results at any given event are one group’s opinion. It can simply depend on the group of judges you have that day.
Starting this Saturday, the Children's Museum of Manhattan on the Upper West Side will have an interactive dance exhibit called "Let's Dance!" Basically every facet of dance is featured in the exhibit: kids can explore lighting design with a special child-friendly lighting box; choreograph with the use of props, signs and costumes; create accompaniment with percussion instruments; manipulate posable figures; see incredible dance photography and video; and, best of all, interact with the dance portal, where they can watch, learn and interact with professional and student dance companies like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dancing Classrooms, Mark Morris Dance Group and Martha Graham Dance Company. Whew. That's a LOT of great stuff.
Kathleen Kelbe, Pembroke School of Performing Arts | Pembroke, MA
Total budget: $100,000
Project timeline: 3 months (ongoing)
Kelbe expanded from 1,600 to 6,000 square feet. She used Rosco's SubFloor and Adagio vinyl and broke her extensive renovation into three phases.
Ellen Marshall, Off Broadway Dance Center | Fulton, NY
Total budget: $60,000
Project timeline: 3 months
Marshall renovated a Methodist church into a 4,000-square-foot studio, with Stagestep Flooring Solutions' marbleized gray Timestep in her two studios.
Diana Griffin, Fusion Dance Company | Palm Harbor, FL
Total budget: $40,000
Project timeline: 45 days
From restaurant to studio! The checkerboard ceilings were a restaurant leftover that Griffin decided to keep. Her O'Mara sprung floors were self-installed in her 7,000-square-foot space.
Barclay Gibbs, Dance Conservatory of Maryland | Bel Air, MD
Total budget: $10,000
Project timeline: 2 days
Gibbs chose Gerstung Floor Systems' AirBase 600 for her 2,000-square-foot studio. This semi-permanent flooring will travel with her, should she change locations in the future.
Nigel Burgoine, Ballet Theatre of Toledo | Toledo, OH
Total budget: $4,000
Project timeline: 1 day
In her work as director of physical therapy for New York City Ballet, Marika Molnar relies on tools like bands, balls and Pilates equipment to rehabilitate and strengthen dancers. She says there's a place for such tools in daily dance classes, as well. Resistance and stability tools can help students develop strength and even break bad habits. "Say someone is compensating because of a weakness or restriction—that's what they're always going to do," she says, even after a teacher corrects them repeatedly. "If you give them something that makes things a little unfamiliar, their brain has to participate more. It becomes not only a physical exercise but a cognitive one." The dancer learns in a new way, and improves.
Molnar has collaborated with Pilates expert Joan Breibart and PTs at Westside Dance Physical Therapy to create a series of tools and exercises with dancers' training and recovery needs in mind. Here, she shares three of her favorites.
Christy Wolverton had a student who often either missed class or seemed to be sick. "When you're in our pre-professional company, attendance is huge," says Wolverton, owner and director of Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, Texas. She tried to be patient with the dancer and communicate with her parents to get a better idea of what was going on at home. "When she was diagnosed with a serious illness," she says, "we were relieved that we didn't come down on her for something that wasn't her fault."
Laura Glenn can still remember the excitement she felt watching the Limón Dance Company perform at Central Park in the summer of 1962. "I turned to the person next to me and whispered, 'He's going to be my teacher!'" she says. Two weeks later, she started as a Juilliard freshman, where she indeed studied under the legendary José Limón before joining his company in her second year.