Dance Teachers Trending

How One High School Dance Teacher Built a Positive Relationship With Local Studios

To show her support for local studios, Kelly Berick requires all her students to be enrolled in an after-school program. Photo by Stephanie Csejtey, courtesy of Akron School of the Arts

When Kelly Berick began teaching high school students at Ohio's Firestone Community Learning Center within Akron Public Schools 21 years ago, she was newly engaged, newly licensed to teach K–12 dance and thrilled to land what she considered the perfect job. Her enthusiasm quickly soured, however, when after two weeks of teaching she called a local studio to introduce herself. "The owner told me her students didn't like me, didn't like what I was doing and were going to quit my program," she says. Her class of seven became a class of three.

It was a wake-up call, and one that convinced the North Carolina native to rethink her approach. Since then, Berick has grown not only the Akron School's dance program, which has placed graduates in BFA programs across the country, but she's also built a positive relationship with the dance studios in her community. In an industry where students often feel forced to declare their loyalty to one program over another (and studio owners fear anyone encroaching on their hard-earned turf), this was no easy feat.

"When I came to Akron, there were five or six studios in the area," she explains. Today, that number has grown to about 30. "I knew I couldn't walk into my classroom and try to prove that I was the best, because there were too many wonderful teachers already in the area."

Berick, who holds a master's in education in dance from Temple University, realized she needed to differentiate her curriculum from what was already being offered to her students at their local studios. "If I was going to develop a four-year, eight-credit collegiate model program for students who may look to major in dance in a university, I had to build on their strengths. They were already getting technique, performance opportunities, vocabulary and the basics of how to do a pirouette, but what about proper alignment and injury prevention? What about improvisation? How do you make a study on level or tempo, and how do you build these studies to make your own work?" she says.

Composition became the focus of Berick's program, which has also come to include dance history, anatomy, additional vocabulary ("What's that thing you're calling a plié, and how do you spell it?"), dance criticism and arts advocacy.

Student choreography rehearsals for juniors and seniors take place during class time, and students must submit both a lesson plan and a journal reflecting on their previous rehearsal. Coursework also includes teaching strategies, because Berick knows that many of her students will go into arts education.

"Our mission is to make sure that they don't go off to a university dance program, land in their first dance theory class and quit because they have no clue what's going on," says Berick.

In addition to retooling her initial curriculum, Berick has learned to be very mindful of scheduling to avoid competing with her students' studio classes. "They're already dancing from 4 to 10 pm, so when the bell rings at 3:30, that's it. School is dismissed. We don't keep them here," she says.

The only required after-school activity is the tech rehearsal for the annual spring concert, and it didn't take long for Berick to figure out that she could limit schedule conflicts by holding her concert in March as opposed to May, when most of the local studios have their recitals.

To support her students and gain the trust of their studio owners, Berick used to go to all of their recitals. "But now there are just too many, and I had babies," she says with a laugh. Still, the relationships she has worked to build remain strong.

"The studio community is very supportive. They come to our concerts, and we try to make sure they know we appreciate them being there." Each student choreographer gets a bio line in the program that notes which studio they attend, and Berick uses social media to share videos praising the local studio community for NDEO's Thank a Dance Teacher Day.

To show her support even further, Berick requires her students to be enrolled in a studio program and to sign a contract to prove it. "They need to be enrolled in a studio of their choice," she says. "I don't care what they take—it can be anything from hula to hip hop—but I wanted to get the message out there that they have to be enrolled in something, and they have to get their studio owner to sign the contract and confirm that they are taking class." It also works to Berick's advantage, because it guarantees that her students continue developing their technique outside of her classroom.

Relaying an anecdote of which she's particularly proud, Berick explains that Akron is home to a number of very serious pre-professional ballet programs: "They used to make their dancers sign a contract stating that they wouldn't take dance anywhere else, but they are letting that slide now and allowing their students to dance for me."

As for that original studio owner who tried to send Berick packing? Berick is looking forward to welcoming one of her former students as a ninth-grader this fall.

Show Comments ()
How does your studio handle enrollment for boys? Photo courtesy of Shona Roebuck

I recently set up a classical ballet partnering master class for my youth dance company. A pas de deux class, if you will—think Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, etc., chock full of promenades, pirouettes and lifts.

I knew we would have plenty of girls interested in signing up, but enlisting boys is always a challenge.

Without much thought, we offered it for free to boys who attended because, here's the thing: no boys = no class. At least, in a ballet partnering class—every Sugar Plum Fairy needs a Cavalier, right?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Sean Boyd, courtesy of White

Julie Hammond White is an associate professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she directs the dance education BFA. Here, the mother of two (Townsend, 10, and Dominic, 7) takes us through a typical week of juggling her personal and professional life. We caught up with White in October on the first day of work after her fall break. —Jill Randall


6:30–10 am Up and trying to rouse the boys. Throw in a load of laundry, pack lunches, set out uniforms. Drop kids off at school and head to the library. Finish planning advanced ballet.

10:30–11 Read 99 (?!) work e-mails. Taking a few days off is a bad idea…

11 am–12:30 pm Teach advanced ballet. I'm doing what I call "vitamin phrases": 2- to 3-minute phrases that focus on one aspect of ballet (this week, petit allégro).

12:40–1:55 Teach Methods in Dance Education. This is a course that all juniors, regardless of their major (performance/choreography or dance ed), must take to learn how to effectively teach dance in K–12, studios, higher education or community programs.

3:30–4 Grab a quick salad at restaurant across the street. Read letters from the promotion committee—passed the first stage of being recommended for full professor!

4–6 Grade DED 360 papers. These take a while. DED 360 is one of two writing- and speaking-intensive classes for the major. In their papers, students comment on eight areas of diversity as defined by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and find a media resource that addresses each to compare and contrast their views.

7–8 Grocery: bread, cantaloupe, Go-GURTS, apples, bananas, peanut butter, Nutella, pasta, cheese and oatmeal.

8–9 Laundry. Three loads. Also do a quick pickup of the house.

9 Boys home from day with Dad. They shower, brush teeth and set out their clothes for tomorrow. I sign homework and read them a story. Hugs and kisses, then bed by 10 pm.

10–10:30 More e-mails. Bed.

Next Page
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Kyle Froman, courtesy of The Ailey School

Depending upon whom you ask, there are different approaches to mastering the art of turning. Whether it's fouetté turns or a single pirouette, every teacher tends to have their own unique way to break down the physics of pulling off balance, strong arms and quick spotting to students. And here's one more visual to consider, courtesy of master ballet teacher Finis Jhung.

Bottom line: There are never enough ways to describe how to do a pirouette.

Keep reading... Show less
Best Practices

Do you call the pirouette position passé or retiré, or do you use both? What about the term élevé? Do you use it? Have you ever considered what these French words actually mean?

“Ballet terminology is somewhat subjective," says Raymond Lukens of ABT's JKO School. “Often there is no definitive way to say something. What's really important is to create a picture in the minds of your students so that they will do the step you're asking the best way possible. You can split hairs forever over this stuff!"

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos

Taylor Swift's latest music video for her hit song "Delicate" has taken the internet by storm since its premier at the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Awards. (Is anyone surprised? 💁) If you've been watching headlines, you know that it's simultaneously dancey, goofy, nods at Margaret Qualley's dance advertisement for KENZO and is chock-full of secret messages for all of Swift's biggest fans.

This entertaining video has us reflecting on some other dance-centric music videos we'll never get over. Check out our list of dancey music videos you need to watch right now. Let us know your favorite over on our Facebook page!

Keep reading... Show less
Alicia Vikander in Tomb Raider (Warner Brothers)

Today in Ballet Dancers Are Actual Superheroes news:

You've no doubt heard that the fabulous Alicia Vikander is playing Lara Croft in the newest iteration of Tomb Raider, which hits movie theaters this Friday. But while her training for the high-octane action role was crazy tough, she says, studying at the Royal Swedish Ballet Schoolwas far tougher.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
DaSilva (center) teaching at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts Center in NYC. Photo courtesy of DaSilva

Chanel DaSilva has two pillars of focus for every class she teaches: performance quality and musicality. The former Trey McIntyre Project dancer asks her students to really listen and be the music, emphasizing the importance of being expressive artists. She wants students to find that euphoric place dancers feel when they're under the lights with an audience watching. "I want that in class," she says. "Don't wait for the stage."

Keep reading... Show less





Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!