Dance Teacher Tips

Go Team Go! Fresh Ideas to Help Your Competition Team Bond

All photos by Christina Bruce, courtesy of Bravo Dance Center

With choreography to rehearse and costumes to finalize, preparing for competition season can be hectic. Team bonding may not be the first thing on your mind, but as most studio owners would agree, building camaraderie among your dancers is just as important as winning the gold. Check out these easy, budget-friendly ideas from the directors of two innovative studios to help turn your students into a supportive team.

Customized Lawn Signs

Lindsay Keegan and Lauren Kulp, founders of Bravo Dance Center in Warminster, Pennsylvania, decided to kick off the season in style by announcing audition results through customized lawn signs. They ordered the signs from a local printer and customized each one with a permanent paint marker to let the girls know which numbers they would be performing in the upcoming season. “It took us almost five hours to deliver the signs," Keegan says. “We left around 8 pm and didn't get home until 1 am, but we wanted it to be a surprise."

“We wanted to do something different from the traditional acceptance letter," says Kulp. “And what better time to find out you made the team than when you're on your way to school in the morning? Our phones were ringing off the hook that day, and it warmed our hearts to know we had made such an impact on our girls and their families."

Big Sister Little Sister Program

At The Dancers Workshop in Wall Township, New Jersey, Barbara Parren has established a Big Sister Little Sister program, in which older students mentor younger ones for the duration of the season. She works hard to get the pairings just right. For example, she will match a shy, young student with a more outgoing older student to help build confidence.

“The older dancer guides the younger dancer through the season, showing them the ins and outs of the stages, educating them on hair and makeup and helping them make sure everything is in line before they go onstage. They're there for their younger sister both in and out of the studio."

Daylong Pep Rally

To get dancers excited about the start of the season, The Dancers Workshop also hosts a daylong pep rally the weekend before their first competition. Dancers run their routines one last time, but the only feedback they get is the sound of their teammates cheering.

Crafting is also a big part of the day. Parren purchases pizza and all the necessary supplies for the girls, including fabric paint, markers and rhinestones and an item for all the dancers to decorate. “It's become a tradition that is as exciting as Christmas for us!" she says. Everyone decorates the same thing, and depending on the year, dancers have adorned T-shirts, hats, socks, sweatpants and flip-flops, which they can then wear to competitions to show team spirit.

Caitlin Quinn Pittenger, Dancers Workshop instructor, says the dancers talk about their goals for the season and what they need to do, both as individuals and as a team to achieve these goals. No critiques, however, are given that day.

Student of the Month

Another great way to build confidence and positive feelings is to encourage dancers to celebrate one another's successes. Like many studios, Bravo Dance Center selects a “Student of the Month," but they go one step further by mounting a photograph of the student on a piece of large poster board. The board is displayed in the dancers' waiting room with a pen resting on a few extra thumbtacks. “Fellow students can write well wishes and congratulations," says Keegan. “This way, it's about recognizing someone else's achievements, instead of being jealous."

Booster Box

A few weeks before the start of competition season, students at Bravo Dance Center are encouraged to bring in shoe boxes from home to make a “Booster Box." Dancers can decorate them ahead of time, but studio owners provide materials for further embellishment.

“We avoid glitter in order to keep the dance floor clean," says Keegan, “but we provide the dancers with crayons and stickers." Boxes are stored in the studio on a small folding table with extra slips of paper and pens. Dancers write notes of encouragement and place them in the boxes, which are then opened just before the first competition.

According to Kulp, “The boxes help the entire school, even those who aren't dancing competitively, to get excited for the team. In a world full of social media, the little handwritten notes give a more personal touch, and it's become a pre-competition tradition that the entire team looks forward to."

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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?

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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.

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