In the Magazine

Playing Favorites, Competition Costs, Music Technology

Kathy Blake, Suzanne Blake Gerety, Joanne Chapman and Barry Blumenfeld answer your questions

Q: I have a few students who spend almost all their extra time after school and on weekends at the studio, and I’ve naturally formed a tight bond with them. I don’t want to appear like I’m favoring them in classes over other students, but I do want to keep them as passionate, eager and involved as they want to be. Sometimes I feel like I’m neglecting them just to avoid favoring them. Please help!

A: First, acknowledge that every student is special and may require a different amount of attention at various times during their training. For instance, a student who spends so much time at the studio might really need a little extra attention. With this in mind, it is counterproductive to avoid students for fear of showing favoritism. Rather, it’s best to come up with ways to praise or acknowledge every student and develop a system to interact with students both on and off the dance floor.

In rehearsals, make a conscious effort to balance the amount of coaching, correcting and praising across all students. Outside of class, you can recognize all students on their birthdays, for example, or for regular attendance or years of participation. Consider creating a student-of-the-month program that honors a student’s teamwork and school spirit. For the eager students who are always at the studio, you could develop an assistant teacher-training program, or an extra performance or competition team. This will allow you to maintain professionalism in your interactions while giving them a constructive outlet for their energy and focus.

Kathy Blake is the owner of Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, New Hampshire. She and Suzanne Blake Gerety are the co-founders of DanceStudioOwner.com.

Q: I’m struggling to make ends meet when it comes to my studio’s competitive division. The choreographers and travel are expensive, and unlike in the recreational division, there’s no recital to generate extra revenue. How can I keep my comp division running? 

A: It’s a challenge, to say the least, to make competitive teams financially viable. One of the ways to do this is to fill all your classes. We encourage our families to enroll even their youngest dancers in multiple dance classes. By the time dancers are 6 years old, we make it compulsory for them to enroll in a jazz class if they’re in a tap or acro class, and as they get older, we require them to take a ballet class if they’re in a jazz class. Our junior company dancers are required to take one jazz, tap, hip-hop, lyrical or contemporary, and two ballet classes per week—and they’re allowed to sign up for more. Your dancers know that with more classes they will improve faster, and if you offer a multiclass discount, they’ll often choose to do more than the minimum. It’s a win for all—your students become more well-rounded, your classes are full and many of the competition expenses will be covered.

We also ask some of our competition faculty members to teach a few recreational classes. Although they often teach at higher rates, we find that this encourages some of the recreational dancers to enroll in more classes. To balance the higher cost, a number of junior teachers (who are at least 17 years old) teach recreational classes at a lower pay scale. These junior teachers are usually former competitive students who are in college. Though they teach as a part-time job, we hold them to the same standard of quality as the competitive teachers. Since your recreational program is your moneymaker, it’s imperative to maintain enrollment and show recreational parents that their children are receiving the best training possible.

Joanne Chapman is the owner of the award-winning Joanne Chapman School of Dance in Ontario, Canada. 

Q: I know there are programs like Audacity that allow you to alter a song’s tempo. But to do so, I have to open the song, choose the tempo, convert it and then play it. It takes way too long. Is there a program that will let me do it instantly? 

A: Neutrino is a music-player program for Macs that has an easy-to-use interface. It pulls your music directly from iTunes, so your music will stay organized in the playlists you’ve created. The program lets you modify tempo on the spot, or you can save a song (and burn it to CD) at a different tempo. I use this feature in my tap classes if my students are working up to a particular speed. If they don’t make it to the actual tempo by performance time, I can make a copy of the version they’ve been practicing to and use that. Another feature I like is the looping function. When I’m working on a combination for class, I can focus on just a few bars of music and play it over and over until I’ve figured out the phrase.

Neutrino isn’t free, but before purchasing it for $29.95, you can download it from the internet for a 30-day free trial. And here’s a little secret: You can still use the software once the trial expires. The program will lose most of the functions, but the tempo-change ability will remain.

Windows Media Player has the ability to change the tempo while playing the song. Look under the menu “Enhancements,” and choose “Play Speed Settings.” This opens a slider that allows you to control tempo.

As for apps for portable devices, there are a few that work. I’m a fan of the iPhone app, Tempo Magic Pro. It is $4.99, but the app is worth the money because its slider interface is easy to use and you can create a playlist and then lock the tempo, so that all songs in the list play at the same tempo. Tempo SloMo is a great free option, and this app allows you to add markers so you can go back to specific points in the song. For Android users, Music Tempo and Audio Speed Change are apps that are highly rated and free.

Barry Blumenfeld teaches at The Friends Seminary School in New York City. He is an adjunct professor at New York University and on the faculty of the Dance Education Laboratory of the 92nd Street Y.

Former students of Kelley gather around a cardboard cutout made in his honor at the recent tribute. Photo courtesy of Merritt

Every dancer has a teacher who makes an impression. The kind of impression that makes you want to become a dancer or a teacher in the first place. For Mara Merritt, owner of Merritt Dance Center in Schenectady, NY, and countless others, that teacher was Charles Kelley.

Known as "Chuck" to most, Kelley was born December 4, 1936. He was a master teacher in tap, jazz and acrobatics, who wrote syllabuses for national dance conventions like Dance Masters of America. Growing up in upstate New York, Merritt's parents, both dance teachers, took her into Manhattan every Friday to study with Kelley. First at the old Ed Sullivan Theater and the New York Center of Dance in Times Square, then years later at Broadway Dance Center.

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Photo courtesy of DM archives

"It's hard not to get too hurt in this profession."

Ann Reinking got real earlier this month at New York City Dance Alliance Foundation's Bright Lights Shining Stars gala. She was being honored as a 2017 NYCDA Foundation Ambassador for the Arts, and her speech was so moving that we had to share the entire thing with you.

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Photo by Grant Halverson, courtesy of ADF

As a soloist with William Forsythe's Ballet Frankfurt and later as his assistant, Elizabeth Corbett got to experience firsthand the groundbreaking choreographer's influence on contemporary ballet. "I find it fascinating and never-ending," she says of his work. "It was a repertory that was constantly changing over time and still is." Now on faculty with the American Dance Festival, Corbett brings Forsythe's repertory and processes to the dancers in class every summer.

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During seated stretches, I encourage my students to sit straight on their sits bones and then fold forward at the hips—even if they don't go forward very far. One student tells me that if she sits as I instruct, she can't reach forward at all. Why?
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Teachers & Role Models

In 2011, New York City–based choreographer Pedro Ruiz returned to Cuba after 21 years of dancing with Ballet Hispanico and more than 30 years being away. The experience was so moving that he created The Windows Project as a continuous cultural collaboration between American artists and Cuban dancers.

"I was so overwhelmed seeing all the dancers do Afro-Cuban dance with live music. It was the moment my soul reconnected to Cuba and to my roots," says Ruiz of his first trip back. "I started weeping." He saw that, while Cuban companies and schools have amazing knowledge and passion for dance, they needed access to train with teachers in a variety of techniques, and choreographers outside of Cuba. "Cuba is still struggling economically, so the dancers also don't have good ballet shoes or costumes, and The Windows Project was my way to begin to help," he says.

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How-To
Thinkstock

Midway through every semester at Indiana University Bloomington, contemporary professor Stephanie Nugent notices that her students aren't quite as awake as they were the first week of classes. They're tired from midterm exams and bring less energy to the studio. Nugent, too, feels the lull. "Teaching in academia is an arc with many peaks and valleys," she says, noting that the repetition of exercises can get monotonous. "On days when it feels like we've been doing the same thing over and over, I give students an improvisational prompt, and it reignites all of our interests. It's something to investigate, rather than something to repeat."

Most teachers experience a moment of stagnation at some point. Maybe students aren't progressing as fast as you feel they should, or you feel uninspired by the daily routine. Factors outside the studio, like administrative work, can also deplete your energy reserves. During these low and slow times, consider the following ideas to find inspiration and give yourself—and your students—a boost.

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Teachers & Role Models
Photo by Jennifer Zmuda, courtesy of BalletMet

Long before switching from ballet to Broadway became de rigueur, Edwaard Liang shocked everyone by leaving New York City Ballet to join the Broadway cast of the musical Fosse. Eleven years later, he defied expectations again by taking over as BalletMet's artistic director—without putting his robust freelance choreography career on hold. Liang, it seems, doesn't pay much heed to the conventional approach to a dance career.

In his four years with BalletMet, Liang has sought to challenge his dancers with diverse repertory that goes far beyond the typical confines of classical and contemporary ballet. This month, to celebrate BalletMet's 40th anniversary, the company teamed up with Ohio State University's dance department and the Wexner Center for the Arts to offer a smorgasbord of dance styles: from William Forsythe's singular brand of leggy-brainy dance to Ohad Naharin's exuberant Minus 16, performed alongside OSU dance students. Here, he talks to DT about the effect his choices have had on his career.

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