How to keep your students focused on technique during recital season.

Nancy Davis leads class with her Portland Ballet students.

Anxious thoughts circle through the minds of teachers every season as they try to balance recital rehearsals and competition preparation with curriculum classes. Studio space is limited, and rehearsals never seem long enough—but you also don't want to overwork your students. It's a tricky juggling act to master. Does it hurt to devote a technique class here or there to rehearsal? Or will the students' technique suffer? Will they start to see class as disposable, less important than getting onstage?

The "technique class is non-negotiable" ideal may have to be compromised occasionally. But even in less-than-perfect situations, there are ways to let your students know that technique comes first.

Rehearsals in Class

The solution to the rehearsal conundrum will depend on how committed your students are. Older, more serious dancers, who are willing to sacrifice free time on weekends for rehearsals, might be able to continue their full roster of technique classes right through recital season. Younger students who come only two or three times a week probably won't be willing to rehearse outside of class. But that doesn't mean their entire focus has to shift to the recital.

When preparing for her school's annual spring showcase, Angela Cibelli of Wayne Ballet in Wayne, Pennsylvania, has to have her youngest students practice for the show in class, but she designates only the last quarter of certain "show classes" as rehearsal periods. All other classes remain intact, ensuring a continued focus on technique.

Sometimes, however, emergencies do happen, and sacrificing a full class period to rehearsal becomes unavoidable. When that situation arises, Cibelli replicates the discipline of classwork by emphasizing clean technique and making technical corrections as the students work on choreography. And she makes sure students understand that the year-end recital isn't just for fun: Learning how to absorb choreography is a critical part of their training, too.

The Power of Incentives

Most students are more excited about rehearsing for a show or competition than about mastering the finer points of technique—a frustrating truth that can, however, be used to the teacher's advantage. Cibelli has found a way to channel the students' enthusiasm: "My dancers start buzzing about the show in the springtime, but they know that if the first half of [their shortened technique class] is not stellar, I am willing to forgo rehearsal time to work on technical problems," she says. "After one missed rehearsal they get back on track pretty quickly. And it helps even the youngest students understand that class is the heart of everything."

The Dance Zone in Las Vegas, Nevada, achieves similar results with a strict attendance mandate: "We've made it clear that the only way the students can compete is if they're attending all assigned classes," says co-director Jami Artiga. "Once we really started cracking down on absences, the system worked perfectly. Now we hardly struggle with that at all."

Maintaining a Technical Focus—Even on Show Day

It's important to make sure that the "technique first" emphasis carries over to performance periods, too. Nancy Davis of The Portland Ballet in Portland, Oregon, gives her students a sense of responsibility by creating a professional atmosphere during performance runs. On tech, dress rehearsal and performance days, the schedule includes a full class onstage, as well as time for a warm-up in between shows. That sends the message that disciplined classwork equals better performances onstage. "The students learn that technique classes are an important means to an end," she says. "And they love the carrot of getting a better part next year." DT

Gavin Larsen, a former principal dancer with Oregon Ballet Theatre, teaches dance in Portland, OR.

Photo: Nancy Davis leads class with her Portland Ballet students, by Blaine Covert, courtesy of The Portland Ballet

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!

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo by Matthew Murphy

Jacqulyn Buglisi has a flair for drama. To encourage the students in her intermediate and advanced Graham classes at The Ailey School to open their sternums in a high release, she tells them to stretch “like a flower came out of your heart." When attempting to convey the weight of a hand gesture, she explains that they must “pull the hem of heaven from the sky." During the extensive warm-up sequence, she reminds them that this is no time for complacency: “We don't do positions. We dance the series." Despite her penchant for the Graham dramatics, Buglisi is equally quick to curb any excess of melodrama in her students. “No Swan Lake with the arms," she admonishes one whose wrists are limply crossed.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models
Robert Roldan and partner Taylor Sieve (courtesy of FOX)

Robert Roldan may have stolen our hearts on Season 7 of "So You Think You Can Dance"—but it seems his heart was stolen long before that by none other than Emmy Award winning choreographer, Mandy Moore.

As his first jazz teacher at Bobby's School of Performing Arts in Thousand Oaks California, Roldan says Moore taught him everything he knows about dancing. Now, as an All-Star on this season of "So You Think You Can Dance," he's applying those invaluable lessons with partner Taylor Sieve.

"What Mandy has always taught me, is that you need to feel the emotion and intention of the pieces you perform as a human before you can apply it to your dancing. Because of this, the week that Taylor and I performed Mandy's piece, I used the entire two hours of private rehearsal time we had to talk about what the piece was about and how we could connect to it as humans. I believe that doing this was ultimately more valuable than any time we could have spent cleaning details and making the piece perfect. Mandy taught me this at a young age, and I try to apply it to Taylor as much as I possibly can when I teach her. People won't connect to how high your leg is or what crazy tricks you can do. They want to feel something. And when you feel it, they feel it."

Watch Roldan on "So You Think You Can Dance" tonight on FOX.

Teachers & Role Models
Camille Rommett, left, with her mother Zena, who founded the floor-barre method. Photo courtesy of Rommett.

In 1965, Zena Rommett was asked to teach her unique Floor-Barre method at the American Ballet Center by ballet legend Robert Joffrey. Her gentle-yet-effective technique inspired countless professional dancers over the years, who became faithful followers as a supplement to their dance training. From choreographer Lar Lubovitch to Tommy Tune, Patrick Swayze and Judith Jamison, many swear by the benefits of the technique. Rommett taught it until she was 90.

The summer after Rommett's death, her daughter Camille made her debut on the faculty of our Dance Teacher Summit. She describes teaching to a packed convention room as "a very humbling experience." Despite students often telling her she sounds similar to her mother, she's learned it's not about filling her mother's shoes, but keeping her mother's legacy—and the integrity of the technique—alive.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

I have heard you say that tight hamstrings prevent full extension of the knees and that you prefer hamstring stretches in a standing position, rather than on the floor. Can you explain why?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Buzz
Photo by Julieta Cervantes

In February 2016, we featured the women of Ragamala Dance, the Minneapolis-based bharatanatyam company founded by mother-and-daughter team Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy. (Daughter Ashwini is a dancer in the company and the troupe's publicist.) Since they appeared on our cover, they've had a busy year and a half, full of performances and exciting news. This weekend, they're featuring their mentor, Alarmél Valli, in a special performance at The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts in Minneapolis.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored