Ballet schools are back in session and dancers are preparing to be back in class with all of its exhilaration, magic, and, of course, struggle.

Today, four dancers reveal what they found challenging as ballet students and how they now look at their technique as professionals.


Teresa Reichlen, New York City Ballet

Teresa Reichlen in Swan Lake. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

As a student, there wasn't any one step that I particularly struggled with—I could do them all on their own—but I struggled to coordinate and connect them.

Over time, as I got older and moved into the professional realm, I realized there were ideals in ballet, but that they weren't always worth the sacrifice.

When you're as student, you're so focused on being as turned out as possible or having the highest extension possible, but then you get out on stage with no mirror and lights are shining in your face and you realize that you'll fall over if you're holding your leg as high as it can possibly go. Or, for me, when I'm in a perfectly turned-out first position, it might be 180 degrees, but I'm turning out from my knees and it isn't a workable position.

So, you learn to be satisfied and work within stability and consistency; 160 degrees can be better than 180.

Jackie Nash, Atlanta Ballet

Jackie Nash with Moisés Martín in Atlanta Ballet's Bach to Broadway program. Photo by Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet.

I've always loved the physicality of dance. But, as a student, I was not the most flexible naturally, so flexibility and extension were things I was always working on.

My teacher helped me realize that just because you aren't born with something doesn't mean you can't improve.

When you're younger, it's easy to see what you don't like. You think "my legs aren't the right shape" or "I wish I had a better plié". As a professional you still see those things—not as obstacles, but as what makes you unique.

I've likewise been fortunate to find mentors and physical therapists who also do not see these things as obstacles and help me find ways to work with them.

Jack Thomas, Pennsylvania Ballet

Jack Thomas in Swan Lake. Photo by Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet.

My greatest struggles were flexibility, partnering, and jumping. Growing up, I watched a lot of ballet videos and focused on repetitions in class.

When I was 14 and trying to do double tours, my teacher told me "do 15 doubles tours to right and 15 to left. Do that for 6 days a week and you've done 180 double tours in just a week. Do that for 6 weeks and you've done 1,080 double tours." That made me more confident.

When I was younger, I thought that I couldn't be a professional without perfect technique. And I held on to that belief for a while. Now I see technique as more of a tool for dancing. Well-honed technique allows me to focus on connecting with the audience and my peers.

I'm from Colorado and we have a large sports community here. I take inspiration from athletes. One thing they say in the sports community is "trust your stuff." I like that. When I go onstage, I like to think "you've done the repetitions, you've put in the work" and I let go.

Kayla Rowser, Nashville Ballet

Kayla Rowser in Swan Lake. Photo by Karyn Photography, Courtesy Nashville Ballet.

I struggled with petit allegro once we started adding beats. Petit allegro itself was fine, but beats were a challenge.

I'm naturally a slower mover — I love adagio — and it was hard to maintain my technique while moving quickly. When I was first learning beats, I didn't realize I wasn't fully holding my turnout from start to finish.

As a student, you're always hard on yourself, you're always getting corrections, you're in "student mode". I'm more forgiving now, I've come to acknowledge that some things will always be harder than others.

Once you move into the professional realm you also have to focus more on artistry. Technique is a tool and foundation, but you're a performer. It's okay to fall over in an attempt to create a character.

Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine

When choosing music for tap, Jason Samuels Smith encourages teachers to start with classic jazz music. Improvisation, call and response, and syncopated rhythms embedded in the genre and its history, in general, help students to understand the structure of tap, which is different than other styles of dance. "Tap dancers have the responsibility to be more than just a visual artist," he says. "They're an instrument and a sound."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Sarah Ash, courtesy of Larkin Dance

Ask Michele Larkin-Wagner and Molly Larkin-Symanietz what sets them and Maplewood, Minnesota–based Larkin Dance Studio apart, and they immediately give the credit to their mom. Shirley Larkin founded the school in 1950 and continued to oversee the growing business until she passed away in 2011. "She put Minnesota on the map for dance training and made other local studios step up to the plate to become as strong as we are," Michele says. "A lot of people's lives are better because of Shirley Larkin."

For Michele and Molly, following in their mom's footsteps was a no-brainer. "I knew I was going to be a choreographer and take over the studio," Michele says. To Molly, seven years Michele's junior and the baby out of six siblings, the studio was always a second home. The two sisters trained across genres but had distinct specialties: Michele found her niche in jazz, musical theater and lyrical, while Molly excelled in tap. In the summers, they'd travel for workshops in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles. While Michele was in class with jazz legends like Gus Giordano, JoJo Smith, Luigi and Frank Hatchett, Molly was taking tap classes with the likes of Brenda Bufalino and Phil Black.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Gandarillas

In Macarena Gandarillas' jazz class at California State University, Fullerton, a sign in the studio reads, "Never underestimate the power of determination." This simple mantra embodies what has made this self-described "danceaholic" such an impactful teacher.

When Gandarillas came to Los Angeles at age 6 with her family from Santiago, Chile, the language barrier was beyond overwhelming—until her mom enrolled her in ballet classes. Gandarillas found an instant love. "There were no Spanish-speaking kids at my school," she says. "But with dance I could communicate with my body. I'd finally found my voice."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Is teaching for an after-school program a good way to find a job in K–12?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Inspire School of Arts and Sciences

It was the morning of November 8, 2018, and Jarrah Myles' first-period choreography students were in last-minute rehearsals for their fall dance concert that evening. "All of a sudden my students' phones started ringing like crazy," says Myles, a teacher at Inspire School of Arts and Sciences, a Chico, California, high school whose dance and theater programs Myles helped establish in 2010. "And once they answered, I saw these tragic faces staring back at me."

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

abezikus/Getty Images

"Dancers can do everything these days," I announced to whoever was in earshot at the Jacob's Pillow Archives during a recent summer. I had just been dazzled by footage of a ballet dancer performing hip hop, remarkably well. But my very next thought was, What if that isn't always a good thing? What if what one can't do is the very thing that lends character?

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Courtney Schwartz and Jake Mcauley perform a Talia Favia combination at Radix Dance Convention Nationals. Via Instagram

Summer intensives and Nationals make June, July and August some of the richest dance-video months of the year. There is so much fabulous content out there, we can hardly contain our excitement!

We have spent hours down the rabbit hole of class videos this week and thought you should see some of our favorite findings.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Infinite Flow

While taking class in 2006, Marisa Hamamoto felt a tingling sensation in her elbows, then suddenly collapsed to the floor. She was hospitalized and diagnosed with spinal cord infarction, a rare spinal stroke that left her paralyzed from the neck down. Despite being told by her doctor that she may never walk again, let alone dance, Hamamoto miraculously walked out of the hospital two months later.

Since her stroke, Hamamoto has found a new lease on life. She has channeled her indomitable will to overcome adversity into a dance company that marries her love of ballroom dance with her passion for social activism. Los Angeles–based Infinite Flow is the first professional wheelchair ballroom dance company in the U.S. Over the past four years it has become a torchbearer for social change, performing worldwide and offering workshops and school assemblies to educate audiences about accessibility and inclusion.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox