Ashly Costa Talks Ballroom, Conventions and How The Two Worlds Collide

Ashly Costa (photo by Katharine Rich, courtesy of NUVO Dance Convention)

In 2006, "Dancing With the Stars" alum Ashly Costa taught one of the first ballroom classes ever brought to the convention stage. She's now known for inspiring competition royalty to dream of becoming ballroom champions. Her secret? Teaching kids to fake it 'til they make it. "Trying something new is terrifying at first, but if they dive in 100 percent and not tiptoe, by the end of my class they are begging their parents for ballroom shoes," Costa says, "It's completely addicting." Costa, who now teaches for NUVO Dance Convention, likes to use dance terminology her jazz students are already familiar with when teaching new ballroom steps. She turns phrases like "volta" (a samba step) into things they've heard of before, like "ball-change," making all the difference in helping dancers feel confident in transitioning between styles.

Dance Teacher: What challenges should studio owners expect to face when adding ballroom to their curriculum?

Ashly Costa: Finding ballroom teachers who are willing to teach at competition studios isn't easy. There's a big gap between the ballroom and convention worlds, and very few of us have ever crossed the line. Once you find a teacher who is willing to work with comp kids, they are likely to only teach pure technique until it is perfect. That's great if your students want to be professional ballroom dancers, but what most of these jazz dancers are looking for is simply skills that will help them book jobs in the commercial dance industry. Look for teachers who are willing to give your studio what it needs.

DT: How do you teach ballroom in a convention setting?

AC: I generally teach the dancers the steps without a partner, because for 98 percent of them, this is the first ballroom class they have ever taken. I stick with cha-cha, samba and jive, and start by teaching them about rhythm, because it's the most important part of ballroom. They need the basics, so I give them the steps across the floor and then incorporate them into a combo. Unlike other classes during the weekend, I can't just throw a routine at them, or it will be a mess! It's really great, though, the convention-scene kids are just devouring it. It's terrifying for them at first, but they just start to fall in love with it."

DT: Tell us about the first convention ballroom class you ever taught.

AC: It was at West Coast Dance Explosion in 2006, right after "Dancing With the Stars" began. John Crutchman called me and said he had a vision for how ballroom could work on the convention circuit and asked me to head it up. I grew up doing conventions, so I knew the structure of the classes and how everything worked. Because of this, he let me run with it, and his Nationals that year was my first time teaching a class like this. Rick Robinson [famed ballroom teacher] met me there, and we taught together. We danced for them at the finale, and it went really well. I remember I was scared because it was a whole new structure, and it was something that had never ever been done before. Thankfully, it worked!

Teachers Trending
Photo by Yvonne M. Portra, courtesy Faulkner

It's a Wednesday in May, and 14 Stanford University advanced modern ­dance students are logged on to Zoom, each practicing a socially distanced duet with an imaginary person. "Think about the quality of their personality and the type of duet you might have," says their instructor Katie Faulkner, "but also their surface area and how you'd relate to them in space." Amid dorm rooms, living rooms, dining rooms and backyards, the dancers make do with cramped quarters and dodge furniture as they twist, curve, stretch and intertwine with their imaginary partners.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.