Ask the Experts: Developing Well-Rounded Dancers

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Q: I have a multi-genre studio and want to develop well-rounded dancers. What's most important?


A: Having a multi-genre studio myself, I can say it's a balancing act. At our studio, we do annual ballet exams, local competitions and year-end performances. Every two years, we do a Nationals.

But I think the most important way to develop well-rounded dancers is to have teachers who are amazing at whatever genre they teach—and who also have a great respect for all dance forms (and encourage the dancers to do the same).

Also, make sure you schedule classes with the all-around dancer in mind. Your studio should offer as many dance subjects as possible in one day—remember that a dancer is more likely to try out a tap class if it follows her jazz or ballet class. I've found that bringing in guest teachers throughout the season keeps the dancers excited about different dance genres, too.

A big part of our studio is our company, with dancers ranging from mini to advanced level. You must be invited into the company, so it's something all our dancers strive for. Those selected study tap, jazz, ballet, hip hop and lyrical/contemporary—at the minimum. We cap our class fees at this level, to make it affordable for the dancers to continue studying so many dance forms.

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After the birth of her daughter in 2018, engineer Lisa McCabe had reservations about returning to the workforce full-time. And while she wanted to stay home with the new baby, she wasn't ready to stop contributing financially to her family (after all, she'd had a successful career designing cables for government drones). So, when she got a call that September from an area preschool to lead its dance program, she saw an opportunity.

The invitation to teach wasn't completely out of the blue. McCabe had grown up dancing in Southern California and had a great reputation from serving as her church's dance teacher and team coach the previous three years (stopping only to take a break as a new mother). She agreed to teach ballet and jazz at the preschool on Fridays and from there created an age-appropriate class based on her own training in the Cecchetti and RAD methods. It was a success: In three months, class enrollment went from six to 24 students, and just one year later, McCabe's blossoming Lovely Leaps brand had contracts with eight preschools and three additional teachers.

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Dance competitions were among the first events to be shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in the U.S. in mid-March, and they've been among the last able to restart.

So much of the traditional structure of the competition—large groups of dancers and parents from dozens of different studios; a new city every week—simply won't work in our new pandemic world.

How, then, have competitions been getting by, and what does the future look like?

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Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

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