Ask the Experts: Developing Well-Rounded Dancers


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.

Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

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