Dance Teacher Tips

Ask the Experts: How Do I Handle Parents Who Complain About Their Child's Placement in Choreography?

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Q: What do you do with parents who constantly complain about where their daughter is placed in choreography?


A: I think most dance teachers can relate to this question. A few years ago, I had a mom who counted how many times her child was in the front row compared to everyone else. I held a meeting with both mom and daughter, which included an honest discussion about everyone's expectations, that helped defuse the situation.

I understand that every parent wants the best for their child, but how an outside choreographer uses dancers in a piece is subjective. When it comes to in-house teachers and choreographers, we always try to create pieces that highlight all of our dancers in the best way possible. We find this is particularly important in group routines, since they are meant to represent a combination of all the dancers and what they each bring to the group.

Everyone is important; what row they are in and how many times they are featured is not. What each dancer brings to the piece, how invested they are and how much they grow from the experience is what matters. When parents choose to judge their child's value as a dancer on how many times they're in the front, it's unfair to you as a teacher, but more importantly, it's unfair to their child. Some dancers are stronger performers than others, and they will be featured more often. That is just a fact. A team is made up of many individuals who should be focused on using their abilities to make the team great.

The Conversation
Dance News
Photo by Rachel Papo

When Monica Stephenson was a student at Houston Ballet Academy, she was cast as Lauren Anderson's swan double in Swan Lake. The role was just a few walks in Odile's tutu and a veil as the scene changed, but it was a thrill for the 18-year-old Stephenson. Anderson, one of the few principal ballerinas of color, was the inspiration for Stephenson to attend Houston Ballet Academy.

For the role, wardrobe gave Stephenson a few pairs of Anderson's special-order pointe shoes that were brown to match her skin tone. "That really helped me," Stephenson says. "I wound up wearing her specs my entire career. Sometimes people don't realize when they're impacting a young person."

Stephenson never forgot what it meant to have a role model like Anderson. She knew she'd want to inspire ballet students of color herself someday.

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Courtesy Harlequin Floors

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Susannah Israel-Marchese with students at School of Ballet Hartford; photo by Frank Marchese, courtesy of SBH

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Photo via @bettycrocker on Instagram

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Emily Giacalone, modeled by Nicole Kennedy of Marymount Manhattan College

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Amber Johnson at Deland Middle School. Courtesy of DMS

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Like many dance traditions, it started at the Paris Opéra. (Edgar Degas' "The Dance Class")

The dance world is brimming with superstitions. One of the most common is never to say "good luck" before a show, since everyone knows uttering the phrase is, in fact, very bad luck. Actors say "break a leg" instead. But since that phrase isn't exactly dance-friendly, you and your dance friends probably tell each other "merde" before taking the stage.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "merde" is a French exclamation that loosely translates to, er, "poop." So how did dancers end up saying "merde" to each other instead of "good luck"?

To learn more, we spoke to Raymond Lukens, associate emeritus of the American Ballet Theatre National Training Curriculum, and Kelli Rhodes-Stevens, professor of dance at Oklahoma City University. Read on—and the next time you exchange "merdes" with your castmates before a show, you'll know why.

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via YouTube

We knew we adored Ben Platt when we saw him sing his heart out through sobs in Dear Evan Hansen back in 2016, but now that he's put out a music video with some fantastic dancers as the titular characters, we are positively in love with him!

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