Bad Behavior

web_devil_angel Are you the kind of role model who will do your students proud?

Taking your students to a competition event is not easy. You’ve logged many hours of choreography and rehearsal, ordered costumes and made them fit just right. And let’s not forget about dealing with the parents. Now you’ve got 20 kids in a strange city, about to go onstage for their big moment. It would help if you could clone yourself. You’re frazzled. But every minute becomes worthwhile when your beautiful dancers take the stage . . . and the trophy! The MC calls your name to come forward and accept the award, and you’re so proud as you stand to make your way to the spotlight . . . oops, in your baggy sweatpants.

This isn’t you, right? Or is it? Competition company directors and judges report that teachers don’t always set the best example for their students. They establish rules and maintain a list of appropriate behaviors for their students, but when it comes to competitions, sometimes they assume the rules just don’t apply to them.

“At most competitions, the idea is for the judges to not be aware of what studio the students are from,” says Doug Shaffer, director of DanceMakers, Inc. “But often we find the teachers are the ones who will transgress the most. They stand up [during the performance] and make it very obvious it’s their studio competing.” He notes that while teachers are not allowed backstage with the kids at DanceMakers events, “every once in a while a teacher will push their way through that door and help their kids up onstage and jump up and down and scream and yell.”

Brendan Buchanan of BravO! Dance and Talent Competition says photography is a big issue. “We firmly state, no photography and no videography during performance.” From a liability standpoint and for the safety of the kids, the policy exists to make the environment as safe as possible. “Even though we make consistent announcements, shut down cameras and put our hands in front of a video camera, people still don’t listen,” says Buchanan. “That’s the most frustrating thing. We even take points off for certain routines where parents or teachers—even though they’ve been warned—continually take video.”

It’s also important that you remain professional. You’re the role model who sets the standard for behavior of both your students and their parents. Applaud for all performances, not just your own. Wish the other competitors good luck. And refrain from making fun of other studios. (Yes, this does happen.)

Sandra Coyte of Starbound National Talent Competition says it’s the parents who are often the culprits of the most inexcusable behavior, but you can help get them in line. “It is imperative that teachers be the ones in charge,” she says, noting that parents should never directly approach competition officials. Coyte’s biggest etiquette pet peeve? Teachers who solicit students from other studios. “It’s highly unethical,” she says.

And as for the sweatpants example, Buchanan says that though every good dance teacher knows to always be prepared, some do get caught with their guard down. Don’t let the frenzy and stress detract from your personal moment to shine—take an extra 10 minutes in the morning to dress for success.

Buchanan recalls one teacher who is particularly shy and refuses to come onstage to accept any awards. “She’s not about recognizing herself, she’s very selfless and puts the kids first. So every year, in this particular city, we know she is never going to come up. We harass her a bit, but she finds a way to not be accessible where we can pick her out,” he says. By avoiding the limelight, this teacher diminishes the experience of her dancers and misses an opportunity to promote her studio. So, don’t be afraid to show off a bit—guilt-free. After all, this is the moment you’ve worked toward.

Illustration by Emily Giacalone

News
Courtesy Russell

Gregg Russell, an Emmy-nominated choreographer known for his passionate and energetic teaching, passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, November 22, at the age of 48.

While perhaps most revered as a master tap instructor and performer, Russell also frequently taught hip-hop and musical theater classes, showcasing a versatility that secured him a successful career onstage and in film and television, both nationally and abroad.


His resumé reads like an encyclopedia of popular culture. Russell worked with celebrities such as Bette Midler and Gene Kelly; coached pop icon Michael Jackson and Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane; danced in the classic films Clueless and Newsies; performed on "Dancing with the Stars" and the Latin Grammy Awards; choreographed for Sprite and Carvel Ice Cream; appeared with music icons Reba McEntire and Jason Mraz; and graced stages from coast to coast, including Los Angeles' House of Blues and New York City's Madison Square Garden.

But it was as an educator that Russell arguably found his calling. His infectious humor, welcoming aura and inspirational pedagogy made him a favorite at studios, conventions and festivals across the U.S. and in such countries as Australia, France, Honduras and Guatemala. Even students with a predilection for classical styles who weren't always enthused about studying a percussive form would leave Russell's classes grinning from ear to ear.

"Gregg understood from a young age how to teach tap and hip hop with innovation, energy and confidence," says longtime dance educator and producer Rhee Gold, who frequently hired Russell for conferences and workshops. "He gave so much in every class. There was nothing I ever did that I didn't think Gregg would be perfect for."

Growing up in Wooster, Ohio, Russell was an avid tap dancer and long-distance runner who eventually told his mother, a dance teacher, that he wanted to exclusively pursue dance. She introduced him to master teachers Judy Ann Bassing, Debbi Dee and Henry LeTang, whom he credited as his three greatest influences.

"I was instantly smitten, though competitive with him," says longtime friend and fellow choreographer Shea Sullivan, a protégé of LeTang. "Over the years we developed a mutual respect and admiration for each other. He touched so many lives. This is a great loss."

After graduating from Wooster High School, Russell was a scholarship student at Edge Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, where he lived for many years. He founded a company, Tap Sounds Underground, taught at California Dance Theatre and even returned to Edge as an instructor, all while maintaining a busy travel schedule.

A beloved member of the tap community, Russell not only spoke highly of his contemporaries, but earned his place among them as a celebrated performing artist and teacher. With friend Ryan Lohoff, with whom he appeared on CBS's "Live to Dance," he co-directed Tap Into The Network, a touring tap intensive founded in 2008.

"His humor, giant smile and energy in his eyes are the things I will remember most," says Lohoff. "He inspired audiences and multiple generations of dancers. I am grateful for our time together."

Russell was on the faculty of numerous dance conventions, such as Co. Dance and, more recently, Artists Simply Human. He was known as a "teacher's teacher," having discovered at the young age of 18 that he enjoyed passing on his knowledge to other dance educators. He wrote tap teaching tips for Dance Studio Life magazine and led classes for fellow instructors whenever he was on tour.

In 2018, he opened a dance studio, 3D Dance, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he had been living most recently.

Russell leaves behind a wife, Tessa, and a 5-year-old daughter, Lucy.


"His success was his family and his daughter," says Gold. "They changed his entire being. He was a happy man."

GoFundMe campaigns to support Russell's family can be found here and here.

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Betty May Jones was born on June 11, 1926 in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and moved with her family to the Albany, New York, area, where she began taking dance classes. Just after she turned 15 in 1941, she began serious ballet study at Jacob's Pillow, which was under the direction of Anton Dolin and Alicia Markova for the season. Over the next three summers as a scholarship student, Jones expanded her range and became an integral part of Jacob's Pillow. Among her duties was working in the kitchen, where her speedy efficiency earned her the nickname of "Lightning."

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