In a culture that glamorizes competitive dance, some studios continue to quietly educate dancers without trophies.  

 

Tori Rogoski’s Dance Education Center students in performance

When Tori Rogoski opened her studio in 2001, she decided to model her curriculum on that of a university dance program. As an undergrad, she had loved her experience at University of Wisconsin–Madison and wanted to pass along the holistic approach of college-level instruction to younger students. This means that, in addition to teaching daily technique classes, Rogoski and the six part-time teachers of Dance Education Center give lectures and instruction on anatomy, healthy lifestyles, dance history and the creative process. She emphasizes a ballet foundation, requiring two ballet classes a week, but otherwise allows the students to explore whatever genres or styles they want. One thing, however, is conspicuously absent. DEC does not offer participation in dance competitions.

It seems a bold move considering the way competition pervades current entertainment culture. From local talent showcases, to traveling circuit competitions and international ballet events like Youth America Grand Prix, to television shows like “So You Think You Can Dance,” dance competition is a $2 billion industry, according to the Association of Dance Conventions & Competitions. And yet, it reflects only a small percentage of the overall dance student population. For instance, competition dancers often comprise as little as 15 percent of total studio enrollment (see sidebar). There are plenty of school directors who forego competition completely, without sacrificing business success or opportunities for their dancers.

There’s no question that competitions can broaden a young dancer’s experience. They meet dancers, choreographers and teachers beyond their home communities and gain new perspective about what is possible. And performing next to winning dancers can be a compelling motivation to up one’s game onstage. But for some dancers, the added stress comes at too great a price. This was the case with Rogoski, whose personal childhood competition experience is reflected in her decision as a studio owner not to compete. “Being a perfectionist made it harder for me,” she says. “I always felt I was being judged, when dance should be the place where you don’t need to think about other things.”

Tori Rogoski (left) works hard to give stage time to her 175 dancers through community-based performances and a spring showcase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An alternative that has worked well for students of her Stevens Point, Wisconsin–based school is a shared three-day intensive organized jointly by Rogoski and two dance-educator colleagues based in Chicago and Minnesota. DEC opens its space to the group of 30–38 dancers, and faculty and students serve as host families for the visiting students. They split into two groups for classes and then come together for a large master-class experience. There’s plenty of opportunity for the dancers to make friends, and on Sunday, they do a “dance share” to show what they’ve learned over the weekend.

Sometimes, the competition decision is a matter of market research. For nearly a decade before opening Dancer’s Extension in Saluda, North Carolina, Sonya Monts had taught at another studio that emphasized competitions. But when it came to starting her own business four years ago, she decided her rural North Carolina community would not support a competition studio model. She says students “didn’t want to be on competition teams, perhaps because they wanted to do other activities, too, or their families simply couldn’t afford it.” She was committed to being inclusive and, with all the extra costs associated with competitions, including entry fees, travel and costumes, she hated to see many in her working-class community left out. “Competition does work for some people, and they thrive on it,” she says. “For me as a mom and a dance teacher, though, it is just not necessary. You can learn the art of dance without the added stress of competition.”

Of course, one of the best arguments in favor of competition is that it gives student dancers much-needed performance opportunities. Rogoski admits she works hard to give stage time to her 175 dancers. The opportunities come through community-based performances, a spring showcase and performing groups for her more advanced dancers. She is proud that her students are giving back to their community by performing at social and cultural events for children, the elderly and other diverse audiences.

Most of the choreography is created by DEC faculty, but every year Rogoski brings in a guest artist. Last year it was a former professor from UW–Madison, and this year a former teacher who now dances with Scorpius Dance Theatre in Arizona—these choices demonstrate a preference for solid training and strong education credentials over celebrity status. “I’m always trying to bring in someone,” she says, “because it’s a challenge to get exposure for the kids.”

Sonya Monts (far left) posing with her dancers before the curtain went up for their spring concert.

Rogoski offers herself as an example that a studio can survive and thrive without going the competition route. But she points out the decision is an individual one to be arrived at after clarifying business and teaching goals and developing a mission statement. For her, the absence of the rigorous schedule of technique and rehearsals necessary to prepare for the yearly competition circuit makes it easier to focus on artistry and getting to know her students personally. Plus, without the pressure of trophies, “kids can be kids,” without getting overwhelmed by performance and competition anxiety. Certainly her dancers are no less serious about dance, and many of them go on to pursue dance degrees in college. “I feel my number-one job is to help my students become really strong, both physically and as people,” she says.

And what if the child or their parents think they’re missing out on the competition element? Monts says this really hasn’t been an issue. Parents choose studios that are right for their family’s philosophy, she says. Those who want their children to gain benefits from competing will find a school to suit their child’s needs. DT

Lisa Traiger writes frequently on dance from the Washington, DC, suburbs.

 

5 Ways to Rock Your Recreational Program

Sue Sampson-Dalena and her dancers

When the yearly recital rolls around at The Dance Studio of Fresno, owner Sue Sampson-Dalena takes a page from the Hollywood book for making a grand entrance. Beneath a massive sign showcasing the studio logo, students pose on a red carpet in front of a themed step-and-repeat backdrop, and parents capture the moment for posterity. Sampson-Dalena first introduced the idea two years ago for the studio’s 30th anniversary and says it’s been a huge hit ever since. “Everyone likes to feel important and glamorous,” she says.

That sentiment also speaks to her philosophy, overall. Whether a student is a member of the Extreme Edge traveling company, the Jumpstart local competition team or a recreational dancer, she wants all dancers to understand they deserve the spotlight. “It’s so important to make your rec students feel like they’re part of your school and part of your team,” she says, “even if they only come a few times per week.”

This “everyone’s a star” approach is also a matter of smart business. Sampson-Dalena is acutely aware that recreational students comprise roughly 85 percent of her clientele. (Out of 800 total enrollment, 125 dancers participate on the competition teams, with 50 on Extreme Edge and 75 on the Jumpstart team.) “When you’re talking about financial success, the bigger your rec department, the better,” she says, explaining her reasoning like this: Students receive steeper discounts the more classes they enroll in. So someone taking eight classes weekly is essentially paying much less per class than a dancer who attends once or twice a week.

With all the time and energy it takes to support a competition team, Sampson-Dalena knows it can be all too easy to let that take priority. But, in order for a studio to thrive, it’s crucial to ensure that all dancers feel invested and have a great experience. Here, she shares the approach that has been key to her studio’s longevity.

1 Be strategic with class times and structure. When scheduling, give prime time priority to rec classes. “At the Dance Teacher Summit [where Sampson-Dalena presents seminars on best business practices], a lot of studio owners tell me they’ve made the mistake of giving away all their best class times to the dance team kids,” she says. “I understand they’re trying to provide opportunities to train and improve in order to be competitive, but they’re also giving away optimum times to families who aren’t paying the optimum price.” To avoid this, she makes sure her 5:30 pm class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday is filled with recreational students.

2 Measure progress and skill attainment uniformly. Sampson-Dalena maintains a syllabus for all classes, so that parents can easily keep track of learning goals. “Parents really like the fact that we have a syllabus for every single level; it helps them see the value when we say, ‘This is what we expect your child to master by the end of the year,’” she says.

For a studio to thrive, all dancers must feel invested.

3 Find ways to give recognition. At The Dance Studio of Fresno, a student of the month often has their picture posted in-studio and on the website. “Teachers nominate different students whom they feel deserve recognition,” says Sampson-Dalena. “We make a big deal out of it.” Her staff also snaps candid photos of rec classes to be posted on the studio’s Instagram and Facebook pages—a picture of a Mommy and Me class in progress, for instance, or jazz students rehearsing for recital.

At the end of each season, teachers fill out congratulatory placement cards for all students, with handwritten messages such as: “Congratulations, you’re moving up from Basic Jazz I to Jazz I,” and “Keep up the good work on your turns.”

4 Avoid differentiation. Whether a student is on Extreme Edge or Jumpstart, or registered as recreational, makes no difference when it comes to class placement or opportunities. At The Dance Studio of Fresno, all classes are grouped by skill level, not company classification. “I will put rec students in with the dance team students if they are at level; I don’t separate them,” says Sampson-Dalena.

5 Take your inclusive approach all the way to the recital stage. Sampson-Dalena offers the same ticket distribution opportunity to all families, avoiding any preferential treatment for members of the competition teams. She also stages a professional photo shoot and uses the images to create a poster to advertise the recital and showcase the studio’s theme for the year.

Choreography is another top consideration. “I make sure my staff is aware that they need to give all rec students their moment of glory in recital routines, rather than spotlighting just one dancer,” she says. “We make sure every student feels special.” —Jen Jones Donatelli

Photos (2) (from top) by Alan Smith (Smith Photographic Arts), courtesy of Dance Education Center; by Robert Parsons, courtesy of Dancer’s Extension; (2) courtesy of The Dance Studio of Fresno

 

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Dance teachers have a lot of strengths (communicating corrections, choreographing gorgeous movement, planning excellent recitals, cleaning technique—just to name a few) but when it comes to interior design—talent isn't exactly a given. So when studio owners remodel or build, worrying about the decor can feel a little overwhelming (you've got just a few too many other things to worry about, don't you?).

No need to fear! In 2019 we have Pinterest, which shows us all the latest trends we should know about. To help you make the best design decisions for your studio, we've compiled a list of public Pinterest pins we think you'll love.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Vanessa Zahorian. Photo by Erik Larson, courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet Academy

At the LINES Ballet Dance Center in San Francisco, faculty member Erik Wagner leads his class through an adagio combination in center. He encourages dancers to root their standing legs, using imagery of a seed germinating, so that they feel more grounded. "Our studios are on the fifth floor, so I'll often tell them to push down to Market Street," says Wagner. "They know that they should push their energy down to the street level." By using this oppositional force, he says, dancers can lengthen their bodies to create any desired shape.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

After years of throwing summer parties at your studio, you're likely fatigued by coming up with themes and event details. You want your students to have a good time, but you're also up to your eyeballs in choreography and costume decisions.

Never fear! We've come up with party themes and activities to do during the event. Delegate tasks to your teachers and office managers, and voilà! You have a stress-free party ready to go.

Have a blast, people!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I recently returned to a modern dance class after a long absence. While I didn't feel any acute pain at the end of class, the next morning I could barely walk from the soreness in both my Achilles. What can I do to fix this?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Q: I'm trying to think of ways to maximize studio space and revenue during the summer. What has worked for you?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

In 2019, dance parents are more eager than ever to observe their child's progress, and stay up-to-date with the ins and outs of what's happening in the classroom. That means yearly recitals aren't always enough to keep them satisfied—especially if you have rules against visitors observing class from week to week. The solution? Visitor observation weeks. Trust us, the guardians and loved ones of your students will love you for it!

We caught up with Suzanne Blake Gerety, vice president of Kathy Blake Dance Studios and regular contributor to Dance Teacher's "Ask The Experts" column, to hear her tips on how to have a successful visitor observation week.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Adequate dorsiflexion mobility is needed to find a supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely. Getty Images

Dancers are trained to think often about the range of motion, stability and power of their extended lines: the point of the foot, the reach of the penché, the explosion of the sauté in the air. But finding that same mix of flexibility and strength in the flexed foot is just as integral to technique and injury prevention. Without adequate dorsiflexion mobility, it is nearly impossible to find the kind of supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox