Whispers at the barre. Glares across the studio. Sour attitudes. When jealousy invades your dance class, it quickly begins to affect your students’ behavior—and their performance.

Ballet class can be especially competitive. Here, Boston Ballet School students take the barre.


Classroom rivalries are an inevitable, and unpleasant, aspect of teaching. “No matter how fair you are, the issue is going to come up somehow,” says Shely Pack-Manning, artistic director of Shely Pack Dancers in Half Moon Bay, California. “And you have to be very careful dealing with jealousy issues—because they can get ugly, fast.”


So what should you do when rivalries begin to interfere with your teaching? Here are some suggestions.


Check in with the Parents


Pack-Manning—whose pupils have included numerous competition winners and one of the current Billy Elliot Billys (from the touring cast)—once had a student who was gossiping about another dancer, and the situation got progressively worse. She had conversations with both young dancers and learned that the source of the problem was actually a parent: The gossiper’s mother was fueling the daughter’s jealousy.


Dr. Brian Goonan, PhD, a sports psychologist and consultant at the Ben Stevenson Academy at Houston Ballet, says children tend to have greater issues with jealousy if their families worry more about the outcome of a performance than the effort that was put into it—or if the family’s hopes of stardom are resting on the child’s shoulders. Parents can spark jealousy by asking questions like: “Why can’t you be like so-and-so?” or “Why did she get the part?”


“The child now has someone who is their competitor, and they are at a developmental level where all they know is that another child is getting them in trouble,” Goonan says.


If initial inquiries prove that parents are involved, teachers should tread carefully. “Some parents are fiercely protective of their ‘prodigy,’ and for those parents, any teacher who mentions flaws is not going to be allowed to intervene,” Goonan says. “Not until the family matures will the child be able to get past it.” But if parental involvement appears to be relatively minimal, a conversation with the child and her parents can help ease tension in the classroom.


Reconsider Your Class Structure


Sometimes the way a dance studio is organized can contribute to jealousy and rivalry issues. Teachers at studios with many class levels, for example, might find that students become jealous of peers who are placed in more advanced classes.


Elaine Gail Gardner directs the Nichols Dance Ensemble, an after-school program at a private school for grades 5–12, in Buffalo, New York. The program doesn’t have the hierarchical class structure one sees in traditional studios. Instead, it is designed like a modern dance company: If you are in class, you are in the company and in the show. There are no auditions for parts, and peer practice and interaction is encouraged. “As the students grow in experience, they begin to help each other more,” Gardner says. “Those with greater abilities take on more leadership roles, such as leading group rehearsals to recap a new repertory or filling in missed information to kids who were sick at the last class or rehearsal.”


While the Nichols Dance Ensemble might not be a feasible model for private studios, certain elements of the program—eliminating auditions for parts in the end-of-the-year recital, for example—can ease rivalry issues at studios of any type and size.


Prevention with Young Dancers


Encouraging an everyone-is-equal attitude from the very beginning of training is one of the best ways to prevent rivalries from developing. With her younger students (ages 5–11), Pack-Manning chooses one dancer each class who becomes “star of the day,” and the rest of the students applaud this classmate. “You have to work to be the star, and I don’t give it to them for being the best dancer,” Pack-Manning says. “I give it to them for being the best listener, or if they remember something I said the class before.” She keeps track of who’s been recognized so everyone gets a chance.


She never has in-class competitions or compares one student to another. “It works. When they get to the level of junior and senior company, they really do support each other completely,” Pack-Manning says. “It’s instilled in them.”


At this age, it’s also important for teachers to communicate to children that dancing is about more than just being the best. Goonan says, “Students should be encouraged to enjoy the artistic outlet and to appreciate the efforts of everyone in the class or on the team.”


Working with Older Students

The Nichols Dance Ensemble, directed by Elaine Gardner


While more advanced students might have outgrown the “star of the day” approach, teachers can still create a sense of equality in class. Evelyn Cisneros-Legate, a former star of San Francisco Ballet and now principal of Boston Ballet School in Marblehead, Massachusetts, aims to recognize each student whenever possible, whether with a smile or a correction. “I try to create a team feeling in the class by saying something like, ‘Look at your friend and watch what they are doing,’ or by pointing out how a student has a special gift that we can all appreciate,” she says.


Goonan adds that it can be helpful for adolescents—ages 12 to 22—to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their role models. He suggests picking a professional dancer everyone knows and discussing why she might be a good fit for some companies or roles and not others. “It’s not because they’re not good, but because everyone has different talents,” Goonan says. “This helps students see that it’s more important to parlay their strengths than to be someone who has no weaknesses.”


Older students are ready for a discussion about how subjective dance can be, especially with regard to level placement or casting. “It might be hard and it may hurt feelings,” Cisneros-Legate says, “but it’s a life lesson that’s going to have to be learned, and what a benefit it is to learn it in an environment that’s not hurtful.” DT


Hannah Maria Hayes is a freelance writer with an MA in dance education from New York University.


Photos from top: by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet School; by Jon Anderson, courtesy of Wayne State University

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Kreiling

While training with Abby Lee Miller in Pittsburgh, Rachel Kreiling underestimated the studio's requirement of enrolling in every class. The versatile curriculum (tap, ballet, hip hop, modern, acro, lyrical and jazz) paired with Miller's unconventional teaching style, since showcased on "Dance Moms," greatly impacted Kreiling's own style and relationship to music. "Abby would play the music and choreograph within the phrasing, but rarely to actual counts," she says. This resulted in a huge positive learning component. "I had to learn musicality myself," says Kreiling, who left the studio at age 18 after graduating, more than a decade before the Lifetime network show aired. "And studying every style became instrumental in my attachment to music," she adds. "I'm always seeking out new genres and diverse songs." After a performing career that included a Broadway-style revue at Tokyo Disney, Revolution (a tap tour with Mike Schulster), and dancing with Alison Chase/Performance and in a Rasta Thomas contemporary ballet, Kreiling began assisting Suzi Taylor at Steps on Broadway in New York City. In 2007, Kreiling, who describes her class as extremely athletic and technical, became full-time NYCDA faculty.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

Finding a male dance instructor who isn't booked solid can be a challenge, which is why a New York City dance educator was inspired to start a network of male dance professionals in 2012. Since then, he's tripled his roster of teachers and is actively hiring.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Getty Images

Q: Two years ago, one of my dancers fractured her ankle and was out for six months. Upon her return, I cautiously allowed her to take pointe class, but treated her as if she was a beginner, because she was rolling out into supination, and I was fearful she would reinjure her ankle. Her mother feels I have held her back and changed to another studio. Did I make the right choice?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Courtesy of Shawl-Anderson Dance Center

For seven decades, Frank Shawl's bright and kind spirit touched thousands of dancers in the studio and in the audience.

After dancing professionally in New York City and with the May O'Donnell Dance Company, Shawl moved with Victor Anderson to the San Francisco Bay Area and founded Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in 1958. It is the longest running arts organization in Berkeley.

The two ran their own company for 15 years and Shawl-Anderson Dance Center became a home for dance for students and artists alike. It currently runs 120 classes and workshops every week for children and adults, plus artist residencies, rehearsal space and intimate performances. (If you have never visited, the Center is actually a large house converted into four studio spaces.)

Shawl taught modern classes at the studio until 1990, performed into his late 70s and took classes at the Center into his mid 80s.

As I simultaneously mourn and honor Frank—my dear friend, fellow dancer, mentor and boss—I reflect on a few lessons that I learned from him. These five ideas relate to our various roles in dance as students, performers, teachers and administrators.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Getty Images

Halloween is just a few weeks away, which means it's officially time to start prepping your fabulously spooky costumes! Skip the classic witch, unicorn and superhero outfits, and trade them in for some ghosts of dance legends past. Wear your costumes to class, and use them as a way to teach a dance history lesson, or ask your students to dress up as their favorite dancer from history, and perform a few eight counts of their most famous repertoire during class. Your students will absolutely love it, and you'll be able to get in some real educating despite the distraction of the holiday!

Check out some ideas we had for who might be a good fit. We can't wait to see who you all dress up as!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Photo by Sedge Leblang, courtesy of Dance Magazine Archives

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At 8, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle at with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

You've got the teaching talent, the years of experience, the space and the passion—now all you need are some students!

Here are six ideas for getting the word out about your fabulous, up-and-coming program! We simply can't wait to see all the talent you produce with it!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of HSDC

This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Kim Black

For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Original photos: Getty Images

We've been dying to hear more about "On Pointe," a docuseries following students at the School of American Ballet, since we first got wind of the project this spring. Now—finally!—we know where this can't-miss show is going to live: It was just announced that Disney+, the new streaming service set to launch November 12, has ordered the series.

Keep reading... Show less


Get DanceTeacher in your inbox