Unlike many studios, where dancers are grouped according to level, the K–12 dance class is often a mixed bag of abilities. Just ask Kelly Conway, who’s been teaching dance at New Smyrna Beach High School in Florida for 24 years: “I’ve taught kids who pulled their first pair of shoes out of the box with the price tag still on them, to girls who’ve been taking dance classes since they came out of their mothers’ wombs,” she says, laughing.
So how can a teacher accommodate such a wide range of dancers—all in the same class? “To address each student, the teacher must be prepared to affirm those who are immediately successful and then offer a challenge, and at the same time offer strategies to help students who need more time to learn,” says Theresa Purcell Cone, assistant professor of health and exercise science at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey.
Offer a range of complexity.

Known in educational parlance as differentiated instruction, the idea is to create lessons that can be adapted to various stages and styles of learning. “The teacher should develop a range of complexity for all the dance content,” advises Cone. “I call it scaffolding. You can make the task harder or easier based on where you see the students.”

For instance, if Conway is teaching step-ball-change into pirouette, the beginning students learn to connect to passé, while the intermediate students do a single turn and the advanced students execute a double or triple. The same can be applied to lessons that focus on creating choreography. For example, students who learn at a faster pace can include more than eight movements, create and change formations, select music and add level changes such as theme and variation, canon and retrograde. Meanwhile, those who need more time can reduce the number of movements, count out loud or write out their sequence and place it nearby for reference, or have one person call out the steps as they are dancing.

Let students take the lead.
Many teachers find that pairing an advanced dancer with a beginning student who needs a little extra help is a mutually beneficial arrangement—the tutor gets to develop some teaching skills, while the struggling student gets one-on-one instruction and more time to practice.

Cone advises teachers to choose peer tutors carefully. “Sometimes students who are great dancers may not want to deal with somebody else,” she says. “You have to have a student who is empathetic, who is patient and understanding and who is good at articulating and demonstrating. It’s also important to change peer tutors, so that the student who is always helping is also able to take the class.”

Another option is to have advanced dancers lead portions of the class. The extra responsibility keeps these students engaged while freeing you to focus on others. Conway gives her experienced dancers assignments that combine research and choreography. For example, they might research the elements of a proper warm-up, and then create one for the class. For their extra work, they receive a dance honors credit.

Sanja Korman, a dance teacher at Bellaire High School in Texas, appoints dance officers who help create choreography for student performances. “I sit down with my officers and talk about the theme, the order of performances,” she says. “We create this together as a team. When my kids are done with high school, they know everything they need to know to put together a whole production. We teachers all need to be more flexible and give students the opportunity to create and choreograph.”

Offer extra encouragement.
“Students who have not been successful in motor skills, have low self-esteem, have been marginalized by others or have difficulty with comprehension may be reluctant to participate,” says Cone. “Here, the teacher needs to be sensitive to the cause of the reluctance and use strategies to engage the learner.” These can include talking privately with the student about his or her concerns, providing lots of positive feedback during class and asking students to keep a journal of what they’ve learned and how they feel about their participation. A behavior contract, in which students agree to comply with certain rules, participate in class and outline goals, can be a good option for those with emotional disabilities or disruptive behavior.

“It’s important for the teacher to establish an atmosphere of success for all students,” Cone says. “Understanding that each person has something to contribute will set up the expectation for acceptance and reduce feelings of vulnerability and failure.”

Give equal stage time.
The goal is to make all students feel equally supported and challenged—and this policy should extend from the classroom to the stage. Conway, who produces three annual performances, makes a concerted effort to prevent her beginning dancers from being upstaged. She does this in part by creating a large production number in which dancers are grouped by ability.

“One group begins the routine, and the movement might be a bit simpler or flashier, depending on the level, and then they exit and another group comes in,” Conway explains. “This way, they’re all working together and they all feel included. You don’t have girls standing on the side watching other girls perform.”

In the end, it doesn’t matter if a student has had 10 years of dance training or doesn’t know a pirouette from a pas de bourée. With some careful planning and a little sensitivity, you can help every dancer feel like a star.  DT

Michelle Vellucci is a freelance writer in New York City.

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Kyle Froman

Darla Hoover was at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's studios running a rehearsal in 2014 with director Marcia Dale Weary. Hoover had just returned the day before from staging a ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. Jet-lagged, she mixed up her words when giving a correction.

Weary took Hoover's hand and gently said, "Honey, you work too hard."

Hoover, and the students, had a good laugh.

"Are you kidding me?" Hoover replied. "You're the one who made this monster. There is no off switch!"

Weary founded CPYB in 1955, and it quickly became an internationally known school that has produced countless principal dancers. Famous for her high standards and tough work ethic, Weary instilled those qualities in Hoover, who served as associate artistic director at CPYB under Weary, as artistic director at Ballet Academy East's pre-professional division in New York City and as a répétiteur for the Balanchine Trust.

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Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix, has been called the Queen of Fundraising by colleagues. A studio owner and high school dance coach with over four decades of experience, Clough is known for her smart and successful fundraising ideas.

Now, Just For Kix has created a new online tool to help everyone tackle their fundraising goals, whether you're raising money for uniforms, extra classes, or to cover the cost of travel for your dance team's next convention.

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Jessica Kubat's path to becoming a studio owner wasn't typical or glamorous or the product of a family business, handed down. When she opened MJ's House of Dance in Lindenhurst, New York, this past summer, she had just turned 40, was a mom of three, and had worked at two different studios long-term. Over the last two and a half years, she'd painstakingly saved up $25,000 and had gone to the Small Business Development Center at a local college on Long Island for help creating her business plan. Her area was moderately saturated with studios, so she spent considerable time planning what would set her school apart—live musical accompaniment, for one—and hired a marketing director nine months before the business even opened. It was a methodical, careful approach—Kubat calls it "the old-fashioned way"—to opening a studio, and it's paid off: She started summer classes with 75 students and is well on her way to reaching her first-year enrollment goal of 250 dancers. "When I turned 40, I decided that it was time to do something bigger," says Kubat. "I always wanted to own a studio—it was just never financially available to me."

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Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

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From left: Daniel Novikov, Alla Novikova and Mishella Vishnevskiy at Blackpool 2018. Photo by NYC Digital Media, courtesy of Alla Novikova

Alla Novikova began her dance training at a ballroom studio called Edelweiss in Saratov, Russia, when she was 9 years old. She was immediately recognized for her natural talent and work ethic, placing third at the Russian Open just three months after beginning ballroom lessons. The lessons she learned at Edelweiss shaped her career and provided the foundation she needed to open her own ballroom studio: Work hard to prove that you're good enough to be here, and give honor to the experiences that brought you to where you are today.

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Professions across the globe hold yearly conferences, and the dance industry is certainly no exception. Annual conferences exist for dance teachers, dance medicine professionals, dance educators and more. Taking the time out to attend them can be well worth your while for a number of different reasons. Let's take a closer look at four of them.

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Father-daughter dance. Photo by Lisa Lee, courtesy of Dance Academy USA

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

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Q: How do you approach gender when teaching in 2019? When I was training, male dancers were encouraged to make their movement masculine, while female dancers were encouraged to keep their movement feminine. Today, gender has become much more fluid, and the line between masculine and feminine performance has blurred. How does that impact the way we should be teaching?

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Photo courtesy of Z Artists Group

New York City–based pre-professional training troupe Z Artists Group, along with dancers from eight professional companies in the city, are joining together to combat gun violence with, "DANCERS DEMAND ACTION," a performance aligning art with activism at The Joyce Theater, this Monday, November 11, at 7:30 pm.

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Photo courtesy of Infinite Flow

Last week, 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and her partner Piotr Iwanicki brought their boundary-breaking work to the "Good Morning America" stage in a segment highlighting her inclusive dance company Infinite Flow.

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Since she was hired in 2006 to create a dance program at Washington & Lee University in Virginia, Jenefer Davies has operated as, essentially, a one-woman show. She's the only full-time faculty member (with regular adjunct support). Over the last 13 years, she has created a thriving program along with a performance company—at a school with fewer than 2,500 students—by drawing on her admittedly rare strength: aerial dance.

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Savion Glover is one of the biggest names in the dance world, and perhaps the biggest in the tap world. The trailblazing hoofer's hard-hitting, rhythmically intricate style has fundamentally altered the tap landscape.

Glover is also a master teacher. But during his many years on the scene, he's never appeared regularly at a major dance convention. That is, until this season: Glover is now teaching at JUMP Dance Convention, scheduled to appear at approximately 15 more cities on its 2019–2020 tour.

We talked with JUMP director Mike Minery, himself a gifted hoofer, about working with a living legend—and how Glover is already changing the convention class game.

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