Competing with the Clock

The hands on the clock fly around, the next competition looms, yet the numbers need more polishing. Team kids already spend endless hours at the studio in regular classes. How do you fit in enough rehearsal time?

The secret isn’t to schedule last-minute rehearsals or to eat up dancers’ entire weekends, but to have a well-thought out plan for the whole year that incorporates competition group time into your weekly class schedule. Here are some tips to help you do just that.

Take the pressure off weekends.

That’s what Stina Smith of Jersey Cape Dance and Gymnastics Academy in Cape May, New Jersey, did this year. Since many of her school’s 34 team members already take technique classes between three and six days a week—even the 6-year-olds—she used to teach team choreography in marathon 9-to-5 sessions on Saturdays. When that wasn’t getting the job done, Smith began bringing in soloists on Sundays. She quickly realized that enough was enough.

“Before we demanded any more of the kids, this year we tried something different. We added a choreography class every week,” she says. Each of the studio’s four teams has its own class on a weeknight, during which members learn and perfect their competition routines, greatly reducing the Saturday commitments. Smith also gave students every other Saturday off at the beginning of the season. “So far, it seems to be working out well,” she says.

Adding a choreography class to the weekly schedule can also prevent rehearsals from encroaching on technique classes. This is the first year Smith hasn’t felt pressured to take time out of class to focus on her competition team—a practice that was unfair to her recreational dancers. “Our recreational students would be sitting around, because they didn’t choose to compete,” she says, “but I felt I had to put that time into the team.”

Limit individual time commitments.

Using regular class time for team rehearsals is a “disaster,” says 21-year veteran studio owner Steve Sirico of D’Valda and Sirico’s Dance and Music Centre in Fairfield, Connecticut. “Parents will have a fit over that.” Sirico’s performance group members attend specific weekly classes to learn competition material, plus a Saturday practice once a month. Rehearsal time varies for each dancer. Auditions are held at the start of the season, and dancers are chosen for numbers based on set skills. A preteen tapper, for example, might be in only one tap number, while a more advanced dancer appears in tap, lyrical, jazz and hip-hop routines. This set-up allows for greater flexibility.

“We try and get the best out of each group,” Sirico says. “It doesn’t overwhelm them and they can compete if they dance for as little as five hours a week, between rehearsals and technique classes.”

The system is a result of “banging our heads against the wall trying to get kids to commit” to the traditional team approach, he says. This year, the performance group numbers 70 dancers, 50 of whom are handling multiple routines. Truly serious dancers can strive for the more elite 25-member studio company, which requires a higher commitment of technique class and rehearsal time.

“The parents love it. Before, the number of hours required would scare them away,” Sirico says. “This gives more kids a chance to be part of the team. If they desire more, they can take those additional classes and work on that particular technique.”

Save time with advance planning.

At Retter’s Academy of Dance in Agoura Hills, California, many parents juggle their kids’ schedules along with their own jobs and family lives. This realization is what prompted Co-owner and Co-director Linda Bernabei-Retter to organize a team calendar that lists all classes, rehearsals and competition dates at the beginning of the season. Sticking to it has become imperative, Bernabei-Retter says.

“It’s all on the calendar, so they can see if they can commit,” she says. “About 10 years ago we realized we were not meeting the needs of these parents, and for us, this has been the way to go.”

The 53 dancers in her mini, junior, teen and senior teams all attend company choreography classes on Thursdays. In October and November, when dances are being set, the team also rehearses on Sundays from 11 am to 2:30 pm. As choreography is mastered, fewer Sundays are required.

Make the most of rehearsals and classes.

Good time management means getting the maximum from dancers in rehearsal and class. If a dancer has a test the next day and can’t concentrate, Sirico will allow a day off from rehearsal with the understanding that the material has to be made up in a half-hour private lesson.
“We try to give them a balance. If you come in and you’re fried, tired and distracted, you’re no good to us. Stay home, do your homework,” he says. “Then come back refreshed and ready to go.”

Bernabei-Retter’s husband and business partner, Darryl, grew up spending endless days and nights at his mother’s dance studio. Neither of them wants that for their own daughter, or their students. That’s why they are careful to start and end rehearsals on time, and keep the dancers dancing fully. Every minute is put to good use, and the dancers themselves know their time will not be wasted. Understudies are set for all pieces, allowing for rehearsals to continue productively if a dancer is injured or absent. Because time is wasted when material must be repeated for absent dancers, rehearsals are mandatory when choreography is being taught.

In addition, all of the Retters’ teachers must arrive for team rehearsals with choreography worked out in advance. “With limited time, those days when we could set choreography on the students are gone. For me, it can take up to 17 hours to pre-produce a number before the kids see any of it,” she says. “It’s difficult, but I insist.”

Remember that time flies when you’re having fun!

 

 

With so much repetition required for performance perfection, the fun of competing often gets lost. To keep the experience fresh and exciting, Sirico’s group members attend only two or three events a season. Performance group members hone their routines in front of the recreational students—who, in turn, are happy to show off their own recital routines.

 

 

To mix things up, Bernabei-Retter invites master teachers to teach team classes. Sometimes she might run a mock audition. When the tension is thick, she’ll remind the dancers to “check your ego at the door and keep your sense of humor.”

 

 

If a rehearsal is lagging, Jersey Cape team dancers will “circle up” and do a motivational exercise, such as saying one nice thing about each other. On “clean-up days,” Smith and her faculty play “good cop, bad cop,” just to make sure the dancers hear some praise along with the technical comments. She also designates one rehearsal as the annual “trophy smash,” where dancers work out their frustrations and anxieties by beating on last year’s trophies with large rubber hammers. “After all, the team is not about trophies, but about reaching personal goals,” Smith explains.

 

 

All teachers should watch for the warning signs of burnout: exhaustion, crankiness and zoning out. Usually the culprit isn’t dance alone, but a mix of schoolwork and extra-curricular activities—such as school plays, cheerleading, etc.—weighing heavily on a student. Then, it’s time to sit down with the dancer and his or her parents for a chat about commitment and making choices.

 

 

In the end, there’s no one surefire way to beat the clock. “We could always hold another rehearsal, but at some point you have to let it go,” Bernabei-Retter says. “There are other lessons to be learned, such as how to work in a more focused manner in the time the company does have.” DT

 

Karen White is a freelance journalist and longtime dance instructor in Taunton, MA.

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

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox