"Toughness builds character — and character is everything in performance." — Tyce Diorio

Tune in to “So You Think You Can Dance” any given week, and it’s not flawless technique or stellar training that the judges are raving (or ranting) about. Instead, it’s typically a dancer’s essence and performance level that concern the judges. “Performance is everything, especially when you consider that people might not understand what it takes to do a grand jeté or incredible partnering piece—so you may be knocking yourself out for nothing,” says Tyce Diorio, a regular choreographer on the show. “What people do understand is someone who knows how to feel the music and translate the choreography into a special, important performance.”


Also fueling that intangible “it” quality is having the confidence to deliver those memorable performances. Limited self-belief can often translate to lack of connection and result in performance killers, like lack of expression, no eye contact and/or inhibited movement. So how can teachers effectively boost this ever-elusive yet essential quality?


Detach from technique


Los Angeles–based teacher/choreographer Mandy Moore attributes information overload to many young dancers’ lack of confidence onstage. “So much importance is put on technique and execution that some of them have forgotten about the entertainment side of dance,” says Moore. “With 5,000 fouetté turns and switch leaps, it’s no wonder they don’t have time to smile or perform, because they have so much on their minds.” To relieve some of the pressure, Moore suggests holding a regular “free-form fun class where it’s not all about technique and tricks” during which kids can let loose and express themselves. She also recommends putting separate focus on performance and execution in order to not overwhelm dancers.


Provide a purpose for movement


Much as actors must find their “motive,” many dancers can benefit confidence-wise from connecting movement to motivation. According to Diorio, the use of imagery can be especially effective with children. “When I’m teaching a junior class, I try to approach it in a way that’s both physical and emotional,” he says. “I’ll say, ‘This step should feel like Skittles—taste the rainbow!’ Ten-year-olds understand that language, and that feeling translates to an honest performance. It’s about taking on the whole world, and it lights up their faces.”


Moore agrees.  “I try to find movement with intent—the who-what-when-where-why of it—and that connects in their brain,” she says. “As a dancer, I always found that I was better with things that had a reason, even if it was just to make people smile. It’s about creating energy and planting a seed in a dancer’s head.”


Utah-based Center Stage Performing Arts Studio owner Kim DelGrosso also employs this technique—with a slight twist. “We’ll take a number and dance with different emotions the whole way through—they love it,” she says. “They might have to do the number mad, then shift to an excited or scared feeling and really define what that means.” To further illustrate the point, DelGrosso will often read children a story in a monotone voice and then read it again animatedly. Says DelGrosso, “The children are enraptured and understand the difference [in how to communicate]. We look at dancing as a silent language.”


Fine-tune your criticism


Part of cultivating confidence is helping dancers grow. So how can teachers deliver criticism that serves rather than shrinks self-esteem?


“I’m not mean, but I don’t sugarcoat,” says Moore. “We as teachers get afraid to go the distance with kids, because we’re in a day and age where everyone is afraid to go too far. When you force kids to face their fears in a place where they feel nurtured but are being held accountable, they end up being so much better for it.”


Diorio understands the power of criticism all too well, having once been told by teachers at his performing arts high school that he would never succeed in the dance industry. “A lot of dancers want to give up because of how tough people can be, but toughness builds character—and character in performance is everything,” he says. Yet he cautions that it’s crucial not to be tough just for the sake of doing so: “It’s like salt and pepper: You mix the good with the not-so-good. Find your balance of mixing constructive criticism with encouragement; evaluate what you’re saying and whether it’s truly for the benefit of the dancer.”


Capture lightning in a bottle


Center Stage’s DelGrosso believes that the childhood years are prime time to instill lasting confidence in performers. At her studio, dancers as young as 4 years old can join performance companies. “Encouraging pint-size dancers to perform enables them to apply their natural confidence,” she says. “I find that the young ones haven’t yet had a lot of negative input; most of them have an innate confidence and understanding that they are wonderful,” says DelGrosso, whose studio has trained rising stars Julianne Hough and Chelsie Hightower. “We make sure that the teachers who work with these impressionable dancers are the very best I have.”


To further boost confidence, DelGrosso hosts a special boot camp every year right before National finals. (The studio attends numerous competitions, from L.A. Dance Magic to NUVO.)  Not only do the dancers get to try out other disciplines like yoga and Zumba, but DelGrosso uses this time to focus on mindset. “I bring in motivational speakers and confidence-builders—people who work on sharpening the mental edge,” says DelGrosso. “We also have a candlelight ceremony where each girl reads an inspiring quote from a dance master.”


Moore maintains that focusing on love of dance can organically lead dancers to love themselves. “It’s most important that dancers believe they are valid, worth it and have something to give,” she says. “Otherwise, they won’t be able to exude that something when they get onstage. As dance teachers, the biggest thing we can do is foster a love of dance. That will give them the confidence to get up there and share it.” DT



Jen Jones is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.




Photo: Tyce Diorio (by Joe Toreno)

Dancer Health
Courtesy of Susan Jaffe

Throughout Susan Jaffe's performance career at American Ballet Theatre, there was something special, even magical, about her dancing. Lauded as "America's quintessential American ballerina" by The New York Times, Jaffe has continued to shine in her postperformance career, most recently as the dean of dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. She credits the "magic" to her meditation practice, which she began in the 1990s at the height of her career. We sat down with Jaffe to learn more about her practice and how it has helped her both on and off the stage.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
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.

Clough shared a few of her best fundraising tips, including everything you need to know about the new tool:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
From The Rock School 2019 Showcase. Photo by Catherine Park, courtesy of The Rock School

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.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by NYCDA
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.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Hoover took over as artistic director at CPYB in the spring this year after Weary died suddenly, and while she's committed to continuing Weary's legacy, students have begun to see some of Hoover's vision as well.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Jessica Kubat (center) with her studio staff. Photo by Vincent Alongi, courtesy of Kubat

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."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
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.

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

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.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
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.

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

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?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
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.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
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.

Infinite Flow is a Los Angeles–based wheelchair ballroom dance company (the first of its kind in the U.S.) that incorporates an equal number of disabled and nondisabled dancers, as well as a range of styles like hip hop, contemporary and other partner dances.

Keep reading... Show less


Get DanceTeacher in your inbox