"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)

The Conversation
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

James Payne, director of The School of Pennsylvania Ballet, starts class each day by asking students how they feel. "If they're collectively hurting, and I know that the day before they were working hard on something new, I might lessen the intensity of the class," he says. "I won't slow it down, though. Sometimes it's better to move through the aches and get to the other side."

A productive class depends, in part, on how well it is paced. If you move too slow, you risk losing students' interest and creating unwanted heaviness. Move too fast and dancers might not fully benefit from combinations or get sufficiently warm, increasing their risk of injury. But even these guidelines may differ depending on the students' age and level. Good pacing is a delicate balance that can facilitate mental and physical growth, but it requires good planning, close observation and the ability to adapt mid-class.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dance Teacher Web
Courtesy Dance Teacher Web

Dance students aren't the only ones who get to spend their summers learning new skills and refining their dance practice. Studio owners and administrators can also use the summer months to scope out new curriculum ideas, learn the latest business strategies and even earn a certification or two.

At Dance Teacher Web's Conference and Expo, attendees will spend July 29–August 1 in Las Vegas, Nevada learning everything from new teaching methods to studio management software. And as if the dance and business seminars weren't enough, participants can also choose from three certifications to earn during the conference to help expand their expertise, generate new revenue and set their studios apart:

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: Our dancers' parents want to observe class, but students won't focus if I let them in the room. I've tried having them observe the last 10 minutes of class, but even that can be disruptive and bring the dancers' progress to a halt. Do you have any advice on how to handle this?

Keep reading... Show less
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
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Running your own studio often comes with a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. After all, you're the one who teaches class, creates choreography, collects tuition, plans a recital, calls parents, answers e-mails, orders costumes—plus a host of other tasks, some of which you probably don't even think about. But what if you had someone to help you, someone who could take certain routine or clerical tasks off your hands, freeing you up to focus on what you love?

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy of Roxey Ballet

This weekend, Roxey Ballet presented a sensory-friendly production of Cinderella at the Kendell Main Stage Theater in Ewing, New Jersey, with sound adjustments, a relaxed house environment and volunteers present to assist audience members with special needs. The production came on the heels of three educational residencies held at New Jersey–based elementary schools in honor of Autism Awareness Month in April.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Shared via Dance Teacher Network Facebook

I'm a part of a popular group on Facebook called Dance Teacher Network which consists of dance teachers across the country discussing and sharing information on all things dance. Yesterday morning, I spotted a photo shared in the group of four smiling young boys in a dance studio. And I couldn't help but smile to myself and think, "Wow, I never had that...that's pretty damn amazing."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Marr

When Erica Marr discovered ballroom dancing in her late teens, she instantly fell in love with the Latin beats and strong drum lines that challenged her musicality. After shifting her focus away from contemporary and jazz, she began studying with elite ballroom coaches in New York City and quickly earned a World Championship title in her division.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Thinkstock

Q: I own a studio in a city that has a competitive dance market. I've seen other studios in my community put ads on Instagram and Facebook for open-call auditions in April, long before most studios have finished their competition season and year-end recitals. Is this fair?

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: How can I improve my pointed feet?

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
YouTube

Did you know there is an annual contest in which scientists turn their PhD research into dance? Well there is, and it's even better than you're imagining! I mean, honestly, if our grade-school science teachers had us turn our schoolwork into dances, we may have enjoyed chemistry a bit more 🤣.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox