"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)

Dance Teachers Trending
Barbara Bashaw in Thompson Hall of Columbia Teachers College. Photo by Kyle Froman

Barbara Bashaw has always been a pioneer. Since kicking off her career in education by building a dance program from the ground up at an elementary school in Brooklyn, she's gone on to become an inspiring force in teacher training. Now, as director of the new doctoral program in dance education at Columbia University's renowned Teachers College and as executive director of the even newer Arnhold Institute for Dance Education Research, Policy & Leadership, she's in a position to effect change nationwide.

"The study of dance education is a young field," Bashaw says. "Music and visual arts are far ahead of us, in terms of the research that has been done, as well as the foothold they have in education. Anywhere education is being discussed, we want to put dance on the table—and that means developing researchers and championing research that will push public policy." In a climate where arts education feels both more endangered and more necessary than ever, Bashaw is ready to blaze a trail.

Keep reading...
Instagram
Karen Hildebrand (center) with 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and members of Infinite Flow. Photo by Joe Toreno

Every year in our summer issue, we honor four dance educators for their outstanding contributions to the field. Recipients have included studio owners, professors, program directors, K–12 teachers and more, whose specialties run the gamut of dance genres.

We need your help to identify this year's best in the profession. Do you have a colleague or mentor who deserves to be recognized as a leader and role model?

Send your nomination by March 1, 2020. You can e-mail us at danceteachereditors@dancemedia.com with the following details:

Keep reading...
Sponsored by Akada Software
Photo by Jenny Studios, courtesy of Utah Dance Artists

Running a dance school used to involve a seemingly endless stream of paperwork. But thanks to the advent of software tailored specifically for dance studios' needs, those hours formerly spent pushing papers can now be put to better use.

"Nobody opens a dance studio because they want to do administrative work," says Brett Stuckey, who leads Akada Software's support team. "It's our job to get you out of the office and back into your classroom."

We talked to Stuckey about how a studio software program can streamline operations, so you can put your energy toward your students.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips

Susan Pilarre has been closely tied to the School of American Ballet for nearly her entire life.

From her first class there at age 11 through her 16-year career with its affiliated company, New York City Ballet, Pilarre learned directly from the great choreographer George Balanchine, absorbing the details of his unique style. Sensing her innate understanding of his principles, Balanchine encouraged her to teach; she joined SAB's permanent faculty in 1986. Since then, she has become recognized as an authority on Balanchine's teachings, instilling SAB and NYCB's distinctive speed, clarity and energy into generations of dancers.

Here, Pilarre shares how the specifics that Balanchine insisted upon in class contribute to the strength, beauty and musicality that define his style—and dispels common misconceptions.

Keep reading...

To celebrate Valentine's Day in the most dance-centric way possible, we sat down with five powerhouse dance-teaching couples to talk about their love stories. What do they admire about each other? What are their couple goals and their teaching philosophies, and how do they make their relationships work, especially when they work together? Get ready to swoon!

Keep reading...
For Parents
Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy of BAE

Watching through the studio windows—or even from the sidelines in a Mommy and Me class—can surely make parents wonder what exactly our little tykes are getting out of weekly ballet lessons. After all, they're repeating the same things class after class. Are they bored? Are they progressing? Why are they doing that again?

Keep reading...
Site Network
Photo by Nina Lokmadzhieva, courtesy of Varna IBC

The oldest ballet competition in the world doesn't have the funds for the show to go on: The 29th edition of the Varna International Ballet Competition, scheduled for July 12–30, 2020, has been postponed indefinitely.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I have a 15-year-old student who has problems keeping her heel fully on the ground during a demi-plié. How can I help her?

Keep reading...
Site Network
The eight 2020 Prix de Lausanne prize winners. Photo by Rodrigo Buas, courtesy of PdL

The 2020 Prix de Lausanne has officially come to a close after a thrilling week of classes, coaching sessions, competition performances and networking forums. The annual competition, which was live streamed around the world and watched over 1.1 million times, gave 77 dancers an opportunity to perform and take class in front of an international panel of judges. In addition to a classical variation, candidates had to master a contemporary solo by Mauro Bigonzetti, Jean-Christophe Maillot, Cathy Marston, Wayne McGregor, Heinz Spoerli or Richard Wherlock.

Keep reading...
Dance News
Photo by Wendy Turner, courtesy of Boulder Jazz Dance Workshop

This summer, as for the past 42 years, students will flock to Colorado to immerse themselves in jazz dance training and performance. High school and college students, professional artists and teaching artists alike will find opportunities for growth and connection.

The Boulder Jazz Dance Workshop honors tradition while also embracing innovation and change within the jazz dance genre and dance field in general. Before executive/artistic director Lara Branen began the Workshop, she and her co-founder Michael Geiger had studied at separate times with San Francisco jazz teachers Ann Garvin, Linda Heine and Ed Mock. Later Lynn Simonson became their primary inspiration. Each year Branen invites new guest artists to join long-term faculty who devotedly return year after year, including: Wade Madsen (modern dance), Nancy Cranbourne (jazz), Christy McNeil Chand (jazz) and Meghan Lawitz (contemporary). This summer will include lyrical, musical theater rep and a heels class, in addition to the program's regular offerings.

Keep reading...
Site Network
Getty Images

Nope, there's still no Oscar for Best Choreography—but we now get to reveal the winner of our own Dance Spirit award for Best Movie Choreography of 2019! Though we're big fans of all seven of the nominated choreographers, and think each one deserves to be acknowledged for their contributions to some of our favorite films this year, there can only be one winner. And based on your votes, that is...

Keep reading...
Site Network
Photo courtesy of Meier

Pointe shoes are high-maintenance. New pairs are not only expensive, but time consuming. So it's no surprise that many dancers try to extend the lifespan of each shoe. But did you know that dancing on dead shoes can increase your risk for a variety of injuries?

Keep reading...

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox