We're privileged to honor four extraordinary educators with this year's Dance Teacher Awards in August at our New York Dance Teacher Summit. The awardees include Julie Kent, Djana Bell, Rhonda Miller, Sue Samuels and Stephanie Kersten.

While dance teachers across the board often find themselves educating parents about the importance of dance and the arts in their children's lives, Djana Bell and her staff at Norma's Academy of Dance in Fairburn, Georgia, have to go one step further. They must teach parents that a dance career is even possible for students of color. "It has started to get better with role models like Misty Copeland, Michaela DePrince and Alison Stroming, who are showing little black girls that they can do this," says Bell. "It's our challenge to help them understand it can happen to them, as well. But that mind-set also has to start with the parents."


Bell has been tackling this challenge for the past three decades. While a sophomore dance major at Florida State University, she learned her mother, the original owner of Norma's, had suffered a fatal heart attack. "I was forced to come home, to decide if I wanted to maintain her business or continue college," she says. "Well, 32 years later, I'm still here."

It wasn't an easy choice. "My mom started the studio in 1972, and it was the first African-American-owned studio in Atlanta. She passed away in May 1985—recital season. Costumes had been ordered; the venue was rented. Parents had spent money. After talking things over with my grandmother—who was the studio's office manager and ballet class pianist—I said, 'This is my mom's legacy, what she was passionate about.' And I just kept going. I did a lot of soul searching after the concert, but I never turned back."

In Bell's hands, Norma's has changed significantly. "My mom operated more of a conservatory for dance, theater, music," Bell says. "I streamlined it to just dance." Today, 125 students are enrolled full-time, and Bell and her six faculty members teach ballet, jazz, modern, hip hop and tap. A small advanced ensemble performs in the community. Alumni have performed with such companies as Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Philadanco, and Bell's students frequently attend summer programs, including Dance Theatre of Harlem Summer Intensive and The Ailey School.

"We don't compete, though we do attend one convention a year—Tremaine—for the workshops," says Bell. "My studio isn't for everyone, I'll admit it." She calls herself a "stickler for old-school dance etiquette," and she's eager for her dancers to pursue dance outside of the confines of her studio. "I want them to have an understanding of the bigger picture," she says.

Sometimes that means bringing the bigger picture directly to her students. In 2016, Bell invited DePrince to lead a master class at Norma's—and DePrince, who was visiting her parents in the area, agreed. "I made all my students buy her book and read it beforehand, and she signed them after class," Bell says. "Afterward, Michaela remarked how professional my students were—they were dressed, prepared and ready to dance. It was such a great experience for them."

The Conversation
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It's February! The month of love (and by extension, the month of pink) is upon us. We are major fans of a good class theme, and dressing lovey-dovey is one of our very favorites! So this month, to keep you on brand, we have a list of our favorite pink leos on the market right now. They're all kinds of wonderful.

Check them out and let us know your favorite in the comments!

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Just for fun
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It's the day after Valentine's Day, and every single one of us is in a chocolate coma scrolling through endless love posts on social media. It's both the best and the worst day of the year 😂. Obnoxiously mushy Instagram captions aside, whether you have a significant other or not, we all know that your studio co-workers are the actual loves of your life.

Check out our five reasons why, and let us know over in our comments if we got 'em right!

XOXO

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Dance Teacher Tips
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Q: Do you have any advice for dividing students into groups?

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Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Chris Hardy Photography

In Antoine Hunter's jazz class, students inevitably pick up sign language just by virtue of being his student. Though he doesn't typically incorporate ASL into his class combos, this dynamic phrase, which is one of his favorites, includes four signs: "heart," " re," "gone" and "deaf."

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The Big Apple Tap Fest, courtesy of Dee

Debbi Dee took her first tap class at age 5 from vaudevillian hoofer and rhythm tapper Curly Fisher, in Rochester, New York. She studied tirelessly with him in the garage he had turned into a small, makeshift dance studio until she was 13 years old, when he claimed he had taken her as far as he could, and she needed to find herself a new teacher. Instead, she jumped feet first into her professional career, tapping with the Lawrence Welk and Count Basie orchestras on the traveling state fair circuit, on the Bob Hope USO shows, and in nightclubs in Vegas and the Catskills.

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Dance Teacher Tips
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We've all had times when we've failed miserably while trying our best to communicate important concepts and ideas to our students. We are all well-meaning with hopes that our dancers will achieve their dreams and become kind humans along the way. Unfortunately, our delivery may need some honing in order to help them without causing some damage,

Here are four common phrases dance teachers often say, and four ways we can adjust them to make them constructive and productive.

Let us know over on our Facebook page what phrases you try to avoid as a dance teacher!

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Courtesy Harlequin Floors

Just like your car, your studio needs periodic tune-ups to keep it humming along smoothly. If you take the time to address a few small fixes, your business will stand out. And you don't have to break the bank, either—you might be surprised how low-cost, DIY improvements can make a surprising difference.

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Running a studio can be a major juggling act. It's no surprise, then, that a few things slip through the cracks—costing you money or students. Watch out for two common but often unnoticed mistakes, and you'll find yourself with more time, clients and revenue on your hands.

1. Using online registration as a crutch

If you offer registration via your studio website, make sure you aren't losing clients by neglecting in-person registration. One day Kathy Morrow, director of Dance Du Coeur in Sugar Land,Texas, overheard a front desk staffer directing a new client to the studio's website to register, rather than offering to do it over the phone. "I thought, You had a fish on the hook—why didn't you walk them through it?" she says. "When you register, there are a lot of boxes to check off. Some people want to pay with a check, some to link to a credit card. We can make it easier by answering any questions directly."

2. Not delegating

Have you heard yourself say, once too often, "If I want it done right, I have to do it myself"? Overextending yourself because of perfectionism or a misguided need to control can be counterproductive. By creating choreography, teaching, bookkeeping, cleaning, making phone calls, typesetting, doing payroll, mailings and ordering, you could be leaving no time for the very things that will create your best business. Misty Lown decided to delegate all the teaching at her Onalaska, Wisconsin-based studio, Misty's Dance Unlimited. "Giving up teaching was super-hard," she says, "but it's the best decision I ever made. Whenever I was teaching, it meant I never saw the other five classrooms that were operating during that time. Now I can rotate my time checking on classrooms and interacting with students."

Dance Teacher Tips
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Working with a 9-year-old student, Alexandra Koltun asks the young girl to face the barre. She reviews fifth position, demi-pointe with the front foot and coupé devant. "I separate all the positions, so the student understands each one," says Koltun, founder and artistic director of Koltun Ballet Boston. She reaches down to shape the girl's foot into sur le cou-de-pied, leaving the heel in front and gently squeezing the toes around the ankle. "This position will equip the foot with more strength," she says.

Depending on a ballet teacher's preference and style of training, sur le cou-de-pied (meaning "on the neck of the foot") may be incorporated into class at different times and in various ways. From steps like pas de cheval to frappé and développé, the wrapped position can be fundamental to a student's technical development. Or it can be used less often and as a supplement to cou-de-pied front and back. Either way, the value of the position remains constant as a tool to mold and strengthen dancers' feet.

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Just for fun

Show your significant other how much you love them through dance! Send them one of your favorite romantic dance videos that best describes your feelings, and they're sure to swoon!

Here are four of our favorites that depict a range of emotions along the spectrum of true love. Let us know over on our Facebook page which one best represents your relationship!

You're welcome in advance!

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Just for fun

The best way to celebrate a holiday in the dance teacher world is to create a class combo that fits the theme! It's a sure-fire way to get you and your kiddos into the spirit of the day! So, Valentine's Day, we recommend some mushy, cheesy, oh-so-wonderful love songs!

Check out these six songs for potential class combo ideas. They're sure to be a hit.

You're welcome!

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When it comes to running a thriving dance studio, Cindy Clough knows what she's talking about. As executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner for more than four decades, she's all too aware of the unique challenges the job presents, from teaching to scheduling to managing employees and clients.

Here, Clough shares her best advice for new studio owners, and the answers to some common questions that come up when you're getting started.

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