New York City Ballet principal Daniel Ulbricht has a history of precocity. At age 15, after a three-day visit to the School of American Ballet as a guest pupil, he was awarded a full scholarship on the spot. NYCB Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins then cast him as a spunky, side-straddle-hopping jester in Martins’ production of The Sleeping Beauty while he was still a student. Once in the company, Ulbricht proceeded to set new standards for crowd-pleasing virtuosity in such demi-caractère parts as Puck in Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night's Dream and conjure up the power of the great Edward Villella in his signature roles in Tarantella and Prodigal Son.

Given his lightning-fast ascent through the ranks, it’s no surprise that he’s now an in-demand teacher as well—at age 24. His burgeoning parallel career includes serving as a guest professor at Indiana University and a guest faculty member at the Chautauqua Institute, The Rock School for Dance Education and Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. In New York City, he teaches at SAB, Ballet Academy East and Studio Maestro. Last summer, he and fellow NYCB principal Jenifer Ringer became associate directors of the New York State Summer School for the Arts in Saratoga, NY.

Dance Teacher: When did you start to teach and where?

Daniel Ulbricht: I started teaching in Saratoga three years ago, when I was a soloist with City Ballet. Saratoga is the company’s summer home, and our dancers are traditionally involved with NYSSSA. Amanda Edge, a [now former] corps member who served as a liaison, called me and said, “Daniel, would you like to come teach?” I said I’d like to try. Little did I know. The class was co-ed for New York state students, ages 14 to 18, who had qualified for the summer program. The first five minutes I was so nervous I stuttered, “P-p-plié.” But then it was smooth sailing. I talked so much, encouraging the students, that I lost my voice. I was mentally as well as physically exhausted, but I was hooked. Teaching was like another kind of performance.

DT: By you?

DU: Not just me. I want students to think of class as a performance. I want steps done at the barre and in the center to be presented as if for an audience, with musicality and personality—and energy. Ask your students to define “energy,” and they always say it means “fast.” Actually, energy is about being alive. An adagio must have energy. Without energy, without musicality, there is no dance. When students come to class with that attitude, they bring extra adrenaline and they pay extra attention. A dancer should look energetic—that is, ready to go—just standing at the barre.

DT: So you start with posture?

DU: Teachers can improve students’ posture just by walking around. Students always straighten up when teachers approach, then slouch after they pass. That’s why I walk around all the time. It’s my job to keep the energy level high. Growing up in St. Petersburg (Florida, I alsways add after a pause), I was fortunate to have had teachers whose classes were so exciting I couldn’t wait to return. [Leonard Holmes, who studied at SAB, and Javier Dubrocq from the Ballet Nacional du Cuba] taught me the proper attitude while giving me a solid foundation in technique.

DT: How large are your classes?

DU: I’ve taught up to 60 in a college class or summer program. My average, I’d say, is 30 students. Last summer I taught up to 25 classes a week.

DT: Can you give students individual attention in a class of 30?

DU: My general corrections apply to everyone, but for specific, personal corrections, I’m a tailor making a custom-tailored suit and keeping everyone’s measurements in my head as I teach. It’s like having 20 or 30 different classes going on at once. That’s a challenge, since my goal is to get to everyone in one way or another, either by demonstration or hands-on training, but I like challenges.

DT: You were notorious for cutting up in company class. One City Ballet teacher said you should be in a cage. How would you have disciplined you?

DU: I’m still a cut-up, but that’s beside the point. I put undisciplined students on the spot by challenging them to do a demanding step or combination. If it’s a gifted student who’s bored because he thinks he knows it all, I make up a really challenging combination for him. You have to keep pushing your best students because they tend to be content with how good they are. Demonstrating is also a good way to build confidence. Some students may score a breakthrough by being put on the spot. They didn’t know they could deliver! I always ask to see an outstanding demonstration done again. Consistency is absolutely essential. A student may be proud of doing seven pirouettes in succession, but wobbling on the third and the fifth means there’s more work to be done.

DT: How bluntly do you put that?

DU: First, I always say something positive, like, “You’re on the right track.” That’s how Lenny and Javier empowered me. Then I get specific about what’s being done wrong. My teachers showed me they were there for me but let me know what I had to keep working on.

DT: What if the student is hopeless?

DU: “Hopeless” is my least favorite word. If students are “unpromising,” let’s say, but really trying, I give them plenty of encouragement. I want every student to develop a love of dancing. Everyone deserves that experience of having worked hard at something they love. Maybe in the future they will support dancing because they remember what it felt like to dance and how much they loved it.

DT: Do you prefer teaching single-sex or mixed classes?

DU: Mixed classes. There are few steps that belong exclusively to one sex. For older students, practicing steps in a mixed class raises the energy level. The gentlemen try harder to impress the women in the room, and the women try harder to impress the gentlemen. Of course, if you’re teaching a class of children, you don’t start little boys out on steps that are done in a tutu; otherwise you’ll lose them.

DT: Do you learn from teaching?

DU: Oh, absolutely. Let’s say I’m correcting a student with balance problems, and as we break the steps down, I realize the solution involves a distribution of weight I’ve never thought of. “Daniel, you’ve got to try this!” I’ll tell myself, and next time when I take class, I do. This happens all the time.

DT: Doesn’t teaching interfere with your career as a dancer?

DU: Dividing my time and energy is a problem I’m always working on, but I’d say the two biggest enhancements of my career as a dancer are teaching and Pilates. Dancing is like a language the best dancers have total command of. Teaching is an analysis of that language and learning its complexity, while dancing is using it competently, securely and correctly with an elegance that makes the audience think it’s easy.

DT: Which career do you enjoy most?

DU: Dancing. I love meeting the challenges and—I admit it—there’s no satisfaction like having 2,500 people roar their approval when you take a bow. But there’s a similar satisfaction when I’m standing with my back to the mirror, facing the class after I’ve given a correction that hits the target. Yes, I have a smaller audience but it’s a great satisfaction to see the light bulbs go on. If you don’t wholeheartedly love it when that happens, you shouldn’t be teaching. DT

 

Harris Green is a writer in New York City.

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Lani Corson. Photo by Royce Burgess, courtesy of Corson

Aerial work is growing in popularity in the dance world these days. Don't believe us? Check out this Dance Magazine article! If you're a studio owner who didn't grow up with aerial training (let's face it, how many of us really did?), then you may be feeling a little apprehensive about what to look for when bringing on a new aerialist faculty member. You know exactly what you want from your ballet teachers, your jazz teachers, your tap teachers, heck—even your tumbling teachers! Aerial, however, is a whole other ballgame.

To help you feel confident you're bringing in a teacher who is safe for your dancers, we sat down with Lani Corson, NYC aerialist, circus performer, adjunct professor at Pace University and teacher at Aerial Arts NYC, to get the inside scoop on exactly what you should be looking for.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Dance teachers have a lot of strengths (communicating corrections, choreographing gorgeous movement, planning excellent recitals, cleaning technique—just to name a few) but when it comes to interior design—talent isn't exactly a given. So when studio owners remodel or build, worrying about the decor can feel a little overwhelming (you've got just a few too many other things to worry about, don't you?).

No need to fear! In 2019 we have Pinterest, which shows us all the latest trends we should know about. To help you make the best design decisions for your studio, we've compiled a list of public Pinterest pins we think you'll love.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Unsplash

Is dance a sport? Should it be in the Olympics? They're complicated questions that tend to spark heated debate. But many dance fans will be excited to hear that breaking (please don't call it breakdancing) has been provisionally added to the program for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
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
Dance Teacher Tips
Vanessa Zahorian. Photo by Erik Larson, courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet Academy

At the LINES Ballet Dance Center in San Francisco, faculty member Erik Wagner leads his class through an adagio combination in center. He encourages dancers to root their standing legs, using imagery of a seed germinating, so that they feel more grounded. "Our studios are on the fifth floor, so I'll often tell them to push down to Market Street," says Wagner. "They know that they should push their energy down to the street level." By using this oppositional force, he says, dancers can lengthen their bodies to create any desired shape.

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

After years of throwing summer parties at your studio, you're likely fatigued by coming up with themes and event details. You want your students to have a good time, but you're also up to your eyeballs in choreography and costume decisions.

Never fear! We've come up with party themes and activities to do during the event. Delegate tasks to your teachers and office managers, and voilà! You have a stress-free party ready to go.

Have a blast, people!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I recently returned to a modern dance class after a long absence. While I didn't feel any acute pain at the end of class, the next morning I could barely walk from the soreness in both my Achilles. What can I do to fix this?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Q: I'm trying to think of ways to maximize studio space and revenue during the summer. What has worked for you?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox