Dance Teacher Tips

Find Out How Jessie James Has Established Herself as an Indispensable Guest Teacher

Jessie James (photo by Alex Esch (courtesy of James)

Over the past six years, Jessie James has established herself as an indispensable guest artist to competition studios across the country, thanks to her lively personality and character-filled choreography. She got her start by setting pieces as a resident teacher at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio in Orem, Utah, then moved on to Larkin Dance Studio in Maplewood, Minnesota, and Woodbury Dance Center in Woodbury, Minnesota. Her choreography has since been seen by studio owners around the country as her pieces have won local and national competitions. It didn't take long before dance studios from coast to coast were contacting her to set choreography and teach master classes. Now she works with roughly 15 studios yearly and is hoping to grow her practice even more in the future.


Because James only has a short time to work with each studio, she has created a formula for conducting efficient and meaningful workshops. "I generally begin each of my choreography trips with a master class," James says. "I like to see the dancers before I work, so I can get an idea of what their skills are. Studios tend to like this, because the money they earn from the class spreads the cost of my travel among all of their dancers rather than just the kids who are having a piece set on them. Once we start working on a number, I workshop a chorus with them, and then I begin setting the rest of the number. That way each student has something to practice, and they never get cold when I'm not working with them."

As a guest teacher and choreographer in the digital age, James is committed to growing her practice authentically rather than shaping her work around what will play well on social media. "We can get caught up in social media and try to get people to see our work," says James, whose professional credits include Justin Giles' company SoulEscape, "America's Got Talent" and the Donny & Marie show in Vegas and on Broadway. "My advice to anyone who is trying to choreograph and teach is to keep your head down, hustle and do work you believe in. Don't focus on what other choreographers are doing online. Hold your integrity, and studio owners will see that and want to hire you."

TEACHERS' TOOLS:

​HOW SHE FINDS MUSIC:

James Teaching Choreography

Photo by Alex Esch (courtesy of James)

"Throughout the year, I have a Spotify playlist that I'm constantly adding to with Shazam. If I can listen to one of the songs and have an entire concept come to life in my mind, I know I've found the right one."

GO-TO TEACHING ATTIRE:

James Teaching Choreography

Photo by Alex Esch (courtesy of James)

"You can always find me in a pair of black Lululemon align pants, or sweatpants made of Rulu fabric. I love American Apparel baggy tees and light throw-over crew-neck sweatshirts. When I've been on my feet all day and need added support, I throw on my Nikes with plantar fasciitis inserts to help with arch support."

FAVORITE ENERGY-BOOSTER FOOD:

Google Images

"Protein bars, almonds and fruit. "When it's a real long night of teaching, a Diet Coke doesn't hurt, either."

RECOMMENDED READING:

"Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert. "She talks about living a creative life, and I felt like she was speaking directly to me."

ITEMS SHE NEVER LEAVES HOME WITHOUT:

Thinkstock

"Lip balm, my phone and doTERRA Deep Blue Rub—especially when I'm teaching."


Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine

When choosing music for tap, Jason Samuels Smith encourages teachers to start with classic jazz music. Improvisation, call and response, and syncopated rhythms embedded in the genre and its history, in general, help students to understand the structure of tap, which is different than other styles of dance. "Tap dancers have the responsibility to be more than just a visual artist," he says. "They're an instrument and a sound."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Sarah Ash, courtesy of Larkin Dance

Ask Michele Larkin-Wagner and Molly Larkin-Symanietz what sets them and Maplewood, Minnesota–based Larkin Dance Studio apart, and they immediately give the credit to their mom. Shirley Larkin founded the school in 1950 and continued to oversee the growing business until she passed away in 2011. "She put Minnesota on the map for dance training and made other local studios step up to the plate to become as strong as we are," Michele says. "A lot of people's lives are better because of Shirley Larkin."

For Michele and Molly, following in their mom's footsteps was a no-brainer. "I knew I was going to be a choreographer and take over the studio," Michele says. To Molly, seven years Michele's junior and the baby out of six siblings, the studio was always a second home. The two sisters trained across genres but had distinct specialties: Michele found her niche in jazz, musical theater and lyrical, while Molly excelled in tap. In the summers, they'd travel for workshops in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles. While Michele was in class with jazz legends like Gus Giordano, JoJo Smith, Luigi and Frank Hatchett, Molly was taking tap classes with the likes of Brenda Bufalino and Phil Black.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Gandarillas

In Macarena Gandarillas' jazz class at California State University, Fullerton, a sign in the studio reads, "Never underestimate the power of determination." This simple mantra embodies what has made this self-described "danceaholic" such an impactful teacher.

When Gandarillas came to Los Angeles at age 6 with her family from Santiago, Chile, the language barrier was beyond overwhelming—until her mom enrolled her in ballet classes. Gandarillas found an instant love. "There were no Spanish-speaking kids at my school," she says. "But with dance I could communicate with my body. I'd finally found my voice."

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 Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Is teaching for an after-school program a good way to find a job in K–12?

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
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Inspire School of Arts and Sciences

It was the morning of November 8, 2018, and Jarrah Myles' first-period choreography students were in last-minute rehearsals for their fall dance concert that evening. "All of a sudden my students' phones started ringing like crazy," says Myles, a teacher at Inspire School of Arts and Sciences, a Chico, California, high school whose dance and theater programs Myles helped establish in 2010. "And once they answered, I saw these tragic faces staring back at me."

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

abezikus/Getty Images

"Dancers can do everything these days," I announced to whoever was in earshot at the Jacob's Pillow Archives during a recent summer. I had just been dazzled by footage of a ballet dancer performing hip hop, remarkably well. But my very next thought was, What if that isn't always a good thing? What if what one can't do is the very thing that lends character?

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Courtney Schwartz and Jake Mcauley perform a Talia Favia combination at Radix Dance Convention Nationals. Via Instagram

Summer intensives and Nationals make June, July and August some of the richest dance-video months of the year. There is so much fabulous content out there, we can hardly contain our excitement!

We have spent hours down the rabbit hole of class videos this week and thought you should see some of our favorite findings.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Infinite Flow

While taking class in 2006, Marisa Hamamoto felt a tingling sensation in her elbows, then suddenly collapsed to the floor. She was hospitalized and diagnosed with spinal cord infarction, a rare spinal stroke that left her paralyzed from the neck down. Despite being told by her doctor that she may never walk again, let alone dance, Hamamoto miraculously walked out of the hospital two months later.

Since her stroke, Hamamoto has found a new lease on life. She has channeled her indomitable will to overcome adversity into a dance company that marries her love of ballroom dance with her passion for social activism. Los Angeles–based Infinite Flow is the first professional wheelchair ballroom dance company in the U.S. Over the past four years it has become a torchbearer for social change, performing worldwide and offering workshops and school assemblies to educate audiences about accessibility and inclusion.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox