At any given workshop or convention, you'll often spot Sue Sampson-Dalena taking tap or jazz classes alongside a group of her students. "That's a big mistake a lot of dance teachers and studio owners make—they don't make time to keep themselves in shape," says Sampson-Dalena, though she admits that a blown disc keeps her from dancing as often as she'd like.


It's more than physical wellness that drives the energetic owner of The Dance Studio of Fresno. Her actions stem from a commitment to surround herself and her students with the best in the business. She regularly commissions choreographers like Tyce Diorio, Tessandra Chavez, Dee Caspary and Cris Judd for master classes and more: “I bring L.A. and New York to us," she says. “You have to stay on top of what's out there; otherwise, you get old and turn into Dolly Dinkle."

Sampson-Dalena's love affair with teaching started in her teens when she trained under vaudeville tap legend Jimmy Powell. At 16, she began teaching jazz classes in the back room of his studio during off-hours. Within four years, she'd struck out to start her own studio in a Fresno strip mall with 40 students—thanks to financial assistance from her family and an oversized helping of determination. “It was one room, barely 1,200 square feet," she says.

While launching the studio, she made time to commute from Fresno to L.A. every Monday to take master classes with Doug Caldwell and Jackie Sleight. “I was wise enough at that age [20] to know I didn't know anything, and that I needed to keep training as a dancer," she says.

It took at least seven years before the business took off, and studio growth has steadily climbed ever since. In 2001, The Dance Studio of Fresno relocated to a spacious 12,000-square-foot facility with seven classrooms, parent viewing areas, snack bar and private dressing rooms. With the help of SBA loans, Sampson-Dalena was able to purchase the property and design and build her space from the ground up, a move she highly recommends to others in her position. “I see women who work so hard and all they own at the end of the day is used equipment," she says. “I want to encourage folks not to be afraid of owning property—take the plunge."

Her enthusiasm is somewhat surprising, given the initial challenges she faced. Construction began the summer of 2000, and Sampson-Dalena spent mornings onsite and the rest of her time conducting business as usual at the old location. Though the building process seemed to go smoothly, massive thermostat and flooding issues developed after the new studio opened. The problems were so severe that they required years of litigation and costly repair services. “I put a lot of trust in the architect and general contractor," she explains. “I wish I'd been more educated about the process."

Now that the issues are resolved, Sampson-Dalena has no regrets. She can once again fully focus her efforts on her studio business, where 1,000 students are enrolled and 150 classes are offered every week. Supporting her efforts are 22 dance teachers and six office staff, but the owner herself can still turn in as many as 60 hours weekly during busy periods—whether creating choreography, rehearsing for competition or recitals or teaching class. She accompanies her 51-member competitive company to at least five regional and national events annually, and she's also focused on a growing program that caters to younger girls who compete locally.

“I love my building: its look, its vibe, its energy," she says. “It's such a great place and home to so many young people. Even though there have been ups and downs, I wouldn't trade this for all the tea in China."

Also in “Five Teachers, Five Venues":

Chloe Arnold: Producer

Daniel Lewis: Innovator

Linda Kent: Pioneer

Sue Sampson-Dalena: Builder

Ronald Alexander: Nurturer

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 Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Koelliker

Sick of doing the same old stuff in technique class? Needing some across-the-floor combo inspiration? We caught up with three teachers from different areas of the country to bring you some of their favorite material for their day-to-day classes.

You're welcome!

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
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I have a very flexible spine and torso. My teachers tell me to use this flexibility during cambrés and port de bras, but when I do, I feel pain—mostly in my lower back. What should I change so I don't end up with back problems?

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
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're a studio owner, the thought of raising your rates most likely makes you cringe. Despite ever-increasing overhead expenses you can't avoid—rent, salaries, insurance—you're probably wary of alienating your customers, losing students or inviting confrontation if you increase the price of your tuition or registration and recital fees. DT spoke with three veteran studio owners who suggest it's time to get past that. Here's how to give your business the revenue boost it needs and the value justification it (and you) deserve.

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 Teachers Trending
Margie Gillis (left); photo by Kyle Froman

Margie Gillis dances the human experience. Undulating naked in a field of billowing grass in Lessons from Nature 4, or whirling in a sweep of lilac fabric in her signature work Slipstream, her movement is free of flashy technique and tricks, but driven and defined by emotion. "There's a central philosophy in my work about what the experience of being human is," says Gillis, whose movement style is an alchemy of Isadora Duncan's uninhibited self-expression and Paul Taylor's musicality, blended with elements of dance theater into something utterly unique and immediately accessible. "I want an authenticity," she says. "I want to touch my audiences profoundly and deeply."

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

Teaching arabesque can be a challenge for educators and students alike. Differences in body types, flexibility and strength can leave dancers feeling dejected about the possibility of improving this essential position.

To help each of us in our quest for establishing beautiful arabesques in our students without bringing them to tears, we caught up with University of Utah ballet teacher Jennie Creer-King. After her professional career dancing with Ballet West and Oregon Ballet Theater and her years of teaching at the studio and college levels, she's become a bit of an arabesque expert.

Here she shares five important tips for increasing the height of your students' arabesques.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via Instagram

Happy Father's Day to all of the dance dads in the world! Whether you're professional dancers, dance teachers, dance directors or simply just dance supporters, you are a key ingredient to what makes the dance world such a happy, thriving place, and we love you!

To celebrate, here are our four favorite Instagram dance dads. Prepare to say "Awwwwwwwweeeeeee!!!!!!"

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jennifer Kleinman, courtesy of Danell Hathaway

It's high school dance concert season, which means a lot of you K–12 teachers are likely feeling a bit overwhelmed. The long nights of editing music, rounding up costumes and printing programs are upon you, and we salute you. You do great work, and if you just hang on a little while longer, you'll be able to bathe in the applause that comes after the final Saturday night curtain.

To give you a bit of inspiration for your upcoming performances, we talked with Olympus High School dance teacher Danell Hathaway, who just wrapped her school's latest dance company concert. The Salt Lake City–based K–12 teacher shares her six pieces of advice for knocking your show out of the park.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox