I was probably about 15 years old when the director of my local dance school, seeing my drive and ambition, asked me to work as a teaching assistant for one of the main ballet instructors. She asked to meet with me to discuss the details of my new job. She explained what my role was in the studio, expectations of me in the position and more. But as we approached the end of my meeting, I wasn't expecting the conversation to take the serious turn that it did.


"Now, Barry, I need you to be very, very careful about how you work with these young girls. Kids are sensitive and, especially considering that you are a man, if you correct them in a way that can be viewed as sexual by either a student or a parent, even if you didn't do anything, you could be jeopardizing your future as a teacher and in this field." The look on my face must have been utter shock; the prospect of losing my job or getting sued over sharing my artform had never crossed my mind. This forever changed my perspective on being a dance educator, and I still find myself overly cautious about the way that I work with my students today.

Unless you've been hiding underneath a holiday blanket, it has become abundantly clear that we are undergoing a massive cultural shift here in the States. It started in the entertainment industry, then shifted to major corporations. Sexual misconduct in the form of harassment and assault that had been swept under the rug for years is bubbling to the surface. Things began to boil quite quickly, and those interested in our performing-arts world were speculating that something was going to be brought up in our tight-knit community, especially considering the hands-on approach that teachers have with students, dancers have with other dancers and artistic staff has while coaching employees. I had to sit on my own hands for over a month, after I was given a heads-up that a major news publication was working on an exposé about Peter Martins and his many alleged abuses (which had been quietly circulating around our dance community for years).

I've struggled throughout the entirety of my career as a dance educator with the decision on whether I should be a hands-on teacher. Dance is essentially the art of ultimate control of one's own body. Understanding how to use your body correctly could mean the difference between an amazing feat or a debilitating injury. For example, proper execution as a student lifts their leg in adagio could result in greater height, better line and exaggerated lift in the working leg. But more important than how it looks, if a student is not using proper technique while lifting their leg at superhuman heights, this can cause bulky muscles, seizing cramps, painful hip tendinitis or worse.

Sometimes, a teacher has to put their hands on a student to show them what their body should feel like when they aren't properly aligned or are supporting themselves incorrectly. I know for a fact that this is effective. And I look back fondly on my teachers who were willing to get hands-on to show me how to work properly and assist me on my path toward my performance career. For this reason, I have made the decision to be one of those teachers who shares a very hands-on approach to teaching. Though, to be completely honest with you, I'm frightened by the idea of a poorly placed correction or an extremely sensitive student misinterpreting the intended purpose of physical adjustment.

I feel that this item isn't as much of an issue for female teachers (though, I do know for a fact that they also have to deal with concerns about physically touching students for corrections), because of a few sensationalized cases of inappropriate teacher/student contact, which historically have been committed by males.

In fact, there was recently a guest instructor who was arrested on the premises of a well-known New York dance school for sexually assaulting an underage boy at another one of his jobs. I was shocked to hear about this just as much as anybody else, especially considering that he hired me to teach master classes at his school in the past. But what was most disappointing for me was that it gave dance parents fresh reason to be concerned that their kids' teachers could act inappropriately toward their young ones. It is easy for protective parents to focus on one negative story. But for the few stories that have ever come out about these unfortunate circumstances, there are millions of positive experiences that students have with their teachers every day. It is important that schools focus on this and cultivate a safe environment that also includes educating parents/families on what is happening inside their studios.

Since dance is the artform of controlling our own physicality, we require students to wear skin-tight clothing that shows physical alignment and muscle movement. This uniform leaves eager-to-please, impressionable children and teens exposed in a way that wouldn't be acceptable in many places outside of a dance studio. If a student's school isn't educating its student body and their respective families about what is happening in the studio, this could lead to a more sensitive environment that could potentially be harmful to a qualified teacher's career.

Every school that I work for must have a waiver that is signed by all parents explaining that physical touch is an integral part of the learning process of dance. I refuse to work for a school that doesn't have this protective measure in place. Beyond this, it is important that schools have regular parent observation days. Allowing parents to take a step into the learning process can offer them a better perspective on why certain practices are necessary.

Enforcing a Hands-on Approach

First and foremost, whether I am giving a private lesson or conducting a large master class, if there are no windows into the studio, I will try to keep the door open. I have nothing to hide, so I feel that an open-door policy allows anybody to view the classroom/rehearsal process. From here, I try to fashion the touch in my physical corrections into the most obvious, nonsexual type of touch possible.

If I am working with a group of students who are not used to my physical corrections, I will often ask the student before I adjust them, "Are you comfortable if I move your body to show you how to do it correctly?" This is often met with a positive response. Though I am respectful if the student tells me no. When correcting, I adjust students with the sides of my hands or with my palm, while my fingers are glued together like a spatula. Fingers tend to be more touchy-feely and can have misinterpreted intentions, so I try to avoid using my fingers as much as possible. If I do absolutely need to use my fingers, I will make sure they are rigid and avoid any inappropriate places.

When a student requires corrections anywhere near any private area, I absolutely do not apply physical corrections. Instead, if it is a correction near or on the pelvis, I will show by pointing to myself. If it is close to the chest area, I will often pretend there is an invisible string attached to their chest and imitate the act of pulling on the string to get them to shift their chest placement. If there is anything involving the rear-end, if it is along the sides of the hips or high enough like the gluteus medius, I will use the sides of my hands or a knuckle with my fingers tucked into my palm. The final protection that I enforce as a dance educator is that I will ABSOLUTELY NOT follow a student into a private place. If I need a student who is in the dressing room or in a bathroom, I will ask a parent or a peer to get them. This way there is never any question that I have been around a student in a private setting.

There is no better teacher than one who can build you up with confidence as they teach you our deftly difficult artform. It is pertinent that students receive information with clarity. I honestly don't feel that anybody can become a professional dancer without any physical adjustments.

Our American culture tends to be touch-sensitive, which can sometimes leave students feeling extremely cautious about any type of physical adjustment from teachers. I made the decision at the beginning of my teaching career that I would be one of those teachers that risk their livelihood to offer the best training to my students possible. And, it has worked thus far. But I would be lying if I didn't say that I approach each and every classroom with tentativeness and an ounce of fear that one of my well-intended corrections may be misinterpreted as the worst of intentions.

What has your experience been with physically correcting your students? Do you do it or not? And, if so, how do you approach making these corrections and protecting yourself as a dance educator?

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Tade Biesinger and Kandee Allen, photo courtesy of Biesinger

It's officially the one month out of the year that's exclusively about gratitude, and there's nothing dance enthusiasts are more thankful for than our dance teachers. They're everything to us!

Case in point: we reached out to Marymount Manhattan freshman and former Billy Elliot: The Musical star, Tade Biesinger, and asked him to write a thank-you letter to his hometown studio owner/teacher Kandee Allen. The result brought tears to our eyes! How Biesinger feels about Allen is how all of us feel about our teachers.

Allen and Biesinger. Photo courtesy of Biesinger

Check out what he had to say, and then write a thank-you message to your dance teachers in the comments of our Facebook page.

Trust us: It will be well worth it! —Haley Hilton

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Just for fun

Happy National Princess Day, people! This is a day you were all BORN to celebrate (because you're all princesses obviously). Enjoy this blessed day by watching two of our favorite ballerina princesses light up the stage!

We know this dream was a wish your hearts have made, so you're welcome! Oh, and bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!

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Dancer Health

We've compiled a list of healthy Thanksgiving foods that are sure to satisfy both your cravings and your desire to eat well. Try them out this holiday season and you'll be able to enjoy the best meal of the year guilt-free!

YOU'RE WELCOME!

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Dancer Health
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The human head weighs somewhere between 8 and 12 pounds. For many of us, our youngest students included, that comparatively large weight spends on average at least a couple hours a day hunched over a screen. While you may not consider your students as average, there is no denying we spend more hours than ever looking down at handheld mobile devices. "I think of it as 'tech posture,'" says Blossom Leilani Crawford of Bridge Pilates, "when the head is forward and the shoulders are forward. People don't know where their heads are anymore, and you certainly can't turn well with the weight of your head forward."

Forward head posture seems to be the very antithesis of the open chest, lifted spine and presentational sensibility of most classical dance training. But beyond the aesthetics, this misalignment can affect balance and coordination in developing dancers and, at the extreme end, can be associated with nerve damage and pain down the arm.

According to Dr. Marshall Hagins, physical therapist for the Mark Morris Dance Group, there are really two things going on when you see forward head posture. First, the skull is projected forward in front of the body (as in when we look down at a phone). But then, because we are social creatures who want to see and interact with the world in front of us, the head rotates backward on the spine, thrusting the chin up and out. "The muscles in the front of the neck are short and relaxed," he explains, "while the muscles in the back, which are keeping the head from falling further, are lengthened and overworking." The neck muscles have a very high density of proprioceptors and the nervous system feedback is working to fight gravity all of the time, all of which can result in a levator scapulae that is overused and painful.

Hagins offers a tent analogy for balancing the head in three dimensions without simply resorting to a military posture. "All the surrounding neck muscles need to have just the right amount of tension to keep a heavy object, such as the head, balanced atop the tent pole of your spine," he says. "When it leans one way, the corresponding wire becomes loose and the other wires have to pull harder." He notes that it can still be possible for dancers to move in and out of the proper positions even if the resting posture is slouched. However, assuming such a posture for most of the day can lead to injury.

The phenomenon has caused Crawford to modify the abdominal exercises in her mat class. "I sometimes ask for the head to stay on the floor for the single-leg stretch or double-leg stretch," she says. "I call it 'angry turtle' when you work to draw the back of your head into the floor. Once that is understood, it is easier to transfer into lifting the head off the ground properly."

However, both Hagins and Crawford caution that dancers are often hypermobile and prone to overcorrecting, so it is important to focus on good postural habits and incremental changes so they don't move from one misalignment of the head and neck to another. Here are three simple exercises Crawford uses to help students find and feel where proper head alignment is in different planes of movement. They are great on their own, in any warm-up, or can be easily sprinkled into a Pilates mat routine.

Supine Head Float​

Elena Prisco, age 17, student at Lake Tahoe Dance Collective. Photos courtesy of Thompson

1. Lie on your back, knees bent and feet planted, with a yoga block, or prop of similar height, under the shoulder blades. Let your head rest back into this big, chest-opening stretch, with your fingers interlaced, hands behind your neck so that your pinky fingers are against the base of your skull.

2. Float your head up to spine level, chin tucked in, hands helping to
traction your neck long. Use exhales to activate the abdominals and keep ribs heavy and soft while your head is up. Hold for a few counts and then rest back into the stretch.

3. Repeat several times, being careful not to let the chin jut forward.

*If you are ready for more, float the pelvis up to spine level along with the head. Keep the pelvis in a neutral, untucked position.

Studio Owners
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Costumes are one of the most important parts of your annual recital and competition routines, yet the process of choosing what your dancers will wear, measuring them accurately and ordering your selections can be fraught with second-guessing. We compiled your questions and asked the experts—the costume companies, that is—for their frank advice and guidance.

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Just for fun
From left: Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet; Michael Curley, Courtesy Cincinnati Zoo.

Yesterday Cincinnati Ballet announced an exciting addition to this year's Nutcracker cast: a character based on Fiona, the world's most famous hippopotamus.

Fiona was born at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in January 2017. Six weeks premature, she weighed only 29 pounds at birth as opposed to the standard 55-120, and required round-the-clock care from dedicated zoo staff. Cincinnati Children's Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit even got involved. The zoo chronicled her progress on Facebook, creating the heart-warming Fiona Show (see the first episode below). The baby hippo's story went viral, winning hearts in Cincinnati and around the world.

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To Share With Students
Cheyenne Murillo and her partner Sasha Altukhov at Millennium Dancesport Championship. Photo courtesy of Murillo

It seems everyone is trying to break into the ballroom scene these days, and we don't blame them—it's ALL kinds of fabulous!

But getting started can seem overwhelming for everyone involved. Whether you're a studio owner looking to implement a new ballroom program or a student looking to get started, you're likely to have A LOT of questions.

To help, we've talked with Cheyenne Murillo, U.S. Open Pro Rising Star Champion and teacher at Strictly Ballroom in Orem, Utah, to answer five questions every aspiring professional is sure to have.

You're welcome!

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Dance Teachers Trending
"In part, I became a teacher because I felt the need to help others dance," says Slattery (center in all black). "Working on this project has been so fulfilling, and I look forward to it each week." Photo courtesy of Orlando Ballet

A year ago, Orlando Ballet School offered a weekend workshop called "Come Dance With Us." The pilot program was designed for children with physical special needs and disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, brittle bone disease and a variety of conditions that require children to wear braces or use walkers and wheelchairs.

The workshop was such a positive experience that the school expanded it to 10 weeks. Recently, I was given the opportunity to teach within the program. To my surprise, the students were capable of participating in ways I wouldn't have expected.

In a short time, I've been so impressed with the children's ability to modify movement, not to mention the joy and incredible spirit the students bring to class each week. It has been an extremely valuable experience for me as a teacher, and I have learned a great deal working with these inspiring kids.

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Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jacqueline Connor, courtesy of Nowakowski

In 2015, Houston Ballet demi-soloist Jim Nowakowski made a shocking career about-face when he soared into the heart of pop culture and made Top 6 on Season 12 of "So You Think You Can Dance." The commercial world was taken by his flawless technique and perfect lines, while at the same time classical dancers were surprised by his choice to leave a coveted position with Houston Ballet. He was an enigma—and now he's done it again. He has recently returned to ballet company life and is well into his second season with BalletMet.

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Dancer Health
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Last Wednesday was National Stress Awareness Day, and all day we couldn't stop thinking about dance teachers.

Whether it's helping your students cope with anxiety caused by the pressures of our industry, unpacking your own anxiety caused by a lifetime in this industry or simply just managing the day-to-day stresses that come with teaching, you are dealing with a lot of stress, and we want to help.

Dance Teacher caught up with a Pacific Northwest Ballet School consulting psychologist Toby Diamond to get some professional advice on how to deal with anxiety. She gave a teacher's seminar at PNB on this subject earlier this year.

Try out some of her tools, and see how they can benefit your health and the health of your students!

Good luck! We're rooting for you!

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Just for fun
Shelby Williams via @biscuitballerina

Fall is arguably the best season of the year, and "Falling Fridays" are arguably the best day of the week on the @biscuitballerina Instagram page. So, we thought it was only fitting that we combine the two "bests" for a fall-tastic post today!

Heaven bless @biscuitballerina for making us laugh day in and day out. SHE. IS. EVERYTHING.

Get ready to laugh 'til you cry, ladies and gentleman.

There's just nothing that can hit your funny bone like watching dancers eat it!

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