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?

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Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Kyle Froman

Unlike a usual waltz, in which the lift and dip would come from the legs, this waltz from Paul Taylor's Cloven Kingdom (1976) requires the up-and-down motion to come solely from the torso. The legs remain in plié the entire time, eating space. (When this piece is performed, dancers traverse the length of the stage using one pass of this waltz.)

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Once competition season ends it may be challenging to keep your dancers excited and involved in dance. Don't let the down time between competition seasons drag on. Dance conventions are an easy and effective way to learn new skills, meet inspiring choreographers, and keep your dancers involved all year long. It is also a great opportunity for your dancers to bond and grow together as a team.

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Dance News
Adam Rose/FOX

At the start of last night's episode of "So You Think You Can Dance," 41 dancers remained. An hour later, we had a Top 20. And then there was a BIG FAT TWIST. (We'll get to that.)

The 41 still-standing Academy dancers showed up at the Dolby Theater in L.A. ready to tackle three rounds: contemporary choreography with seven-time Emmy nominee and one-time "SYTYCD" contestant Travis Wall; an "epic group routine" with jazz choreographer and La La Land she-ro Mandy Moore; and a last-chance solo showdown. Here's what happened.

The Contemporary Competition

"I'm not looking for robots," SuperTrav immediately explained. He gave the dancers shapes, but from there, each was expected to make the choreography his or her own. Everyone got sweaty and exhausted, and after 90 minutes, it was time to perform in groups of three for Nigel, Mary, Vanessa, and Travis.


Allen Genkin

The ballroom babe struggled during hip hop last week, but (naturally) crushed the ballroom choreography. This time around, the judges still couldn't resist Allen's charm, and he got to stay—though, Nigel said, "We need more."

Cole Mills

Cole has stood out during each round of choreography thus far, and not just because of his full-back tattoo. Travis called him absolutely beautiful. "I don't know where you came from or where you've trained, but I am very excited for you," TWall said. And he made it through.

Tessa Dalke

The pressure was on for this early favorite—and the judges weren't feeling her contemporary performance. Vanessa was expecting more, Travis didn't think she commanded the space with her energy, and Nigel said she needed to step up. But they weren't ready to give up on her, so she stayed for jazz.

Sydney Moss

She stood out, Nigel said, simply. She got to stick around, too.

Hannahlei Cabanilla

All the judges agreed that they couldn't take their eyes off her. Hannahlei made it on to jazz as well.

David Greenberg

The ballet dancer didn't totally crush Travis's choreography, so the judges decided to send him home. "I hate this part," Travis said through gritted teach. (We hate it, too.)

Eddie Hoyt

The judges needed to make cuts, and despite Eddie's awesome personality, the tapper's "SYT" journey ended here. Tear!

Evan DeBenedetto

The other tapping standout in the competition killed this choreo. Vanessa said he rose to the occasion, and he made it to the jazz round.

Bridget Derville-Teer

Nigel told Bridget she lost him today, and Mary didn't connect with the performance. Bridget was sent home—but Nigel hopes to see her again. (Season 16, girl! Be ready to crush it!)

Genessy Castillo

Genessy seemed to lose confidence halfway through the performance, but the judges still adored her, so she made it through.

Emily Carr

Emily was totally captivating in this round. Her jumps were the highest, her expression the fullest, her performance the boldest. Travis thought the competition was hers to lose: "Girl, I can't wait for you to get on the show so I can work with you," he said. Holy ultimate compliment, TravMan!

The Group Production Number

With 33 dancers left, it was time to bring in Mandy Moore for the final round of choreography. Her jazzy group routine featured all the dancers shining in their individual styles, plus a grand finale where everyone came together. "If they can't hang in the group routine, then it is cutsville, buh bye," Mandy said. STONE. COLD.



This routine looked so fun. (Was anyone else standing up, trying to learn it at home? No? Just us? OK.) The high-energy choreography was fairly simple, but there was a LOT of it. Each group got just an hour to perfect their portion of the routine—and to choreograph two eight-counts of the performance themselves. Intense much?

There were so many wonderful moments during the enthusiastic performance. Emily Carr was a standout again. The tappers looked awesome, and Jensen Arnold had undeniable presence. (The entire ballroom group is looking super strong this year, TBH.) The exhausting routine earned a standing O from the four judges, whom we were not envying at that point.



But cuts had to be made, and Tessa Dalke, sadly, was one of them. Other favorites—Alexis Gilbert, Jay Jackson, Gaevin Bernales—were sent home, too.

The Last-Chance Solo Round

The remaining 27 dancers got to perform one final solo before the judges chose the Top 20. Jay Jay Dixonbey's number was powerful, precise, and pretty darn perfect. Chelsea Hough rocked heels for hers. Hannahlei Cabanilla earned a "love. her." from Mary. And Allen Genkin wrapped things up with a booty wiggle, a big smile, and a Magic Mike-esque shirt toss that Nigel called "a little desperate." (AGREE TO DISAGREE, NIGEL.)

Without further ado...

The "So You Think You Can Dance" Season 15 Top 20

THE GUYS

Jay Jay Dixonbey

Cole Mills

Justin Pham

Slavik Pustovoytov

Peyton Albrecht

Dustin Payne

Evan DeBenedetto

Darius Hickman

Kyle Bennett, Jr.

Allen Genkin

THE GIRLS

Genessy Castillo

Magda Fialek

Jensen Arnold

Stephanie Sosa

Dayna Madison

Sydney Moss

Brianna Penrose

Chelsea Hough

Emily Carr

Hannahlei Cabanilla

BUT WAIT. After the reveal, there was another reveal: Turns out only 10 dancers will continue on to the live shows. What is happening?!

Next week, each of the Top 20 dancers will be paired with an All Star and a choreographer. See you then for more madness!

Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Ballet Next

In 2011, when former American Ballet Theatre principal Michele Wiles departed the company and formed BalletNext, she found an artistic freedom she'd been longing for. Along with new collaborations with choreographers and musicians, she began working with trumpeter Tom Harrell, who introduced her to the multilayered sounds of jazz. "The dancers are another instrument to a jazz musician," says Wiles. Pairing this music genre with her classical foundation has been pivotal in defining her style. "I have this classical facility, but my mind is more contemporary. Jazz is a good intersection for my work," she says.

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Dance News
Photo by Alex Huber, courtesy of YDC

Ballroom dance could be the best form of diplomacy, according to New York City teenagers starring in a new documentary, Taking New Steps—The Dancing Classrooms Youth Dance Company Goes to Israel.

Saturday, members of the Youth Dance Company and their loved ones watched the premiere at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in Manhattan. Produced by SingularDTV, the 18-minute documentary captured individual interviews and sweeping drone shots during the company's 2017 trip to Israel for the Karmiel Dance Festival. Dancers in the audience, now a year older, cheered as they viewed younger versions of themselves on the movie screen.

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Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Favia

After a bad sprain at 19 years old, Talia Favia left L.A. and went home to Phoenix to heal. While she was unable to dance full-out, she began to teach and choreograph. "I realized then that I was meant to be a choreographer and teacher," she says. "When I was auditioning in L.A., I would feel guilty, because I knew there were dancers there who wanted to perform more than I did. It took sitting out for me to realize that I just loved being behind the scenes."

Since then, Favia, 27, has thrived as a choreographer, setting numbers on studios around the country, creating viral dance videos, creating pieces on "So You Think You Can Dance" and "Dancing With the Stars," and receiving the top prize at the 2014 A.C.E. Awards.

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It's just so good. (via YouTube)

Happy Nationals season, everybody! It's that time of year when us lucky editors get to watch so, SO many gorgeous solos by dancers competing for big titles. But even among the insanely gifted artists at the top of the comp circuit, Tate McRae stands out. Just ask anyone who's seen the solo that helped her win Teen Best Dancer at The Dance Awards in Vegas last week.

Choreographed by Travis Wall (naturally), "Woman" is virtuosic both technically and artistically. Are the 180-degree extensions and fluid lyricism that captivated "So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation" audiences two years ago still there? Of course they are. But Tate also approaches the solo with a commitment and maturity that's rare in industry veterans, let alone 14-year-old students.

Planning to spend the majority of your summer sweating it out in the studio? Don't worry, you're not alone. And while you're definitely going to want to save the warmups for the winter, you can still accessorize your studio look without adding bulk, thanks to the always-in-style ballet skirt. From bright florals to washed out pastels and wild prints, we rounded up our favorite short (and a few long!) ballet skirts for summer.

AinslieWear Limoncello Wrap Skirt

via AinslieWear

If you can't spend your summer in the Mediterranean under actual lemon trees, this skirt is a solid backup. Plus, it gives us serious Beyonce "Lemonade" vibes, which will help you feel more fierce and less sweaty-mess in class (hopefully). ainsliewear.com, $50

Nationals is a doozy every summer—ESPECIALLY for dance teachers. You spend the whole year gearing up for one week of pure insanity. Nonstop classes, last-minute rehearsals, costume malfunctions, emotional students, stressed parents, endless awards ceremonies and a fancy gala—this week is enough to kill you. Yet somehow you've survived, and now it's time to detox! To help, here are memes that perfectly depict the five phases of Nationals recovery every dance teacher goes through. You'll die over how accurate they are.

Get ready to laugh!

Oh, and you're welcome 💁♀️.

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Studio Owners
Thinkstock

Running a studio is an enormous undertaking that requires you to wear many hats at once (and with expertise): pedagogy, customer service, business management and beyond. Some owners find they're better off doing the work with a trusted partner by their side—someone to share both the responsibilities and the rewards. But finding the right person to work with isn't easy. You need someone whose personality, strengths and weaknesses complement your own. Here, three sets of successful partners get to the heart of how they make it work.

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Dancer Health
Thinkstock

When Brittany Purtell heard one dancer was repeatedly bad-mouthing another on her eight-person competition team in early 2017, she knew she had to take action. "We got word about bullying among the team members," she says. "It started at their school and then carried over to the studio." A dancer was spreading rumors about her teammate: "Something along the lines of 'So-and-so is not trying; she's not practicing; she doesn't deserve to be on the team,'" says Purtell, who directs the Senior Elite team at Open Space Studio in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Concerned the bad-mouthing could lead to a serious rift among teammates, she planned a camaraderie-building session, where students filled poster boards with dance compliments about one another—and themselves—and decorated the studio with hearts where they'd penned why they love dance. She's heard no complaints since, but statistically speaking, she likely will face some variation of this challenge again.

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