Dance Teacher Tips

Commercial Jazz Teacher Heather Rigg Wants Her Students to Learn ALL Styles of Dance

Kacy Prange, left, and Heather Rigg. Photo by Kyle Froman

As 30 dancers in booty shorts and socks concentrate to perform grand pliés in center, Heather Rigg glides around the perimeter of the studio. She counts off the exercise as she checks students' alignment to gauge their level of experience. “That's when I see whether I need to take something out of the combination or restructure it. I can tell at that point what the pace is going to be."


Rigg teaches a style of commercial jazz that reflects her training with Joe Tremaine in the '90s and her subsequent touring career with Britney Spears. Though Rigg's class is billed as beginner, aspiring professionals come to polish their technique and increase their marketability. It helps diversify their commercial dance repertoire beyond the dominating trend of contemporary. “Some elements of jazz may not feel current," she says, “but like fashion, everything comes back. Dancers should have a knowledge of all styles." Besides, she adds, “Technique is never going out of style."

Her take on jazz is classic in its emphasis on proper placement, but it's faster—usually at least 120 bpm, she says proudly—with a heavy dose of added sexiness. Many students mimic Rigg's hair-down look, the better to whip it during thrashy choreography.

Warm-up is a no-frills, full-body workout designed to prepare dancers' bodies to support movement from the center. It's the kind of essential routine a dancer can take herself through before an audition or performance. The series of isolations, muscle work and stretches is a loose homage to Rigg's mentor, Frank Hatchett.

This is not a class where dancers come to show off, but to hone their craft. Each student strives, more than anything, to get it right. “At some point, they have to stop thinking about counts and just put it all together," Rigg says. “At least once per class I tell everyone to let go, breathe and just dance! If you fall on your face, I'll come pick you up."

Instead of across-the-floor drills, she rolls technical moves—chaînés, battements and attitude turns—into her choreography. She mixes carefully counted jazz steps with sections of pure style to keep things interesting. “I like to layer my combinations—like a sexy sandwich," she says. “I'll give an eight count of technique and then an eight of sexy. We'll pirouette, then toss some hair." Embracing old-school values that counter contemporary's continuous-flow philosophy, she asks dancers to find positions efficiently, snapping the leg to passé during turns and consciously placing arms in a clean first. “Make the picture as quickly as possible."

With a relaxed attitude and self-deprecating humor, Rigg cultivates a welcoming environment where dancers crave her feedback. While watching from the mirror, she doesn't miss dancers in the back row. “Where's your energy today? Don't overthink it. Make me believe you. Try to frighten me a little." DT

Unlike many dancers, Heather Rigg pursued a performance career solely to bolster her teaching resumé. As a child, she traveled from her hometown in Western Massachusetts to New York City to take classes at Broadway Dance Center, where she dreamed of becoming a teacher. As soon as she graduated from high school, she moved to NYC, where she assisted Frank Hatchett as a VOP jazz instructor and trained on scholarship with Joe Tremaine. Working with Hatchett, especially, shaped her technical approach to movement. She was also influenced by Marcéa Lane of the Tremaine Dance Convention faculty who taught her to flaunt her femininity. Rigg toured with Britney Spears on the Oops!...I Did It Again tour in 2000 and performed multiple seasons with Summer Music Mania, which featured other major '90s acts like *NSYNC and Destiny's Child. In 2007, she was hired as a faculty member at BDC.


Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

Finding a male dance instructor who isn't booked solid can be a challenge, which is why a New York City dance educator was inspired to start a network of male dance professionals in 2012. Since then, he's tripled his roster of teachers and is actively hiring.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

You've got the teaching talent, the years of experience, the space and the passion—now all you need are some students!

Here are six ideas for getting the word out about your fabulous, up-and-coming program! We simply can't wait to see all the talent you produce with it!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of HSDC

This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Kim Black

For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Photo via @igor.pastor on Instagram

Listen up, dance teachers! October 7 is National Frappe Day (the drink), but as dance enthusiasts, we obviously like to celebrate a little differently. We've compiled four fun frappé combinations on Instagram for your perusal!

You're welcome! Now, you can thank us by sharing some of your own frappé favs on social media with the hashtag #nationalfrappeday.

We can't wait to see what you come up with!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Original photos: Getty Images

We've been dying to hear more about "On Pointe," a docuseries following students at the School of American Ballet, since we first got wind of the project this spring. Now—finally!—we know where this can't-miss show is going to live: It was just announced that Disney+, the new streaming service set to launch November 12, has ordered the series.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Tony Nguyen, courtesy of Jill Randall

Recently I got to reflect on my 22-year-old self and the first modern technique classes I subbed for at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. (Thank you to Dana Lawton for giving me the chance and opportunity to dive in.)

Today I wanted to share 10 ideas to consider as you embark upon subbing and teaching modern technique classes for the first time. These ideas can be helpful with adult classes and youth classes alike.

As I like to say, "Teaching takes teaching." I mean, teaching takes practice, trial and error and more practice. I myself am in my 23rd year of teaching now and am still learning and growing each and every class.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Misti Ridge teaches class at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio. Photo by Arlyn Lawrence , courtesy of Ridge

The dance teachers who work with kids ages 5–7 have earned themselves a special place in dance heaven. They give artists the foundation for their future with impossibly high energy and even higher voices. Enthusiasm is their game, and talent is their aim! Well, that, self-esteem, a love for dance, discipline and so much more!

These days, teachers often go a step beyond giving tiny dancers technical and performative bases and make them strong enough to actually compete at a national level—we're talking double-pirouettes-by-the-time-they're-5-years-old type of competitive.

We caught up with one such teacher, Misti Ridge from Center Stage Performing Arts Studio, The Dance Awards 2019 and 2012 Studio of The Year, to get the inside scoop on how she does it. The main takeaway? Don't underestimate your baby competition dancers—those 5- to 7-year-olds can work magic.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Patrick Randak, Courtesy In The Lights PR

The ability to communicate clearly is something I've been consumed with for as long as I can remember. I was born in the Bronx and always loved city living. But when I was 9, a family crisis forced my mom to send me to Puerto Rico to live with my grandparents. I only knew one Spanish word: "hola." I remember the frustration and loneliness of having so many thoughts and feelings and not being able to express them.

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

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox