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.


Show Comments ()
Dancer Health

Summer intensive season is upon us, which for teachers, means your daily schedules are about to turn into a nonstop revolving door of classes, rehearsals, private lessons and meetings. It's the best of times, and the most exhausting of times.

The trickiest part about it all? Finding time for a lunch break is nearly impossible! That's a serious problem. We are ALL about self-care here at DT.

To help you—you know—continue breathing, we've compiled a list of snacks that you can snarf during your rushed five-minute breaks. A healthy teacher is always a better teacher.

You're welcome!

Disclaminer: Some of these may need to be stored in a cooler bag or thermos. Trust us; it's worth the investment.

Keep reading... Show less

Your floor gets installed and everything looks and feels great, but somewhere down the line (it could be a couple of weeks, months or years) seams separate, the floor develops waves or becomes slippery.

What is going on? Was it the installation, defective material, or those who clean the floor? There are a number of reasons why the floor goes bump in the night. For every reason or cause, there is a solution. The problem is finding out what has been causing the mischief.

Keep reading... Show less
Krista DeNio (top) says that women should take an integrated, full-body approach to lifting. Photo by Jun Akiyama, courtesy DeNio

Many contemporary choreographers today expect women to be game to do some lifting. However, the partnering training that most female dancers grow up with—if they have partnering classes at all—usually only teaches them to be supported by a man. It's no surprise that being a good lifter requires physical strength, but it may also require a change in mind-set.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Peter Martins and Farrell in Chaconne (1976), performed for PBS' "Great Performances." Photo courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

With her superb musicality, dramatic skills and go-for-broke speed and risk taking, Suzanne Farrell inspired Balanchine to push the limits of a dancer's physical capabilities. Together, the pair helped shift ballet into more creative, athletic and abstract territory.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Beyond Dance Project performs "Speaking in Rhythm" at DanceMakers Inc. Nationals

Nationals across the convention-circuit world has been way too good to be true this summer. I mean, seriously, the talent's been insane!

Check out these five routines (in no particular order) that we just can't stop watching, and share YOUR favorite 2018 Nationals pieces over on our Facebook page! We expect some semi-heated debates in the comments, so please—DIG IN!

Keep reading... Show less
Editor's List: The Goods
Via @joandjax on Instagram

Summertime...and the dressing is eeeeeeeeeeasy. When you're heading straight from the dance studio to the pool or beach, you don't want to be messing around with complicated cover-ups. That's where these 5 MVPs of the romper room come in, bringing their breezy style to your pre-class, post-rehearsal, and everything-in-between looks. Oh, and three out of the five are on sale right now. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and romper-ound! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

The Soline, by Wear Moi

Via wearmoi.us

This oversized cap sleeve romper with a half zip in the front features four-way stretch and extra-comfy wide leg openings. You can get it now on Wear Moi's US website for less than half of its original price.






Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Kim Lobato, courtesy of Kersten

We're privileged to honor four extraordinary educators with this year's Dance Teacher Awards in August at our New York Dance Teacher Summit. The awardees include Julie Kent, Djana Bell, Rhonda Miller, Sue Samuels and Stephanie Kersten.

On June 12, 2016, after a day of teaching for Music 'n Motion dance camp in Orlando, high school dance teacher Stephanie Kersten went out to the Pulse nightclub with her co-workers. "I was only there for an hour before the shooting took place," she says. "We were stuck inside for a good 30 minutes before, thank God, I was pulled out. I was actually on my hands and knees praying in a closet: 'Please just get us out. I just want to get home to my kids.'"

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by Jeff Eason, courtesy of Dance Films Association

At the Dance on Camera Kickoff Gala on July 16, Dance Films Association honored two beloved dance artists from different generations: Jacques d'Amboise and Trey McIntyre.

McIntyre and d'Amboise. Photo by Jeff Eason, courtesy of Dance Films Association

Keep reading... Show less
Social media validates extremes over clean, solid technique. Photo by David Hofmann/Unsplash

The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."

My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Thinkstock

Q: We had a talented pair of sisters join our competition team this season. They came to us from another studio that I've known for many years, and earlier this week, that owner called to ask me to help her collect a large balance due from their family. Should I get involved, or leave it to her to sort out?

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored