Helping Hands

Volunteers at Star Dance Center help students backstage during recitals. (courtesy of Erin Sanfelippo)

Volunteers can be a big help around your busy studio, from lining up students backstage during recitals to leading fundraising efforts to even painting your building. These five studio owners share their tips for recruiting and effectively utilizing volunteer staff.

Maygan Wurzer

All That Dance

(1,400 students)

Seattle, WA

At All That Dance, parent volunteers are involved in almost every aspect of putting recitals together, including handing out costumes and hair and makeup information, passing out tickets and selling tights, says studio director Maygan Wurzer. As the show nears, volunteers work in shifts during class hours, Monday through Saturday. Wurzer recruits more than 150 helpers by mailing recital information packets that invite parents to serve on one of five committees: sewing/accessories, backstage, ushers, refreshment and costume handout/information. She handpicks veteran parents to lead each group and a (paid) studio performance director  manages all helpers. “It’s great to be able to trust parents who have been in the studio for a long time and know what we’re about,” she says.

Becky Seamster

Becky Seamster Dance Studio

(200 students)

Kokomo, IN

Becky Seamster recruits around 50 parent helpers during her studio’s annual recital. They are responsible for behind-the-scenes jobs, like supervising backstage and ushering attendees. The self-proclaimed “control freak” oversees the entire event, from meeting with volunteers and assigning jobs (based on strengths and weaknesses) to supervising the support team. To avoid recruiting parents who only want to gain favors for their children, Seamster tells them up front, “You’re not going to get anything out of it.” She equips every parent with a set of guidelines, and she will reassign a volunteer’s position if they aren’t being productive.

Erin Sanfelippo

Star Dance Center

(450 students)

Santa Clarita, CA

When Erin and Joe Sanfelippo opened their studio five years ago, they were reluctant to ask for assistance. “We wanted clients to think that we had everything under control,” says Erin. But they later realized that the parents wanted to pitch in to feel like part of a studio family. Now parents assist students backstage during the studio’s holiday show and end-of-year recital, as well as relay information from teachers to each competition team member’s family. Sometimes too many parents sign up for certain jobs, like staying backstage with the younger students during shows, so staff members monitor who signs up for what and will move certain parents to other jobs if problems are anticipated.

Roberta Humphrey

Dance For Joy

(400 students)

Mohegan Lake, NY

Parents whose children are in Dance For Joy’s annual Nutcracker are expected to work behind the production’s scenes in some capacity. “The problem is finding enough people who are really able to handle the responsibility and take charge,” says studio director Roberta Humphrey. She selects about 70 to 80 people she knows will be good for the job. (One tip: Schoolteachers tend to be best for dressing room duty.) Those who prove less skilled for certain tasks are moved to other jobs, like handing out programs. And showing reliable parents full trust will encourage them to willingly take on more responsibilities. For instance, one studio mother volunteered to head Dance For Joy’s fundraising efforts to help send 32 company dancers to London to perform during the 2012 Olympics. “We have to raise about $1,600 per dancer, so that’s a big job, but I know this mom will get things done,” says Humphrey.

Michelle Adams-Meeker

Broadway South Dance

(400 students)

Mobile, AL

In her five years running Broadway South Dance, director Michelle Adams-Meeker has established an incentive program, called Broadway Bucks, to entice volunteers to lend a helping hand. “They’re worth money off of everything from students’ tuition to dance apparel,” she says. “It’s how we say thank you and it seems to work very well.” The studio gets a third of its volunteers through e-mails sent to each student’s parents. Other helpers consist of alumni, relatives of current and former students and Adams-Meeker’s local contacts. Together, they assist with everything from working backstage during dance shows to painting her building and classrooms. DT

Karyn D. Collins is a New Jersey–based writer and dance teacher at the King Centre for the Performing Arts in Wanaque, NJ.

 

 

 

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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