High Five with Debbie Roberts

"It's Raining Men," performed by students of Deborah Agrusa

Debbie Roberts is a pro. For the past 32 years, she has owned and directed Showstopper American Dance Championships, which boasts a 54-city regional tour as well as three national championship events each year. She says family-friendly events are her calling: “Where, other than at a competition, can you see teenagers hanging out with their parents and grandparents on a Saturday night?”

What are the biggest trends on the competition scene right now? Everything we’re seeing is “So You Think You Can Dance”–influenced. We created a contemporary category at Showstopper this year, because that style is so popular right now. The styles, costumes and music we’ve been seeing on the show are spilling over right into our competitions. The kids love it.

As an industry veteran, what types of routines do you most enjoy watching? I love watching big production numbers. We get to see the whole studio coming together, from the little kids all the way up to the

seniors. And of course it’s best when the routines surprise me with something really creative.

Most memorable for me are the ones where the kids really love what they’re doing and you can see it in their faces. The dancers are prepared, they have great technique and it comes through in every ounce of their bodies.

One in particular that comes to mind is “It’s Raining Men,” performed every few years by the teen dancers of Deborah’s Stage Door Center For The Performing Arts in Rochester Hills, MI. It’s her trademark. People will run into the auditorium to see it because she makes the routine so fun, and it’s always a little bit different than the year before. One year the dancers all bedazzled their umbrellas with rhinestones. Another year the girls all came onstage with wet hair. It’s age-appropriate and always done well.

What do teachers need to know about bringing their dancers to competition? On the business end of things, make sure you are extremely organized. Get everything done—don’t wait until the last minute—so that you’re not stressed out at the competition. Order your costumes early and get all your entries in by the deadline. And keep your studio parents involved and in the know. E-mail them all the information they’ll need about competition weekend.

On the dance side of things, prepare your dancers with the foundation they need for their routines. It all comes back to great technique.

What is the biggest mistake you see dancers making at competition? Being too stressed out. As dancers, you have to do your homework before you get to competition. You have to know your routine by then and have everything together. If you’re completely prepared, you can have fun when you get there. You’ve worked so hard to be onstage for those few moments, so get the stress out of the way beforehand and make the weekend a positive experience.

What is your advice for first-time competition dancers? Take it all in. Embrace the competition experience as a whole and learn from the other people there. Competitions provide incredible opportunities to see dancers at all different levels. Don’t come into the weekend with blinders on. Open your eyes to everything instead of just focusing on yourself. There are so many great routines to see and there is so much for you to learn.

—Alison Feller

Photo by Take 2 Productions, courtesy of Showstopper

Music
Allie Burke, courtesy Lo Cascio

If you'd hear it on the radio, you won't hear it in Anthony Lo Cascio's tap classes.

"If I play a song that my kids know, I'm kind of disappointed in myself," he says. "I either want to be on the cutting edge or playing the classics."

He finds that most of today's trendy tracks lack the depth needed for tap, and that there's a disconnect between kids and popular music. "They have trouble finding the beat compared to older genres," he says.

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Courtesy Lovely Leaps

After the birth of her daughter in 2018, engineer Lisa McCabe had reservations about returning to the workforce full-time. And while she wanted to stay home with the new baby, she wasn't ready to stop contributing financially to her family (after all, she'd had a successful career designing cables for government drones). So, when she got a call that September from an area preschool to lead its dance program, she saw an opportunity.

The invitation to teach wasn't completely out of the blue. McCabe had grown up dancing in Southern California and had a great reputation from serving as her church's dance teacher and team coach the previous three years (stopping only to take a break as a new mother). She agreed to teach ballet and jazz at the preschool on Fridays and from there created an age-appropriate class based on her own training in the Cecchetti and RAD methods. It was a success: In three months, class enrollment went from six to 24 students, and just one year later, McCabe's blossoming Lovely Leaps brand had contracts with eight preschools and three additional teachers.

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News
Courtesy Shake the Ground

Dance competitions were among the first events to be shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in the U.S. in mid-March, and they've been among the last able to restart.

So much of the traditional structure of the competition—large groups of dancers and parents from dozens of different studios; a new city every week—simply won't work in our new pandemic world.

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