Shannon Mather grew up in the competition and convention world. She and her brother, Blake McGrath, dreamed of the day when a convention would dance its way through their hometown of Toronto, Canada. When that never happened, they decided to get involved. So in 2007, with the help of Mather’s husband, Josh, Coastal Dance Rage was born.

Boasting a faculty that includes power players Mary Murphy, Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo, Benji Schwimmer, Sonya Tayeh and Stephen “Twitch” Boss, Coastal Dance Rage now tours eight cities. Despite the impressive roster of teachers, Mather advocates for making students the stars at each event, rather than the familiar faces from TV.

What are the benefits for students attending a convention?

Dancers are usually limited to having just a few teachers in their studios. At a convention you can take from someone with a lot of different styles. It helps you become more versatile.

What etiquette do you wish all dancers adhered to?

Don’t skip ballet and tap class! As soon as those classes begin, all of a sudden we have half the people in the room. Even if you’re a hip hopper, you need to take tap and ballet.

It’s also important that dancers respect each other. When you’re watching the others, pay attention, cheer and show your support. It’s a great opportunity to learn from the other amazing dancers in the room.

How can teachers prepare their students for a convention environment?

Don’t let them get in the back of the room and hang out. Tell them to be aggressive, but don’t push their way to the front—that’s annoying! When the combination is broken down into groups, don’t dance on the side. Go for it, even if you’re not comfortable with the style. Explain to your dancers that that’s how they’re going to grow, by taking on a new style they’re not comfortable with. And of course, tell them to look nice. Conventions are big events and you’re working with amazing people—it’s important to look good.

What do first-time convention-goers need to know?

Don’t be nervous! It won’t help you get better. You paid the money to be at the convention, and you deserve to be there. Come in, and take in as much as you can. Don’t be inhibited. You will get so much better from a few days of intensive classes, and you’ll walk away a better dancer. Then take what you’ve learned back to your studio and practice.

Also, take advantage of making friends. When you go out into the world to audition, you’ll be working with those same people you’re dancing alongside at a convention event. Get to know the faculty. In the future when you have an audition it could be with one of our faculty members, and maybe they’ll remember you. It helps!

What shouldn’t dancers and their teachers expect from conventions?

They shouldn’t expect to get a lot of individual attention. That’s not what conventions are about—that’s what private lessons are for. It’s more about working off the energy in the room. Usually it’s a big, crazy environment. The dancers need to accept that and let that push them. There will be at least 150 dancers in a ballroom with you, so go in knowing you can get more feeding off other dancers and teachers than anything else. It’s going to be a weekend of being inspired, getting pushed, meeting new friends and working hard. They should expect to be really tired and a little sore.

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