Dance Teacher Tips

Higher Ed: Add Pilates and Yoga Certification to a Dance Degree

Dance majors who supplement their degree with somatics certifications leave college with a built-in job. Thinkstock

Dance majors who supplement their degree with somatics certifications leave college with a built-in job.

For many dance parents, the idea of their sons and daughters majoring in dance is worrisome. They know their dancers are talented, but they also know that a dance career can be less than lucrative. They want reassurance that their children will be able to support themselves—at least until they get their big break.


Over the past five years, college dance programs have begun to offer in-house teacher certifications in yoga and Pilates. “Students have something to hold on to walking out the door—and the parents understand that there are options other than performing," says Michele Miller, dance professor and head of the Pilates certification program at Cornish College of the Arts. Not only do these certification programs offer a career Plan B, they also enhance the dance degree experience itself, creating stronger, smarter technicians who have a deep understanding of the intersection of dance and somatics.

Cornish College of the Arts

Seattle, Washington

Pilates matwork teaching certification

At Cornish, dance BFA required courses—anatomy, kinesiology, teaching methods and movement foundations—double as prerequisites to earning a Pilates matwork teaching certificate. (Matwork focuses on foundational Pilates exercises and doesn't require anything more than a mat—no springs, straps or bars.)

After completing the prerequisites and a Pilates mat elective, dancers enroll in a 10-day, 30-hour summer course, held every other year. The course is limited to 12 dancers per session and costs $400 (not including tuition for the necessary prerequisites). After seeing how popular the program has become, Cornish is considering adding a yoga certification, too.

Some participants, Miller says, know they want to teach Pilates after they graduate, while others approach the course as a summer intensive to improve their dance technique, capitalizing on the personalized, one-on-one training involved. “They get super-strong in those two weeks," says Miller.

Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University

New Brunswick, New Jersey

Vinyasa yoga teacher training

Dancers and nondancers alike come together at Mason Gross each summer for a 200-hour vinyasa certification course operated through a partnership with The Om Factory in New York City. Mason Gross lecturer Taryn Vander Hoop, who also teaches at the NYC yoga studio, instituted the Yoga Alliance–certified program, after witnessing its effects firsthand. “Finding your voice as a teacher translates to finding your power as a dancer," she says.

The program operates separately from the university's dance courses, though the dancers' anatomy and kinesiology courses give them a head start. Over the course of one month, up to 20 prospective yogis convene daily in the Mason Gross studios for five- to eight-hour days of classes, ranging from body alignment to yoga philosophy and Sanskrit. During the training, students visit The Om Factory's NYC studio to try new styles (like aerial yoga), learn to play the harmonium and get a feel for a vibrant yoga community. Tuition is comparable to other 200-hour vinyasa courses at $2,750, or $2,500 for early enrollment.

Both Vander Hoop and fellow program leader Blair Ritchie emphasize that the program's dancer participants experience a ripple effect from earning their yoga certification. “It helps them develop a wider lens for their artistic viewpoint," says Ritchie, “and gives them a community to go back into the fall semester with that feels supportive instead of competitive."

Drexel University

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Pilates training program

At Drexel University, students have access to one of the most comprehensive university Pilates programs in the country. Drexel Pilates, which operates as a full-time public Pilates studio housed within the performing arts department of the school, is home to the 450-hour Drexel Pilates Training Program. Students receive extensive mat and apparatus training, including the reformer (a bed-like frame with a rolling carriage), tower (a vertical unit with attachments) and barrel (one of which is an arc-shaped piece of equipment with ladder rungs). They earn a certificate of completion, after which they are invited (but not required) to take the Pilates Method Alliance exam for certification through a third-party national organization.

The program accepts 10 new apprentices each year, requires 30 prerequisite hours of Pilates training and consists of three terms of study, plus private sessions and practice teaching. The timeline is flexible and built to accommodate a hectic BFA schedule (though anyone can sign up, Drexel student or not), requiring approximately 10 hours per week to complete in a calendar year. Tuition is free for dance majors, with the exception of the cost for the 30 required private sessions. Though there's no overlap between the program's requirements and the dance major curriculum, students minoring in somatics receive credit for work in the studio.

Ashley Rivers is a frequent contributor to Dance Teacher.

Where to Find Yoga and Pilates Certifications

Cornish College of the Arts

Seattle, WA

Pilates matwork teaching certificate

Drexel University

Philadelphia, PA

Pilates training program

Indiana University

Bloomington, IN

STOTT PILATES Intensive Mat-Plus

Mason Gross School of the Arts

New Brunswick, NJ

Vinyasa yoga teacher training

Saddleback College

Mission Viejo, CA

Yoga teacher training

Steps on Broadway

New York, NY

Steps' Steele Pilates mat certification

Check out the Dance Magazine College Guide for a complete listing of college dance programs that offer Pilates or yoga certifications.

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Dance teachers have a lot of strengths (communicating corrections, choreographing gorgeous movement, planning excellent recitals, cleaning technique—just to name a few) but when it comes to interior design—talent isn't exactly a given. So when studio owners remodel or build, worrying about the decor can feel a little overwhelming (you've got just a few too many other things to worry about, don't you?).

No need to fear! In 2019 we have Pinterest, which shows us all the latest trends we should know about. To help you make the best design decisions for your studio, we've compiled a list of public Pinterest pins we think you'll love.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Vanessa Zahorian. Photo by Erik Larson, courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet Academy

At the LINES Ballet Dance Center in San Francisco, faculty member Erik Wagner leads his class through an adagio combination in center. He encourages dancers to root their standing legs, using imagery of a seed germinating, so that they feel more grounded. "Our studios are on the fifth floor, so I'll often tell them to push down to Market Street," says Wagner. "They know that they should push their energy down to the street level." By using this oppositional force, he says, dancers can lengthen their bodies to create any desired shape.

A slow and fluid adagio can captivate an audience. When done well, it demonstrates tremendous strength and control, while allowing dancers quiet and subtle moments of expression. But adagio work can be challenging and nerve-racking even for the most seasoned professionals. Using imagery like Wagner's idea of the root system and other simple techniques will give students the tools they need to achieve freedom in their adagio. They might even grow to love it.

Hold With Placement

To create and sustain adagio movements, dancers need proper alignment and a strong core. At the Pennsylvania Ballet Academy in Camp Hill, co-artistic director Vanessa Zahorian starts young beginner dancers with an eight-count développé in each direction first facing the barre at 45 degrees, and then with one hand. "With the lower levels, you need to go slowly so they hold each position and see what it feels like," she says. "The longer they hold it, the easier it gets. Then they can start to move through the positions and add more complicated steps."

Zahorian emphasizes the need for good placement and talks to students about the importance of using their inner thighs and backs of the legs, mentioning the associated benefits of Gyrotonic. "They need to lengthen their extension from the hip socket and keep very square hips, so that everything rotates with turnout and spirals outward. The energy never stops."

At Ballet West, academy director Peter LeBreton Merz might give a 64-count adagio—sometimes 128 counts—to give dancers ample time to use their muscles. "I like a long adagio," he says. "People try to power too much and not use enough technique. When dancers are a little more tired, they are forced to think more technically and support the movements better."

Find Balance

The key to a solid adagio? "It's all about the balance," says Merz. "In ballet, the secret ingredient is to improve balance, because it affects so many things." Jumps are higher when the force is focused up in one direction. Turning, of course, is also easier when dancers are "on their leg." "Adagio helps you focus on those aspects and maintains balance through big, unsupported movements. We use it to prepare for everything else in center," he says. Merz encourages teachers to be very specific about port de bras and épaulement, since a slight difference in head and shoulder placement can affect a dancer's sense of balance as well.

Standing steadily on one foot can be especially difficult for dancers in pointe shoes. The shank may feel like a short and narrow platform that undermines a dancer's ability to establish contact with the floor. Merz tells dancers to imagine that their first and fifth metatarsals are reaching away from each other, reaching around the shank and onto the marley. For all dancers, he recommends not resting on the toes or heels, but making sure that the tailbone is centered over the ball of the foot. "Make the leg as long as possible and pull the pelvis up off the femur," he says. "It's not static or gripping, but a dynamic action."

Use Expression

Whether dancing alone or with a partner, an adagio provides the luxury of time—an organic opportunity for students to express themselves. "I like to talk about subtlety and mystery," says Wagner. "Dancers can create allure that will inspire an observer to lean in. I tell students not to 'give it away' in the preparation." In an effort to be more expansive, students might want to initiate a step with the head or shoulders. But Wagner warns against it. "There shouldn't be a movement before the movement. It's about using artistic volume control so it's not all on one level. Less is more!"

When students are tense, their adagio will be less successful. Zahorian recommends that these dancers remember to breathe through each movement. "They shouldn't inhale as they piqué, but exhale and release the energy," she says. If they are struggling to get their legs up, ask them to go back to tendu on the floor and revisit the idea of lifting to hip height with length. Or have them stand at the barre and try again there. "Most important, I like to emphasize the rhythm so that their movement isn't static. Dancing an adagio to the music can take them to another place."

Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

After years of throwing summer parties at your studio, you're likely fatigued by coming up with themes and event details. You want your students to have a good time, but you're also up to your eyeballs in choreography and costume decisions.

Never fear! We've come up with party themes and activities to do during the event. Delegate tasks to your teachers and office managers, and voilà! You have a stress-free party ready to go.

Have a blast, people!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I recently returned to a modern dance class after a long absence. While I didn't feel any acute pain at the end of class, the next morning I could barely walk from the soreness in both my Achilles. What can I do to fix this?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Q: I'm trying to think of ways to maximize studio space and revenue during the summer. What has worked for you?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

In 2019, dance parents are more eager than ever to observe their child's progress, and stay up-to-date with the ins and outs of what's happening in the classroom. That means yearly recitals aren't always enough to keep them satisfied—especially if you have rules against visitors observing class from week to week. The solution? Visitor observation weeks. Trust us, the guardians and loved ones of your students will love you for it!

We caught up with Suzanne Blake Gerety, vice president of Kathy Blake Dance Studios and regular contributor to Dance Teacher's "Ask The Experts" column, to hear her tips on how to have a successful visitor observation week.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Adequate dorsiflexion mobility is needed to find a supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely. Getty Images

Dancers are trained to think often about the range of motion, stability and power of their extended lines: the point of the foot, the reach of the penché, the explosion of the sauté in the air. But finding that same mix of flexibility and strength in the flexed foot is just as integral to technique and injury prevention. Without adequate dorsiflexion mobility, it is nearly impossible to find the kind of supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox