Christy Wolverton had a student who often either missed class or seemed to be sick. "When you're in our pre-professional company, attendance is huge," says Wolverton, owner and director of Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, Texas. She tried to be patient with the dancer and communicate with her parents to get a better idea of what was going on at home. "When she was diagnosed with a serious illness," she says, "we were relieved that we didn't come down on her for something that wasn't her fault."


Wolverton prefers to err on the side of caution when working with young students. But she admits there's a broad spectrum of personalities and pain thresholds to consider with dancers. "You have kids who stub their toe and think their foot is broken, and the ones who actually break their foot and still want to dance on it," she says. "And when there's not a physical problem but something emotional, that's tricky, too." Knowing how and when to intervene can be a tough call, especially when dancers try to hide their difficulties. Teachers need to be adaptable and intuitive to assess individual students and guide them back to the right track.

Talk About It Encourage communication and talk often with students. Wolverton includes a clause in her studio contract letting students know they can speak openly, and she insists families tell her if there's anything that might affect a student in class. If dancers are struggling with an injury, for example, they might not want to talk about it for fear they'll disappoint the teacher or get replaced in a part. "I need to know if there's a problem," says Wolverton, "so that I can adjust my teaching and make sure I'm not being overly hard on a child because they're not doing something full-out or working to their full potential."

Families are often eager to respond to a teacher's call for help. But there might be unfortunate situations when parents deny a child's behavior or physical complaints. "In that case, keep advocating for your dancer," says Dr. Susan Margolis, clinical psychologist at Amplifying Performance Consulting. She suggests you present facts, rather than offering opinions, because facts will be more difficult to argue against. Bring your concerns to the director or principal of the school, if necessary, and frame your role as a caring educator. "You're not the parent, so there's only so much you can do," she says.

For Wolverton, the key to knowing when to step in is communication—with both students and parents. Photo by Lauren Guy Summersett.

Physical Issues Some dancers want to push through injuries despite the pain, potentially causing even greater problems. "I try to get these students to focus on the future," says Raymond Rodriguez, head of Joffrey Ballet's studio company and trainee program. "I give them examples from my past, pointing out mistakes I made or things that have happened to other people. This serves as a warning for them and shows that they might need to take two steps back before they can move four steps forward."

If Rodriguez notices that a certain dancer is constantly injured or frequently sits down in class, he'll address the problem right away. "Unless something is seriously wrong, I help them understand that they have to work through the discomfort sometimes," he says. "By center, it usually feels better." Rodriguez frequently receives reports from the Joffrey Ballet Academy doctors and physical therapists to stay up to date on student injuries. "We have to teach them when to stop and when to push through. Get them to overcome that fear of failure," he says.

Emotional Challenges If students are showing frustration, anxiety or fear, it might be wise to let them take the lead rather than singling them out in class. "Maybe the dancer excuses herself from class," says Margolis. "If she's struggling and needs to sit down for a moment, or get some water and take a few breaths, give her the permission to do it." Always approach the student and talk kindly and calmly about what you've been observing. Give the dancer an opening to share her thoughts, if necessary.

In cases of tremendous anxiety, try taking a performance angle with the dancer. Talk about how professionals work with sports psychologists to examine the mental component of performing, and try to destigmatize the idea of talking to a professional. Rodriguez suggests not rushing to interfere but instead giving students time to handle it on their own first. "So many of our students are young adults, dealing with many emotions and issues outside the studio," he says. "I don't like to be a disciplinarian 100 percent of the time—I will be empathetic if I know they are having a rough day."

Remind students that the studio is a safe environment, and it's OK if they have setbacks or failures. "I've had kids with stage fright, anxiety or such perfectionism that they're afraid to mess up," says Wolverton. "They have to remember that dance is supposed to be their passion, something they enjoy. I try to help them keep a healthy perspective." DT

Julie Diana was a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet. She and her husband Zachary Hench now direct Juneau Dance Theatre in Alaska.

Dance News
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Dancers are resilient by nature. As our community responds to COVID-19, that spirit is being tested. Dance Teacher acknowledges the tremendous challenges you face for your teaching practice and for your schools as you bring your offerings online, and the resulting financial impact on your businesses.

Perhaps we can take hope from the knowledge of how we've managed adversity in the past. I'm thinking of the dance community in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I'm thinking of 9/11 and how that changed the world. I'm thinking of the courageous Jarrah Myles who kept her students safe when the Paradise wildfire destroyed their homes. I'm thinking of Jana Monson who rebuilt her studio after a devastating fire. I'm thinking of Gina Gibney who stepped in to save space for dance in New York City when the beloved Dance New Amsterdam closed.

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Courtesy Dance Teacher Web

While summer usually sparks dreams of warm vacations in the sun, many dance teachers don't have the luxury of taking a week off to lounge by the pool. But what if a stellar educational opportunity for dance instructors just happened to take place in sunny Las Vegas?

The Dance Teacher Web Conference and Expo, happening August 4–7 and founded and directed by longtime successful studio owners and master teachers Steve Sirico and Angela D'Valda Sirico, gives dance teachers and administrators a chance to learn, network and recharge during a one-of-a-kind working vacation. Here, attendees can rub shoulders with esteemed industry professionals, get inspired by a variety of workshops and even walk away with a new certification or two:

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Studio Owners
Misty Lown delivers a seminar in Austin. Photo courtesy of More Than Just Great Dancing

Business leader Misty Lown convened (remotely) more than 700 dance studio owners to create an action plan in response to COVID-19 studio closures. ICYMI, here are the takeaways:

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  • Owners can preserve enrollment with caring communication.
  • The federal stimulus package is a strong short-term safety net.
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Site Network
Photo by Jason Hill, courtesy of Disenhof

When dancer Katherine Disenhof found out her company, NW Dance Project, would be shutting down indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic (on Friday the 13th, no less), she immediately went in search of ways to stay connected and in shape.

At that point, a few virtual class opportunities had emerged, so Disenhof decided to aggregate them on an Instagram account called Dancing Alone Together.

She launched the account that Monday, and by mid-week she'd also created a website. Now, just a few weeks later, Dancing Alone Together has 22K followers—and virtual classes are more than just a growing trend, but a phenomenon that has reshaped the dance world at an unprecedented speed.

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Dance News
Photo by Kyle Froman
Update March 31, 2020: This article was first published in Dance Teacher, February 2009.

One of today's leading ballet masters, German-born Wilhelm Burmann exerts a magnetic attraction on the professional students he teaches five days a week at Steps on Broadway in New York City. “Taking Willie's class" has become a tradition for many top dancers of both New York–based companies and those simply passing through town.

Standing ramrod straight at age 69, Burmann embodies the authority and skills he acquired during an extensive global career. He was a corps member of the Pennsylvania Ballet and New York City Ballet, a Frankfurt Ballet principal dancer, Stuttgart and Geneva company principal and ballet master, and ballet master for The Washington Ballet and Le Ballet du Nord, among others. After he retired from dancing in 1977, Burmann took up guest teaching and is still in great demand at prestigious American and European companies and schools: This year he will teach in Florence and Milan, Italy.

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Photo courtesy of Courtesy Ahearn

Elizabeth Ahearn never imagined that she'd teach her first online ballet class in her kitchen. Adding to the surreality of the situation: Rather than give her corrections, her student, the director of distance learning at Goucher College, had tips for Ahearn: Turn the volume up, and move a little to the left.

Ahearn, chair of the dance department at Goucher, is among thousands of dance professors learning to teach online in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The internet may be exploding with resources for virtual classes, from top dancers teaching barre to free warm-ups courtesy of the Merce Cunningham Foundation, but in academia, teachers face many restraints. Copyright laws, federal privacy regulations, varying tech platforms and grading rubrics all make teaching dance online a challenge.

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Site Network
Talia Bailes leads a Ballet & Books class. Lindsay France, Courtesy Ballet & Books.

Talia Bailes never imagined that her ballet training and her interest in early learning would collide. But Bailes, a senior studying global and public health sciences at Cornell University, now runs a successful non-profit called Ballet & Books, which combines dancing with the important but sometimes laborious activity of learning to read. And she has a trip to South America to thank.

In 2015, before starting at Cornell, Bailes took a gap year and headed to Ecuador with the organization Global Citizen Year to teach English to more than 750 students. But Bailes, who grew up training at a dance school outside Cincinnati, Ohio, also spent time teaching them ballet and learning their indigenous dances. "The culture in Ecuador was much more rooted in dance and music rather than literacy," she recalls. Bailes was struck by the difference in education and the way that children were able to develop and grow socially through dance. "It left me thinking, what if dance could be truly integrated into the way that we approach education?"

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Dance Teacher Tips
Choreographer Molly Heller with musician Michael Wall. Photo by Duhaime Movement Project

Love electronic music? Calming notes of a piano? Smooth, rich trumpet? Want music in clear meters of 3, or in 7? This week is the ideal time to check out musician Michael Wall's abundant website soundformovement.com. I myself have enjoyed getting to experience his music over the past five years—whether to use in a teen class, older-movers class or for my own MFA thesis choreography.

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Dance Teacher Tips
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On Wednesday, March 18, I was supposed to return to Juilliard and teach Pilates after a two-week spring break. Instead, I rolled a mat onto my bedroom floor, logged in to Zoom and was greeted by a gallery of 50 small-screen images of young ambitious dancers, trying to make the best of a strange situation. As I began class, I applied our new catchphrase: "Please mute yourself," then asked students to use various hand gestures to let me know how they are coping and how much space they have for movement. I asked dancers to write one or two things they wanted to address in the sidebar, and then we began to move.

This is our new normal. In the midst of grave Covid-19 concerns, dance professors across the country faced university closures and requirements to relocate their courses to the virtual sphere. Online education poses very specific and substantial challenges to dance faculty, but they are finding ways to persist by learning new methods of communication, discovering untapped pedagogical tools, expanding their professional networks, developing helpful new resources and unearthing old ones.

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Site Network
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As Broadway goes dark and performances are canceled across the country, the financial repercussions of a global pandemic have gone from hypothetical to very real. This is especially true in the dance community, where many institutions are nonprofits or small businesses operating on thin margins, and performers rely on gigs that are being canceled. It's a scary and uncertain time.

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Site Network
Courtesy of Wroth

The effects of COVID-19 on college dancers might have been devastating. Performances were canceled, seniors trying to savor every last moment together were left without a graduation ceremony, students were encouraged to go home, and at each moment, a question has sounded: How can a student learn how to become a better performer when they are not allowed to perform?

Here at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, the ballet department rallied quickly and adapted its programming, choosing to see this hiatus as an opportunity to encourage reflection and self-improvement.

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Q: We always seem to lose the most students after our recitals. How do I prevent post-show fallout?

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