This is a charged question that I have heard debated my entire career as a dancer, teacher and director. So why would I pose such a contentious question? Because good dance teaching is at the heart of the RAD and a core value we need to be able to define. I hope this will also promote healthy discussion between all of you who teach every day.
A few years ago, Mary Ann Lamb got a phone call from Ann Reinking, who was choreographing a production of The Visit starring Chita Rivera. Lamb was thrilled when Reinking offered her the role of Young Claire without even asking for an audition. "And then she said, 'In the first act, you're going to play Chita Rivera when she's a 17-year-old virgin,'" Lamb says, "and I'm like, 'What am I gonna do? I'm like 50 years old!' I started panicking. My dream was to be in the room with Ann Reinking and Chita Rivera, but I was scared to death I was going to make a fool of myself."
Schermoly with the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo by Jeremy Brick
Despite her traditional ballet training in South Africa, Andrea Giselle Schermoly has always had a wide range of music tastes and sensibilities. "There's always been this other drumbeat in my heart," says Schermoly, who's a three-time Outstanding Choreographer winner at the Youth America Grand Prix. That "other drumbeat" has become an integral layer to her creative process.
Following a series of career-ending injuries while dancing with Nederlands Dans Theater, Schermoly found a new stride choreographing competitive ballet pieces for students at the Marat Daukayev School of Ballet in Los Angeles. Since then, she's been commissioned by ballet companies all over the world, exploring all styles of music for her work. "My pieces for New York City Ballet and Royal New Zealand Ballet were primarily classical," she says, "but I used Jefferson Airplane and a very quirky rock opera for Santa Barbara Dance Theater and a Bob Dylan piece for BalletMet."
As dance teachers, we don't have much patience for goofing off. Case in point: Some of our trademark phrases are, "Stretch your legs not your mouths," and "If you have time to talk, you have time to go over the choreography." We are all about efficiency 💁♀️. So, the idea of celebrating National Goof Off Day may sound like the most absurd thing in the world to you, but hear us out. Your dancers work hard, and they sacrifice so much in order to pursue their dreams with you each day. Odds are, they need a break, and one day of goofing off may just be the thing that will help them recharge and come back more focused than ever.
Here's what you can do during class that will help your dancers grow as artists, while allowing them to let loose and chill out. Enjoy!
To a certain subset of the New York City dance community, Gail Accardi is known as the Body Whisperer. For her part, Accardi calls her work "creative physical problem solving." Whether she's leading her Anatomy Awareness class for dancers, substitute-teaching Simonson Technique, or working with a private client one-on-one, Accardi has a clear vision: "I want people to gain insight into and learn to celebrate their individual structures," she says. "When I was young, a teacher referred to my weak arches as a horrible defect! I never want a student to experience that. When it comes to anatomical variations, this is who you are, so let's figure out how to work with it."
Competition is a dance teacher's battleground, and in order to be victorious, you need to have a few defenses in your bag at all times. You never know when something unexpected will happen, and your students will need their trusty dance teacher/hero to come in and fix everything. To help you be the most prepared you can be, we've compiled a list of essentials you should have on you at all times during competition. Keep them with you, and the weekend is yours for the taking!
Susannah Israel-Marchese with students at School of Ballet Hartford; photo by Frank Marchese, courtesy of SBH
At Michigan Ballet Academy, artistic director Irina Vassileni meets with a group of eager young students and their parents. She holds a shiny new pair of pointe shoes in one hand and an old, worn pair in the other. "I show them all the details, inside and out, and how working on pointe for hours will break down the shoe," says Vassileni. "I might even bring in different models and talk about how they're made. Parents need a lot of information to make them feel comfortable about their children going on pointe."
Amber Johnson at Deland Middle School. Courtesy of DMS
For a young student in the process of developing bodily awareness, a hands-on adjustment by a teacher can mean the difference between safe and incorrect alignment. But in many K–12 schools today, a hands-on approach is frowned upon or sometimes even forbidden. With dance being a kinesthetic art, this limitation presents a predicament for K–12 dance teachers. Here, two teachers share their views on whether to use touch in class and, if so, how they go about it.
The pressure young dancers feel to succeed at competition can lead to unhealthy stress levels that take the fun out of performing. To help your students feel calm, cool and collected before dancing, teach them these three stress-reducing exercises to do before going onstage.
Trust us, learning how to manage anxiety will benefit your dancers for the rest of their lives!