Though she loved choreographing, the high school student showcase wasn't quite enough for Julie Deleger, a recent graduate of The College Preparatory School in Oakland, California. The answer for her was an independent-study project during her last semester there. "Choreography is so personal that sometimes you need to take more or less time with it," she says. "Doing it on my own was really helpful. I let the project guide me rather than having to adhere to a specific set of rules."


Independent studies teach valuable life skills, inspire passion about specific interests and give students the opportunity to earn high school credit in a nontraditional way, while catering to their individual learning styles. "I think that when students aren't being dictated what and how they have to learn, they make really personal discoveries they can take ownership of," says Deleger's mentor, College Prep teacher Erica Hartono.

Curriculum Choices

Essentially, independent studies let students develop their own curriculum. Driven by a research question, students plan and implement their own projects and present their findings. There are two main models: an independent-study course in which students earn class credit, or a research project housed within an established class, such as dance history, production or choreography.

At College Prep in Oakland, seniors have the option to take independent study for one semester and work with a mentor to design a project on a topic of their choosing. In contrast, at Berkeley High School, dance students can do what's called a capstone project through the honors option in Linda Carr's dance production class. This past year, Carr gave them from September until June to complete it.

Choosing a Topic

Students should choose a project that sustains their interest for the semester or year. "Get passionate and read up before you get started," Deleger says. "Pick something you're not going to get bored with."

Deleger chose to focus on choreography, creating three dances. College Prep students have to submit their ideas to the dean of academics for approval. Hartono helped Deleger realize that an exploration of three different choreographic methodologies would encapsulate her interests.

At Berkeley High, Carr made a requirement that, as part of their research, students needed to interview one industry professional. "It got them beyond books. In the best cases, they got to meet people," she says. Project topics included college dance programs, dance history, body image in dance and dance in disenfranchised communities.

A Teacher's Role

One of the vital elements of independent study is working with a mentor. The feedback, guidance and insight a student gleans from them is invaluable. From helping students decide what to study to helping them create a workable timeline with benchmarks, mentorship is key.

Hartono helped Deleger create benchmarks in the form of works-in-progress showings for her dances. This helped her stay on track and allowed her to receive feedback. "She made sure I didn't get too stuck on one way of choreographing," says Deleger. "She told me what was working and what wasn't."

To connect all 18 of her students with a person to interview, Carr actually took on the task of finding professionals for them. It was more work for her, but well worth it. Students were able to see how their interests were applicable to jobs in dance. "I think so many of the jobs in the dance field are a little mysterious to high school students," she says. "They feel like the only thing that they're grooming themselves for is a job in a professional dance company."

Independent Challenges

Developing the discipline and organization to see a project of this magnitude through is the greatest challenge of independent study. Deleger found it took her a while to establish a functional schedule for developing material—choreographing for half an hour a day instead of, say, eight hours on a Sunday. "The discipline I learned is really valuable, since I'm going into my first year of college," she says.

Hartono notes that it can be challenging for students to find the balance between having the autonomy to problem-solve and knowing when to ask for help. "The amount of leadership skills that they garner from being given ownership of the process teaches them about accountability, facilitation, and how to talk about dance and the creative process," she says.

Creating Community

Carr had her students present their projects to one another in class. Though she anticipated positive results from the research phase of the projects, the presentations were an added bonus for all. "It was a happy surprise how compelling it was for the class to listen to each other," she says. Students felt validated by presenting something they were truly interested in and enjoyed learning from their peers.

Independent study can foster a strong sense of community among students. When Deleger put out a call for dancers to dance in her three pieces, she had really positive responses. "The adults are out of the way, so it's a very special, student-driven community that is built," says Hartono. "That is really exciting to watch."

Personal and Global Discoveries

For Deleger, independent study gave her an opportunity to learn more about dance, and learn more about her own tendencies. "It turns out the way I had been choreographing for so long was actually not the easiest," she says. Taking risks and making mistakes enabled her to discover new tools.

The capstone projects let Carr's students gain a broader perspective on dance in general, which they can take with them. "The kids are beginning to see dance within a greater context, where it's not just about their own creativity and athleticism," she says. "They are starting to see how dance fits into the larger world and how they can continue to envision dance as part of their lives even after they leave their high school community."

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Photo by Kyle Froman

Darla Hoover was at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's studios running a rehearsal in 2014 with director Marcia Dale Weary. Hoover had just returned the day before from staging a ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. Jet-lagged, she mixed up her words when giving a correction.

Weary took Hoover's hand and gently said, "Honey, you work too hard."

Hoover, and the students, had a good laugh.

"Are you kidding me?" Hoover replied. "You're the one who made this monster. There is no off switch!"

Weary founded CPYB in 1955, and it quickly became an internationally known school that has produced countless principal dancers. Famous for her high standards and tough work ethic, Weary instilled those qualities in Hoover, who served as associate artistic director at CPYB under Weary, as artistic director at Ballet Academy East's pre-professional division in New York City and as a répétiteur for the Balanchine Trust.

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Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix, has been called the Queen of Fundraising by colleagues. A studio owner and high school dance coach with over four decades of experience, Clough is known for her smart and successful fundraising ideas.

Now, Just For Kix has created a new online tool to help everyone tackle their fundraising goals, whether you're raising money for uniforms, extra classes, or to cover the cost of travel for your dance team's next convention.

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Jessica Kubat's path to becoming a studio owner wasn't typical or glamorous or the product of a family business, handed down. When she opened MJ's House of Dance in Lindenhurst, New York, this past summer, she had just turned 40, was a mom of three, and had worked at two different studios long-term. Over the last two and a half years, she'd painstakingly saved up $25,000 and had gone to the Small Business Development Center at a local college on Long Island for help creating her business plan. Her area was moderately saturated with studios, so she spent considerable time planning what would set her school apart—live musical accompaniment, for one—and hired a marketing director nine months before the business even opened. It was a methodical, careful approach—Kubat calls it "the old-fashioned way"—to opening a studio, and it's paid off: She started summer classes with 75 students and is well on her way to reaching her first-year enrollment goal of 250 dancers. "When I turned 40, I decided that it was time to do something bigger," says Kubat. "I always wanted to own a studio—it was just never financially available to me."

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Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

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From left: Daniel Novikov, Alla Novikova and Mishella Vishnevskiy at Blackpool 2018. Photo by NYC Digital Media, courtesy of Alla Novikova

Alla Novikova began her dance training at a ballroom studio called Edelweiss in Saratov, Russia, when she was 9 years old. She was immediately recognized for her natural talent and work ethic, placing third at the Russian Open just three months after beginning ballroom lessons. The lessons she learned at Edelweiss shaped her career and provided the foundation she needed to open her own ballroom studio: Work hard to prove that you're good enough to be here, and give honor to the experiences that brought you to where you are today.

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Professions across the globe hold yearly conferences, and the dance industry is certainly no exception. Annual conferences exist for dance teachers, dance medicine professionals, dance educators and more. Taking the time out to attend them can be well worth your while for a number of different reasons. Let's take a closer look at four of them.

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Father-daughter dance. Photo by Lisa Lee, courtesy of Dance Academy USA

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

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Q: How do you approach gender when teaching in 2019? When I was training, male dancers were encouraged to make their movement masculine, while female dancers were encouraged to keep their movement feminine. Today, gender has become much more fluid, and the line between masculine and feminine performance has blurred. How does that impact the way we should be teaching?

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New York City–based pre-professional training troupe Z Artists Group, along with dancers from eight professional companies in the city, are joining together to combat gun violence with, "DANCERS DEMAND ACTION," a performance aligning art with activism at The Joyce Theater, this Monday, November 11, at 7:30 pm.

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Last week, 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and her partner Piotr Iwanicki brought their boundary-breaking work to the "Good Morning America" stage in a segment highlighting her inclusive dance company Infinite Flow.

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Since she was hired in 2006 to create a dance program at Washington & Lee University in Virginia, Jenefer Davies has operated as, essentially, a one-woman show. She's the only full-time faculty member (with regular adjunct support). Over the last 13 years, she has created a thriving program along with a performance company—at a school with fewer than 2,500 students—by drawing on her admittedly rare strength: aerial dance.

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Savion Glover is one of the biggest names in the dance world, and perhaps the biggest in the tap world. The trailblazing hoofer's hard-hitting, rhythmically intricate style has fundamentally altered the tap landscape.

Glover is also a master teacher. But during his many years on the scene, he's never appeared regularly at a major dance convention. That is, until this season: Glover is now teaching at JUMP Dance Convention, scheduled to appear at approximately 15 more cities on its 2019–2020 tour.

We talked with JUMP director Mike Minery, himself a gifted hoofer, about working with a living legend—and how Glover is already changing the convention class game.

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