In today's dance world, it seems to go without saying: The more varied the training, the better. But is that always the case? Rhonda Malkin, a New York City–based dance coach who performed with the Radio City Rockettes, thinks trendy contemporary techniques that emphasize improvisation and organic movement quality are detrimental to the precision and strength needed to be a Rockette, in a traditional Broadway show or on a professional dance team. Her view is controversial: "If you really want to work, making $40,000 in three months for the Rockettes or $25,000 in one day filming a commercial, you need ballet, Broadway jazz, tap, hip hop—not contemporary," she says.


On the flip side, techniques that allow dancers more freedom may help them connect more deeply with their body and artistry, while providing release for overused muscles. We broke down the argument for both sides:

Precision & Counting

Rhonda Malkin's training emphasizes clarity and exactness. PC Glorianna Picini Photography LLC, Courtesy Malkin

Point: Malkin coaches students to hone precise attack, something she sees missing from contemporary training. She suggests counting every movement from the moment a combination is taught to ingrain accuracy and speed learning. "There is no gray area for Rockettes or Broadway styles," says Malkin. She feels nonexistent counts and interpretive phrasing are visibly detrimental to a dancer's quality. She recommends not taking any contemporary classes if preparing for traditional Broadway, Rockette or dance team auditions.

Counter: Leah Cox, dean of American Dance Festival, sees musicality as not just counts, but a relationship to rhythm in the body. "At the core of most contemporary dance is finding a deeper understanding of the physical body, how it feels on the inside—not a superficial approach," she says. Room for exploration, in Cox's experience, enhances technique and artistry rather than undermining existing foundations.

Certified Gaga teacher Amy Morrow believes investigative styles are beneficial for all dancers, regardless of career goals. "If we want to dance until we're 92, we need to consider how the body can be the teacher, instead of always demanding the body be obedient," Morrow says. "Gaga is about letting go to discover new pathways, which you can then take back to the ballet barre."

Strength & Fundamentals

Leah Cox, PC Jim Lafferty for Dance Teacher

Point: "Many contemporary styles have no true technique—wavy arms and rolling on the floor will not build strength in the legs, spine or abdomen," says Jennifer Muller, whose Muller Polarity Technique is considered contemporary but pulls from Limón, ballet and an Eastern approach to energy.

Cox partially agrees, saying some contemporary styles masquerade as technique. "While many styles are interesting creatively and choreographically, they do not help organize or develop a base layer of strength," says Cox. "True technique helps a dancer understand gravity, cultivates dynamics, strengthens the body and creates an understanding of how limbs relate to the body."

Counter: Styles like Gaga were created to be a toolbox for the dancer, not a codified technique. Morrow says the awareness discovered in a rigorous Gaga class makes a student stronger because "the dancer feels more alive within their own body."

Shape & Structure

Rhonda Malkin, PC Glorianna Picini Photography LLC, Courtesy Malkin

Point: Muller sees contemporary dancers today struggling with the concept of shape. "Many styles are so vague that dancers are unaware of how their arms relate to their legs and spine, or how shape contributes to meaning," she says. Flowing continuously through movements without arriving in clear positions is a choreographic choice, but dancers who only move in that style limit their options.

Counter: Whether Morrow is teaching ballet or Gaga, she thinks dancers should "shift perspective from being in control to how can we be served by our body." In general, she feels dancers can be too judgmental in class. "If all I'm worried about is whether I'm doing a correct tendu, I'm missing the sensorial experience," she says. Morrow sees deeper progress when dancers get out of the mirror and see other people in space.

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Mitchell Button, courtesy of the artist

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Courtesy Just for Kix

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

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When the news broke that Prince George, currently third in line for the British throne, would be continuing ballet classes as part of his school curriculum this year, we were as excited as anyone. (OK, maybe more excited.)

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Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

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To Share With Students
Photo via Claudia Dean World on YouTube

Most parents start off pretty clueless when it comes to doing their dancer's hair. If you don't want your students coming in with elastic-wrapped bird's nests on their heads, you may want to give them some guidance. But who has time to teach each individual parent how to do their child's hair? Not you! So, we have a solution: YouTube hair tutorials.

These three classical hairdo vids are exactly what your dancers need to look fabulous and ready to work every time they step in your studio.

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Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

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Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

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Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

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Via @madisongoodman_ on Instagram

Nationals season is behind us, but we just aren't quite over it yet. We've been thinking a lot about the freakishly talented winners of these competitions, and want to know a bit more about the people who got them to where they are. So, we asked three current national title holders to tell us the most powerful piece of advice their dance teacher ever gave them. What they have to say will melt your heart.

Way to go, dance teachers! Your'e doing amazing things for the rising generation!

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Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

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Studio Owners
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Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

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Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

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