Joelle Cosentino Wants Her Pre-Professional Students to Be Good Humans

Cosentino and her students pose for a photo after a performance in New York City. Photo by Kyla Dodd, courtesy of Cosentino
Joelle Cosentino is on a mission to shake up dance education with an alternative model for pre-professional training. Because she turned her competition dance background into a star-studded career (she's worked with Beyoncé, Mick Jagger and Lenny Kravitz), you might think her teaching goals would include a quest for rhinestones and first-place trophies. But by the time she became a teacher, Cosentino had become disillusioned with competition dance. "It had become so expensive," she says. "Parents were getting sucked into endless routines and unreasonable hours." She believed there was a better way, and to that end she created Z Artists Group—a New York City–based collective for pre-professional training with an emphasis on performance and advocacy.

The 20 junior-high- and high-school-aged dancers that she hand-selects each year for the company have performed at the Guggenheim, The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, The Joyce Theater and The UN General Assembly. They have also traveled to India, Cuba and Italy as part of their training. Their weekly schedule includes working with faculty such as Katy Spreadbury, Jason Williams, Miles Keeney and James Kinney. Guest faculty have included such stars as Emma Portner and Noel Bajandas.

To set the right tuition, Cosentino researched standard rates for suburban competitive dance studios nationwide, then cut the result in half. "Our school has a flat tuition rate that is paid monthly, and beyond that, everything is funded through donations. Private donors finance travel, and we use donations to offer scholarships to dancers who can't afford tuition."

The developing artists of Z Artists Group are also expected to advocate for a charitable cause. "Our kids each have a charity they are passionate about," Cosentino says. For example, one dancer chose to focus on Alzheimer's awareness this past year, and the troupe held an intergenerational dance class to help support the cause. "I want these dancers to understand what's going on in the world and decide what's important to them," she says. "I want them to be good humans. I'm not raising dancers to stand at the barre and hope that one day someone will tell them they're good enough. I want them to be confident, to go out there and make work they care about, to make their own decisions and to advocate for the kind of careers they want."

MUST-HAVE TEACHING ATTIRE "I'm always wearing Bandier. They have the freshest and best selection of activewear. I'm also always in Apolla Shocks. They really give you the support you need."

GO-TO AFTERNOON ENERGY BOOST "I am so ashamed to say this, but I drink sugar-free Red Bull or Clean Cause yerba mate (50 percent of their profits go toward helping recovering addicts) before I teach."

FAVORITE BREAKFAST "I like to go to this little place on 25th Street in New York City called Sullivan Street Bakery—they make the best egg sandwiches!"

MUST-READ BOOK "My favorite book is The Fountainhead. It taught me a lot about being an individual with integrity."

SKIN-CARE OBSESSION "I am obsessed with FADED [an anti-inflammatory bruise cream by Post Love Skincare]. I use it on all of my bruises after class."

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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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