Dance Teachers Trending

Katharine Pettit Has a Solution for the "Dance Moms" Effect

Pettit (right) and Slater at Peridance Capezio Center. Photo by Kyle Froman

In a basement wood-floor studio at Peridance Capezio Center in New York City, Katharine Pettit starts her intermediate tap class with simple drills using the heel and toe taps. She incorporates weight shifts and gradually increases the speed to warm up ankles and brains, first hitting the quarter notes and eighth notes, then triplets and sixteenths. “Really fight for that specificity," she urges during time steps. She pauses to demonstrate the correct spot to hit the toe tap—in “the Bermuda Triangle" between the three screws. Her tap smacks the floor with a satisfying, crisp sound.


Currently known more for ballet and contemporary, Peridance hired Pettit in 2014 as part of its mission to bolster its tap program. Fresh off an observership with Susan Stroman on Bullets Over Broadway, she got right to work, emphasizing fundamentals in all her classes. Her background in musical theater draws a crowd of actors with dance experience hoping to refresh the skills they need to ace dance callbacks. “People who come to me are trying to get into audition after audition," she says.

One major struggle she sees students face—both her adults in New York and the tweens she coaches at a studio in Westchester—is a desire to do too much too fast. For younger students, she calls it “The 'Dance Moms' effect," or everyone thinking they can do everything. “I get young students who say they've had 10 years of tap, and they're 13, but they don't know how to separate a shuffle or differentiate between heel tap and toe tap," she says. For older dancers, it's a matter of patience. Even those who are classically trained have to accept starting with the basics before building up to more virtuosic combinations.

She gives them plenty to strive for. On a summer afternoon, there's a determined energy in the room as dancers figure out a combination that turns as it covers ground. Pettit has them changing their spot each time they do the phrase, traveling the rectangle of the studio perimeter. She uses the across-the-floor portion of class to build on the technical skills introduced during warm-up. She also nudges students beyond the pure steps to make it swing. “We're tap dancers, not tap stompers," she says during the next exercise, a walking five-count riff. “You want people to be able to groove to it."

Bio: As a child growing up in St. Louis, MO, Katharine Pettit got her start in ballet, tap and jazz at the local YMCA. At 8, she fell in love with musical theater and began performing in productions as a singer and dancer. By 10, she had added modern dance training to her routine at a studio that taught Graham technique. After graduating from Stephens College in 2003 with a degree in theater and a music (vocals) minor, she moved to New York City, where she began booking theater gigs as a performer and, later, as choreographer and director. In 2008, she began studying with Derick K. Grant at Steps on Broadway and started getting more teaching jobs. Most recently, she earned the 2014 Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF) Observership with Susan Stroman for up-and-coming directors and choreographers. This gave her the chance to work closely with and assist Stroman during the creation and rehearsal of Bullets Over Broadway.

Meredith Slater has been Pettit's student for a year. She hadn't tap-danced since childhood when she returned to the studio to expand her skills as a singer, actor and comedian.


Show Comments ()
Dance Teachers Trending

In February 2017, 88-year-old master ballet teacher Sheila Rozann became an internet sensation when a short video about her, made by family members, went viral.

There have now been nearly 3 million views of the under-three-minute video that captures Miss Rozann's raison d'être: teaching ballet. She's been a teacher for 67 years, and her reason for being has never changed. At almost 90, she says, "For dance, I have energy."

Keep reading... Show less

So you've achieved your dream of owning a studio. Congratulations! Once that initial excitement wears off, we're betting that you'll discover just how overwhelming the day-to-day operation of such an endeavor really is. When you choose to run your own business, you're bound to encounter challenges, but with a unique business model at the center of it all, studio management certainly comes with its own hurdles, creating a perpetual learning curve that keeps both new studio owners and veterans on their toes.

Although a certain amount of this difficulty is to be expected for any studio, there's no longer any reason for you to suffer needlessly through each step of the way. All you have to do is reach out for a tool you can use to take your studio to the next level, namely studio management software.

Tools like our very own acclaimed Studio Director software can make a world of difference in virtually every aspect of your business. Let's run through some key ways in which this tool can revolutionize your studio.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Thinkstock

Summertime is notoriously slow for dance studio owners, but bills don't take a holiday. Learn from three studio owners who figured out how to keep the buzz and cash flowing without breaking a sweat. Their secret formula? Creative summer programming too good for parents to pass up—coupled with quick and easy camps as bonus business builders. Not only do these owners keep their revenue rolling in summer, they use the season to boost enrollment come fall.

Keep reading... Show less

A popular and highly sought-after dancer and choreographer, Geo Hubela has worked with stars and productions all over the world from French pop star "Lorie" to the MTV show BeComing. Geo isn't just a choreography sensation. He has also danced on film, onstage, and on TV. He was worked with everyone from *NSYNC to JLo. On top of his incredible professional career, Geo owns a dance studio called Icon Dance Complex.

Owning and running a successful dance studio is not an easy task. Showstopper got together with Geo for his advice on going from a professional dancer to studio owner.

Keep reading... Show less
Jay Sullivan Photography, courtesy Julie Granger

Dancers crossing over into the fitness realm may be increasingly popular, but it was never part of French-born Julie Granger's plan. Though Granger grew up a serious ballet student, taking yoga classes on the side eventually led to a whole new career. Creating her own rules along the way, Granger shares how combining the skills she learned in ballet with certifications in yoga, barre and personal training allowed her to become her own boss (and a rising fitness influencer).

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Via Mia Michaels' Instagram

Beloved three-time Emmy Award–winning choreographer Mia Michaels returned to teach at Broadway Dance Center for the first time in a decade and brought the house down with her emotive and inspirational choreography. Set to the Harry Styles hit "Sign of the Times," her combination challenged dancers to fight their inner demons and recognize the legends that they truly are.

For the first two verses of music, Michaels asked the dancers to spell the words "I am," along with their own descriptor of choice (i.e. enough, resilient, whole), with their bodies, reminding them of their worth and potential for improvement. From there the choreography dove into swirling movement that pushed dancers off balance and out of their comfort zones. Shifting between fluid release and violent shakes she created a physical depiction of a common human experience—overcoming hardship.

Just as the group round of class was beginning, Michaels requested that the dancers be open and pour their whole selves into the choreography, citing her own history of doing so. "I've been completely open with you all. I've told my life's story through bodies around the world. That's why I'm Mama Mia."

When class finished, Michaels sat down with students for a Q&A; and book signing to promote her new book, A Unicorn in a World of Donkeys: A Guide to Life for All the Exceptional, Excellent Misfits Out There.

Check out some key takeaways from her discussion!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Kyle Froman

The back is an essential focus of Cynthia Harvey's ballet classes, especially as a part of port de bras. Here, she offers "plain," en face port de bras, followed by the same position with épaulement, to show the difference the back (and head and neck) can add to any position. Aspirational imagery helps students find their best épaulement: "Feel as if you have a tiara on," says Harvey. "Don't look like a student—look like a ballerina."

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun

The World Cup captivates soccer fans this time of year. But if football (as most outside of the U.S. refer to it) isn't your jam, this hybrid of disco dancing, ballet and soccer just might be more intriguing.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored