Dance Teacher Tips

Go Team Go! Fresh Ideas to Help Your Competition Team Bond

All photos by Christina Bruce, courtesy of Bravo Dance Center

With choreography to rehearse and costumes to finalize, preparing for competition season can be hectic. Team bonding may not be the first thing on your mind, but as most studio owners would agree, building camaraderie among your dancers is just as important as winning the gold. Check out these easy, budget-friendly ideas from the directors of two innovative studios to help turn your students into a supportive team.


Customized Lawn Signs

Lindsay Keegan and Lauren Kulp, founders of Bravo Dance Center in Warminster, Pennsylvania, decided to kick off the season in style by announcing audition results through customized lawn signs. They ordered the signs from a local printer and customized each one with a permanent paint marker to let the girls know which numbers they would be performing in the upcoming season. “It took us almost five hours to deliver the signs," Keegan says. “We left around 8 pm and didn't get home until 1 am, but we wanted it to be a surprise."

“We wanted to do something different from the traditional acceptance letter," says Kulp. “And what better time to find out you made the team than when you're on your way to school in the morning? Our phones were ringing off the hook that day, and it warmed our hearts to know we had made such an impact on our girls and their families."

Big Sister Little Sister Program

At The Dancers Workshop in Wall Township, New Jersey, Barbara Parren has established a Big Sister Little Sister program, in which older students mentor younger ones for the duration of the season. She works hard to get the pairings just right. For example, she will match a shy, young student with a more outgoing older student to help build confidence.

“The older dancer guides the younger dancer through the season, showing them the ins and outs of the stages, educating them on hair and makeup and helping them make sure everything is in line before they go onstage. They're there for their younger sister both in and out of the studio."

Daylong Pep Rally

To get dancers excited about the start of the season, The Dancers Workshop also hosts a daylong pep rally the weekend before their first competition. Dancers run their routines one last time, but the only feedback they get is the sound of their teammates cheering.

Crafting is also a big part of the day. Parren purchases pizza and all the necessary supplies for the girls, including fabric paint, markers and rhinestones and an item for all the dancers to decorate. “It's become a tradition that is as exciting as Christmas for us!" she says. Everyone decorates the same thing, and depending on the year, dancers have adorned T-shirts, hats, socks, sweatpants and flip-flops, which they can then wear to competitions to show team spirit.

Caitlin Quinn Pittenger, Dancers Workshop instructor, says the dancers talk about their goals for the season and what they need to do, both as individuals and as a team to achieve these goals. No critiques, however, are given that day.

Student of the Month

Another great way to build confidence and positive feelings is to encourage dancers to celebrate one another's successes. Like many studios, Bravo Dance Center selects a “Student of the Month," but they go one step further by mounting a photograph of the student on a piece of large poster board. The board is displayed in the dancers' waiting room with a pen resting on a few extra thumbtacks. “Fellow students can write well wishes and congratulations," says Keegan. “This way, it's about recognizing someone else's achievements, instead of being jealous."

Booster Box

A few weeks before the start of competition season, students at Bravo Dance Center are encouraged to bring in shoe boxes from home to make a “Booster Box." Dancers can decorate them ahead of time, but studio owners provide materials for further embellishment.

“We avoid glitter in order to keep the dance floor clean," says Keegan, “but we provide the dancers with crayons and stickers." Boxes are stored in the studio on a small folding table with extra slips of paper and pens. Dancers write notes of encouragement and place them in the boxes, which are then opened just before the first competition.

According to Kulp, “The boxes help the entire school, even those who aren't dancing competitively, to get excited for the team. In a world full of social media, the little handwritten notes give a more personal touch, and it's become a pre-competition tradition that the entire team looks forward to."


Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

Finding a male dance instructor who isn't booked solid can be a challenge, which is why a New York City dance educator was inspired to start a network of male dance professionals in 2012. Since then, he's tripled his roster of teachers and is actively hiring.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Courtesy of Shawl-Anderson Dance Center

For seven decades, Frank Shawl's bright and kind spirit touched thousands of dancers in the studio and in the audience.

After dancing professionally in New York City and with the May O'Donnell Dance Company, Shawl moved with Victor Anderson to the San Francisco Bay Area and founded Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in 1958. It is the longest running arts organization in Berkeley.

The two ran their own company for 15 years and Shawl-Anderson Dance Center became a home for dance for students and artists alike. It currently runs 120 classes and workshops every week for children and adults, plus artist residencies, rehearsal space and intimate performances. (If you have never visited, the Center is actually a large house converted into four studio spaces.)

Shawl taught modern classes at the studio until 1990, performed into his late 70s and took classes at the Center into his mid 80s.

As I simultaneously mourn and honor Frank—my dear friend, fellow dancer, mentor and boss—I reflect on a few lessons that I learned from him. These five ideas relate to our various roles in dance as students, performers, teachers and administrators.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Getty Images

Halloween is just a few weeks away, which means it's officially time to start prepping your fabulously spooky costumes! Skip the classic witch, unicorn and superhero outfits, and trade them in for some ghosts of dance legends past. Wear your costumes to class, and use them as a way to teach a dance history lesson, or ask your students to dress up as their favorite dancer from history, and perform a few eight counts of their most famous repertoire during class. Your students will absolutely love it, and you'll be able to get in some real educating despite the distraction of the holiday!

Check out some ideas we had for who might be a good fit. We can't wait to see who you all dress up as!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Photo by Sedge Leblang, courtesy of Dance Magazine Archives

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At 8, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle at with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

You've got the teaching talent, the years of experience, the space and the passion—now all you need are some students!

Here are six ideas for getting the word out about your fabulous, up-and-coming program! We simply can't wait to see all the talent you produce with it!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of HSDC

This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Kim Black

For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Photo via @igor.pastor on Instagram

Listen up, dance teachers! October 7 is National Frappe Day (the drink), but as dance enthusiasts, we obviously like to celebrate a little differently. We've compiled four fun frappé combinations on Instagram for your perusal!

You're welcome! Now, you can thank us by sharing some of your own frappé favs on social media with the hashtag #nationalfrappeday.

We can't wait to see what you come up with!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Original photos: Getty Images

We've been dying to hear more about "On Pointe," a docuseries following students at the School of American Ballet, since we first got wind of the project this spring. Now—finally!—we know where this can't-miss show is going to live: It was just announced that Disney+, the new streaming service set to launch November 12, has ordered the series.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Tony Nguyen, courtesy of Jill Randall

Recently I got to reflect on my 22-year-old self and the first modern technique classes I subbed for at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. (Thank you to Dana Lawton for giving me the chance and opportunity to dive in.)

Today I wanted to share 10 ideas to consider as you embark upon subbing and teaching modern technique classes for the first time. These ideas can be helpful with adult classes and youth classes alike.

As I like to say, "Teaching takes teaching." I mean, teaching takes practice, trial and error and more practice. I myself am in my 23rd year of teaching now and am still learning and growing each and every class.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox