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Melissa Weigel Says the Key to Teaching Adults Is Flexibility

Photo courtesy courtesy of NY Studio of Irish Step Dance

Growing up, Melissa Weigel spent most of her time at Irish step dance competitions. She was a regular at regional, national and world events, representing her hometown studio, located just outside of Chicago. But by the time she graduated from college, she was ready to hang up her dancing shoes. "Dancing beyond college was a full-time commitment, and I wanted to balance my love of dance with my nondance career." She took a step back from competitive performing, pursued a career in conservation investments and enrolled in classes at The New York Studio of Irish Step Dance. She now teaches for the studio one night a week and enjoys the challenges of working with adult recreational dancers in an advanced/championship class, many of whom have backgrounds like her own.

"We have a lot of dancers who used to dance growing up and are looking to get back into it as an adult, as well as some who are picking it up for the first time," she says. "They are all here taking classes to have fun and to get some great exercise."


Because the studio caters to busy adults, attendance varies from week to week. Weigel has to adjust her plans to fit the ever-changing class size and skill level. "At the beginning of class, I ask the dancers what they are hoping to work on that day," she says. "Some students will know the choreography from the week before, while others only know the choreography from two weeks before, since they missed the last class. I have to make sure everyone's needs are met."

That isn't the only hurdle Weigel faces when teaching adults. "We aren't 7 years old with amazing flexibility anymore," she says. "I put a big focus on stretching and making sure our muscles are really warmed up. The dancers who used to perform at a high level come back to our classes and want to jump right back into where they were before. The truth is our bodies just can't handle that anymore, and I need to guide them through that." Her main focus of class for any skill level? Irish step dance basics—high relevé, extreme crossover, turnout—and of course, having fun!

GO-TO TEACHING SHOE "I like to get my shoes from Fay's Irish Dancing Shoes or Rutherford Products Irish Dance Shoes. I find they are both really durable. I dance a lot, and shoes are expensive, so for me, durability is key."

MUST-WATCH YOUTUBE VIDEOS "Hamilton Irish Dance—Guns and Ships," performed by Hannah Redlich; "Fusion Orchestra," performed by Fusion Fighters; and "Four-Hand Reel," danced by Riverdance Crew (via Mountaintag on YouTube).

FAVORITE AFTERNOON ENERGY BOOST "I am often rushing straight from work to the dance studio, and I've found that Justin's Peanut Butter packets are the perfect snack to eat on the train."

WORKOUT OF CHOICE "Cycling is how I get to and from work most days (about 15–16 miles). I also do yoga, which is great for flexibility, and I like high-intensity interval training workouts for stamina and metabolism."

GUILTY PLEASURE "I love to watch the 'Bachelor' and 'Bachelorette.'"

Higher Ed
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 onstageblog.com, 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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Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy TUPAC

When legendary Black ballet dancer Kabby Mitchell III died unexpectedly in 2017, two months before opening his Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center, his friend and business partner Klair Ethridge wasn't sure she had what it took to carry his legacy. Ethridge had been working with Mitchell to co-found TUPAC and planned to serve as its executive director, but she had never envisioned being the face of the school.

Now, Ethridge is heading into her fourth year of leading TUPAC, which she has grown from a fledgling program in an unheated building to a serious ballet school in its own sprung-floor studios, reaching hundreds of students across the Tacoma, Washington, area. The nonprofit has become a case study for what it looks like to carry out the vision of a founder who never had the chance to see his school open—and to take an unapologetically mission-driven approach.

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