How to Get Your Students to Move Bigger

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Sometimes, offering the right image or resource can make the difference between a student dancing in a crunched and compact way or feeling the freedom of their fullest kinesphere. Helping students to find their biggest movement potential takes creativity and persistence, but should always find its way into your teaching toolbox—especially as students navigate a variety of dancing spaces, from confined areas at home to the stage.

Here, University of Iowa visiting assistant professor of dance Britt Juleen shares five tips for teaching students how to access a more expansive range of motion (even when they're dancing at home).

Familiarize yourself with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen's work.

Juleen's somatic approach to ballet is greatly influenced by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen's method of Body-Mind Centering. "She takes the fluid systems—blood, synovial and interstitial—as the basis for a whole exploration of movement," she says. "Working with this aspect of ourselves might help us to find more spaciousness inside when there is not a lot of space outside around you."

Juleen reminds students to articulate through the joint spaces between bones, where synovial fluid is located. She says that having that awareness of these spaces can invite freedom and flow into the body, making expansive motion more attainable.

Cue students with sight lines.

Draw your students' attention to where they're looking. Juleen has students find focal points in the room or out the window into the distance. "I have students really look at things to stimulate the optic nerves," she says. "Being inside at home, everyone has gotten so internalized." When students look out past their own immediate kinesphere, the ripple effect through the rest of their body is immediate.

Don't neglect to talk about breath, even when you're masked.

Breathing deeply helps oxygenate the blood and muscles and eases tension, which can aid students' full range of motion. Juleen recommends having students concentrate on how the lungs and heart are in constant cooperation, sending fresh, oxygenated blood throughout the entire body. This can be done with a simple verbal cue or an audible breath. Sometimes Juleen even starts class with a few minutes of deep breathing to set the intention for the rest of the class. "Becoming aware of the rhythm of the breath and the pace of the heart can invite a sense of fluid pulsing through the body," she says.

Wearing a grey unitard and against a grey set, Juleen leaps in an expansive grande jete, one arm extended above her and the other to the side

Britt Juleen, photo courtesy Juleen

Experiment with imagery.

A meaningful image can help students create spaciousness in their body. Juleen frequently offers her students the image of a jellyfish with tentacles that float and reach out from a central core. She also likes late ODC Dance Commons ballet director Augusta Moore's idea of the Miss America sash stretching across the torso. "You don't want to let the sash slacken. It keeps opposition between the shoulder and opposite hip," she says. Also, try thinking of the muscles as sponges. "Play with the idea of the muscles being porous. When you plié, the water comes out."

Use William Forsythe's Improvisation Technologies.

Juleen worked with William Forsythe during her career and continues to use his nine-point theory to encourage students to move more expansively. "You place yourself into a cube with nine points in front of you, nine at your body's plane, and nine behind you," she says, noting that you can use the cube imagery during any part of class. "Ballet technique is quite symmetrical and geometrical," she says. "I find drawing movement in space through the nine-point cube can clarify the look and alignment of the body's position in space, which also clarifies technical skills."

Juleen has used Forsythe's cube during the pandemic as she's juggled having some students on Zoom and some in person. "That cube can be as big as you imagine it to be," she says. "It's been fun playing with the actual reality of our spaces versus imagining what it could be. For example, how can you stretch your movement through space to feel as if you are touching every point?"

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"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

Find a formula that works for your studio

For Melanie Boniszewski, owner of Tonawanda Dance Arts in upstate New York, the answer to profitable summer programming lies in drop-in classes.

"We're in a cold-weather climate, so summer is actually really hard to attract people—everyone wants to be outside, and no one wants to commit to a full season," she says.

Tonawanda Dance Arts offers a children's program in which every class is à la carte: 30-minute, $15 drop-in classes are offered approximately two times a week in the evenings, over six weeks, for different age groups. And two years ago, she created her Stay Strong All Summer Long program for older students, which offers 12 classes throughout the summer and a four-day summer camp. Students don't know what type of class they're attending until they show up. "If you say you're going to do a hip-hop class, you could get 30 kids, but if you do ballet, it could be only 10," she says. "We tell them to bring all of their shoes and be ready for anything."

Start-up costs are minimal—just payroll and advertising (which she starts in April). For older age groups, Boniszewski focuses on bringing in her studio clientele, rather than marketing externally. In the 1- to 6-year-old age group, though, around 50 percent of summer students tend to be new ones—98 percent of whom she's been able to convert to year-round classes.

A group of elementary school aged- girls stands in around a dance studio. A teacher, a young black man, stands in front of the studio, talking to them

An East County Performing Arts Center summer class from several years ago. Photo courtesy ECPAC

East County Performing Arts Center owner Nina Koch knows that themed, weeklong camps are the way to go for younger dancers, as her Brentwood, California students are on a modified year-round academic school calendar, and parents are usually looking for short-term daycare solutions to fill their abbreviated summer break.

Koch keeps her weekly camps light on dance: "When we do our advertising for Frozen Friends camp, for example, it's: 'Come dance, tumble, play games, craft and have fun!'"

Though Koch treats her campers as studio-year enrollment leads, she acknowledges that these weeklong camps naturally function as a way for families who aren't ready for a long-term commitment to still participate in dance. "Those who aren't enrolled for the full season will be put into a sales nurture campaign," she says. "We do see a lot of campers come to subsequent camps, including our one-day camps that we hold once a month throughout our regular season."

Serve your serious dancers

One dilemma studio owners may face: what to do about your most serious dancers, who may be juggling outside intensives with any summer programming that you offer.

Consider making their participation flexible. For Boniszweski's summer program, competitive dancers must take six of the 12 classes offered over a six-week period, as well as the four-day summer camp, which takes place in mid-August. "This past summer, because of COVID, they paid for six but were able to take all 12 if they wanted," she says. "Lots of people took advantage of that."

For Koch, it didn't make sense to require her intensive dancers to participate in summer programming, partly because she earned more revenue catering to younger students and partly because her older students often made outside summer-training plans. "That's how you build a well-rounded dancer—you want them to go off and get experience from teachers you might not be able to bring in," she says.

Another option: Offering private lessons. Your more serious dancers can take advantage of flexible one-on-one training, and you can charge higher fees for individualized instruction. Consider including a financial incentive to get this kind of programming up and running. "Five years ago, we saw that some kids were asking for private lessons, so we created packages: If you bought five lessons, you'd get one for free—to get people in the door," says Boniszewksi. "After two years, once that program took off, we got rid of the discount. People will sign up for as many as 12 private lessons."

A large group of students stretch in a convention-style space with large windows. They follow a teacher at the front of the room in leaning over their right leg for a hamstring stretch

Koch's summer convention experience several years ago. Photo courtesy East County Performing Arts Center

Bring the (big) opportunities to your students

If you do decide to target older, more serious dancers for your summer programming, you may need to inject some dance glamour to compete with fancier outside intensives.

Bring dancers opportunities they wouldn't have as often during the school year. For Boniszewski, that means offering virtual master classes with big-name teachers, like Misha Gabriel and Briar Nolet. For Koch, it's bringing the full convention experience to her students—and opening it up to the community at large. In past years, she's rented her local community center for a weekend-long in-house convention and brought in professional ballet, jazz, musical theater and contemporary guest teachers.

In 2019, the convention was "nicely profitable" while still an affordable $180 per student, and attracted 120 dancers, a mix of her dancers and dancers from other studios. "It was less expensive than going to a big national convention, because parents didn't have to worry about lodging or travel," Koch says. "We wanted it to be financially attainable for families to experience something like this in our sleepy little town."

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