Diana Alcomendas, director of Virtuosity Performing Arts Studio in Camas, Washington, demonstrates the first exercise in a ballet class combining serious ballet students with competition dancers and gymnasts. (Mixed classes like this are a common occurrence at Virtuosity, which has several dance teams and is a sister company of Vancouver Elite Gymnastics Academy.) The music begins. Her pre-professional ballet students melt into their pliés, clearly at home. But the competition dancers aren’t getting the intricacies of the technique, and the gymnasts look downright forlorn, their discomfort painfully transparent. Teaching this class, Alcomendas realizes, is going to be harder than she thought.

 

Since most studios serve a wide variety of students, nearly every ballet teacher will face the challenge of engaging and motivating students with different goals. When ballet is required as a cross-training exercise for athletes and dancers in other styles, it can be a hard sell, and balancing the needs of these students with those of serious pre-professional students isn’t easy. But if you teach a class that emphasizes the basics and addresses each dancer’s perspective, you can help all the participants achieve their objectives. 

 

Establish What Everyone Has in Common

 

There are certain practices that will work for all of your students, no matter their goals.

 

Every dancer or athlete benefits from a class that stretches the muscles and helps develop strength and balance. Working on smooth, controlled pliés and how to relevé correctly will improve any physical effort. Nurit Krauss, who teaches a ballet barre class to recreational dancers at the YWCA Santa Monica/Westside, avoids brainteaser exercises, like intricate tendu combinations that test the memory more than the body. Instead, she focuses on “enhancing posture, elongating muscles and improving joint articulation, which everyone, regardless of their end goal, needs to work on,” she says.

 

Discussing the mechanics of movement is also valuable for dancers and athletes of all kinds. “Give your students information about each step they’re doing and what’s happening to the joints and muscles as it’s executed,” says Pamela Pribisco, a ballet instructor at Steps on Broadway in New York City and the School at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts. For example, as students plié, describe the alignment of the hips over the knees as they go down and the inner thigh muscles pulling toward each other as they come back up. By focusing on mechanics, you’ll be speaking a language your whole class understands.

 

Address Specific Needs

 

But since no two students have quite the same goals, recognizing their differences is essential to their progress. Chip Morris, director of Acton School of Ballet in West Acton, MA, likes to reference students’ activities outside of ballet to engage and motivate them. “If I have a student who’s a musician, I’ll explain a correction using musical vocabulary and images,” he says, such as describing a frappé as “staccato.” Morris, who has taught ballet to serious ice skaters training at nearby Nashoba Valley Olympia rink (where Nancy Kerrigan trained), also tailors his class to highlight athletes’ strengths. “Figure skaters work turned in, with flexed feet. They often haven’t developed the muscles that turn out and articulate the lower body,” he says. “So to keep them from getting discouraged, I start out focusing on port de bras, alignment, the things with which they’re most familiar.”

 

If you’re teaching at a studio that also has a gym or competitive dance team, you’ll have even more opportunities to assess your students’ various needs. The directors of the ballet, competitive dance and athletic programs at Virtuosity and Vancouver Elite meet regularly to discuss the areas in which their students need improvement. “If we have gymnasts who need to improve their floor scores, for example,” says Alcomendas, “we’ll make sure their ballet teachers know they should be emphasizing clarity of footwork and port de bras.”

 

Challenge Everyone

 

When it comes to making sure all students are sufficiently challenged, Pribisco likes to let each choose her own level of difficulty. “I always like to say, the aficionados may add an extra beat or the aficionados may do the combination on relevé,” she says. “Those of you who are not, do not.” Alcomendas goes a step further and creates multiple versions of her combinations. One, designed for those less familiar with ballet, may focus on working a single part of the body, such as pointing the toes, while performing a simple recurring movement. Another, designed for pre-professional students, might be more technically demanding, involving syncopated rhythms and contrasting movements in the upper and lower parts of the body. “I like to split it up so everyone gets something out of it,” she says.

 

Alcomendas also occasionally asks her pre-professional dancers to offer constructive feedback and advice to recreational students, giving them a taste of the teacher’s role. “It’s exciting for the kids who are concentrating in one type of movement to see the kids whose focus is in another area improve,” she says.

 

Constructing a class that will help all your students achieve their dreams is a difficult process, but ultimately a rewarding one. Remember those distressed gymnasts in Alcomendas’ ballet class? They ended up complaining that her class was only once a week. DT


 

Giannella Garrett lives in New York and writes about dance and travel.

 

 

Photo: Chip Morris references non-ballet activities to keep students engaged (by Melissa Morris)


The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Dance teachers have a lot of strengths (communicating corrections, choreographing gorgeous movement, planning excellent recitals, cleaning technique—just to name a few) but when it comes to interior design—talent isn't exactly a given. So when studio owners remodel or build, worrying about the decor can feel a little overwhelming (you've got just a few too many other things to worry about, don't you?).

No need to fear! In 2019 we have Pinterest, which shows us all the latest trends we should know about. To help you make the best design decisions for your studio, we've compiled a list of public Pinterest pins we think you'll love.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Vanessa Zahorian. Photo by Erik Larson, courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet Academy

At the LINES Ballet Dance Center in San Francisco, faculty member Erik Wagner leads his class through an adagio combination in center. He encourages dancers to root their standing legs, using imagery of a seed germinating, so that they feel more grounded. "Our studios are on the fifth floor, so I'll often tell them to push down to Market Street," says Wagner. "They know that they should push their energy down to the street level." By using this oppositional force, he says, dancers can lengthen their bodies to create any desired shape.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

After years of throwing summer parties at your studio, you're likely fatigued by coming up with themes and event details. You want your students to have a good time, but you're also up to your eyeballs in choreography and costume decisions.

Never fear! We've come up with party themes and activities to do during the event. Delegate tasks to your teachers and office managers, and voilà! You have a stress-free party ready to go.

Have a blast, people!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I recently returned to a modern dance class after a long absence. While I didn't feel any acute pain at the end of class, the next morning I could barely walk from the soreness in both my Achilles. What can I do to fix this?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Q: I'm trying to think of ways to maximize studio space and revenue during the summer. What has worked for you?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

In 2019, dance parents are more eager than ever to observe their child's progress, and stay up-to-date with the ins and outs of what's happening in the classroom. That means yearly recitals aren't always enough to keep them satisfied—especially if you have rules against visitors observing class from week to week. The solution? Visitor observation weeks. Trust us, the guardians and loved ones of your students will love you for it!

We caught up with Suzanne Blake Gerety, vice president of Kathy Blake Dance Studios and regular contributor to Dance Teacher's "Ask The Experts" column, to hear her tips on how to have a successful visitor observation week.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Adequate dorsiflexion mobility is needed to find a supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely. Getty Images

Dancers are trained to think often about the range of motion, stability and power of their extended lines: the point of the foot, the reach of the penché, the explosion of the sauté in the air. But finding that same mix of flexibility and strength in the flexed foot is just as integral to technique and injury prevention. Without adequate dorsiflexion mobility, it is nearly impossible to find the kind of supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox