How To Put On A Showstoppin' Performance With Advice From Showstopper's Judges

Showstopper sees all types of different dancers from across the world at their dance competitions. Sometimes it can be hard to know how to stand out among the 100s of dancers that perform on their stages.


With some of the most experienced and knowledgable judges in the industry, Showstopper asked its judges for their best advice on how to put on a showstoppin' performance. Here's what they said…

on being MEMORABLE…

"The originality of the routine. How many times have I heard the song you're dancing to that day? Is your choreography unique? Originality compared with strong technique and showmanship are what always impress me!" - Melanie Buckley

"I think the most memorable dances are the ones that take a piece of me, the ones that move me to a different place and tell me a story that I can see unfold onstage. Each piece of choreography is a reflection of the teacher that taught the dance so it's also a peek into their innermost thoughts." - Dena Rizzo

"The most memorable routines, for me, are the performances that evoke an emotional response within me as an audience member. I love to be moved by a story. Dance is art and dancers are artists. Whether it's a story of love, loss, courage or fear, performers have the amazing ability to communicate every emotion." - Kristin Marie Johnson

"I will always remember the routines that are not like everything else. Creativity. Routines that push the envelope so to speak." - Debbie DiBiase-Wood

"A memorable routine is one that leaves me wanting to see it again and again and again. It could be outstanding lifts, unforgettable turns, out of this world flexibility, the energy and excitement of movement, or the surprise of 'how did they do that?'. There are performances I still remember from 15-20 years ago that are etched imprints into my psychic." - Kelly King

"A unique element is always good, but I really love pieces that take me on a ride. They bring me to another world. That could be an emotional journey, a spectacular display, or a more abstract picturesque piece." - Michelle Hammar

"I love to see how the dancer connects with the audience and judges. Make eye contact, be super confident, and OWN that stage! This is their moment to shine, and if the dancer is truly confident, their passion will shine through the emotion and choreography." - Kara Lozanovski

on CHOREOGRAPHY…

"I advise teachers to 'think outside the box' when it comes to finding a concept. Try to create powerful images and strong emotions. Think about unique formations and props, and try to be precise with lines, shapes and sounds." - Eileen Grace

"Rely on your dancers' technique but focus on cleaning up your choreography! I am always a happy judge when I see a clean double turn, rather than a not so clean triple turn in choreography." - Julie Pentz

"I absolutely love to see style that suits the performer or performers. I would much rather see a dancer's sense of style versus the same turns, jumps, and tumbling that the we have seen time and time again. I am, of course, in awe of the amazing tricks that dancers are capable of, however, it is thrilling to see a fresh style and emotionally connected performance." - Kristin Marie Johnson

"Advice to teachers when it comes to choreography, always remember students strengths and weaknesses. Clean combinations, smooth transitions, creative movements, staging, exits and entrances, all create a formula that should be pleasing to the eye and make a statement." - Kelly King

"Find music that has an arc and then choreograph to the nuances of that music. Less is more! Meaning, do something longer to let the audience fully drink it in. More subtle moves help draw the audience into your little world on the stage. Also, don't be afraid to HOLD a pose. It will keep your viewers guessing ;)" - Michelle Hammar

"Start with a strong point of view. What do you want the piece to 'say'? What you do you want the audience to take away from the piece?" - Jennifer Hemphill

#1 THING JUDGES LOOK FOR…

"It's a tie between originality and technique!" - Melanie Buckley

"Of course, I always look for strong technique. Also important is the commitment to the routine as well as the clean timing and precision." - Debbie DiBiase-Wood

"To say what the number one thing to look for is difficult. Of course, technique and training would be the most obvious answer. However, I love passion and story telling. A routine that captures emotion. Nothing compares to being swept away by a dancer who lives in the moment of his or her performance. I've seen many dancers with exquisite technique, but no heart. Amazing technique plus amazing feeling equals Crystal." - Kelly King

"It is hard to name just one thing I look for! Feeling the excitement, enthusiasm and energy from the dancers is very important. Are they fully invested? If I have to sum that up in one word, it would be energy." - Michelle Hammar

"The number one thing I look for while judging is EMOTION. I love to see how the dancer connects to the choreography emotionally by breathing through the movement and living in the moment, like poetry in motion! Finish every movement to the fullest capacity and let your technique shine through. This is YOUR moment. I also love to see their personalities explode through the story line of the choreography. :) This truly connects the dancer to the choreography in an artistic way, too. Push your limits and be the beautiful dancer that you are!!!" - Kara Lozanovski

"Connection. That the dancer is consistently connecting her or his technique with her or his artistic sense." - Caitlin Abraham

GET READY TO TAKE THE STAGE | Showstopper's 2019 Regionals Competition Season www.youtube.com

Join the Showstopper stages this 2019 season. At competitions, you will receive full reports and live video with voice feedback from the judges on each of your performances. For 2019 tour dates and to register head to www.goshowstopper.com.

The Conversation
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When it comes to running a thriving dance studio, Cindy Clough knows what she's talking about. As executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner for more than four decades, she's all too aware of the unique challenges the job presents, from teaching to scheduling to managing employees and clients.

Here, Clough shares her best advice for new studio owners, and the answers to some common questions that come up when you're getting started.

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Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. The list goes on—and you have to decide not only what type of presence you'll have on each platform, but also whether you and your faculty will network with students and family members. How can you set boundaries for yourself and your faculty on social media?

The easiest option may be to prohibit these interactions entirely. At the Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida, staff and faculty may not "friend" or otherwise connect with current students or those under the age of 18 on social media, explains Gordon Wright, Harid's executive vice president and director.

At the Dance Zone in Henderson, Nevada, the handbook states that social media should be handled "in a professional manner." Owner Jami Artiga encourages students and faculty to share photos and tag the studio, but prefers not to "friend" kids from her personal account. "Of course, my son dances at the studio, and we have teachers with kids who go here, so sometimes the line gets blurry," she says.

Robin Dawn Ryan of the Robin Dawn Academy in Cape Coral, FL, also has a few students on her Facebook friend list, "but I don't put a lot about my personal life on the site," she says. She uses the platform more to keep track of what dancers and their parents are posting about the studio. "If they put up something they shouldn't," she says, whether that's a bullying post or an unflattering image, "I'll ask them to take it down."

Ryan tends to keep her social-media shout-outs generic: "So proud of this year's graduates!" and "Our dancers looked beautiful at prom!" That way, she can show support without spending hours online or worrying about missing any one student's achievement.

Dancer Health
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When ballet star David Hallberg sought out the medical team at The Australian Ballet to help him recover from his ankle surgeries, one of the things rehabilitation specialist Megan Connelly had him learn was to jump from his hips. By doing so, he learned to put less stress on his lower legs and feet and access the powerhouse group of muscles surrounding the hips, most commonly referred to as the glutes. While many parts of his rehab were particular to him, understanding how to properly engage the glutes is something many professional and pre-professional dancers can stand to gain from.

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Many a studio owner might agree that the idea of maternity leave is laughable. "So many people say, 'I was back after two weeks—we had a competition,'" says Meagan Ziebarth, a former owner who sold her studio two years ago. "If that works for you, and you feel great, wonderful. But I feel passionately that having a baby is one of the most transformational life events, and you don't need to put that kind of pressure on yourself and accept that that's the norm."

So how can you take the maternity leave you want and make sure your studio doesn't run itself into the ground? We asked three who did it for their best advice—including what they wish they'd done differently.

Be OK With Crazy

Suzana Stankovic and Natalia.

Suzana Stankovic
Wild Heart Performing Arts Studio
Astoria, New York
Enrollment: 500 (drop-in)
2 years in business

Suzana Stankovic signed the lease on her New York studio a mere 10 days before she gave birth to her first child. The space she'd been renting hourly for private and group lessons unexpectedly became available for a lease takeover, and, despite the timing, it felt like the right decision. "I said, 'This is happening for a reason,'" she says.

For the first two months after her baby was born, Stankovic recovered (she'd had a C-section). She held a soft opening in mid-November (2 1/2 months postdelivery) for existing students and officially opened her studio—with a drop-in class format—to the public the following January (4 months postdelivery).

  • Figure out your childcare. "It's the most important thing. You've got to figure that out, whether that means visiting daycare centers and finding one you're comfortable with or involving your entire family," she says. Stankovic's parents are retired and live near her, luckily, so they became her nannies. "That's the major reason I was able to do this," she says.
  • Expect to feel different after giving birth. "When I had my baby, and it came time to leave her and go to work, it was very, very difficult," says Stankovic. "I wasn't prepared for that. I was texting my mother constantly: 'Is she OK? Did she have her milk? Is she colicky?' It was hard to be fully present, initially. Be prepared for the effects of sleep deprivation and not eating well and the postpartum blues."
  • Have a support system in place. That's how Stankovic got through the roughest times, postbirth. "Have a friend or your husband or partner," she says. "And know that the very difficult times are temporary. They do abate. And if they don't, there are resources. There's help out there."
  • Be OK with crazy. "I would plan my lesson and do my combos in the shower," she says. "On my way to the studio, I'd finish up my grand allégro in my head. I'd send e-mails in the middle of changing her diaper—I'd write two sentences, change the diaper, write two more, then hit send." The result of so much multitasking? "I realized, 'Wow, I can do so much more than I thought I could,'" says Stankovic. "I'm ready for anything."
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Turnout is one of the defining characteristics of classical ballet and the foundation of your technique, but the deceptively simple concept of external rotation can be hard to execute. For those born with hip joints that don't naturally make a tight fifth position, it's tempting to take shortcuts in the quest for more rotation, but you'll end up with weaker technique and a higher risk of injury. We asked top teachers and physical therapists to break down the meaning of turnout and offer safe ways to maximize your range.

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Though she became a three-time Tony winner, Channing was born in Seattle, far from the Great White Way, in 1921. After growing up in San Francisco, she attended the famed Bennington College, studying dance and drama. She later told the university, "What Bennington allows you to do is develop the thing you're going to do anyway, over everybody's dead body." For Channing, that meant decades of fiery, comical performances, bursting with energy.

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Here at Dance Media, we think everyone's list of New Year's resolutions should include reading more 💁♀️. And aside from reading Dance Teacher magazine (which should, of course, be a resolution in and of itself), we recommend some seriously wonderful dancer memoirs.

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Share your favorite dancer memoirs in our comment section! We can't wait to hear what you're reading!

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