Dance Teachers Trending

Sultry Jazz Teacher Sabrina Phillip Keeps Her Students Strong With These Warm-Up Tips

"Push yourself to your extremes and see how far you can go. I don't expect you to be perfect, but I expect you to try," says Phillip. Photo by Chehon Wespi Tschopp

Anyone planning to take a contemporary jazz class from Sabrina Phillip at Edge Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles better be ready to sweat—pushing physical limits is this teacher's specialty. "I want dancers in my class to work really hard," says Phillip. "I want them to be inspired to push their boundaries and become well-rounded students so that they can have long careers."


The classically trained bunhead turned sultry jazz goddess begins class with a heat-generating warm-up that incorporates movements like reaching, lunging and yoga. From there, the energy never drops. She directs stretches and exercises on the entire right half of the body before shifting to the left side to increase difficulty. "It's like doing leg day at the gym," says Phillip. "You don't give the sides of your body a break in between stretches. It feels overwhelming, but it gets you stronger." After the fatigue has set in, she further challenges her students by guiding them through développé, plié and balance exercises. Her 30- to 35-minute warm-up often finishes with a difficult core exercise series, like planks or V-sits.

The intensity of this warm-up prepares Phillip's dancers for the combination that is sure to have avant-garde inversions, turns and challenging transitions. "I really like exploring different pathways in my choreography," Phillip says. "I always try to avoid the expected transition and find something more interesting—even if it's much harder." The best part? Phillip participates in every difficult moment of class from start to finish, so whenever her dancers are tempted to stop, she boldly reminds them, "If I can do this, so can you!"

FOOD SHE CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT: "Cheese! All the cheese…"

FAVORITE BOOK FOR ARTISTIC INSPIRATION: "I really liked Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, because it talks about the 10,000-hour rule and how it is the key to success in any field. I really believe in that."

RECOMMENDED VIEWING FOR DANCERS: "I think it's important to know the greats who came before us. I would definitely recommend watching old Hollywood musicals like West Side Story, Sweet Charity (really anything Fosse), Annie, Guys and Dolls and Singin' in the Rain."

HOW SHE STAYS IN SHAPE: "Working on my choreography often is a great workout, and I take my own class. I also love yoga and going to the gym."

MUST-HAVE FITNESS SUPPLIES: "Good running shoes, a foam roller or balls of varying densities for rolling out the kinks after class."

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Dance Teacher Tips
At CPYB, students learn from an early age the importance of strong corps work. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of CPYB

Dancers at the University of Arizona recently performed Jerome Robbins' Antique Epigraphs, an ensemble piece for eight women that requires intricate linear formations and walking in unison. "It was super-challenging for us," says dance professor Melissa Lowe. "Students needed a heightened sense of awareness, or it wasn't going to happen." Lowe asked dancers to use their intuition and aural sensibilities to help determine where they needed to be, when they should be there and how to get to those places—together.

Teaching dancers to work in unison, whether as a large corps de ballet or small ensemble group, is an integral part of their training. It requires teamwork, attention to detail and thoughtful preparation for a successful group effort. Teachers need to provide the right steps and counts to ensure cohesiveness, of course. But how you set the material will also encourage dancers to be in line and in sync—while still allowing them to be individuals.

Make sure they show up

Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of University of Arizona

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Missing dancers can be disastrous for a group piece. "If it's a studio production, there has to be an agreement up front for students who want to be involved," says Lorita Travaglia, ballet mistress at Colorado Ballet. "When one person is missing and doesn't know what they're doing, it really does affect the whole group." Understanding the importance of commitment is a crucial part of dancers' (and their families') training. "They have the responsibility to everyone, not just themselves," she says.










Showstopper is the nation's leading dance competition. It provides the perfect platform for dancers, teachers, and choreographers to showcase their talents and hard work. Showstopper's environment is inviting, motivating, and above all, inspiring. If you haven't experienced it, now is the time!

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For the full story published at Arts+Culture, visit here.

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McSwain is particularly known for her work with the "littles," the 5-and-under dancers, having begun as an assistant teacher in the preschool room of her local studio at age 19. Combining her own dance background (her resumé includes dancing for Britney Spears and *NSYNC) and her genuine love of children, McSwain went from assisting classes to running the studio's performance and competition teams.

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Dance Teachers Trending
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We asked and you answered! Here are the top 11 things dance teachers wish their students understood. Let us know if you agree with these over on our Facebook page!

Thanks for being fabulous and keeping your students' best interests at heart. We vow to love you all forever and ever! xoxo

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