Shirley Ballas Emphasizes Balance When Teaching Ballroom

Ballas, with dancers Matthew Bezzant and Abigail Werner. Photo by and courtesy of Deanna Werner

Shirley Ballas is known in the ballroom world as the Queen of Latin. In competition, she was a standout dancer, winning numerous titles with her partners, including British Open to the World Latin American champion (three times), United States Latin American champion (10 times) and British National champion (multiple times). In 1996, she stopped competing and focused her career on coaching couples and judging competitions internationally. In 2017 she became the head judge on the hit BBC show "Strictly Come Dancing."

"As a woman, I'm particularly grateful for the success I've had in this industry," she says. "The most powerful people in ballroom are predominantly men. So for a woman to get to where I have gotten to is huge." She admits it has taken a great deal of determination, an attitude she recommends all women adopt. "You have to go out there and take it," she says. "That has been the story of my life. Be an extremely focused person, and don't take no for an answer. Be a team player, a team leader and a positive presence. Surround yourself with people who want the same things for you."

Ballas has coached many dancers around the world, including her son, two-time "Dancing with the Stars" Mirrorball Trophy winner Mark Ballas. The most important element of technique she emphasizes in her teaching is balance. "Stand on your feet," she says. "You can't deliver anything without balance. Once you have that, you can focus on the quality of movement as you change from foot to foot, the coordination and synchronization of your arms, and, finally, the energy you use to deliver your message."

Because she spends half the year filming and half the year traveling as teacher and adjudicator, Ballas doesn't stay in one place for long. She approaches her master teaching as a sort of trickle-down group project. "I train dancers, who then become teachers who pass my lessons down to their students. I come in and work with each of them a couple times per year. They don't need to work with me every day because I've trained the next generation of teachers well. I just come in to oversee everything. It's a team effort. When I see my students next, they will be prepared to pick up right where we need to."

GO-TO TEACHING ATTIRE "I'm sponsored by Supadance, the international dance shoe company. They are comfortable and durable, and a good value for the money."

FAVORITE NONDANCE ACTIVITY "I like yoga and working out. I'm also just now finding a social life, which is something I've never had before, because I've always worked so much. We'll see where that goes in the next year or so."

ARTISTIC INSPIRATIONS "I'm inspired by the theater. I like to learn from other people's work within the arts. Lately, I've liked watching Kinky Boots and Jersey Boys. I think they both have great messages."

HER SECRET TO STAYING IN SHAPE "I don't believe in dieting. Eating healthy is a way of life. If it's green and it grows from the ground, it's good for me. I don't eat after 6 pm, and I try to keep everything in moderation. I want young girls to know that taking care of your body is really just about common sense."

Teachers Trending
Photo by Yvonne M. Portra, courtesy Faulkner

It's a Wednesday in May, and 14 Stanford University advanced modern ­dance students are logged on to Zoom, each practicing a socially distanced duet with an imaginary person. "Think about the quality of their personality and the type of duet you might have," says their instructor Katie Faulkner, "but also their surface area and how you'd relate to them in space." Amid dorm rooms, living rooms, dining rooms and backyards, the dancers make do with cramped quarters and dodge furniture as they twist, curve, stretch and intertwine with their imaginary partners.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.