Balagna (in black) teaches her students how to make the most out of the competition experience.
Seen and Heard at the Dance Teacher Summit
Steppin’ Out—The Studio
Lee’s Summit, Missouri
Phyllis Balagna has been taking her students to conventions and competitions for 25 years, as long as her studio has been open. She has the season down to a science: She and her staff select one or two conventions, three regional competitions and one National to attend each year. Here, she addresses some of the most frequently asked questions she hears about competition.
How do you get your students focused before they compete?
I am a coach at heart, and motivating kids is my forte. I am constantly searching for quotes to inspire the students. One of my favorites is, “The better you get, the nicer you become!” I believe in my program and the work I do with the students. The passion and energy transfers to them, and on “game day,” my dancers are on fire!
Do you allow your students to hear their critiques at competition?
Yes, because I expose my students to competitions that I know and trust. I send all soloists home with their critique sheet or tape, and I ask them to read or listen to it and jot down the comments. At their next private lesson, we sit down, oftentimes with a parent, and discuss what was said. By including the parent just a little, they feel such a part of the process. For small groups, large groups and lines, we’ll sometimes listen as a group, but I confess that because I produce more than 100 routines each year, I do not take the time out of every class to listen to every critique. After a competition, I’m usually ready to get back into the trenches and do what needs to be done to make each dancer and routine more solid.
How do you motivate your students?
By smiling, having fun and pushing them hard in class. I make it my number-one goal to always do things that will motivate each of my dancers to be the best they can be. I have found that the higher I set the bar, the harder they work. Students love to be challenged, so as a teacher I am constantly trying to find ways to shake it up.
How do you motivate yourself as a teacher?
I surround myself with great people. I also guest teach and serve as a competition judge, which are great motivational experiences. I read countless magazines and articles on coaching techniques, and I am constantly thinking up new ways to reinvent myself as a teacher. Each year I try to have a new approach to teaching and coaching.
Photo by John Beaudoin, courtesy of Steppin’ Out—The Studio