When Diane Jacobowitz launched a preprofessional New York City troupe called Kids Company, for ages 12 to 18, she invited choreographer Mark Morris to mount excerpts from his piece L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. Morris was astounded by the young dancers’ response to his choreography. “I want every member of my company to see this,” he announced after watching them perform. “They need to dance with this same innocence, simplicity.”

Since then, the members of Kids Company have worked with such choreographers as Bill T. Jones, Doug Varone, David Dorfman and Twyla Tharp—pretty serious territory for tweens and teens, some might say. Yet the idea that youngsters are capable of working with sophisticated material, and hungry for meaningful experiences, is central to the vision behind Dancewave, the Brooklyn-based organization Jacobowitz has been building for more than a decade. “Kids can go to a really deep level,” she says. “It’s an incredibly exciting process, one that children are capable of at an earlier age than we thought. This is the magic of Dancewave.”

Kids Company is just one facet of Dancewave, which Jacobowitz founded in 1995. While not all of its programs are geared toward dancers with professional aspirations, it strives to offer all students the same challenging yet supportive atmosphere that has made Kids Company so successful.

Dancewave’s other initiatives include Kids Company II, Kids Café Festival, summer intensives, an after-school program and an arts-in-education program called D-Wave in Motion. And this past spring, after years of searching, Dancewave found a permanent home. The Center at Dancewave, located in Brooklyn, houses the organization’s numerous programs, as well as a full schedule of classes for ages 3 through adult, including creative movement, modern, ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, yoga and Pilates.

Seeking a Deeper Experience

It all began when Jacobowitz, a dancer and choreographer, was teaching at Long Island University, running her own dance company and caring for her 2-year-old daughter. She realized she couldn’t devote her full attention to both parenting and the company, and let the troupe go. She started teaching dance at a private school, but something was missing. Then, in a “eureka” moment, Jacobowitz knew what she wanted: a place where young, diverse dancers from all over the city could gather for a “professional experience.”

The Kids Café Festival came first, in January 1995. Open to all interested students and youth dance groups, the annual event produces works by and/or for children. Its diverse lineups of performances and workshops have drawn young dancers from all over NYC and as far as Germany. Each festival’s theme is tied to a host company that leads a workshop and performs in afternoon concerts; recent hosts have included hip-hop company Rennie Harris PureMovement and Afro-Brazilian dance and music ensemble OGANS.

Jacobowitz noticed that many students returned to the festival each year, eager for what it offered. “They were hungry for a deeper experience that I didn’t see anywhere around me,” she says. Convinced of the need for more challenging opportunities, she conceived the idea for a company of children
modeled on a professional dance troupe.

Nurturing and Challenging

Enter Kids Company, in 2000. “They’re working on a professional level, but they’re learning life skills as well,” Jacobowitz explains. “It’s an immersion program where dance transforms heir lives.”

This immersion in professional work establishes an environment in which sophisticated dancing is the norm. Jacobowitz thinks it helps that, unlike adults, young dancers “embrace physicality without thinking. They become sophisticated because they experience a huge array of different artists all the time. The exposure is mind-opening.”

Jacobowitz sees Kids Company as a link between modern dance’s past and future, and wants to make sure her dancers know that history not just through reading and lectures, but also with their eyes, ears and bodies. Dancers and parents go on field trips to see
concerts by the choreographers they work with and by the canonical founders. “I tell them, modern dance is like a folk art,” Jacobowitz says. “The history is in the body.”

Auditions are required for Kids Company, though Jacobowitz already knows most who try out. Those she doesn’t know she watches carefully, looking not only for technique but to see if “their hearts speak through dance, if it’s their passion. That’s what drives dancers to become great. If they want it, I’ll be there for them.” She makes a point to know not only her young dancers, but also their families. If she sees a child losing commitment, she tries to find out why. About a third of the company is on scholarship, as are many in Dancewave’s other programs.

“It’s the right measure of nurturing and challenging that are the ingredients for success,” she says. “Kids need to know you believe in them. They’re so vulnerable at this age, insecure about their bodies, their peers. The first hump is to get them in the room, to make them feel empowered; it’s all easier after that.”

Still, she says, the company isn’t for everyone. “For some the program is too rigorous, but most stick it out. They grow up with me. It’s moving.”

Looking Ahead

Jacobowitz is still waiting and watching to see how the alumni of Kids Company will fare in the professional world. To date, one student was invited to join DanceBrazil immediately upon graduation. Most go on to college and find a way to dance, whether or not they choose to major in it. Chafin Seymour, a graduating member of this year’s Kids Company, created his first professional-length work for the company’s spring concert. He’ll enter Ohio State University’s dance department this fall. Jackie Dodd, a 2005 graduate, is a dance and anthropology major at Washington University.

Meanwhile, Dancewave continues to grow. Recently, Jacobowitz added Kids Company II, a less intensive group for children not ready to make the commitment to Kids Company. The troupe performs works by up-and-coming choreographers like Andrea Woods, artistic director of Brooklyn-based Souloworks, and Astrid von Ussar, a well-known choreographer in her native Slovenia who now teaches and choreographs in the U.S. Participation in Kids Company II requires only a recommendation from an instructor.

Dancewave also sponsors a popular summer intensive that focuses on technique and composition. This year’s session (for 10- to 18-year-olds) is scheduled for August 18–29; a new, advanced intensive will take place August 11–22.

Today, many studios offer high-quality performance opportunities for students; some even follow Dancewave’s model, asking professional choreographers to create works for their young dancers. But it was Jacobowitz’s vision that proved this was possible. After 13 years, she is still excited by the process. “I guide the dancers,” she says, “and they continue to teach me, to enrich my life.” DT

Teaching artist Carrie Stern, PhD, writes “Dance Brooklyn” for the Brooklyn Eagle and other publications.

Photo by Maribel Arce.

The Conversation
Getty Images

It's February! The month of love (and by extension, the month of pink) is upon us. We are major fans of a good class theme, and dressing lovey-dovey is one of our very favorites! So this month, to keep you on brand, we have a list of our favorite pink leos on the market right now. They're all kinds of wonderful.

Check them out and let us know your favorite in the comments!

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Getty Images

It's the day after Valentine's Day, and every single one of us is in a chocolate coma scrolling through endless love posts on social media. It's both the best and the worst day of the year 😂. Obnoxiously mushy Instagram captions aside, whether you have a significant other or not, we all know that your studio co-workers are the actual loves of your life.

Check out our five reasons why, and let us know over in our comments if we got 'em right!

XOXO

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Q: Do you have any advice for dividing students into groups?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Chris Hardy Photography

In Antoine Hunter's jazz class, students inevitably pick up sign language just by virtue of being his student. Though he doesn't typically incorporate ASL into his class combos, this dynamic phrase, which is one of his favorites, includes four signs: "heart," " re," "gone" and "deaf."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
The Big Apple Tap Fest, courtesy of Dee

Debbi Dee took her first tap class at age 5 from vaudevillian hoofer and rhythm tapper Curly Fisher, in Rochester, New York. She studied tirelessly with him in the garage he had turned into a small, makeshift dance studio until she was 13 years old, when he claimed he had taken her as far as he could, and she needed to find herself a new teacher. Instead, she jumped feet first into her professional career, tapping with the Lawrence Welk and Count Basie orchestras on the traveling state fair circuit, on the Bob Hope USO shows, and in nightclubs in Vegas and the Catskills.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

We've all had times when we've failed miserably while trying our best to communicate important concepts and ideas to our students. We are all well-meaning with hopes that our dancers will achieve their dreams and become kind humans along the way. Unfortunately, our delivery may need some honing in order to help them without causing some damage,

Here are four common phrases dance teachers often say, and four ways we can adjust them to make them constructive and productive.

Let us know over on our Facebook page what phrases you try to avoid as a dance teacher!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Courtesy Harlequin Floors

Just like your car, your studio needs periodic tune-ups to keep it humming along smoothly. If you take the time to address a few small fixes, your business will stand out. And you don't have to break the bank, either—you might be surprised how low-cost, DIY improvements can make a surprising difference.

Keep reading... Show less
Unsplash

Running a studio can be a major juggling act. It's no surprise, then, that a few things slip through the cracks—costing you money or students. Watch out for two common but often unnoticed mistakes, and you'll find yourself with more time, clients and revenue on your hands.

1. Using online registration as a crutch

If you offer registration via your studio website, make sure you aren't losing clients by neglecting in-person registration. One day Kathy Morrow, director of Dance Du Coeur in Sugar Land,Texas, overheard a front desk staffer directing a new client to the studio's website to register, rather than offering to do it over the phone. "I thought, You had a fish on the hook—why didn't you walk them through it?" she says. "When you register, there are a lot of boxes to check off. Some people want to pay with a check, some to link to a credit card. We can make it easier by answering any questions directly."

2. Not delegating

Have you heard yourself say, once too often, "If I want it done right, I have to do it myself"? Overextending yourself because of perfectionism or a misguided need to control can be counterproductive. By creating choreography, teaching, bookkeeping, cleaning, making phone calls, typesetting, doing payroll, mailings and ordering, you could be leaving no time for the very things that will create your best business. Misty Lown decided to delegate all the teaching at her Onalaska, Wisconsin-based studio, Misty's Dance Unlimited. "Giving up teaching was super-hard," she says, "but it's the best decision I ever made. Whenever I was teaching, it meant I never saw the other five classrooms that were operating during that time. Now I can rotate my time checking on classrooms and interacting with students."

Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Working with a 9-year-old student, Alexandra Koltun asks the young girl to face the barre. She reviews fifth position, demi-pointe with the front foot and coupé devant. "I separate all the positions, so the student understands each one," says Koltun, founder and artistic director of Koltun Ballet Boston. She reaches down to shape the girl's foot into sur le cou-de-pied, leaving the heel in front and gently squeezing the toes around the ankle. "This position will equip the foot with more strength," she says.

Depending on a ballet teacher's preference and style of training, sur le cou-de-pied (meaning "on the neck of the foot") may be incorporated into class at different times and in various ways. From steps like pas de cheval to frappé and développé, the wrapped position can be fundamental to a student's technical development. Or it can be used less often and as a supplement to cou-de-pied front and back. Either way, the value of the position remains constant as a tool to mold and strengthen dancers' feet.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun

Show your significant other how much you love them through dance! Send them one of your favorite romantic dance videos that best describes your feelings, and they're sure to swoon!

Here are four of our favorites that depict a range of emotions along the spectrum of true love. Let us know over on our Facebook page which one best represents your relationship!

You're welcome in advance!

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun

The best way to celebrate a holiday in the dance teacher world is to create a class combo that fits the theme! It's a sure-fire way to get you and your kiddos into the spirit of the day! So, Valentine's Day, we recommend some mushy, cheesy, oh-so-wonderful love songs!

Check out these six songs for potential class combo ideas. They're sure to be a hit.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Unsplash

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.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox