Stress-Free Globetrotting

Successful studios are providing students with broader travel opportunities—not only to competitions, but also to master workshops, festivals and intensives. Here are eight tips that can help turn a potentially maddening experience into an enjoyable memory. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and keep in mind there’s no such thing as too much planning. Finally, remember that taking care of yourself in order to stay healthy and relaxed will help studio trips run smoothly for everyone.

Before You Go

1. Recruit the Parents

While many teachers prefer to keep parents at bay, strategically including them in your travel planning can help take the pressure off you. At the beginning of each year, Cookie Maly, owner of Stagelight Centre of Performing Arts in Pequannock, New Jersey, assigns a mother for each age group who distributes info to the other moms for that group. “I send them everything about fees, competition travel, recitals and hotels,” explains Maly, who has taken students to perform in London and China. “They send an e-mail to the rest of the mothers. It’s a lot easier than typing up notes and giving them to the kids to put in their dance bags.”

Yoko Young, owner of Yoko’s Dance and Performing Arts Academy in Fremont, California, involves moms and dads even further. Young, who regularly travels with students to Japan, created a parents’ guild complete with an elected president, treasurer and secretary. The guild, which meets monthly, raises funds for student activities and sponsors social events designed to help students and parents get to know each other better.

“For competition trips, I tell them where I want to go and why, and they suggest others. We agree on three, and then they arrange everything after that,” Young explains. “Questions and complaints about the trips go to the guild and by the time they get to me they’ve usually already been taken care of.”

If you’re traveling to a competition, be sure to hand out guidelines to parents at the beginning of the year. This may stop persistent moms and dads from calling and pestering the competition company before an event for a schedule or other details—which might earn your studio a troublesome reputation. “I make it known that we get the schedule about a week prior to a competition,” explains Maly. “I make sure the parents do not harass the competition.”

2. Use a Travel Agent

Booking airfare and hotels on the internet may sound like the most convenient option, but paying all those costs upfront may be daunting. To help your pocketbook, try hiring a travel agent who allows you to pay in installments rather than all at once.

“It’s nice because they don’t take the whole amount right off the bat,” explains Diane Rosenbaum, owner of Heart & Soul Dance Studio in Spanish Fork, Utah, who has traveled with students to New York City. “You give them a deposit, and if my parents need to collect or raise more money, they can do that.”

3. Monitor Costume Packing

What do you do if you’ve traveled all the way to an out-of-town engagement only to discover that one of your dancers has forgotten a costume accessory for an ensemble piece at home? Young actually forbids students from performing if they forget a piece. Faced with such an extreme consequence, her dancers rarely forget to pack everything they need. A more easy-going approach is to host a packing party at your studio, and ask travelers to bring in their costumes and lay them out on the floor while you crosscheck your master list of items. You can also call students’ homes the night before leaving and ask their moms to check their bags.

As an extra precaution, plan on arriving at your destination at least three days before a scheduled event and immediately do a costume check. This gives you enough time to call home and have someone overnight items accidentally left behind.

4. Bring a First-Aid Kit

Medical emergencies can occur anytime, any place. Don’t assume the event you’re attending is equipped with a first-aid kit—always bring your own. Maly says that her team travels with a bag stocked with bandages, wraps, ointments, pain relievers and even air casts.

5. Maintain Strict Behavior Rules

To prevent students from acting unruly while on the road, use the classroom to groom the behavior you expect. Stick by the rules you establish, and make it known that dancers who don’t adhere to them will not be invited to faraway festivals and competitions. Young’s in-studio code includes requiring students to be timely, have their hair in a bun, wear the correct leotard color for their class and act politely. If they break any of these rules, they can’t take class that day. But be sure you balance strictness with praise. Even though she’s demanding, Young insists she’s fair. “I’m the first one to recognize when they are doing something great,” she says.

On the Road

6. Utilize Costume Organizers

To keep things running smoothly backstage, invest in portable clothing racks to set up at performances or competitions, and hang costumes in order of performance. Also make sure students keep the accessories for each costume in separate plastic bags pinned to the corresponding ensemble.

7. Dress Alike

Keeping track of dozens of students while on the road can be an intimidating prospect, but matching outerwear or warm-ups bearing your school logo can help. Young requires members of her traveling teams to wear identical hot pink coats and their hair in buns while on trips. Not only does this uniform look help her keep track of the group in busy places, but the unity helps with team bonding and has proven to be great marketing. “The second time we went to the San Francisco airport the people who worked there remembered us,” says Young. “They asked if we were models, which made the girls feel special.”

8. Make Lists

With all the information you need to keep track of, it’s easy to feel frazzled. Calm your nerves by making lists—you can never have too many when traveling with kids. Start with the cell phone numbers of everyone in your party, including students, teachers, parents and other chaperones, then research all the emergency contact info you need for the city you’re going to. If you’re traveling abroad, be sure you know the locations of the nearest hospital and U.S. embassy. Once you arrive at the hotel, make another list with everybody’s room number. DT

Know Before You Go

Before setting out for the airport, make sure you’re familiar with the Transportation Security Administration’s latest guidelines as of presstime.

Items you can pack in your carry-on luggage:

* Liquids, gels, supplements and aerosols in containers three ounces or smaller and inside one quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag (be prepared to remove this bag from your luggage when going through security)

* Camcorders, camera equipment, laptops, cell phones, pagers and PDAs

Items you can’t pack in your carry-on luggage:

* Containers larger than three ounces that are half full

* Rolled-up toothpaste tubes

* Gel-type candles, gel shoe inserts (though shoes with gel heels are okay), snow globes or similar decorations with liquid inside

* Beverages brought from home

Sara Jarrett is a freelance writer in New York City.

Illustration by Emily Giacalone

Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Diary
Claire, McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet

Former Houston Ballet dancer Chun Wai Chan has always been destined for New York City Ballet.

While competing at Prix de Lausanne in 2010, he was offered summer program scholarships at both the School of American Ballet and Houston Ballet. However, because two of the competition's winners that year were Houston Ballet's Aaron Sharratt and Liao Xiang, dancers Chan idolized, he turned down SAB. He joined Houston Ballet II in 2010, the main company's corps de ballet in 2012, and was promoted to principal in 2017. Oozing confidence and technical prowess, Chan was a Houston favorite, and even landed himself a spot on Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch."


In 2019, NYCB came calling: Resident choreographer Justin Peck visited Houston Ballet to set a new work titled Reflections. Peck immediately took to Chan and passed his praises on to NYCB artistic director Jonathan Stafford. Chan was invited to take class with NYCB for three days in January 2020, and shortly thereafter was offered a soloist contract.

The plan was to announce his hiring in the spring for the fall season that typically begins in September, but, of course, coronavirus postponed the opportunity to next year. Chan is currently riding out the pandemic in Huizhou, Guangdong, China, where he was born and trained at the Guangzhou Art School.

We talked to Chan about his training journey—and the teachers, corrections and experiences that got him to NYCB.

On the most helpful correction he's ever gotten:

"Work smart, then work hard to keep your body healthy. Most of us get injuries when we're tired. When I first joined Houston Ballet, I was pushing myself 100 percent every day, at every show, rehearsal and class. That's when I got injured [a torn thumb ligament, tendinitis and a sprained ankle.] At that time, my director taught me that we all have to work hard, memorize the steps and take corrections, but it's better to think first because your energy is limited."

How it's benefited his career since:

"It's the secret to me getting promoted to principal very quickly. When other dancers were injured or couldn't perform, I was healthy and could step up to fill a higher role than my position. I still get small injuries, but I know how to take care of them now, and when it's OK to gamble a little."

Chan, wearing grey pants and a grey one-sleeved top, partners Jessica Collado, as she arches her back and leans to the side. Other dancers behind them are dressed as an army of some sort

Chun Wai Chan with Jessica Collado. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy Houston Ballet

On his most influential teacher:

"Claudio Muñoz, from Houston Ballet Academy. The first summer intensive there I couldn't even lift the lightest girls. A month later, my pas de deux skills improved so much. I never imagined I could lift a girl so many times. A year later I could do all the tricky pas tricks. That's all because of Claudio. He also taught me how to dance in contemporary, and act all kinds of characters."

How he gained strength for partnering:

"I did a lot of push-ups. Claudio recommended dancers go to the gym. We don't have those kinds of traditions in China, but after Houston Ballet, going to the gym has become a habit."

On his YouTube channel:

"I started a YouTube channel, where I could give ballet tutorials. Many male students only have female teachers, and they are missing out on the guy's perspective on jumps and partnering. I give those tips online because they are what I would have wanted. My goal is to help students have strong technique so they are able to enjoy the stage as much as they can."

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

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