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Peridance's Suzana Stankovic Unifies Diverse Dancers With This Simple Trick

Stankovic teaches adult-beginner ballet in New York City. Photo by Terry Mathis, courtesy of Peridance Capezio Center

Unifying a diverse group of dancers in a drop-in class can be a challenge, but Suzana Stankovic takes it in stride in her open adult-beginner ballet class at Peridance Capezio Center in New York City. "I get all kinds of students," she says. "That's one of the reasons why I love teaching open adult classes." To accommodate everyone, from the first-timers to professionals, she offers modifications for the combinations, like double frappés or doing the exercise on relevé. If she sees a beginner struggling, she'll stand in front of them at the barre and do the combination with them.


Before pliés even begin, Stankovic likes to start with a breathing warm-up that centers the mind and the body. Students sit on the floor with the soles of their feet together and their eyes closed, and then she cues them with simple commands as they breathe deeply: "Lift the heart, soft shoulders, soft neck, soft belly and a really long spine." Sometimes she tells them to pick an anchor word like "strength," "grace" or "authenticity," to focus on throughout class. "For the next 90 minutes that you're dancing and being challenged, you can always come back to your anchor word," she says.

Stankovic likes to start with a breathing warm-up that centers the mind and the body. Photo by Terry Mathis, courtesy of Peridance Capezio Center

To maintain a nonjudgmental atmosphere, Stankovic frames her feedback in the form of questions. "Throughout the barre I'll ask them: 'Are you gripping the barre? If so, why?' 'Can you soften your hands?' 'Can you soften your shoulders?'" she says, noting that dancers often come to her with a lot of embedded self-criticism. "Everything is a question. It's not a demand. It's not a judgment."

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Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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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.

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