Dance Teacher Tips
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Cleaning competition numbers is a process—and a difficult one at that. Making your dancers look cohesive without draining them of their passion and individuality can feel like an impossible task.

Here are some tips and tricks that may make it easier for you!

You're welcome.

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Viral Videos

Alright, people. Summer is officially over, and fall is upon us. What a ride it's been! From intensives to Nationals to workshops, you teachers have been FABULOUS!

To recap, we thought we would share three of our favorite class videos that came from summer 2018.

They're just so good.

Enjoy!

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Dance Teachers Trending

"This is what I like to call my 'PG but LIT' playlist," says Showstopper Dance Convention teacher Taylor Quinn. "That means all of these songs are great for kids 8 and under, and I get to enjoy them, too. I use this playlist for our stretch and warm-up, going across the floor and sometimes even class combos. Enjoy!"

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Peter Boal coaching PNB dancers in Opus 19/The Dreamer. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, courtesy of PNB

In a windowless subterranean studio under the New York State Theater, I pulled back an imaginary arrow and let it fly.

"Good!" said ballet master Tommy Abbott. "I think you're ready. Tomorrow you rehearse with Mr. Robbins."

I was slated to play Cupid in Jerome Robbins' compilation of fairy tales called Mother Goose. It was a role given to the tiniest boy who could follow directions at the School of American Ballet. In 1976, that was me.

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Adriana Pierce made Acantilado on her colleagues at Miami City Ballet. Photo by Leigh-Ann Esty, Courtesy Pierce

Once Adriana Pierce caught the choreography bug as a teenager, dancemaking came naturally. More difficult was navigating the tricky situations that would arise when choreographing on classmates and friends. "If a rehearsal didn't go well, I'd worry that people didn't respect me or didn't like my work," says Pierce, who went on to participate in the School of American Ballet's Student Choreography Workshop twice, at 17 and 18. "I had a lot to learn: how not to take things personally, how to express what I wanted, when to push and when to back off."

Choreographing on your peers can feel intimidating. How can you be a leader in your own rehearsals when you're dancing at the same level the rest of the time? How can you critique your cast without hurting feelings? Avoiding pitfalls takes commitment and care, but the payoff is worth it.

Show Up Prepared


Setting an agenda for each rehearsal shows your dancers that you respect their time. In return, they may be more likely to respect your leadership. "With peers, you can't walk into the room and say, 'I'm the teacher; you're the student,' " says Pierce, who can currently be seen in the Broadway revival of Carousel. "Authority has to be earned."

Preparation can also ease nerves about your new role. When Maddie Hanson, a dance major at The Juilliard School, began choreographing on her classmates as a freshman, "I always came into rehearsals with a movement phrase and goals for the day," she says. Now a junior, Hanson has become more confident creating on the fly. Still, she strives to be organized, and to bring something new, like a particular image, to each session.

But preparing doesn't mean being inflexible in rehearsals. Elizabeth George, who teaches composition at the University of Arizona, explains, "You never want to be so rigid that if something spontaneous happens, you're not willing to explore it." A collaborative environment can keep everyone invested in the process.

Communicate Clearly

MCB dancers in Pierce's Acantilado. Photo by Leigh-Ann Esty, Courtesy Pierce


Last semester, George and her co-teacher Sam Watson asked their composition students what helped them most when choreographing on classmates. The top response: communication. "Dancers want information about what they're doing," Watson says, "whether they're working with a guest artist or a fellow student."

Communication should be a two-way street, Pierce adds. If a transition looks awkward, ask what would make it feel better. If your dancers seem exhausted, see if they have the energy for another full-out run.

Frame Feedback Wisely


To avoid hurting friends' feelings, frame criticism to be both positive and constructive. Rather than saying "That's not right" or "I don't like that," try acknowledging what a dancer is doing before asking to see it another way. "Then, you're offering options instead of barking orders," Pierce says.

When it comes to behavior issues, you may need to put your foot down. Pierce advises approaching the dancer the same way you would if you were having a non–dance-related issue. "Make it a conversation, not a confrontation," she says. "It can help to find out where they're coming from. Everyone is a human with emotions and a life outside the studio."

Cast Carefully


Juilliard students performing Hanson's work. Photo courtesy Hanson


Casting from a group of peers can feel fraught. What if your best friend isn't a good fit—or a strong enough performer—for what you have in mind? Hanson advises putting your vision first. "The people who support you will understand that you have to do what's right for your choreography," she says.

If the dancers you want aren't available, be open to what others have to offer. "I've worked with dancers I initially didn't see myself using," Pierce says. "They've always brought something surprising to the table." Stand by what you're looking for, but be ready to find the best in every dancer.

Lead with Confidence


Maddie Hanson in the studio, Photo courtesy Hanson


Even if you're new to running rehearsals, you already know what works for you when you're dancing for someone else. Call on those experiences when you're in charge.

Remember that you aren't the only one who wants the process to be productive and fulfilling. Your dancers—your classmates and colleagues—are on your side. "If you're considerate of your cast's needs and confident in your own abilities," Hanson says, "you'll have a better piece in the end."

Dance News
Melanie Moore in Al Blackstone's Freddie Falls In Love. Photo by Matt Murphy

We've all been there—standing in front of a sea of eager students, ready to create the next eight counts on them, when our brains decide to shut down. All the creativity we've been cultivating in preparation for this choreography session has disappeared, and we are left completely blocked. YIKES! What do we do?? Have the kids take a water break? Review the chorus 20 more times? Cry?

NO! We take a step back. We recharge. We glean inspiration from our previous work. For an extra creative boost, we've curated dance videos that are sure bring you back to a place where you can do your best work on your students. Enjoy!

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Viral Videos

When New York City–based dancer Dan Lai began choreographing Figure 8, he had a specific vision in mind. Inspired by a song by FKA Twigs, he wanted the movement to represent the music's "dark and twisted vibe." "My thought process was to make shapes and phrases that were abstract and unique that complimented the intricate beats of the music," he says.

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Studio Owners
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Help your dancers improve their performance—and scores—with this advice from veteran competition faculty: Martha Nichols, Judy Rice and Suzi Taylor.

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