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Q: How do I stand out on social media if all the other dance studios seem to say the same things I do?
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Q: Balancing school and competitive dance can be very challenging for dancers, especially in high school. How can I help my dancers manage their stress?
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Q: How do you approach a K–12 class when one of your students has a disability?
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Cosentino and her students pose for a photo after a performance in New York City. Photo by Kyla Dodd, courtesy of Cosentino
Joelle Cosentino is on a mission to shake up dance education with an alternative model for pre-professional training. Because she turned her competition dance background into a star-studded career (she's worked with Beyoncé, Mick Jagger and Lenny Kravitz), you might think her teaching goals would include a quest for rhinestones and first-place trophies. But by the time she became a teacher, Cosentino had become disillusioned with competition dance. "It had become so expensive," she says. "Parents were getting sucked into endless routines and unreasonable hours." She believed there was a better way, and to that end she created Z Artists Group—a New York City–based collective for pre-professional training with an emphasis on performance and advocacy.
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Teaching Tips
Kira Blazek Ziaii (right). Photo by Raunak Kapoor, courtesy of UNSCSA

In a contemporary dance class at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, instructor Kira Blazek Ziaii gives a stationary exercise inspired by Countertechnique, the movement system developed by Anouk van Dijk. By directing parts of the body away from each other in space, dancers learn to work with an ever-changing dynamic balance. To begin, Ziaii asks her students to shift their attention to different areas of their bodies, like jaws and armpits. "It can be illuminating for people to take their mental awareness to those places," says Ziaii. "It may also be helpful bridging the gap to coordination."

Some dancers naturally have a good sense of how to move smoothly and efficiently, while others need help organizing their bodies and connecting movements. Improving coordination can be slow, methodical work that requires a great deal of patience and technique. But giving students both intellectual and physical tools will help them develop a well-rounded approach to movement and dance more cohesively.

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Photo courtesy of Kerollis

I remember it like yesterday. Those days, when I could step to the front of my classroom and guide students through enchaînement—demonstrate the combination, offer tidbits of advice, cue my accompanist and walk around offering detailed corrections.

If you told me a month ago I would be forcibly holed up in my apartment as I led my first classes as a master teacher with Youth America Grand Prix, I might have looked at you like you had several heads. But when New York City began shutting down at breakneck speed, I knew I had to do something to protect my income. I dug deep into my toolbox and began developing online classes.

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Technique
Photo by Kyle Froman

Vicky Shick's voice echoes in the cavernous dance space of St. Mark's Church in New York City's East Village. A sinking plié gets a heavy "uhhhhh," while a swing-and-recover movement is accompanied by a joyous "whoo!" It doesn't take long for the students to join in with deep sighs and sharp yelps of their own. This is the only soundtrack for an hour-long, continuous warm-up that Shick has designed to be a neutral entry point into "everything you need as a dancer: strength, flexibility, alignment, shifting of weight, getting on center, using momentum." Rather than walking around, offering corrections, Shick participates in the warm-up, mirroring the class. "I like to allow time for people to get information from their own bodies," she explains. "There needs to be room to listen."

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Q: I'm having such a love-hate relationship with mirrors right now. They can be distracting, as well as cause emotional distress for my students. At the same time, they're a really useful tool. I know some teachers remove theirs altogether. Is this something you recommend?

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