Seen and Heard at the Dance Teacher Summit

As a longtime teacher on the convention circuit, Judy Rice works with ballet students of all ages and levels. Currently she also teaches master classes in Los Angeles, helping professional dancers solidify and maintain their technique. Here, she shares some advice for teaching a successful barre.

Dance Teacher: How do you keep students motivated during barre work?

Judy Rice: When I see young students start to get a little glazed over, I have them step away from the barre and skip around. I have skipping music on my kids’ album, and I’ll say “OK, everybody step away,” and they know that it’s time and they laugh and do their little ballet skips. I make the older ones do jumping jacks. It just gets the blood going, and then you can go back and start working again.

It’s all about your own excitement. I’m thrilled when things get done accurately at the barre. I get my students eager to move slowly and make corrections, then when I see them make a correction, I’m immediately really psyched about it, which makes them want to keep doing it the right way.

DT: What’s the best way to plan barre exercises?

JR: I build my whole class backward. I start with grand allégro and work back to the beginning. If you know what you’re going to be doing in the center, you can incorporate those things into the barre. I repeat set exercises, and when students start to really get the hang of them, I’ll add something new. If they start getting sloppy and aren’t giving me the clarity that I want, I have them go back to the original exercise so they can get that technical accuracy. They always have that home base to return to.

DT: How has your approach to teaching barre changed over the years?

JR: When I was a younger teacher, I gave a lot more material, because I felt like I had to. Then I realized they were just getting an overview of information without really retaining anything. Today, my barre isn’t overly choreographic; it’s functional. Don’t feel like you have to make barre exercises too long, complicated and choreographic. Less is more. It’s a logical progression. Let them get the accuracy of the movement so they aren’t just imitating it; they’re actually calculating and understanding how to do it.

Photo by Jimmy Peters, courtesy of AD Temecula Dance Company

Balagna (in black) teaches her students how to make the most out of the competition experience.

Seen and Heard at the Dance Teacher Summit

Steppin’ Out—The Studio

Lee’s Summit, Missouri

450 students

Phyllis Balagna has been taking her students to conventions and competitions for 25 years, as long as her studio has been open. She has the season down to a science: She and her staff select one or two conventions, three regional competitions and one National to attend each year. Here, she addresses some of the most frequently asked questions she hears about competition.

How do you get your students focused before they compete?

I am a coach at heart, and motivating kids is my forte. I am constantly searching for quotes to inspire the students. One of my favorites is, “The better you get, the nicer you become!” I believe in my program and the work I do with the students. The passion and energy transfers to them, and on “game day,” my dancers are on fire!

Do you allow your students to hear their critiques at competition?

Yes, because I expose my students to competitions that I know and trust. I send all soloists home with their critique sheet or tape, and I ask them to read or listen to it and jot down the comments. At their next private lesson, we sit down, oftentimes with a parent, and discuss what was said. By including the parent just a little, they feel such a part of the process. For small groups, large groups and lines, we’ll sometimes listen as a group, but I confess that because I produce more than 100 routines each year, I do not take the time out of every class to listen to every critique. After a competition, I’m usually ready to get back into the trenches and do what needs to be done to make each dancer and routine more solid.

How do you motivate your students?

By smiling, having fun and pushing them hard in class. I make it my number-one goal to always do things that will motivate each of my dancers to be the best they can be. I have found that the higher I set the bar, the harder they work. Students love to be challenged, so as a teacher I am constantly trying to find ways to shake it up.

How do you motivate yourself as a teacher?

I surround myself with great people. I also guest teach and serve as a competition judge, which are great motivational experiences. I read countless magazines and articles on coaching techniques, and I am constantly thinking up new ways to reinvent myself as a teacher. Each year I try to have a new approach to teaching and coaching.

Photo by John Beaudoin, courtesy of Steppin’ Out—The Studio


Seen and Heard at the Dance Teacher Summit

As the co-owner of a dance studio that’s been in her family for 40 years, Suzanne Blake Gerety knows the ins and outs of successful business practices. Besides running the studio, she and her mother, Kathy Blake, contribute to DT’s “Ask the Experts” column and lead business seminars at our Dance Teacher Summit. Here, she shares knowledge about rebranding your studio.

Dance Teacher: After investing time and money to promote a certain image, why might a studio owner decide it’s time to rebrand?

Suzanne Blake Gerety: Our studio went through a rebranding process about a year ago. For us, it was about making our brand match the evolution of our studio. We loved our studio colors, but we wanted our logo and website to be more cutting-edge to reflect the level of training we offer.

Think about how long ago the last update to your brand happened. For us, it had been more than 10 years. Our website design wasn’t very easy to navigate, and we knew we needed to fix that. Decide what it is you love about your current brand. Ask yourself what is working, then start with what’s not. It can feel scary to make big changes, but you can evolve your logo and plan without losing the identity of your business. Think of it as a future conversation. You want your brand to reflect where you’re going, so you have to be willing to grow.

DT: What tends to be passed over when rebranding?

SBG: The importance of having a mobile presence is frequently overlooked. People are always on their mobile devices. Customers want the ease of accessing your website from their handheld. Older website designs probably include serif fonts that are difficult to read on mobile devices. Update to sans serif. Make sure your phone number is push-to-talk and includes the area code, and make sure driving directions and Google maps are accurate.

If you aren’t sure whether or not your website is mobile-friendly, try going to, where you can type in your web address, select different devices and find out how your site looks and responds on each one. If your site isn’t mobile-friendly and you don’t want to fix it yourself, reach out to a website design company and make sure you stress the importance of your site being mobile-friendly. It is so important.

DT: What is the most important thing to remember? 

SBG: Consistency. As a dance studio owner, the hardest thing to do is to stay consistent with the way you present your brand to your community. Business plan, communications, logo design, e-mails and even social media should all reflect the message you want to send about your studio. I know this can be challenging given the demands that you have as both a business owner and dance teacher, so you either have to create a system or find someone who can help you. You have to make sure your brand is consistently reflecting the spirit of your studio.

Photo by Break The Floor Productions, courtesy of Gerety


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