Teaching Tips
Jill Wolins (center, in pink). Photo courtesy of Wolins

"The best judges come from the competition circuit," says Jill Wolins, who trains adjudicators for the Star Dance Alliance and Starpower National Talent Competition. "If you competed as a kid, you have proper respect for how hard these dancers work. It's not easy to do what they're doing."

Wolins began judging competition events in 2001 in between dancing as a Rockette and performing on Broadway/national tours of The Producers, The Will Rogers Follies, Sweet Charity and Grease. And, yes, she came up on the circuit herself, before earning a BFA from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

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Photo by Aidan Gibney, courtesy of Lanzisera

Walking into Millennium Dance Complex in Los Angeles at 11:30 am on any given Tuesday or Thursday, you're likely to find a large group of dancers flocking to take Nick Lanzisera's class. Millennium's staff says his contemporary class is so popular, he often fills their rooms with up to 80 students.

Lanzisera, whose professional credits include The Oscars, The Grammys, the MTV Video Music Awards, High School Musical 2 and 3, Fame, Footloose and more, got his teaching start as a substitute for one of his mentors, Erica Sobol, at Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio. Though he didn't expect to become an educator until later in his career, Lanzisera enjoyed the experience so much that he began to sub in regularly. One of those classes was attended by a manager at Millennium, who invited him to teach their new contemporary class, and he has maintained the same Tuesday/Thursday slot for nearly eight years.

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Wellington tells her Brooklynettes to dance larger than life during stadium performances

Though a timeout routine lasts only a minute and 20 seconds, when it comes to choreography, Brooklyn Nets dance team coach Adar Wellington is slow and methodical. “I listen ta song about 75,000 times before I start moving my body. I need a week or two to visualize it,” says the former New Jersey Nets dancer who has danced with Rihanna, P. Diddy and Kanye West and performed in Las Vegas’ Peepshow. “The routine is short, but each moment has to be dynamic.” Once she has an idea of how she wants the piece to look, Wellington uses graph paper to plot dancers’ positions on the basketball court. Because most of the audience has a bird’s eye view of the stage, formations need to shift constantly to keep the routine exciting. “Working in a stadium, you need to stage things very visually,” she says. “Going from X’s to diagonals to circles and zigzags, there’s a lot you can do. And it all has to be really big and high-energy.”

When the Nets moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn last year, Wellington used the team’s yearly auditions to freshen up her roster. She looked for dancers who embody the edginess of the new neighborhood and new dance team name, the Brooklynettes. “It’s that confidence that’s so hard to teach,” she says. “I told them, ‘Even if you’re messing up, I want to see you problem-solve in that moment, freestyle your way out of it and catch up when you can.’ I encouraged them to really perform it and dance it larger than life. If it feels too big, too extreme, then it’s probably correct. You really can’t dance too big for an arena that seats 19,000 people.”

“I printed the basketball court on graph paper, so during practice each dancer gets a grid to look at. They can see exactly where they’re supposed to be. I have them take it home and study it.”








Wellington uses the Dance Formations Plus! app for iPad, a catalog of over 80 formations for 5–18 dancers. "It helps me brainstorm new formations on the spot."








To warm up, Wellington wears leggings, sneakers (Bloch shown) and a tank top with a sweatshirt or sweater wrap.








“I’m a member at Crunch Fitness in Brooklyn. They have great group classes and personal trainers to keep my workout fresh.”








Photos from top: by Adam Pantozzi, courtesy of Adar Wellington; ©istockphoto.com (2); courtesy of manufacturer; by Emily Giacalone

Teachers share the philosophies and materials that make them successful in their careers and classes.

Amanda Pope (center in gray) with her students at Lower Manhattan Arts Academy

At Lower Manhattan Arts Academy, Amanda Pope begins class for high school dance majors with a mantra: “I believe in myself. I am the master of my ability. My success depends heavily on my work ethic and self-discipline.” She uses these phrases to focus and inspire students, who come from all five boroughs and every socioeconomic background. “They need a lot of motivation and prompting to realize what they are capable of,” says Pope, who has seen students go on to performing careers or to study dance in college.

Admission to LoMA is by lottery. Many students haven’t danced before, while others take classes at studios or choose to pursue more serious training with Pope after school and on weekends as part of the Chimera Concept hip-hop performance troupe. To manage mixed-level contemporary and hip-hop classes and a high population of students with special needs, Pope enlists the help of her more advanced students. She asks them to lead parts of the warm-up or to work with lower-achieving students in partners on mastering new skills—practicing the fundamentals of a tendu, for example. The advanced dancers thrive in leadership roles, she says, and it lets the lower-level students catch up. “We push each other and support each other. It helps them rise to their highest level.” DT

Teaching attire: T-shirt or tank top and a jacket or sweatshirt with leggings or sweats (Body Wrappers shown). “I am a sneaker head so I always have sneakers (Pastry shown) to match my clothing. They are stylish, and they provide support and shock absorption.”





To excite students: Step Up, Fame. “Students relate to these movies, and the dance sequences can be deconstructed into several lesson ideas.”










To expand her knowledge: The Art of Dance in Education, by Jacqueline M. Smith-Autard. “It helped me develop my teaching philosophy and dance curriculum.”









To unwind: “I have chamomile tea and take a hot shower.” She uses Dr. Teal’s Relax & Relief Ultra Moisturizing Body Wash with Epsom salt.







In her free time: “I love the beach, amusement parks and shopping for sneakers and trendy dance gear.”








Photos from top: by James Alonzo White, courtesy of Amanda Pope; courtesy of manufacturer, ©Thinkstock

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