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

Carrying nervous tension in the body can make a tricky tap combo harder than it needs to be. “Students can often be insecure about making mistakes, worrying about other people in class or

what I’m thinking of them,” says Zada Cheeks, a performer with the Chicago Human Rhythm Project and a tap teacher throughout the Chicagoland area. “I tell them just breathe, relax, take a couple of seconds. We’re good.” If a dancer struggles to pick up a step, Cheeks will have her practice it alone without music so she can better hear the details of her footwork and build confidence in her ability. “If you make a mistake, that’s fine because it means your body’s work- ing into it,” he says.

Originally trained in jazz, ballet, modern and acrobatics, Cheeks added tap to his repertoire around age 11. He frequently incorporates elements of his diverse training into his classes, pointing out similarities and differences between genres to clarify his approach. For example, while holding one’s center is essential in almost all styles, tappers apply the concept differently than classical dancers. “In ballet, you use your center to lift up, while tap dancing is grounded and low to the floor, more like modern dance,” Cheeks says. “I think those comparisons help students apply it to their own bodies.” DT

In his downtime, Cheeks is a self- proclaimed video gamer. “RPGs

[role-playing games] are my favorite,” he says. “I like to explore the world and take

my time with the game.”

“I can’t live without Snickers bars. They’re too good to give up.”

Lately, Cheeks has been favoring

Bloch’s Jason Samuels Smith tap shoes when teaching and performing.

“Whenever I mention famous dancers, I have my students go look them up on YouTube and see how well they move. I often tell people to watch the Nicholas Brothers in Stormy Weather and any videos of Savion Glover.”

“I always carry extra shoes laces, screws and a screwdriver to keep my taps solid.” (Só Dança shown.)

Photos: head shot and teaching photo courtesy of Zada cheeks; Nicholas Brothers Youtube screen grab; all others courtesy of manufacturers

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Dance Teacher Tips
At CPYB, students learn from an early age the importance of strong corps work. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of CPYB

Dancers at the University of Arizona recently performed Jerome Robbins' Antique Epigraphs, an ensemble piece for eight women that requires intricate linear formations and walking in unison. "It was super-challenging for us," says dance professor Melissa Lowe. "Students needed a heightened sense of awareness, or it wasn't going to happen." Lowe asked dancers to use their intuition and aural sensibilities to help determine where they needed to be, when they should be there and how to get to those places—together.

Teaching dancers to work in unison, whether as a large corps de ballet or small ensemble group, is an integral part of their training. It requires teamwork, attention to detail and thoughtful preparation for a successful group effort. Teachers need to provide the right steps and counts to ensure cohesiveness, of course. But how you set the material will also encourage dancers to be in line and in sync—while still allowing them to be individuals.

Make sure they show up

Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of University of Arizona

University of Arizona students at the end of Balanchine's Serenade

Missing dancers can be disastrous for a group piece. "If it's a studio production, there has to be an agreement up front for students who want to be involved," says Lorita Travaglia, ballet mistress at Colorado Ballet. "When one person is missing and doesn't know what they're doing, it really does affect the whole group." Understanding the importance of commitment is a crucial part of dancers' (and their families') training. "They have the responsibility to everyone, not just themselves," she says.










Showstopper is the nation's leading dance competition. It provides the perfect platform for dancers, teachers, and choreographers to showcase their talents and hard work. Showstopper's environment is inviting, motivating, and above all, inspiring. If you haven't experienced it, now is the time!

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Dancer Health
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After returning from my first summer intensive away, I started my first diet at 13. My teacher patted my thigh and told me, "that wasn't there before."

Without any nutrition education and because I was too embarrassed to tell my mother what had happened, I started restricting food and only eating things that contained three grams of fat or less. Clearly, as a young teen, I didn't have the knowledge to safely wade through dieting tips and formulate a plan for myself.

Now as a health coach for dancers, I approach the issue of weight with a new found sensitivity–and urge dance educators to do the same.

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Dance Teacher Tips
Photos by Jayme Thornton for Pointe. Modeled by Anna Greenberg of American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.

Planks are one of the most popular exercises for core strength, but they're not just about flat abs. Julie O'Connell, physical therapist and performing arts program manager at Chicago's Athletico Physical Therapy, says that dancers can use them to maximize their conditioning: Look at the corrections you're getting in class or the choreography you're learning and mirror those concepts in your strength work.

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Dance News
On June 9, we showcased the first group of the IMPACT program in Florida at MAD Performing Arts. Photo courtesy of MTEAF

This weekend, The Maria Torres Emerging Artists Foundation is making the dreams of 12 young girls come true.

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Studio Owners
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Though a new studio year brings with it its own stressors—class scheduling, orientation, newly sore muscles—you'd be remiss if you didn't also use this opportunity to carefully consider what's been working (and what hasn't) for your studio. Is it time to repaint your lobby? Get rid of that more-trouble-than-it's-worth vending machine? Finally add a social-media clause to your student handbook? August is your chance to roll up your sleeves and give every aspect of your business the mental elbow grease it needs.

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Just for fun
Via @tilerpeck on Instagram

One of my favorite questions to be asked is, "What does your perfect day look like?" I love it so much because I have my response down to a science! As a dance lover, it's simple. My perfect day would be filled with ALL dance ALL the time. It would be HEAVEN!

Because I know our readers are dance addicts, too, I thought you might relate to my oh-so-dance-obsessed 24 hours as well. Check out what made the list, and let me know if there are any "MUST-DO'S" that we should have included over on our Facebook page. On your next free day (lol, cute right?) give it a try, and let us know if it's as fabulous as we think it is!

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Dance News
Booker T. Alum Celeste Robbins and Linda James. Photo by Brian Guiliaux

Linda James, a dance teacher who retired in June from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, Texas, recently wrote for Arts+Culture about her 36 years of teaching.

"I am proud to say that I am a former member of the dance faculty at Booker T. (an affectionate name given to the school by recent alums). In June 2018, I retired from BTWHSPVA—a privileged position that fed my soul. When school resumes in the fall, I know that I will miss the hugs, boisterous clamor and rhythmic outbursts of spontaneous movement as students dart down the halls on the way to class and rehearsals."

She goes on to praise the success of the school's graduates, including the five male dancers in 2016 who were accepted to The Juilliard School, which admits only 10 males each year. She also thanked the local dance schools that have enriched the community:

"Thanks to the outstanding training provided by area dance studios and schools, the skill level of incoming BTWHSPVA dancers has grown steadily. The Booker T. dance faculty eagerly amplify the students' technique and foster the development of their artistry."

For the full story published at Arts+Culture, visit here.

Dance Teachers Trending

After 14 years teaching on the convention circuit, Kim McSwain's known for her positivity. And in 2017, she started a dance education and consulting agency to offer personalized training for dance studios. Through Changing Lives, she and a network of 10 experts advise on faculty training, studio-business management and consultation, parent education classes, curriculum development, choreography and private lessons for teachers and more.

McSwain is particularly known for her work with the "littles," the 5-and-under dancers, having begun as an assistant teacher in the preschool room of her local studio at age 19. Combining her own dance background (her resumé includes dancing for Britney Spears and *NSYNC) and her genuine love of children, McSwain went from assisting classes to running the studio's performance and competition teams.

"It was better than anything I'd ever felt dancing professionally," she says. "I never looked back. I always tell my faculty that their class can either light up a kid's world or it can add to the darkness most kids are already dealing with. There's nothing in-between—so let's light up their lives."

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Dancer Health
It doesn't have to be diagnosable by the DSM-5 to be dangerous to your health. Photo by Dominik Martin/Unsplash

When the cat food started smelling good, I knew I had a problem.

I'd always considered eating disorders to be extreme. Someone who never eats. Someone who weighs less than 100 pounds. Someone who gets hospitalized.

My behavior didn't fit the mental health definition of an eating disorder. I ignored it because I didn't know how to articulate it. It took me several years after the cat food smelled good to have the language to describe what was going on.

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Dance Teachers Trending
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We asked and you answered! Here are the top 11 things dance teachers wish their students understood. Let us know if you agree with these over on our Facebook page!

Thanks for being fabulous and keeping your students' best interests at heart. We vow to love you all forever and ever! xoxo

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