How Heather Brouillard Keeps Her Pre-teens Engaged in Class

Brouillard combines ballet with lyrical to give her competition dancers a strong foundation. Photo courtesy of Brouillard

When Heather Brouillard returned to her hometown of Rutland, Vermont, after completing her law degree three years ago, she became the owner of Miss Lorraine's School of Dance, a studio her grandmother opened in 1968. “I was pretty much born into it," she says. “I grew up here and learned how to teach from my grandmother and my mother who owned the studio before me."

On top of running the studio, Brouillard teaches most of the classes offered, including a combined ballet and lyrical class for fifth- to sixth-grade girls. “I combined these two styles, because I found that the girls who really wanted to do lyrical in competition but didn't have as strong a ballet background weren't doing as well," she says. She incorporates pointe work into the class for the students who are interested and ready for the challenge. “They're fairly new to pointe, so we do a lot of foot strengthening and stretching, exercises at the barre like relevés and sautés and strengthening the legs."

After an opening stretch, a ballet barre and some across-the-floor exercises, Brouillard switches to lyrical combinations, focusing on the girls' favorite movements: leaps and turns. “If they could have a whole hour of turning, they would be happy girls," she says. However, she sometimes has to remind them why the building blocks, like barre work, are so important. “A lot of them want to do the things they see on television right now. I try to teach them, 'You want to do those amazing dance moves you see on TV, but you can't just come into the studio one day and start doing them. You have to build up to that.'"

Allie Burke, courtesy Lo Cascio

If you'd hear it on the radio, you won't hear it in Anthony Lo Cascio's tap classes.

"If I play a song that my kids know, I'm kind of disappointed in myself," he says. "I either want to be on the cutting edge or playing the classics."

He finds that most of today's trendy tracks lack the depth needed for tap, and that there's a disconnect between kids and popular music. "They have trouble finding the beat compared to older genres," he says.

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Courtesy Lovely Leaps

After the birth of her daughter in 2018, engineer Lisa McCabe had reservations about returning to the workforce full-time. And while she wanted to stay home with the new baby, she wasn't ready to stop contributing financially to her family (after all, she'd had a successful career designing cables for government drones). So, when she got a call that September from an area preschool to lead its dance program, she saw an opportunity.

The invitation to teach wasn't completely out of the blue. McCabe had grown up dancing in Southern California and had a great reputation from serving as her church's dance teacher and team coach the previous three years (stopping only to take a break as a new mother). She agreed to teach ballet and jazz at the preschool on Fridays and from there created an age-appropriate class based on her own training in the Cecchetti and RAD methods. It was a success: In three months, class enrollment went from six to 24 students, and just one year later, McCabe's blossoming Lovely Leaps brand had contracts with eight preschools and three additional teachers.

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Courtesy Shake the Ground

Dance competitions were among the first events to be shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in the U.S. in mid-March, and they've been among the last able to restart.

So much of the traditional structure of the competition—large groups of dancers and parents from dozens of different studios; a new city every week—simply won't work in our new pandemic world.

How, then, have competitions been getting by, and what does the future look like?

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