Navigating the convention world can be daunting, but also well worth the effort. After all, these events offer many lessons and experiences that students can’t gain in the studio alone. Exposing your dancers to new instructors, classes and genres can make them more versatile performers, with the added benefit of updating them on the latest trends.
Helping your students make the most of their convention experiences requires a little prep work. By telling them what to expect and offering a few tips, you’ll make them feel more comfortable and ready to concentrate on class. Here, we take a look at several ways to get your dancers convention-ready.
- Be ready to Learn
The first thing to tell your students is that they should approach convention class with a positive attitude, ready to absorb everything. “Faculty members want to see their expressive faces,” says Pam Chancey, executive director of The PULSE On Tour. “They want to see dancers looking at them and listening.” Be sure to stress that students should be on their best behavior, just as they would at the studio.
- Prepare to Make Adjustments
Of course, there are several differences when it comes to taking class in the hotel and convention center ballrooms where dance conventions typically take place: The cavernous space and carpeted floors are a far cry from the comforts of a dance studio. Prepare your students for the adjustments they’ll have to make in order to dance in this new environment. For starters, remind them to bring a variety of shoes. Because of the carpeting, teachers may ask students to wear shoes more conducive to the floor than the style, or they may ask them to dance barefoot.
Other tips to keep in mind include standing away from the speakers—dancers won’t be able to hear the instructor with music blaring in their ears. Also, remind them to secure their dance bags underneath chairs in the classroom so they and their fellow classmates don’t trip over loose belongings.
- Mix It Up
Experiencing the varied styles of convention teachers is often what makes class so exciting. But students who are trained by only one teacher at home can have a hard time embracing another instructor’s style and movement.
To help dancers prepare for unfamiliar techniques, Chancey suggests the following exercise: “Switch up the classes in your studio and let everybody get a different teacher,” she says. “That will juggle the routine so students are ready for new approaches by the time they get to the convention.” If you don’t have a large staff, consider inviting a guest teacher from a local college or K–12 school to teach a class or two.
- Scope Out the Space
Call the convention company whose event you’ll be attending to learn more about the venue, then share the information with your students before your trip. For instance, if the convention includes a competition or showcase that requires students to dance on a stage, be sure to get the dimensions beforehand. Using masking tape, mark the dimensions of the stage in a school gym or cafeteria, then allow your dancers to explore and practice in the space. This will help them feel more confident when they take the stage at the convention.
Plan to arrive early and take a tour together to help everyone get their bearings. During this time, you can coordinate schedules as a group. Clarify exactly where and when to meet to ensure that no one will miss classes due to confusion about time or location. Point out where the water stations are and remind everyone to stay hydrated.
- Keep parents involved
Don’t forget the parents! They want to know what to expect, too. The PULSE On Tour, for example, offers an online “Parent Packet” for studio owners to print and distribute. It describes what to expect and eliminates questions that you and your staff would otherwise have to field repeatedly. Some events even offer parents’ classes or invite them to participate in roundtable
discussions with convention managers.
- Seize Opportunities
Nancy O’Meara, a choreographer and dancer with Co. Dance, recommends encouraging students to step out of their comfort zones. “Teachers should stress how important it is to be in every single class,” she says. “The convention is a time for students to experience things that they don’t in their own studios. So even if your kids don’t normally take tap, they should take the tap class. Get the best out of everything.”
- Think Positively
Remind students that they’ll encounter dancers of all skill levels at conventions. If they come across someone who is “better” than they are, advise them not to be discouraged. “I don’t like when kids are watching somebody in the classroom with their arms crossed, thinking, ‘Wow she’s so good,’” says O’Meara, who suggests telling students, “You can be that good in your own way, but you’ve got to push yourself and work harder.” Find inspiration in observing what’s out there and use it to set new goals for yourself and your students.
- Bond and Socialize
Beyond technical training, conventions offer opportunities for social growth. In fact, says Chancey, your students can benefit outside the classroom as well as inside. “It’s like a retreat for your studio to get away and grow stronger friendships,” she says. “Keeping that in mind is just as important as learning a new leap or turn. Building strong bonds and friendships among dance company members can help solve a lot of issues down the line.” In addition to strengthening relationships within your studio, students will also have a chance to meet and learn from other dancers as well.
- Follow Up
After all that preparation, don’t let the excitement of the convention end when the event does. In fact, it’s important to be just as vigilant about the follow-up. Dylan Smith, a member of the Dancers Inc. faculty, recommends getting together afterward to discuss the event. “Recount how things went, what you liked and what you didn’t,” he says. “This should be something that’s carried on in the future. I think that’s what conventions are all about: taking what you do in the present and applying it to the future in your performance, your technique and your everything.” DT
Dana Grunklee received a BA in dance and English from Marymount Manhattan College. She is a dance administrator, writer and teacher living in New York City.
Although the weather is cooling down, the rapidly approaching competition season may be bringing your stress level to the boiling point. Stress can take a toll on your physical, mental and emotional health, and make for a miserable competition experience. But help is on the way. We’ve gathered advice from three pros to help you banish anxiety and sail through this season with a smile.
- Kelly McEvoy: Director, The Dance Centre, Skippack, Pennsylvania
- Anthony Morigerato: Choreographer and teacher, New York, New York
- Anna White: Dance instructor, Melinda Leigh Performing Arts Center, Mobile, Alabama
Plan in advance to reduce stress in the long run.
McEvoy: If 90 percent of the choreo-graphy is done before the school year starts, that gets rid of 90 percent of the stress. Then you have time to tweak your choreography and play with the timing and the spacing, and that’s very important. We schedule a three-week intensive in the summer, and by the end of August, the teachers are required to have 90 percent of their choreography completed.
Communicate for success.
White: A couple of weeks before competition, we give the kids a checklist of everything they need. They have to bring a two-gallon Ziploc bag for every dance they’re in, and we actually pack their clothes together in the studio. We have index cards that tell them what color tights and shoes, and they pack all that in the bag, too. Right before each competition they get new index cards with the name of their dance, the
number and what time it’s supposed to be performed. That way, when they get to competition, they can just look at the cards and say, “Okay, my hair’s supposed to be like this.” That takes stress away from the teachers because we don’t have 85 parents coming up to us saying, “Is her hair supposed to be in a ponytail or down for this dance?”
Schedule “me” time.
Morigerato: Take time for you. For me, simply going to see a movie or just doing something that’s not related to dance or teaching is enough to ease my mind. It’s refreshing to be able to come back and get the work done after that because you’re energized.
White: I set up an exercise schedule. Whether it’s playing tennis or running, I try to keep that up so I have my own personal time, which is the first thing to run away during competition season. I’ll plan to take a bubble bath or play tennis with a friend and have lunch afterward. It helps my sanity knowing that, even if it’s just once a week, I have that time just for me—and I’ve scheduled it in, so I’m not going to burn CDs for competition all day and I’m not going to fill out worksheets. I have that hour to look forward to.
Remember that laughter is the best medicine.
White: Having a sense of humor plays a big role in being a competition teacher—you can either laugh off the mistakes that students made, or you can laugh off the nervousness. Or, if you forget something, you can laugh it off and say, “Okay, let’s make the best of it and keep going,” because otherwise it becomes too stressful.
Being backstage can be so cutthroat with some of the other studios. We encourage the kids and staff to meet the other instructors and dancers and joke around with them and start friendships. When the students see their competitors as friends, and when I see my social peers and teachers as friends, it really helps to respect others and makes it more relaxing.
Check your perspective and remember why you are there.
McEvoy: You can’t take it too seriously. We don’t go to win. If we win, that’s a bonus. We go to take class, experience different master teachers, see different schools and find out how other kids dance. That takes the stress off a lot. I’m happy as long as they do their best and they act professionally. That’s huge for me. I don’t care about the trophy; I care about how my kids act, how my kids dance and whether they have fun. Performing is just part of the experience.
Morigerato: I love what I do. If stress is really too much of a factor for people, then they shouldn’t be involved in competitions, because the stress they carry can get passed on to their students, and that’s not a conducive or productive environment for teaching children.
Students eventually become a mirror of their teachers. They become what they’ve learned. So if you’re a teacher, you should really love it. You shouldn’t be in it for kids to win plastic. You should be in it for them to learn to be
better dancers and use competition as a tool to help them realize that goal. And if the teachers were able to think about that a bit more, then competition wouldn’t be as stressful and it would be a better environment for the kids, the teachers and the parents. DT
Dana Grunklee is a dance writer and educator living in New York City.
Therapeutic Exercises Using
Therapeutic Exercises Using Resistive Bands
by Caroline Corning Creager, PT
Executive Physical Therapy, Inc.
In a nutshell: Two user-friendly manuals to share in class or use at home.
As much as dancers love to dance, there’s no denying the toll it takes on their bodies. Taking steps to reduce and prevent injury is the subject of these books, which outline how to incorporate foam rollers and resistive bands into your exercise regimen in order to stretch and strengthen. Exercises are all illustrated with detailed step-by-step instructions and special notes on correct execution and safety. Also included are tips on how to treat such injuries as piriformis syndrome, hip tendonitis, ankle sprains and low-back pain. For readers seeking continued longevity in movement, the wealth of information Creager provides is invaluable.
The Meaning of Tango: The Story of the Argentinian Dance
by Christine Denniston
Portico (Anova Books)
In a nutshell: A great tool for providing a solid foundation for an education in Tango dance.
Having taught tango on five continents, Denniston is well-versed in this lively genre. Beginning with the meaning and purpose behind the dance, she describes its history, focusing on the immigration, romance, politics and passion that were imperative to its inception and how it has evolved over time. Detailed instructions and diagrams help readers understand the technical aspects of tango, including transferring weight, holding a partner correctly and turning.
The Fosse Style
by Debra McWaters
In a nutshell: A step-by-step guide to perfecting Fosse style.
McWaters, who was the director-choreographer of the international tour of Fosse, dissects the dancemaker’s notoriously difficult style in this detailed book. As she shows, there’s more to it than hunched shoulders, turned-in legs and arms akimbo. Beginning with individual movements such as “soft-boiled-egg hands” and “broken doll arms,” McWaters explains the intricacies of hand, arm, shoulder and hip isolations before progressing to group movement, locomotor steps and the nuances of facial expression essential to the work. Photos, passed down by Fosse himself to Gwen Verdon, Ann Reinking, Ben Vereen, Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli, illustrate the craft, look and attitude of the technique that continues to thrive today.
by Ann Hutchinson Guest and Tina Curran
In a nutshell: A guide to understanding movement through dance notation.
Hutchinson Guest and Curran, founder and co-founder of the Language of Dance Centers in the UK and U.S., respectively, explain how dance notation can be used to deepen a dancer’s relationship with her craft in this second edition. Beneficial to both beginners and dance notation professionals, the book pays special attention to areas such as balance, rotation, direction in space and flexion and extension. The authors bring their explanations to life with illustrations, as well as a music CD composed to accompany studies in the book.
The Body Eclectic: Evolving Practices in Dance Training
Edited by Melanie Bales and Rebecca Nettl-Fiol
University of Illinois Press
In a nutshell: An intellectual look at modern dance training over time.
Ohio State University dance professor Bales and University of Illinois dance professor Nettl-Fiol have compiled a collection of essays and interviews that investigate the evolution of modern dance over the past 50 years. They also take a look at the changing role of dance education during this time, explaining how class-taking practices both change and mirror what society values in dance. Contributors include Wendell Beavers, Veronica Dittman, David Dorfman, Martha Myers, Ralph Lemon, Bebe Miller and Tere O’Connor. Suggested sources for further reading are also provided.
Remembering Nureyev: The Trail
of a Comet
by Rudi van Dantzig
University Press of Florida
In a nutshell: An intimate look at the subject from a friend’s perspective.
Rudolf Nureyev requested that his friend and colleague van Dantzig share his story. While their relationship was strained by clashes in lifestyle and artistic choices, Nureyev believed van Dantzig could give a truthful account of his life and career. In this intimately told memoir, Nureyev is portrayed as a man rather than a legend. The author takes all aspects of his life into consideration, including his volatile disposition and undeniable allure. Beginning with their first meeting in a dressing room prior to a performance of Raymonda in 1968, the book spans many important moments in the dancer’s life. Although Nureyev passed away more than 15 years ago, van Dantzig ensures that his influence as a dancer, friend, fighter and realist will never be forgotten.
Meet the Dancers: From Ballet, Broadway, and Beyond
by Amy Nathan
Henry Holt and Company
In a nutshell: Young dancers will find inspiration in this collection of pros’ tales.
In Nathan’s compilation of stories, we meet 16 professional dancers who specialize in everything from ballet to Broadway. Whether they began dancing at age 3, like New York City Ballet dancer Teresa Reichlen, or age 13, like Broadway’s Elizabeth Parkinson, the subjects share the challenges they encountered in their rise to success. The stories prove rewarding and inspiring for beginners and young students. They also touch on issues such as body image, the college debate and the benefits and drawbacks of competitions. A portion of the proceeds from the book’s sales will be used to promote dance education.
House of Dance
by Beth Kephart
Laura Geringer Books
In a nutshell: An entertaining and emotional read for teen students.
In this novel, dance can empower both participants and observers. Fifteen-year-old Rosie learns this lesson at a very difficult time in her life. Abandoned by her father and living with a mother who spends most of her time with her business partner, Rosie begins daily visits to her ailing grandfather. It is on one of these trips that she discovers a studio called the House of Dance, where she takes up ballroom dance lessons with professional champion Max—a life-altering decision for both Rosie and her family. Young readers will empathize with Rosie as she discovers an untapped talent that helps her learn to celebrate each day. Kephart has penned a great read that will speak to teen dancers who are faced with more responsibility at home than most.
Behind the Scenes
by Nancy Goldner
University Press of Florida
In a nutshell: A breakdown of some of Balanchine’s most celebrated ballets.
As a dance critic and former dancer, Goldner has a thorough knowledge of the subject and adds her own insights to create a unique perspective. Here she takes a close look at Balanchine’s vast repertory rather than the dance legend’s biography, incorporating critical analyses and detailed descriptions of the movement and storyline of some of Balanchine’s most celebrated ballets. She also provides a history of each piece, placing it in the context of the artist’s life and referring to her own experiences with him from her days at The School of American Ballet. Beginning with Apollo, which Balanchine choreographed at age 24, the book covers 20 other masterpieces and culminates with Ballo della Regina, choreographed 50 years later. DT
- In what genre did Joffrey begin his dance training?
- Which ballet marked Joffrey’s first performance on a professional stage?
- With whom did Joffrey form an artistic and domestic partnership that continued throughout his life?
- Where did Joffrey open his first school?
- What was Joffrey the first to do with his company, despite many criticizing him as being commercialized?
- Joffrey was the first American artistic director to present the work of which Danish choreographer?
- Name one of the Diaghilev-era ballet recreations for which Joffrey is noted.
- By 1976, the company was the main showcase for which choreographer’s ballets?
- Which ballet did Joffrey première in 1967, drawing both shock and elation from audience members and critics?
- Since Joffrey’s death in 1988, where has the ballet company taken up residence?
- A Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo production of Petrouchka
- Gerald Arpino
- Greenwich Village
- He was the first to commission ballets from many contemporary ballet, modern and avant-garde choreographers, particularly Americans.
- August Bournonville
- Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, Massine’s Parade or Balanchine’s Cotillon
- Kurt Jooss
- The historic Auditorium Theatre in Chicago
Pictured: Robert Joffrey; Credit Herbert Migdoll/Courtesy of Joffrey Ballet Chicago