For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Studio Owners

Courtesy Santa Barbara Dance Arts

Alana Tillim had an inkling early in the pandemic. "I've always had a gut feeling that this was going to be a very long haul," she recalls. And unlike us pie-in-the-sky dreamers—who never imagined we'd still be operating on Zoom almost 10 months later—the 23-year veteran business owner of Santa Barbara Dance Arts (SBDA) was, unfortunately, right.

Located in central California, SBDA is a 9,000-square-foot studio serving 1,000 students ages 3 and up and offering classes for children and adults, teen performance companies and competition teams. In normal times, SBDA also operates a small dance retail shop and café, and rents space to wedding and birthday parties. After the initial shutdown of nonessential businesses and a pivot to online classes, Tillim's team worked diligently to secure county approval to reopen indoor classes beginning in June.

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For Parents
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Even in a normal year, the college application and admission process can be fraught for both your dancer and you as their parent.

But add in all the distanced, virtual and remote complications caused by COVID-19, and the process becomes even more strained. Because while your dancer may be stressing about video auditions, you are also likely stressing about your child leaving your nest and heading to a city or campus you've never actually visited. How can you be sure a particular program is a fit?

Dance Teacher spoke with a university dance department director, an admissions officer and a high school guidance counselor to provide some tips for tackling college decisions—all from afar.

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For Parents
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As adults, we know the pitfalls of social media: the screen-time addiction, the misinformation, the bullying, the predators. So when your tween comes to you with a request for a dance-focused Instagram account, it's natural to initially be opposed. But completely prohibiting its use is not realistic in our increasingly digital world. "It's the social norm these days," says Danielle Zar, a licensed professional counselor who specializes in parent education. "Not letting your teen or tween on social media can affect their peer relationships."

So how can you give your dancer some autonomy, but also ensure her social-media usage is safe and healthy? Here, Zar and dance dad Chad Hatala—who monitors daughters Taylor and Reese Hatala's verified accounts with a cumulative following of nearly 1.8 million—offer their advice. The key? Finding what works for your family, because it's not one-size-fits-all.

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Teachers Trending
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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For Parents
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Continuing dance classes virtually during the pandemic is important for a child's sense of community and physical and emotional health. But it's understandable for them to be increasingly frustrated by learning via screens. (It's also understandable for those lucky students who've gone back to in-person classes to be frustrated by necessary social-distancing and mask-wearing procedures in the studio.) Zoom fatigue, the lack of peer energy during classes and grief over canceled events can be disheartening, and may even lead to some dancers reaching a breaking point.

So what do you do when your child suddenly wants to quit dance? We asked licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Christina Donaldson, an advisory panel member of Youth Protection Advocates in Dance who works with adolescent dancers, for her advice.

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Teachers Trending
Courtesy Groove With Me

Look up buzzwords for 2020 and "pivot" is likely near the top of the list. It's a word that, for much of the dance industry, has meant transitioning to a new virtual world for training and performances. Yet for Abby McCreath, the executive director of Groove with Me (GWM) in East Harlem, New York, a move to online classes didn't go far enough to fill the changing needs of her studio community.

In June, after surveying the studio's families to determine their needs, McCreath and GWM staff distributed bags full of items such as Children's Tylenol, shampoo, batteries, peanut butter, mac and cheese, books—"things families can't get at a food bank, and things you inevitably need at 11 pm," she says. A lack of technology at home was also an issue; GWM supplied eight Chromebooks to students in need, and the plan is to have several more in the studio, once it reopens, for homework stations. "I want to have counselors and social workers available in the studio, along with tutoring and childcare, too, so parents can look for work. I want to serve food—that's my fantasy. But most of all," she says, "we need to be adaptable to our students' needs."

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For Parents
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As studios in many areas begin to open up with safety protocols in place, dance students are, of course, itching to get back into class. But just because dancers can go back to in-person training doesn't mean all families are ready for their children to actually do so.

As a parent, it's understandable to feel caught between a rock (your dancer's will to attend in-person class) and a hard place (your concerns surrounding COVID-19). Yet no matter how many tears are shed or how much bargaining your dancer tries, the bottom line is that when it comes to issues of health and safety, you—the parent—have the final say.

Still, there may be ways to soften the blow, as well as best practices for setting or amending expectations. We asked Danielle Zar, a child and adolescent psychotherapist who specializes in parent education, to share some tips for this tricky situation.


First things first:

Always acknowledge your child's feelings. "Empathize with them," says Zar. "You want your dancer to feel heard. And if you create a relationship in which he or she feels like they can turn to you and feel acknowledged, it's more likely that they'll turn to you in the event of a problem."

Try saying this:

"I hear how frustrating and upsetting this is for you. It must be so hard to see your friends returning to class when our rule, for now, is that you stick with virtual classes." Zar emphasizes the "for now," which leaves room for change. "It helps to include the idea that there will be an opportunity to work together to figure out what to do moving forward."

Brace yourself:

"Not being allowed back in the studio may elicit some really angry and frustrated feelings," says Zar. Maybe your teen storms off or verbally fights back, or maybe your younger dancer is sad because they feel left out. Regardless, remain available for any feeling—even if acknowledging it doesn't seem to help in the moment. "The message you're sending is 'I hear you. I'm here for you. And I'm looking out for you and keeping you safe," says Zar.

Listen. And listen some more:

Never dismiss your child's feelings ("It's only dance class," for instance) or try to talk her out of how she's feeling ("You can't be mad because you don't even like that ballet class"). Arguments can be exacerbated when children feel they aren't being listened to or understood.

Solve problems together: 

For older dancers, ask them what may make continued virtual learning more bearable, and, together, decide what may be feasible: Maybe it's creating a better dance space in your home or adding special one-on-one training sessions with their favorite teacher. "If it's more of the social aspect that's missing, especially for younger kids," says Zar, "consider adding some safe, socially distanced and masked playdates with dance friends you trust."

Going forward:

When you're ready to begin reconsidering a return to the studio, have another conversation with your child about rules and expectations. "Research the studio's safety guidelines together and discuss what will be expected of your dancer," says Zar. "Ask what she'd do if her classmates weren't following the rules. Would she feel comfortable saying to a friend 'Hey, Betty, back off--you're too close'?" Think about your child's ability to keep proper distance from others and to determine what's safe and what's not. "Above all," says Zar, "let them know that the ultimate condition of eventually getting back into the studio is a willingness to communicate with you under any circumstance."

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