In December I attended Ballet West's Nutcracker in Salt Lake City. The show started about 15 minutes late, and during intermission one of the company's PR reps came to apologize. He let me know that the backstage/stage area was too cold, based on the union's rights, and that it had to warm up before the dancers could perform.

This idea really struck me. I hadn't thought much about the rights dancers had to a backstage that was warm. Having spent most of my life as a comp kid performing on concrete floors, it never occurred to me that I should protect my body from an environment that might be harmful to it. We just danced wherever we were told to.

Ever since that performance last month, I haven't been able to get the idea of union rights and studio kids out of my head. Every dancer, professional or not, deserves a safe space to perform. I reviewed union benefits for the Screen Actors Guild—American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) and the Actors' Equity Association (AEA), and determined a list of five rights I believe studio kids should be entitled to. I'm not advocating that they unionize, but, dance teachers, make sure you're taking care of your kiddos!!

Let us know in the comments on our Facebook page what you think about union rights and studio kids!


1. Safe workplaces

Do your due diligence to make sure your studio is a safe place for your dancers. Be vigilant about hiring teachers who are responsible and caring, and who won't bring physical or emotional harm to your kids.

2. Reasonable working conditions

I know there isn't much we can do about the fact that conventions are held on the concrete floors of hotel ballrooms, but do your best to create reasonable conditions for your dancers. Fix the bubbles in your marley floors so that nobody breaks an ankle, keep the space clean and void of mold, and don't ask your dancers to do work that will obviously cause physical harm (even if it will look cool onstage).

3. Guaranteed breaks

While there is certainly a lot to get done in preparation for rehearsals and performances, water and lunch breaks are important. Make sure you schedule some rest time during your long rehearsal days. Your dancers need it!

4. Regulated work hours

Though the number of dancing hours a student is capable of safely maintaining varies among individuals, there is certainly a point where studios cross the line. Be smart, and consider setting a limit on how long your dancers can be in the studio. Help them find balance between school, dance, family and friends. Their emotional well-being and ultimate success depends on it.

5. Vacation and sick days

Let your dancers take the day off if they are puking their guts out, even if there is a competition that coming weekend. Don't require your dancers to rehearse on important national holidays. You need the day off, too, so make vacation and sick days a priority!

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Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

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Courtesy of Shawl-Anderson Dance Center

For seven decades, Frank Shawl's bright and kind spirit touched thousands of dancers in the studio and in the audience.

After dancing professionally in New York City and with the May O'Donnell Dance Company, Shawl moved with Victor Anderson to the San Francisco Bay Area and founded Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in 1958. It is the longest running arts organization in Berkeley.

The two ran their own company for 15 years and Shawl-Anderson Dance Center became a home for dance for students and artists alike. It currently runs 120 classes and workshops every week for children and adults, plus artist residencies, rehearsal space and intimate performances. (If you have never visited, the Center is actually a large house converted into four studio spaces.)

Shawl taught modern classes at the studio until 1990, performed into his late 70s and took classes at the Center into his mid 80s.

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Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Photo by Sedge Leblang, courtesy of Dance Magazine Archives

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You've got the teaching talent, the years of experience, the space and the passion—now all you need are some students!

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This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

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For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

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Listen up, dance teachers! October 7 is National Frappe Day (the drink), but as dance enthusiasts, we obviously like to celebrate a little differently. We've compiled four fun frappé combinations on Instagram for your perusal!

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Recently I got to reflect on my 22-year-old self and the first modern technique classes I subbed for at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. (Thank you to Dana Lawton for giving me the chance and opportunity to dive in.)

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