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A studio’s success relies, in part, on the achievement and growth of its students. Encouraging dancers who have gone off to college or left to pursue a professional career to remain active at your studio can be a significant boon to your business.  They can enhance your faculty, host a guest class or simply lend a hand in the production of your recital. “Alumni can show current students that there is a bigger world out there than the small pond so many of them have been used to swimming in,” says Brenda Froehlich, director of Wilton Dance Studio in Wilton, Connecticut. “Older students coming back often bring with them a sense of excitement and enthusiasm that is very contagious.”
Read on to find out how to reconnect and foster lasting relationships with your recent graduates.

The Lines of Communication

Technology has made it easier than ever to communicate. College students depend on the internet as their go-to source for all information, so keeping your website current is your first step. You can post school announcements, pictures and even videos of past performances on your web page. Kirstie Spadie, artistic director of the North Carolina Dance Institute in Raleigh, North Carolina, plans to develop a special page that recent graduates can update themselves with personal news and photos.

Some studios use social networking websites like MySpace and Facebook to reach alumni. A group of graduates from The Studio Atlanta Dance in Atlanta, Georgia, recently created their own Facebook group as a way to stay in touch with one other. Angela Harris, ballet director of the pre-
professional division at the studio, frequently visits the group’s page to get in touch and make sure they are up to date on studio news.
A newsletter, via mail or e-mail, is another great method of communication. You can include a calendar of events and regular studio bulletins, as well as special alumni discounts on classes and other incentives to encourage former students to drop in.

Homegrown Teachers

Rounding out your current faculty with former students is a win-win situation: They are already experienced in the methods and styles of your school and can bring a unique point of view to the classroom by combining their studio experiences with real-world knowledge. Cheri Costales, director of Elite Dance Studio, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, rarely hires outside instructors. “My alumni have years of personal training and are already invested in the studio and the programs,” she says. “They know me and how I run my business and classes.”

Broadway Dance Center in New York City helps cultivate teacher-student relationships between older dancers and younger students even before graduation. BDC offers an assistantship program, which provides senior dancers with teaching experience and often becomes the impetus for young alumni to return after graduation, explains Emily Robinson, director of the Children & Teen Program.

Hiring alumni as guest artists can also help to broaden your students’ knowledge of different techniques and expose them to the realities of a pursuing a career in dance. Wilton Dance Studio, for example, welcomes back several alumni year after year to help choreograph and perform in year-end concerts and Nutcracker productions, says Froehlich.

These visits can reinvigorate students and faculty members alike. “What’s most rewarding as a teacher is seeing our alumni succeed, and it shows young dancers that all of their hard work will eventually pay off,” says Spadie.

In turn, the opportunity to teach special master classes or choreograph for recitals will enrich alumni’s professional experience. Those pursuing performance careers may also appreciate the opportunity to use your studio as a safe environment where they can hone their skills and create and experiment with new work.

Mentoring Matters

Mentorship programs, in which alumni offer guidance to students both in and outside the studio, are also great ways to maintain long-term relationships. For the past five years, The Studio Atlanta Dance has used its mentoring program to match graduating seniors with younger dancers.

Mentors who have gone on to college often host prospective students, and also return to the school to assist in end-of-year concerts and cheer on their mentees. As an added perk, “returning alumni and mentors have allowed current parents to see the progression and evolution of students to young adults and professionals,” says Harris.

Don’t lose sight of your students once they’ve left the nest. By making the extra effort to communicate with alumni on a regular basis, you can ensure they’re part of your dance family for years to come. DT

Andrea Lodico is a freelance writer based in New York City.

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

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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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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