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There is nothing more frustrating than having a dancer in class possessing the raw ability, natural facility and talent a dancer dreams of, but somehow lacks the motivation and enthusiasm vs. some of our less naturally inclined students.
I'm sure you've all experienced it. The dancer in class with extension for days, effortless turning ability, ridiculous flexibility and feet that are unparalleled. Their attitude however is 'ho-hum' at best. Everything looks like marking and the self-motivation to move beyond anything out of their comfort zone is lacking. As a teacher, it can be frustrating to watch and the lack of enthusiasm often makes you stop and wonder whether they enjoy dance at all.

So what do you do when you have other dancers looking up to your prodigies and willing to work three times as hard? How do you explain to that dancer that marking in rehearsal and approaching things with a laissez faire attitude will not cut it? While it's difficult to balance, it is worthy of a conversation to ensure that the dancer even recognizes the attitude they give off to you and other students. And more importantly, to ask and figure out if there is anything else going on? Getting to the root of the issue is half the battle. What drives them?  Are they bored? Are they being challenged enough? Do they enjoy being in class? Are they distracted? Do they recognize that the big fish in a small pond may go out into the real dance world where others’ talent far surpasses them if they don't keep wanting to learn and grow? These are all important conversations to have.

It's also equally important to praise your less technical dancers for the energy and hard work ethic they bring into the space. Reminding dancers that people would rather watch a less talented dancer living up on stage and giving every ounce of their soul vs. a dancer who can do fifty turns but is as boring as watching paint dry is relevant. Being a talented technician is important but so is passion, wherewithal, drive and determination. It's important for naturally abled dancers to remember the old adage that sitting pretty and complacency is the quickest way for an underdog working their tail off to quickly surpass them before they even realize it.
We want all of our dancers to excel and love their dance experience.  To feel confident. Navigating different levels, personalities and energy is a huge responsibility of a great dance teacher, who creates experiences where everyone works to their full capacity and strives to excel in everything they do.

Good luck to all!
See you in the dance studio,

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Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford is a native New Yorker and graduate of NYU Steinhardt's Dance Education Master’s Program; with a PK-12 New York State Teaching Certification. Her double-concentration Master’s Degree includes PK-12 pedagogy and dance education within the higher-education discipline. She also holds a BFA in dance performance from the UMASS Amherst 5 College Dance Program where she was a Chancellor's Talent Award recipient. Jess now works extensively with children, adolescents and professionals as choreographer and teacher and conducts national and international master-classes specializing in the genres of modern, contemporary, musical theatre and choreography-composition. Jess’ national and international performance career includes works such as: The National Tour of Guys & Dolls, The European Tour of Grease, West Side Story, Cabaret, Sweet Charity, Salute to Dudley Moore at Carnegie Hall, guest-dancer with the World Famous Pontani Sisters and IMPULSE Modern Dance Company. Jess has been a faculty member for the Perichild Program & Peridance Youth Ensemble & taught contemporary and jazz at the historic New Dance Group and 92nd Street Y in NYC. She was Company Director at the historic Steffi Nossen School of Dance/Dance in Education Fund and in 2008 traveled to Uganda where she taught creative-movement to misplaced children. The experience culminated with Jess being selected as a featured instructor at the Queen's Kampala Ballet & Modern Dance School. She has conducted workshops for the cast of LA REVE at the Wynn, Las Vegas and recently taught at the 2011 IDS International Dance Teacher Conference at The Royal Ballet in London, UK. She is also on faculty for the annual Dance Teacher Web Conferences in Las Vegas, NV. Currently, Jess is a faculty member at the D'Valda & Sirico Dance & Music Centre and master teacher & adjudicator for various national and international dance competitions. Recently, she has finished her NYU Master’s thesis research on the choreographic process of technically advanced adolescent dancers and is the creator of “PROJECT C;” a choreography-composition curriculum for the private studio sector. Jess is also faculty member, contributing writer and presenter in the choreography and “how to” teaching segments on the celebrated For more info, visit her website at

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