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When choreographers have a vision, it’s usually about the work in its entirety. The concept. The story. The feelings they hope the movement evokes. That’s what touches the audience and speaks to their soul; the essence and the spirit of the moving bodies.

This translates to setting works on younger dancers as well. Sometimes though, without proper guidance and explanation during rehearsals, what winds up happening and becoming habit is that dancers become fixated on, “the steps,” and not the actual nuances and transitions which make a piece effortless, fluid and cohesive.

Today, especially, when dance is inundated with pieces that look more like gymnastics floor routines and endless acro elements, it can be hard to differentiate and get the message across that audiences are going to walk away not remembering the five right side tilts you did, but what moved them about the piece. Sure, there may be a moment here and there where they remember a certain movement, but more times than not, that’s not what captures people.

Young dancers have gotten in the habit of placing, “execution” over “artistry” and there is a difference. The combination of both will make a piece unstoppable but any good dance teacher understands the concept of not wanting to “see” the choreography but “see” the dancer.

So, the next time you are setting a piece, think about how your dancer is approaching it. Are they executing the steps (albeit flawlessly) or understanding how to move through the movement with breath, dimension, emotions, dynamics, characterization, nuance and soul. If you can get your dancers to start to understand the importance of this, combined with solid technique and passion, they will transcend their dances to new heights.

Good luck,

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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