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Competition weekends are always filled with adrenaline, focus, organized chaos, last minute preparations and camaraderie which holds a studio together to represent themselves in their best light and dance their hearts out. I mean, this is it…Show-time baby!

While we place emphasis on making sure dancers are ready, costumes are pristine, music is ready to go, entries are set and our students are all in a good headspace before they perform, there is another aspect of competition we should be reinforcing with our dancers. Attending the FREE master classes which are offered by the competition.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard dancers give reasons why they can’t attend classes and watched how many studio owners allow it and dismiss the importance of attending. There are so many reasons why getting your dancers into class is essential, not just for the exposure but for embracing the entire competition experience.

Dancers should want to take as many classes as possible with as many teachers as possible. That is an important notion we should be reminding our students of all the time. The mindset shouldn’t be solely placed on, “remembering their choreography,” for that day. The excuse shouldn’t be, “We have to rehearse our numbers, so I can’t go take class.” To be blunt, rehearsal time is up. If you don’t know your blocking and piece by now, it’s as good as it’s going to get. Taking class, however will enhance your performance and/or help remember the bigger picture.

You may not think that judges who teach the classes know whether you’re there or not, but you’d be surprised. Judges remember and recognize faces quicker than you think, especially if your studio has multiple entries over new course of a weekend. Now, not taking class won’t necessarily affect your scoring, but it can make a judge perk up at their desk and want to invest in a hard-working dancer who shows their face in class. We are also teachers too, after all. It helps us learn a little more about the dancer and seeing them tackle a master-class that may or may not be in their comfort zone says a lot about them as a student and the training they are receiving.

Studio owners, this should be a requirement, plain and simple. Having another vantage point for your dancers to learn from and another, objective eye to critique them and give feedback can do two things. One, it reinforces what your faculty has been telling them already and two, exposes them to perhaps something new which they can work on and progress towards. Even in the situation where they may not receive one on one feedback, the message to your students should be, they will always take away something from class if they pay attention and invest in it 100%. Additionally, dancing alongside dancers from other studios is a healthy experience. They are making friends, for sure, but they are also dancing alongside their peers who may dance and train differently from them. Those peers may be more advanced than them or not but it should give them a healthy, “push” to want to dance their best and work up to their own ability.

So, the next time your dancers show a disinterest in competition master-classes, make it a point to stress their importance and require attendance, that’s part of being in Company. Class is part of being a dancer. It’s not just about putting on the costume and remembering the steps. It’s about the entire experience. It’s about growing and wanting to learn new things from new teachers who are thrilled to be sharing their knowledge with you that day. So, dive in, dance your hearts out and get in class whenever given the golden opportunity. It will only provide the dancer with more experience under their belt and a new teacher who may remember them and invest in their progress in years to come!

Good luck to all this competition season!
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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