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Teaching dance is a gift afforded to us. It is a special talent and we are the lucky ones to get to do what we do each day. It does, however come with its share of responsibilities and teaching young dancers technique and performance just simply isn’t enough. The following five items are also important lessons that should be taught and expected from your dancers; starting from the youngest beginners to your oldest, most advanced pre-professionals. This also holds true for recreational students. These values set a precedent, teach etiquette, respect for the studio and themselves and implement professionalism and courtesy.

#1 SET A DRESS CODE & ADHERE TO IT CONSISTENTLY: I have taught in many, many studios and this item is still one that always sticks out to me. Dancers should have a dress code, period. Whether they are recreational or on a more advanced track, it is essential. Having dancers come into class with jean jackets, hooded sweatshirts, jeans, etc. for a lyrical class is just not OK. Remember, whether they become dancers or not is not important- recognizing there is a code and etiquette and respecting what they are doing is. If they played soccer or baseball they’d be in a uniform, dance shouldn’t be any different. Set it as expectation, not an option.

#2 DANCERS SHOULD ALWAYS THANK TEACHERS FOR CLASS: Yes. After every single class. Dancers should know they are to individually walk up to the teacher and thank them at the end of class. That is respectful. It should be the standard and the culture. I’m not talking running up to them and thanking them quick and running off. I’m talking, making eye contact, thanking them and even throwing in a curtsy if you’re really feeling proper etiquette.

#3 DANCERS SHOULD ALWAYS THANK TEACHERS FOR CORRECTIONS: Corrections and constructive feedback are gifts. Individual attention should be looked at with appreciation that a teacher noticed them and wanted to individually help them to progress. With that way of looking at it, dancers should always say, “thank you,” after receiving a note.

#4 LEAVE BAD ATTITUDES OUTSIDE: Everyone has a bad day. Everyone gets in a bad mood. We’re human. What’s not OK is a consistent poor attitude that affects the energy of the rest of the dancers on a regular basis. Setting an open door policy for dancers to come in and discuss any problems, issues, concerns, etc. should always be offered but coming in with eye rolling, side eyes, talking under one’s breath, giving notes to other dancers, bullying, etc. should be set as a zero-tolerance policy. While it is wonderful for our dancers to be confident, value they’re worth and minds and respect themselves, there is still a rule to respect your elders and others and knowing one’s place in the grand scheme of studio culture. You are not their friend, you are their teacher, their mentor and their studio director. You should be expecting to be treated as such and they should be treating their peers the same way as well. You should be a community growing together.

#5 NOTHING IS OWED TO YOU: In today’s climate, everything is about instant gratification. The immediate. The now. Everyone should advance at the same time. Everyone should get a solo. Everyone should get a trophy. Unfortunately that is not realistic in the real world and we are setting our dancers up for failure and disappointment by not providing them with the coping skills they need to survive as an adult. These lessons should be taught with tact, love and compassion but they need to be taught. Reinforcing the idea of hard work, paying one’s dues, be committed, patient, dedicated and focused is a not a bad thing. It’s not being too tough on them, it’s not being mean, it is teaching preparation and having students understand nothing in this real world is owed to you. You do the work and you reap the rewards. Failure is part of success. Everyone develops at their own pace. While that may be a hard lesson for young dances to learn at times, it will lessen the blow when they become adults. You are their guide, so guide them through love and explanation so they understand. While they may not understand in that exact moment, they will look back one day and thank you for “teaching,” them these important life lessons.


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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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