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When you work with young dancers, you are probably used to the usual complaints of popping hips and sore muscles. Dance teachers hear about it on the regular and rightly so. We want our dancers to verbalize, with full transparency when something feels amiss and/or they are in pain. The question is, how we teach our dancers to recognize the difference (on their own bodies) between pain/injury and discomfort.

I preface this by saying that dance teachers should never be dismissive of a dancer communicating something, whether it be physical, mentally or emotionally going on. However, dancers do need to recognize when something is really wrong and when something is just uncomfortable. This takes practice and somatic awareness. This is another lesson we should be imparting to our young dancers, so they develop their own intuitive sense.

Recognition can be kept very simple - until further evaluated by a physician. Speaking specifically of physical pain- it is usually something that prevents us from dancing- a broken bone, a torn muscle, often a clearly visible change, etc. It might even stop the dancer in their tracks and is obvious and cannot go unnoticed. It persists. Pain can also certainly persist over time. It can also prevent the dancer from dancing fully and is noticeable, chronic and undeniable.

Discomfort is a little trickier to explain to a dancer without it seeming dismissive, which we never want to be. But, it may be something a dancer can in fact work through. Is it a sore muscle from yesterday’s challenging class? Is it a new sensation because you’re using muscles in a correct way you’ve recently discovered? Is it a growth spurt? A bruise? Do you need to increase your stretching? Your strength? Is it anatomical makeup? Something that you need to learn to adapt your own body to and make necessary adjustments? Is it something that subsides with ice, heat, rest, etc.?

Here is another difference- sometimes working through mild-moderate discomfort is necessary to propel us to the next level, when done safely and accurately. Working in pain, however is never necessary or suggested. This is something we can teach our dancers over time. The more keen their awareness becomes, the more apt they are to safely monitor and assess themselves. This also goes for their mental and emotional wellbeing as well. Safety first, dance teachers.

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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