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             Dance teachers, we have the advantage of insight from an educational and experiential standpoint.  At one time, we were in our students’ shoes, just about ready to conquer the dance world and take our first steps into the professional arena. We see it clearly and can relate. After all, it is the studio and teacher who trains them, develops them and balances the nurturing and the disciplinary ‘push’ necessary to ensure professional preparation. We watch their progress and remember a time when we too were at that pivotal point for the next phase of our career to begin. What I never expected however, while in the midst of training this next generation of professional dancers to plie, point and flex, was to discover a whole other area of talent and creativity that has not been examined and given the attention it fully deserves, particularly within the private studio sector.

              This realization initially occurred quite a few years ago on a day where I did not have time to choreograph more than a 32 count phrase for my advanced modern class. The class included my 18-year-old senior company who were amazing technicians and who I knew would pick up these counts in 10 minutes. It was my intention to reach down in my teacher “goody bag” that day and teach them a few choreographic devices, which I would then have them use to manipulate the phrase, add counts of their own movement to, etc. However, what began as an initial attempt to “fill time,” turned out to be one of my greatest learning moments as a teacher; and was being taught to me by my students.  I never imagined that the choreography they would develop, would be so sophisticated, so intricate and so refreshing. Over the years, I have come to take note in my choreography-composition and technique classes, not only of the technical proficiency but also the choreographic talents of adolescent dancers.

            As we can all attest to, today’s pre-professional adolescent dancers within the studio setting are still most often trained within the realm of “do and follow.” By late adolescence, the product has often been representative of technically proficient dancers. After much consideration though, I wondered, how does choreographic training come into play, if at all? Wouldn’t the integration of both technical and creative training then breed an even stronger generation of artists within the dance world?  While it is emphasized repeatedly throughout literature that the performance career is deemed highest on the hierarchy scale according to adolescent dancers, the passion for creating these works has also been noted.  Adolescence, as described as a time for self-discovery, autonomy and taking chances, lends itself to a pivotal time for capturing one’s aesthetic, artistry and creative risk-taking before the window of vulnerability closes; as adulthood takes over.


            It is evident that there are an increasing number of late-adolescent dancers, who are finding choreography as their true calling. This revelation may now equate to the notion of re-adjusting our own curriculums to nurture student creativity as well as their technique. Despite those teachers and studio owners who have jumped on board and recognized the value of the creative addition, there are still limited studios offering the integration of technical and choreographic training prior to higher education dance curriculums.

            As studio owners, I encourage you to entertain the recommendation of viewing the outcome of dancers when they engage in the divergent thinking skills, problem solving and comprehension of movement deconstruction that dance-making stimulates. Integration of both technique and creativity develops and cultivates an enhanced, artistic generation of dancer-choreographers; as demonstrated within my own composition classes and thesis research. By allowing dancers to create their own experiences encompassed by their technical and theoretical dance knowledge, there is enhanced opportunity for students to become dancers who think outside of the box by tapping into their creative potential; which they may not have realized existed.  Providing the prospect to create works and learn about choreographic composition also exposes dancers to endless possibilities; when given the necessary tools to explore sophisticated improvisation, architectural design and structure, artistic voice, individual aesthetic and emotional connection to one’s own work.            

            With a growing number of dancers who are recognizing their desire to go into the creative end of the professional world, it may be worthy to investigate the benefits of incorporating this content area into your own school’s curriculum. Students then are given the  advantage of multiple, informed perspectives during training, prior to entering higher-education dance programs and can also catapult your studio to the cutting-edge of a trend which is on an upward climb.


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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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