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Anytime you are dealing with children and adolescents who spend an enormous amount of time together, you are bound to hit rough patches, clicks, disagreements and gossip. It’s inevitable. What our dancers must remember is that they are team. They are an ensemble who should be supporting, relying on and lifting up one another- not pitting against each other or making the dance studio a place full of stress and anxiety. It should be their haven and joy. With so many personalities, life events and growing pains occurring, it may take a minute to get everyone into the swing of things and to gel cohesively, but they will. Remember, every family goes through ‘it.’ It’s no different with your dance family.

While our training is important, so is a student’s well-being, mental health and feeling of belonging. Taking time to insert team building events into your curriculum is a way to “rally the troops” and bring everyone together. Below are four of my go-to team building exercises that I love doing with my dancers and are also a lot of fun. I have seen great results come from them and while it may take more than once to create the loving, inclusive vibe you want for your studio, making this habit and a studio- cultural norm will reinforce the mission of teamwork and camaraderie.

Here are 4 easy to use ideas!

Pair students up with unlikely partners. Have them write, stream consciousness the things they admire about the other person. Have each dancer share with the class.

Friendship bracelets- bring in red string and affirmation charms (you can find them in large bundles on places like Amazon.) Pair older company dancers with younger dancers or apprentices. Have each of them choose a word or image on the charm which reminds them of the other person. Have them tie the bracelet onto their partner’s wrist as they explain why they chose it for them.

Choreography Share- Start class with a yoga, stretch, improv or guided meditation based lesson. Progress class into pairing students up with unlikely partners. Have them write out their partners name and associate a word with each one of the letters in their name. Use these words as a prompt to build a solo for their partner. Each dancer can then present and share the work as a gift to each other.

Community Service- Nothing joins people together more than doing things for others. Think of this as a gratitude exercise and a way to have all your dancers come together for a common purpose. How can they donate their time, together? Can they put together a clothing drive? Bake sale for an organization of their choosing? Performance for a nursing home or children’s hospital? Start a toy drive? Create a fundraiser for the studio or for team uniforms? Any of these will nudge them into having to work together and take the spotlight off of them for a minute and onto the project that is truly important.

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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