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Dance Teachers, we all recognize that core strength is essential to any strong, technically sound dancer. While we aim to teach our students to always move from the inside out vs. from the extremities (i.e. arms, legs, etc.,) getting started to build towards a sound center takes work and committed practice.

Below you’ll find three of my favorite exercises to get your dancers going; both in the studio and on their own at home. Each can be executed daily with multiple repetitions and modified based on level and physical capability. Remember, without a strong core we don’t have the potential to master turns, balances, extensions, jumps and a whole catalogue of movement necessary to develop one’s technique safely and properly! Good luck!

“OVERHEADS”- Start lying on back with legs extended. Core engaged. Arms stretched above your head. As you begin a ‘crunch,’ the right leg comes up and battements as the arms also come up overhead simultaneously (think of a dive position.) Ensure that the shoulders come off the floor in the crunch position. Repeat left. Start with 15-20 repetitions and build from there.

Progressions #1: Come up higher and higher to a full sit up.

Progression #2: Keep opposing leg off the floor slightly for added resistance

Progression #3: Both legs coming off the floor during the crunch in a “V-Sit” position vs. one leg at a time. Hold at the top. Slow roll down to starting position.

Progression #4: Add a medicine ball or weights to use when bringing the arms overhead to meet the crunch position.

“CRUNCH VARIATION”- Start in basic crunch position. Ensure that hands are behind head (place one on top of each other, not laced,) elbows are back and dancer is looking up to ceiling. They should envision that there is an apple or an orange under their neck at all times, so they engage the crunch from their core, not from the chin. Start with a slow 4-count crunch, getting higher and higher every count. Hold at the top. Pulse for 8 counts with short movements. Hold 8-counts. Lower down to start position with a slow 4-count. Make sure dancers are breathing and exhaling on the contraction as they come up. Repeat 15-20 times and build from there.

Progression: After 8-count pulse, hold for 8-counts and then from that position proceed with another 4-count crunch lifting even higher into a full sit-up position.

“PLANK VARIATION”- Start in a basic push-up position. Ensure the dancer is in proper spinal alignment. Head is in line with the spine. Core is engaged. Hold this isometric position for one minute.

Progression #1: Come down to forearms to plank position and repeat hold for another minute.

Progression #2: “Up, Up, Down, Down”- Push back up to push-up position, one arm at a time R/L, then back down to plank position on forearms. R/L Repeat 15-20 times.


Progression #3: “Four-Count Sideways Walk”- Stay in plank position. Make sure body stays in alignment and hips don’t rise to a V-Position. Take four slow walks to the right. Four walks back to center. Repeat left. Back to center. Repeats 15-20 times

Side Plank Variation: Pivot to right hand in a side plank position stacking the legs on top of each other. (Place bottom leg on ground for modification.) Lift hips up and hold for 2 counts of 8. Come back through high plank and change sides. To progress, balance while lifting top leg (or reaching for big toe.) Variation 2: Add 10-15 hips dips to challenge oblique muscles.


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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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