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Dance Teachers

When we set numbers we need to give further thought as to how clean they are. How the musicality is sitting with dancers. How crisp the unison and transitions are, etc. While coming up with clever concepts and original choreography is a given, sometimes once all the “genius” is out there, the upkeep and “polishing” goes a bit overlooked. Other times, as much as we feel we are cleaning numbers, it’s never looks exactly the way we hope it will once it hits the stage.

So, how do we get our pieces performance ready? Here are five tips to think about which will help you and your students take your numbers from a “nice” piece to “extraordinary” and will take that amazing choreography you set for them to a whole new level.

#1 Give yourself Time: Seems like a given, but sometimes choreographing down to the wire (especially for little ones) does not give ample time to go back and clean the number. This will be especially true if you’ve had many absentees throughout the year who either need spaces within formations or need to learn sections of choreography while playing catch up. Try and keep moving with choreography week to week and not get stuck on a particular phrase. Remember, your little ones can only absorb so much in a given class, so decipher how many counts works best for them each week. Account for those inevitable class curve balls as well and try to give yourself some breathing room to fix spacing, review counts, work out entrances and exits and run numbers both with and without music accordingly.

#2 Take it out of the mirror: OK, the mirror is a dancer’s best friend. We all know that. It is an essential tool for us teachers and for students for a variety of reasons. A lot of times however, dancers become dependent on that mirror when learning numbers without realizing it; especially if they have missed a lot of class. So what happens, when they get on stage and there is no mirror in front of them? Exactly. Figure out a point in the year when the mirrors go bye-bye, either by flipping your dancers around to face away or by pulling the curtains to cover them shut. By giving them ample time to ensure they know the choreography, entrance and exits and formation changes independent from looking in the mirror, it will make them feel more confident when they hit the stage. It will also ensure that everyone is responsible for knowing what they are doing and where they are going without uncertainty. Furthermore, it will clear up the confusion that sometimes occurs in regards to stage directions when they reverse it out the mirror.

#3 Performance Run Through: Dress rehearsals and performance opportunity are wonderful ways to work out the kinks before an actual competition. If this is a possible option for you, think about ways in which your dancers can perform numbers to get the jitters out. Think about things like giving free mini-performances for your community, visiting nursing homes, performing at a charity show or school event, etc. The more opportunity they have to run through their numbers in an actual performance space with the added variables like costumes, lights, etc., the better opportunity they will have to work out any sort of costume malfunctions, spacing issues and surprises that may come up!

#4 Video and Feedback: With the use of technology these days, this is an easy way to deconstruct the cleaning process. Video your numbers and go home where you can sit and review them and take copious notes on what sections needs to be cleaned. It also gives you a chance to watch the number more than once and catch things you might not in real time when viewing. Be sure to keep any sort of video for private use only and think before broadcasting it on any social media. Use video only as a personal tool to take cleaning notes. Watch with your class as well to give feedback and let them see what needs to be fixed!

#5 The Objective Eye: This one is a great tip, which is very helpful, however often overlooked. When we are choreographing a number, our eyes inevitably become used to seeing the same thing week after week. A fresh eye can often help us catch things that have gone a miss or give us a new perspective on something that might actually work better. If you have the budget to bring in a competition judge to give the dancers feedback, that is wonderful, however, even bringing in a fellow faculty teacher who hasn’t seen the number can do wonders in terms on cleaning and getting things polished just that much more!

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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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