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Every dancer, whether the most advanced to the youngest beginner, company or recreational, deserves the same experience of having a dance set on them they feel good about performing and look forward to.

Sometimes, thinking in basic terms is harder for us than more complicated ones. We are artists as well and when we have movement and ideas our own bodies can do, going back to more simplistic phrases and music can be even more challenging for us. So how do we do it? Below, are some of my tips for setting a fun, well received and professional looking piece for dancers with beginner or limited technique.

Have fun with your music: Especially with younger or beginner dancers, choose music that will inspire them, keep them moving and resonates with them and an audience. The music selection can often be a hit or a miss, so this is a great place to start. Choose music that inspires YOU as well. This will make it easier for you to come up with the phrases and variations you want to set.

Simple movement doesn’t have to be boring: Remember that just because you have beginner dancers doesn’t mean you still need to add every trick and turn in the book. Choose movement that is going to showcase what they can do now, not what they can’t do yet. Clean, single turns are always more impressive than incorporating turns in second with bent legs and sickled feet where they are turning on their heels. Keep extensions at 45 degrees or 90. Choose jumps that they execute well and keep transition steps clean and clear. Think of stylized movement as well which fits the number. Can you incorporate a Charleston step? The Twist? A Grapevine? A Jive/Lindy Hop step? Etc….

Keep it exciting & keep them moving: While the actual choreography may be on the simpler side, your formation changes don’t have to be. They should be constant and interesting. Try using different pathways and intricate changes in formations and groupings. Try multiple exits and entrances coming from each side of the stage. Try small groups and large groups, solos, duets and trios within a large group number.

PROPS: Incorporating a prop is always an excellent way to draw the eye to something visually stimulating and detract from the flaws you’d like to hide. One idea? Beautiful silk scarves or ribbons are an excellent way to enhance a lyrical dance with less technical dancers and can really be a beautiful array of color and movement for the eye from the audience vantage point.

Work on performance quality: While you may not have the most technically advanced dancers, you may have amazing performers and little actors in your group. Play that up! I would always rather see a dancer with less technique who wowed the crowd with their personality, storytelling and charisma vs. a dancer who could pull out five pirouettes in their sleep but are a bore to watch on stage. There is something to be said for the performance aspect of technique, so don’t discount that. Make sure your dancers are understanding what they are dancing about and try to get them to tap into the emotional component of reaching the audience. With the right music that fits their personality and movement which makes them look their best, you will, without a doubt have a piece that audiences will remember and love!

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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