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Those with the calling, talent & patience to teach dance to toddlers will tell you it requires a skill set all its own. A special, dedicated subgroup of dance teachers, the knowledge and training necessary to teach these littles while creating a fun experience takes some thought and careful planning. Remembering this is a crucial developmental time, the five tips below will help get you started and also be a reminder that you are extremely essential to this fundamental time in dance training and child development!

#1 Separation anxiety is real: For a lot of 2 and three year olds, this will be the first time away from Mommy & Daddy. Expect that the first weeks and possibly months might take time for little ones to separate and adjust being away from them. Have your arsenal of tactics on hand to work with those who may just need a minute to process that their parents will return and they are in a safe place with someone they trust to have fun in the meantime.

#2 Expect the unexpected: It’s wonderful to plan and essential to build a curriculum rich in content for little ones. However, anyone who has ever taught preschool aged dancers or have toddlers of their own will tell you anything can happen within a 45 minute scope. Anything. So, be flexible, go with the flow and don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t cover everything you want to in that class period. Eventually you will find your rhythm and the kids will find theirs. Remember, these tiny humans are processing so much at this age and now adding movement into the mix, so finding a pace that teaches them routine and structure while balancing their needs is pivotal to a successful creative movement class.

#3 Instilling Routine: Preschool aged children will thrive on routine and structure once they get the hang of it. Having a well thought out class which includes dance content, transitions, studio procedures, etc. will make all the difference during your year. They are smarter than we sometimes give them credit for and will get the hang of it. What we strive to, “manage” is a class that’s not just a free-for-all. Kids are going to do what they are going to do, but it’s your job to set the culture for the classroom and in time they will follow and flourish. It just takes a little time, patience and repetition.

#4 Every toddler is different: It’s important to remember that kids are going to develop at vastly different rates. Where one kid may seem advanced in one area may need a little more time in others. As dance teachers, we need to respect that growth process. We need to be knowledgeable to handle all those varying developmental speeds and needs sumultaneously so that every child and type of learner receives a wonderful dance experience and education. Also note the incredible differences from your two, three and four year old classes and the progression they demonstrate year to year. It really is quite fascinating to see their growth and progress, so be mindful that though teaching preschool comes with its own sets of challenges, it is also extremely rewarding and joyful to see these major milestone and developments.

#5 Preparation in key: Any good creative movement teacher will tell you the trick to a successful class is to literally, “keep it moving.” There’s no real down time when teaching a toddler dance class so set-up, lessons, music, props, etc. should all be ready to go and set up well before those little dancers flutter into class! Once you drop the ball for a second, it’s sometimes challenging to get their attention back so make sure you control your classroom in the best possible way by being prepared for anything! As stated above, things are going to happen and curve balls will be thrown, BUT half the battle is having a well thought out class to keep their going attention spans focused and engaged!

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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