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The #1 Lesson For A Successful Studio Environment




Dance Studio Owners

As dance teachers, we are often thinking about our choreography, our warm-ups and our across the floor and center combos before the day’s classes commence.  Over the course of a season we exhaust ourselves trying to be creative and think of the best possible lesson plans for individual classes and how we will implement those lessons. We become consumed with watching our students’ progress, how to get pieces set and how to organize rehearsals so that the end product is “ready” for audience viewing.

While all of these elements are essential to a successful class structure, often we miss the boat on what is the #1, most important lesson of all. The lesson that must be the prerequisite to everything else we teach in the studio; the lesson that supersedes all of the above so that the studio learning environment is viable and lends itself to learning, comprehension and application. That lesson….classroom management and expectations. It seems simple enough to think about right? You have to manage your class before you can even think about dance steps and choreography? But, the truth is, I have seen many dance classes where there is more time congregating and conversing among students and teachers, more time getting children settled and quiet and in their spots than there is actual dancing going on. Why? It’s pretty basic really. Time was not allotted in the beginning of the year to set the precedent of what the studio etiquette and behavioral expectation was. Without that lesson on Day #1, you are setting yourself and your students up for failure…or at the very least not optimizing their learning experience.

Like any other children, they need structure and look to you to administer it. Without it, chaos will eventually erupt. How are they to know your studio expectations if you don’t set the guidelines transparently for them and secondly, follow through with them? This should be part of not only class culture, but studio culture; where a common mindset is instilled. Without successful classroom management you are leaving the studio door wide open, class after class for disruption, unfocused dancers and confusion….as well as frustration on your part.

So, how do you set up a successful studio environment where there is no doubt as to what the rules and proper procedure is? This ideally should commence with the very first day of class (but if you missed that opportunity, don’t worry….just start it with the first day of a new session after a studio break!) While it may take a few classes for it to become the natural rhythm of the class, letting dancers know on that first day what is expected of them will surely set the bar and help them understand that you and them are there to dance, not to socialize. What is important for every teacher to think about prior to discussing with and showing students these expectations is what is really important to you as the teacher.

Are you a teacher that expects your dancers to come in quietly and start warming up when they enter the studio?

Are you a teacher who likes your dancers to line up all of their belongings in a certain spot when they come in?

Are you a teacher who prefers dancers sit ready with their dance notebooks open every week reviewing the previous class?

Or, are you a teacher that likes to take the first five minutes of class to catch up with dancers and check in with everyone?

Is there a set dress code? For younger classes, how do you want them to enter the studio? Do they have set spots at the barre or in centre?

At the end of class, are dancers expected to come up individually and thank the teacher for class?

Thank the teacher after an individual correction is given to them?

Something as simple as students being permitted or not to bring water bottles to class shouldn’t be a question. Having dancers know the answers to these simple things will maximize your actual teaching time and limit time on dealing with these sorts of interruptions.

A lot to think about in the beginning, but will save you loads of time on the tail-end of the year (and years to follow) if this becomes natural habit. Bottom line-be transparent with your students. Don’t make it a guessing game for them or you. If you are clear with yourself about your management style and expectations your students will be too….and I guarantee there will be a lot more dancing going on in the studio week after week for everyone to enjoy!


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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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