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Often times we see pieces and wonder what sets them apart from others. What gives them that magical, slight edge of polished nuance compared to others? I often harp on the notion with my dancers that it really is not all about the tricks and flashy embellishments in a piece, it’s in the details.

Focus is one of those important details that often gets overlooked in the rehearsal period and can make or break a piece. I’ll tell you why….Focus gives the piece its direction. Direction for the dancers’ intention and direction for the audience on where to bring their attention. When a dancer’s focus is clear, they are helping the audience along the journey. Focus can create a mood, a dynamic, a story and without it, choreography can often look likes it’s meandering in space without well…focus.

Clear focus in a piece is also essential because a dancer can look unrehearsed, unsure and unintentional in the delivery if they are not looking where they should be. That may not really be the case, but perception is everything and you know as well as I, that your eye always goes to the dancer who does not look in sync with the others.  When focus is collective as an ensemble, it makes for a powerful piece, no matter the genre. It can be strong and direct, in your face with outward energy, or internal longing and searching. It very much is part of the choreography.

So, the next time you are in rehearsals, devote the time to painstakingly have your dancers go through their focus for every part of the piece. And not only the actual focus, the transitions of the focus. Be that specific. It will get everyone on the same page that much more and take your work to a whole elevated other level. It shows attention to detail and gives shape to your choreography. It demonstrates an artistry of thought and care by your dancers and that they took the time to understand not only the concept and big moments but all the little things that make for a piece that stands alone.

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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