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          Dedicated dance teachers aim to help our students progress, teach them the “lessons,” prepare them for the future, develop their technique, etc. etc. Often we apply this same mentality to our own lives and goals, constantly wanting to do better and utilizing tunnel-vision to check off the next goal on our list. At times, we don’t take into account the effect that set-backs can have on our psyche, our health and our mental wellbeing. It is a topic that is extremely relevant because our students will also endure these kinds of disappointments as well. Our job is to first learn how we can deal with them on a personal level so that we can give our students the best advice and guide them forward after life’s little curve-balls.

          I think it is most important to realize that a set-back is not a failure. When things don’t go our way that is customarily the first place we go. We might feel let-down, unworthy, untalented, “less than,” etc. Now, think about how your student at the tender adolescent age might feel. Let’s magnify that ten-fold and step into their shoes. Without the proper reinforcement or “cheerleading section” to keep morale up, there then becomes no voice of reason. What we want to avoid for ourselves and for others is a downward spiral of negativity vs. working it through in our own minds, giving ourselves a minute to feel sorry for ourselves and then getting back up there on the horse to try again. It is imperative that we don’t stay in that headspace for too long. Learning how to internalize and then rationalize these thoughts and feelings will consequently help you see set-back as an opportunity to grow, to learn and navigate and ultimately to become a stronger, more well-rounded artist, teacher, student and individual.

          So how do we maintain positivity in the wake of set-back? It is not easy. Especially when you don’t quite understand it yourself and are expected to explain it to a ten year old and sound convincing. The most important thing to remember is that 9 times out of 10 you will understand why this set-back occurred down the road. You will have that “Ah-ha” moment. You will look back and say, “Ah…now I get it…this is the lesson I was supposed to learn at that time to now learn this.” Set-back makes us appreciate the journey we and our students are on. It makes you hungry to succeed, appreciative and humble when you emerge you will stronger than you ever thought possible. Those that don’t experience disappointment probably haven’t wanted something bad enough or are just the rare, extremely lucky individual. For our students, honesty is truly the best policy. While it would be easier to say that one set-back is all anyone is allotted, the truth is we don’t know how easy or difficult one’s path will be. BUT, the trick is to maintain that positivity to trust in yourself and let the cards falls where they may. Easier said than done, right? Well, getting back up every time will eventually lead to success. That perseverance and dedication are virtues…. that will never be taken from you.

          Set-backs are a part of life which we all need to trust in. They are set in place as obstacles for a reason. The important part to remember is not that you experienced it but how you recover from it. That is how positive changes and growth come to be; by simply trying. Maybe it’s trying a new or different way of doing things. Maybe it’s to start from scratch and do something over or maybe it’s just taking a little more time to get to the next level. All of these options are positive experiences and that’s what I hope you remember as teachers and pass onto to your students. We are all stronger than we think we are. Hold tight to that during set-back and see all the amazing things that you can make from it. You will accomplish things you never dreamed possible…..

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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