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Dancers tend to be their own worst critics. We scrutinize every detail and go over things with a fine-tooth comb every day we’re in the studio. Why? It is our natural tendency to identify what needs to be fixed and what could be better. This holds true when we work with our dance students as well. While it is our job to be there to teach and correct, it’s also important to stop and acknowledge what students are doing right. We can’t get so caught up in the “assessment measures” that we fail to recognize we are also dealing with children and adolescents. Those same children and adolescents might need that bit of recognition and praise every now and then to stay motivated and realize they are on the right path to progress.

Now, I personally am not a teacher who has the mindset to compliment a dancer at every single turn. But, I do believe that if critique is not sprinkled with genuine praise, it can deflate a student and leave them wondering if what they are doing is even worth the commitment. Our goal should always be to build our dancers up with positivity and nurture their love of dance.

What is essential for an effective teacher is helping them understand that in the time of critique and feedback, it is done out of love and for wanting them to do better. It is the fine line of inspiring them to believe in hard work and process as well. Understanding that there will be good days and bad days is key to teaching how to look at the big picture and work towards the big goal in the end.

While teaching class, be mindful of some things when critiquing:

1.      Your delivery.

2.      Your tone.

3.      How often do you single out a single student?

4.      How often do you verbally acknowledge when a student does something really right?

5.      How often do you privately speak with a student on something they are doing really well in class?

6.      How well do you explain a critique or correction? Does the dancer understand how to work on it and apply the correction? Have you offered multiple ways to explain it so the dancer grasps the lesson?

Always keep in mind that tough love and discipline are not dirty words we should avoid as teachers. What is essential is also looking at the things our dancers are doing well. This is a reflection on your teaching and their direct response to it, so keep the balance in terms of feedback and always keep the lines of communication open with your students. Remember,  positivity is always key, whether giving praise or criticism. Your dancers will appreciate it and learn even more in the long run!

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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