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Teachers are human. We are indeed the ones our dancers look to for training, motivation, discipline, artistic inspiration and guidance, but indeed at the end of the day we are human. We are not immune to creative blocks, bad days, lack of patience and finding our own selves on autopilot from time to time. While we all strive to be this beacon of light that waltzes into the studio with an infinite stream of ideas readily on tap, the fact is, the day after day and year after year grind can burn out the best and most brilliant teacher .

Unfortunately, when this occurs, there is usually a chain reaction which trickles down to your students. This is when we need to get a grip and shake it up for ourselves and the progress of our dancers. The winter time, during this mid studio season is a prime example of when we might hit that proverbial wall. But, with the start of a new year upon us, there are changes we can make towards reigniting our own motivation and desire to do what we love to do…..teach.

The most important thing is awareness. Being aware of where you are currently at is imminent. That mindfulness of knowing that you’re heading down that slippery slope is one which effectively will pull you out of it as well. Think about it and be honest with yourself about what is making you feel this way. Is it the classes you are teaching? The students? Something from your personal life affecting your work life? Health reasons? Exhaustion? Lack of inspiration? No time for your own artistry? These are all valid and we ALL experience it, but there is a stigma attached. That stigma being that we never dare admit out loud that we don’t necessarily care for one of the classes we are teaching or this year’s students just aren’t inspiring us to choreograph. Admitting to what the problem actually is, is half the battle so the issue can be addressed. The other thing to keep in mind is that a dip every now and then is normal. However, should this go on to become a continued, reoccurring situation, it should be looked closely to determine if this is part of something bigger going on. It’s not fair to you or your dancers if the realization is occurring that this may not be where your heart really lies at this moment in time.

Once the problem is addressed, how do we awaken ourselves and our classes? How do get some fresh blood pumping into the energy of our lessons and excite our students to want to learn and dancers to dance? There are a number of quick and easy things that can shake things up and bring new light to your studio. The question is how badly you want to make the change and do the work. As we always expect from our students, it’s 110% all of the time or not at all. Do or don’t do. It’s your job to follow that mantra as well and lead by example.

Think about how you teach your classes. Is there a set warm-up? Well, this is an easy place to start. If so, by mid-year your dancers are probably a little bit on autopilot themselves in terms of the warm-up, so….walk into class and change it up. Change the sequence of your warm-up or class for a change. Vary floor-work or your plié exercise. Start class with a quick circuit core/cardio segment to get the heart going. Intensify your across the floor progressions. Take warm-up out of the mirror. Change their facing for every center exercise. Give dancers center combos but ask them to retrograde it. Change your playlist. *(this is a huge one and so simple. It’s amazing what changing the music you normally play week after week will do to change the energy in class!) Get off of your chair and do warm-up with your dancers. (*Yes! That’s right! Get your own body moving! If that’s not feasible, walk around the room throughout class and allow yourself different vantage points.) Use improvisation scores to let dancers just move and be free. Allow yourself to participate as well. See what movement you and your dancers create to extract and build choreography from. Talk or breathe together at the beginning or end of class for a few minutes and get on the same page. Get everyone’s energy synchronized.

Lastly…remember to smile and laugh with your students. Sometimes we get so bogged down with our own “stuff” we forget to. So enjoy and have fun. Take chances. Motivate yourself to try new things with your dancers that are even out of your own comfort zone. Reminding ourselves that we have access to able, moving bodies every day is a gift in which we can create and explore. Sometimes even the best needs to shake it up and with this New Year upon us we are all at a perfect point to do so. Watch how your energy and zest of teaching reawakens and watch how you and your students go on to do amazing things in the dance studio!

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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