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We often see how each generation of dancers change. With instant gratification in rare form, there has been a trend for a while now which I’m sure you have observed too, especially with your younger ones. In many of my own classes, dancers are eagerly asking, “Can we add on now?” While part of me wants to say, “Uh, no…I just gave you three counts of 8 which you don’t know yet,” I have to reign myself in to consider where this comes from and how to lovingly temper it. How can we make it a teachable moment? First of all, we should take it as a compliment that the dancers are so excited and like their choreography so much they just want to go full steam ahead. We are the ones, however, who need to help them understand that while this “zest for learning” is admirable, there is a necessary pace one needs to travel at in order to ensure proper training and understanding in all capacities. Patience little ones, patience.

I have seen this with my preteens and teens as well. Not to mention some parents who feel their child is always ready to be moved to the next level; a lot of times well before they are ready to do so. While it’s easy for them to feel this way (especially if peers are moving ahead,) staying firm in asserting one’s own path towards success is crucial for their wellbeing. Younger ones wanting to learn more “steps” for their big recital day is one thing, but when we are looking at the physical, mental and emotional ramifications of “peaking” before one is ready to do so, this will undoubtedly cater to disastrous results. There are so many things that can go wrong if we succumb to the pressures of advancing students too soon. Having parents and dancers understand this is crucial. Their wellbeing is paramount. There could be avoidable injuries that surface, stunted physical developmental growth, emotional and mental burnout and a lack of maturity in terms of comprehending material due to premature advancement in their training. While you may not be their favorite person at the time when you, “put your foot down,” remember you are the professional. You are being entrusted to make decisions for the child’s dance training and career. Nobody is ever going to praise you for putting a 9 or 10 year old on pointe when they can’t even balance in relevé in ballet slippers and are not anatomically developed yet to attempt this.

As for the little ones, when they do look up at your with those big doe eyes and outnumber you to want to forge ahead with choreography for their big recital dance, it’s just as important to stop and explain why you’re going to take your time and review everything you gave them thus far. While they may not “get it” right away and continue to ask, they’ll get the picture soon enough over time and understand that you can’t have and achieve everything you want with the snap of one’s fingers. We always say that a life in dance is a short lived one, but in respect to the training aspect, if we start to teach our dancers at a young age that it is really is a marathon and not a sprint towards all of their goals, then we can rest assure and be proud of the dedicated, knowledgeable and appropriate training we are instilling in them for their whole lives through. In addition, they are also gaining a valuable lesson in terms of learning that things we really want to accomplish in this life come with hard work, wherewithal, dedication and patience. Rule of thumb-one needs to learn to walk before they can fly!

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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