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Ever think of what you can do to enhance the learning curve in your dance class? While dancers are often taught “how” sometimes we forget the “why’s,” “when’s,” and “where’s” things came from and happened….

In a time of abundant amounts of homework and test-taking, it sometimes can be a challenge to give little mini-projects to your dance students when no grade is pending, but if you make it fun and quick, I guarantee your students will enjoy learning more about dance, and not just from a movement standpoint.

·         In class, use music of different eras, genres, cultures, etc. Quiz students on who or what the songs/musicians are they are listening to? I started doing this quite a few years ago and something so simple has now made my ten year olds able to immediately recognize upon hearing who the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Fela Kuti and Bach are!

·         Give your musical theater students a monthly movie musical to watch. I usually give my students one movie per month. Have them jot down their observations, likes, dislikes, etc, about the movie (doesn’t have to be an official paper in essay form) and on a given date save the last ten or fifteen minutes of class to discuss. Have them keep all this info in a  “Musical Theater Journal” as I like to call it, so they can reference it later at any time. (Remember to be flexible with changing due dates if they are swamped with school work, have midterms, etc…this is supposed to be fun for them, not another stress!)

·         In ballet or modern class, ask them who their favorite company, choreographer, dancer, is and why. Have them again write down favorite works they’ve done, either by seeing it live or researching you-tube clips and creating a list of them to hand out to your class. The result, everyone then has the opportunity to learn about them as well.

·         Point out a certain part of anatomy in class and have them research the bone, muscle, joint, etc, and discuss what it is, where it’s located, how we use it as dancers, how to protect it from injury, stretches for that area, etc.

·         Ask your students to jot down an area of concentration they would like to learn during a class session? In a sense, let them give you ideas for lesson planning. Whether it be focusing on proper hip placement, using the breath, practicing jazz turns, etc. Get their interest going by teaching a class on what is presently relevant to them.

·         Have dancers hand in a directive for an improvisation score. Then each week use their ideas for the improvisation part of class. Some of my own students have recently handed in ideas including:

o   Focusing and initiating movement with the hands.

o    Pretend you are in a jungle being chased by something and in the end they catch you

o   Pretend you are at a party in the 1800’s.

o   Movement focus only on mid and low levels

o   Play with opposite dynamics, fast/slow, sharp/fluid and/or high/low.

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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