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Cross Training Your Dance Students


Teacher article


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Technique classes are the staple of training young dancers so they are equipped with a solid technical foundation which they then can parlay into any dance idiom. While this aspect of dance education is essential, so is the notion of making sure your dancers have the cardiovascular stamina and strength to support that technique.

For a large number of students, the amount of gym time they get at school is nominal. Plus, there are an increasing number of kids who are extremely out of shape, who are less active as a whole due to the surge of mobile, devices, iPads, etc. and don’t get outside much to run and “play.”

It’s especially important for us to take responsibility to make sure our students are in a healthy state, not solely for aesthetics but to ensure they are full of energy and are engaging in a healthy exercise regimen.

So how do we do this? For me, I pick a class like jazz or musical theater to add a short cross training element to the beginning of my warmup. It can be modified or progressed by age and will warm up your dancers quickly. It doesn’t need to be long or complicated and the kids actually get into it once the moaning and groaning subsides after the first two minutes. Now, if you have the time in your yearly studio schedule to devote an entire class to cross training, stretch and strengthen, etc. fantastic!! But, not many of us do. So, try carving out time in your weekly classes and watch the difference it will consequently make in technique, balance, coordination, core, strength and stamina.

Below are some example of variations I use. They can be modified, some exercises omitted, repetition rounds increased or decreased, light weights or band work added, etc. to suit you and your dancers needs. The main objective is... get them moving and get their heart rates up! Remember to always add an active recovery in between circuits and at the end, like walking slowly or slow stretches to bring the heart rate down.

Here is one variation that I use with my 8-10 year olds:
1. Run around the room (usually in a circle. Reverse directions
2. 10 jumping jacks
3. 10 burpees
4. 10 sit-ups
Repeat 2-3 rounds

A progression of a circuit warm-up for preteens might include 3 rounds of:
1. 20 jumping jacks
2. 20 jump roping with a tuck jump
3. 20 seconds high knee runs
4. 15 burpees
5. 15 push-ups
6. 30 second mountain climbers
7. 30 second plank

For my oldest advanced dancers I might include 5 rounds of:
1. 20 seconds high knees
2. 20 squat jumps or 20 jump split lunges
3. 20 squat to jack knife. Back to squat, jump up twist to squat and face other direction, jump into a burpee. Jump back to squat to face original direction
4. 20 sit ups or v-ups
5. 20 push-ups to side plank hold
6. 1 minute mountain climbers or floor jacks
7. 1 minute plank hold or 1 minute of “dolphins”

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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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