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Easy Tips to Help Your Dancers with Musicality


Teacher article



Musicality is an essential component to being a dancer. They go hand and hand. A dancer without musicality is like a scientist who doesn’t know the elements. It just doesn’t work. While some dance students have an instinctual, keen sensibility towards musicality, others may not. Wherever they are at in their musical journey, we as dance teachers can help develop this skill over time. Below are three super easy how-to’s to work on musicality with your dancers. You may find that some of these exercises work better with certain students and that’s OK! Every learner is different, so don’t be afraid to try new things and see how their sensibility, musicality and the rhythmic sense begins to grow overtime!

 Use Counts- Yes. How obvious, right? Sometimes- not entirely. How often do we really slow down to make sure dancers know what each count is? Do we painstakingly and tediously work through each phrase with and without music so dancers can find that musicality and timing? Frequently, I go back and work on short phrases at a time and really hone in on the counts. I have found something eventually really clicks with the dancers, not only on the literal level but on a musical level. So, yes, use counts but more importantly make sure you dancers really know what they are inside and out.

Don’t Count- Once a dancer has counts, they need to forget them and feel the music. Sometimes you may opt to not even use counts at first and let them find their way with it. This works better for some genres than others for sure. But, the beauty of that improvisation, in finding the legato and staccato of movement, when it’s feels good to pause or speed up can often times be met with improvisation exercises that help dancers to feel different kinds of music with different rhythms, multicultural influences, textures, sounds and tempos. 

Don’t dance. Listen. - Have dancers sit, preferably with headphones on and close their eyes. Have them listen to their music over and over and over, visualizing choreography. They may get sick to death of the song but that’s usually when they will start to find the musical nuances and really, “hear” their accompaniment. Have dancers progress to tapping out rhythms on their laps or drawing stream of consciousness as they listen. Anything that allows them to hyper focus on the actual milks and crannies of the music. 



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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