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Is Excellent Technique Enough?


Teacher article



Dance’s representation on T.V. has helped make great strides for the world of dance in terms of recognition and respect, without a doubt. It has allowed young dancers to see dreams realized as well as the hard work, dedication and rejection which goes along with the territory. While it has opened up dance for the greater community, there is a troubling, double edged sword which leaves little to be desired.

 It seems this little part of the dance world has people believing that if you are not well versed in tricks, acro and gymnastics, there is little to no room for you in the professional dance world anymore. The bombardment of trick after trick, held extension after extension, flip after flip has some of us visually exhausted and asking, “When are you going to actually start dancing?” Where are the seamless transitions, the storytelling, the continuous phrases of movement which flow and make choreographic sense? Do we not care about this anymore? Well some T.V. programs and dance competitions might leave you feeling that way with their praise over and again, but I disagree.

I believe many teachers agree with me. We’re tired of seeing youngsters on T.V. and in competition being ripped apart in critique because they opted for a classic tap or theatre jazz solo number which demonstrated stylistic nuance, solid technique, musicality and clean lines without the addition of a side tilt or front flip to the floor. Not that there isn’t a time and place for that too, but it doesn’t have to be every time.

A lot of us teachers and choreographers are bored with this trend and having us say, “What else you got?” Yes, athleticism is desired and an absolutely wonderful asset to have as a dancer, along as it’s combined with a foundational technique and understanding of movement profile, transitions, performance, intent and artistry. I, myself have no interest in rewarding a dance student anymore who just because they did some fouettés into a tilt into a death defying dive to the floor thinks they are “better,” than their technically skilled peer who came out with less tricks yet demonstrated an entire performance which left me feeling joyful, fulfilled and confident this dancer understood exactly what their choreographic intent was.

As teachers and choreographers it is our job to differentiate these genres for dancers and help them understand where and when each is appropriate, so that we are developing well rounded artists, not one or two trick ponies. They need to be well rounded.

So yes, to answer my own question, there is absolutely room for dancers who are not, “trick,” dancers. It may feel as though there is not have a place for them, but there is. It may feel as though this is all young dancers are being exposed to, so of course they believe this is what dance is, in its entirety. Show them it’s not. Expose them to artists and trailblazers who truly define(d) what dance is and how to incorporate everything into their own training. Explain that, yes, they should expose themselves to everything from ballet to African to acro to increase range and versatility and train accordingly, but not all dance is about tricks.

 Remember, if you can wow a crowd without them, (solely with solid technique, style, true emotion, thoughtfulness and performance,) well then I believe, though it may feel it takes longer these days to be acknowledged, they will be the dancer that artists, choreographers and teachers with a keen eye and sharp intuition will remember most when they leave the room.

Stay true to who you are. Same goes for your dancers.

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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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