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What To Do When Dancers Don't Like Choreography


Teacher article


Dance Teachers

Dance teachers spend countless hours researching music, coming up with creative concepts, figuring out movement, formations and transitions and get excited to set new pieces with our dancers. So what happens when your enthusiasm for a new piece doesn’t inspire your dancers the way it does you? How do you handle dancers who just “aren’t feeling it?”

It is extremely important to remember that you are never going to please everyone all at the same time……..never.

So, the more you try to come up with a piece which caters more to winning a popularity contest vs. artistic integrity the more you are going to be traveling a slippery slope of choreographing for the sake of giving dancers what THEY want. You have to remember that while, of course we all want our dancers to feel good and enjoy dancing what they are dancing, YOU are the choreographer and it is THEIR job to execute and bring your vision to life. You know what movement will work for them best, what will look best on them, what is appropriate for their level and maturity and how they move best together as an ensemble. Now, this is not say collaboration should be null and void. Being inspired from a dancer during rehearsal or through watching them improve can create an amazing sense of working together where you inspire each other. What we are talking about here is dancers who don’t want to give 110% in rehearsals because they didn’t like that phrase or the music is out of the box and not mainstream or it’s just not what everyone else is doing. I can assure you, just because you don’t add ten tilts and a dozen fouetté turns will not be missed.

So how do you handle the obvious lack of effort when confronted with this situation?

Nip it in the bud-fast! Dancers don’t get to pick and choose which pieces they are going to put the effort into and which they aren’t. As a dancer, it’s should be a consistent effort at all times for all pieces and for all choreographers. As teachers, it’s important to explain this to your dancers; particularly if you have those with professional aspirations. Remind them that this is what a dancer’s job entails. If they don’t like it, then they should become choreographers.

Remember, the conversation does not have to take a combative turn and is sometimes best  discussed at the beginning of the year before rehearsals even begin. That way, if it needs revisiting later on you can refer back to the beginning of the year chat. Try not to take it personal either. As teachers, we all want our kids to love our work and be as excited as we are. It’s a stroking of the ego for us too when the dancers are so excited about “your” piece. But remember, they are still young and while it’s certainly OK for them to have their favorites and favor certain choreographer’s aesthetics it doesn’t mean it’s excusable for them to drop the ball on their other pieces or other genres. Their ballet piece should be rehearsed just as much as their jazz piece. Sometimes acknowledging this with your dancers and inspiring them to try and tap deep into that artist side of them to perform pieces which may be challenging or not their favorite will make them an even better dancer and stronger performer. It will also make them more versatile while increasing their eclectic repertoire which will only take them further down the road.

Being a dancer is not only about steps. It’s about attitude, work ethic and dedication in the studio. Reminding them that what they put out is what they get back is a smart motto for them to follow throughout their career!

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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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