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What Does Expecting Excellence From Your Dancers Really Mean?


Teacher article


Dance Teachers

I am a dance teacher who expects excellence.

But, expecting excellence from your dancers doesn’t mean what you think it may mean. There is a clear distinction. One that should be clear and transparent so your students understand the difference. It does not mean, perfection. It doesn't mean being the best dancer in class, nor the best technician, nor the best performer. It doesn't mean that if they can't get a triple pirouette by the time they're 12, they've failed. It doesn't mean that if they're extension isn't as high as their peer next to them, they will never have a dance career or are, "less than," said peer. Expecting excellence doesn't mean they're not entitled to have an off-day or frustrations or insecurities but here's what it does mean....

Expecting excellence means dancers giving their all. It means when they walk into dance class they are not only physically present but mentally, spiritually and emotionally. It means they are there to learn and there to dance. It means leaving everything at the studio door and focusing. It means being ready in every sense of the word.

Expecting excellence means a dancer shows up to class prepared, on time with a positive attitude....consistently. It means their, "off-days" are the exception, not the norm. It means they walk in the door with posture and body language that says, "I'm ready to dance. Teach me everything." It means not coming up to you in class, every chance they get to tell you what's wrong with them and what they can't do, it's about telling you the current situation, ailment, injury or sickness and telling you what they can do.

Expecting excellence is about working hard. It's about dedication. Passion. Focus. WherewithalL. It's about not batting so much of an eyelash when you ask them to do something again...and again...and again. It’s about not being put off by some sweat and occasional bruises. It's about building some thick skin. It's about not expecting their parents to answer for them or be responsible for things they can be. It's about trying your best and trying harder. It's about progress, not perfection. It's about taking accountability for the energy they bring into the room and how the present themselves in class. It's about not making excuses. It’s about taking critique as constructive feedback coming from love, not criticism. It's about being honest, with themselves and you about anything. It's about self-reflection, self-correction and self-awareness.

Expecting excellence is expecting a team player to collaborate, share and work together. It's about what the class does as an ensemble but also caring about one's own journey. Expecting excellence is about healthy competition amongst peers to inspire and be inspired, not about cutting one another down.

Expecting excellence is expecting a dancer to be an ambassador for your studio. To above anything, be joyous, be happy and be hungry to want to learn. It's about taking that desire to dance and being a contagious energy for others. It's about being a decent human being to oneself and to all others. It's about respect for the studio, the faculty, their peers and themselves. It's about loving what they are doing and paying it forward. It's about taking ownership over one's own training and actions.

Expecting excellence is a teacher's responsibility for the next generation. Students will only aim as high as the bar you set for them. Don't underestimate them. If given the chance, they will rise to the occasion. In turn, you will be sending whole, well rounded, responsible, hardworking, passionate, confident individuals into the adult world with motivation, pride for themselves and respect for everything they do.

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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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