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The Importance of Being a Well-Rounded Dancer


Teacher article



Dancers usually have a favorite genre. Some may even niche themselves early on as, “a ballet dancer,” a, “hip hop dancer,” a, “contemporary dancer,” etc. While it’s natural to gravitate towards a specific area during one’s training, it should also be a constant reminder from teachers that every class, in every genre be given the same amount of enthusiasm, effort and attention to learning. It’s easy for younger dancers and happens often, where effort levels can vary class to class based on what it is, who the teacher is and even what the choreography looks like. This is a slippery slope and a habit that should be cut off at the path.

As teachers and studio owners, it is essential for a number of reasons to sway this, “playing favorites” mentality. First off, no matter how you slice it, a dancer will carry this attitude into class with them whether or not they believe they are.... and teachers notice. It may be subtle cues like their body language, energy levels, how full out they dance and their respect and attention to the information the teacher is trying to deliver, but it makes a huge difference. When a dancer doesn’t want to be there, it’s obvious. When they are not giving their all consistently, it’s obvious. It also makes it even more obvious when they are.

What younger dancers need to be guided on and constantly reminded of is, ultimately the more versatile you are as a dancer, the more desirable you are as a professional. (This lesson carries over into any field they will wind up in too.) You may not love everything you’re leaning, but chances are you won’t love everything you’re performing in as a professional either... but, you’ll do it 100% because it’s a paying gig. That’s a dancer’s responsibility and job. That needs to start before a, “paycheck for your art,” is even a consideration.

Good training starts with the lessons inside the lessons and being taught that everything one does should be met with the same caliber and dedication. Ultimately, it’s not really how you feel about the class you’re taking. It’s about learning the fundamentals in which to build on and understanding their importance and exposure to them. You may never become a, “tap dancer,” but you should know how to tap if asked in an audition.... and should do so with energy and passion and a sincere smile on your face. Long story short- they’re should be an embedded appreciation for everything you do, with integrity and sincerity. Besides, who doesn’t want to learn as much as they can and soak in as much knowledge as they are offered?

It wonderful to find that niche spot and have a love for a specific genre, but when it comes to walking into a class, every teacher should be respected and graced with the same amount of commitment as the next. Dancers need to find the parts of their, “not-so-favorite genres” that do spark something and find the interest in that.

It comes from us, as dance teachers to instill this idea and help nurture positive, open minds that crave learning in all capacities. Yes, of course there will always be exceptions where a dancer’s passion and talent is destined to solely become a ballet dancer or a tap dancer, etc. but in the scope of general dance training, promoting equal effort in all classes can only produce open minds and more well-rounded dancers and dance aficionados in the future.


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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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