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Please Dancers, Stop Marking in Class


Teacher article



I’m not sure when or how marking in class became a thing. When I trained, (and I may be dating myself,) this was an act one never contemplated, whether in class or rehearsals. Everything was expected to be done full out, with feeling. Every. Single. Time. In fact, it was interpreted as an act of disrespect or laziness to dare to water down and mark through the gift of the movement your teacher and choreographer were bestowing upon you. Somewhere down the line this has somehow waned and dancers today are somewhat prone to marking through the steps or attempting them on autopilot.
Now, let me preface that unless a teacher gives the go-ahead to, “walk through it,” for musicality purposes or figuring out counts, then that’s a completely different thing, but when we are teaching our dancers, we should be instilling a habit of going at things 100% consistently or not at all.  Here’s a few important reasons why...

1. Injury: This seems evident but it holds a lot of truth. This truth should be a serious consideration for all teachers. Dancers who are not engaging their bodies fully either in warm-up, during class or rehearsals are risking potential injury, plain and simple. The body needs time to warm-up, to come to understand what it is you want it to do. If dancers are continually marking they are not allowing the body to take those messages and signals from the brain to do so. Furthermore, if any complex choreography involves such things as partnering, level changes, elevations, quick tempos, etc. leaving it to last minute to perform these movements full out also presents great risk to the muscles, bones, joints and spine. When we dance full out, all the time, we are allowing our bodies and our minds to join in, create heat in the muscles and create passageways so our motor skills become in tune with proper alignment and execution.

2. Repetition creates habit: As with any form of practice, mindful repetition is essential to achieve consistency and understanding. This is no different for bodies moving through space. When a dancer marks or dances full out inconsistently, they are not allowing or prompting the body and mind to nurture good habit. When the body is engaged in consistent dancing at optimal capacity, it allows the body a chance to become accustomed to what it is you want it do. It also lends itself to a dancer’s progress and perfecting a skill. The bottom line is nobody is ever going to improve on doing something half-heartedly. 100% effort, 100% of the time will evoke change and that is where repetitive behavior and dancing takes center stage.

3. Stamina- physically and performance wise: We all have all come across dance students with the mentality of, “I’ll do it full out when I get on stage.” To be blunt, if a dancer thinks they can mark in class or rehearsals and get onstage and believe they are going to deliver their best performance, they are sadly mistaken. This is especially true with choreography that commands endurance and or strength. Every piece should be able to be performed three times in a row, full out without exhaustion or intense, labored breathing to, “have it in their bodies.” Try it. Your dancers will most likely be fatigued at first, but you will see how important it is to building stamina. If a dancer can dance full out and achieve that successfully, then performing it once onstage will be a breeze. They will feel confident, not winded and able to enjoy their performance while not gasping for air because they simply marked in the studio. It frees them up to just dance and engage in living in their performance aspect and that is something marking will just not allow a dancer to achieve.


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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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