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Helping Dance Students Master Turns


Teacher article


Dance Teachers

Any student at any level can always use a refresher when it comes to turning technique. It is also especially essential when teaching younger students the basics as well. Every teacher has their own special way of teaching turns, but these quick ideas below are across the board tips that can enhance or add to your teaching tool box. Proper technique and form are key to cultivating good habit and good turns, so have dancers work methodically, take your time and build upon the basic building blocks with every year of training! 

Preparation- It’s all in the preparation. Even more than the turns itself, it’s the set up which will decipher whether a turn is successful or not. Make sure dancers (especially young dancers,) know what foot and arm are placed where for en dehors or en dedans turns. This should become habitual without even thinking- second nature. Make sure they understand the mechanics of port de bras, weight transfer and take off. Also ensure they know how to come out of the turn and land clean as well. Start stationary and progress to taking it across the floor. 

Spotting Technique- You’re never going to develop great turners if you don’t take the time to teach spotting, appropriately. It can feel tedious, but it’s important. For beginners, have them start with simple chassè, 2nd plié into chaîné turns across the floor. Piqué- passés with a spot change front or side work well too. Another exercise I love is in the center. Have you dancer prepare. Begin with quarter turns to the right all the way around. Repeat going left. Progress to half turns, singles and doubles. The emphasis here is on the spot of not only the eyes but bringing the shoulder and whole body with them. It also emphasizes how to perform a clean landing when working slowly.

Single vs. multiple turns: Remind students that executing a clean single is often times more challenging than the double or triple. When working on singles you don’t use the same momentum you do with multiples, so it forces you to understand how to engage your core, use your plié and relevé effectively. I always tell dancers, if you’re able to do a clean single from beginning to end consistently (on both sides,) you are well on your way to being a great turner. It’s always a great refresher for more advanced dancers to go back to basics and practice these exercises as well!


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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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