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Dance Studio Owners

Teachers are people too. We’re human. We have emotions and experience events that occur in our lives (outside of the studio) which are going to move us in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are happy events, sometimes devastatingly sad events, sometimes they are events that stack one on top of the other and overwhelm us so that we don’t know what to tackle first. This is a part of our existence on this earth and nobody is special. We are all faced with these things in a variety of ways; such is life.

We grapple with these things in our homes, with our families and close friends and very easily can become consumed when we are celebrating, planning, dealing, coping, moving, mourning, healing; whatever the case may be. But what happens when we enter the dance studio and are ready to teach our classes? What happens when we need to switch that stuff off and be present, mindful and focused for the task at hand; being there to teach for our students?

In a career that is so intertwined to our personal lives and in a sense is a means of sparking inspiration and creativity, pulling from life-experience in our teaching, choreographing or moving as a means of catharsis, how do we then balance what is occurring in our private life with our studio life? How do we maintain that very fine line of awareness when those outside things are bleeding into our work? And how do we maintain professionalism without this crazy thing called life interfering with what we were hired and love to do?

First let me say this, as I’ve said above, everyone is human. So cut yourself some slack. Everyone goes through a time, whether it is a rough time or just a busy time where they need to coast or go on auto-pilot for a bit, so don’t be so hard on yourself. The trick is to not stay in this zone for too long and let it become the norm. Finding yourself in a place where you are supposed to inspire and command a room full of students is not the time to be blasé or unload your emotional issues. Just because your students are a captive audience doesn’t mean it is right or appropriate to unload on them just because you can. There needs to be a clear sense of what you and they are there to accomplish. “TMI” is not and never will be an attribute of a good teacher. While kids will react to a teacher’s news, especially happy news, like weddings, having a baby, etc. and want to know all the details, be selective in what you tell them.

Sharing general, joyous news is always fun for them to hear about, but divulging in-depth details of a bad break-up or death in the family is perhaps obvious enough to proceed with caution. If something is circulating around the studio, leave these things to the discretion of the studio owners to advise or take the lead on how to deal with it, what information will be shared, etc. This is the best way to go about it and will ensure that the situation is dealt with in the way the directors feel is best for the business.

If you find yourself in class where you are distracted and consumed with emotion (and we’ve all had those days,) use it to a positive advantage, not a negative one. Don’t sit there and detach yourself and deprive your dancers from their dance- class that they have been waiting for all week. Figure out an appropriate lesson plan where you can join in and be inspired yourself. Work on improvisational scores that are “emotion” driven, deliver a combo that is both an outlet for you and a challenging, fun exercise for the students; while still age and content appropriate.

My point in all this is, life events happen every day and I’m here to tell you it’s OK to be human. BUT…..we all have a job to do, a job that we love and are passionate about. So while it is OK to go through these times, know when it’s also time to check yourself and ensure that your students are not the ones receiving the brunt of things going on in your personal life. Know where the balance is and just as we tell our students, when you step into that studio, use it as a haven, a time and place for yourself where you can disconnect and focus on what you love to do, dance.

Good luck to you all!

See you in the dance studio,





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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