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Dance Studio Owners

           The task of running a dance studio comes with all sorts of rewards year in and year out. However, anyone who got into this business thinking there wouldn’t be some difficult decisions along the way probably woke up to an enlightening reality; especially when parents and students think they know best. As we gear up for a new season ahead, here is some food for thought which might shed some light in terms of balancing what our dancers want and how to give them what they really need most.

         With the inundation of reality shows devoted to dance, (some good and some not so good,) many young dancers have somehow come to the conclusion that this is all dance has to offer. This is what dance is. They want to emulate what they see on TV (even if they are not technically ready or it’s age appropriate,) want to dance like, look like, be like and have choreography like “those” dancers. In my opinion, as a competition adjudicator, this is why as of late, the majority of pieces you see at regionals all look the same after a while. It seems there are many studio directors and teachers that are not quite brave enough to break the mold to say, “No, we’re not going down that path and we are going to take a chance to set something artistically, creatively and vastly different for our students.” Believe it or not, that “brave” inclination to break from the “norm” IS going to be what puts your studio on the map and makes others remember your studio name. Being bold, being different, being refreshing is where it’s at.

       While it is however, a major success that dance exposure on TV has created an appreciation to what we have known all our lives, as studio directors, it starts with you to set the precedence for your students dance education. Think of yourself as any good authoritative parent.  It’s not always about being the enabler and a “yes man” to your studio kids…it’s about sticking true to what you and your teachers know is right for their well-being, road to success, artistic sensibilities and training at any given point in time. It is however, a fine line to make your clients happy and return year after year. Therefore, taking the time to discuss your decisions and protocol with them will make for a mutual understanding regarding the student’s best interest; and making that the priority. It is your business, and you have to be prepared to some extent to stand your ground; always remembering you are the expert in this arena.

       I have seen many students and parents in the past couple of years try to strong-arm directors and teachers in many ways; whether it be: they want a solo or choreography with more “tricks,” turns, etc, want to know when they are getting a solo, want a costume that is less than appropriate, want to know why they aren’t in the front of the line or not featured, why their part was cut out or changed, questioning favoritism, questioning the competitiveness amongst their peers, questioning the choreographers you bring in, did I mention wanting a solo or choreography with more tricks?

        First off, let me say this in regards to the aforementioned, there is always a diplomatic way to handle these scenarios and that is the key to the balancing act of keeping your parents and students happy and remaining true to yourself. With that said, at the end of the day, the hard truth is, if they are not happy with your decisions and do want that “instant gratification,” or the studio that is going to placate them in order to take their money, so be it. I know that’s a difficult thing to say, especially in an economic climate such as this, however, I truly believe you are better off in the long run. Child development 101, when you make a decision, you must follow through to set the precedence. Otherwise you will spend the majority of your time in business, just giving into what they want; and consequently what could be detrimental to your student and the perception of your name in the studio community.

        Also, it seems the trend of following trend is partly due to the fear that this is what’s contemporary, “what’s in” or what competition judges want to see and if that’s not what you are presenting there is no room for you to shine and be acknowledged. Somehow the mindset is it substantiates credibility. Straight forward and blunt, I’m telling you…it’s doesn’t. Good dancers with solid technique, performance quality and professionalism does. Believe me when I tell you, if you want to be different and set your studio apart, talk with your teachers about concepts and original ideas that are technically and age appropriate that will also pump fresh blood into choreography and classes. Talk about what is realistically in the attainable realm of your students’ talents and where you can challenge them, whether it be in a solo, group piece, etc.

       Remember, there are infinite ways to get students excited….besides….giving into the addition of that 32 count fouette section they want but can’t execute yet or that leg tilt they hold for 3 minutes with incorrect hip placement and a bent supporting leg, or using music that is well beyond their years of comprehension. It is your job to think of how to do this and to hire faculty who can execute this and share a similar mindset. I am confident in reassuring you this will make your dancers strong technicians and artists; shining in a way that has never been seen before, whether on stage or TV. And that’s contemporary.

Here's to a successful season ahead everyone!

Good luck!

See you in the dance studio!



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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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