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Dance Studio Owners

“One is born to be a dancer. No teacher can work miracles, nor will years of training make a good dancer of an untalented pupil. One may be able to acquire a certain technical facility, but no one can ever 'acquire an exceptional talent.' I have never prided myself on having an unusually gifted pupil.” ~George Balanchine


            As dance teachers, we come across every configuration of student; the dancer who may not be the greatest technician but has such passion and enthusiasm for learning it inspires us and makes us excited to teach. Then there’s the dancer that takes class because it is nothing more than a social activity and are humoring their parent’s dreams and actually has no desire to dance whatsoever. There’s the dancer that just wants to have fun; the dancer that is such an amazing technician every turn, extension and elevation comes so easy to them you almost wonder if they are marking; BUT… simultaneously is the most boring performer you’ve ever seen. Conversely there’s also the amazing performer but not the greatest technician. And then THEY appear….the one or two students that have it all. They are the technician, the performer, the artist, and the thinker; while possessing the instinct, passion, discipline, desire and drive without it being motivated by you, the teacher. Oh we’ve all seen it. The student that comes in and is good at every genre, willing to try whatever you ask them to and inspires and challenges you in a way it keeps you on your toes and makes you want to choreograph a masterpiece for them because not only do they comprehend the complexity of your steps, but envelop stylistic nuance and understand movement quality well beyond their years.

           While a “good” teacher should be able to teach every kind of the aforementioned students and make each learning experience of the highest caliber, it is OK to admit to oneself that when those precious little gems pop up it’s also OK to get excited by them and want to mold them and cultivate their career because deep down you know they are going places because; #1 they want it on their own and will do anything to make it happen and #2 they have the goods to realistically achieve it.

          However, while every student should hold a special and unique place in your heart, regardless of their talent, sometimes it’s the ones that do have the technique and capacity though perhaps lack the drive and commitment or are lacking elsewhere that has us scratching our heads in terms of what more we should be doing as teachers. Sometimes, the most challenging thing however is acknowledging that there are some things that we can’t teach. It’s either there or it’s not. That “x-factor” is something embedded in the soul, it’s comes from within and as much as we can try to help a student find that within themselves and want it for them, sometimes the hard truth is it’s just not gonna happen. I see dancers all the time who are amazing technicians but have a warped sense of reality in terms of thinking they are giving 110% performance-wise. Something just doesn’t click. Understanding that performance quality and expression are part of one’s technique just doesn’t register. And being able to smile and mug on stage isn’t going to cut it. A dancer is an actor and a chameleon. We are moving storytellers and the dancer that understands that and can change with each piece they perform are the ones that are going to stand out in class, in auditions and on stage; even in an ensemble of 30 dancers. You always zero in on “the one” you can’t take your eyes off of and it’s baffling sometimes how some wonderful “executors of movement” think they are doing something when they’re not. As teachers, this is where it gets frustrating. Sometimes I just want to scream, “Who cares if you can do a million pirouettes and can hold your leg in 2nd for 3 minutes. So can a million other dancers. What else you got?”

            So what do you do when you have this amazing vehicle to translate your choreography but nothing is going on upstairs? How as teachers do we handle that? How do we draw it out of them? How do we give them some of our passion and drive and understanding to “get it?” Unfortunately, sometimes we can’t. And that is rotten to admit. In the most basic terms of them just even “wanting it,” we can’t be the ones to want  the dance career for our students.  As much as we want them to want it, as good as they are. It’s their ambition, their desire that has to first and foremost determine the right path for them. Secondly, we can’t jump inside their bodies and make them performers or artists. Oh, they will get better naturally as they mature with time and we can make them better for sure and maybe even really good, but again, it’s that “x-factor” that only they possess that’s going to take them where they want to go and make them stand out in a crowd. And that’s the dance world. Sometimes it’s not fair, especially when you have those dancers that do work so very hard and have this undying passion to succeed and do anything to catch up with the ones in class that everything comes so easy to. That’s where as a teacher you become determined to help that student because their will and drive reminds you why you do this in the first place. Privately though, in that quiet inner voice in the back of our heads we know who has it and who doesn’t; even if we don’t want to admit it to ourselves. And you know what??... maybe, sometimes the future doesn’t matter. They love what they are doing right then and there and that love of dance will last them a lifetime. No matter what, for me personally, I always tell my students that I would rather hire a performer who is maybe a little less of a technician but who gives me a visceral reaction when they take the stage. And I mean that….

            The bottom line is it all begins with and comes down to them. We can do everything in our power to motivate, support and train them while encouraging theirs strengths and challenging their weaknesses to be better and love their craft, but accepting that there are all types of students that bring out different sides to us as teachers, motivating us in different ways is perhaps our biggest lesson for us to learn. We need to recognize we can’t teach everything there is to learn and can’t jump in their bodies, make it click, make them want it or do it for them And for those that have that “x-factor” we can relish in that unique sparkle and be re-inspired when looking at what the future of the dance-world holds right in front of us in class.

“Great Dancers are not great because of their technique; they are great because of their passion.” ~Martha Graham


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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