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Dance Teachers, have you ever experienced this? Dancer eagerly asking, “Can we add on now?” “When are we adding on?” “Do we have to do technique today? Can we just get to the dance?” Or, “I think I’d like to move up a level.” I have…and sometimes while part of me wants to say, “Uh, no…I just gave you three counts of 8 which you can’t even remember and you want to go on?” Or, “Are you kidding me? No, you’re not missing your technique warmup first.” Or, “I will tell you when you’re ready to move up a level,” I have to reign myself in to consider where this need for instant gratification comes from. First of all, while we should, take it as a compliment that the dancers are enthusiastic and excited to learn choreography, it is also our responsibility to help them understand that while this “zest for learning” is admirable, there is a necessary trajectory in order to ensure proper training and understanding.

I have seen this with all ages. Not to mention parents who feel as though their child is always ready to be moved to the next level; a lot of times well before they are ready to do so. While it’s easy for them to feel this way, especially if peers are moving ahead, staying firm in asserting one’s own path towards success is crucial for their well-being. Younger ones wanting to learn more “steps” for their big recital day is one thing, but when we are looking at the physical, mental and emotional ramifications of “peaking” before one is ready to do so will undoubtedly cater to disastrous results every time. And this is not to say we don’t present challenges for our dancers. We should, absolutely…but in a timely way. There are so many ways things could go wrong if we succumb to the pressures of advancing students prematurely so, having parents and dancers understand this is crucial. There could be avoidable injuries that surface, stunted physical developmental growth, emotional and mental burnout and a lack of maturity in terms of comprehending materials due to premature advancement. While you may not be their favorite person when you “put your foot down,” please remember you are the professional and you are being entrusted to make decisions for one’s child’s dance training and well-being. Nobody is ever going to praise you for putting a 9 or 10 year old on pointe when they can’t even balance in relevé in ballet slippers and they are not anatomically developed to attempt this.

As for the little ones, when they do look up at your with those big doe eyes and outnumber you to want to forge ahead with choreography for their big recital dance, it’s just as important to stop and explain why you’re going to take your time and review everything you gave them thus far. While they may not “get it” right away and continue to ask, soon enough, over time they will understand that you can’t have and achieve everything you want with the snap of one’s fingers. One needs to pace themself and move accordingly. We always say that a life in dance is a short lived one, but in respect to the training aspect, if we start to teach our dancers at a young age that it is really a marathon and not a sprint towards all of their goals, then we can rest assure and be proud of the dedicated, knowledgeable and appropriate training we are instilling in them for their whole lives through. In addition, they are also gaining a valuable lesson in terms of learning that things we really want to accomplish in this life come with hard work, being safe, wherewithal, dedication and patience. One needs to learn to walk before they can fly!

See you in the 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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