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When we teach young dancers and they are starting to execute movement, often times the comprehension of that somatic initiation and execution takes a while to sink in. We all have had dancers who can replicate a piece of choreography we give them but don’t quite grasp where that movement should be coming from and more importantly what it should feel like.

Often times the word, “energy” comes out of my mouth when I’m giving choreography because dance is not static, even when the choreography is shape driven. There’s a breath and a life that should be circulating through it, even when we are in stillness.

With that in mind, young dancers often initiate movement from their extremities, i.e. arms, legs, etc. when in truth movement comes from the core outward and the energy should be breathing life through the three exit points, head, fingers, toes. The lack of attention paid to the energy transcended in these areas often creates movement which is cut short, incomplete and unfinished. This is where we as dance teachers must explain that the energy must be exiting the top of the head and finishing the lines completely, stretching through those fingers and toes.

The difference is remarkable. Once dancers make that connection and integrate the suspension and stretch, not only will their movement look more complete but their use of breath enhances musical phrasing, timing, and dynamics. It may take some diligence and repetition to make the concept stick but eventually it will be become inherent as their technique becomes muscle memory.

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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