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Keeping Company: Deciding On The Right Time To Advance Students


Studio Owner Article


Self-help and Life Enhancement Tips for the Business Owner

It's always a balancing act when, as studio director, you must decide on the advancement of a dancer. They are many factors to consider in this decision. Unfortunately at times, the pressure of a parent and the risk of losing their business [if their child isn't advanced,] can become an internal struggle between sticking to your guns and losing much needed business.

I have seen many studio owners in my travels approach this from two different ways. I have seen those that allow students into company if they take the extra, required company classes; even if they are not technically or proficiently ready to be in company. I have also seen those studio owners treat the notion of being in company or having a solo as a privilege; something you strive towards and must audition for. I, a firm believer in the latter of the two options, think this is necessary for a number of reasons. One, in a day and age when children and adolescents are becoming more and more accustomed to instant gratification and receiving things exactly when they want, it's important to be an example of what it takes to work hard to achieve something and pay your dues. To earn it. To not be entitled to it. To have patience. To want something so much you have the work ethic and wherewithal to endure the process. Children need to understand that timing is everything and you have their best intentions at heart. Letting a child run before they can walk is destructive and setting them up for failure. While challenging and motivating to excel is important, there is a difference between the two and young dancers (and their parents) need to take the cue from you and your faculty that things don't happen overnight. Just because a dancer turns a certain age doesn't and shouldn't mean they automatically are ready to be in company classes just because their friends are.

It is a very difficult situation to be in when you do have parents pressuring you as to why why their child isn't where the other kids are or think their child, "the star," should be receiving featured parts or solos as well. The thing to stand firm on is that these advancements are not a given, they are not there to be expected…. just because. There are a number of factors that go into these decisions which are not taken lightly and should be determined by the dancer's progress and technical level/ability, their performance capability, their dedication and work ethic in class, their time commitment and attendance, how they collaborate with others, how they pick up material, and their overall attitude. Are they eager to learn and continue to work on their craft? Do they really want this? Or, do they just want to do it because their friends are in it?

As studio director, it is up to you to set the tone for creating awareness to how being in company or receiving featured work is perceived. Sending out your message that company is a privilege for those who deserve it is not a bad thing. And consequently, it WILL make your dancers want it more and work harder to achieve it when it's not handed to them. It will make them realize what an honor it is to be "promoted" in a sense and feel good about their accomplishments when it does happen after the audition.

If you are a studio owner that does want as many of your students to experience what being in company is like (regardless of the technical readiness,) there are things you can do as well to still maintain that feeling of working towards a goal without just accepting everyone just because they want to. Think about creating levels to your company, whether it be a senior company and junior company (that may be comprised of novice dancers) or senior company and apprentices or a senior and junior company and performance groups (solely of novice dancers.) This still will allow for dancers of all levels to gain experience and feel they are working towards something however, the different levels will allow for those who do want to push themselves to advance to the next group. You also now have the best of both worlds with more advanced dancers feeling their hard work is recognized while still giving up-and-coming dancers room to grow.

First and foremost, always remember you are the professional. You know what you are doing and what is right for each student. If a parent or student really can't recognize that, it is up to you to decide whether they are a good fit for your studio anyway; as difficult as that may be. Succumbing to pressure is not the best way to run the business to set and maintain a standard of excellence. So….while it may be difficult in the short term, setting the precedence of hard work and dedication will take you further in the long haul!


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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