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Teaching Your Students Dance Competition Courtesy


Studio Owner Article


Self-help and Life Enhancement Tips for the Business Owner

     When we head into competition season we are usually engulfed in setting pieces, rehearsing, ordering costumes and perfecting every last detail so that it is show ready. We spend countless months coming up with concepts for our dances, organizing schedules and ensuring that our dancers not only know their choreography but are performing with their hearts from the inside-out. We take great pleasure in watching them onstage; not so much for the fact of where they place, but to see their progress from where they started to where they currently are.

     Occasionally while our attention is on focused on the actually performance aspect of competition, we forget to teach our students the etiquette of actually being at a competition. A common oversight, but one too important to neglect when it comes to teaching our dancers they ways in which to interact with fellow peers, friendly competitors and how to represent themselves and represent professionalism and showmanship. This is not only a behavior set of values that will carry with them throughout their lives, but a direct reflection on you, the studio owner. It demonstrates how you are training your students and the lessons within the dance lessons you are teaching them over the years. Below are a few important things to remember. Pass them onto your students. Discuss their importance and be leaders in the industry of good will, collaboration and support for fellow dancers. We are all in this together and while healthy competition is a good thing to propel us forward, kindness and humility never hurt anyone in the process. And that goes for students, teachers and studio owners a like.

  1. Punctuality: When arriving at competition, be on time. Know where you need to check in for dances, where your dressing area is and what music you need to have ready to go. Have back-ups prepared. The competition officials will thank you for it.
  2. Appearance: How your represent yourselves will say a lot. Whether you have team uniforms or all wear the same thing, you are a team and it’s OK to represent that. Remember though, first impressions are key. Remind your dancers to smile, make eye contact and say hello with competition officials, other dancers and studio owners. Always be polite and respectful.
  3. Sharing the Dressing Room Space- This one can be tough sometimes depending on the venue and the changing area is sometimes limited. Arrive early and set up your space but be mindful that if you are sharing the space with another studio to do your best to make it work. Share the space fairly. Remind your dancers to be neat and orderly. Be sure they don’t have their things spread out all over the place and to keep costumes, shoes and makeup in their designated area. Same thing goes for the restrooms. Ensure that dancers do not have their hairspray, makeup, etc. all over the counters. Remind them to clean up after themselves as they would at the studio and at home. As far as the stage space, remember you are not at your home venue. Remind dancers to share the stage space for warm-ups. Have dancers be aware of standing in the wings while other studios are exiting and entering and to know when and where they should be at all times. Be respectful and courteous of everyone's designated stage time.
  4. Avoid the Audience Cat-Call- While we all want to support our fellow dancers on stage, be mindful of the hooting and hollering from the audience. Screaming a dancer’s name while they are performing a solo or yelling may not be the most effective way to show your support. Think about it, do you hear people screaming out a ballerina or Broadway star’s name in the middle of their big solo? Probably not. Teach your dancers respectful audience behavior. That goes for opposing studios as well. If you like something, clap for them. There is nothing wrong with giving applause for another studio’s achievements. It doesn’t cost you anything and it demonstrates good camaraderie.
  5. Awards Ceremony: I have seen many things during my years as a judge during awards. Sometimes not so good. First off, remember if you do have a large studio which takes up half-the stage to watch the intimidation factor. Think of that small recreational studio with only a handful of dancers who is sitting pushed back in the corner of the stage. While it sometimes can’t be helped, encourage your dancers to be inclusive and friendly. It’s OK to be excited, proud and super stoked to accept awards for hard work and achievement but be mindful that your dancers are still onstage and their reactions to those awards, whether it be for their pieces or others is being watched by the entire audience. Even if they results don’t turn out the way you thought, this is where showmanship and politeness come into play. Smile, applaud and accept your awards with thanks and grace. You can discuss it later as a group back at the studio or at a neutral place, but the stage is not the time. Be sure your dancers are respectful of others achievements as well and have them show their peers respect by offering congratulations or a high-five for a job well done.
  6. Kindness Counts: One of the coolest things I’ve seen is by a studio owner who creates little care-packs/gifts for their dancers to give to other studio dancers. She provides them with a little note pad and during the course of the weekend they give out these little tokens and notes to let other dancers know they either love one of their pieces, or their costumes or smile onstage, etc. It’s the nicest gesture I’ve seen in a long time at competition. This can go for studio owners too. Remember you are all in this together. Interact with each other, complement each other and learn from each other. Who you are off stage will be a direct reflection as to who you are onstage. Let your studio light shine bright. Be that studio that everyone talks about; not just for the work you’re representing but for how your dancers and faculty represent themselves on and offstage. Courtesy, respect, humility, professional and showmanship are the traits of a great dancer, and human being.

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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