Month: March 2011


Learning from others – Branding your Business a Success

An accomplished dancer, Cricket is also  a graduate of the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University.

How hard is it to just stop talking and listen?

When you let go of your  opinion of yourself, it is easier to learn new things.   You may be the master instructor hired for an event or a new director hoping to make dance happen in your area.  Doesn’t matter which one you are, your greatest tool is not in what you will ultimately say, but rather in what you are willing to listen to, and learn from.   Your opinion of yourself isn’t important in this setting – you’re just the organizer.

No one really wants to listen to someone brag about their awards, their studio; their this-  their  that.   Boring..  It is much nicer to listen to someone who has a story to tell that benefits everyone; or  new dance steps to teach.  You need to always be learning from your students.  Listen and watch.  If your students are too worried about social staging, something is happening that you need to take action on.

SOCIAL STAGING “Only there to be seen.  To be in the communities eye.  To be perceived as important.  Popularity contest”.

I’m like everyone else,  I enjoy working with well rounded dancers.  Dancers who have other outlets that keep them whole, be that swimming, baseball, gymnastics, internet shopping .  I do understand that young minds need to be learning – but too much of one thing can have a reverse reaction –  and present you with a non-learning environment.  Things can become so mundane and repetitive, that students don’t  really want to learn.

Students need outlets that allow them to explore growing up naturally. They need those breaks from dance and especially the high pace (or stress) of  competitive events.   Too many events crammed together are like eating too many cookies from the cookie jar.  You have to stop putting the kids on over load.

Families  matter in the dance world.  It’s important that families be allowed to  back away from situations that occur at competitions, events, and  at their home studio, that really don’t involve them. Less people involved the better.   Knowing what occurrences are part of someone’s  social staging,  and which occurrences are actually problematic – takes skill, time and patience.   Hot headed directors are  problematic.   Some thrive on gossip and social staging.  Those type frighten me, and I’m an adult.  Just think how the kids feel.

How do parents know?  How do they learn?

You don’t come with all the knowledge of how to  differentiate between  problematic  occurrences  just because you open a business and/or were contracted to host an event.  No one expects you to have all the answers. You shouldn’t act like a busy know-it-all.   Same is true with the consumer who is looking at your business.   Learning is a process, for both those running the events, and those putting their money on your stated experience.  You are going to make some mistakes.  The first mistake is to “not listen to sound  reason”.

“If a person has ran their business into the ground, I don’t know that they would be the best source for advice on how to be successful.  They might teach you what not to do, but I wouldn’t let them handle my books”.

In dealing with the many facets of dance education and competitive endeavourers, emotions do tend to play a part in both arenas.  It’s how you react to them that makes the difference.  We are living creatures, each with our different ideologies and philosophies about life.  Just because you put your name on the side of a building and call it open for business doesn’t mean it will be a success.  You might feel successful for a while,  because your new brand had a modest rise in the market;  but is your business  a fad or a trend?

If you are social staging and neglect to build  a solid plan for your business, you are In for a shock.   If you are not capable of continuing the same level of growth and meeting  all quota’s – it could become a monetary sticker shock.   Some businesses decide to stay small because of these factors. They know  they will still be there when the new wears off “you”.   Believe me, the new will wear off.   But, if you think you have it – go for it. But,  If you are already in a flooded dance market, you might want to think twice.  How solid are you?  Partnership got your tongue?

Strictly business  “You  open a business  to make  money”.    Once you hang that sign, you own it!  That includes the over head.

The art world has a lot of creative people in it.  Some are the real artists, some are the students, who want to be artists.  Many times you will see the students attempt the business route.  That is okay- but not always successful,  maybe because they lack  the financial and dance education necessary to be successful.  On the other hand, being creative might mean  you can teach and have  strong dance education skills, but can you handle the books; the monetary side of the business?

When you really get ingenious, and you explore the education and financial aspects of  owning a  business,  and are willing to listen, learn, and not repeat the mistakes of others – you might have a chance of success.   Take the word “dance” out of your thinking and concentrate on  what it really takes to make a “business” successful.

Strictly business.   You need to have some form of training to understand  what  defines a dance  niche. It helps if you have  had some form of formal dance education.   I say this because “education” is different than just teaching someone a dance.  Education deals with the raw fundamentals of techniques, control, discipline, and structure.

Finding that dance niche in a flooded market is hard.  That flooded market could spill over onto your sandy shores and wash you away.   One studio may offer competitive drill style, or contemporary lyrical.  Another may offer local  recreational dance, and still another belly dance and specialty events for newbie’s.    The niche is knowing that you have to be good at what you do in “business”.  Build your business away from the sandy shores of others.  Establish it on a solid rock foundation, high up on the hill.

Hiring and keeping good quality teachers is another area of concerns for business owners.  Partnerships often struggle with this area.  Who really controls what?  Who is really responsible in the end?  My money – your money, who’s is it?  Are you hiring kids? Family getting in the way?  Partners won’t work or pay bills?  Partners in the classroom who really can’t teach?  That leads me to a new topic:  branding your product – your business.

Brand:  a name and/or trade mark intended to identify and differentiate the product of one seller or group of sellers. Brand mark:  the part of a brand that appears in the form of a symbol, design, or distinctive color or lettering.

Studios rise and fall because they pump up the parents into believing their child will succeed just because they are on their team and wear their brand.  Throw a jacket at them!   Brand Mark!  Unfortunately,  sloppy and/or manipulative business managers   use this social staging (branding) as a means to manipulate the market, and thus all they  end up doing is creating a  “non-creative or watered down dance environment”.  The confusion they create for the consumer is hard to weed through, and amounts to  nothing more than just flat out  deception.  It’s like going down the cereal  isle in the super market.  It’s NEW!  It’s packed with sugar!  Until the next guy comes along, hopefully selling a more wholesome product, with a better brand name.

Green beans or spinach?  Humm…..

Families are left scratching their head and wondering “do any of these people get along with each other”?  “Is this really how dance is”?   No, that is not how dance education should be.  With an emphasize on “education” .  You go to class to learn.  You are equals with others in your class.  What a concept.  In the real world, out side of a dysfunctional setting, studios do get along, and work together.   Dancers work together and train each other.  You have to respect all levels.   You have to let go of that self-importance.  Listen and learn from others.

Dance education is what it is.  It’s education, not competition.  There is a difference.



Inspiration to Teach

Inspiration to Teach…

Inspiration can come in a number of ways, if you are open to it.  Sometimes inspiration comes even when you are not open to it.

My inspiration to keep going came from someone I don’t even know.  Just a little blurb that came across my Facebook one day from an online company , Dance Advantage.  Their  blurb was “Never Give Up”.  I’ve used that phrase probably a million times along with the phrase “Never Give In”.  “Never Give Up – Never Give In”.  Isn’t that the way it is in the dance world?

Some days you are riding the wave and splashing in the great pool of unchartered waters, and other days you are dancing with snails on the side of the fish tank.  We all have those moments.

When students come to me for training, I do hope that I can augment or compliment the other learning styles they are being taught.  However, some days it is hard, especially when you have corrected a student of a bad habit, and they continually repeat the same mistake.  Their answer, “Ms. _________ says we have to do it like this”.  In those times, it is hard to compliment.   It’s a never give up moment for sure. You correct again.

I do teach to inspire.  Any instructor who’s been out teaching, even at the basic level should have the ability to put together a routine, and fiddle with music.  However, it is usually those instructors who have a strong ballet background that show case their dancers early on in their best light.  Their technique generally rises above the rest.

If you have students who also work with other instructors – it is best to compliment one another, rather than work against them.  It doesn’t serve your students very well if you work against them, especially when they are trying so hard to learn correct technique.

If you use just the basics of ballet you will find that you will increase your student’s overall performance level greatly.  But you have to be consistent.   When you are creating choreography it is best to first understand the levels of your students.  Can they switch their hand and feet patterns to jazz, and back to ballet rapidly?  Do they get confused?   Do they have that level of training?  Are you setting your students up for failure in another area by adding too much difficulty in visual patterns?   Ask yourself some questions.  Be honest.  Take the competition out of your decisions.

Everybody wants to be a dance teacher.  But not everybody can teach well.  Even when you do teach well, if the student(s) have other instructors – is the training complimentary?

One discipline we can probably all agree on is ballet.  Ballet is a discipline.  Ballet is also an art.  Ballet is not for the casual recreationalist.  Ballet will weed out the weak from the strong.  It takes hours of bar and floor work, just to get the technique right.   You’ll have months of practice before you even begin to learn a dance. Are you up to the challenge?  Still want to teach?  Ballet not as exciting as solo competition and team jazz instructor?   I think it is!

Ballet is the body’s way of expressing itself through pure beauty.   It’s both elegant and graceful, and yet it’s powerful.  Yes, it is formal, but it can also be fun.  When you see your students start to advance above their peers in their other dance classes, you recognize the power of ballet.

I’m looking at a group of young ladies that are interested in pre-point next year, and turns and leaps.  I think they are going to drag me back into it.  They have the attitude of “Never Give Up – Never Give In”.  It’s one thing when you beg them to do something – it’s another when your students come to you and ask.

Inspire your students to want to do better.  Complement or augment with as many instructors as you can.  The dance community as a whole should equal one.  Keep it that way.  Ballet is a good start in that direction.

Creating the Perfect Dance

Creating the perfect dance

Good dances take time.  They aren’t normally created over night – the good ones that is.  A good dance consists of a host of elements, including  good balance between the dancer and the way the movements should look.  Music is also important when used.  Music isn’t always used; and knowing when to add a punch, pop, or pause takes good timing.  A dancer has to have the necessary control to finish the steps, or pause the steps on cue – with or without music.

Next, we have the knowledge of the dancer, and their ability to use technical control and balance.   Do they truly understand movement and the emotion it evokes?  I wouldn’t confuse emotion to much with presentation.  Presentation – I like to think of as a facial reaction.  Emotion involves the entire body.  The way the body flows in harmony with the rhythm of the music or a theme.  A slow tilt of the head, or push and pull movement, etc., that reflects the overall theme of the dance – there is  emotion.  It involves the entire body.  When you preform with emotion – you aren’t a stick figure, you actually flow.  You should present  something the audience will appreciate and understand.

A lot of students miss out on learning the basic structure of dance creation because they lack the basics of dance technology.  If you don’t have technical training, it will be hard for a student to perform in a manner that allows the audience to appreciate what the dance is saying.

How old is too old to learn technique?  How much technical training do I need to choreograph well?

Technique is something you should be working on at every age.  From the time you first step onto the dance floor, you should be checking your technique daily.  You never stop learning.  That is one of the beautiful things about dance – you are constantly learning and growing.  The world of dance changes in its forms and styles so often; there is always something for everyone.

When you perform a dance, it becomes the entire accumulation of all your technical training combined with your individual styling.  The more technical training you have, the greater your range of styling will be.

You need to have a large repertoire of technical skills in order to perform well.  So it would be safe to say, that the greater your technical knowledge, the greater your ability to choreograph well would also be.  You have to be able to see the technique in your students.

The difficulty with choreography comes down to the technical abilities of the instructor, and the student combined.  The less technical training your student has, the more work you will have to do to prepare your students.  Since  students all learn at different levels, you may have wide ranges in abilities you have to work with.

My suggestion to new instructors is to first do an evaluation of your students individually.  Don’t rush them into learning this cool, awesome, or slick dance you just put together or found on line.  Test their abilities first.

I have a list that I follow when doing evaluations, this helps me to map their advancements over a period of time.   I really am more concerned with technical advancement rather than trick performances.    Until a student is knowledgeable in their skills, their ability to synchronize their steps together with a team or hit a movement on cue, will be problematic.

I understand that as a teacher, you have to work with what you are given.  But if you aren’t at least teaching “daily” the basis to your students, you won’t achieve your dream dance.  You are only as strong as your weakest dancer – the old saying  has a ring to it.

My dance buddy Tai and I would like to wish all the dancers good luck at competition this weekend.

That dream dance will come when you have brought your dancers to a greater level technically, than they began with.  Some dancers will take longer to get the skills down.  But that doesn’t mean they won’t get them.  Your job then is to make sure they continue on in an upward learning curve.  Keep tracking their advancements.  Don’t take it personally when they don’t progress as fast as your perfect dance.  If your dance is that perfect – there will be another time “when they are ready”, “when you have made them ready”.

Good luck instructors.

Helping Students Cope In Difficult Times

Coping in stressful times.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve listened to a young dancer complain about how someone else treated them, or others.  It’s not a new phenomenon, rather part of the business of dance, and being open enough to listen to what your students have to say.  I have seen students treated so poorly that they opted out of dance just to escape the cynicism, or the perception of cynicism from others.

Some students just have better coping skills than others.

Some students are forced into stressful situations by adults, or peer pressure, or simply fall into a situation due to lack of knowledge of what they were really getting into.  It is very important that if you are thinking about an advanced level of studies that you fully understand what is expected of you before you sign up.  If you will do some basic research first-you might save yourself some grief.

Researching everything you decide to do is important, especially if it isn’t a beginner level class.  You might think you are advanced, but I’d still suggest you at least go to a class and check it out first.

What is really stressful for students is inconsistency.  Inconsistency in teaching styles, lack of professionalism, and/or verbal inadequacies in actual instruction.   You have to be clear in what it is you are teaching.   It’s crucial that  you be able to demonstrate the proper technique, and be able to verbally get your message across to your students.

I want to address a number of questions, and I will present my take on them below.

Why wouldn’t a director allow an officer to put together choreography for the team?

This point is often hard for younger students (high school level) to understand.  Most students feel that as an officer that it is a right to put together the choreography and teach it too. Unfortunately, if you are not able to perform technique necessary for a dance, and catch your own mistakes, I too wouldn’t allow you to teach a dance to students, let alone choreograph it.

Some students can cope with being told no.  Others cannot.  It’s all in how good their coping skills are.  When they reach this level it is important to have someone there in authority that understands what their students are anticipating, and be prepared to let them down gently.  Have something else just as meaningful prepared in advance.

Some instructors  by nature are just  “hit with a stupid stick”.  They will put anyone in control of a squad or team.  Their own kid, their kids friends, their favorite, non-professionals, etc.   They just really don’t understand the dynamics of team building and how important it is to have someone teaching who actually knows what they are doing.  In this case it’s all about popularity, and parental meandering – it’s evil.   Not very many students will have the coping skills necessary to deal with this type of stupid.  The best you can do is “finish on top”.

How do I cope?

That is the question that is only answered through time.  You have to learn the skills necessary to deal with a multitude of stressful situations.  One way to help yourself is to NOT sign up for a level that is over your head.  Avoid situations that you already know have problems.

Seek out levels and instructors who have an even temper and unruffled demeanor.  Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here.  Instructors will raise their voices a lot.  You need to not take it personally when they do.  If you can’t handle constructive criticism, you have no business, in the business.   You are there to learn.  You aren’t there to teach or take over.  Coping doesn’t mean you react to every situation that happens; you have to be able to let things go, or learn from a skill.

There will be those around you who have zero coping skills.  Everything is about them, for them, and their little world.  They will bring their worst to the table.  Coping with personalities is something we all have to deal with.

Don’t let it be your personality that others have to deal with

It is fair to talk to your instructors and ask for guidance?.

Sometimes instructors really don’t know what their students are going through.  They don’t sit in the classrooms with you and see all that is happening in your world.  If you are having a real problem with someone – it is up to you to let the coach/ instructor know.  Never state it out loud in front of the team.  That only stirs up animosity and resentment.  Let your coach help you deal with some of the issues.  They can’t take on all the load for you – but maybe they can at least help in their class.  But you have to let them know there is an issue.

How do I help others to cope, I think they are going to parties to escape?

First off, remember you aren’t a professional.  If the situation is drug related or abusive, you have a moral obligation to help that person.   By helping, that might mean reporting the behavior to someone in authority.   You aren’t the police, and you shouldn’t attempt to be.  Allow those in authority to deal with the issue.  The student might get mad at you – but you force them to deal with the issues and hopefully get help.  It’s called tough love.

Being there for newer students or older ones – who for some reason others have decided to pick on – they need you.   There is really no excuse for bullying.  Helping someone to overcome the stigma of being a newbie is important.  Remember when it was you?

It’s okay to make mistakes.  You just practice  until you get it right.  Sometimes coping does mean helping others to move on.  Letting them know it is okay to do something different.  Letting someone down gracefully rather than rudely matters.  Your ability to help others cope is a reflection of your own humanity and caring skills.

There will be problems that will be way above you.  Stay away from situations that you know will cause drama and make matters worse.  Keep your cool and you keep sanity.


The ability to overcome in times of distress.

If all else fails “there’s still chocolate”…..