Working with technical instructors

06 photo shoot2 055Students who work with technical instructors fair better than with  the non-technical.  The problem comes when the student has to work with too many non-technical trainers.  That is when you start to see your student falling behind. When the non-technical teachings override the technical, you are setting your student up for failure. The effects are almost immediate.

The trade off for glittery  glamour and fancy costumes are no substitute  for technique. I find this hits home a lot in the ballet and technique courses taught at some studios.

A  good  rule of the thumb is that everyone should teach the same form of technique.  You must  be consistent.  However,  if you allow someone who has no formal background in ballet technique to be your lead,  you do your students a disservice. You are in a business, and you are supposed to hire the best, and to offer the best product you can.  Emotions and feelings will not build your studio.  True talent will.  

Take a good look at your studios top dancers.  Did you really train them or did someone else?  Have you taken the credit for someone else’s work?   What would happen if you lost that instruction?      I can tell you that your level of technically trained dancers will decrease.  If you aren’t teaching proper technique, you may have a nice sparkly show, but it won’t pay off in the end at competition.     As a competition judge – I’ll bust you on the technique score sheet.  Because I can, and because I should.  Dance is a discipline after all  – and you are there to compete and be judge.  If it weren’t for judging you wouldn’t show up.  Think about it. 

 I’ve watched this technique formula unravel recently as a newer off shoot studio had its dancers level up, and in many ways is beginning to pass the older studio.  It’s about being willing to WORK!  If it were a popularity contest there would be a lot more people beating down the doors to work for you.  At some point studio owners have to face the hard cold facts.  What is technique, and how does it effect my bottom line in the long term investment of my business?  What a concept “long term investment”. 

Studio’s need to hire the best.  But if the best is only versed in one style of dance, and  has little or no formal back ground in ballet, you only have short term profits to look forward too.  Dance styles change constantly, technique is here to stay however.  Your long term investment is in investing in someone who will discipline your students to be consistent and hit those movements every time.  That investment should include training the trainers as well. If your instructors are not on the same page from preschool to 3rd grade levels, your top levels will be weak and sporadic to say the least.  Those per former years are mandatory for  so many reasons.  From 3rd grade through 9th grade, you will have growth issues to content with.  You must have instructors who understand those growth spurts and can help student to re-learn technique. Their young bodies are developing, and muscle and bone growth is tremendous.  Example: The bones in the foot of a point ballerina.

Chances are, if you have neglected technical training for your dancers, your top dancers are getting training from someone else outside your organization.  So, back to the questions “Take a good look at your studios top dancers.  Did you really train them or did someone else.  Have you taken the credit for someone else’s work?”  Are you giving a non-technical short term instructor credit for years of someone else’s instruction. Possibly destroying hard learned technical disciplines to boot.

Look at your business as “a business”.  New and shiny is always enticing, but the true and proven, hard core disciple of dance is rough, and controlled, and has long term payouts.

 

Turns and Leaps!  Dance on !

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Inexperience vs. Experienced

Be careful when you choose who you will dance with, and where.   Also, know something about the different type of dance degrees available , and how they compare against other degrees, or up against an experienced dancer/instructor.

Someone with a two year degree in dance (associate level), has basically taken pre-dance classes. “PRE”…or the general ed’s of dance. They have only taken the pre-classes that might help them gain entry into a bachelors (BFA), or masters (MFA) program. A two year degree is no guarantee you will make it into a real dance program. Most professional schools of dance require a tryout / audition(uofu’s modern department link), as well as a host of other preparatory physical skills.

A number of two year programs really do not offer all the prerequisite skills  that will be necessary to enter into a four year and/or major university dance program. Two year programs offer very little real technical  dance experience above the entry level.

You would be better off  going to a university and auditioning, and getting into a real program.  Auditioning is the only way in, and if you do not have the necessary technical dancing skills, the competition will be overwhelming to you.

To better understand, think of  dance levels as categories, starting with beginner, then intermediate, advanced, elite/varsity, and then pro. A two year course is pretty much beginner to intermediate. I doubt any instructor at a two year institute would lead their students to believe they were anything above that level.  You don’t see a lot of two years dancing on college level dance teams and performing before large audiences of 40,000 or 50,000 people.  Two years are the beginners, and may perform at recitals.

Be careful, don’t let someone lead you into something that will cause you to embarrass yourself.  Chances are they have political and/or money motives in mind, and not your best interests.

A four year bachelors of Fine Arts (BFA)will give you a much better understanding of what will be  necessary  for you to learn as you embrace the dance profession.  A masters degree (MA) (MFA) is a specialty degree.   To teach at a university, a masters degree or higher is required for undergraduate courses.  Graduate level courses are generally taught by instructors who have doctoral degrees.  You will probably train with a number of  tenure- track associate professors, who have  both teaching and research experience at the graduate level.   Full tenured professors have PhD’s, which qualifies them to hold the position of Dean’s.

A professional or semi-professional dancer may have a combination of dance experience and/or academic training.   Or, they may never have gone to school, but rather learned their craft from years of experience on the competition floor, and studio training well beyond basics.    Participants of SYTYCD are a good example of  studio trained and street competition dancers.

Semi-professional and professional dancer generally have a dance portfolio, or dance history that they can present.  It is a chronological history of events, trainings,  areas of expertise, and current status, be that in training, judging and/or teaching.  Many have a list of accomplishment and/or  published works.

Fake or for Real?

Be careful of the dance institutions that make promises they really can’t deliver on. They can be a rip off, and the training can be extremely poor; as they suck in unexperienced students. The degrees can amount to no more than a certificate that is non-transferable. That’s another aspect to look at. See if they are an accredited facility of higher education. Meaning….their credits will transfer to other colleges or universities. You will be surprised at how many do not.  Two year colleges lack a lot of credibility in this area.

Two year graduates might be able to skim by working at a studio that doesn’t really care about what your academic training is; or with directors that just want to control their own environments, and don’t want or need any competition that makes them look “different”.

Basically, no experience is necessary to own a studio if you want to.  But to be good – that takes skill – a skill that is recognized by the community and dancers.

Experience is what matters.  Dance is an art, and dance is a sport, you can’t learn technique with your head in a book.  It takes years to develop skill and knowledge.  You might memorize terminology and be able to recite after reading a book, but you would do better to practice what you preach. 🙂

Be warned if you are trying to fabricate your way up – that those dancers and instructors who are highly involved in dance can spot a fake a mile away.   They probably won’t tolerate your behavior.

Your claims will be under the microscope.  It DOES  matter in the dance community, what you do, or don’t do. When people pay money for you to train their children, and you can’t even teach them to do a simple turn correctly or teach them to point their toes – you let them down.

Getting serious
If you are serious about setting your life ambitions to be a dancer, you have options.  One, you can go the university route, or two, you can develop a  life time of dance performance through  precision studio training and upper level competitions.  A lot depends on the style(s) of dance you wish to perform.

Dancing on a university team is also a  good choice to help you develop your skills along side of  dancers  your own age and of equal ability. Many pro’s and semi-pro dancers dance(d) on university teams.  It’s a whole different level of expertise that complements your former training, be that in ballet, contemporary, hip hop or jazz.

Learning to dance with a partner is a challenge for many.  Do it!

Serious dancers know when another dancer is their senior, and they acknowledge that. Equal dancers also acknowledge the level of each other. When you dance with equal level dancers you really are a team. You recognize each other, and respect each other. That is the way it should be. Yes, there is competition – but it is a recognizable merit of skill.

Deciding where you dance is as simple as acknowledging your own level, and being honest about yourself.

What’s out there for you?
What is available for  teachers, choreographers, directors, cheerleaders, experienced coaches, ballerina’s, and hip hop artists?

There are so many wonderful programs available for the person who wants more of a professional background rather than a recreational one.

Many top organizations offer franchises and specialty training. Masters level classes, memberships, and more.

Check out some of the Utah links on our website, and start to explore or branch out in your dance career.

~”A great dancer is not great because of
their technique,  They are great because of
their passion.”

Author: Martha Gram


Back Stage

Procrastinator

Preparing for back stage is 1/2 the battle in preparing for competitions.  “Where are the pins?  Oh my gosh – hairspray – I know I packed it.   Shoes – I have two left feet!”  What a nightmare.  If your organization skills for competition sound like the above comments, you probably are a procrastinator.   I hate to admit it, but I’m a procrastinator too.  I’ll pack the day before the event, and/or scramble the day of – to get everything into the car.   I didn’t relieve how much of the organization went into getting ready for competition until I got out on my own.  I think there is a progression that parents go through in working with their dancers.  They come in as newbies, and gradually progress to diva managers.   If you fall into the procrastinator category above, you are far from alone.  Even the best diva mangers fail sometimes.

I’ll pack the day before the event, and/or scramble the day of – to get everything into the car.

Gofer

At competitions, many times we have found our dressing room, half way across the school, or auditorium.   Parents who are often caught in the middle, somewhere near the stands,  are  clueless where to put  the bags.  There aren’t any signs in front of the buildings that point to where you need to go.  You need gofers, or scouts, to be in the facility before your team starts to arrive,  just to locate all the doors, corridors and stair ways.  They can then wait at the gates for when your team arrives, and help them to get to their dressing and staging areas.

Parents are fine to use as gofers, but a couple older teens who don’t have youngest to prepare for the stage, will work just as well.   You have to understand that your director and many of your instructors may not be there right when you get there.   It could be the roads are jammed packed, or  maybe it is because they are at the director meetings getting the 911 on the competition proceedings.

Make sure your gofer or scouts are trustworthy and that their cell phones are on for you to contact them.  They shouldn’t be text queens chatting with their friends and neglecting their duties.

Assistant Instructors

If you have to be in a meeting before completion, make sure you have an assistant teacher to  help warm up your students, and to check their costumes.  It’s okay to delegate to your assistants who have worked with you and your team.  Uninformed people in the dressing rooms are a studio nightmare.  They will, and can, give out a lot of false information.  Maybe not knowingly, but “false information” none-the-less.  Tempers can flare at the drop of a hat back stage.

I always find that the student is generally calmer than the parent, 9 times out of 10.  Parents, your kids need the input from their instructor’s right before going on stage.  The instructor knows the dance the best, they understand the choreography, and their students trust them.  You should too.  Don’t be in the dressing rooms in front of your dancers talking drama right before a competition.  Don’t attempt to make changes for an instructor, which includes costume changes.  You can discuss changes afterwards, for the next event.   That is acceptable to do – 100%.   What is not acceptable is disrupting an already nervous team with changes that you have no authority to do.  Afterwards, also allows your instructors / director the opportunity to state why something is the way it is.  If you constantly are disruptive at competitions,  or whining about  everything  – especially in the dressing rooms –  know that it stresses everyone out.  We call these types of whiners the “dressing room trolls”.

Warm Ups

The little bitty kids may need a parent or two around if Instructors don’t have assistants.  The little ones need to be watched carefully, and a system developed to help them get from point A, to point B, in as quickly and easy a manner as possible.

Your little ones might not understand why they have to bunch their lines together to practice.  Talk to them about warm up rooms before they get to competitions.

Have them hold hands when they enter the warm up room.  Once they are in there, make sure you get them to a huddle together as fast as you can.  Warm up rooms are puzzling to little bitty ones.  There are generally many other teams in the warm up rooms that take up a lot of spacing, and it can be noisy.  Your little ones might not understand why they have to bunch their lines together to practice.  Talk to them about warm up rooms before they get to competitions.

Older dancer, DO NOT need their parents in the room, unless that parent was asked to be there.  The most important thing is to stretch out!   Look over your lines, and nail those turns and combo sections.  Parents your dancers need to be looking at the instructor before going on.  Don’t become a “warm up troll”.   Find your seat and make sure that you can be heard when they perform.  Warm ups for older students should be a closed session.  There is already enough distraction in the room to keep them busy for a long time.   Some students don’t react well to other parents in the room either.  This is your curtain call “all parents to the stands”.

Music

Ahhhhh..  I can’t stress enough that you need to have at least 4 copies of all your music.  “Why?”  One, to give to your assistant, just  in case you don’t make it.  Two are for  your travel bag (a warm up CD and a performance CD for check in).  The fourth one you should  give to your top gofer.

Don’t let your students over run your common sense when it comes to music either.  It’s not a team decision – it’s more a, what is appropriate decision.    Just because a song is popular doesn’t mean it is the right song for your team or solo performer.    Truthfully, if the song is too popular you may be in for a shock when you get to competition.   There are lists out there, of the most overly used songs on the internet.  Check out the lists at www.DanceNet.com.    Not all songs have that over use feel,  but it doesn’t hurt  to be careful on your selections.

Awards

I was fortunate enough to work behind the screens during  a lot of  award ceremonies.  We set up everything for awards, including all the trophies, we did lane running, transporting score sheets to the tally rooms,  sweeping floors for acts, to crowning the dance champions.   During my time at the University of Utah on the Crimson Line Dance Team, we were sponsors for the Utah Drill Championships.  You work! You dance! You work some more! Did I say you will work?  You will!

If you are a returning dance champion and are asked to help with awards, be sure you understand that it could be very late before you are allowed to go home.  It isn’t uncommon for awards to end at midnight, or 3 pm, or 5 pm, etc.   Timing for awards isn’t an exact science either.    Just because they say awards at 7:00 p.m., that doesn’t mean they won’t start awards earlier or later.   If all the scores are tallied, and the competition staff is ready, they may go ahead and start the awards ceremony, to get people home earlier.  It is fair when you consider that you might not get out until 10 or 12 p.m.

It is nice to get away from competition to go somewhere to eat, but you need to make sure you are in contact with your instructor/director in case the event planners call an early awards ceremony.   Don’t drive 30 miles away for food either.

You should have your team on site early for awards, and they should sit together either in the stands ,  on stage, or on the  gym floor.  I understand that little girls get tired, and that a late awards ceremony is often hard on them.   But this is what you have spent your hard earned dollars on.  All the sweat and tears are for that moment.  Your team needs you there.  You are a team all the way from the first dance on the floor, to the awards ceremony.   It’s not just your vacation, it’s everyone’s, so please be considerate.

The day after

It is important to have that time with your dancer, and to help him, or her, to let down after an event.  Let the activities of the events wash over.  Win or lose, everyone needs down time to recoup, relax, and just breath.  Hopefully you have something planned that is fun for your dancer and family members who also attend the competitions.  A motel with a pool is a great way for the family to let down.  Those who have to travel all day and night may not have that luxury – but hopefully you will plan down time once you arrive home.  Spend time with your dancer doing things that aren’t dance related, even if it is just a movie and popcorn.

Even dancers who win can have a low period after a competition.   They have been working at a high pace with their performance and now all of a sudden its stopped.  That is similar to hitting a wall.  I’ve seen solo winners not return to competition because they didn’t adjust to the let down time well.  They weren’t able to come back up to the level of performance that helped them win.

Even dancers who win can have a low period after a competition.

Losing doesn’t have to be bad either.  The best perspective is one that helps a dancer learn to compete against themselves.  What others are doing really isn’t of concern,  as much as knowing that they have made progress in their own studies.    So winning isn’t everything – sometimes it is the end for some dancers.  It’s high stress, I understand.

Well rounded dancers need other outlets to focus on.  If all they do is focus on dance, day- in and day-out,  they might not be maturing emotionally and socially as they need to be.  They can carry those negative traits into adulthood.   Take the time to recoup, you are worth it!

As kids get older and adjust to different stresses, they will pick the activities that they desire to be in.   Having 2 or 3 activities outside of dance is normal.  Play ball, piano, swim, run – whatever.  Enjoy your time in the spotlight “Be a Star!”

 

Freelance Choreographers & Consultants

Freelance choreographers are professionals who out -source their abilities to a host of organizations including, dance studios, amateur performing dance companies, for dance camps, judging, team and solo choreography, and a lot more.

Freelancers are the people that usually move in  multiple  dance circles, and have many acquaintances in the dance communities they work in.  They may or may not own, and/or be attached to a studio.

They can move around  without  being overly  restricted by a lot of internal  constraints.  A lot are not studio based,  yet some do  carry their own name or brand.

A good thing about freelancing  is the independence and freedom to pick your own schedule and what you will teach.  You also get to keep your creative rights in some instances.  Although some teams prefer to have full ownership of the dance, so it is not sold again.

You can contract with local studios, but don’t have to hold any set loyalty if you don’t choose too.  It’s the experience and the dance, that  matters most.

Freelancers tend to have a larger  audience and are more apt to have fresher material because of all their outside choreography work.  A lot of freelancers have also been judges, and have had a chance to view new material that your studio and/or instructors may not have.

I judged for a short while and in that process I learned a lot.  I will be honest “I really think it helped me grow as an individual and instructor”.  Those weren’t my students on the floor, they were someone else’s.   I admit it was refreshing to be able to unbiasedly  look at these young individual’s and critic and praise them in the areas they needed.  No pressure – just do what I know.  At the same time, it was nice to see what others were presenting choreography wise.

It’s that rare team that really steps up and presents something unique and entertaining.  That’s the challenge each studio, and each performer faces.

As a freelancer you  have to stay current with dance,  and practice your  skills.  It’s in doing this that you are able to help teams learn new routines and specialty movements. You should be able to teach your students to incorporate their thoughts and ideas when needed for a routine.

It’s important that each dance look different, have its own style, and visual attraction – so your audiences (or judges) will be entertained.

At the same time, your dancers need to feel the dance.  They need to understand the emotional part of the dance.

SETTING YOUR OWN SCHEDULE

Being able to freelance, allows me to set my own schedule.   I’m busy 24/7 some months – but  have leaned to curb that down in other months so I don’t burn myself out.   I like to be in many different settings learning and growing.  From  those learning settings,  I am able to  bring  back new and challenging choreography to my own students; both team and solo.

I love it when someone comes on line and says a kind word or two about something I’ve done.  I try to make sure I say something positive back.

BALLET INSTRUCTION

With ballet, I always- always-always,  evaluate my students.   I want to know what skills they have acquired  before we begin learning new choreography and/or skills.  Young bodies have limits when it comes to training.  Their feet and legs need to be ready.   Emotionally they need to be able to follow directions without bursting into tears because they have to repeat certain sets.  One of the hardest things to do is say no.

TIME IS MONEY

As a business owner you know that you don’t have time to train your teachers.  They have to come to you already qualified.  It’s your family welfare on the line, and  your businesses reputation.  But even your best  teachers get stuck in a rut; so bringing in someone who has  new and challenging choreography can really help boost your team performance, and your instructors confidence.

I’m not competing with them, I’m augmenting what they already do.

It’s at this point that you pick up the phone and call those freelance choreographers to help you put together  choreography for upcoming events, team dances, camps, solos, etc.

This  is what I do.   Since  I’m not tied to any studio, I can work with all the studios and independents – on my time.  however, I do carry my own name and brand to distinguish myself  separately from the others. That is important for me.  I’m not competing with any studio, I’m simply augment what they already do.

While I do instruct a small ballet group – I choose to remain independent, and embrace the entire dance community.

Dance on!