Artists Educators Training for success

Who are you?

If you are a student in a dance class or audition (remember those?) that is difficult and the challenge makes you uncomfortable, what do you do?

Do you decide that it’s too hard so you won’t bother to try to struggle through to accomplish something new and surprise yourself?

Do you believe your teacher when they confidently tell you that you fit, that you are doing well, that you’ll get it if you stay focused and train?

Do you believe your teacher when they tell you that you aren’t quite at that level, but if you dedicate yourself to training you can get closer to where you want to be? Do you accept the level you are placed in?

Do you decide that you don’t really like this style anyway so you’re going to slack off and resist taking corrections because why bother?

When the choreography is challenging, do you do the extra work to rise up to the level of the material you are given, or do you settle for not really mastering it?

Are you teachable? Trainable? Do you remember the corrections that you got last time and apply them?

If you are a teacher, I bet you can think of students that relate to all of these questions. If you are a student (we are all students, really), it’s important to reflect on this and see where you can do better.

Artists creating motivation

Pick up the pieces

There’s something you used to be really good at. You practiced all the time and you made the time to practice.

Other stuff took you away from practicing your craft so much. School, work, family, life in general, or sometimes there’s a global crisis.

Maybe it’s been years and you’ve convinced yourself that you lost it, that you used to be good, it’s all in the past and that’s that.

Go find it again. It’s still there. You may need to dust it off, clean off the rust and start from the beginning. Pick it back up, one small piece at a time.

Artists motivation

The energy you give

In a world of constant viewership and yearning for approval, and especially in the performing arts industry, it’s easy to get trapped in a negative mindset.

These people don’t respect me so I’m going to ignore them.

This person doesn’t like my work.

That group of people doesn’t hold me in any sort of high regard like they do others.

In these moments, it’s important to look inward and ask yourself,

“Do I give my energy freely and often?”

“Do I engage with people in my industry thoughtfully and supportively?”

“Do I show respect with an open heart and open mind?”

“Do I show up, truly?”

We can only get back what we put out into the world, and generosity, community and connection make the world better. Take it one step further than you did before.

Artists motivation Training for success

What if it’s too easy

Advanced dancers know how to work in any level class. If the material is simpler, they will work on emotional texture, refining their lines, sustaining movements a little longer. They’ll change a shuffle to riffle, a heel to a toe, try different stylizations with each repetition of the combination. They will make the class their own.

Less advanced dancers in the same situation will say the class is too easy, that they already know this, then proceed to not give their full effort because the class is below their ability level.

Smart dancers will ask for ways they can challenge themselves more if they need some guidance. They may respectfully ask if they can try the class that is a level higher in addition to the class they are placed in. Maybe the teacher isn’t seeing all they are capable of, or maybe the dancer takes the extra classes and works up to the level they desire to be dancing at.

Dancers who get it will show up, be present, ask specific questions and enjoy the process.

Artists creating motivation

Says who

We very often tell ourselves things to make us feel better. It can help us cope with being content in the moment, or it can stifle our ambition to achieve new heights or try something new.

I’m too old to become a director.

I’m starting too late. I’ll never be an actor.

I should have pursued this 20 years ago.

You have to ask yourself who is telling you these things. Mostly, it’s you. Others don’t get to decide whether you’re too old or too late.

Make art, whether it’s in your living room or at a Nederlander theatre. Seek out the best sources and guidance. Don’t stop.

Past regrets and bumps in the road do a great job of getting in our way. Use the good stuff as fuel and ignore the rest.

Artists creating motivation

I’ll be there

Many of us are fortunate to have people in our lives, outside of the obligatory immediate family members, that show up to everything we do as performers.

Whether it’s a class show for an improv comedy course, a dance concert in a crowded church basement or an outdoor performance at a large, well-known venue, they will be there. They always show up. It’s impossible to express in words the gratitude felt for my personal super fans who, no matter what, will be in the audience.

The only way I can think to possibly express it is to become that same super fan for others that I would want sitting in the front row at my show, to clear out some space in daily life and make time so I can be the one that shows up. Someday we will buy tickets to shows again. Our friends will have gigs. If I can make others feel a fraction of what I feel when my friends show up for me, I will be there.

Artists Careers

More than you think and not enough

Everyone knew better than me. What do I know, after all. How do I know this is the right way to go if I don’t ask people first. The people that know better.

It’s so great that we can now ask anybody what we should do. What song should I use? Which costume do you like better? What school should I go to? But wait. Does the rest of the world really know so much more than me?

Artists are, by nature, often second-guessing, hard on themselves, never quite satisfied with their work, contemplating what they haven’t accomplished. Does this sound familiar?

The truth is that we know more than we will give ourselves credit for. Trust your choices and trust your knowledge, and if you’re down to the final stretch of your endeavor mulling over a small detail, ask a trusted person who knows you a singular, specific question.

We will never have all the answers, but we have many more than we think.

Artists creating motivation

What is it for?

Why am I taking voice lessons if I’m not a singer?

Why am I taking ballet classes every week if I’m not a ballet dancer?

Why did I study high level math if I’m not an engineer, physicist or astronaut?

If it gives fulfillment, is time well spent, connects me with others or more deeply with myself, gives a needed outlet or a needed place to hide, feels right or enhances other areas of life, that’s all that matters.

Likes, shares and comments are temporarily satisfying. The joy derived from doing things ‘just because’ stays with us so much longer.

Artists motivation Technology

Pivot, step, walk, walk, walk

One very easy thing to do right now is to worry and ask ‘what if’.

What if I lose my business? What if my job, as I know it, is no longer? What if I have to change my life around completely? Now what?

Worrying takes a lot of energy and accomplishes nothing (we all will still spend some time worrying). We could also wait for things to get back to normal. Waiting is also not a good use of time.

As unideal as it is, it’s important to continue doing the work.

Not everything needs to change.

  • I’m still teaching my classes but they are pre-recorded.
  • I’m still teaching my classes but they are live-streamed.
  • I’m still planning classes for each level I teach, but now I’ve taken the time to separate the levels into different notebooks.

What’s next for me? An online monthly membership for people who want to continue tap dancing at home, or learn from the beginning. Stay tuned!

With slogs come new ideas, or time to develop the unrealized ideas and goals buried inside us collecting dust.

We can worry and wait and rant and let the challenge swallow us, or if we’re talking business-speak, we can nimbly pivot. As dancers, we’re slightly more talented and we can “Pivot, step, walk, walk, walk.

Artists Dance and Social Media motivation Training for success

For example

It is no longer a select few in charge who get to be heard shouting at others for not doing things the right way or for the right reasons. (Side note: I’m going to narrow this down to the realm of dance, but it’s applicable to any industry or topic.)

Each and every one of us has our own public soapbox to argue about split sole tap shoes, rant about tap dancers not listening to jazz music, bemoan the hypersexualization of competition dance and overall, shame others for not representing the art form in a way that we find acceptable.

This doesn’t work.

Humans don’t want to be antagonized into doing things “the right way”. We learn by following the examples around us. We teach what we’ve learned from our mentors and what we feel is true to the integrity of the art form, while making it engaging. That’s all that matters.

Follow the example I set. Or don’t.

Artists Careers Educators Training for success

When to stay and when to walk away

Part of achieving success as an artist is having the right training. Having the right training means you have mentors. The best mentors will help you achieve your maximum potential in a way that is demanding without being condescending.

In vulnerable states, artists may rely on their mentors to get them through the roughest patches. If this vulnerability becomes manipulated, it crosses the line into unhealthy.

Your teachers helped you reach great heights under their tutelage and may have believed in you when it seemed nobody else did.

It’s all great until it isn’t. Fifty great things your mentor has done for you cannot outweigh one very bad thing they have done to you.

The effect teachers have on students lasts a lifetime, the good and the bad. If it doesn’t feel healthy, walk away, and cherish the ones that push you to your best and catch you when you fall.

Artists motivation

That’s the truth

The truth can be quite elusive, especially when it is uncomfortable and feels unsafe, even more especially right now.

Past all of the arguments over minutiae and people bending the truth to their liking, past all the opinions and noise, there’s ballet. It’s right or it’s not. You’re in 5th position, or you’re not. Your leg is behind you, or it’s not. There’s weight on your tendu foot, or there’s not.

In a hyperconnected world of bickering, quarreling, unfounded theories and distress, there’s plié and breath.

Careers Educators Training for success

Value isn’t cheap

On tour in 2005 in the town of Somewhere, USA, my cast mates and I went to a dingy gym in a hotel basement so I could teach them the audition material for the upcoming Radio City Rockettes audition. I’d been doing the job for many years at this point, so I knew what the open call would entail.

These women are fabulous dancers. I just needed to fine tune some tiny details. Two of the three that auditioned ended up getting hired that season, after being cut from previous years of auditions. Words can’t express how special that was to me. They of course didn’t pay me a dime.

Other times in my career I’ve been hired to guest teach at studios or as a faculty member of a convention or festival where students don’t know foundational tap steps, and I’m paid very well to teach them some basics that they could learn from anybody with some knowledge.

How much I was paid in any case doesn’t matter.

The value of a teacher’s work isn’t measured by how much money they make. It’s measured by what those they teach get out of it.


All the little things

I don’t remember what awards I got at any dance competitions I participated in.

I barely remember my graduation ceremonies. I may have had some small graduation party but I don’t remember that either.

As great as my wedding was (all 9 minutes), the best part is the marriage.

My high school was too nonconformist to have a prom, but we did have a dance called ‘morp’ (prom spelled backwards). I’m grateful to my good friend who took me as his date, but I don’t remember the actual dance.

Many of us are missing out on milestone events this year. While those singular days and moments I mentioned don’t live strongly in my memory, the countless moments that led to them or came afterward always will.

Careers Educators Training for success

Full Circle

It was fun to grow up analog, to be a part of the generation that grew up analog. In the dance community we somehow figured out what was good, which dance studio would provide the best training and where the dance conventions and tap festivals were. When we got home at the end of the day, we were away from everyone. With a few exceptions, everything was local.

Adulthood combined with the ever growing internet made everything very big. I traveled to L.A. and New York City to study with as many dance artists as possible, to know them and for them to know me.

“Hey! You’ve been in my class before.”

Then came social media. Who remembers MySpace? You can now connect with anyone in your industry anywhere in the world. It’s an infinite realm of choices and possibilities.

I’m ready to go back to small. I don’t just mean geographically, although I can’t wait to be able to sit at the counter again at the tiny diner around the corner. I’m ready to continue doing my best work for the small group who shares my excitement and spirit. I’m back where I started, but so much better.

Artists creating rejection

The Go-Tos

When I feel like I’m running out of time:

When I need a reminder that success is very far from a straight line:

For great music with a mix of esoteric, mainstream and in-between:

When it’s time to work out:

Selected inspiring books I’ve loved reading: You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero & Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

When I need something comfortable and predictable, for background while I work on other things: Gilmore Girls [substitute any show that you’ve seen all the episodes of that don’t make you think too hard]

Find what keeps you going every day.

Dance and Social Media

Rule #1

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a gut punch every time someone unsubscribes from my email list. Oh no! They don’t like me anymore!

If you head over to the Dance Teacher Network on Facebook, you read about a lot of disappointment having to do with students leaving, many times on unfriendly terms with mean-spirited texts and emails.

Even if the aforementioned unsubscribers came to my studio only once or twice, or came to my festival 4 years ago, it doesn’t change the gut punch factor.

Sometimes people do just need to move on. This place wasn’t the place for them. Rule number 1 if this is you: be cool. This means leave respectfully. Frame complaints as a solutions. Frame negatives as positives. Act with integrity without sugarcoating or euphemizing.

It’s questionable etiquette to post about how amazing the new studio is or to air grievances about a studio with which there was a falling out. Moreover, it’s not relevant to most people reading it. Read: we don’t care.

Dance studios are not AT&T. We run our small businesses with a fervent passion. Everything we do comes personally from us. The AT&T rep on the line isn’t really “sorry for your frustration.” We can’t all get along all the time, but no matter what, be cool.

Artists Careers

This one time

There’s nothing like live theatre. A play may be performed 8 times a week, but the time you see it can never be exactly replicated. When things go wrong, those are extra special performances to witness, seeing performers in all their humanity and vulnerability. Here are some of my finest [insert sarcastic tone] once-in-a-lifetime moments:

Stumbled in front of 5000 people in the opening number on opening night of my first season as a Radio City Rockette.

Got my fishnets caught in the trombone during one of the many shows at Casino Windsor. Only 250 in the audience that time.

Popped out of my costume during the opening number of Elvis To the Max at Casino Windsor. Guess where the audience is looking now!

Parade Of the Wooden Soldier pants split in the, um, crack during the opening night performance of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, once again, in front of 5000 people.

Got dragged off stage by my sheep in the Living Nativity during, you guessed it, opening night of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. This time there were only about 2000 people in the audience.

Got called the “low point of the show” in a review by some local weekly paper in St. Louis, thankfully not the New York Times.

Still here.

Dance and Social Media Educators Technology

It’s not what you say…

Want to know if a new play, movie or book or tv show is any good? There used to be a select group of critics and gatekeepers that were the arbiters of what was and was not worth our time.

It’s now really easy to be a critic. The world can read what you thought about Sondheim’s 90th birthday concert or “Hollywood” on Netflix. Facebook and other platforms have taken away the gatekeepers. Anyone can speak up.

It’s important that those who educate choose to engage people over alienating them. Yelling at those who we feel ‘disrespect the art form’ or whose values and points of view don’t align with ours pushes more people away and diminishes the potential to reach others and make a difference, which is what most all of us who are educators set out to do.

The louder the critics are, the less they are worth listening to.

Musical Theatre

Your call

Guest post by David Alpert

One of the best things musical theatre performers can do in their continual quest to expand their knowledge is to discover and listen to cast recordings from the history of Broadway and Off-Broadway.  Finding those gems of musicals that you may not be familiar with can be an incredible exercise in training your ear to understand different styles of music and singing, and also lead to new rep choices for your book.

Just as I would expect my doctor to have studied the history of medicines, landmark discoveries, and important scientific findings (as well as studying current trends), I expect performers to know the history, landmarks, and trends of our business.

Is there a revival you love?  Have you gone back and listened to the original recording?  What’s different?  What’s changed? 

Is there a musical from the 1960’s you’ve never heard of, but you connect to a certain song?  Does it wrap around your voice nicely?  Perhaps it can go in your book?  Are there covers of the song to open your mind to new interpretations?

Use this time to listen.  Find the sheet music.  How do the lyrics apply to you, in this moment?

You can also do what I do: listen to the music with no further agenda–just enjoy the showtunes.  Your call.

Artists Careers Trends

Kick it old school, also don’t

It’s convenient to shrug off current trends and say, “I’m old school”. That way, it’s easy to stay comfortable, not worry about what’s new and stick to what feels good.

Then we get disconnected. Then we feel obsolete. Then all this time passes by and shoot, we need to catch up. The other choice is sitting around grumbling about how it’s not like it used to be. Full disclosure: that’s still going to happen sometimes.

If there’s an upside to the increased time on my hands, it’s that I have gotten to stop and look around. I actually know songs that are current now. I get Tik Tok! I get it! I understand why people love it. I want to be better at it. It helps me work on skills that I can apply elsewhere like ideal camera angles, good lighting and comedic timing.

What is driving the culture right now will never supersede what is classic and timeless. But if we insulate ourselves from the constantly changing, hyperconnected world, it will be much harder to continue thriving.

Artists creating

Be simple

The most memorable pieces of art are those with one simple concept that is brought to vivid life.

No matter our differences, we feel the same emotions. Love, loss, joy, anger…

I remember a piece titled “What Was Left”, because at the end there was one dancer left on stage.

Members of a Dutch ballet company performed a duet about the painful, awkward, uncomfortable moments before the end of a relationship. She brushed against his body as they exited opposite sides of the stage. That was 14 years ago but it seems like yesterday.

In simplicity we find the relatable, and in the relatable we capture our audience.

collaboration teamwork

We all fall down

In Parade Of the Wooden Soldiers, the iconic piece performed by the Radio City Rockettes, we end the piece with the famous fall.

It’s not really a fall. It requires laser focus and immense upper body strength. If one person does not do her job, it fails 100%. When the fall fails, people get hurt. If you do less than 100% and someone gets hurt, that’s on you.

It was one of the best ways to learn that no matter how well I do, it doesn’t mean anything if every single other person isn’t just as strong.

It goes both ways. If I’m the weak link and the rest of the line is fully engaged, the whole thing will still collapse. Every single person matters.

What happens next?

It’s human nature. At the end of every year we make resolutions. “This is the year”, we tell ourselves. It’s going to be the best year. We are going to get it right this time. Gyms are packed for the first half of January, then they aren’t.

The tendency is to wait for benchmarks of life like graduations, specific dates or other life events. It helps alleviate the pressure to start right now. The big day comes and bam, the master plan can commence.

So what happens when we go back to regular life? There are two choices. We can wait until that day to implement all of the things we think we should have been doing in the first place, before the pandemic. Or, little by little, day by day, we can make small efforts that will create a continuous ripple and add up to where we would like to be.

Careers Dance and Social Media

My door is open

Notable figures in any industry have a responsibility to be approachable and accessible. In the arts, this means anyone who travels to educate, who is known as a performer and/or is a director or leader of any kind.

What we say and do stays with those we interact with for years. The moments that teachers at festivals, conventions or professional studios (Steps, Broadway Dance Center, Edge) take to talk to students before or after class matter as much as the education they get during the class. The time that performers take to say ‘hi’ to fans and sign autographs at the stage door makes them impactful beyond the character they play on stage.

What we say on social media matters, and more so, how we say it. Most of us won’t get to hang out with the very famous, but don’t you feel like you could just sit and have a cup of coffee with Tom Hanks? Lin Manuel Miranda’s ‘Gmorning, Gnight’ tweets lifted people’s spirits so much he put them in a book. They make their followers feel important, even though there are millions of them.

When people look to us for training, guidance or insight, it is our responsibility, to them as individuals and to our art form as a whole, to be approachable and accessible. Twenty years later, they will remember what we said.

Artists Careers rejection

Go out there and be terrible

Have you been laughed at, ridiculed or given a bad review? No? Well then, try harder.

Seriously though, you have to be terrible before you are good. If you are always good at everything, are you reaching enough?

The faculty hated that Pink Floyd piece I choreographed in college and reluctantly put it in the concert. I sang and tap danced in a showcase and got completely laughed at. There are many other instances. I learned so much from all of them.

Being formulaic is a comfortable place to be. If you do A, B and C, it will look like this and conform to expectations, like #1 songs on the Billboard charts. Check all the boxes.

The path to being remarkable is full of trying things that fail, being wrong, being rejected and being criticized. The sweet reward of this path is looking back and knowing that when you wanted to try something, you did.

I don’t feel like practicing today

All those hours of practice got us to where we are right now. We are hard-pressed to relax and have a day of doing nothing. What are we missing out on? Everyone else is working on something while we are just sitting here!

What is ‘productive enough’? Am I self-disciplined enough? These things race through my mind on the regular. Guess what? It’s okay to shut it down for a day. For a week. For a month.

Here are a few gems that I always remind myself of.

Ruby Keeler retired from show business and came back 30 years later to star in the Broadway revival of “No, No, Nanette”. Glenda Jackson took a 30-year hiatus from the stage to go fight Thatcherism as a member of Parliament in Great Britain, returning to Broadway at age 81. Alessandra Ferri reprised her role as Juliet with American Ballet Theatre at age 53 (!) after retiring 9 years prior.

So you aren’t feeling it today, or tomorrow. Intuition isn’t just random guessing. Trust it. It will bring you back to practicing when you are ready.

Artists Careers

Popularity contest

One highly rewarding thing about being an artist is having a group of true fans that will always show up for you. It doesn’t mean you are popular, and being popular doesn’t always mean you are good.

The gold, the best stuff, the reason to keep going is the people who care about what you have to give. I take time to design my tap classes each week, and I take pride in the work I put into them. My classes weren’t packed in New York City, and less people signed up to perform my choreography in the showcases than the other choreographers on the bill. To me that made it more special. The dancers that were with me believed in my vision.

Popular does not equal best, and you don’t need everybody to love you. You need a consistent group of people that show up and believe in your ideas and your work.

Training for success

Train smart

Where you train and who you attribute your training to is not cut and dry. It never was, not even when we were living in an analog world. Taking from as many teachers as you can isn’t training, no matter how well-known they are. Hopping from studio to studio isn’t training well either.

Most importantly, every dancer needs their anchor, the teachers that shape them with a foundation that will serve them wherever they go.

The key is finding the perfect mix. First, there are the go-to’s, the mentors that really know you and know how to pull out your best, and aren’t afraid of offending you if they push harder. They may be a different set of teachers over the years, but you always need them. Second, there are those teachers that you love to take from once in a while, and it’s always a treat when you do. Lastly, push yourself to take classes from completely new people. This one gets harder the older you get. And don’t stop taking class, even if it means giving yourself a class and imagining what your mentor is saying to you with each movement.


Best-laid plans

Most of the time we are not good at planning our lives. We think that if we do this, that will happen, and we are fraught with worry about making the right decisions. Much of the time we are wrong, and then we keep doing it. It’s an unproductive feedback loop.

I wasn’t planning to be a dancer. I was going to be an engineer! Dancing was something I obsessively did, training as much as possible. The universe said, “nope.” I’m going to take you this way. And like that little feather in Forrest Gump, I went.

I once signed a yearlong contract to work in Dubai and was fired after 2 days of training and sent back to New York. The universe thought I didn’t really need to spend a year there. Next up, corporate America. Meh. As much as I tried to plan for another future, that wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing. “Dance”, she said.

The universe puts us where we need to be. I’m not sure where she’ll send me next, but I’ll keep dancing, educating and sharing my work, ready to be that little feather when the moment comes.

online learning Training for success

What is ‘better’?

With the great challenges the human race faces right now, there is also an opportunity, a chance to take the extra time and/or increasing online resources to keep exploring what ‘better’ means to us, in terms of our craft, and how to get there.

Working toward your version of better might not be taking advantage of 100 different free online classes. It might be finding one person to learn from that you may not have had access to before. It may be studying footage and teaching yourself choreography, whether from a Janet Jackson video or a Balanchine variation, or signing up for that Master Class membership that you’ve been wanting to do for years.

What ‘better’ means to others might be different. Taking 5 classes in a day with an online convention might not float your boat. Maybe investing in training with one mentor is more your cup of tea. Sometimes we get overtaken by our old fried paradox of choice, where there are so many options to choose from that we freeze and do nothing.

No matter what, do something. Keep moving. Find your ‘better’.

Connecting for the long game

Being charismatic in a room with large group of colleagues that I don’t really know does not come naturally. Hanging out by the cheese and fruit plates does.

In my earlier career, I could show up to rehearsals with a strong ethic and great attitude, work hard and go home. That was enough. That’s what I was great at. Having strength in cultivating relationships with colleagues and customers came later.

Staying actively engaged with people and genuinely interested in what they have to say, whether in person or on the myriad of social networks, gains the trust of those that care about your work. Even with the people that you don’t think like you. Don’t dismiss them. Engage with them too.

It is scary to share more with the world than our art (vulnerability, eek!), especially for the ambiverts and introverts. Opportunity comes when we dance with that fear.

Training for success

Jack of many trades

It’s eye-opening to read articles having to explain why dancers should study tap dancing, or why hip hop dancers should take ballet. Dance is dance, and it’s important to learn it all and not to question why, or ‘what will I need this for’? I will sit in this chair and pretend to chew food to weird, dissonant music, and I won’t ask ‘why’. This is what the choreographer said to do. (That actually happened!)

It is disheartening to teach a class of students that are there because they are required to be. They have to take tap to be in the company. They have to take 2 ballet classes a week to compete. This just doesn’t make sense to me. YOU GUYS! It’s DANCE! We are dancing! Afro-Cuban, Graham technique, waacking, butoh. I am in.

Jack-of-all-trades, master of none is not an accurate pairing, especially now. In the formative years, it’s so important to take in everything. Absorb it all. Be a master of many. It is truly possible. Robert A. Heinlein, considered the dean of science fiction writing, said “Specialization is for insects.” The versatile ones run the show. Steve Jobs was not the best programmer at Apple. He had a broad range of skills and could predict and innovate.

It’s possible to be a jack of many trades and pick one or two to pursue being an expert in. You can do both at the same time. The most important reason? It’s way more fun.

Dance and Social Media

If a dancer pliés in their kitchen…

Dance training is personal. It will always mean more to the individual dancer than it will to anyone else. The emotional release, the increased vigor that you feel as you train harder, the feeling of doing something better than you did yesterday. All of that belongs to you. Nobody can feel what you feel inside your body and soul as you train to become better.

This has been true forever, before we had to stay at home and before we became globally hyperconnected.

Copying MTV videos with my friend in her driveway was for her and me. I didn’t need anyone else to see it. I had fun and I felt good and that’s all that mattered. (Yes, MTV used to play music videos!)

Now we get to the metaphysics. If a tree falls in the forest and no-one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Philosophers and scientists are divided. On the scientific side, “Sound is vibration, transmitted to our senses through the mechanism of our ear…If there are no ears to hear, there will be no sound.” (1) On the philosophical side, the tree will make a sound, even if nobody heard it, because it could have been heard. (2)

Each dancer has something inside that is theirs, that nobody can take. Training is a personal journey. If a dancer pliés in their kitchen and nobody is around to see it, it doesn’t matter. It belongs to them.

Sources: (1) – Scientific American, (2) Wikipedia/George Berkely

Choreography creating Dance Competitions Educators

Been Caught Stealing

Wow this one is a hot topic.

It is increasingly easier to copy choreography, which often results in publicly shaming the individual who stole it.

Why steal choreography?

“Because I have to create something successful and my work isn’t good enough.”

“I have to create a dance in a style outside of my expertise.”

“I have to choreograph 40 dances and how am I supposed to make each one of them brilliant.”

“I’m just not good enough period, and I need to please the customers.”

It took me a long time to find my voice. I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing when I started choreographing. My earliest efforts were mashups of things I learned at conventions, tap festivals, classes I took at Edge PAC (miss you!). I thought, I couldn’t possibly come up with something as good!

So, while yes, it’s wrong and immoral (and sometimes illegal) to copy someone’s choreography verbatim, I have to say I have a little empathy.

I want to say, you can do it. Explore your own voice. It might not always come out amazing but it’s yours. And the only way to strengthen that choreographic muscle is to work it.

Be comfortable with something not being right or good.

And if you ARE publicly called out for stealing choreography, for god’s sake own it. Say I’m sorry. Say, I’m a huge fan of your work and I was in a creative rut. The worst reaction is no reaction. The longer you wait, the harder it is to dig yourself out of that hole.

And if you do feel like you’re in a rut, visit some of the great works: Paul Taylor’s Esplanade, Twyla’s In the Upper Room, Brenda Bufalino’s Strike Up the A-Train. There’s inspiration everywhere. Let it spark ideas. Ideas that are yours.

Dance and Social Media Educators

Trust it

It seems to be escalating exponentially, the tendency to post a long saga in a dance educators’ Facebook group, seeming to not know what to do.

Thing is, we do have the answer. We do know how to handle said scenario. The outside world we are seeking advice from was not in the room where everything went down. They don’t see the day-to-day happenings at the studio. Why is the first instinct to rush to social media and compose a long post in the time it likely would’ve taken to address it and put it behind us, or at least take steps toward a resolution. The seemingly smartest person with the worldliest advice still wasn’t there to feel it emotionally and see all aspects.

Yes, it’s fun and gratifying to get that rant off our chest. Yes, being in charge feels like making decisions on the ultimate island. BUT, it’s important to trust intuition and follow what’s inside of us.

It may not always be the best way to handle it, but the only way to get really really good at handling difficult situations and difficult people is to do what we feel. We learn what works and what people respond to. We learn how to become better leaders by taking those stumbles along the way.

Looking back at emails sent 10 years ago is mortifying, but it also tells us how far we’ve come.

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Let them play sports

Every year it’s inevitable. Dance educators lose their minds over scoring, judging, levels, lack of students’ enthusiasm and efforts and the list goes on.

Lots of complaints about competing priorities.

Lots of frustration with students losing their drive.

I consider it a gift when a student comes to me who plays sports. Every week they either win or they don’t, and they go home. Rinse and repeat. It’s a practiced thing. Every game is different. It’s not a routine they’ve practiced and replicated over and over.

Students don’t feel burned out by too many hours spent at the studio. Please, have a well rounded life so I have happy dancers in my class.

I question the current status quo where dancers compete in every dance style (often more than once) and are required to take a long list of classes in order to be on the competition team. I was the kid obsessed with all of it, but most kids aren’t me.

Bring me the kids who play sports. It’s less work on my part to instill the desired attitude, ethic and mindset. It becomes a group effort, and we can all play a role in sending passionate, determined, collaborative-minded humans into the world.

Dance Competitions Educators

Honey I shrunk the costumes

Where did all the costumes go? It seems there’s a global shortage on nylon, spandex and polyester! Oh no! We must shrink the costumes to cover only the absolutely necessary body parts!

Seriously though. I feel very uneasy when adjudicating these tiny dancers in their tinier costumes. White briefs, no tights, eeek! I’m just nervous. Add that to the constantly choreographed unflattering angles (read: hello, here’s my crotch).

Truly, while I am of course giving my expertise on technique, stage presence and overall performance, I can’t help but to feel uncomfortable looking straight on at a barely clothed dancer’s, er, um, well, you know…

Choreographers and dance parents can put their kids on stage however they’d like. I’m not calling for a puritanical ban on all things inappropriate. That’s just not my department.

I’m simply saying that when I am adjudicating said dancers, I 0% enjoy this aspect of it. Do what you want though. I’m here to give you the constructive feedback you paid for.

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Ditch these terms

“We’re a recreational studio” or “they are a recreational dancer.” These phrases get used as a crutch to say, ‘we’re not very good’ or ‘they don’t train that much so they don’t have to be good. They’re just recreational.’ Some dancers train more hours per week. Some like to pop in once a week and pursue other endeavors like sports, extracurriculars, band or other passions. The qualifier ‘recreational’ has come to have a diminishing or condescending tone. Do we still need it?

“They’re a competition/competitive dancer.” Do these dancers spend hours every week at the studio to chase that dangling carrot of top adjudication? Is that the motivation? Do we need the qualifier ‘competition’ or ‘competitive’? There’s nothing impressive about it.

Dancers are dancers. Full stop. If you dance, you are a dancer. We get out what we put in, and measuring accomplishment externally, by awards or others’ assessments of us, is far less rewarding than the intrinsic satisfaction we from feeling a little stronger than yesterday.

Artists Educators

You might be surprised

The dancers that show up on the first day, so excited and posting on social media about their first day, don’t last.

The quiet dancers in the back row, who you’re not sure are that into it, stick around.

The dancer that you put your heart and soul into all year, who progressed tremendously under your tutelage, disappears.

The young dancers that always had a great time in class and were so excited about being there didn’t come back.

The dancers you thought weren’t coming back return after 6 months, 9 months, 2 years…

The best thing we can do is keep showing up as our best selves, plan classes with specific focuses and continue personal growth as artists and humans. Those who are meant to be mentored by us will remain in the room.

Artists Educators Training for success

What is a class

Learning choreography the whole time is not a class.

Rehearsing a routine the whole time is not a class.

30 minutes is not a class, unless the dancers are 6 years old or younger.

This applies to all dance forms, but let’s talk tap!

A tap class consists of a warmup, drills, exercises, traveling exercises (across the floor) and a combination. It needs to be consistent.

The exercises and combinations should change periodically (every 2-3 weeks) to build versatility, musicality, artistry and the ability to pick up and retain material. Dancers need a strong working vocabulary, as well as the ability to see something and replicate it. I go, you go.

Every-class drills are a great way to build and refine technique. These are constants and can be interspersed with exercises that vary. When we feel that it’s time for a change, we replace the current every-class drills with new ones.

If a class is planned with the specific intention to improve dancers’ capacities to pick up and retain a long combination (important for auditions and professional work!), OR the lesson plan is to work on a piece of classic rep, that is an exception to the first statement.

Add improv and games to encourage dancers to figure things out on their own.

Training dancers, training artists means checking all the boxes, making sure progress is continuous. Whether they train once a week or every day, the same principles apply.

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Let’s talk comps! “Tricks win” is a common sentiment regarding dance competitions and judging. Threads inquiring about what judges are looking for is is another common topic of conversation. Complaints about critiques are prevalent. I’m going to break this down.

Executing tricks for the sake of tricks is not interesting. It’s not something I want to see or something that is impressive. 99% of turns in second on the competition stage are not stage ready. A majority of pirouettes done on the competition stage are not stage ready. Aerials are almost always not interesting. Heel stretches (I don’t enjoy calling them that, but you know what I mean) are almost always not done correctly. You see what I mean. I could go on.

When I sit at the judges table, I’m not looking for anything specific, but what does move me and make me excited is authenticity. When a choreographer and/or dancer finds a piece of music that moves them, and the movement follows the arc and dynamics of the song, the audience feels that. They get that. Realness is more desirable than a string of technical elements lacking individual stylistic quality.

BUT if the sequence of “tricks” is executed with technical proficiency, it’s going to score well. We are judging technique, stage presence and precision. Even if I don’t like it, I’m scoring it high if it’s executed well.

It’s true that judges’ critiques can often fall short. A common complaint is that the judges don’t talk throughout the dance, then give a score. I agree that we do need to hear from whoever’s adjudicating. If a dance is very good and I find myself not speaking as much, I articulate that. It’s something like: “I am really enjoying this and that’s why I’m not saying a lot. Your technique and artistry are exquisite.”

If, as we sometimes do, we get a judge that doesn’t really know what they’re talking about, but they at least keep talking through the dance, cool. Honestly, cool. I’m (almost) never mad at that because it’s just not productive. In the end, if we are on that hypothetical professional stage, our audience doesn’t know dance but they know what they enjoy. Connection = success.

If we can take a genre that generally has a narrow audience and bring awareness to a broader audience, that’s what it’s all about. Think: Twyla. If a judge doesn’t know tap (they should, but… you know) yet the choreography moves and has relatable rhythms, dynamics and style, then it will more often than not adjudicate well. If it doesn’t, we take a look at it and see what we can improve, or we shrug it off and try again next time.

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Make it stick

Start today. Don’t start tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. Start now but start small.

Be a student. Always be a student. Those of us who educate dancers do our best work when we take class too. The classes we take will inform the classes we teach, what will move and motivate our students. Work on your tendus. Work on your shuffles. I still am.

And when I get a compliment from my teacher, it still feels really good.

Check out our new project, Tap Educators Intensive! IG: tap_educators_intensive • Website:

Artists Careers Training for success

Listen up

Sometimes, you should listen to those who have expertise and experience in your field, people who are practiced in it and educated in it, when you have choices to make.

Sometimes you shouldn’t listen to advice.

There’s no easy way to go about it.

There are dancers that I believe would have achieved certain goals of theirs had they heeded my advice and guidance.

There’s the teacher who didn’t seem to think much of me, who thought that I should have taken the first job I was offered because it was the only job I’d likely ever get.

Now, I didn’t turn it down because I thought I was above it. I turned it down because I wasn’t mature enough to leave home and tour for a year. As it happened, I was offered one of the top jobs any dancer could get less than a year later.

I digress. As artists and as humans, we do need mentors and colleagues to dispense feedback and wisdom, but we need to choose who we let in judiciously.

Not listening to anyone is bad. Listening to everyone will get you nowhere.