Prepare Your Child for the Path, Not the Path for Your Child

Claire Bergman

Dancer: Claire Bergman
Photo by: Geek With a Lens

As most of you know, I LOVE quotes.  I came across this wonderful one on Facebook that I thought was most appropriate and poignant:

Your child’s success or lack of success in sports does not indicate what kind of parent you are.  But, having an athlete that is coachable, respectful, a great teammate, mentally tough, resilient and tries their best is a direct reflection of your parenting.

Change out sports for dance and I’ve got a new mantra.  In fact, many people have been posting similar things all over the internet of late.  One of my favorite being:

I do not have children of my own, but I spend all day every day with children and I believe that this affords me certain knowledge, but also certain objectivity. I can’t help but think, after seeing the results as a teacher that some parents undermine and, in some ways, completely disregard certain lessons and it’s affecting the way their children are in the classroom and in the world at large.

Read More…

Grades in Dance

Abby Leithart

Dancer: Abby Leithart
Photo by: Geek With a Lens

A student just tagged me in an article from dance magazine and I just read through it and found it very much worth the reading.  My student asked for my opinion about what I read.  It is funny for this article to come out at this time considering I’m in the process of reviewing and altering my syllabi for my college performance classes for the new year and am thinking about very similar things.

I like to think of a syllabus as a contract between my dancers and myself as the instructor.  I try to be very clear about my expectations as well as how I’m going to figure out their final grade.  Attendance is a huge part of it as is following the dress code, the etiquette, the artistry, concentration, interest in learning, having a good attitude and completion of the papers and tests.  What do I really look to on determining final grades though?  One answer and that’s improvement.

I really analyze the dancers during their first classes of a semester.  Where are they technically and artistically?  At the end of the semester, I look for progress.  Has the dancer fixed the corrections that I have given her?  Is his alignment better?  What about her muscle control?  Are her in-between steps cleaner?  Is he picking up combinations more quickly and accurately?  Does she have more stamina? Is he continuing to push himself and ask more and more of his body?

Read More…

Understanding Understudying

Amy Holihan-061-Edit

Dancer : Amy Holihan
Photo by : Geek With a Lens

I remember the thrill of being asked to understudy Snowflakes in The Nutcracker at the age of twelve in the small, pre-professional company in which I grew up.   I also remember the terror of realizing that one doesn’t have to just know the steps, but the floor patterns as well.  The first time I went in, I almost took out three older dancers because I wasn’t sure of the paths to take.  Lesson learned.   I was also asked at thirteen to understudy the lead in one of our major ballets because the choreographer wanted a ‘little girl’ that the guest male dancer could practice lifts with easily.  I was on cloud nine being able to understudy such a role and under a dancer I really admired.  Three years later when we danced the ballet again, I got the opportunity to perform that lead role.  I remember the sense of accomplishment I felt when I remembered how technically difficult it had been for me just three years earlier and now how much fun I could have with developing the character instead of just worrying about the steps. It showed me how far I had come, not only in my technique, but as an artist.

As I got older, the definition and role of understudy didn’t change, but the connotation did.  Being told that I was an understudy as I aged suddenly stopped meaning, ‘I believe in you and so I’m going to give you this opportunity,’ but rather, ‘you’re good, but still not good enough.’  I remember the frustration that came with this change.  I know my teachers felt this and tried to bolster us with stories of how understudying is really just an opportunity in disguise.  I specifically remember two stories, one from Melinda Jones Howe about Tina LeBlanc, a former student of hers that ended her professional career as a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet and still works there on staff, and Jeri Mcburney-Rodgers about Paul Gibson, an alumni of our school who ended his professional career as principal dancer at Pacific Northwest Ballet and who is still working as their Ballet Master today.    The stories were basically the same.  As young dancers in professional companies, they would watch the rehearsals of the more advanced dancers in the company instead of going home early or taking a break.  When those advanced dancers got injured, the artistic director asked who knew their roles and felt sure they could perform them.  Both of them knew the roles even though they weren’t official understudies for them and it helped to launch their careers.  Because I knew these people and admired them, it helped and I stopped getting that hopeless feeling when I’d see a cast list posted with my name in the understudy column.   It also inspired me to ask to understudy roles that I wanted and to learn solos of every work I was in even if I wasn’t chosen as the official understudy.   

Read More…

When Your Child’s Abilities Don’t Meet Your Expectations

When Your Child’s Abilities Don’t Meet Your Expectations
(And What You Can Do About It)


Every year at about this time, I find myself having the same discussion with many parents.  Every time casting goes up, every time certain dancers get pointe shoes and others do not, every time level placements come out, I receive the same phone calls from distraught and disgruntled parents.  Their child is mortified and so disappointed.  All his or her friends got better roles, got moved up or got pointe shoes and now he or she is feeling left behind and left out.  Everyone has experienced disappointment and everyone has wanted something very much that they couldn’t yet achieve and it never gets any easier.  What I find after talking more than five minutes with some of these parents is that yes, their child is disappointed, but the parents themselves are sometimes even more so.

I find myself using a line from a dear friend of mine, Diane Cypher, who also owns a studio, ‘I am so sorry your child’s abilities don’t meet your expectations.’  The point being, it is important to celebrate your child’s strengths, but to also be aware of their weaknesses and be realistic with your expectations so your child can be realistic with his or hers.

Read More…

10 Secrets to a Successful Dance Audition

GWL_0290-EditThe New Year is not the only thing that’s fast approaching, so is audition season.  Summer programs, college programs and companies alike are making ready to tour throughout the United States and will be looking at some of the best dancers in the country.  How can a dancer stand out amongst the scores of other dancers vying for the same opportunities and positions?  Well, here are some helpful hints as you all venture out on the sometimes scary, sometimes exhilarating, audition trail.

1.  Arrive early. This gives you time to relax and stretch and mentally prepare yourself for the work ahead.  It also gives you a lower number which can increase the chances of you being seen in an audition that can have hundreds of people in it.

2. Dress appropriately and professionally.  Over the years, certain things have changed.  Years ago when you went to a ballet summer program or company audition, it was black leotards only, but now dancers are using colored leotards to stand out. (Beware, some auditioners like this trend and some of the more old fashioned ones do not.  Your best bet might be a black leotard with an interesting back and maybe something in your hair like a yellow flower.)  At Broadway auditions, people recommend ‘dressing the role.’  If it’s a Fosse show you’re going for, you are going to dress a certain way.  The biggest thing is to be neatly dressed: clean tights with no holes or runs, a clean leotard that maybe has a special back to it, ribbons and strings on your shoes tucked in, hair neat, slicked and professional looking, no gaudy jewelry and no finger nail or toe nail polish.

Read More…