Thoughts OnTeaching Dance

me and gabby acro (2)
At age three, my mom brought me to dancing school. Not to make a career of dance, but because I loved to twirl around the living room while my parents listened to the great movie musicals of the 1950s and 60’s on their Hi-Fi. I danced around to the songs of The King and I with Yul Brenner and Debra Kerr, Oklahoma with Gordon Mac Rae and Shirley Jones and South Pacific with Rossano Brazzi and Mitzi Gaynor. Little did she know that in the year 2015 I would still be dancing!

As a child and into my teen years my focus was to dance on Broadway, but always when I was with my best friend, we would spend time choreographing dances, from as early age as I can remember. We would dance for our class in elementary school at all the holiday parties and chorus concerts. Dances we would make up ourselves in the basement of her house or mine. The two of us were friends from our first day of dance school at three years old and our parents became friends during during those years.

We were close friends all through high school. Still attending the same local dance studio besides attending the New Jersey School of Ballet. We would also go to New York City to take class together at the various different profession studios. Her dance focus became stronger and stronger for performing as mine leaned towards teaching and having my own studio. As we approached our senior year in high school and after we graduated, we went to audition after audition in New York City. Together we passed several auditions that were touring companies of Broadway shows. Needless to say our parents gave us a hard time about leaving home. She eventually became a Radio City Music Hall Rockette, and was able to still live home, being only a short bus ride into the city.

While we were in our Junior year of high school, we began studying for our teacher certification exams for Dance Masters of America and Dance Educators of America. Two of the most prestigious dance teacher organizations of the United States. We both passed our exams and after graduating high school, I began teaching at my teachers’ studios, which at this point, they had three schools. My friend’s mother also found a teaching position open at a local music school who had spare space and wanted to add dance to their list of performing arts. As I dove in head first to this area of dance I grew to love it more and more. Working at all these schools became over whelming and the music school’s dance department began to grow rapidly. I needed to leave my teachers and go it on my own at the music school.

After being married at age 22, my husband and I opened our first dance school, T & C Dance Company, in Bloomfield, NJ . I did the teaching and he took care of all the business. He built the props, helped me order costumes and dancewear, and together we set my childhood dream a float. By age 30 and two children later, we opened a second school, ninety miles away from the first one. At the beginning of the 1990s I had a third child and I also began teaching dance ministry at our church. Those dancers were not only learning to dance but also to worship God in dance.

Through all of those teaching years I have found out that the bond between teacher and student can be a tight one. I am still in contact with students from back in those music school dance days and one of my original teachers from when I was 3. I keep in contact with the dance student that bought my New Jersey studios and my other dancers who went off to open their own studios. My school that I sold in Bloomfield, New Jersey, is still in operation and has just had their 27th show. These bonds are so important to me. I believe that I would never be as happy as a dancer in New York City as I am as a teacher.

Upon moving to New York State, I took on several teaching positions as a staff teacher. I have made more dance friends and more memories, that I could never have made as a performer. I cherish these relationships. And now with the opening of yet a 3rd school, Otsego School of Dance and Performing Arts, I have found a new home and formed new relationships that I call “family”.

Looking back at my life as a dancer, I believe that I chose the right path in the dance profession. The chance to make a difference in someone’s life The height of my leg extensions are not what they used to be, nor is my flexibility, but teaching dance instead of performing dance is much more rewarding…I am leaving a part of me in all my dancers….. I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Locating A Dance School For You….

ballet dancers at the barreWith the new dance season coming just around the corner, I thought it would be a great time to discuss how to locate a good dance school…….

The first step to finding the right dance school for you is discovering what you truly want to do with dance in your life. Realize what your goals, dreams and desires are in respect to dance. Do you just want some exercise? Do you just want a social activity? If your focus is purely social and a little exercise, then your journey is much more easier than you thought. Just ask around.

But, if you absolutely love to dance —if you eat, think, sleep and dream dance — and have the thoughts of a professional career, either on stage, as a teacher or choreographer, then your goal is to find a school with teachers who have a focus on those same ideals. A teacher who has your dreams in their heart as well.

Once you know what kind of a dance school you are looking for, it will be much easier to find it. First, talk with the owner of the school. Do the teachers who work for the school have some type of certification or are on their way to one? What kind of experience do the teachers have? Where did they study? Don’t just be impressed with rows of trophies, since to be judged is always just someone’s opinion. Not all schools with rows of trophies have the dancer’s heart first and foremost in their value.

One thing to think about is dress code. Dress codes have multiple benefits for dancers in a class.  Not only do dress codes create uniformity and unity among dancers, it helps in teaching students the beginning basics of discipline and “dressing the part’” that is so important as a dancer.  When dancers wear the same attire, it minimizes distractions for students and creates an atmosphere of focus and energy.  Dress codes are also extremely important in helping instructors see mistakes in a student’s technique and body positioning, therefore allowing for better corrections and education. Dress codes are a form of “dancer discipline”. Is discipline a part of the school’s criteria? It should be. Dance is discipline.
Well rounded dance programs should offer an array of classes with the main focus on classical ballet and ballet technique with possibilities of pointe work in the future. Jazz, tap and modern should be second on the list of classes to search out. All of these classes contribute to the building of a well rounded, well informed dancer.

Does the school offer a graded syllabus where the dancer will progress to a certain level from year to year? This is an important question to ask. Just as you would graduate from grade to grade in school the same should be for dance school.

Does the school know what method of ballet that they offer. You would be surprised that some local dance schools have no idea that there are different methods or the differences between them. I teach the Cecchetti method, but some of the others that are foremost are the Russian Vaganova method and the Royal Academy of Dance method. We will discuss their differences in a future post. It is good for a school to focus one method instead of combining methods as many do. The variations in the syllabus and the technique can confuse a dance student.

Are you interested in an end of the year performance? Are you interested in dancing in a Nutcracker at Christmas time? Although these two aspects of dance school are important for learning stage presence they should not be the focal point of the studio, learning and increasing your dance technique should be the main objective.

Some signs of quality dance training are:
-Proper placement in class and focus on correct fundamentals
-Emphasis on correct execution of steps, with focus on clean lines, strength and stability,.
-Technical proficiency of a majority of students in the school. -Graduating dancers with intent to continue dance.
I am hoping that this dance season will be your best one ever, learning good solid technique, gaining strength, progressing and having fun!

Hawaiian Dance…A Cultural Dance of Beauty

hawaiian dancers

Hawaiian dance, Hula, is an ethnic dance form precious to the Hawaiian Islands. The beautiful flowing movements of the hands and hips are performed to Oli (chant) or Mele (music) It is a cultural dance that is handed down from generation to generation, and takes years to learn the authenticity of its correct cultural technique.

There are two main styles of Hawaiian dance, being Hula ‘Auana, which is a modern form and Hula Kahiko, an ancient form.

Ancient hula, was performed before the Western settlers came to Hawaii. It is accompanied by chant and traditional instruments. Modern hula, evolved under Western influence in the 19th and 20th centuries, and is called ‘Auana because it means “to wander” or “drift”. It is accompanied by song and western-influenced musical instruments such as a steel guitar, the ukulele and the double bass.

Styles of Hawaiian Dance, in recent years have developed sub categories. “Monarchy” includes any hulas which were composed and choreographed during the 19th century. During that time the influence of western culture created significant changes in the formal Hawaiian dance. “Ai Kahiko”, meaning “in the ancient style” are those dances choreographed in the 20th and 21st centuries that follow the styles of the ancient hula Kahiko.

There are two main positions of Hawaiian dance – either sitting, Noho dance, where sometimes Pu’ Illi (bamboo) sticks are used and also standing, Luna dance, where flowing hip movements and technical steps are the basis. Some dances utilize both forms.

To bring you to a bit of history, American missionaries, who arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in 1820, denounced the hula as a heathen dance. The newly Christianize royalty were urged to ban their native dance which they did. However, many of them continued to privately practice this beautiful dance form and by the 1850s, public Hawaiian dancing was regulated by a system of licensing.

Hawaiian dance had a gained recognition again during the reign of King Kalakaua in the years 1874 to 1891. He encouraged the traditional arts. With the Princess Lili’uokalaini who devoted herself to the old ways, as the patron of the ancients chants, she stressed the importance to revive the diminishing culture of their ancestors within the damaging influence of foreigners drastically changing the Hawaii Islands

Hawaiian dance changed though, in the early 20th century, as it was featured for the tourists to see, but a more traditional hula was maintained in small circles who wished to keep the dances scared . There was a renewed interest in Hawaiian dance in both traditional and modern, in the 1970s.

Hawaiian dance is taught in schools or groups called Halau. On the main land it is most often taught in dance schools. The teacher of hula is the Kumu Hula, where Kumu means teacher.

The dance form is a complex art form, and there are many hand motions used to represent the words in a song or chant. For example, hand movements can signify aspects of nature, such as the swaying of a tree in the breeze or a wave in the ocean, or a feeling or emotion, such as fondness or sadness.

Hawaiian technique is almost as involved as learning ballet. There is terminology of the feet, hands and hips to be learned and mastered. To consider this beautiful art form as part of an exercise regime would be insulting to any Hawaiian dancer.

Although, I learned Hawaiian dance on the mainland, I was fortunate to begin my Hawaiian dance training at 4 years of age by teachers who learned from the masters on the Islands. In turn, teaching it in my  own dance schools. In the 1980s, I began a luau based dance company with my students, in New Jersey, where we performed at luaus and ethnic based dance competitions. I have found a recent low in Hawaiian dance in the 2000’s in our area, where Hip Hop has taken the world by storm. I would love for Hawaiian dance to regain the recognition it once had in the local dance schools and to see it flourish once again on the east coast of the U.S.

Dance For How You Feel Inside…..

mic and Jen fix you 8                    When my soul is hurting, dance makes me feel better.
When I am overwhelmed, dance helps me forget for a while.
When I face struggles, dance inspires me to keep going.
When I lose confidence, dance gives it back to me.
I have been given one of the greatest gifts in the world – dance!
~Author Unknown~

Dance is a physical outlet where the dancer, can express themselves each time they step onto the dance room. When the music starts, their inner most being begins to move rhythmically. Their thoughts of the day diminish and their true heart felt feelings emerge.

In the dance room, as the first chords play for the beginning barre work or warm up, the dancer automatically recalls the choreography that has been drilled into their brain. It suddenly becomes second nature and the thoughts and troubles that filled their mind before they walked into the dance room have vanished, only to be exchanged with the music and choreography that is set before them. As the class continues to the center floor work with adagio choreography, concentration becomes of the utmost importance. Then the quickness of the allegro and across the floor work brings the emotion of joy and excitement, as leaps and jumps cause the dancers to use all the energy they have left to produce beautiful images in the mirror. The cares of the outside world is gone, only the music and their movement remain.

With thoughts focused, the dancer feels the music. Their emotions change with each different exercise or piece of choreography that is taught and practiced. The music and the steps take over take their normal everyday routine frame of mind and they enter a different world. A world in which they find comfort and peace. A world in which the dancers can become themselves. They have reached a place where everything in the world is….. ok.

What better activity can their be for a child? What better after school activity is there where a child can find release, focus, discipline, and possibly a future career. Dance is it! It is physically demanding, so it is good for the body, but it is also creative. Sports is no way a comparison. Sports is physically challenging but by no means creative. Creativity is so important for a child as well as an adult. It brings forth the true person.

When you are happy, dance. When you are sad, dance, you will instantly feel better. Dance is a release of emotion and stress.
Dance for how you feel inside…….

Have You Heard This Before????


straight knees



Ballet class can get quite repetitious. You hear the teacher say the same phrases day in and day out. Why? Why do you hear these same corrections over and over again? Maybe, just maybe because you are NOT hearing them. You know, not fully paying attention in class. Is your mind is else where. When you are in class, be in class. It is just as nerve racking for your teacher to repeat the same thing over and over again as it is for you to hear it.

One correction that comes to mind, daily, or should I say, every class, is Pointe your feet! Honestly, the most beautiful of dancers looks like a sore thumb with un-pointed feet. When I see un-pointed feet I feel that the dancer is lazy. Stretch through the entire foot beginning with the ankle. Feel the stretch in your arch and reach with the toes. As soon as that foot disengages form the floor the stretch needs to be felt.

Since we are discussing the feet, the next step up the leg which gets me is the knee. To feel a full extension in your leg, your knees also need to be stretched. Pull up in the leg and straighten those knees. Achieve proper pull up in your releves by stretching the backs of your knees upon releve. When the knee is relaxed the leg appears bent.
Which brings us to, plie. This little word is so important to ballet training and performance. Without proper use of plie, no combination of steps can be executed properly. Whether it be adagio or allegro combinations, plie is there. Be sure you open the knees out over the toes to maintain correct body alignment. A simple plie is most important when dancing en pointe. The spring of a plie upon releve to full pointe essential and the coming back down to the floor is softened by a simple plie. How would you become air born in those beautiful jumps that you use in a grand allego, without a good foundation of a plie. Learn to plie correctly, remember it is the first thing you do at the barre upon the beginning of class.

Spot! Spot! …You are not Spotting! How is it you are not dizzy? Or are you dizzy? Spotting is an important technique during the execution of turns…all turns. Its’ goal is to attain a constant orientation of your head and eyes. In order to enhance your control and prevent dizzines As your body rotates at a constant speed your head rotates faster and waits for the body to catch up. Use it! Every time you turn. It also makes a cleaner looking turn….all turns

Well I know I have not exhausted my normal teaching complaints…there are many more. But I must say that these are the ones I say most often and the ones that I am sure you have heard many times. Lets get with it dancers pay attention to yourself. To the beauty that can be yours if you work at it and listen to what is taught every ballet class time.

Body Language Speaks Louder Than Words!

ballet class barre
Have you ever heard the expression ….“The eyes are the window to the soul”? People can practically read your complete thoughts just by the expression on your face. While in ballet class, your teacher can read you more than you know, by just a glimpse of your facial expression. Your teacher can tell whether you are interested in what you are learning, you are tired and just don’t feel like doing what ever you are being taught or whether you are interested at all. Your facial expression can show respect or just plain rudeness.
Your teacher can read your body language and will wonder if you are really in class because you love to dance or just going through the motions because this is where your friends are at the time. Your body language will prompt a teacher to either ignore you or push you to great lengths, depending upon what your body is tell them. Which is your preference?

Beginning with the eyes. The eyes can tell so much of what is on your mind. Be careful the way you look at your teacher or other dancers. The look in your eye can be either encouraging or it can be deadly to someone else’s attitude. Another dancer or your teacher can catch your feelings through your eyes and it will change their whole day. Many times we send signals to other dancers with our eyes and facial expressions that we don’t even realize we are sending. Plan on being in control of your own feelings of the day and not let them show in class. Take class time out as an “oasis” for yourself. Try to put your feelings on a “shelf” for the hour or so you are in class and absorb what you are there for.

Sometimes your body language in class is a reflection of your physical being and not your emotional being. Did you have a hectic day before class? Did you not get enough sleep the night before? Has it been an extremely busy week, physically, with extra rehearsals? Each of us have personal lives outside the studio. Even if you are tired from the day keep your yawns in hiding! I have been in a position where I was demonstrating barre work to dancers and have a dancer yawn while they were in execution of the barre choreography I just taught! Is it me as a teacher? Am I boring? I hope not! These are the things that will go through a teacher’s head when a dancer yawns. A simple yawn can make your teacher or even the dancers around you think that you are bored or not interested in a combination or even a correction.

Being tired is normal. The body can only take so much physical activity without rest. But….keep up your image while you are in class. Remember you are a dancer! Look the part! Don’t sit during class, keep your body moving. Sitting on the floor can be portrayed as a form of laziness. It can also be disrespectful while your teacher is working to give you what she has planned for you.

Sometimes dancers come into ballet class exhausted from the day. They go directly to the barres and hang or slump over them. This is not a great way to begin class. You are carrying your physical feelings into class with you, which will prompt you later on during class to sit. Instead, come into class proudly and ready to work, even if you are tired. Stand erectly and pulled up!

Body language will often display envy or jealousy. Do you look up to someone in your class? Do you display a look of envy or honor? As a dancer, you should look upon a classmate’s achievements as one of honor. Their practice, focus and ability should be help to motivate you to work even harder. Look at those dancers and admire their work and perseverance to get where they are. Strive for that excellence and do not slump your body over thinking that you will not achieve such lengths. Do not ignore their achievements, show encouragement.

All dancers will show body language when they are feeling frustration in an area that they need improvement with. Possibly you are feeling you are not learning as quickly as you anticipated. Your stance, or how you hold yourself….tha is, your body language will show your negativity or your state of mind. Make improvements in small steps and expect progress. Look proud of your improvements. Take in encouragement to embrace your passion to dance. In other words, work hard and dance it out! Your body is your tool, the language it displays is you, use your body wisely and not for displaying emotions…….

Why Dance?

teacher and ballet student








A Dancer develops in more ways than one can imagine.  A dancer develops  physically, artisticallyintellectually and emotionally.


And also Dancers develop socially, as they build relationships with in their studio. They join an artistic family. Within that family they will develop friendships and nurture a passion for the arts.


While having fun, dancers gain many benefits.


Dance is…


Physical Which involves….

  •     Balance
  •     Coordination
  •     Athleticism
  •     Correct posture
  •     Alignment
  •     Strength
  •     Flexibility
  •     Kinesthetic awareness

Artistic The dancer achieves…..

  •      Creativity
  •      Self expression
  •      Communication
  •      Aesthetic awareness
  •      Musicality

Intellectual Dancers develop…..

  •      Critical thinking skills
  •      Problem solving
  •      Time management
  •      Concentration
  •      Focus
  •      Self-discipline

Emotional A dancer gains…..

  •      Confidence
  •      Commitment
  •      Determination
  •      Self-respect
  •      Joy
  •      Excitement

In future posts I wish to elaborate on each of these topics, beginning with Posture and the necessary component – balance… And this is why we dance……