Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"A Little More Of You"

It has officially been over 7 years since I've had a roommate, which kind of scares me to think that I've been living on my own for that long. However, over the past few weeks I've actually had to learn to co-habitate once again!

I met Kirsten Wicklund (from SYTYCD Canada Season 3) this past summer at a dance Convention. I didn't know very much about her, except for that we had a lot of mutual friends, so that made it easier! She returned to my studio a few weeks ago to assist Tokyo while he was teaching for me. I went to pick Tokyo up at the airport and Kirsten decided to meet him there and drive up with us. Since Tokyo's flight was delayed me and Kirsten had an hour to kill together driving in circles around the Toronto airport and that's when we basically realized that we were the same person, in different bodies of course!

Kirsten needed a place to stay in Toronto for a while before she returned to her hometown of Vancouver and I politely offered one of my spare rooms to her. She was thrilled and I picked her up that weekend with her 4 suitcases in tow. I feel bad that my place is outside of the city so much for her, and she has had to rely on public transit every day to get downtown, but I don't think it worked out too badly. We both crave Mexican food, we have the same weird and random sense of humor, and we both enjoy daily doses of Booster Juice... so it was a match made in heaven!

What really amazed me about Kirsten is truly how devoted she is to dance and her training. Every day she wakes up early to go downtown to take a ballet class and then heads in other directions for Contemporary Classes, or whatever she can fit in. She preaches to me about consistent ballet training and how much she loves to take class so that she can continue to learn. I don't think I know of very many dancers who are trying to make a professional career who seriously go out of their way to train in ballet every day. It's no wonder her technique is so beautiful and why she is so strong in all facets of dance. She really was brought up to understand that having a solid foundation in dance is the most important thing.

I know that on SYTYCD this season Kirsten was portrayed as this ballet chick, who was kind of a one trick pony in Contemporary... but we all know what some fine tv editing can do for people! Kirsten actually only got serious about ballet at the age of 15 and decided to dedicate herself to becoming great at it. She wasn't naturally gifted at it, so she claims, but she worked harder than everyone else so that she could be.

I think while Kirsten was staying with me I was being a little harder on my older kids at the studio. I noticed myself pushing them to work harder, and tried to get them into the studio earlier to work on things by themselves. I don't know where that suddenly came from, but I guess I'm just trying to get them to see that hard work is what really pays off and being dedicated to your craft is a skill you shouldn't take advantage of. Then I have to sit back and realize that they're still just kids, and that will come with maturity and growth as dancers. Students have to make those decisions for themselves... How hard do I want to work today? How hard can I push myself? Is that the best I can do? What do I need to work on? Fortunately for Kirsten, she has realized that those questions actually have no limitations or answers, so her growth is consistent and constant.

I can't expect everyone to just go into the studio and do a ballet barre on their own and self correct, but maybe a little bit of Kirsten will rub off on the kids and they'll realize that learning to love plies and tendues can really help you to get where you want as a dancer one day! The thing that me and Kirsten both agree on about the industry is that we dislike that sometimes it's not about the training or the dancing at all... it's about the networking and the other social aspects of dance that can get you jobs sometimes. That frustrates her, and I can understand that when you're so dedicated to training, but it doesn't sway her from ballet class every day. She wants to be a great dancer first and foremost and then will worry about all of the other stuff later!

Kirsten headed back to Vancouver not that long ago and I miss having her around already. I liked having a roommate again, but I'm also happy to reclaim my bathroom back!

Just wanted to share how awesome I think Kirsten is, and how much she helped me remember why I love my job so much!

Miss you girly!

Friday, October 22, 2010

"Us And Them"

So, I know I've blogged about this in the past, but I have to again!

I have never bothered to make myself an account on the Dance Mom website, first of all since I'm not a mom, but secondly because I would write some pretty rude comments of these people regarding their ridiculous comments. A few parents at my studio that I know of go on there and email me over links to funny posts, or topics they think I would get a good laugh out of. Now, of course I find most of this hilarious and a big waste of time, however, there is a wide variety of topics on there that really just make me angry as a studio owner.

Besides the fact that they have created their own language and lingo on there, I think the fact that dance parents are getting together to discuss dance is completely relevant. People on there become friends and meet up at competitions, and that is all fine and dandy. It doesn't even bother me that they post how their kids do at competitions or things about their studios that they enjoy. There is minimal studio bashing between the 'moms', however, they have no issue bashing numbers they see at competitions from other studios not present or every studio owner on the planet!

One of my favorite previous topics they have discussed was the 'what type of car does your s.o. drive?' post. Let me translate for you quickly - clearly your studio charges too much money if your studio owner drives a fancy car! I personally drive a Toyota Matrix, but now that I think about it, a BMW convertible would be a nice upgrade! Costume fees have suddenly just increased this year!

Today I decided in my boredom at the chiropractor's office to browse on the community board to see what's "happening" in the dance industry! Clearly these moms are more in the know that I am! I came across a topic in the Competitions board that was titled competition entry fees in Ontario. I actually thought this might have something to do with new HST tax applicable to Ontario based competitions, and I was hoping to find some enlightening information. I should have known better than to assume there was an educated conversation going on about it!

Instead, I come to find posts from many parents about what their studios charge for entry fees, and which studio is obviously banking the most cash off of over charging for these entry fees! One poster even asked 'why don't the competitions post the fees on their website?' I think in posting on this website she kind of answered her own question! Competitions don't post their fees on their website for many reasons. One, being that of course dance studios are going to up the fees. Are you really surprised? We run businesses! I spend many of endless days at competitions, as do my staff, and you think we're going to do this pro-bono? I wonder if the lady who complained about her studio making a few dollar off of each of her kid's group entry fees does her job for free?!?!?!

One trending idea on this board is very clear to me, parents have forgotten that dance studios are also businesses. Sure I can teach dance, but I am also a business owner. I do endless amounts of paper work every day, I pay bills, I pay staff, I maintain my facilities and I manage all of my clients. Then on top of that, I cut music, I design costumes, I plan Recitals, I design advertising, I work on choreography... oh and I eat in between some of those things!

I am honest with all the parents at my studio about costs and fees for all parts of dance and competitions up front. I show them approximate entry fees costs for each event for specific dances and I don't try to hide extra expenses or fees, as that would be a poor business decision. However, it's also not really the business of the parents at my studio to know how much I pay my staff to come to competitions, how much money it takes to get all of the money orders prepared to send to the competitions, and all those types of things associated with the extra money I might be charging. That's part of my business structure that is a personal choice and every studio has a different approach to that. Some studios charge a lot extra per routine to go to competitions, but that's at your studio owner's discretion, and also your choice to dance at that studio. There are no regulations for fees in regards to dance, so we are all flying solo in making the best decisions for our businesses.

What parents really need to understand about the dance studio business is that all of those demands you tend to make come at a price. If parents expect that their studio staff all be present at competitions, then realize that those people need to be paid to do that. My staff don't work for free... and frankly neither do I! As much as I love dance, and teaching dance, my passion does not pay the rent every month. My landlord doesn't care that we won Overalls at our last competition, he wants his cheque to clear! I always say that if I won the lottery I would still continue to teach at my studio. That is of course true, but it doesn't mean dancing at my studio would suddenly be free!

I'd like to challenge all these parents making assumptions and rude comments about their studio owner's making money to think about it in the same relative terms as you do your own job. I'll bet this parent who started this specific topic on the message board is also the same mom who buys her daughter $128.00 sweaters at Lulu Lemon! You're paying that company what they feel their product is worth. At my studio, I feel my product is of a certain value and I will charge accordingly. The dance competitions we attend charge what they think is appropriate for a soloist to compete, and then it is my job to charge my clients that price plus my time.

The same is true when it comes to costumes and Recital tickets, and the list goes on and on. Clearly some parents are under the assumption that running dance studios is just a hobby and our "real" day jobs pay all of our bills.

I would always encourage parents from all studios to talk to other dance parents and have educated discussions about anything dance related. I think message boards are a great way to share information and they can be a great advertising tool as well (that's my business owner side talking there!). However, I don't think the intentions of were to created a place for parents to continually complain about everything their studio owner does or charges for. If you hate your studio that much... then go somewhere else and shut up about it! If you really have concerns about fees or you don't understand what you're being charged for, then go and speak to your studio owner. Highgolddancemom45 doesn't have the answers for you!

So tomorrow when I'm at my "real" job, at the hospital, performing brain surgery, I'll get my personal assistant to create an account for me on so I can help enlighten parents on such topics. I might even start writing a dance mom handbook to help you all out! Anyone know of a publisher who would print it for free? Cause, obviously I couldn't charge for the book!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Everything Old Is New Again"

I'm back!
I have actually really missed having an outlet for all of my issues/questions/insights. I am having a little bit of a dilemma lately and I figured writing about it would help me talk it out, get some advice, or just satisfy my eagerly waiting fans for more dance industry shenanigans!

What are your thoughts about "recycling" numbers for competition at your studio? I'm starting to have very mixed feelings about it, but also very strong opinions about it either way.

If you would have asked me a year ago what I thought about a studio re-doing a group for competition that they had previously done I would have immediately told you I thought it was a cop-out as a choreographer. Lately I'm starting to sway a little to the left!

As a teacher/choreographer sometimes you can really just hit the mark with a group, and it's a combination of the music, choreography and the dancers that really brings it all together. You then try to duplicate it the following year by doing something similar, but it just isn't the same. So why not re-do the exact same number on new students? I know of a lot of studios who do the same groups two years in a row, especially if they are going to different competitions. If that group was really successful the first year, they will just do it again. Maybe keep the same students in it, or add a few new ones. Maybe even change the costume. I don't have a big issue with all of this in general, but my major concerns come up as a business owner. Can you really charge students two years in a row for the same choreography? Is it really fair to make them buy a new costume for a dance they were already in? What must that feel like for a new student to just be put in a group the rest of the students have already done as basically a filler? Are your students really learning anything or growing as a dancer from doing the same choreography again for another year?

So many questions, and really no direct answers that everyone will agree on. As a teacher, choreographer and dance studio owner I could never justify to parents at my studio charging them for a group for two consecutive years. It means to me that not only are their children now growing by learning new things, but it also tells me that I'm relying on my previous success as a teacher/choreographer and not growing myself. However... can I re-do a group for competition and make it fair for everyone involved?

This year I'm taking this "reuse & recycle" concept in two different directions to see how successful I can be with something I was previously successful with. Last year I choreographed a Contemporary Small Group that a group of Inters/Seniors only did at our National Competition. Now, I'm sure this is against all of the rules of Regionals and qualifying for Nationals and blah blah blah, but that's besides the point! The group turned out to be really exceptional and the girls won 2nd Overall Teen Groups for the effort. Now, a part of the success of this group in my opinion comes from the fact that this group reflected the growth my students had during the year, as well as my own as a choreographer. So, I decided that I'd like to 'recycle' this group again this year. I have kept the four remaining members of this group in tact, and have also added a few more students to replace those who are no longer at the studio. I have not charged any of the students who were previously in this group for the choreography time, but they will need to purchase a new costume this year and of course pay for competition entry fees for it.

In the same breathe, I plan on changing the majority of this group piece to now reflect even more growth and new skills from everyone. The dance left how it was in July would probably be stale by March for competition, so I will virtually start all over again in terms of choreography. Same song, same concept, same basic conclusion... but different. Truthfully, if it wasn't different, I would just be bored working on it again!

Now, along the same line, I choreographed an amazing tap group about five years ago that I have never quite been able to top. It was done with a bunch of 10-12 year old students, and ever since I have tried to replicate the success of that group, but I have never quite gotten there. So, this year I have a group of students, ages 8-10, whom I have decided will be the lucky recipients of my past moment of genius! Of course, I have to take into consideration the obvious age different in this situation, but I feel as though these younger students have the talent now that this piece warrants. I don't remember the exact choreography for the entire routine, and I have stopped myself several times from popping in the DVD to remind myself, mostly so that my approach can be fresh this time around. Same song, same concept, same brilliant sections, but an entirely new group of dancers this time around.

I'm not trying to justify my decision to do this, but I don't want to do wrong by my students either. I want them to be excited about new pieces of choreography for the year, keep the parents excited to watch them, and keep myself excited to work on it as well. Heck, I'm not even trying to pretend that I'm not doing it! But, how many teachers can honestly say that they've never re-used a piece of music and approached it with a mindset of doing things that maybe worked previously with that song... I'll bet no one!

I'm sure every dance teacher could talk themselves in circles around reasons for re-doing certain numbers, and maybe that's all I'm doing. But, this is my blog, so I'll justify whatever I want to myself! I will honestly say in regards to this issue that I don't think any piece of choreography is ever as good the second time around. I went to watch another competition last year, as I heard that a studio was going to re-do one of my favorite group pieces I had ever seen at a competition from two years ago. However, much to my disappointment, I did not like it the second time around. The concept and the song were the same, but there was just something magical missing in all aspects that made the dance have less impact and be less memorable. Maybe it was the new group of dancers they had performing it, or maybe even it was because I knew what was going to happen. The group was still fantastic as a whole and they did really well at competition, but I'm going to say not as well as it had previously done.

I don't think the general idea here is any different then what I'm planning on doing, but my intentions in doing so are not to try and match the success of any groups previously. I don't want to re-do that tap group to help myself win more choreography awards, or so the kids win more Overall Awards with it. I don't even really want people to be able to recognize that the group is the same, but maybe that's unavoidable! There are some competitions that have rules about winning Overalls at their competition with the same routine two years in a row, and that I fully respect. Luckily for me that's not an issue, but I'm sure it can be for some people.

At least if I'm going to win another Choreography Award for one of these groups it will still be my choreography that's awarded. If you're going to 'recycle' a group that you saw another studio do last year... well, that's a whole other pile of garbage!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"When You Were Young"

I know it’s been a while, but I needed a quiet post-Nationals break without too much thinking… which unfortunately, hasn’t worked for me!

I am currently attending Coastal Dance Rage Summer Intensive here in Toronto and the talent here is just ridiculous! Everybody, who is anybody is here, and I’m really honored Shannon invited me here as a guest to be part of it all.

Sitting watching the Senior room right now I am reminded of a very interesting concern of mine, that is ever present in any and all workshops I have ever attended. It actually was an issue that came up while I was away at Nationals as well, so I promise this will all tie together in the end!

When we registered for Workshops at Nationals, the classes were split into two levels, Junior (12 & under) and Senior (13 & over), which is the norm. However, they always state that placement is at teacher’s discretion so the ages are just guidelines. Now I have some 11/12 year olds who I put in Senior level classes as I knew that they were mature enough to handle that level of a class. Then I also have some 11/12 year old students who I didn’t put in Senior level, which seemed to confuse some of the parents, but c’est la vie! Now, a few days in I had one mom come and ask me if their child could go and take the Senior Jazz class with their Junior bracelet… the answer was obviously no, but I found it interesting that she phrased it that way! What she meant to say was that her child didn’t want to go take class with the Junior level students as they felt they were too good to learn anything so they wanted to go take Senior level class with their friends. Well at least I’m pretty sure that’s what she meant to say!

Now, this is not such a big deal, and normally I would let students go take whatever level classes they wanted to, but it’s the attitude behind it that I have a major issue with. To me, the first sign that a dancer is finished really “learning” anything is when they deem themselves too good to take class with people who are younger than them, or not as advanced as they are. I wish someone had told me when I was younger that it wasn’t about how easy the combo was, but it is about what you do with that combo and take from the class that really is important. I understand that the whole 'coolness' thing kicks in for kids, and they want to dance with older students so they look really wicked, but is that really the reason you signed up to take a class?

So there were two resolutions to this issue I had at Nationals, either let this student go take Senior Jazz class or say just say no… and I said no! I figured there would be the same outcome either way, but how this dancer handled themselves would give me clear signals about their maturity in terms of dance. One, they would go to the Junior Class and basically stand in the back and act way too ‘cool’ to participate and learn to their fullest. Two, they would go to the Junior class, stand in the front and really work hard to prove to me and everybody else that they deserved to be moved up. Or three, they wouldn’t take any classes at all, almost in spite of my decision. And option three was their choice, which was a huge disappointment to me.

I had the same issue arise early last year with a student who no longer dances at my studio now. She declared herself too good to dance in a group with some of the other dancers she was in a Company with, so already on that note you know as a teacher that she won’t bring a positive energy to class… which makes her invaluable to any group! I guess all my lectures on attitude and class work ethic didn’t rub off on her yet. Why don’t kids understand that they can learn something, even from the simplest plie exercise? You should be constantly working on self-growth and development, as it is the only way to become a better dancer. It isn't about who you take class with, it's about what you do in class.

So back to today… the kids were split up here into 2 levels, Junior and Senior, which was still just a basic guideline. In the Senior classes there are several young girls, maybe 10/11 years old, who have deemed themselves too advanced for the Junior Room. However, they are now in a room with 300 Senior level students doing very mature combos, and they are having a hard time keeping up. They would have clearly been able to learn something in the Junior Room, and probably would have also gotten way more attention in there as there is only about 25% of the number of kids in there. I’m sure these kids think that they’re learning more, but the truth is that they’re not. They’re too busy worrying about picking up choreography to have time to fully listen to corrections or incorporate style as required. To me, these young dancers would have gained much more knowledge and improved their own dancing had they gone and taken class with dancers their own age. But maybe that’s a growth and maturity thing that I have a sense for now as a teacher.

One of the fabulous teachers here, Tokyo, talked to the Senior students here today about them being old enough to decide for themselves how much work they wanted to find in any class. Meaning, they can be the dancer who is sweating from the first warm up exercise, because they are finding so much to work on and strengthen in their own dancing. Or they can be the dancer who is skilled but just moving through class because they think they have it. He wanted them all to find more to work on themselves in every movement of his entire class, so that they were constantly working to their full potential regardless of how easy the tendue exercise is.

I second that emotion!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

"This Year's Love"

Well, it has almost been a week since our Recitals and I think I have really now had a chance to reflect on how truly successful they were. This isn't a brag blog today... well maybe a little. But I do put on one heck of a professional show for a studio!

Of course in the days following our shows I get tons of messages congratulating me, thanking me, and basically a whole lot of stroking my ego emails! However, I seem to get the same comments annually about wanting to see me dance in the show?!?!?!

This year for my Competitive/Teen Show I decided to hire some professional dancers to guest perform to help ease the need of the staff performing! In fact, one of my younger staff actually was one of the soloists, which was fantastic, but I guess that prompted everyone to think that I would be making some special appearance next... not going to happen!

I don't know how studio directors or anybody running Recitals can find time during a busy show to even worry about performing themselves. I'm concerned about the class on stage, pinning in the tiara of the next little class, cuing the lighting change and making sure everyone is in sync. I'm not saying that the show would fall apart without me for two and half minutes, but it's not something I want to add to my plate of things to do that day.

To be honest, I don't want to take the focus off of the kids by performing myself or having other people steal the spotlight. In our Recreational Recital this year I even had very few performances by our Competitive students. It's supposed to be a time where those respective parents can celebrate their child's accomplishments and enjoy them performing. Sure, I can do more pirouettes than a 10 year old, but does that really matter! I want the kids to feel like the stars, and I really don't need that self satisfaction anymore. I actually get more excited seeing the psyche screen change in exact unison with the music cue now!

I do realize that the parents at my studio wouldn't be judging me as a dancer if I did perform. It's not like they're going to tell me I was horrible! I even understand their curiosity and desire to see the staff perform... but I'm quick to remind them that I'm a teacher now. I teach their kids how to dance, so they can perform well on stage. It's a totally different state of mind, and one that has taken me a long time to embrace. For a lot of teachers/studio owners it might be the only time of year they ever get to perform, and I can understand that itch. However, I think I'm proud to say now that I have students who are exceptional enough dancers that no one is wondering how good I am. They know how good of a teacher I am, based on what they see on stage, and that's enough for me!

I feel really fulfilled about the shows that I put on this year, and now I have to start planning next year's show already! Maybe if I started practising now I'll be in good enough shape to dance next year... but don't count on it!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"Another Opening, Another Show"

So it's 8:00am on the morning of our show and I've been awake for hours! I have the car packed, all of my stuff in order, and I even laid out my clothes last night just in case I missed my alarm and then had to rush out of the house. Well no such luck!

I'm excited for my upcoming shows over the next two days, but also really nervous. As a dance teacher working at a studio you can see how important a Recital is to all the students. However, as a studio owner you realize that your entire year and all your clients are depending on this one day to be outstanding! It's a whole different sort of pressure. I obviously deal with pressure by drinking a lot of red wine, and then not sleeping all night... but to each their own!

I realize the importance of this show as the first Recital for a lot of our younger students, who may just look back on this day when they're professional dancers as the beginning of it all! It's also just as important to the 12 year old Recreational Jazz student who has been anxiously awaiting to show off her new and improved split jumps on stage. And I know that a lot of my Competitive students view this as a fun type of show in comparison to a regular competition, but they're also looking to impress!

So, cross your fingers for me, that nobody wets their costume and the ring pops I purchased with suffice for crying 3 year olds backstage.

It's a tough job... but somebody's gotta do it!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Hot Lunch Jam"

Today I met up for a wonderful lunch date with two of my dance industry friends, Mitchell and Eryn. We had the most delicious meal complete with mimosas, eggs every way and a side of the best homefries in Toronto... oh, and the company was pretty good too!
I'll just do a little plug here for Insomnia as the place to be for brunch on a Sunday in downtown Toronto!

What's interesting about the three of us being friends is that we each bring such a unique perspective regarding the dance industry to the table... yet we all have the same goals and integrity in regards to it! I am a dance studio owner, who teaches and choreograph as part of owning a studio, while dabbling in adjudicating and choreography for others. Eryn is a free lance choreographer, who does teach at several studios, but concentrates her talents on professional choreography and has hopes of starting up her own company. And Mitchell is a teacher, who works at several studios, and is still working as a professional dancer. So, pretty much you're getting every perspective at one table!

We talk about our studio work and the kids we teach, but we talk equally as much about dance outside of the studio walls... for those of you who didn't think that existed! Being a studio owner I am very involved in every aspect of my studio, where as Eryn and Mitchell are both employees of studios who can walk in, teach, and then walk out. It's not saying they're not emotionally attached, but we are coming from different angles in relation to topics regarding the dance studio business. What I like about talking to these two is that I get to hear their interpretation of a lot of my decisions and learn other ideas from different studios they teach at. It's really enlightening, and I generally walk away feeling really motivated to do great things!

I'm not clear on how the conversation started regarding hiring teachers for my upcoming summer intensive, but it did, and we found ourselves equally as aggravated in this regard. I get a lot of inquiries and resumes every spring from people who are looking to teach at summer intensives, or offering their services out for workshops at my studio. I also get a lot of contacts for things like this through Mitchell, as I know his phone is a dance rolodex! I started throwing out names of some of the people that I had spoken to, or whom had contacted me and I realized they all had one thing in common... they weren't actually teachers!

I don't mean that they've never taught a class before necessarily, but these people are all young dancers making the most of their recent fame. I would say I've spoken to or been put in contact with a half dozen people recently who have all been on So You Think You Can Dance Canada. That's kind of cool right! As a business owner I'm going with the idea that having these people teach at my studio automatically draws more students. Kids want to take class from that dancer they saw perform on television, and that would give me an edge popularity wise. Then the dance educator side of me says, WAIT! The majority of these people are very young, 19 or 20 years old, and really don't have any teaching credentials to bring to the table, they were just dancers on the show. That doesn't automatically make someone a great choreographer or teacher, does it?

Neither Eryn or Mitchell disagreed with the fact that as a business owner they can see the selling feature of coming from a popular television program. So You Think You Can Dance has done great things for our industry, and for that we are all grateful. However, it also comes with a price to those of us who are helping to educate the next generation of young dancers. My major hesitation in hiring all of these people is due to the fact that their teaching rate is completely beyond my budget. I had one 19 year old female dancer from the show tell me that her rate for teaching at my studio was $400/hour. Maybe someone out there doesn't think that's unreasonable, but in comparison to professional teachers and choreographers that I have had teach at my studio I don't even know what to say to that. In my opinion, Eryn is one of the best freelance studio teachers and choreographers we have here in Toronto and besides her rate being well below that, I also know what I'm getting. I'm getting a seasoned teacher in my studio who has put in the work before class to make sure that my students will gain something from her class, besides learning a cool combo. She watches them during the entire class, makes corrections, develops a relationship with them, and helps them grow as dancers. It goes back to one of my main issues with hiring professional 'dancers' as teachers in my studio in general. I'm not really that interested in your fame or your personal dancing abilities, but I'm mostly interested in what you can teach my students.

I will be the first to admit that dance on television has produced some amazing choreographers who were on shows originally as dancers. I'm not saying that you can't be good at both, but becoming a great teacher and choreographer takes as much work and dedication as it did for you to become that talented dancer. Teaching is a skill... some people have it, and some don't. If you're a choreographer who is looking to use a type of television program to launch your career by you dancing on it, then that's your choice. Eryn made a bold statement to me that she won't ever be auditioning for anything as a dancer, as that is not her path or ultimate goal.

As studio owners, I think we need to sit back for a second and really decide what we are saying when we hire dancers like this to teach in our studios. Are you hiring them to get more business at your studio? Or, did you really just never think about the fact that they might not be the greatest teacher to have in! Admit it, you were starstruck too! I have learned that in general I can hire two or even three really great teachers to come to my summer intensive for the same price as one of these really great dancers from a tv show. So then I have to decide what is most important to me as a dance studio owner, but also as a dance educator... since I do harness both roles. Now, maybe a $400/hour teaching rate is what these people think they deserve, and I can respect that. But, maybe it should just make all of the freelance teachers rethink their rates. I know it made Eryn think about hers!

Regardless of whether I hire some of these people or not, there are lots of other studios who will. These dancers also need to find work beyond dancing on television, and I can see how teaching/choreographing is a popular path to explore. However, I also don't think it's fair to consider every great dancer a great teacher. I will probably hire one of these popular dancers for my summer intensive this year, but I have also hired 7 or 8 professional teachers/choreographers for the week as well. That way I can fulfill everybody's needs. I'm giving the kids a little bit of what they want... but also giving them a lot of what they need! I hope that this professional dancer will inspire the kids in a totally different way than a regular teacher might be able to. They will have stories and experiences to share with them that I will never have, and for that I see it's value. It's a fine line to navigate, and I think that as the dance industry grows in popularity and stature we are all still trying to find our way. But, if you are a professional dancer who is looking to transition into teaching, or even if you just want to make some extra money to fund your dance career, read my previous blog about selling yourself as a teacher!

So after a wonderful four hour lunch date I was full of yummy food and new a found pool of information about many issues. I think it would be refreshing for a lot of people who have labelled themselves in the dance industry to talk through their ideas or concerns with people coming from another angle. Even if you don't see eye to eye with someone else on every issue, you can at least say that you had a great mimosa. Besides, everybody can make a good point after a few mimosas!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Put It In A Love Song"

It's that time of year again... the month where I put out ads looking for new teachers and get hundreds of resumes sent to my inbox!
I'm trying to get a faculty together for September now so that I can utilize the summer to really form relationships with these new staff while getting them on board with my studio philosophies. It will also help me sleep a bit better at night knowing that my classes are all taken care of when I have Early Registration in June!

I always post an ad on a website in Toronto that plays hosts to teachers and dancers a like looking for work. It's a really useful website and I'm happy to pay my membership fees to every year so that I have access to posting ads and meeting new people. Then almost immediately that day I'll receive dozens of resumes, head shots and bios from people looking for work.

I find it really easy to sift through them at first glance. I weed out out the dancers, who are looking for a teaching gig to help pay the bills. Those are the people I know are not going to be dedicated to my studio or really teaching the students, since they're still concerned with their own dance careers. You know... those 'teachers' that spend the entire class doing every move full out and only watching themselves in the mirror! Teaching is about educating the kids who are in that class, and that's the kind of person I'm looking to hire! I quote Rhee Gold on this one, "the weaker you become as a dancer, the better you are as a teacher!"

If you're applying for a specific type of job in any field, why don't you tailor your resume for that. Kind of like when you apply for a job at The Gap, let's say. You want to show that you have experience in retail or customer service, and some knowledge or comfort in fashion. So when you're applying to a studio as a dance teacher, why don't you focus your resume on your teaching/choreography skills. I don't care that you were a dancer in the cruise ship version of "The Pyjama Game", and neither will the kids in your class. If those experiences on the cruise ship have led you to become a better teacher, let me know about that. I'm not interested in how many pirouettes you can do, but how many you can teach the students to do!

I get a lot of resumes with an objective at the top, basically stating what they are looking to achieve. If your objective in applying for a teaching job is something like, looking to become a working professional dancer, that's a red flag to me. Try something more like, looking for a teaching job where I can apply my years of knowledge and experiences as a dancer to better the education of my students. Then I will get in touch with you for an interview!

So when you hire somebody for a teaching job, do you have them come in and teach a class for you? You should! It doesn't make sense to me any other way. I want to see how you teach, I want to see your style, I want to see your objective as a teacher first hand, and I want to see if you will be a good fit in my studio. Just sitting down with you over coffee and going through your resume tells me nothing. I'm going to be paying this person a lot of money every week to come in and teach students how to dance, so I want to see you in action before I sign a contract with you. I've been hired for several teaching jobs in my life where teaching a class was not part of the criteria. Luckily for those people I am a really great teacher, but they didn't know that when they hired me! People can sometimes be impressed with what studio you trained at, who you've taken classes from, or what competition awards you have won, but I'm not.

Most importantly in terms of interviewing prospective teachers at your studio I think you should offer them a bit of a challenge. I get a lot of people wanting to come in every year and work with only the competitive students. I get it, they're easier to teach, they're more advanced, they learn quicker... I hear ya! But, at my studio I've logged the hours to get those kids to that level and you're not just going to come in and choreograph routines for them. You have to earn those stripes with me! Letting a prospective teacher do a class with your Senior/Advanced Competitive class is actually not going to tell you anything about their teaching skills. They'll just do a combo, and the kids will probably make it look good. I want this teacher to come in and teach my Junior Jazz Class of 7-9 year olds who need discipline in class, structure and 100% of the attention. Let's see how good of a teacher you really are! You keep those kids amused and enthusiastic about learning for an hour then I really know what you'll be able to accomplish with the more advanced students.

At my studio I am personally looking to hire people who have expertise in at least one style of dance, but who can also teach other styles. I have a Ballet Teacher at my studio who teaches all the ballet classes. That way I know there is consistency across the board and I'm getting the same level of classes for every age. Some studios may have the luxury of having more than 1 great ballet teacher, but I'm a firm believer that somebody should be the leader of that group. Maybe that's the studio owner, or Artistic Director, but maybe even you can have 1 of the ballet teachers in charge of the others who sets the tone. So, when I'm hiring teachers I want to know what you're really great at teaching. You can't be a jack of all traits, but a master of none! If you bring several styles and skills to the table, it makes you more appealing to hire. My ballet teacher is also an amazing jazz and tap teacher, but that is not her focus. So, when I ask you what you are looking to teach, don't just say, I'll teach anything! It makes me think you're actually not sure of what your strengths are. Be clear, state the truth, and be proud of it.

I always write in my ads that my studio is looking to hire teachers for both Recreational and Competitive level classes, who are strong teachers and can choreograph as necessary. That way I feel I'm being open to the different types of people who can apply, so I can be more selective. I have yet to receive a resume or teaching reel highlighting to me that somebody enjoys teaching Recreational students, but I'm not really shocked about that. When you send me your choreography/teaching reel, know that I'm not looking to hire just a choreographer, or I would have just put out an ad for that. I'm looking for a teacher who can choreograph, for all levels (key point here!) I'm glad that you can choreography a foitee turn section to go with the music for a Senior Company, but that's not impressive to me. Why don't you show me a DVD of what the routine of this group of kids looked like 2 years ago and where you have gotten them to now. That's impressive to me... really impressive! If you've taught them strong technique, gotten them to progress really quickly and showed improvement with your choreography, then I want you on my staff. You're an asset to me and my studio. Maybe I should be more specific when putting out an ad, but I bet I'd still get the same number of resumes regardless.

In my opinion I think people need to be more creative when it comes to applying for teaching jobs. I probably just gave away a great tool there in presenting videos showing what you've done with a group of kids over a year, so hopefully someone will do that for me this year. I'd love for someone to walk into my studio with some originality, enthusiasm for what the prospects of my studio bring, and be happy that they get to show off how great of a teacher they are. I actually had one teacher once come in and hand me an invoice for them teaching for that hour of the interview right away. I don't normally pay a teacher coming in for an interview, since I don't know of any job interview where they pay you to go in and apply. I know some people might disagree with me on that one, but that's my opinion about it. If someone let's me know in advance that they do charge for teaching interview classes I am generally more than happy to accommodate them within reason, but I tend to steer away from that.

It's really telling to me when I ask someone what their expected pay rate per hour is. Of course, I get varying answers each year, but you as a teacher should know what you think you're worth. Don't just say, I'm open to whatever. Decide what you think your teaching is worth, or what your bottom line is at least. What is the minimum amount of money you feel you deserve per hour? For everyone that will vary, but it's a good thing to at least know. Are you going to be travelling far to work, gas money, transit money, planning time outside of class, it all ads up, so know your bottom line that includes all of that taken into consideration.

As an employer I don't like people who are uncertain of themselves or wishy-washy with their answers. It's not like the questions I'm going to ask you are so out there I've thrown you off guard. If you're going to a teaching interview they're going to ask you about your past experiences in dance, maybe your favorite/most challenging teaching moment, what your schedule is like and what you want to be paid. Know the answers to those questions! I've even started asking people those types of questions in response to their emails right upfront, or on the phone before I meet them. I like to get that kind of stuff out of the way, so when they come in they can focus on teaching the class and I already know in the back of my head what the answers are. That way I'm not shocked afterwards by your answers and I haven't mis lead you in terms of my studio expectations and what I have to offer you.

That's not saying I haven't received a few great resumes lately, but they are few and far between. This isn't meant to hurt the feelings of people who might have recently sent me a resume, but the reality is that this is a job like any other and I'm looking for some professionalism. Just because you're a dancer does not excuse you from having a proper resume. For me, I'm not biased when it comes to the age or sex of the teacher applying, I am just looking for quality people. You can be 19 or 39 for that matter and what is still the most important thing to me is that you love teaching and you have skills to bring to the table that can benefit my studio. It's not necessarily the person with the most experience on paper either, which a lot of people can confuse with skills. Maybe you've taught at 17 different studios for a reason, you can't keep a job at any of them!

I will share with you the best line I recently received in an email with a resume attached, applying for a job at my studio... I saw your studio competing at competition this year and I knew that I had to be a part of your teaching staff. Your students were well trained, you had great choreography and I loved their passion for dance. I think I have a lot of skills and experience to share with your students of all ages, but I also would love a chance to learn under you as a choreographer. Please find attached my resume, including words from my former employer, current and former students and their parents regarding my classes and my dedication to them.

Flattery won't always get you noticed, but I'll just point out that this teacher is coming in for an interview next week... just sayin'!

Monday, May 31, 2010

"100% Pure Love"

I know it's late here in Toronto, but I needed to share some pure awesomeness as quickly as I could!

Our Company photographer Greg Tjepkema just emailed me some rough copies of 2 pictures to wet my taste buds tonight...

Above is one of our Lyrical Groups entitled "Bird Girl", and the other picture is of 13 year old Savanah in her Jazz Solo costume! I mean, I loved both of these numbers regardless of what the pictures would have turned out like... but I think I just found a whole new appreciation for my work!

I'm going to need to find a mop quickly to clean up my drool off the floor!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

"We Belong Together"

So yesterday was insane... which for those of you who don't follow cool lingo, means really great!
We had an unbelievable photo shoot downtown for our Company students with Greg Tjepkema and I can't wait to share the photos with everyone. I really tried to push the envelope this year, so I can stay a step ahead of everyone following in my footsteps! We used a gorgeous row house as a backdrop, an abandon train, the hood of my car and pretty much any cool place we could find to create magic. We did head shots for all the kids, and decided to get a 'dance shot' of each of them in all black on a white brick background. We got all of our group shots done in all various places and then we finished up at the beach in water with balloons and climbing trees. It was a lot work, but it was worth it!

Then we decided that after the Photo Shoot would be a perfect time to have our annual Company end of year BBQ Pool Party. We always have several get togethers a year for our Companies, including a Christmas Party, but everyones favorite is always at the end of the year. We are all done our competition season and everyone can really let loose and have fun. Were lucky enough to have a great family in the Bellchambers at our studio who lets us use their house every year. They have a big backyard with a heated pool, a hot tub and a fire pit, so the kids are amused for hours. The dads BBQ, the kids run around and the moms work on their contemporary dancing while all the staff enjoy the show!

Now in the past when we have had Company parties with everyone included it has always seemed a bit disjointed. The older kids would always hang out together in a separate area of the backyard then the younger kids. They would hide up in small groups in bedrooms upstairs and it just didn't seem like a big group atmosphere. And to be honest, I never really noticed it was like that until I experienced how different our party was yesterday!

There was one point in the evening when every kid from our studio was there and every parent was as well, including my own parents. Everyone was gathered out on the deck while every kid was in the pool together, from age 5 to 18. The moms were doing a Rockette line and the kids this time were cheering on their parents instead of being totally embarrassed by them. We started a fire and all the kids gathered to roast marshmallows and make smores. I went down to help them out only to find the Senior girls handing out the supplies and making the smores for the younger kids. The Inter kids were all roasting marshmallows for the Juniors and everyone was sitting in each other's laps around the fire.

I went back up to the deck and sat down with a group of parents spanning all the Companies and commented on how nice this was... they all quickly agreed. A parent who has been with my studio for many years commented on how great the atmosphere was and how happy she could see her daughter was. I guess sometimes you forget how much an 8 year old at your studio really idolizes a 13 year old. Just being able to ride on their back in the pool or to share a marshmallow with them around a fire really makes them feel included and special. I'm sure you can all understand how a younger student can look up to an older student as a dancer, but can you say the same about them as people? Yesterday I could say that I had 32 kids who all felt special and included, as well as about 50 parents who could not have been happier with that reality.

We leave for our Nationals trip in about 4 weeks and now I could not be more excited. The parents planned an evening out in Rhode Island, while the older kids agreed to babysit for the night. We also decided to have a bonfire at the beach the night before we all leave and I know that every family will be happy to participate. Nationals would have been exciting regardless, but now that everybody is more familiar with each other, it will bring an entirely new element of fun to the trip.

Maybe it's the combination of people at your studio in a year, or the group of kids you have at one point, but I feel it all kind of coming together for us right now. It won't necessarily effect the way the kids dance at Nationals, but I don't think how they perform will necessarily be what they remember most about our trip. They're going to remember the sleepover party they all had crammed in one room, swimming all together in the pool, and improv dancing on the beach at night. I like having meals out with the parents and I enjoy sitting by the pool having a Mojito with whomever is around. I'm glad that I can enjoy studio activities with all the families instead of just encouraging them all to do things together and not being included. It's also nice that I can be involved in all the fun and still be shown respect. After all, you can't really respect somebody that you don't really know!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Picture Perfect"

So tomorrow is one of my favorite days of the entire year... Company Picture Day!

Now, normally I detest picture day at the studio. Every student in our entire studio in and out of the building at least once, including the entire entourage they show up with. Loose sparkles from one end of my studio to the next, bobby pins everywhere that clog my vacuum, and of course parents think it's the day to address every other issue they have. I loathe the forth coming of Picture Day every year... which is why this year I have opted out of it!

Instead, we are offering a professional photographer on site at our Recitals with a photo booth set up in the lobby area. Students can then have individual pictures done there at their leisure and parents can preview and order everything right there on the computer screens. We are also offering stage shots of every one of our classes, just like they do at competitions. That way were helping people to preserve those really special moments on stage that you can't duplicate. I feel as though it's a really great compromise to having Picture Day, which I know a lot of parents don't enjoy either, especially while the weather is so nice on the weekends.

However, I do like the pictures that come out of all of this, so I have found a suitable compromise to satisfy my needs!

Last year I hired a friend of mine, photographer Greg Tjepkema to do some more professional like photographs for the Competitive Team. I was tired of the same old poses in lines, in front of a grey cloud background in the studio... and I'm sure the kids and parents were as well. So, we rented out Berkley Church in downtown Toronto instead for an evening and decided to take advantage of the natural settings and the beautiful architecture. It ended up turning out better than I could have ever imagined!

We only took a bunch of our Intermediate & Senior student last year to try it out and see what would happen. We did a quick sitting for all of the kids to have some head shots done, instead of doing a solo picture in every group costume. We did all of our group pictures in various locations around the building and we tried to get some really special shots that took a lot longer to process, but turned out beautifully. I tried to make the pictures more like art, so people could be proud to show them off to their friends, and frame them on their walls as more than just another dance routine photo.

One of the great things about it was that a bunch of the kids actually needed head shots done to send to the National competition we were attending for the Title Competition. So it was kind of like killing two birds with one stone. They got a few shots taken, then Greg touched them up and we sent in what looked like head shots worth hundreds of dollars. We are doing the same again this year with the head shots, as about 7 of the kids need them for the Title Competition again this summer at our Nationals, so I make a lot of parents happy by taking care of that for them!

We have planned to do this again this year with Greg, but with our entire Competitive Team now, and we have moved to a different location. We've rented out a loft downtown for the day, where we have access to a great indoor space, but there are also a lot of outdoor areas to take advantage of around it. A really extraordinary picture day like this requires a lot of planning so we have already organized a lot of group shots before we get there. However, some of the greatest pictures last year came from the kids doing some improv around the space and Greg just snapping shots of them as they went. We'll do quite a bit of this on the fly, but I do have a concrete idea in my head of what I'm looking to accomplish before I get there.

Check out some of our pictures from our 2009 Company Photo shoot!

I have recently noticed online that a lot of my dance teacher friends have also started to get creative with their studio pictures and are having them professionally done. I'm glad that I may have inspired people to take another approach to something that might seem so insignificant in the grand scheme of the year, but these pictures do represent an entire year of work and growth in the kids. I take a lot of pride in showing off these pictures as a representation of my studio and how creative I can be with all aspects of what I offer. Sometimes it's the little things that you can do differently in your own studio that really shows people that you care and can set you apart.

When I look back at these pictures years from now I will be reminded of the great routines I choreographed and the wonderful kids I worked with. And even if the routine wasn't that great, at least I have a really nice picture to convince myself otherwise!

Monday, May 17, 2010

"The Moment I Said It"

I guess I was writing my blog about the "Single Ladies" jazz group as the entire world was watching them on tv! Well this video has clearly stirred up more controversy in the dance world than I have ever seen, and the only practical conversation I've heard about it is regarding who to blame here.

I saw this blog posted on Twitter about the controversy and I actually have to say that I think this writer hits the nail pretty close to the head. It really isn't the fault of the kids, the parents, the teachers or the competition. Everyone is just doing what they were told to do in order to be successful in the dance industry. She than goes on to blame dance on television, which I think is a bit of a stretch here, but she's heading in the right direction. She's saying it is the fault of mainstream dance... but honestly, who really is mainstream dance?

It got me thinking about a conversation I seem to be having a lot lately with parents in my studio regarding who is making decisions for the dance industry? Well hold on to your hats here people... but nobody is the ruler of all things when it comes to dance!

I'm not trying to start up a discussion about whether or not I think dance is a sport versus art, but when I am talking about dance competitions I approach it with a sport mentality. We train the kids and then they compete against other kids, which mimics the sports of soccer or hockey. However, in all other sports, and even some fields of art, there is a "governing body" or an association that is in charge per say. For instance, in hockey the NHL is of course the ultimate goal for hockey players, but there are sanctioned leagues run by the hockey association that determines teams based on ages and abilities. They are all accustom to the same standards and rules across the board, to keep some sort of flow and consistency. In figure skating, they have Skate Canada, which is organization that all skating rinks pay dues to in order to coach by their standards, etc, etc. Even in piano lessons, they have a standard set of levels, books and testing to go by. You don't have to learn/teach piano lessons by the grade levels, but it is how you can achieve the same certificate for a level as a fellow piano player on the other side of the country would.

It has become painfully obvious that in the dance industry there are actually no rules, no standards and no one telling anybody else that what they can or cannot do. A lot of dance parents actually don't seem to know these kinds of facts... so here they are! Every competition (like every dance studio) is individually owned and therefore, comes up with their own set of rules and standards. So if this dance in question is deemed inappropriate by one competition and thus is disqualified, that same group can still go and win Overall High Score at another competition. Let's just call a spade a spade here - the dance industry is open for anybody to make money in, and what it boils down to at the end of the day is money. Anybody can make a buck in this industry, but the successful ones can make a lot more.

Enter John Smith, a 30-something fresh out of dental school who opens up a dance studio because he sees an opportunity to make money, even though he has no previous dance experience. He advertises some fun classes in a really fancy building with large studios and a "state-of-the-art" sound systems. He puts some funky letters beside his name denoting that he obviously know what he's doing and then parents will think he does so they pay money to send their kids there. They will pay for lessons for ten years or so and then their kid will go audition for SYTYCD and will be one of the people Nigel politely tells on tv to "go ask your teacher for a refund!"

I had a new parent once come into my studio during Registration and ask to see the credentials of all of my staff that would be working with their daughter. I looked at him and asked in return, "sure, what kind of credentials are you looking for?" Well he wanted dance teaching credentials obviously... so I elaborated, "what sort of credentials do you think it takes to teach dance?" I don't think he appreciated my sarcasm, but the truth of the matter is that they came from another dance studio where they were told that their exam syllabus association were the people who had to give me a piece of my paper saying that I am able to teach dance. Or maybe this other dance studio truly believes that themselves!

So, I'm going to say something now that will shock a lot of parents... the whatever Association of Dance that you pay money to every year to examine your kid, is run by a group people just making money off the dance industry, similar to everybody else. They are not the knowers-of-all-things-dance-teacher related and nor do they distinguish who is a successful dance teacher or choreographer. They are people who set up a syllabus of exercises, sold it to studios to train their kids with, and then charge studios and parents alike to basically be judged on the work, kind of like a dance competition would. The idea works in theory, as it does in a lot of other sports, but there are more than 6 dance exam associations that I could name you off the top of my head with opposing dance ideals... so their goes that theory!

We are all entrepreneurs in the dance industry, which I have no problem with, but I don't like that we can't be honest about it. We cannot just hide behind titles or certificates if we really want to make a change in this industry and set some standards. It has to come from everyone, and unfortunately when were dealing with millions of entrepreneurs, it probably won't happen. Someone will always be selling what you won't, or be doing what you don't agree with, and thus someone will always be willing to pay them for that. I'm not saying it won't happen, but it's going to take something catastrophic to bring an industry so vastly large together when it comes to standards.

Now, I am not pro or against this young group of dancers making headlines, as maybe the dance industry has made me so desensitized when it comes to appropriateness. Much like in life, we all have a different set of standards that we live our lives by. What one parents might deem as too young to wear half tops on stage, is not a common consensus. What one dance studio is telling their parents will win a dance competition, might disgust another dance studio. But, that's also beauty about it all... you get to decide. Not the people producing So You Think You Can Dance, or America's Best Dance Crew, or not even the people responsible for all those music videos supposedly inspiring these types of dances. They are all allowed to put dancers on television in whatever costumes they want, and do whatever kind of sexy moves they want, but you don't have to! No one said that was the all aspiring highest achievement of dance you want your kids to mimic, or do we just assume it is since it's on tv?

I really do think it's great that the small world of dance competitions is getting such media attention, but I just wish it wasn't for this one controversial episode. A lot of people unfamiliar to the dance industry only know about it what they do see on television, and now we might have completely deterred any of them away from ever letting their kids take dance classes at a local studio. I'm not saying that I have all of the answers here, but because this industry is so open and seemingly accepting, I am able to write a blog pretending that I do!

What I do know for certain about this entire situation, is that this studio that has come under so much heat lately is probably laughing all the way to the bank from all this publicity... and I'm sitting at home with a glass of wine wondering why that 7 year old in my tap class still can't do buffalos after an entire year of classes. Guess I better return my 'can be a dance teacher' certificate!

Thursday, May 13, 2010


If I showed you this YouTube video of these young dancers, what would be your first reaction? "Single Ladies" - Jazz Group

I had seen this video posted on Facebook by a friend about a month ago and I was the first to comment in return that I wanted to be in this dance! As a dance teacher and choreographer I was in shock of the skill level of these 7 & 8 year old kids. I know a lot of my 'dance teacher friends' might disagree with me on this one... but that's the beauty of this topic!

This morning I read a tweet by Gayle King (who is better known as Oprah's BFF!) posting this article about the same group and asking if it was too much? I'm going to assume this is a topic of interest on Oprah Radio and it seems to be getting a lot of web attention from many sources. I can't say that I'm really shocked that people may find this dance offensive, but I'm surprised that this video is the one to really threw everyone over the edge about appropriateness at dance competitions. So, I figured if Gayle King was talking about this dance, than I should be too!

Over the years I have seen countless routines at dance competitions where 'age appropriateness' should be in question. As much as people might be disgusted by a young group of kids "gyrating" on stage, so they call it, I am equally offended by a 13 year old dancer performing a "rape" lyrical solo in a black bra and underwear. I think it's literally the same thing! Disagree with me all you want, but it's not my choice if this group of kids performs to "Single Ladies" in bra tops and knee highs and wins at a competition. My students don't have routines like this, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate it for what it is!

As a dance studio owner I spend a lot of time worrying about what I think is 'appropriate' in terms of routines, costumes and music at my studio in general. But the same part of me is also applauding the choreographer of this routine, as I don't know how she got this group of young dancers to perform like that. Now, whether or not it would be acceptable to the parents at my studio is another story... but I can't worry about that! How parents at any other studio feel about this dance is really only relative to what you're doing as a studio owner. If your parents feel strongly about the in-appropriateness of this routine then you should feel satisfied as a studio owner knowing that your parents are happy with what you are doing with their children and leave it at that. I know for a fact that this isn't the first time this studio has been in some YouTube controversy over age-appropriateness of one of their dances, but the reality is that their students keep coming back, they keep improving, and they keep producing really great routines year after year. Are the teachers at this studio just pushing the envelope? Or are they trying to be shocking? Either way, everything about this dance was the choice of the teacher/studio, who are probably loving all this attention!

Now if you attend a dance competition where they don't have rules about age-appropriateness or enforce their rules about it than that's your perogative. However, I know as an adjudicator I would not necessarily put up a stink about disqualifying this group for shaking their hips, but that is just my opinion. I would say that this routine would be a welcome change at a competition to the multiple jazz solos to "Paper Moon" that probably preceded it. Aren't we all just trying to make our kids stand out at competitions so that the judges are entertained and remember them? Maybe they went a bit too far in trying to do that, but they did try. If you are a studio owner or teacher who is completely put off by this routine winning at a competition... find a new competition to go to!

I know that my group of Mini competitive dancers will not be doing a routine like this on stage next year, neither will my Intermediate students for that matter, but it doesn't mean I look down on anybody who does. I think Dance Precision is an amazing studio, producing very talented dancers and thus I have a lot of respect for the teachers and choreographers at their studio. Sure, these costumes are a bit revealing, but I see kids this age in costumes just like this at competitions every weekend. The only difference normally being that the kids are doing skips and hitchy-coo ball changes, which I guess in turn makes leather bra tops and shorts more appropriate!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"My Same"

This past weekend I got a call on Sunday morning from my mother telling me to meet her in Mississauga in exactly 1 hour to watch my sister's basketball game. Luckily for her I was actually up and dressed, so making the 45 minute hike out there was within reason. Normally I would have no interest in going and watching a kid's basketball game on my only day off in 3 months, but I figured I better fulfill my big sister role and go and support!

Now this wasn't just an ordinary game, or else I'm sure I would not have received a phone call about it. My sister coaches an OBA (Ontario Basketball Association) team in Cambridge for girls in grades 7-8, and they had made it to the Gold medal game of the Provincial tournament. This was sort of like their "dance-off at Nationals" game, as I have to equate everything to dance for it to make sense!

My sister is one of those jack-of-all-traits people, which is the complete opposite of me! She seems to be good at everything she does whereas I'm only good at dance and anything related to dance, so I'll just stick with that. My sister danced competitive when she was younger, but then her vast interest in many activities made her stop when she was in high school. She played basketball, volleyball, and every other sport in school. She was an avid horseback rider, she sang in several choirs and even dabbled in wrestling for a while! She's had many professions and I'm actually just convinced once she's good at something she just gets bored of it and moves on.

This year she started coaching this specific team of girls who had not had much success in winning games over the past few years. When they first started going to tournaments this season winning was a surprise for them, but my sister and I are related, so losing is not something she is accustom to! For those girls basketball is the most important thing they do, as to my competitive students, dancing is what they live for. I was actually informed during the game that my sister had even been sick earlier that morning from her nerves, which was a shock to me. I thought my sister could handle her nervous energy better than that, but then I remembered how long it took me to really take a less aggressive approach with myself when it came to dance competitions. It was of major importance to her, and all the girls on the team, to win that game and I have to respect that in the end.

There were so many similar things going on at this game in comparison to my weekends at a dance competition, which I guess I should have expected. I actually found myself chuckling a lot at these 'stage parents' yelling instructions from the bleachers to their kids on the court. "Eye on the ball", which I assumed was an obvious thing as they are playing basketball. There was a lot of team bonding going on, and of course refs making poor calls, or at least poor calls when it was against the team you were cheering for. Much like a judge at a dance competition who obviously under scored your kid!

For that kind of game, much like it is at a dance competition, as a coach you kind of just have to step back and let them do what they're going to do. You can't change anything at that point, or teach them things you should have earlier on in the year. Now I might not have any basketball skills myself, but I do know that defence is what wins basketball games. Luckily my sister had an aggressive defensive strategy that day for her team and it ended up winning the game for them. It was a low scoring game, which didn't help much for my attentiveness through four periods, but I do have to appreciate how hard both teams played. It's much like when my sister comes to watch dance competitions that my students are in. She may have been away from the inner workings of the dance industry for a long time, but she can still respect good dancing and quality choreography.

During the medal presentation one of the parent's from my sister's team yelled out "3 cheers for coach Randy" as they were presenting her with her medal. One of the kids presented her with flowers and they all flocked to her in admiration of what she had helped them achieve. I felt really proud in that moment that my sister was having the same positive effect on these kids that I feel I do at my studio. It was like a deja vu moment for me, as I remember at our first competition this year being given flowers from a parents thanking me for the work I had done with her daughter. My sister was then awarded the tournament champions plaque and my mom leaned over to me and said, "it's just like when you will all those choreography awards!"

My sister got slightly emotional when congratulating her team and they all gathered together for a group picture with their awards. It's funny how basketball and dance can be so different, yet still have the same affect on kids and the competitive spirit...

If you look really closely, it's exactly like a picture I took at our competition only 2 weeks ago...

Looks like being #1 kind of runs in the family!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Blah Blah Blah"

Just wanted to share some exciting news with everyone today!

I got a really great email this morning from a lady named Carol who wanted to let me know that her website has featured my blog as one of the 50 Best Blogs for Dance Students.

I am kind of shocked, but totally honored about it, so now I'm feeling a little more motivated to write more frequently while in the midst of this competition season! I really appreciate that you all take the time to read my little blog, and I'm glad I can be of help to my fellow dance teachers, studio owners, and now more dance students and parents. I don't ever write with just dance studio owners in mind, but I know that what I'm generally saying can resonate with all people in the dance industry.

Thanks everyone for all the kind emails and notes regarding my blog and for passing it along to others!

If you ever have something you want me to write about, or give you my opinion about, just let me know. I'll be open and honest about my thoughts... so enter at your own risk!

"The Chain"

You know those 17 pages of rules you get from competitions every year? Do you read them?

I generally scan through them in search of key words, like "tricks" or "lifts", that will help me determine which category to put a dance in. How many "tricks" can we have in a Jazz routine at this competition versus this competition? The thought of reading that many rules makes me wish that all competitions had the same rules... but then what fun would that be for me!!!

Aside from the rules, I think there is a general stereotype or protocol we have all come to expect when we attend dance competitions, especially when it comes to dance categories. Hip-hop routines are to fast-paced booty-poppin' songs, ballet music can't have words, and putting a walkover in a jazz solo makes it an 'open' dance! Now, this whole new 'contemporary' category has really thrown every one for a loop! Most competitions this year define contemporary as a modern based dance style that includes improvisation and lyrical 'like' qualities. Perfect... thanks for clearing that up for me! I guess that's what we get when we have dance parents running competitions and writing their own category descriptions.

Now, when I go to competitions I don't see a lot of improvisation routines. A select few competitions offer a type of improv category, which I always enter my students in, but not very many other people do. I have stated in the past my sincere appreciation and love of improvisation as a learning and teaching tool in my classes, so why not take it to the next level!

I have a small group this year of 4 students, ages 11 & 12, who are doing a structured improvisation group. I actually came up with the idea one night while listening to a song at the studio. I tied an elastic chain around their waists on the fly and made them improv through the music. From there, I set some serious structure around the musical highlights and gave them a set beginning and ending... the rest, is up to them! It kind of worries me to let students of this age improv their way through a group on stage, but what's the worst that could seriously happen?

I entered this group in the 'contemporary' category, since I figured I was at least following some rules that way. It includes improv, and it is to a lyrical 'like' song! This might not be my group this year that is the best received by other studios or judges at competition, but maybe they don't share my appreciation of improvisational dancing. I did want to share some stage shots of this group from our first competition, to maybe inspire somebody else to do the same at their studio.

I don't think you should necessarily name the group "Improv", since those of us who are educated enough in dance, and open enough to accept the routine, will get it. And does it really matter if people know it's improv? Does that change how you or the kids feel about the dance itself? I sure hope not... cause then you might miss out on some amazing moments on stage that even a great choreographer can't mimic.

So take the chains off that limit you to following the descriptions that a competition sets. They aren't the knower-of-all-things!

Try something new, that maybe in turn helps give your students some creative freedom to parallel their technical training. Trust them... you have trained them!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

"Both Sides Now"

So I get to work with a lot of very talented kids on a weekly basis, but I sometimes forget what great people some of them are outside of the studio!
I have a Senior level competitive student, Carly, who is in her last year of high school and therefore, her last year of dancing competitively at my studio. Carly only started dancing a few years ago, so her dance experience at my studio has been very different than many others.

I know for a lot of 17/18 year old kids at studios that dance obviously plays a very important role in their lives or they wouldn't be there! By that age, kids can decide if they want to commit to competitive dance, or if there are other relevant things in their life that demand as much of their attention. Most kids that age also have part-time jobs in preparation for University, or find themselves very bogged down with school work and extra activities at school. I remember how hard it was at that age to balance my dance life, work, my social life, and school work... and all with a lot of pressure from my parents to succeed at everything in preparation for the "real world". It's hard to balance your life at this age, and do it with integrity, so I have no problem ever helping out these students with anything they need.

Carly has very recently started writing her own blog, which I think will be really great for her as she grows and learns about herself. She only wrote her second entry this week, but I had to share it with everyone. I knew she worked at a community centre several times a week with children, but I had no idea how much her experiences there were effecting her outlook on everything. My number one concern about kids her age is their inabilities to see beyond themselves and their actions and understand how it effects others. After reading her blog, I am confident to say that I know Carly will be leaving my studio after this year with a strong sense of self and others.

I think I will read this entry every week before I go to work and especially on the night when I teach my Recreational Junior Jazz Class... and realize that not only I am helping to shape their lives, but their helping to shape mine!

Check out Carly's Blog, titled Inspiration!

Nice to know that not only can we help to create really great dancers, but we are also helping to shape really great people.

Super proud dance teacher here!

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Ain't No Sunshine"

I have a riddle for you...

When is there actually no sunshine?

When I have to get up for a 7:00am call time for competition!

I think my largest complaint about dance competitions in recent years is that they schedule us to have 14-16 hour days at them!

The competition we are attending this weekend starts at 8:00am everyday (Friday-Sunday) and the last awards are at around 9:30pm each night. So let me translate that for you... it means I have to be there by 7:00am for our first number, which equals getting up before 6:00am to be able to get ready and drive there in time. Then the final awards each day won't be done until at least 10:00pm, and then I have to drive home and wind down for bed.

And is it me or are competitions not scheduling in lunch and dinner breaks anymore? They just do an awards session with a 15 minute delay afterwards and get right back into it. I know that the students can leave and go eat as they have breaks all day, but where does that leave us teachers? Dance competition directors expect dance teachers and studio owners to spend all day in the Theatre, without proper nutrition and breaks, and they wonder why we complain so much about everything to them!

I know here in Canada that there has been a surge in the past few years of competitions being started by dance parents. I don't think there is anything wrong with it as I think that parents see a great opportunity to turn their experience at dance competitions into some cash, but I feel that they overlook the most important aspect. The dance teachers/studios owners are your most important clients! They are the ones that choose to come to your competitions. They are the ones that spend all day there taking care of every routine from their studio. They have to deal with all of the parents from their own studio who might have a complaint, because god forbid they can come complain to you about something they don't like! They are the ones that will make the overall decision about what they thought about your competition and thus decide whether or not they want to give you their business in the future.

So why don't you take care of us???

Competitions that are run by former teachers, studio owners or even dance professionals seem to have a better grasp on this concept. They might still start their competitions at 8:00am, but they might have some breakfast snacks backstage at the music table for teachers to grab on the go. Even something as small as providing bottled water, or drinks and candy for teachers in a little room would not break the bank at the end of the weekend.

Competition directors seem to be forgetting all of the little details that make a competition enjoyable for everyone, and instead are handing out bigger trophies, having dancing mascots at awards, and they may have even gone way out there and put some balloons up in the lobby for decorations! You're not fooling me at 7:00am with your glitzy decorations... I'm just looking for caffeine and a pen to mark up my program with!

Most people who know me are aware that I used to own a dance competition up until a few years ago. It was too much to run a competition and a studio and thus I had to choose to dedicate myself to one. I used to organize the competition with a lot of careful thought as a fellow studio owner. I made a rule about not starting any earlier than 9:00am ever, we had an unlimited supply of pens and highlighters available backstage and we never compromised about lunch and dinner breaks. We even offered 3 fully catered meals to studio owners and teachers all weekend. Yes, you heard me correctly! It was an expense we chose to take over other little things, like laminating the front covers of our programs. We set up a lounge for teachers at every competition where we had beverages and snacks all day, along with 3 hot meals, which you could either sit down and enjoy or grab and run. It seems like something so simple, and it was. Sure, we might not have done everything right, but I'd like to think that I took care of the studio owners and teachers the same way that I would like to be treated.

Last year I received a schedule from a competition my studio was attending that had one of my Intermediate dancers performing one of her groups at 10:30pm on Saturday night, only to be the first soloist to perform at 8:00m on Sunday morning. I know competition directors might not be looking out for the best interest of my students, but I am. I sent out a big red flag to the competition director about this issue and told them I was not happy. I feel I have a right to tell them I'm not happy... I sent them a big cheque on behalf of my clients.

I completely understand that dance competitions are a business, and taking 50 extra entries at a competition may extend your days by a few hours, but it's also hard to turn down that $7000 entry fee cheque that goes along with it. So they fill up three entire days with dancing, which in turn leaves very little time for anything else.

Maybe competitions should go back to being a lot smaller and focusing more on doing an exceptional job for everyone. Take 1 or 2 less studios per weekend, and then start your competition an hour later each day. You can then allow for a nice dinner break and end at a decent time of night for all the kids who have stuck around to support their fellow dancers, but who have to be there by 7:00am the next morning.

Sure, competitions are going to be long and stressful regardless, so why can't competition directors try to help alleviate some of that? Don't you want the kids to be happy, dance their best and thoroughly enjoy your competition? They can't do that on 5 hours or sleep and lack of food... and neither can their teachers!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Slow Me Down"

You're probably all wondering how I am able to write a blog in the middle of a Wednesday night, when I should be at the studio teaching right???
Well I have officially taken the evening off, and with good reason! I have a new approach to my competitive season... and of course I will share it with all of you!

During the Olympics I was really intrigued by a lot of these short little fillers they showed during telecasts where sports doctors would explain how athletes reach their peak performance levels. In the back of my mind I was thinking, well I'm sure they've been working 24/7 for the past month in preparation for the Olympics, no? WRONG... they're working the least they have all year in preparation for the biggest performance of their careers! I actually sort of already knew that information, but it's taken me a few weeks to really let that sink in and figure out how to utilize all of that with my students.

As a dance teacher our usual perspective when we are approaching the competitive season is to drill routines. We spend a lot of regular class time rehearsing the same routine over and over again. I understand and agree that we are training the muscle memory of our students for each specific routine, but when is it enough? This is generally the time of year when we are having extra nights of rehearsals for all our numbers, and getting the kids to come in on Sundays to run through their solos 17 more times just to make sure they know it before next weekend... come on, we've all done it! So now with all of this newly shared information about Olympic athletes, I'm going to try it out on my students this year... then you can all use my idea next year!

I don't teach regular classes on Wednesday nights, as I usually spend them doing choreography for solos or small groups as I need to. Well, since all my numbers are finished and I have cleaned them all up, I'm going to give the kids a break! They still have to come to their regular Company classes all week, but even then I'm using my time differently. I'm focusing their regular group classes on a lot of stretching and strengthening, as well as general technique exercises, and some really great new combos. I'm trying to get their minds off of drilling routines and put the focus back on really dancing in class. I will normally run a competitive group at the end of an evening, but I'm not picking them apart any more so that every kid is blinking at the same time. With only one week left until our first competition, the dances are going to be what they're going to be. If I change anything now, chances are it won't be changed on stage next weekend!

I have left my iPod at the studio tonight so that when the kids are in for their other classes they are allowed to go into my room and rehearse a solo or a duet at their will. Normally I will get feedback from my other staff that they ran through all their groups even on their own, just to keep it in their minds. I think that's great, and it shows that the kids do understand that the muscle memory conditioning I have been preaching for years is still important.

As a teacher I feel that I have given my kids all of the right tools to use on their own to be able to decide how much rehearsing they need to do. Most of these kids know the kinds of corrections they need to work on and that is what I can focus class time on. If a lot of my students perform on stage and have issues with pirouettes, I will spend their technique class working on those. If we simply just correct our student's technique within a piece of choreography, we are not helping them learn how to use technique or alignment correctly within dance itself, we are just making our routines look clean.

So at this time of the year, my kids are at the studio the least amount of days in comparison to when they started classes back in September. They don't have half an hour solo practises every week any more, and we might even go an entire week without rehearsing a particular group. You do have to keep all this in perspective, and know that I am not talking about my youngest competitive students here. Our Junior Company at their age still require a ton a muscle memory work, and so drilling routines with them is still essential... but we have stopped with the corrections and changes in choreography. My Intermediate and Senior level students are at an age and a maturity level now that they will still be able to remember their lyrical group, even if I do a brand new combo in class with them instead of drilling their routine.

You can argue with me that I'm taking away an opportunity for my Intermediate and Senior students to work on the performance level of their groups by doing this, but I can assure you that because I have been doing combos weekly in class with them all year, they can turn any piece of choreography into a performance quite quickly. It all goes back to the way you lay out your entire year with your Competitive team. Maybe you like to get your routines choreographed in the summer so that you have 6 months to clean up. Or maybe you're the kind of studio who only starts your choreography in January knowing that your students can pick it up quickly. I think I'm happy to say that I've found the middle ground with this one... and we will see how it all plays out very soon!

So I'm going to enjoy a nice glass of Merlot at home tonight, and I hope that the kids will get home early from the studio tonight and enjoy some of the much deserved time off they have. With competition season comes a lot of stress, for teacher, students and parents a like, so I'm finding it nice that we can all relax a bit before hand.

I know for a fact that drilling a tap group 86 times and late night daily rehearsals on that Production can cause a lot of stress on the kids, and on us teachers. So, I wanted to find a way to make getting ready for a competition a lot more enjoyable... and you can't argue with me that getting in your pyjamas, in front of the fire place, with a tall glass of wine is not enjoyable!