8 Great Links for Dancers In Training

Here’s what we’re sharing with you from our unique vantage point online, a.k.a the front row…

  • 8 links for dancersFinding “Neutral Foot”
  • The history of… tap dancing
  • Dancers & their Ballet Bags: A Visit to Ballet Black
  • How to Take Audition Photos of Your Dancin’ Boy
  • 10 things my cats have taught me about ballet
  • A father’s influence
  • When Should You Dance for Free?
  • From Competition To College

Want more links to read, share, or put to good use? Follow @danceadvantage on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest. [Read more…]

11 Ways To Create A Positive Atmosphere In Your Dance Classes

Today’s guest post is by belly dancer, teacher, and DanceCostumes.com writer, Erica Rhodes.

As you may have noticed, Dance Advantage is POSITIVELY focused on getting your dance year off to a great start. So, be sure to check out the related reading links within the article.

There are many reasons students walk in to take their first dance class, ranging from a love of the art to trying something new. Many dance students find that learning to move their bodies helps develop a more positive self-image. It’s not surprising, as learning to feel comfortable in your own body can often times can carry over to all aspects of life.

When students feel good about themselves in dance class, they enjoy their experiences more. This increases student retention and can inspire your class size to grow. You, the instructor, can enjoy knowing that you’re giving back to the community, when your students begin to experience a change, not only physically, but in mind and spirit too.

How can instructors help students think more positively about themselves?

IMAGE A belly dancer poses with arms above her head, a confident smile on her face. IMAGE

Photo courtesy Brendan Lally Photography; dancer: Letitia, Ammara Dance (www.ammara.ca)

Words of encouragement and a positive atmosphere go a long way. Here are some suggestions to help instructors foster a healthy self-esteem in their students:

  1. Give students plenty of support and encouragement. For many new students, dance is challenging. It can be frustrating when even the most basic moves seem much too difficult. Reminding students that everyone had to start somewhere and even the best dancers in the world faced challenging movements when they started out, as well.
  2. Be free with your compliments. Everyone loves to hear good things about themselves and their skills, especially when trying something new. Make sure to compliment every student , even if it’s not during every class. This can be a great mark of their improving skills.
  3. Eliminate negative talk about bodies. While constructive criticism can help students improve their skills, negative criticism is very damaging to a student’s self-esteem. This is especially important with negative self-talk and negative body talk. Comments like, “You’re so thin!” and “I’m so fat!” can have an effect on the whole class. It’s not just the student that is being spoken about or the student talking about themselves that feels the judgment, but the whole class may feel the need to compare themselves to that person. It’s better to avoid those judgments all together.
  4. Keep criticism upbeat and positive. Delivering all criticisms in a positive tone helps encourage students to improve their skills, but also takes away the sting of feeling like they just don’t get it. The easiest way to keep things constructive is [Read more…]

Sunday Snapshot: Mr. Curiosity

[Photo] Dancer Austin Meiteen in Dance Institute's Mr. Curiosity, photo by Rene Michaels

René Michaels has been a featured photographer on Dance Advantage’s Sunday Snapshot before. His work speaks for itself but I’ll add that he is a warm and personable guy I had the good fortune to meet in person while he was shooting a competition in Houston.  René is an Austin-based photographer with a talent for action photography and he always manages to capture really great moments, like the one above.

The snapshot is from a performance piece called Mr. Curiosity, set to the Jason Mraz song of the same name. It is a contemporary dance choreographed by Dane Burch of the Dance Institute in Austin, TX that explores the curious search for love. The photo perhaps best reflects the lyric “I’m looking for love this time, sounding hopeful but it’s making me cry,” as performed by the group’s male dancer, Austin Meiteen, pictured above.

“From my perspective as a dance photographer, it’s about capturing the passion in the moments during a routine that translates the music visually to the audience through dance. A picture is worth a thousand words.” Of the young man in the photo above, Rene adds, “Austin does a great job of transferring his passion visually in this shot.”

I selected this photo from an incredible array of submissions (from René and many other talented photographers) because Austin’s face is just priceless. This is definitely a committed young performer. Austin is 10 and has been dancing since he was 5. As a competitive dancer he has accumulated 8 national championships, including 3 national champion solo titles. He dances approximately 12 hours a week and adjuncts with 2 hours of tumbling training. His father Geoff adds, “He has many wonderful teachers, but his high level guidance and tutelage is under Ms. Linda Holland, owner of the Dance Institute.”

Mr. Curiosity is performed by thirteen, talented youth aged 10 through 13. The dance is described as a beautiful, sweet number that pushed the dancers to grow in not just their technical abilities, but also in their ability to express emotion through dance.

You can submit your photos for inclusion in the Sunday Snapshot feature at Flickr.

DanceStage.com Creator, Colby’s Long And Winding Road

ColbyColby is 22 years old and grew up in Palmer, Alaska. He’s got a passion for dance, interests in business, web-design, and sports. Like many young dancers, he’s got a lot on his plate as he tries to define his career and who he is. I believe I first encountered Colby on Twitter and he’s always been professional and courteous. His path in dance and (I hope he won’t mind my saying) in life has been somewhat indirect. While it’s awesome to see a driven and focused career materialize, the truth is, most dancers I know have traveled a long and winding road. So, I thought it would be interesting to represent that and talk with Colby on the blog.

When did you start dancing, Colby?

I started dancing at the age of 13 because my sister was dancing at a studio and mentioned high school girls! [laughs].

Girls… Check! What about dance or the process of learning motivated you to continue?

I noticed right away it was what I really loved to do. I stayed with the same studio for about four-and-a-half years, studying in ballet, tap, jazz, and a little bit of breaking. The more I danced the more I enjoyed using it as an outlet for my emotions and to release all of my energy, whether it was to relieve anger, or to relieve the stress of my next test coming up, or just a pick me up if I was having an off day.

My motivation to continue was fueled by the ever increasing challenges and the fact that I was tackling those challenges successfully. My confidence continued to grow the more I danced. Also, attending a few live performances of professional companies and just seeing this whole new culture intrigued me.

Did you have support as a young man in dance?

I have always been and always will be supported by my family. I’m very blessed to have all of them. When I became a freshman in high school it became very difficult because I joined the high school cheer team too. This was in a smaller town where guys didn’t really cross that plane at all. I was given a hard time by a lot of people that were supposed to be my friends. Some of it was even worse than just minor teasing. At one of the football games I had a potato thrown at me while I was cheering. Needless to say, I found out who my true friends really were. The further I got into high school the more it became “ok” but in the beginning only my close friends and family really supported me. Actually, to be honest not many girls had a problem with it. It was mainly just the guys that did.

You had a full scholarship to study dance in college but, after a year, left to join a pre-professional company. What about the college dance experience was not what you expected?

The training wasn’t as well-rounded as I had anticipated. The program’s focus was jazz and ballet. A good thing, but I was expecting a more balanced variety. Even though they had hip-hop and tap classes, they were at a beginning level. That was a bit of a disappointment as those happen to be my favorite.

There was also more drama than I expected, things seemed disorganized at times. To their credit they had a whole new staff but we were offered only two weekends of performances for the whole year.

All in all, I wouldn’t give up that experience because good or bad, every experience helps you grow. College helped with technique. There was a more personal atmosphere than I had envisioned. There was good talent which helped me to push myself harder. There was time to focus on my dancing completely. When you are not in college and working, you never get as much time as you want.

In what ways did training with a company suit you better?

The pre-professional training broadened and is still broadening my views on hip-hop culture. Everyone in the company was putting their free time into what they loved so there was less drama (more professionalism). The training and performance opportunities kept us pushing the limits of our potential. Sharing your love for what you do with an audience, hopefully inspiring or entertaining them – that’s what it’s all about.

Putting It Together

Colby’s primary project right now is DanceStage.com, a social network for dancers. I’ve contributed some of my posts to DanceStage.com (which I rarely do). They sit among some really useful articles, as well as contests, and other features which we’ll chat more about below…

DanceStage.com Advisory BoardTell me about DanceStage.com and what prompted its creation.

The idea for DanceStage started while I was in college. As I researched for dance assignments, I had the thought that things would be easier if there was a collection of info on dance all in one spot. I told a few friends, we partnered and off we went on it. They have since had to bow out due to time constraints or personal reasons, so I have managed to start taking it on myself. The goal is a social network that is a dancer’s one-stop shop, but I have to build it one step at a time. So, I’ve started with the social network and I am building from there.

Social networks have exploded in the last two years. What has been most difficult about carving out a space online?

The difficult thing about carving a space online is you have to constantly evolve as the internet is constantly evolving. Another hurdle is becoming recognized. You could have the coolest site in the world but if nobody knows it’s there it doesn’t do anyone any good. You just have to be dedicated and persevere long enough to get your name out there.

You’ve partnered with Showstopper to present the Future Stars of America contest. How are winners chosen?

At each Showstopper regional they take the highest scoring group and give them DanceStage’s Future Stars of America award. Their video then gets uploaded to the site and they are a contestant. Once the season is over and all the regional winners are up, DanceStage’s selected judges narrow it down to a top five. These top five are reposted and the members of DanceStage can vote on their favorite video once a day for a week. At the end, the video with the most votes becomes our new Future Stars of America winners. Showstopper has been great to work with and very supportive.

Dance Advantage on DanceStageYou have a section for classifieds, a forum, users can create customized profiles, and you’ve added new articles. What’s next, what can users look forward to?

DanceStage will soon be coming out with a whole new look. I will be tightening up the features already in place and adding new ones. It will be a great change and I am excited for it. That is my primary focus right now. Some features that are in the back of my mind for the future are a dance history section, a more customizable profile, maybe some interactive games, more contests (small and large), hopefully an online store (for DanceStage apparel and other items), and when the new site comes out I will have a Suggestion Form on every page so that I can deliver what the users want.

Okay, big question. Do you have any thoughts for other 20-somethings trying to make their way?

For anyone trying to establish themselves, I would say do what YOU feel is right for you. Don’t let other people persuade you. Sometimes they are doing it to try and protect you or help you, but only you can decide what is best for you. Whenever I have a decision to make, I call my mom, my dad, a sister or two and ask a few friends. I am very family oriented. My parents did a great job raising me and my sisters had a large impact on me as well. I take into consideration their different perspectives to make my choice. Then I decide, given all these different points, what is the best option for me. Not everything I’ve chosen has been the easiest but I regret none of the choices.

I also can’t say enough for working hard. But not only work hard, work smart. Back in high school, we trained less often than the teams we competed against so my coach used to say that, instead of just working harder, we had to work smarter to make our time more valuable to us than their time was to them.

Thanks Colby!

Do check out DanceStage.com and their YouTube channel, where you’ll find those Future Stars of America entries.

Have you taken your own long and winding road in dance?

Tell us about it in the comments!

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First of All — A Chat with Prix de Lausanne Winner Emanuel Amuchastegui

Anyone that has followed the careers of ballet dancers for the last 30 years recognizes that the annual Prix de Lausanne is a big deal. Since 1972 the international ballet competition has helped launch the careers of many of ballet’s brightest stars including Ethan Stiefel, Julie Kent, Leanne Benjamin, Carlos Acosta, Alessandra Ferri, Alina Cojocaru, and Christopher Wheeldon. Since its inception the goal of PDL has been to identify, promote and support young talent. Over 60 prestigious schools from around the world are associated with the event which accepts video entries from dancers aged 15-18 who are not yet professionals. From these applicants only a few are selected to convene during the snowy month of January in Laussanne, Switzerland to be judged during a dance class and stage performances of selected variations. Though all participants have the opportunity to audition and be seen by companies and school directors, the candidates are whittled down to a small group of finalists from which individuals are selected to receive scholarship for one of PDL’s partner schools or companies.

Receiving a record 226 applications from 36 countries, 2010 was a year of firsts for those involved in the Prix. Of the 81 chosen to travel to Lausanne, 43 young men were in the majority – something that has never before occurred in the competition’s history. Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy sent three students. Liao Xiang was among the twenty finalists, Aaron Sharratt placed 5th, and for the first time the Academy had a first-prize winner in 18-year-old, Emanuel Amuchastegui.

Emanuel Amuchastegui; Photo by Jean Bernard Sieber

Amachastegui was fourteen when he began his training on scholarship with teacher Sandra Racedo at Villa Carlos Paz, Córdoba, Argentina. In 2006 he went to the big city, Buenos Aires, to join the Teatro Colón school and Julio Bocca‘s school. That same year he became part of Bocca’s Company and toured all over Europe and Argentina. Then in 2008 he arrived in Texas to study at Houston Ballet’s Academy, becoming part of the pre-professional company, Houston Ballet II, in 2009. At the Prix de Lausanne, he performed a classical variation from August Bournonville’s La Sylphide and a contemporary solo, Caliban, from Cathy Marston’s The Tempest. In addition to winning PDL’s top prize, Amuchasetgui also brought home the “Audience Favorite” award. In the wake of his win, Amachastegui was kind enough to answer a few questions about his experience at the prestigious competition, his training, and his life outside of dance.

Congratulations, Emanuel. I’m sure you are still riding a current of excitement since your win at Prix de Lausanne. Can you describe what it has been like for you?

It has been an incredible experience! I learned so much from all the teachers and also from the other competitors.

You were one of three PDL finalists from Houston Ballet’s Academy. Obviously they are doing something right. If you could choose only one attribute of the school that accounts for your success (and the success of your peers), what would it be?

I will say “passion” because that’s what all the teachers put every single day into classes and rehearsals. Also the students have to give every day in order to improve and get results.


Were you nervous in the preparation for or during the competition?

Actually I wasn’t nervous at all. I was very comfortable. I think it’s because I wasn’t there to win, it was more like a window for me to show myself and to meet different teachers, experience different cultures and strengthen my technique.

It must have been incredibly rewarding to have your parents present in Switzerland. I read that you had not seen your father in over a year. How important has his support of your ballet career been?

He always supports me in everything, same as my mom. They both were there for me and respect the decisions I have made. I’m very glad because I know that there are some people that don’t have such support from family and it’s really important. It makes me happy knowing that they are there and that gives me the strength to keep pushing and follow my dreams.

It’s been said over and over what a gracious competitor you are. This, in addition to your performance, was likely a factor in your selection as Audience Favorite. What would you say to those who feel intensity in competition means having a ruthless attitude toward others?

I don’t know.. that’s a hard question. I think I am always myself, that’s the way I’m am and I think that always brings the best out. I never felt competitive with the other dancers, overall it was very nice energy at the Prix. Maybe the answer is to be yourself and learn from others and from your own errors.


You are known, among other things, for your ballon in jumping. This was evident in the classical variation you performed in competition. You seem to have a natural talent for achieving “hang-time” in a jump, but we all know even natural abilities must be refined. Has there been an image or instruction given to you along the way that made a big difference in your jumps?

Well, I never knew that I could jump that much! [laughs] My teachers were always there and they just know what to say or what to do in order for me to give 100% every rehearsal. But I think that when I dance with my heart, everything else disappears and I am able to do things I never thought I could.

Do you have a preference for either classical or contemporary?

The Bournonville style goes well with my body. I focus a lot more on my contemporary because it has always been my weakest style. Since it’s something I have to work hard at I always enjoy it and try to do my best. When I started ballet it was because the magic of dance (that moment when I’m on stage and it’s just me dancing, it’s magical). Dance makes me forget everything else and be in the moment. I try to express that to the audience and I think when I achieve that, when the audience receives all that I am feeling in that moment on stage, it is beautiful. The classical is easier for my body and I really love it too, but with the contemporary I can show myself.

During the probably very limited time you have when you are not studying at HB’s Ben Stevenson Academy or dancing with HBII, what do you enjoy doing?

I love cooking with my roommates! Watching a movie and having fun. Going out with my friends it’s something that on the weekend is always a goal. Also I spend a lot of time talking to my family and friends in Argentina.

What is next for you now that the competition has ended and you have emerged a prizewinner?

Well, I don’t know yet. But I know how hard I’ll work and how much passion I’ll put towards dance. Of course dancing abroad means missing my family, but dancing is what I love to do and they are all supportive of me and I’m the happiest person knowing that.

Prix de Lausanne broadcast much of its competition online this year, including a behind-the-scenes video blog. You can view Emanuel Amachastegui and other participants at prixdelausanne.tv. There’s also a free Prix de Lausanne app available from iTunes.

Houston Ballet’s blog also provided an insider’s peek at the competition via guest-writer, Shelly Power who serves as associate director of Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy and was selected as one of nine judges for this year’s Prix. You can find her six-post series here and don’t miss her heartfelt final wrap-up of the competition.

Prix de Lausanne Finals 2010 – Part 5

Watch this video on YouTube.

Watch Amachastegui’s Classical Variation on YouTube: Part 5 – 0:12

Prix de Lausanne Finals 2010 – Part 9

Watch this video on YouTube.

Contemporary Variation on YouTube: Part 9 – 1:15

The timestamps for Houston Ballet Academy’s other finalists can be found here.

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