“Late Beginner” Blues And How To Get Beyond Them

A parent recently wrote me, explaining that her 14 year-old daughter started ballet at 10 years old. Her concern was that when her daughter goes to auditions, she is behind her peers technically and she wondered if I had any advice. In response, I want to address some of the emotional obstacles that those who come ‘late’ to dance often face. I’ve taught beginners of all ages and I’ve observed that these mental hurdles are often harder to overcome than the physical.

Also, because nearly all dancers, at one time or another, encounter situations where they feel behind or challenged I think it may speak to other young dancers, too.

Steps A Dancer Can Take To Crush Comparisons

Three ballet dancers performing a grand jeté jump

Image via Wikipedia

Possibly the worst thing dancers can do when there is a strong desire to improve is make negative comparisons of themselves to other dancers.

As Dianne of Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes recently pointed out, sometimes comparisons help us create a realistic picture and provide awareness of where we are and where we still have to go.

See her post on Late Ballet Starters for a few pointers on where to look to form this realistic picture.

However, comparisons must stop there. Once you recognize where you are, let it go, and focus on what you need to get yourself where you’d like to be. It’s easier said than done, I understand.

So, here’s a plan (not THE plan) but a plan that I hope will be a help to you. Use what resonates most for you and leave behind what does not.

Step 1 – Change the Way You Think

Expecting perfection, overnight results, or for everything to come naturally leads to frustration.

Read this: I Can’t

If you begin to feel negative thoughts creeping in or start to feel badly about a correction you just received, tell yourself to STOP (seriously!). Then replace these thoughts “I am learning,” “I am patient,” “I deserve to succeed.” For more on thought-stopping and building success…

Read this: It’s In Your Head: The Power of Thoughts on Performance by Sanna Carapellotti (Dancer; Jan09)

Step 2 – Get Real About Your Strengths and Weaknesses

    • Recognize that everyone has both and that weakness only really matters if we allow it to turn us off our goals.

Read this: Mastering Strengths and Overcoming Weaknesses

  • Have a conference with your teacher and have an open and honest conversation about the areas in which you need the most work. Explain that you are feeling the need to “catch up” with your peers technically and that you are willing to put in some extra work to improve.

Step 3 & 4 – Set Goals and Make A Plan

The best way I know to get beyond comparing oneself to others is to set personal goals and make a plan to achieve them.

    • During that discussion mentioned above, have your teacher help you define some things you may be able to do outside of your regular class; an additional class or private lesson perhaps (if that is in your budget), some “homework” that strengthens, conditions, and supports what you are learning in class.

Read This: Setting Goals

  • As the article linked to above demonstrates, be sure that you create a plan that will help you reach your goals and determine a “backup” plan: what you will do or say to yourself when the going gets rough.

How Parents Can Help

Parents, your child must desire the additional work and goal-setting it will take to reach his or her dreams. Make sure your child’s dreams are her own.

Read this: Finding The Balance Between Friend and Fanatic

While you can certainly help guide your child through this process, remember that your primary role is to support your child. Be careful not to become another voice of criticism (it is likely your child has more than enough of their own negative thoughts to tangle with).

Read This: Accentuate The Positive

Praise your child in a way that will further their skill development and feelings of accomplishment.

Read This: Appraising the Value of Praise

Disappointments along the way are inevitable, even if they are only the momentary ones when your child lets negative thinking or comparisons get the better of him/her.

Read this: Dealing With Disappointment

Know Where You Are Going

I’d be remiss to not point out that, if you are auditioning and feeling that you are not up to par with your peers, or are just not where you’d like to be technically, that it may be time to reassess.

Part of knowing where you are in your training includes determining if you are on the correct training path: studying the material and working with the teachers who can get you to where you’d like to be. Form that realistic picture, mentioned at the top of the article.

Professional ballet, in particular, requires intense study of the form. How much time spent in the studio and the quality of instruction matter in this field. The good news is that there are many wonderful careers available to dancers and that there are multiple paths to getting to where you’d like to be. Just know which path you are on!

Read This: Finding The Right Teacher

Are you a late beginner?

What words of encouragement can you give others?

What helped you to get beyond those late-beginner blues?

What have I missed? What advice would you have given this dance mom?

Curtain Call: The Art and Expectations of Performance Time

The first dance class I took was a tap class when I was 9 years old.  I remember being so excited when I got my costume for the end of the year performance.  I also remember my mom’s shocked reaction when she found out she had to spend  $40 on the costume, $8 on the fishnet stockings, not to mention the money she spent on the pricey tickets and pictures.


The first year I taught jazz class at a studio, I was preparing for the end of the year performance.  I pulled the parents aside and told them that instead of buying pricey costumes the kids could wear different colored tank tops and black leggings.  The parents were disappointed; they were hoping for something with a little more sparkle.  Needless to say I was quite confused.

The end of the year for a dance class can be filled with celebration and lots expectation.  It took me a while to find a balance to meet the needs/wishes of the students, parents, myself and the directors of the school.  Believe me there was a lot of stumbling along the way!

Dance recitals should be a learning experience for the students.

Dance is a performing art and therefore performing is a part of the learning experience.  Performing is not about smiling the biggest or doing all the steps correctly.  It is about being present in the moment, dancing with and not competing against the other dancers on stage, and sharing the mood/feeling/story/dance with the audience.

I once had a student literally fall flat on her face on stage.  She got up and immediately continued.  When she exited the stage she was in tears. I was so proud of her. I told her anyone could learn steps but not everyone could fall on stage, get up and continue.  This was a true step in her dance education.  Performing is a skill you learn by doing; by having the experience.  There is no other way to learn it.  And I was so proud that she was learning these skills so beautifully.  She stopped crying and smiled.  I believe she learned a priceless lesson that day.

As you prepare your students for their end  of year performances think about:

  • What do you want them to learn from the performance?
  • What skills do you want them to work on?
  • What kind of experience do you want them to have?

Share your goals with the parents.  Let them be a part of the process.  Teach them, as well as the students, the art of performing.  Other things to think about:

  • Performance etiquette (Give your full attention to the performers on stage.  This means exiting and entering between dance numbers, clapping at the end of each dance, refraining from talking and eating, etc.)
  • Proper make-up and hair.  I am not a fan of little ones in lots of make-up and excessive hair spray. Dance is about  movement not hair.  Too much hair and make-up can be a distraction to the little ones.  If they are focused on the bobby pins they will not be focused on performing.
  • Let the parents know you will need a moment to say “a job well done!” I think it is important to review with the students what they learned/experienced at the end of class.  This is just as important on performance day.  See if you can have a moment with each class at the end of the performance even if it’s only for each student to say one thing he or she learned or enjoyed about performing.  And it is important that they hear praise from you and maybe something you learned as well!
  • Nothing is perfect, nor should it be.   I tell parents and students dance is a performing art not a “let’s tape it and watch it on TV” art.  What I mean by that is it’s about experiencing art – live!  Anything can happen, which is awesome.  It can be scary too. Children’s feelings are important and performing should not be forced but encouraged.  No matter how much we practice, anything goes.  There is no right or wrong;  just a moment to learn and experience something new.

To get back to my previous story about my first year teaching, I think the parents wound up making hats for the kids. So, they wore tank tops, leggings and hats.  In the end, I learned that a little sparkle added to the excitement.  Having some extra pizazz didn’t take away from what I was teaching.  It is all about balance.  The next year I had a tie-dye party with one class and my 5 year old ballet class wore tutus.  I still think it is very important to be budget conscious but also expectation conscious as well.  With everyone on the same page, performance time can be a magnificent time to learn, develop, explore and ultimately have fun!

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10 Credits Dancers Take With Them to College

Today’s guest post is courtesy Vicki Nelson. She and I connected over blogging but discovered a shared appreciation for dance. In addition to her professional experience within higher education, Vicki is the parent of two post-college daughters and one daughter currently in college. She studied dance for many years herself and enjoyed being a dance mom for 18 years. With this article, she’s put into words what a credit dance education, and arguably the arts in general, can be to young adults entering college.

Dance Education May Lead to College Success

Photo by bamarina09

As the mother of three daughters, I have spent 18 years as a dance mom. My daughters loved to dance. Each girl took ballet and jazz and one daughter added tap to the mix. We spent a lot of time at the dance studio! Two daughters have now graduated from college and the third is not far behind. No one dances any more.

Was it all a waste of time, money and energy? Of course not! My girls had fun, and learned to love and appreciate the arts. They gained a bit of grace and became more comfortable with their bodies. They made new friends. They had a great role model in their teacher. None of us regrets a minute of the time spent dancing.

However, I’ve come to realize that there are even more important benefits of growing up studying dance once students head off to college.

Qualities Successful Dancers and Students Share

As a college professor I work with college students every day. I see the qualities that successful students have, and I see the qualities that the less successful students lack. I believe that the dance education that my daughters received helped to reinforce many of the important qualities that made them successful in college and will help them succeed in their lives. I’d like to suggest ten of those qualities here.

  1. Time Management

    This may be the single most important quality necessary for success in college. Students who know how to plan ahead, organize, and balance their lives are the students who succeed. Children who grow up adding dance to their weekly activities, especially those who may take several classes each week, must learn to manage their time. They learn to balance, to prioritize, to multitask, to make choices and sacrifices. These lessons will definitely give them an advantage when they get to college.

  2. Discipline

    Anyone who has ever taken a dance class knows that it requires discipline. It requires discipline to show up to class, to control your body, to practice, to focus on the teacher. It requires discipline to give up other things to make room in your life for what is important to you. Students learn, and are able to practice, the discipline of making and following through with choices. When faced with choices in college, these students will be prepared.

  3. Passion

    Photo by ssanyal

    Students who are involved in a dance program have the opportunity to pursue something that they love. In following their passion, they experience the benefits and the satisfaction that comes from following your heart. Hopefully, when they get to college, they will follow a passion for something – whether or not it is dance. They will commit to something simply because they love it – not necessarily because of a class, or a grade, or a career move. Loving something that you do is important in keeping balance in your life.

  4. Commitment

    Dance students learn that doing anything well requires a commitment. That commitment takes time, energy, sacrifice, and follow-through. Dancers learn to stick with something. You cannot become a dancer over night. It takes time to develop as a dancer. College students, too, need to recognize that some things take time to develop and require a commitment of time, energy and sacrifice. In this often commitment-phobic age, students who know the value of commitment will make a difference – for themselves and for others.

  5. Hard work

    Dance is hard work. As much fun as it may be, as fulfilling and satisfying as it may be, as good as it is for the soul, it is hard work. Dancers learn how to put in the hard work to achieve something. They are not afraid of doing something difficult. They know that they need to tackle a difficult task (or step, or routine) and break it down and work at it. Many college students worry about hard – hard courses, hard instructors, hard majors. Students who are willing, and able, and unafraid, to take on challenges achieve more.

  6. Technique

    Photo by bombarosa

    Dancers spend much of their time learning to perfect, or at least improve, their technique. They know from experience that doing something well often happens because of all of the small details. A good dancer knows that a beautiful dance grows from good technique. Details matter. Details add up. Details take hard work. Paying attention to the smallest of details can make the difference.

  7. Skill-building

    Dancers understand that there is always room for improvement. No matter how long you have been dancing, no matter how good you are, no matter how clearly you understand a step or how instinctive a move has become, there is always room for improvement. Dancers learn that you never stop growing in your ability, that there is always somewhere to grow. In college, they will continue to strive for something more.

  8. Criticism

    Dance students understand that criticism is not a bad word. They understand that true criticism means helping someone find the best in themselves by giving them feedback. They understand that criticism is good and that good criticism helps them grow. They understand, because they have heard it being given for years, how to give good criticism to others. College students who are able to receive – and use – criticism will gain more from others. College students who know how to constructively criticize others – positively, specifically, non-emotionally – will be able to help others.

  9. Creativity

    Dance is not technique. Dance is not skill. Dance is not discipline or hard work. Although all of those qualities are required, dance is ultimately a creative work of art. Dance students begin to understand that they have something within themselves that they bring to a dance. Dance students begin to understand that dance is greater than they are. It is the ultimate unity of the music, the choreography, the technique and the soul of the dancer that creates the dance. Dancers learn to tap that creative energy within themselves – and they will bring that creativity to all that they do.

  10. Self Investment

    Ultimately, dancers learn to throw themselves completely into whatever they do. They blend the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual into a greater whole. Students who head off to college understanding, and having experienced, this totality of themselves will be better able to seek and maintain a balance in their lives.

My daughters no longer dance – although I continue to hope that they may return to it some day – but they have reaped countless benefits from their dance experience. The life lessons which they have gained gave them a head start in college – and in life. Current dance students may not yet realize that each time they lace up their pointe shoe, or take their place at the barre, or practice just one more pirouette, they are preparing themselves for life.

Vicki Nelson currently teaches communication at a small liberal arts college and has more than 25 years of experience in higher education as a teacher, academic advisor and administrator. She founded College Parent Central, a website designed to help parents navigate through the college years, to give parents information about how to be productively involved in their student’s college life while finding ways to allow their student to gain independence. Visit Vicki’s website at www.collegeparentcentral.com or contact her at vnelson@collegeparentcentral.com.

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How To Discuss Problems With Your Studio Director and Be Heard

Are you looking to suggest a new class, program, etc. to your studio director? You may be interested in the post Approaching Your Teacher

Ideally parents and studio directors would see eye to eye on everything but we all know that it doesn’t always happen that way. Dance parents invest almost as much (if not equal) time as dance students in their dance school. Not to mention, the financial investment for lessons, costumes, private classes, competitions, and more. It isn’t unusual or surprising, therefore, that parents may have a lot to say about how a studio is run.

Parents, it is not at all unreasonable to express your concern over the policies at your school. However, if you are hoping to discuss changes with a teacher or director, follow this plan for making your approach.

  1. Take a breath
  2. Develop an argument
  3. Time your approach
  4. Buffer your complaint
  5. Be willing to listen
  6. Be willing to walk away

Take A Breath

Often when there is a problem or we’re upset about something, our feelings get all jumbled up with our reasons for wanting to see change happen. For example, a dance mom recently contacted me with concern about the attire (bra tops and booty shorts) which older company dancers are wearing for class or for assisting with younger students. In her question she added one reason she wants to see a change – the attire is not morally upstanding, and several ways it makes her feel – she finds it embarrassing, believes this makes the girls poor role models, and maintains that it does not match the values she wishes to uphold for her daughter (a younger student at the school).

Whether or not you or I agree with her reason or her feelings, they are legitimate. However, if she were to approach the director with only one reason and a whole jumble of feelings, you might see how this could be a problem, especially if the director doesn’t agree with that rationale or have the same feelings. Therefore, it is important to always take a moment. a breath. a day. a week. or two! to think through your argument.

Imagine the director feels the girls are good role models and that they show this in ways outside of what they wear. Imagine the director of the school does not share her value system, or disagrees that wearing this attire is morally incorrect. Imagine he/she is not embarrassed by the attire (or lack thereof) – many dancers don’t have the same uncomfortable feelings about the human form as others because they spend so much time on study and analysis of the body. Imagine no other parents or teachers at the studio have expressed concern on the matter.

When a parent presents well-thought out arguments for how or why the director should be handling something differently, he/she is much more likely to consider the complaint.

Develop An Argument

Before approaching a studio owner/director with a concern it is a good idea to think through the varying reasons a change may be in order. The rationale for your argument can include the personal reasons you would like to see things done differently but may also include other arguments to support your claim.

Going back to the problem with attire, our concerned dance mom could argue that girls struggling with weight or body insecurities (like breast size) may feel additional pressure or inadequacy when surrounded by girls in clothing that hides (or supports) nothing. The dancer uniform of leotard and tights allows the instructor to see what they need to – it won’t solve any difficulties a student is having with body image, but the wide variety of class appropriate leotards, support garments, and warm-ups means greater likelihood that young women of varying body types will find something that works for them. In the case of this mom, the director is a male. There is a chance he’s never thought of it that way and this argument alone could be enough to sway him if presented calmly and clearly.

This is but one practical argument. Coming up with multiple grounds for concern increases your chance of finding one that makes the difference.

Time Your Approach

This is so important! I can speak from experience as one on the receiving end of parent concerns (for a variety of issues) that the way a parent approaches me can have a tremendous affect on my response. Think about the ways this is true for yourself, in your work or at home!

The timing of your approach can make or break your argument. Set a time that is convenient for the teacher/studio owner to sit down for a discussion rather than confronting her between classes or while she is “on duty” with other responsibilities of the work day.

Hopefully your studio has a protocol or outlet for communicating concerns. For instance, when or how to approach an individual teacher with a concern or question and when it is best to set up a meeting with the studio owner. I recently sat in on a teleseminar with Suzanne Gerety and Kathy Blake of DanceStudioOwner.com in which they addressed the “Diva Syndrome” at studios. I was so impressed with the thorough system of dealing with problems and confrontations that has been developed at Kathy Blake Dance Studios over the years. They have managed to empower dance teachers and set clear guidelines for studio parents and students. If your studio does not have such a protocol established, you may need to go forward more carefully. Thoughtfully deciding to whom, how, and when you’ll address your concern. Please, don’t talk, gossip about, or sway opinions on the issue with other parents, students, or teachers. It won’t help your case and it will lead to negative feelings on every level.

Buffer Your Complaint

I’ve spent years teaching and, like most jobs worth doing, it is a thankless one. Someone who has taken the time to offer compliments along the way, or who approaches me with positive things to say about the tremendous work I’ve put in, gets further than those who approach me only to say something negative or tell me when I’ve done something wrong. Dance teachers and studio directors are no different from anyone else in their desire for criticisms to be delivered with care. So, making yourself heard is often a matter not of what you say but how you say it.

Be Willing To Listen

Most instructors think and debate with themselves on each choice they make. We are heavily invested in your child too! A teacher has a right to her opinions, feelings, and choices just as you, the parent, have a right to yours. Once you have had your say, stay open to the arguments she presents. Her reasons may be good ones!

Be Willing To Walk Away

You may do all the “right” things when you approach the studio owner and still not receive the desired response. It is okay to request change as long as you are willing to also accept that it is the director or teacher’s prerogative to run things according to his values and/or the prevailing attitude of her customers, and leave the school respectfully if preserving his choices will compromise the values you seek to uphold or if you no longer feel comfortable in the environment.

Confessions of a Busy Dance Mom

Do you have one of ‘those’ moms at your studio?

You know, the one who doesn’t read the notices about payments due, rehearsal schedules, or performance times?

Or do you have one who drags their feet and doesn’t sign up until the last minute?

What about the mom who calls you all the time, emails constantly or has a million questions?

You might have more than one at your studio!

Communicating with parents is one of the most frequently reported challenges and problems that dance teachers and studio owners face when it comes to running a successful business.

Guess what? I am one of those moms!

I’m probably a great example of some of the moms at your studio. A mom who can barely find the time to get the lunches packed and get to school on time, let alone read the many papers and emails and notices that come home on a regular basis.

Here’s just a few reasons why:

  • My 3 year old daughter recently refused to go to dance class in anything except her fleeced footed PJ’s and absolutely freaks out at the idea of me putting her hair in a ponytail.
  • My minivan is what I call my ‘mobile office’. Some days it seems like I get in and out of my van to drop-off, pick-up, drop-off, run errands, pick-up about 20 times.
  • I get invited to dozens of events by email: pampered chef parties, scrapbooking events, birthday parties, girls nights out, volunteer days at my kids school, parent committees, the list is endless. If I can RSVP to half, I’m doing well.
  • My dining room table on most days serves as a place to fold laundry.
  • I run from work to soccer practice then to music class. We have school and dance class and work again. Then it’s over to the studio, back to my home office, and school again. My google calendar looks like a puzzle of appointments!

It’s no wonder that communicating with parents is a top concern and complaint of dance teachers and studio owners!

Can you relate? There’s good news here…

Teachers and Studio Owners, increase your success in effectively communicating with parents by keeping them engaged and involved through a variety of modes of communication.

  1. If there is an important date or deadline that I should know about please deliver that communication to me in a variety of ways, more than one time.
    • Post announcements in the studio, announce it after class, post it on the studio website, email me. I need more than one reminder and it’s not that I don’t care, it’s that sometimes I just cannot record that date into my calendar at that moment or the form could be lost among many others.
    • Thank you for going out of your way to let us know about important dates and deadlines.
  2. Ask me what I can do to help. Seriously.
    • Believe it or not, even in the midst of the chaos with a couple of kids most moms want to be involved and help out.
    • Do you need a parent volunteer at the show?
    • Need someone to steam costumes or maybe email moms I know to let them know spots are still open in dance class on Tuesday mornings? If you don’t ask, I think you have it all handled, by all means ask. If I can’t help this time around, I’ll make sure next time.
  3. I’m looking to the internet first, you should be too.
    • With my busy life, one thing has made my life easier: the internet. I like to register my kids for their activities at off hours, I check my email from my smart phone, I Google everything and I’m communicating with my friends and work colleagues on social media.
    • Thanks for keeping your website up to date, posting important news, and keeping in touch online. It really helps me know what is going on at the studio. Even better, I like to let my friends know and I’m happy to share it with them.

Lastly, and MOST importantly: Thank YOU

I am one of ‘those’ moms who may not say it often enough, or perhaps even at all.

Thank you. All I want for my child is to see them succeed and be happy. Thanks for making dance class fun for my kids. I appreciate the time and thoughtfulness you show with your enthusiasm and praise.

Dance class is a highlight of the week for my child. You create that moment each and every week.

From all those moms and parents out there that may not say it, thank you for all that you do to keep the joy and magic of dance alive in the world.

Help! My Child Doesn’t Listen to the Dance Teacher!

Young children at a ballet class. They will le...

Image via Wikipedia

Concerned parents sometimes send questions regarding their child’s dance education. Keeping in mind that email questions often paint a limited picture, I do my best to offer sound advice based upon my experiences as a teacher. Recently a reader approached me with a series of questions. Based on her daughter’s difficulties with listening to the ballet teacher, this particular mother was wondering if perhaps ballet was just “not right” for her four-year-old daughter and was considering discontinuing her involvement, but wanted a second opinion.

Without observing the class or the child, it is obviously impossible to offer more than guidelines or things to consider when a child is not responding or responding negatively to instruction. Knowing that other parents may be asking themselves similar questions, I am offering an expanded version of the advice I gave to the parent mentioned above.

My child is not listening to the teacher. Is this a developmental phase?

Children do test limits and this is not limited to preschoolers – How do you know where a boundary is and feel secure that it will always be there if you do not occasionally walk to the edge of it?

Teachers and parents help children by making boundaries and expectations clear (often before the child has a chance to test them). When a child continually resists or pushes, even when limits are clear and consistent,  I suspect that something is interfering with the child’s ability to respond accordingly. A wide variety of things could be the source of this interference. Taking steps to discover what is going on with an individual child and what does work for him or her is a big step toward improvement of the child’s behavior in class.

I suggest you make an appointment with the child’s teacher to discuss what he/she is seeing in class, as well as set up a time to observe the class if possible. It is important for teachers and parent(s) to work together on possible solutions.

Is a preschooler (under 5-years old) too young to be expected to listen?

Absolutely not – in fact, the benefit of an early start in dance has more to do with the practice of following instructions in a class format than it does with preparing for later success as a dancer (some of the greatest professionals have had “late” starts). I’ve rarely encountered a child that does not enjoy moving (and learning about the principles of movement) when it is presented in a developmentally friendly way. This, in my humble opinion, should be the focus of early dance education.

What can I do if my child isn’t following directions in class?

  1. Dance class
    Image by Oude School via Flickr

    Keep your routine at home as predictable and peaceful as possible. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep, eating well, and try to relieve any stress or anxiety he/she may have at home or in class (is this a new teacher from last year, is there conflict between your child and another, has the class environment intensified in some way?) Sometimes even small or unexpected things can affect a child’s attention and behavior.

  2. Be clear and consistent with expectations at home and compare these to the class expectations. Of course, your style at home and the way your child’s teacher runs his/her class will not be identical. However, communicating and receiving (with an open mind) ideas about what works (or doesn’t) for a particular child can enlighten a plan for how to help a child cooperate, both at home and in the studio. If the rules/guidelines at home or within the studio are not in line with each other (for example the child is expected to not interrupt the teacher while talking but this behavior is pardoned at home, or at home a “countdown” warning is given before leaving or moving on to another activity and in class activities change without warning), the child may become confused about what is expected of him/her. Consistency is key.
  3. Help your child establish a good relationship with his/her teacher. On her website, Dr. Laura Markham offers some tips on how to include your child’s teacher in daily conversation in a way that will help your child form an emotional and familiar attachment with him/her. Click here to read the article, which also includes other ways you can help your preschooler learn to listen to a teacher.

I have a bit more to add on this subject. Tomorrow, look for the continuation of this post in which I discuss class structure for young dance students and how certain experiences may discourage your child’s attentiveness in class.

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Parents, Which Type of Helicopter Are You?

Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Bell 206 ...
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I’m a fan of College Parent Central, a blog mainly written for parents of college students. Blogger, Vicki Nelson recently did a three-part series about “Helicopter Parents.” As I read the articles, the dreaded term “stage mom” came to mind. Parents of university-bound students are not the only ones who “hover,” and therefore, Vicki’s positive message about redefining and examining parental involvement in a child’s life certainly has applications in the dance world. So, I thought I’d share these articles with you – just follow the links below. Enjoy!

Affirming “Helicopter Parents”: Redefining the Title

This is the first of three posts that consider the concept of college helicopter parents.  The concept is certainly not new, but it warrants continual examination – and sometimes redefinition.  In this post, we look at the definition of helicopter parents, as well as some of the motivation behind parental hovering.  In our next post, we will examine who helicopter parents are and how they operate, and in our final post, we will consider the consequences of helicoptering and suggest some possible ways in which parents might hover productively.

Is all hovering bad? What are the negatives? The positives?

How involved should a parent be in a child’s dance education?

What are the indicators that a parent’s hovering is producing negative results?

Parents, students, and teachers, I welcome your thoughts on the subject!

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9 Posts for Parents

What It Takes – Becoming a Ballerina

A post with links to some excellent articles and first-hand experiences about becoming a ballerina (or ballerino) and the sacrifices a dancer and their family makes during the process.

Dance of Independence

What to expect when a young child begins their first dance class, how to calm their worries, and encourage their independence.

The Thought That Counts

Gift-buying strategies for that special dance teacher.

What to Look for in a Dance Studio

A favorite collection of posts here at Dance Advantage that offer things to think about when choosing a dance school and also how to decide if a school is right for you and your dancer.

Life as a Dance Mom: Finding the Balance Between Friend and Fanatic

Accentuate the Positive

Similar themes for these two articles. One is written by Guest Poster and dance mom, Mariangela. The other is my take on the subject.

Appraising the Value of Praise

Encouraging self-confidence – an article for parents and teachers, this offers examples of ways to praise your dancer.

When Should My Child See a Doctor for Injuries?

Some guidelines for concerned parents or those who’d like to be prepared when injuries occur.

A FREE Download for Parents of Dancers

This free e-book by Lisa Howell is still available and highly recommended for parents of dancers (particularly those in ballet and/or pointe).

Accentuate the Positive

Parents help competitive dance live up to its potential

Just because a pursuit is artistic, does not mean it is immune to the same negativity that can sometimes permeate the competitive sports atmosphere. We’ve all seen the screaming parents on the sideline at sporting events. But you know, offending guardians in the arts have their own label…. Stage Parents!

Though there are plenty of stage parents outside of competitive dance, the sport-like atmosphere of competing can bring out the worst in some. Still, just like sports, competitive dance has great potential to motivate students and increase self-confidence in young performers,  plus there’s the opportunity to broaden minds and discover a variety of dance styles or modes of expression… The list goes on, for there is certainly much that can be gained.

A parental approach which supports and encourages the positive aspects of an experience is the same, regardless of the activity or discipline.

I’m still new at parenting. Yet, I’ve already found success in applying some of the principles below with my toddler. Consequently, I’ve found they are fundamentally good guidelines in teaching and in leadership/management roles, as well. If you are the parent of a competitive dancer, I encourage you to share your own thoughts, views, and advice below this post.

“As a parent, how do you encourage and reinforce the positive aspects of competitive dance?”

By supporting and building the self-reliance (confidence) of dancers with your actions


Approval – Dancers need to know that their 100% effort equals your 100% approval.

  • Show interest in the process not just the product. Learning to dance is an endeavor that takes time and perseverance. Learning and performing choreography is only part of that process but it easily becomes the primary focus when students are competing. Ask your child questions about what they are discovering about movement, about the art form, about themselves throughout their training. This keeps performance and competition in its place (where it belongs) as just another part of the process.
  • Be aware of what you are communicating. We convey, with our bodies and with our actions, perhaps more than we could ever say with words. Showing that a mistake is not a big deal, that you are proud of a child’s efforts, that opposing teams are not the enemy, that not receiving a trophy is an opportunity rather than a disaster, that teachers and judges deserve respect is important. Action and reaction speak volumes.
  • Appreciate their achievements – I’ve written about methods of praising achievement before in Appraising the Value of Praise. The article explores the difference between praise that describes the accomplishment rather than evaluating the child for succeeding (or failing) at a skill. It also offers tips for being specific when you offer praise.

Comfort – Dancers need you to help them work through disappointments and errors

  • Discuss mistakes and ways to improve when your child is ready. Immediately following the performance is not the time. The appropriate time will depend on your child. However, when the moment comes, remember that discussion is key. Begin with a question, not with your solution. Listen. Help them to assess and learn from their mistakes rather than give advice on how they can be better.
  • Resist joining ‘em when you can’t beat ‘em. It can be frustrating when teachers, other parents, and students around you or your child behave inappropriately or negatively. It is natural for parents to want to jump to their child’s defense when he/she is mistreated or unfavorably affected by the actions of someone else. When dealing with negativity, don’t stoop to a similar or lower level to deal with it. Instead, regard this as an opportunity to model and teach your child about appropriate and positive behavior. If your child’s safety (physical or mental) is at risk, approach the offender with calm (take a breath before choosing your action) and with respect, and consider removal from the situation if it is in your child’s best interest.
  • Recognize that not all hurts require a Band-Aid. As mentioned above, parents feel compelled to protect their children. Sometimes parents will stop at nothing to find ways to fix a problem or just make their child’s hurt or disappointment go away. Often what the child needs most is someone to help them put things in perspective and learn to accept things they cannot or need not change. (also see Trust below)

Trust – Dancers need to be able to trust you and learn to trust in themselves

  • Nurture trust in abilities – The goal is to raise an individual that can do for him/herself the majority of the time – sew elastic on her own ballet slippers, communicate effectively with teachers or peers, stand up for himself, be on time, etc. When you do things your child could do for himself, you undermine her self-trust.
  • Be reliable – Children need to trust that you’ll always be there to offer them support when they need it. They need to trust you’ll not embarrass them by reacting negatively to a situation in front of friends or teachers. They need to trust that you’ll be consistent in upholding your values and priorities. They need to trust you’ll listen to their thoughts and desires. They need to trust that your dreams for them won’t overshadow their own dreams.

Truth – Dancers need you to be realistic

  • Encourage them to do their best, not be the best. The truth is, there is no such thing as “the best,” just varying degrees of capability. Wipe the idea from your mind that a child could, would, or should be “the best” if only _______. Help children to focus on learning, growing, refining their skills so that they can best themselves.
  • Photo by Melinda Shelton

    Help them to remain focused on goals. Competitors that focus on winning or receiving a medal/reward lose perspective. They may push hard until they are awarded or surpass their competition but lose their motivation once they’ve done so. Competitors that focus on self-improvement (as an individual and/or as a a team) by setting both short-term and long-term goals experience continual success. They push themselves to succeed because even those small achievements are thrilling to attain. Parents can talk with children about the goals they’d like to set for themselves, about the goals their teacher has mentioned, and help them celebrate and even document their achievements.

  • Keep it real. The truth is that no one is good at everything. Mistakes are inevitable. You really can’t win them all. Nobody is perfect. Winning an award, a trophy, a scholarship is not something you can control – your own performance is. We learn more from failures than victories. Not everyone will become a professional dancer. Dreams and goals can change. Sometimes you just don’t get what you want. Often, meeting goals takes time, patience, and determination.
    Mariangela, a dance mom who is keeping it real, offered a great piece of advice in her guest contribution here at Dance Advantage: “Be sure to love your child unconditionally. It’s easy to judge and criticize when we invest a lot of our time and energy (and money) into something. At the end of the day, they are your babies, your child before anything else.” Read the rest of her insightful article here.

Like a flower that continues to grow when all is against it, even negative environments have spawned beauty. But only the hearty survive. To grow a garden of children that value dance as an art form, value themselves and those around them, and flourish not only in dance but in life, requires that adults (teachers and parents) make every effort to provide favorable conditions. It doesn’t happen just because the potential is there.

I have written this post in response to a blogging contest run by Liberty Mutual’s ResponsibleSports.com. They are offering prizes but, more importantly, I felt the topic was relevant to Dance Advantage  readers. I hope you find this post equals the standard of the others here. I was pleased to find that ResponsibleSports is really an excellent resource which provides parents with tips on how to talk with children and with coaches, and offers tools to accentuate the positives in team sports. Their materials most certainly apply to dance and I encourage you to visit and check it out for yourself!

College Days Ahead? Don’t Miss “College Parent Central”

I’ve provided a series of posts on Dance Advantage that provide prospective dance majors and minors with necessary tools for navigating within the dance department. CLICK HERE to visit The College Guide.

Photo by Amanda

Photo by Amanda

The transition to college, however, is a significant one. Therefore, I’d like to share a new resource called College Parent Central. As the blog name indicates, its focus is on arming the parents of college students with the tools they need to assist their college student. The information within, though, is just as relevant for students who wish to prepare themselves for what lies ahead.

Here are just a few samples of what you’ll find there:

The Course Syllabus: Roadmap to Success
Summer Preparations For Your College Student’s Transition to Freshman Year
Should My Student Consider Deferring Enrollment for College?
What Should My College Student Consider When Choosing a Schedule of Classes?
College Students and Credit Cards
Should My College Student Have a Car on Campus?
Discussing Campus Safety With Your College Student

Enjoy exploring the site!

College students, are there websites or blogs you would recommend to others about to head off to college?

When Should My Child See A Doctor for Dance Injuries?

Most injuries in dance don’t happen suddenly. Instead, students often suffer from chronic overuse injuries. Some minor impairments can be treated without visiting a physician. Too often, though, smaller injuries become more severe because proper care is not administered early or because dancers continue self-care despite warning signs that more specialized care may be necessary.

Parents and teachers of children and teens want to know, “What are the warning signs that a dance student should see a doctor?”

1.  Here is what you need to know…

Pain = Cause for Concern

Pain is our body’s way of telling us something is wrong. Even the youngest children (3 or 4 years of age) can tell us where and when something hurts. Unfortunately, sometimes dancers learn very early to overlook or ignore pain. Teachers and parents can create an environment in which students develop a mindset to recognize and respect their body’s warning signals. There is no gain in ignoring pain.

2.  Here is the answer to the question…

If the pain, discomfort, or problem persists beyond 2-4 days, consult your teacher. If the teacher does not see the source of, or cannot correct the problem your child should see a doctor.

Photo by Amanda Tait

Photo by Amanda Tait

Acute Injuries

These are usually obvious because they come about as a result of an incident. Landing wrong from a jump. Falling from a lift. Slipping while crossing the stage. Severe injuries like broken bones obviously need immediate attention and a visit to the doctor. For most common ailments…

  1. First aid suggests the R.I.C.E method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) for strains, sprains, swelling, etc.
  2. In addition, staying hydrated and eating well promotes healing.
  3. See #2 above

More about treating common dance injuries

Overuse/Chronic injuries

Overuse or chronic injuries are sometimes triggered by an event that is allowed to persist without proper rest or rehabilitation. However, often they are caused or aggravated by other circumstances (this is a great list, adapted from this one about kids in sports):

  • growth spurts
  • imbalance between strength and flexibility
  • inadequate warm-up
  • excessive activity (for example, increased intensity, duration, or frequency of training)
  • improper technique
  • unsuitable floors

Signals of Chronic Pain


Photo by Ville Säävuori

Photo by Ville Säävuori

Deborah Vogel (thebodyseries.com) offers these four signals of chronic pain, as well as an excellent explanation of  how dance injuries start in small ways, in an article about a hamstring/sciatic injury. I highly recommend you read her words for yourself.

  1. Pain that gets progressively worse during working out.
  2. Pain that comes after you work out and the next day comes back after less working.
  3. Pain that is accompanied by a certain movement (e.g. arabesque).
  4. No real sense of “pain” but a definite restriction of movement.

It is normal to have temporary muscle soreness after a challenging class or when working in a new way. Anything that persists, particularly in the ways mentioned above, should be discussed with a physician or dance/athlete specialist. This should be done sooner, rather than later (see #2 above).

A Note on Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

These are often overused in the dance community. Sometimes a doctor will recommend them and they can help bring down swelling. However, they are misused when taken to “get through a class” or otherwise mask pain (see #1 at the top of this post).


Dancers often re-injure themselves when they return too quickly to activity. Temporary muscle soreness can sometimes improve with a return to class. However, if moving makes it feel worse, the body may need more rehabilitation time and/or medical attention.

After and injury, always ease back into activity. It is better to be safe than sorry. Dancers don’t like to hear this when they are eager to get back or feel pressure to return to class but, remind them that temporary setbacks are just that – temporary, and not worth permanently injuring oneself.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”


Of course, preventing injury in the first place is ideal. Although sometimes this is not entirely possible there is a lot a parents can do to keep their dance students injury-free.

Find a studio that is committed to safety

  • What is your studio’s philosophy?
  • Is there proper flooring (i.e. – something sprung or with some “give”)?

Find a studio that is committed to quality instruction

  • Do the students spend a reasonable portion of their class warming-up (not stretching but individual body-part and full-body exercises that encourage blood flow)?
  • Are students encouraged to master foundational basics before moving on?
  • Do students receive individual attention and feedback from their teachers?
  • Etc… (see this series for more on quality instruction)

Encourage dancers to stay hydrated

Encourage healthy, balanced nutrition

Some other things you can do

  • Encourage rest and proper sleep habits
  • Encourage a positive outlook
  • Remove the stress and pressure to “work through” or “push on” through injury
  • Try cross-training with other activities (not to load extra onto already tired kids but to promote balance in the body; you might even speak to your child’s teacher or studio owner about alternatives within the studio)

Check Out These Related Articles!!

Learning How to Gauge Injuries Can Prevent You From Being Sidelined

This is an excellent article from Dance Spirit magazine. It offers easy guidelines about when to sit out and when to see a doctor.

Talking to Your Doctor About Injuries

Another one from Dance Spirit, this article lays out exactly what doctor’s need to know from dancers. A dancer’s “normal” may be different than a non-dancer due to the type of training dancers receive. Physicians need to know what you were capable of before your injury. This article has a lot of great information and stresses that dancers should not minimize their pain, as is their tendency.

Breaking Tiny Foot Bones

Stress fracture signs and treatment on Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes Blog.

Exclusively Ours — Anthony LoCascio Talks About Danceregister


In case you haven’t noticed, social networks are all the rage. Since 2002, when MySpace emerged as one of the Internet’s earliest leaders in social networking, interaction online has been focused upon building communities within this vast realm.

One such community focused entirely on dance is Danceregister.com. Though you may not have heard of it yet, the site has been around since 2007. According to Anthony LoCascio, the master teacher and Tap Dogs alum who helms the community, “Danceregister seeks to unify the dance world and to increase the strength of present dance-related entities for a more prolific future of dance in the physical, mental, and digital world.” Based in the Silicon Valley, Danceregister is in an excellent geographic position to investigate, explore, and test online technologies and ideas before they are widely exposed to the public. Therefore, Danceregister is ever-evolving, making use of these new technologies to further their mission, which is to create a positive legacy that represents and makes available, all aspects of the dance studio community in one safe, helpful, user-friendly, positive, like-minded network.

Anthony took some time to talk with me about social networks, Danceregister, and the online dance community.

Dance Advantage: In 2007 you launched Danceregister.com, a “gated social networking community.” Who is Danceregister for?

Anthony LoCascio: Though it was originally created for the safety of dancers, Danceregister ultimately became useful to each individual demographic of the dance industry. Our community is utilized by studio owners, teachers, students, parents, merchants, services, and even other dance-related web sites. It is exclusively ours, exclusively dance!

Photo by William Hook

Photo by William Hook

DA: I understand that parents are notified when their child applies to join Danceregister. That’s a great way to keep parents in the loop about their child’s activity online.

AL: We do send an email to the parent, as well as verification letters to dance studios. We monitor the site personally and have a volunteer “crew” to report anything suspicious in the community. In two years we have had a perfect record when it comes to the safety of our members.

DA: A gated community implies that there are additional security measures that ensure student safety. Are there ways you make certain that only members of the dance community are gathering at Danceregister?

AL: Because nothing in the world is perfect, we use a few methods which act as a checks and balances system. Some we make public and others we keep private. All of this is because of our main goal – safety. No other dance website can claim they are as safe as us.

DA: You are extremely passionate about the subject of online safety and I know that Danceregister was born in part from your concerns about students’ security on MySpace and other networks. What are some of the dangers related to the use of social networking sites?

AL: The idea is not to scare anyone but to educate them on the facts, both good and bad. In addition to personal safety concerns on Myspace and Facebook, there are issues that may result in damage to your computer, the spread of viruses, unauthorized access to accounts, and spam.

Teachers are also quickly learning that by using social networks they expose themselves to a “business mixing with personal life” scenario. Just because they don’t think to search out students online, doesn’t mean students are not searching for them. Plus assistant teachers may not be mature enough to see the damage one posted photo or video can do to a business. Look at Vanessa Hugeness (Disney), past American Idol contestants (Fox) or previous pageant winners (Trump Enterprises). Ask them what one mistake on the net can do to a person or how it can hurt a product or business. Also, studios are their own living, evolving worlds that can contain drama. Danceregister deters drama where a site like Bebo, Myspace, Youtube, or Facebook can easily fuel drama.

DA: So, in your opinion, should dance studios stay away from these larger networks altogether?

AL: When used properly, these sites can be useful. It would be wise to have a studio profile on all Facebook and Linkedin-type sites. These profiles should be used as marketing tools. They should include limited but clear contact info or links to your own studio web site. They should be seen as a way to direct traffic to your own web pages, not to “friend” students and parents. Studios should use these sites primarily for marketing and directing business. Danceregister, with its security measures, is better suited for personal networking and in-studio communication.

Image by AnnDerground

Image by AnnDerground

DA: Danceregister is free to join, will this always be the case?

AL: With the community currently small enough to control, we will continue to be free of charge. However, with provision of safety, technology, time and exposure comes growth and additional costs. In the future we may charge a nominal fee for a lifetime membership. This is to guarantee each and every parent has knowledge of their younger dancer’s presence in our network. As membership requests become more dense, this fee will help support the site and provide a faster even more efficient verification process. We can project the fee won’t be applied until late 2009 to mid 2010 and that it will be a minimum of $8.95 and not exceed $14.95 plus tax. The goal is to have the least expensive fee for a lifetime so there is no hassle associated with reoccurring fees.

One goal, which is firmly in place and will continue to be a focus, is to charge no fees for studio owners/teachers. However, to keep the site at certain standards, there will be fees for merchants & services in the future. I do not want Danceregister to become inundated with advertisements. We are not a vehicle which plans to rely on advertising. Danceregister has a personal, friendly, positive relationship with its users and represents itself and not other corporations. Any adverts will be limited in quantity and location.

DA: What are some of the things a parent, for instance, might do at Danceregister?

AL: There’s so much to do there. They could check out our forums, get or give advice, write reviews of conventions or competitions, post video, photos, quizzes, polls, and more all in a safe environment. They could consult with master teachers, visit my live chat (which occurs Mondays and Wednesdays from 3:30 to 4:30 PST), post questions to adjudicators of competitions, share or obtain knowledge of the dance world by reading live news and updates, and develop personal relationships within the global dance community. They could also look up their home studio’s information (each studio is divided into “mini-communities” or subsets), chat live via IM or audio/video with other parents, or have a meeting with a teacher — fewer trips into the studio!

And all of this applies for everyone, not just parents!

DA: In addition to running Danceregister, you are also a teacher. Do you think technology is changing the way we teach or the way students learn?

AL: Dance websites and exposure to individuals and ideas has been excellent for the dance community, as has accessibility and the ability to download instructional videos. I have a Dance4teachers subscriber who takes my tap DVD’s, uploads them to her Mac, and puts them on her ipod touch. Now she can reference them during class right in the palm of her hand. That is a big leap (pun intended) from less than 10 years ago when I was still sending people VHS tapes!

DA: What are some of your favorite resources for dancers and dance educators online?

AL: Early in 1999, when I started my first web site, just4tap.com, dance had a very limited online presence – mostly on forums. Therefore, there is great history on a forum site like dance.net. With blogs gaining recognition over the past few years, they have become the personal voices of the dance community. Tapdanceman, and Danceadvantage are blogs I personally frequent. Danceregister even has a public blog for people who are not part of the private community.

For investigating or developing professional dance gigs, there are sites like sceneinteractive, exploretalent, and many others. For music editing or cutting songs for a performance, there is www.musiceditingonline.com. Plus every dance media outlet now has web representation.

DA: Dance has certainly exploded online recently. How have you seen the Danceregister community grow and change since it began?

AL: When I started Danceregister, I had about 125 members and they were all from my local classes. The major focus of Danceregister was safety and due to the safety issues on MySpace, I chose not to advertise Danceregister directly to the public. Year one was all about working on the best ways to cost effectively provide an environment where it was safe to post videos and photos and chat about dance in a like-minded positive setting. I only used word of mouth to expose the community. That said, we had just over 350 members by the end of the first year.

Now confident in the verification system we had implemented since day one, year two’s focus has included content and exposure. We hit over 1000 members just before our two-year mark and have a great deal of content now on the site. It is time to let people know about Danceregister. Students are having fun, parents have peace of mind, and studios are starting to catch on to the communication benefits of the network. After all this hard work I am determined to get the word out!

DA: Well, I love to point my readers to dance resources online so, I’m happy to help with that part. Can you tell us more about what’s on the horizon for Danceregister?

AL: I am planning a video blog on Danceregister in September. These videos will follow me on an upcoming tour as I return to the stage with Tap Dogs. We are planning a contest also for September.  Just a few of the prizes are iPods, Danceregister swag, iTunes®/Napster/Rhapsody gift cards valued from $25 to $50, DVD classes provided by Dance4students, and more. The top prize will be a gift certificate for two concert tickets of your choice. I personally will be present at the Rhee Gold Teacher conference this summer. If you are at the event please feel free to stop by and say hello. Danceregister will have a table in the Exhibit Hall.