Just Trust: A Parent's Guide to getting back on the bleachers


I have taught dance to young children for over two decades. Through that time, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, with an insider’s look at parenting trends through the years. The great news is, the end goal for parents is still the same - to have healthy, kind, well-adjusted children. I am fortunate to work with amazing families who truly support their child’s passion. I have seen a shift, however, in the way that parents express that support -- moving from bleacher cheerleaders to sideline coaches. Now this is certainly a generalization because no two parents are made alike, but in general, I have seen a huge shift in a parent’s need to “get in the game” along with their child. Never before have I had parents give so much input on what class their child should be in, what costume they should wear, which song they should dance to...the list goes on.

Now you can peek at any dance teacher facebook group to see the long list of complaints about how annoying it is to have our expertise questioned by parents. However, I tend to wake up on the brightside every morning and lean over to drink from a glass half full, so you aren’t going to see me jump on the bandwagon of bemoaning our fate as underappreciated dance teachers. The fact of the matter is, parents want to be involved because they love what their child is doing. They are excited about it, and they want to feel their opinion matters. All of these are good things! I do, however, wish that parents would give themselves a break every once in a while.

I’m a mom of four and boy do I feel like I’m expected to wear a lot of hats. I should be an organic chef, an expert on healing oils, a master party-planner - and that’s all in addition to my daily tasks of chauffeur, nurse, and chief bottle washer. Seriously people, it’s exhausting! And now, to top it off, I should be an expert on every activity my child picks up. Apparently, in order to be an involved parent, I should tell their piano teacher whether they should play Mozart or Bach, coach the perfect spiral on their football toss, and ponder the most pleasing shade of pink on their watercolor art -- no thank you! To be honest, my mom didn’t even know what song I was dancing to until she showed up at my recital and would have never dreamed of commenting on any part of my dance training. It was outside of her reach, and that was okay.

So here is my plea to parents on behalf of your child’s teachers, and on behalf of us moms out here just barely hanging on - you don’t have to be all things to all people. Choose teachers for your child who you respect for their knowledge and for their values. Then step back and trust them to do the work. Trust that if your child doesn’t advance to the next level that they will still be learning. Trust that if your child isn’t first chair in the orchestra that they are strong enough to handle setbacks. Trust that if someone else gets chosen for the lead in the school play that your child may have more fun in the chorus. Just trust.

So let’s make a pact to expect a little less of each other and ourselves. It’s okay to let teachers and coaches do their jobs and to reclaim your title as chief cheerleader. I’ll take a seat on the bleachers right there beside you. And if you feel the need to bring the organic snacks and bedazzle the signs, that’s okay. I’ll be the mom holding the cheetos I dug out from the bottom of my purse. I won’t judge if you don’t.


Listen Up Buttercup!


This one is for all my dance teacher friends out there. It's that time of year again....heading in to a new dance season! And if you teach little ones, then you know that keeping your class focused is about as easy as herding cats! But lucky for you, I've got a few tricks of the trade to keep your dancer's focus where it should be - on you! We use a lot of techniques in class to keep our dancers busy, but my favorite way to get their attention is a fun call and response. Kids eat this up and love to answer back. So, here you go - pick your favorite or switch it up all year long. And if you have any other great ones to add to my list, let me know. 

Holy moly - GUACAMOLE

Shark Bait - OOH HA HA



Peanut butter - JELLY TIME

Winner winner - CHICKEN DINNER

To Infinity - AND BEYOND!


Red Robin - MMMMMMM


Du na na na (sing the Batman theme song) - BATMAN!

Scooby Dooby Doo - WHERE ARE YOU?

So there you go, loads of fun ways to call out to your dancers and get them engaged in your class - and to think you're pretty fun too. Happy dancing everyone!

Catching Teardrops


I was six years old. My mother’s footsteps echoed in the elementary school corridor as she sprinted to my classroom, summoned by a call from my teacher. She rushed to my side only to find that the floodgates to my uncontrollable sobbing had been opened because my desk was messy. I have always been a crier.

Through the years, my mom has rushed to my side on countless occasions and no matter how mundane the circumstance, her touch, her concern, and her ability to calm the floods has remained steady. I can still feel the cool touch of the back of her hand wiping away the tears from scraped knees, to teenage break ups, to the birth of my children. The highs and lows of my life have all been seen through tear-stained eyes. Now her tactics through the years were varied, from warm hugs, to a stoic, “you are a Duncan,” (i.e. toughen up), to my personal favorite mantra that she would ask me to recite to myself, “I can do hard things.” But she was there for every step and caught every tear.

Three years ago, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Having already survived breast cancer, her mission was clear. She is the daughter of a marine and going to battle was the only option. And so it began. Years of surgeries, procedures, chemotherapy, countless hospitalizations, and a fierce determination that she would survive. Through it all, I held her hand, drove her to each appointment, learned the path to 7th floor oncology by heart, and watched as my mom handled adversity in her own way - with nary a tear. Crying had never been my mom’s way. She was always loving, but also tough, and not one to sob over a Hallmark commercial - apparently, the waterworks genes were all saved for me. But one night, in the dark of the hospital room, I went to lay next to her in the bed. She had become so thin that I could easily slide in beside her, carefully avoiding tubes and wires. I rested my cheek on hers and sobbed silently trying not to wake her. When I looked up, her eyes were open and a single tear slid down her cheek. I reached up and gently caught it on the back of my hand.

Through the next several months, I saw more tears. Tears of pain, tears of regret, and tears of sorrow slip from my mom’s eyes. I tried my best to catch every one. And I cried buckets. I filled rivers of tears and they haven’t stopped flowing. Some days it feels as though they never will. So each time I feel them coming, I quickly wipe my eyes, take deep breaths, tell myself “I am a Duncan,” and repeat my daily mantra, “I can do hard things.” Because doing life without my mom is the hardest thing that I have ever done. And I would give anything for her to be here to catch one more teardrop.

Note: This season I choreographed a piece embodying this story entitled "Catching Teardrops." It was beautifully danced by Miss Emily Singer. Video below for those who are interested. Dedicated in loving memory to Eularee Duncan Smith. Gone but never forgotten.

Ten Steps to Be Ready for the New Dance Season


Choose Your Classes. Review the recommendations your teachers have made for you. They know you best, so take their advice to heart. Be sure you have technique classes first as your foundation. Then, include classes that you truly love and feel confident in. Finally, consider a class that is in a style you haven’t tried or might be outside of your comfort zone. Register now as classes fill and we want to see you in your favorite class!

Balance Your Schedule. Consider your schedule for life as well as dance. Be sure you have enough time for schoolwork, for friends, and for family. Dance should be one aspect of your life, but allow time for other interests as well.

Inventory Your Dancewear. Pull out last year’s dance clothes and take a look. Donate leotards that no longer fit and throw out tights with rips or stains. Get an accurate look at what you actually have for the season. Label EVERYTHING with your name inside so that we can get lost items back to you. Here are a few dance essentials you’ll want to have for the year:

  1. Black camisole leotard
  2. Nude underleo
  3. Black dance shorts
  4. Tights
  5. Correct dance shoes for each style

Check the Dress Code. Each class has a specific dresscode and the required shoes are what you need to get the most out of class. They will also be the same shoes used for performances and it is important to practice in what you will perform in. You’ll want to order your shoes early in case there are any fitting issues, so get orders in now. Click here to check out our online store.

Water bottle. You’ll want a water bottle for class that you can refill at home, is large enough to last through class time, and that you can easily label with your name. Food and drink are not allowed in the dance studio, but waterbottles are encouraged.

Stock up on hair supplies. Long hair must be secured from your face for dance class. Hair is a distraction and you want it to be out of the way so that you can focus in class. Purchase heavy strength rubberbands for class and keep extras in your dance bag. You should also have bobbypins and hairnets on hand for the season. Now is a great time to stock up.

Invite a friend. Dance is even better when it is shared. Our studio has a referral program that let’s you get paid to invite friends to dance - it’s a win-win! But most of all, sharing something you love with other people can make it even more fun. Don’t be afraid to let people know that you dance and see if they’d like to try a class with you. You never know who might be interested and just need a little extra boost of confidence that you can offer.

Mark Your Calendar. Dance is a ten month season and there are so many exciting performances and events. Be sure to mark your calendar now so that you know the commitments coming up. Your group relies on you and it’s important to take that seriously by tracking all extra rehearsals and shows.

Get To Know Your Teacher. You can check out the website before class to see who you will be working with. Every teacher has something valuable to offer and while a new teacher may be intimidating, go in to class with an open mind. A new teacher may just turn in to your favorite teacher! Check out the teacher’s bios on the ATD teacher page to learn a little about them.

Spread Some Sparkle! Dance is all about high energy, enthusiastic FUN! Come in to class with positive energy and ready to learn. Have a mindset that this is going to be the best season ever and infect those around you with your sparkle. We love dancing and can’t wait to love it even more with you!

Suck It Up Cupcake

Upstart_Crow_Web 17.jpg

I’m the mother of four amazing kiddos, ranging in age from eight to twenty-two. So that means that I have done it all -- from diapers to college applications, braiding doll hair to setting up dorm rooms. No part of it was easy – ever. At each stage of parenting, you fool yourself in to thinking the next part is going to be easier. I believe this is necessary for self-preservation. But coming from someone who is simultaneously on the other side, and still in the weeds, there is no easy path.

There has been a new trend in parenting though that has given me pause as an educator. I tried to find a beautifully articulated phrase, but gave up, so I’ll just say this – we have forgotten to teach our kids to suck it up. Now I say we, because I admit to my own shortcomings here as well. My mother would scoff at the lack of chores my children have and the fact that I still clean their rooms for them. But, in my defense, I have for the most part pulled it together and have been the recipient of many rolled eyes, slammed doors, and stomped feet – in my book, that means I’m winning.

As a dance teacher, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a parent tell me that little Suzy has decided that she doesn’t want to do dance anymore or Mary Jane is tired after school so they need to give her a break. Now don’t get me wrong, I do not agree with forcing your child to go to dance class. For my sake and theirs, I want to teach children who are as excited to come to class as I am to teach them. However, I’m talking more about the kids who don’t feel like dancing that day, or the teen who wants more time to socialize and can't be bothered to show up to practice. I’m sorry, but if I let my kids do nothing every time they said they didn’t feel like it, nothing would get done – period.

And believe me, I get it. My youngest can whine with the best of them, and she makes the walk from the lobby to the studio rival crossing the Sahara with her dragging feet. She is often “too tired” to go to class. But I make her go anyway (cue the wicked witch of the west music). Yes, it’s true, I force her to do something she doesn’t want to do at that exact moment. I also make her eat vegetables and brush her rat’s nest of hair if you want to add to my crimes against childhood. And guess what, ten minutes in to the class that she didn’t want to go to, she is absolutely great. Smiling, well-behaved, and participating. She saves all her sass and drama for me. And she comes out of class flushed, sweaty, and giggling. And that’s a win!

As a business owner, I hear time and time again how this generation has no work ethic and no follow through. Now personally, I have met some of the most dedicated, outstanding young men and women, who represent their generation with nothing but the highest standards. But maybe that’s because they didn’t sit out of dance class! As adults, there is a daily laundry list of tasks that we have to do just because they need to get done. In my humble opinion (sorry mom), our children should have a much shorter list. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t take opportunities to show them how to live responsibly. If you make a commitment to a team, you show up. If you decide to invest in a sport or activity, you see it through. If you aren’t “feeling it” that day, guess what? I wasn’t “feeling it” when I had to scrub the dirty toilet this morning, yet somehow you peed in a clean bowl. Come on parents, we can do this!  I have way too many students who decide to give up when the going gets tough. These are smart, talented, bright students who just need a little push in the right direction. So, let’s get moving - I’m right there behind you to add a little shove if needed. We owe it to these kids to expect more and trust me, they can deliver.

So, the next time your kiddo is too tired, bored, sick, busy, (insert the excuse of the day here)….to do what you know is the right thing to do – repeat after me…”suck it up," - and just keep on dancing!

My Courtney Volta Moment


In the afterglow of the Nutcracker, as I stood in a lobby filled with bouncing dancers and loving parents, I felt the grasp of a dancer’s hand on my arm. Turning towards her, I recognized the teary eyes of pride as she said to me, “I just had my Courtney Volta moment.” I chuckled and gave her a hug as I instantly knew just what she meant. For those of you who might not be as “in the know” – let’s travel backwards a bit.

My studio is in its final year as a teenager. That means that some of our first baby dancers are now full fledged adults with lives, careers, families…lordy, we’re feeling old! And the legacy they have created over nearly two decades is certainly one to be proud of.

One of my earliest dancers was the bubbly Miss Courtney. This little lady lit up a stage as soon as she stepped foot on it and continued to set the bar high as she danced her way through her teen years. She graced many stages, won many awards, and starred in many productions. However, I would like to think she earned her spot as a respected mentor in the simpler moments at the studio. Her bright smile welcomed little dancers to class as she assisted in our baby ballet programs. She was actively involved in not only the studio, but in her school, and greater community. Her ability to shine on stage while also shining her light on others was noticed by many younger dancers in our studio. The “next generation” of students certainly looked up to her and many dancers wanted to be just like Miss Courtney.

Flash forward to my Nutcracker lobby moment. The dancer who approached me has grown up in our studio as well. Now sixteen, Makayla had just graced the stage in a gorgeous lead role in the Nutcracker. This girl is unparalleled in her sweet nature, love of all dancers around her, and ability to sparkle on stage. Makayla had grown up adoringly watching Courtney on stage and following close behind in her graceful footsteps. Just after the performance, she was stopped by the mom of a new tiny dancer and told, “my daughter just adores you. She loves watching you on stage and wants to dance just like you someday.”

This is the gift that dance brings. There is no amount of time, no trophy, no price tag that can parallel the moment when you realize that you have profoundly touched someone else. This is what art can create - bonds that lift up others and inspire them to be better versions of themselves. To aim higher, reach further, and to think more of themselves. This is just one small example of what I see every day. The dancers who step across our dance floor do not move on after they graduate. They leave a piece of themselves at the studio that is bestowed on to the next generation of eager dancers. There is no greater gift.

So here is to all of our dancers, from tiny tots to teens - may you lead, may you guide, may you inspire. May you each have your “Courtney Volta Moment.”

Getting the Littles In Line


So part of my job as a choreographer to the masses is to convince dozens of preschoolers to stand in straight lines and do the same moves at the same time. So, let's get real. Sometimes, I am successful, and other days it feels a whole lot like herding cats. I will confess though, I have been called the preschool whisperer more than once and no one can coax a tiny dancer in to line like I can. So, for all of you brave cat herders out there, I've decided to share a few of my trade secrets. These are a few of the tricks up my sleeve for creating a clean performance piece for my youngest dancers.

Run choreography at least three times per class, but not in a row! Little ones do not have the patience to repeat a dance several times. Run their choreography once at the beginning just after warm up, once just after water break, and once at the very end of class.
Break the dance in to thirty second cleans. Go through 30 seconds at a time without music, talking through it with words and stopping to ask questions - "are your feet kissing together?" - "Where are your arms?"  etc. 
Take pretend photographs of your dancers. Make a sound like you are taking their picture and have them freeze where they are to see if they are all in the same place at the same time. Make a big deal of this, pull out your huge invisible camera and "CU-LICK" really loud to get them to freeze. Make a huge fuss over the dancers who have their arm and feet placement correct in the imaginary photo. I've used the Ipad and taken real photos before, but this can be a distraction, and honestly, my pretend photos turn out way better!
Play 'find your spot." Ask your students to dance around the room, then on your cue, they should try to find their beginning position for the dance as quickly as they can. Even more fun is turning your back towards them and counting down backwards from ten, when you reach 1, turn around to be "surprised" by the fact they have all found their spots.
• Audience vs. performer. Have your dancers take turns in each role. First talk about what each role does. An audience watches, claps, etc. A dancer has lots of energy, uses facial expressions, etc. Make a huge deal over each role and make sure the "dancers" have tons of energy and performance while the "audience" cheers their little heads off to encourage them.
• Facial Expressions. Have all of your dancers sit in front of the mirror and ask them to show you different faces - sad, happy, mad, scared, surprised, etc. Then have them face each other in pairs and have them try different emotions and their partner mimics their face. Then talk about how we want to be happy when we perform because we want our audience to be happy too. Our faces tell our audience how to feel the same way your face told your partner how to feel.
• Use emotions with movement. Ask your little dancers to perform different parts of your choreography while being happy - for example, do happy skips, happy pliés, etc. Happy or excited are the emotions I've had the most success with in young ages to encourage high energy and performance quality.
• Give compliments. Yell out praise for what you want to see - even if they aren't doing it! For example, call out "I love your strong arms," - even if they all have wet spaghetti noodle for arms. It helps encourage them to start emulating your words with their movements. "Wow! Look at those hands on hips!" - and suddenly their hands will magically be on their hips.

Just to clarify, I would certainly never use this whole list in one class. I rotate my magic tricks and often take cues from the dancers on what kind of class we are having to determine which technique will be the most effective. All of these have worked wonders for my little future stars, but if all else fails, I'm not above bribing with candy. More than anything though, your students want to please you, so with a firm voice, high hopes, and a little bit of stage magic, I'm confident our tiny dancers will make us proud. Happy dancing!

The Dos and Don'ts of the Dance Floor

Upstart_Crow_Web 9.jpg

Dancers want to be successful in class. We want the same thing! From a young age, dancers should embrace studio etiquette in order to have the best possible class experience. Here are a few tips to make sure your dancer is getting the most out of their classes.

Timing is everything. Dancers should arrive shortly before their class with enough time to get shoes on, personal items put away and ready to dance. For younger children, arriving too early can use up their patience before class begins. For older dancers, they should have time to prepare their bodies for whatever class they are entering.

Dress for success. Come dressed for the style that you are dancing in. We have a dresscode for each style. When you are in dresscode, it sets a standard for how you are seen in class. It also allows you to dance to your full potential. Non dance shoes, food, and drinks (other than water) are never allowed on a dance floor. Respect your dance space.

Eyes and ears open, mouth closed. Make eye contact with your teacher to show that you are listening. When corrections are given to other dancers, embrace those as your own. You should always be learning. Unless you are directly asked a question, the only voice that should be heard in class is your teacher’s. Side chatter wastes valuable class time and prevents you from taking in information. Move your body, not your lips!

Bodies speak loudly. As dancers, we know that bodies are powerful storytellers. Your body language tells people around you what you are thinking. If you have your arms crossed, are staring off blankly, or are sinking in to your hip, you immediately look disinterested in class and your teacher may not invest more time in you. Stand up tall, relax your arms, open your eyes and put a smile on your face. If you are invested in the class, your instructor will invest more in to you.

Balance the space. When it’s time to dance, spread out in the space and find a window where you can be seen. Make sure you are not too close or too far from the dancer next to you. When going to the ballet barre, ensure you can raise your leg without kicking the person next to you. When waiting in line for across the floor progressions, see if there are a balanced number of dancers in each line and find the spot where you can fill in.

Find a new spot in the room. Every dancer has a place where they tend to feel comfortable dancing, but challenge yourself to find a new place. You should not always push to be front and center in the room – this can be perceived as egotistical. On the other hand, don’t always bury yourself in the back corner either – this can be perceived as a lack of confidence. Embrace each space in the room and when you are called out on to the dance floor, find new places to dance.

To question or not to question? There is a time and place for questions in class, and we want you to be engaged and ask for clarifications. However, before you ask a question, ask yourself the following – 1. Is it relevant? 2. Have I tried to solve the problem myself? 3. Have I given my teacher time to address everything they want to say about the movement? Take time to dance it first before jumping straight in to a question. Also, by listening to what your teacher says, you will often hear the answer before needing to ask it.

Learn to follow. If there are dancers who are in class who are older, more experienced, or have been in class longer – they have earned a spot in the front of warm ups, leading lines across the floor, etcetera. Take a step back and let them lead. You will have your turn in that leadership role as well. If you are in the leader position, take that seriously and be someone worth following.

Dance with integrity. We are all fortunate to be a part of this beautiful dance life. When you enter the space, leave the worries of the day behind and enter the dance space with an open mind and heart. Share your passion with those around you and bring a positive attitude in to every dance class you attend. You will only get out of it what you put in.

Following these guidelines will ensure that you, or your dancer, are getting the most out of class! We can't wait to see you on the dance floor (in dresscode, with great body language, while balancing the space....)

Toddlers to Teens: Tips for A Transitioning Teacher


Many dance teachers are teaching multiple age groups and sometimes even directly back to back from toddlers through teens. Here are a few quick ideas to transition your focus and give every age just what they need from you.

Change your tone of voice:

While a bright imaginative voice can be perfect for little ones, it can sound condescending to older dancers. Be aware of the tone of your voice and how you are speaking to your dancers to ease between age groups seamlessly. What is a "tummy" to preschoolers may become "lower abdominal muscles" to your high schoolers.

Change your music:

Be sure you are aware of your age group and select your playlists accordingly. Theme, tempo, and rhythm patterns should all be considered when selecting age appropriate music. Even the same style of dance should have different music lists based on age.

Change your expectations:

Every level of class should maintain a calm learning environment where they are progressing their skills. However, the expectations of what a four year old can handle, versus an eight year old are different. A quick rule of thumb is the number of years of age is the number of minutes a dancer will focus on one task. So, a five year old can spend about five minutes focused on one task before it's time to switch it up. This length of focus increases as the dancers get older. Consider carefully what age you are teaching and keep expectations high yet realistic.

Change your choreography:

For younger dancers, movements should be on the whole or half note pattern and repeat several times. Also considering repeating the movement to both sides of the body for your youngest students. As dancers progress, begin to syncopate rhythm patterns, layer movements, add more complex weight and directional changes, and increase technical difficulty. No matter what level you are teaching, leave the practice for the studio and only include skills your dancers are comfortable with in their choreography. We don't showcase what our students can't quite do yet - we celebrate what they have achieved.

Change your perspective:

Every age is something to celebrate. Watching a toddler twirl across the dance floor with joy can feed your soul. In the same way, guiding that senior dancer in to developing their own style and artistry is life-changing. Embrace every moment of your journey with your dancers. Before you know it, that two year old will be standing in the senior classroom, so don't blink! Enjoy each step in this dance we call life.

Dance Mom in the Making

Dance Mom Blog Image.png

Are you ready to be a rockstar dance mom? Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. Here are a few quick things a newbie dance mom can do to pretend like you’re a pro already.

Get your terms down.

Leotard: That’s what goes on your dancer’s body – like a swimsuit. And just like a swimsuit, dancers don’t actually wear undies under their leotards – but we don't want to scare you off, so the undergarments lesson can wait for another day!

Tights: These go on your dancer’s legs – like pantyhose (does anyone wear those anymore?). And they go underneath their leotard.

Bun: That’s what goes in your dancer’s hair, not just on their hamburger patty.

Slack: What every dance mom should give themselves when your dancer refuses to have any of the above on their body and comes to class in their pjs instead.

Label Everything.

Your dancer’s ballet slipper will run away from home – and join the one missing sock from every pair that they own. The problem is, it looks like every other tiny adorable ballet slipper from the dozens of other dancers. Please put their name inside their shoe (not on the outside or the bottom of the shoe) so we can help it get back home safely! While you’re at it, label their waterbottle, jacket, and anything else you can slap a sharpie in to!

Let them see your eyes, not your iphone!

We know you want to capture moments of your little one dancing – and we want that too. Take lots of photos before and after class. But during dance class, if your child is dancing for you, put the phone down and look them in the eyes. Clap, cheer and smile. Dance is a performance art and meant to be appreciated by a live audience, not just for filming. Live in the moment with your little one.

Praise the Process.

Remember to give your new dancer lots of love and encouragement. Being a dancer is hard work and takes a lot of bravery to try new things. The best thing you can tell your dancer is “I love watching you dance.” Leave the “point your toes” corrections to the professionals!

Reality is not real life.

In real life, dance moms are supportive, kind, loving, and treat their dance friends like family. If you’ve seen any other “reality” than this, you’ve been misinformed. If you need a bobbypin or a Starbucks run, we've got your back! Some of my very best friends were found on the dance floor – we hope you feel the same.

Welcome to your new official Dance Mom Status. We’re glad you’re here!



How to Blow Us Away on Audition Day


It’s that time of year! During the summer, we hold auditions for our annual Nutcracker production. We also audition for our company placement for the following season. For those of you new to the audition process, here are some tips to help you be your best self in auditions.

Dress for Success: Know what the expectations are for attire. At my studio, female dancers know that to win me over, they should wear a solid colored leotard, tights, dance shoes, and a clean bun. Tights should be free from rips, stains or holes. Leotard should be well-fitted so that you aren’t concerned about straps slipping off. Undergarments should not show underneath your leotard – no bra straps, etcetera. Male dancers should come in form fitting dance attire, preferably in all black, with appropriate dance shoes for the role they are auditioning for.

Come Prepared: Know in advance what you are asked to present. For our Nutcracker auditions, dancers are asked to have a 90 second piece of choreography to present. Practice well in advance and match the style of choreography that you use to the style of the role you would like to be considered for. Don't show us skills you haven't perfected yet. Clean, simple technique that showcases your strengths is the best choice.

Introduce Yourself: When you enter your audition, you should give your name, age, and role you would like to be considered for. An example of a great introduction is: “Hi, my name is Jillian Jones, I am sixteen years old, and I would like to be considered for Black Licorice or any other available role.” Be sure to smile, make eye contact with your evaluators and say thank you at the end of your audition.

No Excuses: If you are having a bad day, feeling under the weather, or didn’t get a chance to review – DON’T announce it! Otherwise, our first impression is being put on notice that you aren't prepared. Chin up, do your best, and if it doesn’t go well, you’ll have learned lessons for next time.

Make Music Easy: Bring your music on a device that can easily plug in to a sound system. Turn your passcode OFF, so your device does not get locked. Remove your case (most cases prevent a tight connection with an auxiliary cord). Download your music on to your device. Do not use YouTube or anything reliant upon wifi connection.

Adjust your Expectations: We should all have goals in mind and work hard to achieve them. However, you also need to make sure your expectations are realistic. You should go in to auditions excited about the opportunity to audition, but understanding that there are many dancers and parts are limited. This should not discourage you from auditioning, but remember to embrace the experience whether you are cast or not.

Handle it with Humility: If you are cast in the role you wanted – hooray! It’s important to celebrate your success – you worked hard for it. Remember though, there are other dancers who wanted that part who did not get it. Be mindful of their feelings as well and be careful not to brag or make others feel bad. If you didn’t get the role that you wanted, you may start to wonder what you did wrong. The answer is, probably nothing! You might be tempted to compare yourself to the dancer who was cast, but nothing good can come of this. There are a hundred reasons why that dancer may have been chosen over you and honestly, none of them are going to make you feel any better. Take time to be disappointed, then dust yourself off and get back in to the studio. Remember that you dance because you love it, and that is the biggest reward.

What we hope happens on recital weekend

There are so many things that will happen during dance recital weekend. Some will be expected, and some will catch you by surprise. They are all part of this wonderful journey we call DANCE! As your teachers, here are a few things we hope happen for you on show day.

We hope you make a mistake. Mistakes happen and if you miss a step on stage and keep dancing, that is a huge accomplishment. It helps teach you that when a mistake in life happens, you hold your head high and keep moving.

We hope you look up to someone. The dance studio is filled with incredible role models. The dancer who is older than you, who has the skills you wish you had, worked hard for that position. We hope you look up to them and that you are inspired to emulate their passion, dedication, and work ethic.

We hope you are humbled. There will always be people who are “better” than you at anything you pursue in life. You are not perfect. That’s okay. We hope you never feel like the "best" - because once you do, you may lose the fire to become better. There is always something to learn and we hope you are reminded of this at least once this weekend.

We hope you are praised. You have worked hard. You are worthy of praise. We hope your friends, family, teachers, and classmates congratulate you – not just for your performance, but for the work you put in to make it to performance day.

We hope you have learned. We hope that the lessons you learned throughout this season come to life on the dance floor. We know that dance lasts longer than any other sport – it’s not a season, it’s a lifestyle. We know that what you learn in dance class far surpasses one final show. We hope those lessons continue to shape you long after the curtain closes.

We hope you are inspired. You are fortunate to be a part of this beautiful gift that we call dance. You are surrounded by music, by movement, by passion, and by artistry. We hope you embrace every moment and that you are inspired to dream big.

Good luck, break a leg, merde! Let the curtain rise, for you are ready.




Feet In Eugene, Hearts In Cambodia

Each year, our studio chooses a cause to support and hosts a benefit concert to raise funds for our chosen focus. This year, we selected the Esther House – a home for children in Cambodia. This cause was an incredible opportunity for our dancers to be reminded of how fortunate they truly are. Without focusing on the horrors that happen to children throughout the world, and certainly in Cambodia, suffice to say that our dancers have no concept of that level of need.

Throughout the process of creating a concert, we discussed themes of poverty, need, neglect – and also hope, love, inclusion, and compassion. We presented our dancers with a breath-taking hip hop piece that had been performed by another group as a social commentary on orphans. It began with the astounding statistic that every day 5,760 more children become orphans. This reality is heart-wrenching. We tasked our dancers with creating a contemporary piece using the same movement motif in honor of the orphanage they were supporting. In a few hours of rehearsal, these dancers created a moving piece of art to present in their benefit concert. The results of the concert and their hard work was a record-breaking $ 3,000 raised for the Esther House.

Most dances performed in our benefit concert never see the light of day again, but our girls connected to this particular piece and asked if they could perform it again at a local dance competition. We agreed. A few days ago, we received the devastating news that the husband of the husband/wife missionary team who runs the Esther House died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Stefan was not only an amazing man, who did incredible work, he was also the best friend of one of our studio families. One of our dance moms, Lara, immediately booked a flight to Cambodia to provide comfort and mourn her friend. She took along with her our thoughts and prayers, and unexpectedly was able to hand deliver our donation to the home.

Lara asked if there was any way she could share the benefit concert with the Esther House children and we hastily loaded videos to YouTube for her to access over the weekend. She wanted the girls who were in the home to feel the time, love, and artistry that was created in their honor. At the same time, back in Eugene, our dancers took the stage to dance the piece “Putting Down Roots” one more time. This twist of fate joined these two groups of young women in a way that I hope each will remember far beyond this weekend. Our dancers danced a piece that was never intended to be performed again, as the Esther House buried their leader and mentor. Feet on the stage in Oregon and hearts half a world away in Cambodia.


Band of Brothers

Kaelen and Coleman (my own twin sons) have danced since preschool. I often joked that they didn’t have a choice, but to be honest, I asked them every year if they wanted to enroll in dance and braced myself each season for them to tell me they were done. That day never came though and they happily danced their way through high school and have even voluntarily continued dancing through college.

In sixth grade, they met Logan and became fast friends. Logan joined their dance class, and together with two other guys their same age, they formed a hip hop group entitled I.C.U. Crew. They named the group themselves with the acronym standing for In Constant Unity. Their name summed up their relationship as these three danced together, went to school together, played football together, did track together – and spent many a day catching rides in each other’s cars and weekends flopped on each other’s couches. When it came to Homecomings and Proms, their dates certainly learned that it was a package deal and their trio experienced all the highs and lows of high school life together.

Senior year, the three amigos decided to step in to the next chapter of life together as well. After graduation, all three headed to Western Oregon University, trading in their parents’ couches for their own as they shared a three-person room in the dorms. They continued to dance, branching out to sign up for Modern dance class while running an impromptu hip-hop group on campus. The school turned out not to be the right fit for any of them and the three headed back to Eugene after the first year, with lessons learned. Each of them took hip-hop at Lane Community College and finished up their Associates Degrees there. Logan went on to OSU with our love and support - and Kaelen and Coleman stayed in Eugene where they have been working with the studio’s boys’ hip-hop program for the past two years.

My boys have been an integral part of our dance studio family taking care of everything from costume ordering, prop building, teaching, cleaning, corralling toddler princesses – and keeping their mother sane. They have approached every task with humility, humor, and a willingness to help. This past month, Kaelen and Coleman were both approached by a private Christian university in California about joining their track team. After a lot of thinking, planning, and praying – they decided to take the offer and are heading down to Concordia University Irvine this weekend.

A few weeks ago, I got a text message from Logan asking if we could connect. Over lunch, he let me know that he has really missed dancing and will be moving back to Eugene and would love the opportunity to be involved in the ATD studios again. I couldn’t have been more thrilled as he has certainly been missed this past year.

So, this band of brothers is certainly on different paths now, but I would like to believe that dance has woven their journeys together in just the right way. Even though our studio will not be the same without Kaelen and Coleman, we could not be more excited to welcome Logan back to the family. The boys who dance with us are lucky to have all of these great young men as role models not only in dance, but in life. As all of them grow and progress, the studio doors will always be open to them and we hope the dance floor always feels like home.

Note: Not to leave the other two "brothers" out of the story - Jourdan is now at Portland State University and Aidan is pursuing a degree in Musical Theatre at the University of Michigan. Both are certainly doing us proud!

Teaching Dance - it's more than meets the eye


As a younger version of myself, I often felt the need to apologize for my career choice. It began when I entered college with a full ride academic scholarship and chose to pursue a dance degree. I often heard, “what a waste,” or “but, you’re so smart,” -- as if somehow my high IQ was being squandered in the performing arts. When I opened my studio, I often felt that I didn’t deserve to make money since I was pursuing my passion. Fast-forward two decades and I now not only know the insane amount of work that goes in to this passion of mine, but also the true value that dance teachers provide to their community.

As I am now a seasoned member of the dance education industry, I often hear from my colleagues about how their work is constantly undervalued. Parents who pay rates equivalent to daycare then question why they have to pay “so much” for dance classes. Dancers who expect to be able to message teachers at any hour of day or night never think that their time is worth compensation. Teachers who are burning the candle at both ends, working twelve hour days, and sacrificing their own family time often make less than a full-time minimum wage job. I see these stories time and time again.

I am extremely fortunate to work in an environment where my studio families and dancers are incredibly supportive 99 percent of the time. I know they value the experience their children are receiving through dance education. Even the strongest supporters though may not realize everything that goes in to a one hour dance class. So, here’s my short list of a few tasks that you may not have realized are on your dance teacher’s to do list.

Keep on the lights. When parents calculate the cost per hour they pay for dance, they often don’t consider everything that goes in to running a studio. Monthly rent, electric, gas, water, internet, garbage, office supplies, print costs, mailings, insurance, payroll, website, cleaning…the list goes on and on. When you consider that a studio is typically only open after school hours, five days a week, nine months of the year, it’s a miracle our industry can survive at all! I once told a parent my monthly cost in toilet paper alone and she was shocked. That’s what happens when 300 girls a week pass through your doors!

Music, music, music. Did you know that studios pay a high annual premium just to play music in performances and events? Our studio pays out thousands in annual fees to two different music organizations and I know some studios who pay even more. That is not counting the cost to purchase all of the song files for music used – and the time, energy, and money spent editing all of those music files.

Costumes for Days. The single most time consuming task in our studio is costuming. Unlike many other studios, we do not do a retail mark up on costumes (something I’ve been scolded about too many times to count by every studio owner I know). The time spent measuring dancers, finding a costume that works for each class, ordering the costumes, tracking the orders, receiving the boxes, inventorying the items, hanging the costumes, and distributing the costumes is mind-boggling! We estimate 2-4 hours of administrative work per costume for our orders and we order in the thousands of costumes. Not to mention making sure that Mary Jo’s costume for her solo doesn’t look like Betty Jane’s costume and that Lulu’s costume isn’t the same color as Lola’s! Those adorable looks on stage are the result of a maddening amount of preparation, so appreciate every sparkle!

Attending Performances. We do many community performances and events throughout the year for our dancers. We never charge parents for these extra opportunities, but we as a staff are spending valuable hours attending. My husband once joked, could you imagine if you asked your attorney to just come on down to a business meeting but you weren’t planning on paying them anything to be there? This is what happens every weekend throughout the nation as dance teachers show up to performances, competitions, and showcases without charging for their time, simply because they love seeing their students shine.

Creating Art. Every concept that you see come to life on stage is a result of hours of thinking, planning, scheming, sketching, and often crying. The perfect song does not just jump in to the top of the Itunes list (oh how I wish!) and is usually the result of days and days and hours upon hours of scouring obscure music lists and more google searches than I’d like to admit to. Then inevitably the song is five minutes long and the maximum time limit is three minutes, so the planning and listening and editing and re-editing begins. I often have ten or more versions of the same song on my playlists before creating the right cut. One of my dancers teasingly started labeling the final version the “Apocalypse” cut to signify the end of all editing.

Carrying It All. While most people clock out at the end of their work day and can go home to relax, dance teachers typically eat, sleep and breathe their work. A middle of the night thought wakes us up to quickly scribble down a new combo. We worry about our dancer who was having a bad day. We precariously scroll through social media trying to keep in touch while not intruding in the personal lives of our dancers. We get texts and Facebook messages at all hours and as hard as we try to ignore them, we are often caught returning messages and emails at midnight. Often our own children become “wards of the studio” and spend their after school hours in a corner of the dance studio as we attend to the needs of other people’s children. And we love every student as our own. Their successes and failures become ours and our hearts are inextricably woven in to their journey. Our jobs can be physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting.

Now even with all this said, I would never trade my profession for any other job in the world, and I know my colleagues feel the same. We are blessed to not only do what we love, but be surrounded by amazing dancers and to grow our families with theirs. There are more benefits than I can list (that’s another blog!) – but next time you see your dance teacher, give them a hug and let them know you appreciate them. That’s worth every hour of song searching and every pile of costumes sorted. When it all comes down to it – it is all a labor of love and we hope you love every moment of it as much as we do.

The Magic You May Not Have Noticed

This weekend, we wrapped up our annual production of the Nutcracker Remixed. The show was conceived years ago as a way to allow our dancers to connect to the story of Clara and her Nutcracker Prince, even if they weren’t pursuing classical ballet study. From there, it has grown and evolved in to a beloved holiday tradition for our ATD families. Our first shows featured selected studio dancers and played in our own community theatre with 100 seats. This past weekend, over 300 performers took the stage at the Silva Concert Hall to a crowd of well over a thousand supporters.

While we know that the magic of the show happens on that beautiful stage, we believe there is quite a bit of magic in what happens behind the scenes as well. So, here are a few things you may not have known that brought the story to life.

Two days before show, one of our beautiful dancers dislocated her knee during rehearsal, ending her opportunity to dance in the show. Her teammates not only rallied around her with hugs, love, and a few tears – but they also restaged six dances in the show to make them work with one less dancer.

Courtney Weixelman was our perfect Clara this year. Courtney has danced at ATD for ten years and auditioned for Clara for three years before getting the role. She prayed all summer that she wouldn’t grow because she didn’t want too look too old for the part. Hard work pays off and we could not have asked for a better Clara than this lovely girl.

The day of show, one of our leaders in Ballroom broke his foot. Another ATD dancer, who was taking a year off due to a back injury, was helping out backstage. She learned the entire jive routine in the hallway and went on to the stage to dance it in the show so that no one was short a partner.

The beautiful couch in the Stahlbaum home was a coincidental find. On the day of our promotional photo shoot, our original location was unavailable. We scrambled last minute and our photographer suggested a wedding venue she had used in the past. When we arrived, the beautiful couch was sitting out on the porch in front of their barn. We immediately knew it was a perfect setting for our photos. We later called the venue and they allowed us to use their “porch decoration” for the actual show.

Our Icecream dancers were in the wings waiting to go on when we realized their Icecream hats were missing. ATD staff member Kristie ran from the stage (gracefully in heels), sprinted to the dressing room to grab them and a team of ten older dancers snapped their hats in to place as they were walking on to stage. Now that’s teamwork!

Miss Jaylene’s Bubblegum Machine was much smaller in our minds, but once we measured the tallest dancer in the class (that would be my daughter), we realized that in order to make the proportions correct, the bubblegum dispenser would need to be twelve feet tall! Miss Jaylene also stood on stage perfectly still behind one of the legs of the machine during the entire dance so that she could help distribute the Bubblegum balls.

Our Nutcracker Prince, Carson, had only performed in Tap before this season. Knowing his work ethic and ability to learn quickly, he was invited to be the Prince for this year’s show. He learned ballet steps, waltz, and lifts in preparation for this role and handled it all like a pro.

Our Ice River fabric arrived much later than planned, giving the dancers only one class to set the choreography with the fabric. Since the sixty yards of material was too large for the dance studio, they never rehearsed the actual look until show day. After seeing the white fabric, it looked too harsh, so Marie and I took a Rubbermaid tub outside, filled it with water from the hose, dumped in blue dye, and found an old baseball bat to stir it up – voila! Your beautiful ice river emerged just in time for show!

Makayla Rice, one of our beautiful Sugar Sisters, has danced at ATD for eleven years and this was her seventh Nutcracker. Her first role was as a little Lollipop. This year, she set our show record by appearing in nineteen dances in the show!

There are many more special moments that make the Nutcracker Remixed so much more than just a great show. We watch our students bond together, grow in confidence, handle disappointments, problem-solve, cheer each other on, and communicate through artistry. Now that is true magic.

Lessons learned from the bench

I’m sitting on the cold bleachers as the pelting rain makes me thankful for my extra layers. Concession stand hot chocolate clutched between my gloves, I cheer for the home team. Looking down the sidelines and seeing number 22 is bittersweet. He stands, shifts, stretches – ready to go in to the game at any time. But that time never comes.

My son has been an athlete since he was old enough to clutch a ball. It is who he is. He eats, sleeps and breathes sports. He will watch a twenty-year-old superbowl or a volleyball match with equal enthusiasm – he simply loves the game. He was also blessed with a high level of athleticism that ensured lots of attention, starting spots, and points on the board nearly his entire life. But for whatever reason this year, this season, this game, this coach didn’t see what was so clear to everyone else – this kid was meant to play.

I dreaded the end of the game, bracing myself for the disappointment that I was sure he was feeling. After all, this is a kid who had never sat the bench in his life. As I tentatively approached the field, I saw my boy grinning, punching his friends, tossing the ball around – and lit up in the way only sports can for him. I was humbled.

Seeing your child face disappointment can be overwhelming as a parent, especially when they don’t achieve something that you know they have worked for. I have absolutely been there. I knew the hours of work my son had put in, every practice he’d shown up for, the hours conditioning, the time studying the plays – I knew he had earned it. But that didn’t mean that it was my job to try to change the outcome.

As parents, we may find ourselves on autopilot in our job as protector and champion of our child. There’s no guidebook on how to shift to a new role, so here’s my best attempt at one. Your child will be disappointed. They will be overlooked for something. They will not receive something that they worked for. Someone else will be better than them at something they love. That is the cold hard truth. So, as a parent – how to do we react?

1.     Fake it ‘til you make it. You may feel angry that your child was cast as a rock instead of a princess, but they are looking to you to gage their response. Paste on a smile and tell them how they are going to be the most amazing rock you’ve ever seen in your life and you can’t wait to paint them gray! 9 times out of 10, your child will adjust their feelings to your response. Make whatever role they were chosen for the most important role you’ve ever heard of.

2.     Take a breath. Whatever your immediate reaction may be – breathe on it. Will this truly matter a year from now? Five years from now? The opportunity they missed out on is not as important as modeling good behavior for your child. Show them how to handle adversity with humility and respect.

3.     Do not talk to their coach. As tempting as it may be, there is no good outcome here. If someone else was chosen over your child, it was for a reason. By confronting the adult who made that decision, you are in essence asking them to tell you why another child was better than yours. No one wants to be put in that position. Whether they are right or wrong, the decision is theirs.  

4.     Remember what it’s about. Your child loves what they do. Whether they are center stage or sitting the sidelines, they are following their passion. Remind them that their love for the game, or the dance, was never tied to where they stand on the field. Don’t let that change now.

5.     Life lessons are being learned here. As an adult, your child will not always get the scholarship, or the promotion, or the new car. What are they learning now that prepares them for that moment? We all hope our child gets what they want, but they need to experience disappointment now to help shape their future. You may think they missed out on an experience, but the experience of taking a back seat may be exactly what they needed.

I’ll admit, I was not always as wise and gracious as I appear now, and I may have muttered a few “that coach is crazy to not play you” comments to my son that year. However, I never once called the coach (my son would have killed me), my son did not love the game any less from the sidelines, and my respect for my son grew tenfold. He handled his position with grace, dignity, and a humble heart that forced me to grow as a parent. How could I have asked for anything more?

Olympic lessons are worth more than gold

I don’t know about your family, but our living room became downtown Rio this summer as the TV was tuned in to all things Olympic. There’s no doubt that we were in the presence of greatness each evening. Beyond the initial appreciation of athletic genius, there were so many lessons to be learned through the Olympic experience.

Usain Bolt is not only the world’s fastest man, he’s also a pretty class guy. After winning the men’s 100m, he was mobbed by reporters. During his interview, a medal ceremony began. As the strings of the US National anthem rang out, this Jamaican man immediately paused the interview to give his full attention in honor of the athlete and her country. His respect of a fellow competitor, another country, and for the event as a whole outweighed any need for personal attention. 

My husband walked in one night to find me bawling on the couch. As he rushed to my side, I choked out, “Brazil won!” I was watching men’s gymnastics and Hypolito had just won silver. The hometown hero was collapsed in a fetal position sobbing, and then fell into the arms of his coach as he was physically overwhelmed by finally receiving a medal at his third Olympics. The fact that another athlete had taken the Gold hardly mattered. In the dance world today, many have lost sight of the honor of being a part of something bigger. Many dancers want instant gratification and don’t want the struggle of not placing, or not winning “gold” at every competition. This man gave a lifetime of blood, sweat, and tears - and chased that Olympic medal for over a decade! Silver never looked so sweet.

My son is a hurdler and I have watched countless hurdle races. None came anywhere close to the women’s 100m hurdles in Rio. To be honest, it wasn’t the race itself. If you blinked - or loaded a plate into the dishwasher (this may have happened to me) - you could have missed the race all together. (Don’t worry, that’s what DVR is for!) But I did look up just in time for the finish. Three US women crossed the finish line within breaths of each other. And then….here’s where the real magic happened. These women embraced, clutched each other, and cried with joy and pride. The win was so much more significant because they crossed the finish line together. While it may be an individual sport, success is so much sweeter surrounded by your teammates. These women trained together, competed together, and won together. What an amazing experience. The sum will always be greater than the parts.

A simple act of kindness shows the heart of a true champion. During the 5000m, Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand and American Abby D’Agostino collided and fell to the track. D’Agostino quickly regained her footing, but paused to help her competitor to her feet before continuing. As the race continued, the American competitor crumpled to the floor with a ruptured ACL. It was Hamblin’s turn to return the favor as she stopped to help D’Agostino. The two women finished last, but what they may have lost in race time, they gained tenfold in respect from a global audience. Hamblin summed it up best in her own words, “When I look back on Rio 2016, I’m not going to remember where I finished, I’m not going to remember my time … but I’ll always remember that moment. Sometimes I guess you have to remember trying to be a good human being is more than, you know. If I hadn’t waited for her or tried to help her I would have been 10 or fifteen seconds quicker and what does that matter?” The trophies on the shelf will never outweigh the content of character that is developed through athletics. No win is greater than the friendships formed through mutual respect and pursuing your passion. Whether on the track, or on the dance floor, true sportsmanship is defined by moments that have nothing to do with wins or losses.

When your child is the one licking the mirror...

As moms, we all have great expectations of our child’s first dance class. Visions fill our heads of our little princess in a sparkly tutu and perfect ballet bun gracefully moving across the floor. She will listen to every direction, stand perfectly at attention, and graciously thank her teacher at the end of class. And then the reality sets in…her tutu is itchy and she doesn’t want to wear it, the perfect ballet bun didn’t even last the car ride over, and our princess is standing, arms folded in the corner refusing to participate. As a mom of four, I’ve been there.

My daughter’s first dance recital debut was an epic disaster. She walked out on stage, the lights came up, and she froze – she then ran to the back of the stage and stuck her head underneath the back curtain – apparently the standing theory was, “if I can’t see them, they can’t see me.” The only thing visible to the audience was her toddler tush in the air. I was on stage leading the class and helpless to do anything. My mom eventually walked on stage in the middle of the performance and drug her off the stage by her little pink ballet slippered feet. I was mortified. My daughter’s dance career, however, was not defined by this one preschool meltdown. From that humble beginning, she has gone on to be named as the top junior soloist for her age, dances on a competitive team, and danced the lead role of Clara in the Nutcracker.

We all hope that your child’s first day of dance will go off without a hitch, and we have wonderfully skilled, educated instructors to help make sure that it does. However, it is absolutely normal for children to take time to transition. Many dancers stand and don’t participate in the first class – or even several classes. Countless parents have told me, “I don’t know why she won’t do it in class, she shows me all the moves at home.” I’m here to tell you, it’s okay. They are watching, they are observing, and they are learning. I have seen little ones hide behind their mom’s legs for weeks, and often those same girls grow up to be stand out performers.

We have one young dancer who started with us as a spirited little thing who gave her teachers a run for their money. I remember one day clearly when she ran up to her reflection and licked the mirror – she was being a puppy that day. Her mother was beside herself but I just giggled and brought the puppy over to sit with the rest of the class. This beautiful young lady is now one of our top competitive dancers and graces the stage with effortless beauty every time she performs. And I have had many mirror-lickers follow in her footsteps – all of whom have become graceful, focused, strong dancers.

The moral of the story is, the road to success is constantly under construction. What may look like a failed day of dance class could be guiding your little one to just the right path. There will be less than perfect hair days, itchy dance clothes that beg to be thrown off, open space that beckons them to spin, and mirrors that look good enough to lick! We are here to reassure you that it’s all okay.

Enjoy these moments, because soon enough that little ballerina will be doing her own bun and slicking every hair in to place without your help. Her itchy skirt will be transformed to pointe shoes and beautiful tutus and you’ll wonder when you blinked and missed the time in between. That mirror she once licked will guide her movements to allow her to take the stage with confidence and touch an audience in a way that is pure magic. So enjoy each step on that path – even the less than perfect ones. Success is a journey, not a destination.

It's Just A Grasshopper!


“It’s just a grasshopper!” came the exacerbated sigh of a mom as she dragged her two young children away from the green delight.

We stood in Lincoln Park – listed the # 2 thing to do in Chicago, according to Travel Advisor. Trails twisted and turned in every direction featuring wild cats from leopards to caracoles; there were pools of water with furry otters and sleek seals; long-necked giraffes and bouncing kangaroos waited down the lane. I am sure that this well-intentioned mom started the day with great plans, a purse loaded with snack packs, and visions of smiling, cooperative children in her head. And here she stood, sweat dripping from the 91-degree day, empty snack wrappers strewn in her wake, and two children who wanted nothing more than to sit and watch a grasshopper.

If you are a parent, you’ve been there. We try to give our children the very best of everything – the best education, the best extra-curricular activities, the best vacations – the best life that we can create for them. And most days, we succeed! But there are other times that it feels like it’s all for naught.

As a dance instructor, I see how the ante has been upped in very tangible ways. Dancers used to order costumes from catalogs, now those costumes have to be custom designed and dripping with hundreds of dollars of Swarovski crystals. Dancers used to take class at a dance studio from their dance teacher – now they hop on a plane to attend conventions in a packed Vegas ballroom with TV stars. They used to perform at retirement centers for elderly residents who teared up and clapped in delight. Now, they take center stage at the Rose Bowl with fireworks and a live band in front of a national television audience. The bar gets raised higher and higher and I wonder how we will continue to boost our kids up to hold on. And to what end?

I’m sure in the mind of that zoo-visiting mom, the majestic lion was the best of that day’s adventure. Meanwhile, her two young children were perfectly content to sit and watch the mundane grasshopper jump from leaf to leaf. Sometimes, we are so busy trying to give our children the best of everything, that we forget that true wonder can be found in simplicity.

Do our dancers really need to dance on a stage that looks like it was prepared for Katy Perry at the MTV Music Awards? The simple joy of dancing is truly enough. We all want beautiful experiences and great adventures for our children – and we should revel in all that life can provide them. But every now and again, let’s just sit next to them, take a deep breath, and watch the grasshopper.