Professional artists and those in training spend a lot of time in the studio, and it sometimes feels like a second home to us. We often spend a large portion of our daily hours honing our craft and working closely with our fellow artists. It is easy to get caught up in the glamour and sweat of the business, forgetting proper etiquette that is also applicable. There may not be a dancer’s guide equivalent to the books on etiquette and manners à la Emily Post, but there are personal opinions on rules we should follow that we learn over the years through our experiences in the studio.
With summer around the corner and class attendance on the rise, it may be time to check in… Are you doing your part to make the studio experience as enjoyable as possible for yourself and your fellow dancers, or have you caught yourself doing something that may be considered…oops, bad etiquette? In talking with fellow dancers and teachers I take class or train with, it appears that we have very similar ideas on what is appropriate. Etiquette and attitude – as thought out for the artist.
Studio behavior and attitude–
How do you enter the studio and represent yourself? “Class etiquette is a reflection of who you are and how you want to be seen by others. If you want to be perceived as lazy, difficult, and rude, then be that way, but don’t expect to get corrections or recommendations for jobs. If you want to be seen as reliable, poised, and having a strong work ethic, then show those qualities and you will be rewarded for your efforts.” (Mary Carpenter– School at Steps/Steps on Broadway ballet faculty, and Dancewithmary NYC pointe shoe specialist on YouTube). Ask yourself next time you are in the studio if you are being the best that you can be, and if you are portraying yourself how you want others to see you. If your attitude and behavior are not getting you the treatment you want, check to see what it is you can do to turn things around.
Spatial Awareness and finding your window–
When asked what the one thing is that she is most aware of in the studio, musical theater and ballet dancer Michelle Solares said “spatial awareness.” Those two words are so simple, yet are so powerful and will make or break how you dance in the studio with others, as well as in how you utilize your own personal space. Spatial awareness is of the utmost importance, and if you can’t maintain it, you will lose some professional work opportunities. Not paying attention to where others are in relation to you is an indication that you are not working as a team with your fellow dancers, and that you are only focusing on yourself. Unless you are working on a solo in a private rehearsal, it is imperative that dancers are able to sense where their fellow artists are in relation to their position in space at all times. Sometimes that means sensing where someone is with your peripheral vision, and sometimes it is being able to feel the energy from their bodies. Not only in combinations across the floor in class and in learning dances, but also in knowing where you need to be in order to “find your window.”
Finding your window is knowing that you are able to see yourself in the mirror, see open spaces, and be seen by others without being too close to someone else. A dancer who is not aware of their window may find themselves practically standing on top of the dancer next to them. Find your window, and you will see how much more space is available to you, and how you will be able to maintain it as you move together being aware of your spatial awareness. It shows respect for others, and “everyone deserves the space to learn.” (Inga Marie Gerson– School at Steps/Steps on Broadway jazz teacher).
Where to stand in the studio–
If you are studying with a new teacher (whether as a studio regular or as a student from out of town), stand where you have regulars all around you to follow. “If you are new to class, don’t stand in front!! Everything your stage mom told you is wrong. Stand in the middle so you can see people on all sides.” (Cassie Bednall– musical theater/contemporary student, and Steps staff member). Often times teachers won’t break down their warm-up completely, so if you have never taken from them before, you need to be somewhere that won’t disrupt the rest of the class. The people who stand in the front of a class have been regulars for awhile and earned the right to be in that position. It not only shows a lack of professional etiquette to jump into the front of a class the first time in the room, but it is also disrespectful to the teacher and the rest of the students. Those in front for the combination and warm-up know the material well enough that those behind them have someone to follow when needed. A teacher may ask students to switch lines within their group when repeating combinations. If you do not know the choreography and are asked to switch, stay in the back where you won’t cause any traffic issues when you don’t know what is going on. When a teacher does not mention switching lines and you have been standing in front every time you do the combination, ask those around you who know it well if they would like to switch. Rotate back and forth. Chances are everyone would like to be in front when they know the material, so being respectful and courteous of your fellow dancers will go a long way, and they will appreciate the opportunity.
When students visit from around the world, they enjoy taking open classes. The level of NYC classes is usually higher than in studios across the country, and internationally. It is one thing to be challenged in a class, but as musical theater and work-study student Julia mentions, “make sure you don’t take a class that is way too difficult for you.” When not certain of what level to sign up for, take a level or two below what you are considering. You will be given a challenge, while not feeling overwhelmed. It is great to be challenged, but being in a class over your head will be frustrating to you and also be distracting to the other students in the class, as well as to the teacher.
Being polite and respectful in a class is always important, and sometimes one does not realize they are bringing some bad habits into the studio that may be misinterpreted. When a teacher is talking stay as engaged as if you are dancing. Staring blankly at them or crossing your arms are two signs that may be misinterpreted. Crossing your arms is a sign that you are closing yourself off to them, and staring at them without reacting makes it appear that you are not focused on what they are trying to say. Similarly, chewing gum in the studio, and talking when the teacher or another student is talking, or when you are standing on the side of the room waiting your turn may be interpreted as disrespectful. If you find you are bored in class perhaps it is a sign that you are not working hard enough, or perhaps, even better, time to move to the next level. Instead of showing your boredom why not pick something you want to focus on for that class? Always consider how you would feel if you were in the teacher’s shoes. As Inga Marie Gerson mentions, “respect is crucial for each individual in the classroom. Leave the gossip at the door.” Word travels fast in the dance community, and it is easy to be overheard. While NYC may seem large, our community is quite small.
These are just some thoughts on how to approach dance classes, but there are many unwritten rules of etiquette that should also be applied. In addition to those mentioned above – dress appropriately for the class you are taking based on the style; be aware of your personal hygiene; do not leave early unless you have spoken to the teacher beforehand; turn off your cell phones before entering the studio and forget about them for the 90 minutes. Stay engaged – this is your time!!!
Next time you take class, pay attention to how you behave, and notice what rules you are already following, and what you can do to make the experience a better one for you and the other students in class. Have fun, and dance it out. Live it!!
By Anne-Allegra Bennett
Steps Administrative Assistant, and musical theater student