Dance Studio Life

Nothing charges a studio’s atmosphere faster than a road trip. Students start to slump when their daily routines become ho-hum, so make sure to shake up the status quo at times. One way to improve the energy level at your studio is to leave the building-and the city, and maybe even the state! Because for dance, the destination of choice is New York City, specifically its two most famous mega-studios, Steps on Broadway and Broadway Dance Center (BDC).

Field trips offer a glimpse of a professional atmosphere and an alternative to conventions and competitions. And then there’s the Big Apple-with so much to do between dance classes, sitting around will be kept to a minimum, with learning at a maximum.

If a New York City field trip sounds like too much to handle, don’t worry: Both studios have full-time group coordinators who have years of experience dealing with visits from out-of-town school groups. Whether you have 5 or 100 interested travelers, they can meet your dance education needs.

How many students do you need to qualify as a group?. . .At Steps it’s the number of classes taken that defines a group; 10 is the minimum. At both studios, the group coordinators work closely with studio owners to customize a schedule. They also assist with tourist information and can suggest hotels with special rates, but you are on your own with booking travel, hotels and show tickets.

Those ready to bite the trip bullet can register online for both Steps and BDC.. . for Steps, there’s a planning guide at www.stepsnyc.com/groups/planning-your-visit/. And if you’re not sure which studio would be the best fit for your students, here’s the good news: You don’t need to choose-some school owners take their students to both studios on the same trip.

When to go? The summer months, when several groups usually attend simultaneously, are the busiest. February, March and April also tend to be tightly booked. Start planning your trip several months before your intended arrival. How long will you stay, and what kinds of classes do you want? Some groups come for a day; others stay for two weeks. Some groups want private classes that are set up especially for them, while others go for the full-immersion drop-in class experience. Prepare to be flexible when requesting specific teachers; there are no guarantees. Keep in mind that the teachers at BDC and Steps are working dancers and choreographers. . .

Steps has been hosting groups since it opened its doors in 1979. For Steps’ director of group programs, Suzy Norton-DiCerto, good communication with the group leaders makes for a smooth trip. “I work hard to listen to the teachers to get the level just right,” she says. “It’s about matching their levels in their home studio to ours. Flexibility is built into the system; we are ready to handle changes on site if a class is too slow or too hard.”

Norton-DiCerto urges teachers to start planning the classes once the trip is in motion. If you book sight-seeing trips and other excursions first, you will have a limited time frame for classes-and that means fewer choices of the kinds of classes you need. “We pride ourselves on customizing each group experience,” says Norton-DiCerto. “We want each group to get the most out of their trip. And that includes learning and having fun.” Special programs include the Performance Workshop, where competition teams can get special coaching, and the Audition Workshop, which is geared for older students who are getting ready to hit the professional world. Once a group arrives, Norton-DiCerto is on hand to make sure everything is going well. “I meet with the group leaders several times during their trip,” she says. “Things always pop up, like forgotten tap shoes and such.”. . .

For Nancy Lihan’s students at Showbiz Theatrical Dance Center in Phillipsburg, NJ, a Sunday day trip to Steps is the grand finale of her six-week summer intensive for her competition teams. “The trip is the highlight, and I build the cost right into the tuition,” say Lihan, who has been traveling to Steps with her students for eight years now. “We are so lucky to be so close to New York City.”

Lihan’s students take all private classes at Steps. “It’s not as crowded and there’s no chance of being closed out of classes,” she explains. (Plan to arrive at least 20 minutes before class starts to avoid this situation.) Parents are responsible for getting their kids there and sometimes they stay to watch the classes. Lihan thinks it’s a good idea for parents to get a glimpse of what a major dance studio looks like, and the positive response from parents is one more reason why she takes the teams there year after year.

Lihan appreciates the help she gets from Steps in selecting teachers. With such large faculties to choose from, specific class descriptions make the choice easier. “I try to expose my students to styles they don’t usually do, like modern and contemporary,” she says. “They also enjoy classes taught by men, something they do not get at my studio.” The trip always generates a level of excitement that transfers to the students’ everyday dance lives. Lihan realizes that a well-rounded dance education cannot come from her studio alone; getting the kids out of their comfort zone is key.

For Lori Pryor, owner of Dance Foundations in Columbia, MD, Frank Hatchett’s class was one of her favorite dance destinations when she was a student. She also enjoyed Ann Reinking’s class at Steps. So it follows that she wanted to give her students the same exposure to master teachers. . .

Several times a year for the past eight years, Pryor has been taking groups on day visits to both Steps and BDC. “There’s something magical about a new teacher. They may say the exact same thing that I have been telling my students, but when they hear it from someone new it really sinks in,” she says.

Photo: Paul B. Goode

Having taken class in NYC so often as a student herself, Pryor knows her way around when it comes to trip planning. She takes her students to New York by train, which she says is easier than wrangling a large group on a bus. Sometimes they drive, but she cautions travelers to “know where to park before you get in the car.” The three-hour train ride provides time for her to prepare the students for the teachers they will be meeting. “We study up on who these people are, their careers and specific styles,” says Pryor. “They want to know how each teacher fits into the dance puzzle.”

Selecting teachers who will respond well to her students is a big part of the success of Pryor’s field trips. “I pick teachers who are outgoing, nurturing, and love kids,” she says. “Teachers that give everyone attention make the biggest difference.”

Pryor takes the classes with her students to model good classroom behavior. “It also helps with nerves-it’s like a little bit of home is with them in the classroom. Whether it’s just a hand squeeze or a glance before we go across the floor, they feel my support.” Double-checking on the appropriate class level for her students is another must-do. She advises dropping down one or two levels to accommodate the learning that happens with a brand-new teacher. “You don’t want your students to get in over their heads,” she says. “They won’t get much out of that.”

In her trip plans, Pryor usually includes a Broadway show that features a good deal of dance. She finds that winter break is a great time to go “The day after Christmas we were in class with [fewer] people,” she says. “Summer is more crowded, but there is a larger variety of classes.”

For Pryor, part of the reason for giving her students this experience is to encourage them to take risks which she says is essential for succeeding in the dance field. “It’s wonderful to be in your home studio, but it’s so important for kids to leave their home base and see a professional dance environment,” she says.

“We take only drop-ins; private classes are too isolating,” she continues. “My students need a broader view.” Seeing other dancers and other visiting groups motivates her students. “They see that others are missing birthday parties and making the same [kinds of] sacrifices they are,” Pryor says. “It makes it all worthwhile.”

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