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Chasta Hamilton

Chasta is the artistic director and owner of Stage Door Dance Productions in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is also the founder of The Dance Exec, a website and organization that provided resources and training for dance studio owners. The resources from The Dance Exec have a new home on the TutuTix blog, giving dance studio owners an even more in-depth library of free tools and information with which to grow their business. Chasta contributes to the TutuTix blog from time to time, offering her perspective as a studio owner (and TutuTix client!).
Browsing All Posts By Chasta Hamilton

Coffee + Creativity: Gratitude Over Grump

Chasta Hamilton explains how to focus on opportunity over obstacles, the importance of leadership, as well as Gratitude Over Grump strategies you can share with your team members, students and families!

 

She’s also creating an amazing companion PDF!

 

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Rocking Your Recital From Now Till Final Curtain

Rocking Your Recital

Recital Season is upon us! For most dance studios, this is “the big game” in our industry. It is an opportunity to build community over a shared interest, celebrate your students’ progress, and impress your clients. There’s no better marketing tool than an efficient, polished, and purposeful recital experience!

In order to make it happen, you have to (1) be prepared in your organization and leadership, (2) you have to communicate expectations and standards in advance, and (3) you have to follow through.

Below are 3 tips that have helped us immensely in curating an amazing Recital Weekend Experience!

THE RECITAL ROOKIE

For many in the dance industry, the concept of a dance recital is second nature. This likely is not the case for the majority of your clients. Often, they are new to the recital experience, or at the very least, they may be new to your studio’s systems and processes.

Your clients are also probably busy and juggling a million things. They may miss an email, feel overwhelmed at the thought of making a bun, or misinterpret the correct way to put on a recital costume. That’s okay!

It is easy to react with frustration, but this season, shift the perspective and approach your clients with empathy and understanding. It will go a long way in building client loyalty!

We’ve helped educate Recital Rookies in the following ways:

  • Chat groups
  • Personal posts that are counterintuitive to your professional/personal brand
  • Language that may seem degrading to another studio or program.

THE DIGITAL EVOLUTION

Outside of the strategies listed above, consider how you can use digital opportunities to create a more interactive, modern experience for your clients.

A few ideas include:

  • Make sure studio sound stations/equipment are appropriate for modern technology
  • Implementing easy ways for families to enroll and pay for programming.
  • Transition from printed program books to digital program books
  • Create marketing materials that showcase well in digital content
  • Revise/ modernize your Recital Photography + Videography Procedure
  • Create a studio-wide motto/hashtag that generates brand consistency between digital and actual platforms

 

Looking for more great ideas on how to Rock Your Dance Recital? Check out the following articles:

 

The Dance Exec Returns: “Expert Advice from Chasta Hamilton” series is brought to you by Stage Door Dance Productions and TutuTix.TutuTix Logo

Rocking Your Recital Dance Exec TutuTix

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The Digital Dilemma in Dance Studios:  Purposeful Boundaries & Opportunities for Engagement

The Digital Dilemma in Dance Studios

With increased consumer engagement rapidly expanding in the digital sphere, how do we create purposeful boundaries and opportunities for engagement in our dance studios? The line between the personal and professional can often be blurry in this sphere, and it’s caused a serious digital dilemma. If we embrace the strategic potential of the platform versus resisting change, it can result in exciting and meaningful growth for our businesses.

THE DIGITAL DILEMMA:

The ability for us to “be connected” all the time is certainly a recognized dilemma in our society. While it is amazing to have the ability to remotely check-in, it is also putting a strain on our mental health and emotional well-being. Purposeful boundaries are necessary in order for us to continue thriving in our businesses, our creativity, and our personal lives.

In the New Year, try the following:

  • Schedule Phone-Free Times Each Day
  • Schedule Email Checkpoints to Refrain from Constantly Refreshing Your Device
  • Make Your Time Spent Online Intentional: Try to Refrain from Mindless Scrolling.
  • Set Boundaries (and Enforce Them) re: Social Media Engagement. Business Questions should be handled via email or through the office.
  • Make Sure You Maintain and Enjoy Non-Digital Activities
  • Keep Dance Classes a Digital Distraction-Free Space (for students + instructors)

 

THE DIGITAL STRATEGY:

 

  • 1-page intro to recital sheet in every student’s digital welcome packet at the start of each season
  • A detailed timeline of when to expect information, including specific dates/times for emails so they can easily search to reference materials
  • The dissemination of information by class, so families are not overwhelmed or confused by too much information at once
  • A digital, all you need to know recital guide for parents and students
  • Recital Q+A Events: In-Person and on Instagram

BUILD THE HYPE 

The recital is something to celebrate, and we plan events to make the experience an inclusive conversation piece in our programming.

While we only work on choreography in classes during the months of March, April, and May, we start promoting the Recital and its surrounding events in January with our Theme + Costume Reveal.

Other ways we hype up the show include:

  • Conversation Components to involve the family outside of the studio. For example, if your show is based around books, create a family reading list. If your show features character concepts, consider age-appropriate worksheets for a series of monthly themes.
  • Shared Choreography Rehearsal Videos so families can rehearse their routine(s) at home. This increases the students’ accountability, involves the parent in the process, and generates respect for the rehearsal process, as well.
  • A Recital Pep Rally featuring photo booths, themed stations, merchandise sales and seminars (how to make a bun, packing your backstage bag, etc.)
  • Complimentary group photos that are taken at dress rehearsal and posted to social media prior to the performance days.
  • Studio Branded step and repeat for use on show days
  • “I Rocked Recital!” Buttons that are distributed to every student prior to the Recital Curtain Call at every performance.

CREATE YOUR RECITAL PLAYBOOK 

In order for your clients to benefit from a smooth and easy recital experience, you have to enter the season calm and in control. The recital is a major undertaking, and with appropriate planning, you’ll be able to enjoy it as much as your students!

  • Set a timeline and stick to it. With our timeline, everything is finished a month prior to the show.
  • Train your staff on the general aesthetic of the show. Every routine and every recital should fit the overall brand of the studio.
  • Implement systems (e.g. hiring a stage manager to deal with the production components)  and/or vendors (like TutuTix!) to make your life easier.
  • Delegate! Everyone should know their role and assignment and expected place/location- from paid studio staff to parent volunteers. Make sure they are trained and prepared for their assignments.
  • Create consistent workflows for check-in, pick-up, stage entrance, stage blocking, and stage exit.
  • Expect the unexpected. With live theatre, everything will not go according to plan. When the unexpected arises, creatively problem solve, stay calm, and keep your focus forward.

Looking for more great ideas to navigate the Digital Dilemma at your studio? Check out the following articles:

The Dance Exec Returns: “Expert Advice from Chasta Hamilton” series is brought to you by Stage Door Dance Productions and TutuTix.

 

Chasta Calhoun's Stage Door Dance Production & TutuTix Series

TutuTix Logo

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How Studio Owners Feel About Dance Competitions

dance survey - How Studio Owners Feel About Dance Competitions

Recently, we did a small dance survey and asked for your thoughts about trends on the competitive circuit. Instead of small concerns or observations, the responses were overall negative and centered around:

  • Inappropriate Costuming & Movement
  • Excessive Tricks
  • Too Many Props
  • An Abundance of Guest Choreographers
  • Lack of Technique
  • Level Confusion/ Inconsistency

As I thought about the feedback from the dance survey and shared it with my friends, it seems that some of these complaints could be improved or solved with greater accountability- on behalf of the studios and the competitions.

Solutions

(1)   Owners, Directors, and Teachers have to set the tone for appropriateness and take accountability for what they choose to put onstage. Is anyone going to argue with wanting to maintain a child’s class and innocence?

These same individuals must also strive to provide their dancers with a solid, technical foundation and artistic, creative, and original choreography. When it comes to levels, they also must be honest in registering their dancers for varying divisions.

(2)   Competitions must stand by their rules and beliefs. If a routine can only have so many tricks in a particular category, it should be upheld. If the competition promotes appropriateness as a value, it should be upheld (even though it can be understandably subjective).

Regardless, in dealing with an unregulated industry (for the studios and competitions), it is important that we all do our part to make it a positive, beneficial experience for all dancers. Ultimately, we all want it be an educational tool that improves our dancing, our industry, and its artistry.

Are you looking for more articles to make this year’s competition season as productive as possible?

Are Dance Competitions Worth It?

Dance Competition Scoring: Giving Good Critiques And Sharing Scores

Kindness at Competition Starts with Your Dance Team

Dance Competition Dates: Developing a Competitive Schedule

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Dance Teachers: Three Quick, Last Minute Convention Supplies

last minute convention supplies feat

We go to great lengths to be as prepared and organized as possible at every single event, but there are a few items we ALWAYS forget for conventions. As you’re packing up, make sure you include these last-minute convention supplies!

Scissors

Every time we arrive at a convention and are distributing wristbands, we always forget to have scissors on hand to cut the extra band. I have scissors in the spare sewing kit, but they will not work on most wristband materials.

Some conventions or competitions give out scissors as part of registration. Ask and see if the one you’re attending does! If not, make sure to grab that pair of scissors on the way out the door.

Sharpie

There is another item that is great to have on hand for travel and community/competitive performances: a SHARPIE!

This comes in handy for labeling music, forms, costumes, etc. Add it to your must-bring list!

(P.S. Make that TWO Sharpies. Someone will absolutely ask you to borrow one, and you will absolutely never get it back.)

Mobile Battery/Charger

On long weekends of competition, performance, and convention classes, it is really easy to drain the power on your device(s).

Recently, we purchased a portable battery. This device is amazing for charging on the go!

It eliminates the necessity of dragging cords, finding outlets, etc.

There are many different brands, styles, and price points available- but definitely look into it! It will make your life much more convenient!

 

You can also take a look at our more complete checklists and packing tips as you head to convention or competition:

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Dance Competition Scoring: Giving Good Critiques And Sharing Scores

dance competition scoring

After we return from each competition, we take the scores and feedback, transcribe the information into a document, and distribute it to our studio families. Many times, the results of the dance competition scoring reiterate information we’ve been communicating, and it serves as reinforcement for areas of improvement.

From the perspective of a teacher/competition judge, I’ve realized that critiques can be critical to dancers’ development. So, it’s important for studios to leave competitions with constructive feedback.

Sharing Dance Competition Scoring and Critiques

I have spoken to many Studio Directors, Owners, and Instructors that choose not to use their competition critiques in any way, shape, or form. If you’re selecting events with quality critiques (something that should be a critically important factor in competition selection), you should pass the information to your students and/or their parents.

Sharing this information increases the value of the competitive experience for your studio families. If you’re using competition as an educational experience, this reiterates your mission and stance. Your studio families will appreciate it!

How Judges Need to Offer Critiques

While using competition critiques back home is important, it is even more important that the critiques be thoughtful, informative, positive, encouraging, and constructive.

The standards for critiques has to be higher. How many times have we heard of feedback that consists of a judge singing the song lyrics? Or, what about the routine that doesn’t perform well that contains audio with no feedback and only a “good job” at the end? Unfortunately, this happens too often.

The process is multi-tiered:

(1)   Competitions have to demand excellence of their judges.

(2)   Studios have to expect a high standard when attending events.

(3)   Studios have to use the materials provided by a competition.

This morning, I am traveling back from a judging weekend. As I was flying out on Friday morning, I committed myself to offering critiques that were meaningful and thoughtful. Those kinds of critiques can potentially make the difference in the life of a dancer.

The gestures are small, but maybe offering a student a tip on prepping for a turn sequence or expanding their movement on the stage could motivate a child to the next level.

As teachers and judges (and for many of us that serve as both), let’s continue working on increasing the value of the dance competition industry. We all know the experience is about more than a placement or a trophy; it is about personal success, improvement, and accomplishment.

Let’s promote positivity and progress!

dance competition scoring

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Kindness at Competition Starts with Your Dance Team

competition kindness and dance team

Bullying seems so senseless and unnecessary. And yet, it still occurs in seemingly all environments. It happens at school, extracurricular activities, via social media, and, yes, even from members of the dance team at competitions. Social media outlets has removed accountability and personal connectivity from today’s youth, allowing them an impersonal way of criticizing and degrading others in a very passive manner.

I have heard stories of bullying occurring at dance competitions for the past few years. But, it wasn’t until recently that I actually observed negativity at an event.

Via social media, an older student from one studio’s dance team was blatantly criticizing much younger students from another studio. Using that message, the older student had other dancers joining in the conversation, and it felt so unnecessary and inappropriate.

What do you think made this student feel as though this was an okay choice?

Respect and Appreciation at Competition

As instructors, we have to instill values of respect in our students. These values should transcend the studio classroom and reach other studios, peers, and life endeavors. Our values become our lifestyle, and I would like to think that studios would never condone this kind of behavior.

Most competitions and conventions encourage appropriate behavior. I appreciate and applaud the steps they’ve taken to guarantee students are learning and growing in a nurturing, supportive environment. Studio owners, parents, instructors, students, and peers have to support and encourage that mission, too.

Ultimately, we are all in this together. And, personally, I know that I want every dance experience to be positive, meaningful, and productive for each and every one of our students.

Dance Spirit featured an article in 2011 entitled Beat Bullying, which discusses the issue from an in-studio perspective. It’s just as relevant to think about bullying in regards to outside events and encountering other studios.

At the end of the day, we have to lead by example. That way, we make sure our students are aware of their choices, actions, and consequences.  We are all working hard, striving to do our best, and encouraging our students to grow. Each individual is on his/her own dance journey, and we have to be respectful and supportive of each dancer’s work and achievement.

As J.K. Rowling said: “It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Let’s make the choice to be kind. After all, we’re all in this together.

– Chasta

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Partner Stretches and Exercises for Dance Classes

partner stretches

Check out these wonderful classroom partner stretches and stretching exercises from Magical Kingdom of Dance! Our goal for February is to teach our students to build bridges instead of walls. The focus is Teamwork!

“Togetherness is learning to work, play and dance together, for it’s far more fun to share our satisfactions with others. Great things happen when there is TEAMWORK in dance class.”

Partner Exercises for Elementary and/or Pre-Ballet Classes:

  • Princess Rise – A teacher or “Prince Charming” can help each student rise by offering his or her hand to the “ballerina” princess sitting on the floor with straight backs and one knee up. Each student gracefully stands to execute a beautiful curtsey. (Pre-Ballet)
  • Hook elbows back to back and sit down together, pushing against partner’s back. Stand up by pushing against partner’s back. (This is good for 5 ages and up.)
  • See Saw – Face your partner holding hands and pull away from each other. Gently bend knees while gently pulling away from each other to sit on the floor. This is good for ages 5 and up.

Middle School/High School Partner Stretches

  • Sit back to back – #1 partner sits with the bottoms of feet together and lowers head over to feet. #2 Partner – presses her back with her own back letting her body weight gently hold the stretch. Also, you may use hands to gently press out the knees of #1. (#2’s chest is facing the ceiling) (For Middle school age and high school)
  • Partners sit facing each other with legs straight and the bottom of feet together. Hold hands. #1 leans back and pulls arms of the #2 partner and vise versa. On all stretches, remember to hold the stretch for 30 seconds. (For middle school age and high school)
  • Hold hands – facing your partner. Partner #1 puts R foot gently on Partner’s #2 shoulder. Partner #1 leans into a back bend while partner #2 holds her forearms firmly. Switch legs and then switch roles. (This is an advanced stretch)
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10 Dance Convention Tips!

dance convention tips

The dance convention environment is an important component in building strong, confident, adaptable, and resilient dancers. The experience is unique, challenging, and, when approached (and presented) correctly, highly effective and beneficial as a supplemental training opportunity.

Here are 10 Tips for making each dance convention a successful experience for your dancers!

1. Dress to Flatter

Yes, it is important to stand out, but convention attire has become so over the top trendy, that the art of classic, flattering apparel is almost a rarity.

What looks best on you? Are you prepared with attire that matches every style of dance offered?

For hip-hop, do you look like a hip-hop dancer? For ballet, do you look like a ballet dancer? Know your styles and dress appropriately (and professionally).

2. Physically Perform, Mentally Engage

Dance convention classes require physical exertion for performance, but they also require an equal amount of mental engagement and focus.

3. Be Prepared

Arrive early, be well rested, hydrated, and have a plan in place for healthy meals and snacks throughout the workshop. Take care of your body!

4. Remove Yourself from Distraction

Remove yourself from your in-class friends and parents (if they are observing). Find your own spot in the room where you can focus and absorb the information. Leave your cell phones and iPods outside.

When you are in the dance room, you have to be in the zone.

5. Focus

When you are in class, be focused, engaged, and connected with the material being taught. If you disengage at any point, you will likely fall behind in the choreography/instruction.

If you fall behind, do not give up. Work hard to catch up, and keep trying! If you have a thoughtful, relevant question, do not be afraid to ask it.

6. Be Respectful & Kind

Treat ALL dancers, instructors, and attendees with the utmost amount of respect.

Think about how your words, actions, and gestures may be interpreted. Do not leave or sit down in the middle of a class. Stay throughout the entirety of a workshop.

7. Push Yourself Beyond Familiarity

Use the convention environment as an opportunity to explore and attempt new styles. Take EVERY class. Do not sit out.

You will strengthen yourself as a dancer and may realize a new interest or love for a particular style.

8. Thank Your Instructors

Take the time to thank your master teachers. It is a great showing of respect and a resourceful networking tool.

Also, take the time to thank your in-studio teachers and parents for providing you with this wonderful opportunity.

9. Do It for the Right Reasons

Attend workshops for the right reasons– i.e. receiving a scholarship should not be your motivation to attend. Go in with the mentality that you there to work hard, learn, and improve yourself as a dancer.

10. Apply the Lessons & Skills Beyond the Day

Retain the information, tips, and techniques shared at the workshop. Apply it to your everyday dancing and make the experience last far beyond the weekend.

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Host a Hair and Makeup Seminar for Competitive Dancers at Your Studio

hair and makeup

The hair and make-up process for dancers, especially competitive dancers, can be daunting. To help parents and dancers understand the process of creating a particular hair and make-up “look”, host a hair and makeup seminar where parents and children can go through the process.

That way, they can go through the motions step-by-step, in a practice environment.

We host our seminar in mid-to-late January. Before the seminar, we email out a list that includes all of the supplies required for hair, make-up, tights, and shoes.

At the seminar, we go through the process of:

  1. Styling Hair (detailed to the location of the part)
  2. Applying Make-Up Properly (and using the proper colors, and in what order)
  3. Applying False Eyelashes
  4. Checking for Correct Colors of Tights/Shoes, to match with the rest of the costume

This makes EVERYONE feel more prepared for the dress rehearsal prior to the first competition, and, at competition, everyone feels more at ease and prepared.

For some help on explaining important makeup tips, check out our articles on dance competition makeup:

Dance Competition Makeup Tips

Stay-Put Tips for Dance Competition Makeup

You can also share our Dance Parents Competition Survival Guide so parents can get a head start on getting the right materials to make it through a busy competition weekend!

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Dance Competition Team Guide for Studios

Many dance studios choose to have a performance or competition team of some variety. Having a competition team allows students with a greater interest in dance or the performing arts an opportunity to explore their passion in a variety of performance and educational settings.

If your studio is considering starting a competition team, TutuTix and The Dance Exec have put together a Dance Competition Team Guide to get you started!

If your studio already has a competition team, our guide also goes through topics like:

  • Managing payments/financing
  • Costuming
  • Managing the logistics of the team

It also includes some links to articles about nutrition, choreography, competition stress, and more.

competition team guide

You can download the free Dance Competition Team Guide here!

 

After you’ve downloaded the Guide, check out these other ideas to add your competition team this year!

Add a Little Magic with Dance Studio Mascots

Pre-Performance Dance Warm Up Exercises

10 Ways to Improve Your Dance Routine (share this one with your dancers!)

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10 Ways to Improve Your Dance Routine

dance routine

The choreography is prepared, your technique is strong, and you have been rehearsing in preparation for your upcoming performance/competition. Go through this checklist and make sure you are applying the following ways to improve your dance routine(s).

Dance Routine Checklist

  1. Perform! Have a backstory, and use your movement to convey a story.
  2. Let your energy flow all the way through your fingers and toes. Don’t let your energy stop at your wrists or ankles.
  3. Connect your transitions. Keep the “in-between” moments fluid and purposeful, as you transition from one important sequence to another.
  4. Stretch, and elongate your lines to their fullest. Relax the shoulders, and don’t let yourself get tense!
  5. Let your timing and musicality be second nature. Play your music on repeat until you know it by heart.
  6. Keep the eyes up! Recognize when you have opportunities to connect with the audience, and use them to enhance your performance.
  7. Strengthen your arms. Let them have as much purpose as your feet!
  8. Confidently execute the movement. Know your weak sections and adjust/rehearse until they are no longer weak.
  9. Perfect your turn preparation, execution, and landing.
  10. Manage your nerves, and dance for YOU!
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Pre-Performance Dance Warm Up Exercises

dance warm up exercises

Prior to competing or performing, dancers should understand the importance of fully warming up their bodies. We spend a lot of time discussing this with our dancers, and we provide a checklist of proper pre-performance dance warm up exercises (FYI, sitting in a straddle is not a proper warm-up!).

This way, if we are busy or unable to lead a warm-up onsite at a performance or competition, students (and, sometimes, knowledgeable parents) can independently guarantee that they are prepared for their stage performance.

Recommended dance warm up exercises

  • Cardiovascular Exercise (Ex: Jumping Jacks, Runs in Place)
  • Isolations (Ex: Shoulders, Head, Arms, Feet, Ankles, Hips)
  • Ballet Work (Ex: Plies, Tendus, Degages, Battements)
  • Standing Stretches (Ex: Lunges, Flat Back)
  • Sitting Stretches (Ex: Second Position/Straddle, Splits)
  • Back Stretches (Ex: Cobra Stretch, Back Lifts)
  • Wall Stretches (Ex: Resistance Flexibility)
  • Core Stabilization (Ex: Plank, Hold & Balance in Retire)

After the body is warm, dancers can review or execute certain skills within their routines.

It is important to reiterate that once the body is warm, it should stay warm until performance time. If a dancer is idle, it is important to repeat the entire warm-up.

Communicate this information with your dancers and their parents, and you will be impressed with the level of autonomy and focus it instills on performance days.

stretch

Also, don’t forget that it’s equally important for dancers to be eating healthy foods in the days and hours before a performance! Take a look at these articles and make sure dancers are eating well so they can get through a big performance:

Nutrition for Dancers: What to Eat Before Competitions

5 High-Energy Snacks to Help You Power Through Your Dance Competitions

Dancer Nutrition: What to Eat Before a Dance Recital

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Teaching Respect in Dance: The Value of Reverence

teaching respect in dance

It’s important to be teaching respect in dance, and instilling a sense of reverence in our students. By definition, reverence means “deep respect for someone or something,” and we should be building that mentality in all of our dancers.

By adding a small ritual of respect into our lessons, we can ensure our dancers grow up with a love for the art and an admiration for its teaching. Here are some examples of classical and contemporary ways to end a class:

  1. Traditional Curtsy, or Bow in Ballet
  2. Goodbye Circle: Younger dancers hold hands in a circle to curtsy/bow and applaud for the class.
  3. Tap Break: Create a signature rhythm for students to execute at the end of class. After the rhythm, they will clap their hands and say “Break!”
  4. Take a Bow: For contemporary classes (jazz, hip-hop, contemporary, etc.), it is important to have the students demonstrate a gesture of respect. Whether through a bow or a fun, whimsical movement, they should signal the end of the class and applaud.

As a part of reverence, I also like to encourage my dancers to learn the importance of thanking your teachers.

Whether it is the teacher you see every day, a guest artist, or in a convention environment, it matters for students to show respect and gratitude to their instructors.

Looking for more dance class culture development? Check out these articles:

How to Promote Productive Dance Practice

Being A Dance Teacher: 8 Tips for Strong Student Relationships

Add a Little Magic with Dance Studio Mascots

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Dance Life Hack: Fixing Your Powder Compact

powder compact

Dancers: do you ever waste make-up because your powder compact, eyeshadow, or blush crumbles too quickly?

We’ve all dealt with the huge mess it creates!

Here’s an easy life hack to fix your broken powder compact:

  1. Once the powder compact crumbles, press down all of the make-up with your fingers.
  2. Pour 1 1/2 tablespoons of isopropyl alcohol on the product.
  3. Smooth the compact out with your fingers.
  4. Pour an additional 1 1/2 tablespoons of isopropyl alcohol on the product and allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes.
  5. When the product dries to a creamy consistency, use a butter knife to smooth the surface.
  6. Fold a piece of a kitchen towel/cloth over the compact to use as a barrier. Smooth the product out with a flat surface (such as a lotion lid).

Voila- your product will be like new!

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