Teachers Trending
Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy. Photo courtesy Dance With Me

Listening to Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy riff together makes it crystal-clear why each has mastered the art of partnering in the ballroom—they've long been doing this dance in real life as brothers and business partners.

Along with their "Dancing with the Stars" pedigree (and a combined three mirror-ball trophies between them), Maks and Val (and their father, Sasha) also run Dance With Me, a dance company hosting six ProAm Dancesport competitions annually and running 14 brick-and-mortar studio locations across the U.S.

Last year, the pair launched an online component, Dance & Co. The online video platform offers beginner through advanced instruction in not only ballroom but an array of other styles, as well as dance fitness classes from HIIT to yoga to strength training. "DWTS" fans will recognize such familiar faces as Peta Murgatroyd, Jenna Johnson, Sharna Burgess and Emma Slater, along with Maks and Val themselves.

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Teaching Tips

Best-selling author Greg Anderson once famously said, “Focus on the journey, not the destination." In an ideal world, dancers would always apply this mantra in the competition setting, putting less focus on the outcome and more on the experience.

Yet in such a high-stress environment, dancers often base their self-worth on whether they nab a coveted trophy or ribbon. How can dance teachers better prepare their students for possible disappointment? DT posed the question to several seasoned educators, who weighed in with their experiences and insights.

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Studio Owners
Thinkstock

It's summertime and the living is easy—or is it? Studio owners and dance teachers have long lamented the summer months as a traditionally slow season. With many students leaving town on vacation or for outside training, studios are often faced with less than sunny prospects for revenue and clientele. However, the forecast for your studio need not be bleak: With strategic attention to planning, programming and pricing, summer can offer a great opportunity to grow your business and diversify your offerings.

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Studio Owners
Photo courtesy of Break the Floor Productions

When Cassie Nordgren visits studios as a guest choreographer, she prides herself on bringing her high-energy, high-emotion brand of theater dance to the table. For her, the magic often lies in the intention behind the piece rather than its perceived difficulty. "Sometimes the piece is about telling a story, so you won't get those aerials or fouettés or whatever the new trick of the day is. That's not where I live as a choreographer," she says. "What you are going to get is that the students will have to rely on their storytelling skills to make the piece complete."

After returning to one particular studio to set a new piece, she was excited when the dancers wanted to perform one of her previous numbers for her, but quickly became upset when she saw how much her original work had been changed. In place of the intricate story she'd woven was a crescendo of tricks incorporated to make the piece more competition-friendly. "The piece used to have a beginning, middle and end, and instead of having an arc, it now just had one direction—and that was up," says Nordgren.

Luckily, she was able to use the situation to open a dialogue about best collaboration practices, and it became a valuable lesson for both choreographer and client. (She has since been back to that studio three times with great results.) But instances like these do raise important questions: When a studio hires a guest choreographer, who owns the resulting work and should the studio have carte blanche to make changes?

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Tayeh leads her contemporary jazz class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in L.A. Photos by Rose Eichenbaum

One look at Sonya Tayeh and any casual observer would know that this choreographer is far from ordinary. Not only do her jet-black Mohawk and punk-inspired style make an indelible statement, but she's also instantly recognizable as a staple on “So You Think You Can Dance." Having designed memorable pieces like Season 4's “The Garden" and Season 7's “Hallelujah," Tayeh has swiftly become a fan favorite. “People stop me everywhere I go—from the airport to 7-Eleven," she says, “because they love the show."

It's not hard to see why she attracts so much attention. Her essence is pure Detroit-edge-meets-arty-San-Francisco. But more than Tayeh's personal flair, it's her style of movement—along with a compelling empathy for dancers and selfless passion—that puts her in demand everywhere from the convention floor to off-Broadway to the “SYTYCD" stage.

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Trending
Photo by John Burcham

Miss Kim leads class at Kelli Wilkins' Club Dance studio in Phoenix."Whether I'm in a room of 40 or 400 kids, I'm going to find a way to make a difference in some way, shape, or form," says Kim McSwain about the inspirational, upbeat teaching style that's become her calling card with students and teachers alike. "Anyone who knows me knows how strongly I feel about changing kids' lives."

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Trending
Clockwise from top left: Manon Chaney, Lesley Vaughn, Sarah Sporich, Aloysia Gavre and Nicole Reineman. Photo by Joe Toreno

Funky jazz music fills the space as a trio of advanced contortionists twist in unison. Across the room, burgeoning trapeze artists are building core strength atop Pilates balls. And in another corner, a group of beginners attempts to master the proper foothold for shimmying up the smooth aerial silks.

It's a typical lively night at Cirque School, a circus-arts training studio set in an open warehouse-style space in Hollywood. The school attracts all types of enthusiasts—from amateurs looking for a unique fitness challenge to pre-professional Cirque du Soleil hopefuls. Celebrities like Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz have trained at Cirque School, as well as cast members of productions like NBC's "The Cape" and CBS' "The Defenders."

And at the heart of it all is proverbial ringmaster Aloysia Gavre, who founded the school in 2009 on the heels of an illustrious career with Cirque du Soleil. Though she specializes in aerial hoop, Gavre is well-versed in all circus disciplines. Now she's spreading the love, one student at a time.

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Tremaine Dance Conventions celebrates 35 years.

Faculty member Marty Dew leading Tremaine Performance Company Dancers

Whatever Joe Tremaine does, he does it big. And the 35th anniversary of his Tremaine Dance Conventions (TDC) follows suit—a documentary, a book and a gala are all set to fete one of dance’s favorite figures.

Laissez les bons temps rouler—let the good times roll!” exclaims Tremaine from his office in Los Angeles. “I’m from the cotton fields of New Orleans, where we love a good party. It’s time to celebrate…and dance.”

The 2015–16 convention tour culminates in a massive gala dinner during the Orlando stop this month. Many of Tremaine’s former faculty members, protégés and “scholarship kids” from the last 35 years will gather to pay tribute, and for the first time, all former award honorees will also be invited (from Debbie Allen to Kenny Ortega to Paula Abdul).

Summer marks the release of the book Tremaine is co-authoring with tap dancer Laurie Johnson. It’s a primer on seizing the various opportunities in the dance world—both onstage and off. “The message is that regardless of how you dance, how you look or who you are, there is a place in the dance industry for you,” says Johnson, who has been teaching for TDC since 1998.

Also in the works is Behind the Curtain, a feature-length documentary that includes footage of Tremaine in 2015 and 2016—from the conventions’ national finals to his acceptance of the Gene Kelly Legacy Award from the Dizzy Feet Foundation.

Joe Tremaine (left) with faculty member Colby Shinn

A noted dancer, choreographer and educator, Tremaine founded the convention in 1981 with Julie Adler. At the time, he had taught for Dance Masters of America and Dance Educators of America, so he knew exactly how to differentiate his event. He was the first to employ a faculty of professionals actively working in the industry. Says Tremaine: “I wanted to bring real working dancers to the hinterlands across Middle America.”

To date, close to 2 million dancers have come through TDC, and the faculty roster has included notables like creative director Barry Lather, “So You Think You Can Dance” runner-up Tiffany Maher, Tony Award nominee Lisa Mordente and dancewear designer Marcea Lane.

Johnson says Tremaine’s longevity is due to a mixture of old-school values and modern finesse. Adds Tremaine, “We don’t teach kids to dance all in one weekend, but we inspire them to go work harder in their studios. People ask me what these weekends are like, and I say, ‘You just have to come and feel the energy.’” DT

For more: tremainedance.com

L.A.-based Jen Jones Donatelli is a frequent contributor to Dance Teacher.

Photos by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging, courtesy of Green Galactic

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