The Case For Staying with Studio Training

Liz Imperio teaching at Hollywood Vibe, Courtesy of Hollywood Vibe

It's an increasingly common scenario: A talented dancer wins big at a competition, is offered an assistantship with a famous faculty member, and ends up leaving her hometown studio to travel with a convention. Convention-hopping has obvious benefits. Every event generates new content for dancers to post on social media, gives them a better shot at ending up on their favorite choreographers' accounts, lets them learn from the best of the best, and helps them make valuable connections. "Traveling is a great way for dancers to gain admirers around the country," says Jen Jarnot, owner of Artistic Fusion Dance Academy in Thornton, CO. "That's something every dancer craves." So it's no surprise that weekend FOMO has been blazing through studios like wildfire.

But is this jet-setter lifestyle really the most effective road to take? Can weekends of dancing with top talent truly replace the bread and butter of daily work at your home studio? The answer, according to most industry experts, is no. We asked five pros to explain why.


Technique

Your studio is the incubator in which you establish, polish, and sustain your technique. "The teacher-student exchange in a Monday-through-Friday scenario is different than what happens in 45-minute classes with 80 other students," says Hollywood Vibe artistic director and choreographer Liz Imperio. "Come Monday, you need a space to flush out everything you've learned at convention over the weekend. What's that experience worth if you don't apply it and practice it later?"

Studios not only give dancers consistent classes with fewer students, but they also provide a team of people monitoring your technical growth. "Our instructors have lesson plans," says Jarnot. "They know how the progression of classes should go from month to month. Your convention teachers give you cutting-edge movement and connect you to the larger dance community, but they don't have the time to work on your turnout for a year straight."

After traveling the country as The Dance Awards' 2017 Mini Female Best Dancer, and gaining celebrity status through her time as a pro on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars: Juniors," Brightyn Brems seems like an ideal candidate for the full-time assistant life. But Brems "never even considered it," she says. "I've always felt that studios are the best way to keep up your skills. I know dancers who have left to branch out on their own, and their training has gone downhill because they aren't getting enough classes."

Liz Imperio teaching at Hollywood Vibe, Courtesy of Hollywood Vibe

Physical Safety

According to Hollywood Vibe founder and national director Christopher Smith, one of the most important benefits of studio training is physical safety. "Having studio mentors is important for your health," he says. "Kids will try something they saw at competition without a teacher's support, and it's to the detriment of their bodies. If you aren't in regular classes, building strength and learning how to do things correctly, you're putting yourself at risk."

For Michele Larkin-Wagner, owner of Larkin Dance Studio in Maplewood, MN, less-than-ideal convention venue conditions are also a concern. "My kids do about three regional conventions per year, and I can tell you that when they get home from three days of dancing on cement, they are pretty sore," she says. "For dancers to be doing that week in and week out—it's just not healthy for their bodies."

Support System

Being a part of a team or company teaches you to have respect for other people, and helps you build relationships with those you might not have connected to otherwise. "At your studio, you can make some of your best friends, and learn how to work with different types of people," says Brems. "You're not just a soloist in this industry," Smith says. "Even the best dancers are generally going to be a part of an ensemble. Studio training prepares you for that."

That camaraderie is built through day-to-day work that will benefit you for the rest of your career. "When you leave your studio, you are missing the power of a team," says Jarnot. "You can go so much farther when you have a group of people behind you. If you tell them what your dreams are, they can help you make them happen."

Artistic Fusion students at 24Seven, Courtesy of Jen Jarnot

Staying Power

While conventions do provide more opportunities for fame than studio training does, Imperio says a big following doesn't always lead to success. "You can book a job from social media, but if you don't have the work ethic, consistency, stamina, and communication skills derived from daily studio training, you won't keep it," she says. "People love to feel like they're on top of the world, but to get there, you have to build your mountain. You can't jump right to the top."

Liz Imperio teaching at Hollywood Vibe, Courtesy of Hollywood Vibe

Alternative Options

All that said, conventions are still an important aspect of training. "Going to convention opens doors, and gives dancers a new perspective," says Jarnot. If your studio doesn't prioritize conventions, consider speaking with your teachers about the potential of adding a few more to your schedule. If that's not an option, request bringing in more outside choreographers for master classes.

If you want more material for your social feeds, like the weekly videos posted by dancers who travel with conventions, ask your teachers to film your classes. "We actually put special lights in a room for filming class combos," Jarnot says. "Our teachers film whenever it's appropriate, and then send the footage out to be posted."

Artistic Fusion students at 24Seven, Courtesy of Jen Jarnot

The Bottom Line

While it's valuable to supplement training with conventions, Nationals, summer intensives, and master classes, you don't need to abandon your studio to reap their benefits. "The best way for a dancer to set themselves up for success is to have a buffet of experiences," says Imperio. To become the best dancer you can be, you need to explore many different sides of the dance training world, rather than sequestering yourself in one small part of it.

If You're Traveling...

Sometimes, traveling with a convention might make sense financially, or you might want a short break from studio life. Here are a few tips for making assistantship/convention life work for you in those situations:

  • FIND STUDIOS in your hometown that allow for drop-in ballet/ technique classes. Prioritize those classes on weekdays.
  • PUT IN THE EXTRA EFFORT to make choreographers and dancers around the country part of your support system. If possible, ask a master teacher to be your mentor.
  • TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY by giving yourself a full warm-up each day. Work with health specialists to discover what you can be doing to combat the physical strain convention classes (and venues) can have on your body.
A version of this story appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "The Case for Staying with Studio Training."
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