Convention Compass
December 13, 2008

Navigating the convention world can be daunting, but also well worth the effort. After all, these events offer many lessons and experiences that students can’t gain in the studio alone. Exposing your dancers to new instructors, classes and genres can make them more versatile performers, with the added benefit of updating them on the latest trends.

Helping your students make the most of their convention experiences requires a little prep work. By telling them what to expect and offering a few tips, you’ll make them feel more comfortable and ready to concentrate on class. Here, we take a look at several ways to get your dancers convention-ready.

  • Be ready to Learn

The first thing to tell your students is that they should approach convention class with a positive attitude, ready to absorb everything. “Faculty members want to see their expressive faces,” says Pam Chancey, executive director of The PULSE On Tour. “They want to see dancers looking at them and listening.” Be sure to stress that students should be on their best behavior, just as they would at the studio.

  • Prepare to Make Adjustments

Of course, there are several differences when it comes to taking class in the hotel and convention center ballrooms where dance conventions typically take place: The cavernous space and carpeted floors are a far cry from the comforts of a dance studio. Prepare your students for the adjustments they’ll have to make in order to dance in this new environment. For starters, remind them to bring a variety of shoes. Because of the carpeting, teachers may ask students to wear shoes more conducive to the floor than the style, or they may ask them to dance barefoot.
Other tips to keep in mind include standing away from the speakers—dancers won’t be able to hear the instructor with music blaring in their ears. Also, remind them to secure their dance bags underneath chairs in the classroom so they and their fellow classmates don’t trip over loose belongings.

  • Mix It Up

Experiencing the varied styles of convention teachers is often what makes class so exciting. But students who are trained by only one teacher at home can have a hard time embracing another instructor’s style and movement.
To help dancers prepare for unfamiliar techniques, Chancey suggests the following exercise: “Switch up the classes in your studio and let everybody get a different teacher,” she says. “That will juggle the routine so students are ready for new approaches by the time they get to the convention.” If you don’t have a large staff, consider inviting a guest teacher from a local college or K–12 school to teach a class or two.

  • Scope Out the Space

Call the convention company whose event you’ll be attending to learn more about the venue, then share the information with your students before your trip. For instance, if the convention includes a competition or showcase that requires students to dance on a stage, be sure to get the dimensions beforehand. Using masking tape, mark the dimensions of the stage in a school gym or cafeteria, then allow your dancers to explore and practice in the space. This will help them feel more confident when they take the stage at the convention.
Plan to arrive early and take a tour together to help everyone get their bearings. During this time, you can coordinate schedules as a group. Clarify exactly where and when to meet to ensure that no one will miss classes due to confusion about time or location. Point out where the water stations are and remind everyone to stay hydrated.

  • Keep parents involved

Don’t forget the parents! They want to know what to expect, too. The PULSE On Tour, for example, offers an online “Parent Packet” for studio owners to print and distribute. It describes what to expect and eliminates questions that you and your staff would otherwise have to field repeatedly. Some events even offer parents’ classes or invite them to participate in roundtable
discussions with convention managers.

  • Seize Opportunities

Nancy O’Meara, a choreographer and dancer with Co. Dance, recommends encouraging students to step out of their comfort zones. “Teachers should stress how important it is to be in every single class,” she says. “The convention is a time for students to experience things that they don’t in their own studios. So even if your kids don’t normally take tap, they should take the tap class. Get the best out of everything.”

  • Think Positively

Remind students that they’ll encounter dancers of all skill levels at conventions. If they come across someone who is “better” than they are, advise them not to be discouraged. “I don’t like when kids are watching somebody in the classroom with their arms crossed, thinking, ‘Wow she’s so good,’” says O’Meara, who suggests telling students, “You can be that good in your own way, but you’ve got to push yourself and work harder.” Find inspiration in observing what’s out there and use it to set new goals for yourself and your students.

  • Bond and Socialize

Beyond technical training, conventions offer opportunities for social growth. In fact, says Chancey, your students can benefit outside the classroom as well as inside. “It’s like a retreat for your studio to get away and grow stronger friendships,” she says. “Keeping that in mind is just as important as learning a new leap or turn. Building strong bonds and friendships among dance company members can help solve a lot of issues down the line.” In addition to strengthening relationships within your studio, students will also have a chance to meet and learn from other dancers as well.

  • Follow Up

After all that preparation, don’t let the excitement of the convention end when the event does. In fact, it’s important to be just as vigilant about the follow-up. Dylan Smith, a member of the Dancers Inc. faculty, recommends getting together afterward to discuss the event. “Recount how things went, what you liked and what you didn’t,” he says. “This should be something that’s carried on in the future. I think that’s what conventions are all about: taking what you do in the present and applying it to the future in your performance, your technique and your everything.” DT

Dana Grunklee received a BA in dance and English from Marymount Manhattan College. She is a dance administrator, writer and teacher living in New York City.

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