What Progress in Dance Looks Like

Dance class is a lot like school in many ways: your child explores new ideas, practices skills, solves problems, and develops friendships.  Unlike school though, dance classes don’t have a new grade level every year.  This can seem strange at first, but for dance education it’s very normal and expected! 

 At SB Dance Arts our dance students experience “growth” years (when they move up a level) and “grind” years (when they remain in the same level).  Because every dancer develops at their own pace, this advancement will look a little different for everyone over time, and in different styles.  For example, a student might spend two ‘grinding’ in ballet class before promoting, but receive a mid-year promotion after just a few months in hip hop.  Please refer to our syllabi to find out how our faculty is evaluating each dancer in order to gage progress to the next level.

 It’s important for you to know that progress is taking place no matter which type of year your child is in, growth or grind.  Our instructors are equipped to teach classes in a way that accommodates each child’s needs, allowing them to tailor the class material to reach different learning styles and personalities. 

 Achievements in dance can be seen in small ways and big ones, and we advocate for celebrating both!  In our experience at Dance Arts, progress is much more about the personal wins than it is about the name or number of your child’s class level. 

 From the exuberant child who proudly demonstrates his self-control to the teenager who finally embraces her strength as a peer leader, every piece of progress is a triumph.  It’s easy to think sometimes that a student should simply be doing more or moving faster—but those things are not always hallmarks of progress.  The true signs of growth come from the perseverance within; not necessarily from the obvious places.  And the grinding hard work is what makes it possible.

 We work diligently with your kids.  Each student set goals in September and we are spending our first week of December revisiting these goals, tweaking the plans to accomplish them, and most important, setting accountability measures so they can achieve them successfully.

 We hope that as teachers, we have proven that you can trust our guidance and expertise, and that we’ve shown that our goals align with yours.  We’re committed to helping your child discover their potential and share it with the world!


Practicing at Home: Dos and Don’ts

Many of our students absolutely love practicing dance at home.  You’ll find them twirling in the living room and tapping in the kitchen—they just can’t contain their enthusiasm!  It’s not uncommon for a parent to tell us that their child feels compelled to choreograph with their friends after school or teach their stuffed animals how to piqué and passé.

If your child is one these non-stop movers, you might have started wondering, “What can I do to encourage this practice in a safe way?  How can I foster this passion?” 

At Dance Arts, we get it!  And we’ve got some great advice for you here with our Dos and Don’ts for practicing at home:

First and foremost, Do designate a specific spot in your house that is “dance practice” space!  This could be a room or hallway with very little furniture, or perhaps your garage—somewhere that is easy to move in.  Don’t allow tap shoes on your easily-scuffed floors, and never allow your child to practice tumbling/acro/aerial at home.  

Do challenge your child to practice what they remember from class, but don’t worry if they just want to improvise their own moves!  Resist the urge to “teach” the dance steps yourself; Do allow your child’s dance teacher to be the authority of those skills in the classroom.

Do come a few minutes before class ends and video the routine. This is a great tool for your dancer to get inspiration and practice the routine ‘with their teacher’ in the comfort of your home. 

Don’t expect perfection with at-home practice; it should feel relaxed and carefree as much as possible.  Do suggest that your child practice with music (any music!) since it will help them become even more familiar with finding the beat and keeping time with rhythms.

Also take care to supervise when your child practices; do watch what they’re doing at home to ensure they are safe—and don’t hesitate to join in the fun!

Practicing dance at home should always feel comfortable and supportive so that your child can unleash their creativity and joy for dancing.  If you ever have any questions about what is safe or appropriate to practice at home, please ask!  We’re happy to help.

Why Children Need Grit, and How Dance Makes a Difference

Gritty people have a growth mindset; they don’t give up.


This paraphrased quote is from author Angela Duckworth, who popularized the word “grit” with her famous TED Talk about the power of passion and perseverance.  She wasn’t talking specifically about dancers, but she could have been!

Children need to develop resilience in order to learn from their experiences and grow into their full potential.  This is why we value determination and tenacity so highly here at SB Dance Arts, because we know these are beneficial qualities to have in life, in or out of the dance classroom.  But can you teach a child these qualities; to be more resilient, more gritty?  We strongly believe the answer to that is YES. 

In dance class, we want our students to know we care about them and want them to succeed.  But we also want to hold them to age-appropriate, growth-driven standards—high standards that will require their hard work, practice, and focus for achievement.

Dance, like life, can present its challenges: the step might not look correct yet; your body might be sore or injured; the audition answer might be no; you might even fall down every now and then.  Allowing a child to simply walk away from those challenges (or give up on them) only teaches the child that hard work need not apply.  Persevering through those challenges, however, teaches them to bounce back; to build the work ethic they will need throughout their childhood and young adult life.

These lessons in dance will be hard at times, no doubt.  As parents and teachers, we know there will sometimes be tears or frustrations.  But that won’t stop us from encouraging these kids to push themselves.  They are amazing kids who will go on to persevere through a tough exam at school, bounce back from a job they didn’t get, or work through a strained friendship.  They are amazing kids who will become amazing adults because they have been challenged by failure and fueled by success.

Recent events in our society show the benefits of grit for our female students.   We are at a cultural crossroads and the future is female!  We take our role seriously as mentors and guides for these smart and powerful women we help raise.  I am personally raising a son and for him and the other boys and men that come to the studio, we want Dance Arts to be a place that celebrates strong women and empowers their voices.  Creating, moving, and working together is an exciting way to help keep this wave of change moving forward, while letting the studio be a safe place for those who are facing challenge or needing to heal.

At SB Dance Arts we want you to know that this message is very important to us and close to our hearts, and it helps us coach the best out of your child, day in and day out.  Through dance we’re teaching them how to be grittier and in turn, empowering them for the future.

Congratulations!  You’re Officially a Dance Parent

Welcome to the club, dance moms and dads!  Now that you’ve formally signed your child up for lessons and  (hopefully) you’ve gotten all the pertinent information about the season, you are officially a dance parent at Santa Barbara Dance Arts!  Being a dance parent here is a little bit like being in a secret society; there’s this new lingo to learn and a whole culture that you are now a part of.  Here’s the inside scoop on what you need to know for your new status as a Dance Arts dance mom or dad:

All about enrollment: Our Season refers to the fact that our program is a commitment from September-May with Open Enrollment starting November 1st. This is the period where you can change your schedule and be sure to drop any classes you will not continue in January. This is important if you want to avoid the November 16th Recital costume charge and Spring Tuition auto charges.   Don’t worry, you have a Two week Grace Period from your agreed upon start date to adjust your schedule at the top of each session!  We auto charge all enrolled dancers with a balance the second week of each session and on the 14thof each month if you chose a payment plan. 

Learn about our shows.   At Dance Arts, we offer an opportunity every year for our students to perform.  Select classes perform in our casual in-studio December Showcase (December 1st). There are no costumes and convenient hour long performance windows.    The Inspire Recital (May 16-18), is when our performance classes  class showcase  a routine onstage and in costume, and family and friends watch the show from the audience.  Stay tuned all year to our emails and handouts for all the need-to-know recital info! Check out our website to learn more. 

Pack a dance bag.  Dance shoes, a water bottle, extra dancewear, and hair supplies … all of these things belong in your child’s dance bag.  (Avoid allowing your child to wear their dance shoes outside; it’s damaging.)  Be sure to label everything with your child’s name or initials!  Our lost and found is across from the ladies room if something doesn’t make it home.  Stop by The Dance Store to get your dancewear basics or set your dancer up with an account for snacks!  We are proud to announce that we have a new filtered water fountain and Dance Arts aluminum water bottles (for purchase) to help Dance Arts be more environmentally conscious.

Introduce yourself to the other parents.  We love building a community of like-minded moms and dads who understand our culture and enjoy having their children involved in dance.  Our super-friendly dance parents are some of the best people we know, so we encourage you to introduce yourself in the lobby.  Share stories, find carpools, plan playdates, or ask about their personal experiences at Dance Arts. Want more connection? Join our Santa Barbara Dance Arts Parent Group on Facebook.   

Learn the next steps for your growing dancer.  Our accelerated S.T.E.P Program has multiple tiered levels for your dancer to progress at Dance Arts from their youth to their high school years.  We spend  the season working on Style and Technique and then Evaluations are in April/May and Placement is in August.  We offer a few mid-year promotions, and to learn more about progressing, have a look at our syllabi for each discipline. If your dancer is passionate about dance and looking for more opportunity and camaraderie, learn more about our teams for ages 6-teen:   Company, Pre-Company, and Crew

Being a dance parent is pretty awesome but being a dance parent at Dance Arts is even better!  We hope this primer serves you well and helps you feel welcome at the studio.  We’re glad you’re here!

5 Tips to Get Ready For The Stage:

It’s almost time for our Inspire Recital, which means that our students will be taking the stage soon to perform their new dances.

We know that the pre-performance jitters are real and can trip up even the most experienced dancers. But, with the right preparation, dancers should be able to overcome these anxieties, quiet their minds, and relax into the right performance mindset.

Here are our 5 tips for getting mentally and emotionally ready to take the stage:

1. Harness Your Energy

Before taking the stage, you will need energy to deliver a strong performance.   You might feel tired or lethargic. In this case, you should try bouncing,  doing jumping jacks, or listening to some upbeat music. If you are hyper, with too much energy before a show, you might need to do some relaxing stretches, close your eyes for a moment, or listen to soothing music. Having balanced energy will help you have an even performance.   

2. Create a Routine

As a dancer, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to develop your ideal pre-show routine. This will help you minimize things to think about or make decisions about right before a show. Find a healthy meal that keeps you feeling nourished without being overly full. Find a warm up that gets your body fully prepared without over-exhausting you and avoid fatiguing muscles by holding static stretches like splits for a long time before taking the stage. Also, find a mantra that helps you feel confident and ready to go. If you always do the exact same thing before a show, you’ll have less to feel nervous about!

3. Control your breath

As you stand backstage or get ready in the dressing room, notice the rhythm of your breathing. If you’re feeling anxious, you’ll likely have a fast, shallow breathing pattern. Do your best to take long, slow, deep breaths -- filling up your lungs to their maximum capacity. This will help you calm your body and relax your mind. As you gain control of your breath, you’ll also gain control of your nerves and your thoughts. Remind yourself that you are going on stage because it is fun and because you love to dance! Nerves are natural, and they make performing more exciting. Just breathe and you will do well and have a great time doing it!

4. Mental Rehearsal

Ease your nervous mind with a visual rehearsal that you can easily complete in a crowded dressing room.  Visualize yourself performing the whole dance flawlessly, in as much detail as you can, and tell yourself that it’s possible! Not only will this help you remember all the steps and sequence of the dance, but it will also help you build your confidence right before you take the stage. You’ll be less likely to feel stressed because you'll feel like you've already performed the choreography at least once that day.

5. Sink into your character

The last thing you can do to help yourself have an amazing performance is to get into the mindset of the character you’ll be portraying on stage. What kind of emotion are you trying to make your audience feel in your dance? Stand in the dark of the backstage area and feel those emotions for yourself. What story does your dance tell the audience? Close your eyes and sink into how that makes you feel. Lose yourself as you become your character. Then, go out there and leave everything on the stage and leave your audience INSPIRED!


DANCE ARTS TECHNIQUE TIPS: Picking up Choreography

Have you ever been in a dance class and realized that you still aren’t sure how the combination starts? Have you ever been at an audition and felt completely stressed about learning the choreography in time? Have you ever found it difficult to keep up with the rest of the cast?

If so, don’t worry! Learning choreography is tricky and requires training for your brain and body. Here are our biggest tips to help you pick up new choreography more quickly:

1. Observation

As tempting as it can be to start dancing as soon as the teacher begins a new phrase… don’t. You’ll be given time to try it on your own. The first step to learning is watching. Try to see all of the details, from the footwork to the pathway of the arms to the movement dynamics.

2. Go Slow

Once you’ve got a good mental image of what you need to do, give it a try! Don’t rush to get it perfectly right away. Instead, take it under-tempo and see where the sticky spots are. You can even try to break it down into singular elements. For example, do the footwork first. Then, try out the movements of the arms. Then, put them both together and work your way up to full-tempo.

3. Ask Questions

Once you’ve thoughtfully gone through and tried out the choreography, try to compare what you just did to the mental image you took of how it should look. Are there parts that you think you’re missing? Have you lost some of the details? Now is the time to ask your teacher, so that you have all the information you need as you continue to practice.

4. Focus On Transitions

Transitions are just as important as the big moments in a dance, so they deserve attention, performance, and practice.  Don’t focus too much on each individual move and forget to put thought into how the movements will connect and flow together.

For example if you are coming off the floor, think of using your momentum and pelvis to help you get off the ground, articulate your feet, engage your core, and any use of your hands should be like icing on a cake, not the entire support for your body.  Think about looking effortless instead of looking labored and exhausted. 

5. Video, Journaling, and Practice

In my youth, we did not have iPhones!  Now you can record your dance, practice it, and use your phone as a tool to watch yourself and perfect your movements.  Use a journal to note your teacher’s comments after class so you don’t forget important feedback.  Most of all practice! It will help you be more comfortable and confident on stage!

6. Take Class

The best way to develop muscle memory is to strengthen it by taking more classes, camps, and master classes.  Picking up choreography is a skill to be mastered, and every opportunity to train is an opportunity to improve.

The Healing Power of DANCE

Anyone living in Santa Barbara knows that the New Year did not really start in January, and as we go into February, many of us are trying to find traction.  We are in a state of limbo as our community recovers from the recent mudslide disaster.  Whether you and your family were directly impacted by the treacherous mud flow, or by economic hardship caused by evacuation or work displacement, or by second-hand PTSD as we watch the horrific images on our screens, it has been hard to establish a new ‘normal.’

The ones who are most affected by this tectonic shift in our community, are the children.  They sense the anxiety, fear, and stress of their parents and care-givers, and many of them are re-living painful memories from that fateful night of January 9th.   While families begin to rebuild, and schools are displaced, and we grieve the lost, many children may be feeling emotions that they cannot process.

Dance is an incredible way to begin the healing process.  Sherry Goodill, president of the American Dance Therapy Association has brought national attention to the needs of children and teens who have experienced trauma and how to support their resilience and recovery.

“Dance/Movement Therapy uses movement to bring about healing and recovery   Studies have shown that dance can decrease depression, improve mood, and strengthen positive feelings about one’s self…. It has been reported that children who have been traumatized can live on the alert, anxious and fearful. Dance-based methods for getting grounded, for sensing the body’s energy and position, and for developing breath support can help with learning to pay attention to one’s own needs, and for feeling more in control, and for regulating fearful or angry reactions.”

At Dance Arts, we believe that dance is a healing force, but more powerful is the community and support network our students and families find at the Performing Arts Center. The night after the mudslide, as shell-shocked mother held me as she cried. They live in Montecito and had just come from the hospital visiting a friend in critical condition.  She said, "my daughter needed to come here.. she needed to dance and feel at home when so much is lost, but I needed to come here to an experience this love and community.” We cried and hugged, as so many of us did in those raw and emotional days that followed.    

It occurred to me that rebuilding from this tragedy will only be done partially by hammers, nails, and excavators. The bulk of it will be done with human connection, empathy, and support.  We hope that you will find that here at Dance Arts, and that we can be catalyst for and healing among the rubble. 

Together, we will express our emotions and grieve through movement... especially  when we cannot find the words.  #805strong