Dance instructors should know how to choreograph a song, be able to do a waltz and will probably calm down a roomful of excited kids ready to move more than once in their careers. But Dance Express instructor Tressa Giordano, an Ellington native, said that what a dance teacher must have is a passion for his or her art form.
"I think teaching dance, and especially being part of the arts, is very rewarding," she said. Giordano, who started dancing when she was 9 years old, added that having a positive attitude is also a critical part of being a dance teacher.
"You have to be energetic and happy," Giordano said. "Whatever you're feeling that day, you leave it in the parking lot."
Giordano, who has a background in early childhood education, generally works with the younger dancers at Tolland's Dance Express. However, she said the business offers nearly a hundred classes each week for a variety of age levels, skill levels and style.
She said that many of the instructors either have a degree in dance or theater and that they all have years of experience, allowing them to teach diverse groups and dances.
In addition, Giordano said that many instructors specialize in certain areas, which is why she works with the business' youngest students.
"For the younger kids, we give them a little exposure to all types of dance. Some ballet, jazz and tumbling," she said. And despite their youth, her students learn moves faster than she expects.
"It's surprising how quickly they'll pick up movements," she said. "Repetition helps them accomplish it."
Beyond working in the classroom, Giordano said that the instructors dedicate time to picking out the right songs for their classes. While popular music is often very motivating, she said that the songs must also be age-appropriate and be able to accommodate moves that the class is comfortable with, as a whole.
And most importantly, during recital time, music selection has to be carefully coordinated between instructors so that there are no repeats, a process Dance Express teachers have perfected by posting their song choices!
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For the instructors, recital and competition times add their own challenges. Giordano said that teachers often give up weekends to travel for the competitions, and must deal with the logistics of transporting costumes, props and the dancers. The workload also includes coordinating with sound and light crews for dance group's recitals.
"It's an amazing production," Giordano said. "As a team, we just work it out."
And while some costumes may go missing and some of the light cues may be off, Giordano said that all of the work and stress is always worthwhile in order to help kids learn the joys of dance.
"For me, dance was always a way for me to express what I was feeling in a positive way," she said. "It's a great experience to share that with a child."
For more information on Dance Express, visit the business' Web site.